When a band of brothers are caught playing football on and near mamma’s flower beds what happens? Judgment & wrath. When they see wrath coming what do they do? They leave their game and run. The new rule of the game is to put a brother between you and mother. That way she spends down her energies pouring wrath into your sibling and your own parts are spared. Avoidance of the garden would have been prudent. When that fails the next best thing is avoidance of the judgment.
In the middle of Revelation 18 we see some kings who fooled around with Babylon. Here is what it says:
9 And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. 10 They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,
“Alas! Alas! You great city,
you mighty city, Babylon!
For in a single hour your judgment has come.” (Revelation 18:9-10–ESV)
So by the 9th verse Babylon has gone up in flames. She was judged, judged quickly and thoroughly. Do the kings run to help? No they, the football playing brothers, stand far off. They are sad because the game is over. They are not sorry they were playing it.
We three kings of orient “were”
I don’t think there were three kings standing far off, but that Christmas song seems to be a nice play on this situation. In Jesus’ day the wise men saw the star of God in the east and went there to find him, to worship him. That story is recorded in Matthew 2, right at the beginning if you want to refresh you memory.
Here in Revelation 18 the kings saw a bright burning in the distance. It was not a star, but a storm of destruction: God’s destruction, God’s judgment on Babylon. They knew what was happening. Their policy was avoidance, not worship. The kings of the world had been Babylon’s consort. They had had an intimate connection with this great city, and in like measure they were intimately troubled over its demise. See how John the Apostle records their reaction? They wept and they wailed over the smoke of her burning.
The kings had lived like Babylon…and liked it
In verse 9 it says that these kings, the world over, had come to Babylon and embraced her lifestyle. Babylon had offered herself to them and they were glad to take part in her ways. The style and manner of Babylon stroked their egos and their pleasures.
Babylon had lived in luxuries while failing to pay just wages to the poor, the laboring workmen in and around her. Her gold and silver were corroded. Babylon had fattened herself in the day of slaughter and the cries of the harvesters having reached the heavens she had been slaughtered. She was slaughtered in a single day.
The kings who had indulged themselves with Babylon had lived the same way. They understood and liked her manner of life and living.
The kings mourn
Back in the earlier verses of Revelation 18 Babylon is recorded as saying, “I sit as a queen, not a widow.” Going on we see that her internal perspective had been the declaration: “I will not mourn.” Well, in some manner she is right. She has been destroyed and little is left to carry on the mourning. BUT…her consorts mourned.
The kings who had engaged in lustful actions with her wept and they wailed. Generally, in rich households of the time professional mourners would be hired to provide a sufficient, an official mourning. That spares the real sufferers the indignity of their feelings on display.
These kings, though, are beyond that. Like the meth addict they are no longer horrified about what they do, what they have become. Their own inner makeup is expressed, and loudly. They mourn not over sin, but that its supply has run out.
The avoidance of the kings
As verse 10 starts we see that they stand far off. Why? Well, the same phrase tells us. They, the kings, fear her torment. They are guilty, too, for in her arms they lay. Luxury and wealth were theirs. She was the strong city. If she can be destroyed, and that suddenly, without remedy, they know they can as well. So they, like middle-school football players in their mother’s garden head for the hills and only once they think they are safely away do they turn to watch.