The Fall of the Great City (Revelation 18)

Here we explore the devastating destruction of a once-glorious city, seat of an empire, home to the wicked. We'll have a chance to see exactly where these description come from, and what it means when the Revelator uses them again.

Babylon is Fallen! (Revelation 18.2)

Revelation 18:2 And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.

This is a compilation taken from Isaiah, more or less. "Fallen, fallen!" comes from a vision of Isaiah, in which a vigilant watchman (possibly Isaiah) spies riders approaching, and understands the doom of Babylon is nigh.

Isaiah 21:8-10 And he cried, A lion: My lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime, and I am set in my ward whole nights: And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground. O my threshing, and the corn of my floor: that which I have heard of the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, have I declared unto you.

In this brief verse of Revelation, Isaiah's watchman is recast as a mighty angel of the Lord. The mighty angel's words come from a separate portion of Isaiah, which has several parallel passages throughout the book. However, given the structure of the lament in Revelation, it seems to me that the most direct and likely source is this:

Isaiah 34:13-15 And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls. The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest. There shall the great owl make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow: there shall the vultures also be gathered, every one with her mate.

The Revelator made mention of devils and unclean spirits--why no such mention in the KJV passage from Isaiah? Because this is one of those rare occasions where the King James' translators really dropped the ball. Above it says the "screech owl" shall rest there. Surprisingly, this is just a made-up translation, because the translators didn't know what the prophet was talking about, except that he mentioned wild beasts before hand, and great owls afterwards. So "screech owl" was really just a best guess.

Here is what two other 'modern' and mainstream translations suggest instead of "screech owl."

(ASV) Isaiah 34:14 And the wild beasts of the desert shall meet with the wolves, and the wild goat shall cry to his fellow; yea, the night-monster shall settle there, and shall find her a place of rest.

(DBY) Isaiah 34:14 And there shall the beasts of the desert meet with the jackals, and the wild goat shall cry to his fellow; the lilith also shall settle there, and find for herself a place of rest.

Scholarly debates rage, but it looks like the prophet was referring to evil spirits, called the "lilith," which have a long and colorful history (James Moffatt translated "lilith" as "vampires," for example). Wikipedia has a lot of stuff on it, if you're interested--but it explains why, in paralleling this passage, the Revelator likewise mentioned dark spirits inhabiting Babylon.

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