Before reading on into this page look at the following word: Babylon. What does that mean to you? When you hear it what associations rise in your mind? Does it rise up as a real place or a pretend one? Is it literal or imaginary? The Biblical experience will probably be your chief conduit for consideration of this place and the Bible shades it in both literal and figurative manners. The Babylon of Revelation 18 is being spoken of as a real place, but a real place personified. The Greeks crafted fictitious gods infusing them with human emotions and reactions, traits and ideals. The Bible takes a real place, Babylon, and extrudes from it real reactions, real actions, traits, and history. It personifies it to more poignantly assign God’s reaction to the misfires and misdeeds that characterized its reality.
With that context recognize that Babylon as a city-state was not immune to slights. Babylon carried out its existence in a place where the rule of the day was dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest, etc., etc. No one, no city, lives in that type of environment without being periodically stabbed in the back, insulted, crossed, humiliated.
Did Babylon take these slights lying down? No.
Rather she did things the way of the world. She rose up, fought back and became queen of the hill, queen of the earth. She won the great battle, but played dirty (like Kennedy, Nixon, HRC, Trump) getting there. She wreaked havoc on those who upset her apple cart.
Next question: Did Babylon do this with impunity? Also, No.
There was an observer of her deeds, of her clamor, vengeance, boasting and self-proclamations. The observer was God and God always gets the last word. His word may seem to come later than you and I might hope, but he alone knows his motives. He is good and merciful. He wants all to come to repentance. Babylon didn’t. So let us see what is recorded about this; he is speaking in Revelation 18:6.
Pay her back…
6 Pay her back as she herself has paid back others,
and repay her double for her deeds;
mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed.
7 As she glorified herself and lived in luxury,
so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, (Revelation 18:6-7a–ESV)
Babylon’s first problem: DIY1 Vengeance
This sixth verse gives God’s proclamation on a wicked people. God’s insight into the way Babylon carried on is penetrating and thorough. Both motives and deeds were known to him and he recognized her steps were not accidental. She was purposefully dedicated to payback those around her. In Proverbs 24:29 we are told not to harbor intentions in our heart that say, “I’ll pay that man back for what he did.” Babylon did not heed that God derived admonition. Babylon paid others back that slighted her. Maybe justice was in order, but not the way that Babylon assembled it.
A payback parable
I find the parable of the unforgiving servant to come to mind here. That parable is the last one recorded in Matthew 182. In that story Jesus spoke of a creditor who called in his accounts. The first debtor we read of in that parable had immense debt, and he petitioned, begged even, for mercy when the creditor declared that his family and assets be liquidated and him sent to debtor’s prison. The thing here is that the begging rang hollow for his debt was so large it could never be repaid. Even so the creditor listened and had mercy. The creditor forgave him the debt. The creditor wiped it out, wrote it off and gave him a clean slate.
Well, you know what happened in that community as that debt was forgiven? It went viral, to use a 21st Century term. “Look what the king forgave!” “Wow!” “So blessed, so lucky is that fellow. He could have lost his wife and children and all he had. He actually was about to lose them.” People knew and were talking up hot item all around town. Men and women, boys and girls would have seen this man with a new lease on life. He would have been the symbol of their king’s goodness and mercy. It was a thing that went beyond words. As he walked around town people would have watched. Thoughts would have been spontaneous; even the quiet ones, the introverts of that era, would have had words with themselves.
What happened next? What did that fellow do? It was terrible. As he left a free man with his residual wealth and family all intact he came across a man who owed him a tiny debt. This debtor was also in a financial jam; he was not prepared to pay at that moment. At least, though, it was believable that at some point he could. What did this second debtor do? He made the same petition to this other creditor, but received no mercy!
Don’t forget that the forgiven creditor was watched. He was a celebrity of sorts, but he put on a despicable show. He was merciless, so instantly merciless, that backlash went through the town. Off to the king went informers, not because they were commissioned as informers, but because the deeds were in tremendous conflict. The audience was horrified at this spectacle.
Well, things did not go well for this merciless servant. The original debt was reinstated and that man was sent off to jail and his family sold. Perhaps he and the man who owed him the small amount ended up in the same work crew? Well, it is a parable so all that speculation is irrelevant.
When the voice from heaven says, “Pay her back as she herself has paid back others,” that passage comes to mind.