The little man? By that I mean the poor or poorer man. See Revelation 18 can be viewed as showing us a spectrum of humanity. Look at this image I put together on Revelation 18’s socioeconomics. See the large city on the left 1? That can be a representation of Babylon. Then we have the kings who were her consorts, the merchant class and finally the sailors. See that ship? It is sailing toward Babylon, but does not look to her as strongly as the others.
How was the poor man, the little man, the person on the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum hit by Babylon’s destruction?
Have you read stories of sailors? Is their lot in life the adventure imagined by adolescent men getting ready to find their place in the world? The lure of the high seas is not all it is imagined. If you wish to delve into these matters many books are available to you. Patrick O’Brien’s series which begins with Master & Commander is a reasonable place to start.
Of course, Moby Dick must not be forgotten though it introduces other more fantastic elements. Or, if you want more difficult reading pick up James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pilot and The Red Rover. I had difficulty following the language in those texts, but they are of a classical genre. Written much more recently but going even further back is Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, The Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800. That book is history, but it outlines the life and styles of ocean men.
There is a vast array of other books on these matters. The exact books are less crucial than what you and I take from them. My understanding of the seafaring class grew up out of things like that.
The subject of this type of man is touched upon in Revelation 18:17-20. These 4 verses closes out this chapter’s commentary on global reactions to God’s judgment.
17b And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off 18 and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, “What city was like the great city?” (Revelation 18:17b-18–ESV)
These are not the wealthy but those the socioeconomic middle-men, the wealthy merchants, have hired to ply the seas. These were the people who carried the goods here and there. The economic wheel turning in Babylon gave them their bread. The toil of the high seas was their lot and they, too, saw her burning.
Babylon had been marvelous
Think of the life of the sailor. They would spend large swaths of their lives at sea fighting the elements, dodging here and there around the world in the ships. They would spend long hours away from land rising and falling on vast and often not-so-smooth seas. Weeks and months of their years held them far away from the land, from their homes, their families, those things which many consider the bread and butter of living.
The merchants who drove the markets directing their lives would send them to this port and that. All around the world they would go seeing the diversity of mankind and what mankind could do. Some of it was good and a lot of it was grimy and low.
Babylon, that key destiny at the end of their most important voyages was a remarkable place. When they cry out, “What city was like the great city?” they were not speaking idly. They were speaking from knowledge. To see it destroyed was both sad and remarkable. Each of those sailors probably remembered back to their first journey into the port of Babylon.
Chapter 1 of Theodore Dreiser’s book Sister Carrie sculpts something similar. There painted is a young, unprepared, farm-life woman. Having come of age she enters big-city Chicago for the first time. The lights, sounds, bigness all around her as the train bodily carries and rattles her into Chicago overwhelm what she brought with her from the farm. So close has been Chicago, yet so far from it had she been. An imprint was made on her that day. The title of that chapter is “A waif among forces.” Riding alongside her was one who might be called a wolf.
The sailors could recall to themselves the marvel of Babylon. They were under the wolf’s influence as well, though.
Jerusalem was marvelous
My mind drew a parallel to the sailor’s marvel. Remember that group of men hand-picked by Jesus from the shores of Lake Galilee. They, too, were men of the water though the rural Sea of Galilee was but a puddle when cast alongside the oceans. When Jesus finally led them to Jerusalem they were awed by the things they saw there, and especially the buildings. Look at what Mark recorded in his biography of Jesus.
1 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2–ESV)
The provincials from Galilee saw the buildings of their capital and evoked by that were expressions of awe and amazement. Jesus, whose thoughts were far, far away was preparing for the most amazing thing of all history. He spoke from that 30,000 foot view telling them that which could only have been understood after the facts of another incomprehensible event.