Mystery Babylon: The Merchants of The Earth
Revelation chapter eighteen mentions “merchants” in four separate verses, all in regard to Babylon:
“For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.” (Revelation 18:3)
“And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more.” (Revelation 18:11)
“The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing.” (Revelation 18:15)
“And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee; for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.” (Revelation 18:23)
Each of these verses discloses a partial feature of these merchants. First we notice that the merchants of the earth are waxed rich because of their ability to trade with Babylon. They have become rich through the abundance of Babylon’s delicacies (verse 3). Secondly, the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over Babylon’s fall, because there is no one left to buy their merchandise any more, (verse 11). Thirdly, the merchants that were made rich from Babylon shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment; for the fear of her divine judgment. Finally verse twenty-three states that Babylon’s merchants were the great men of the earth, and by thy (the harlot’s) sorceries were all nations of the earth deceived.
Before we can grasp real truth out of these passages we must first understand two vitally important facts, which are:
1. These merchants are not merchandising in any literal and material commodities. They are trafficking strictly in spiritual merchandise.
2. Just as there are wheat and tares (believers and non-believers) dwelling together within the corporate church; likewise there are true merchants and false merchants, which is just another way of saying true and false Christians.
As we look to the New Testament in determining the truth behind the biblical term “merchant,” we notice that apart from the Book of Revelation, this word “merchant” is used only in Matthew chapter thirteen, where we read a very short parable:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls. Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it,” (Matthew 13:45-46).
God declares that if you will seek Him with all your heart, you will surely find Him. This merchant man was seeking the kingdom of God; the goodly pearls. When he had found God, the pearl of great price, he sold all that he had and purchased this great pearl. Naturally, the merchant man did not buy the pearl with money. When scripture declares that he sold all that he had and bought the pearl of great price, we must interpret this from scripture itself. The merchant man denied himself (sold all that he had), and bought the pearl (applied his life to the Gospel of Christ). The emphasis in this study is on the fact that the Gospel of Christ was given to a MERCHANT MAN. There is great spiritual significance in the term “merchant\merchant man.” This merchant man became a true child of God, therefore the thought of selling this pearl of great price was not only impossible for him, but it would never come to mind, since every true born-again Christian can never lose their salvation. He bought the pearl and never sold it. However, when one buys and sells spiritual merchandise, it is a clear indicator that he is still unsaved and dead in his sins. He is a false merchant. Scripture straightly discloses that “…no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name,” Revelation 13:17. The only possible way that anyone might spiritually buy and sell is to remain under the beguilement of Satan (the beast); to retain his spiritual mark upon your soul. Isaiah chapter fifty-five begins with a beautiful declaration:
“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
Notice that we are told to “buy” and yet we are told to buy “without money and without price.” To “buy” the gospel of salvation is simply a metaphoric term in scripture which can only mean to seek God (as the parabolic merchant man did) and to come to Christ. Once we have genuinely come to Christ (as God the Father draws us, John 6:44) we have spiritually “purchased” the good news; i.e. the gospel.
Proverbs 23:23 confirms this biblical truth, wherein we read “Buy the truth, and sell it not… “. Once we have bought into these goodly pearls, we are not to discard it, or “sell” it as it were. This, of course, is virtually impossible for any true child of God, since our salvation is sealed for eternity (2 Corinthians 1:22). However, scripture indicates that many are called, but few chosen (Matthew 20:16). Many will fraudulently come to Christ superficially, but after a time will fall away (sell the gospel) for various reasons (see parable of the sower; Matthew chapter thirteen). Many will fall into half truths, having a “form of godliness, buy denying the power,” (2 Timothy 3:5). These are “merchants” of the gospel, however they are false merchants. Their merchandise cannot bring man into the kingdom of God. Their merchandise will appear much like the true merchandise of the Gospel of Christ, nevertheless it is a false merchandise.
When studying the parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins of Matthew chapter twenty-five, we find Christ returning at the spiritual midnight hour. At that time the five wise virgins trimmed their lamps and went out to meet Christ. The oil carried in their lamps being symbolic of the Holy Spirit, no doubt. These five virgins were wise, because they were filled with the Holy Ghost. Meanwhile, the five foolish virgins had no oil in their lamps; thus they were foolish, they lacked the Holy Ghost. They then begged the five wise virgins for some of their oil, for they could not meet the bridegroom, having no oil in their lamps. The wise virgins then answered them and said: “…not so; lest there be not enough for us and you; but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves,” Matthew 25:9. Another dramatic picture of the reception of the gospel being spiritually termed as buying that which is for sale.
The only provisions for selling the true Gospel of Christ is to become as Lydia. Recall in chapter six we saw that Lydia was a seller of purple, which, when compared with scripture, we concluded that she too was a true spiritual merchant. To be a “seller” of purple symbolizes trading or peddling or sharing the true Gospel of Christ. The word “seller” means just that; to peddle or to share. As used in Acts 16:14, it comes from the same Greek word as does “purple.” Clearly we see that Lydia did not “discard” the gospel, as in “sell it not” (Proverbs 23:23); she shared or peddled the precious pearls; that is she was a “seller” or “peddler” for God, in that she shared God’s Word with others. The word “seller” in this sense is in the positive nature.
Thus far we know that scripture designates two types of merchants. There are the false merchants who counterfeit the Gospel of Christ, and then there are the true merchants who, like Lydia, are “sellers” or “sharers” of the gospel. In both instances the word “seller” can be used, meaning simply to merchandise (wares) in these goods.
Now the question should be asked, are we on the right track when we state that the merchants spoken of in Revelation chapter eighteen are altogether those who peddle the Gospel of Christ? Does God state anywhere in scripture that His Word or His redeeming grace is to be equated with merchandise? Yes He does!
“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the MERCHANDISE of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.” (Proverbs 3:13-14)
God is indisputably stating that His wisdom and His understanding (which is the Word of God) is merchandise of which is better than literal merchandise of silver and fine gold.
God again defines His true merchandise in Isaiah chapter twenty-three:
“And her MERCHANDISE and her hire shall be holiness to the LORD: it shall not be treasured nor laid up; for her MERCHANDISE shall be for them that dwell before the LORD, to eat sufficiently, and for durable clothing.”
The true merchandise that God desires of His people is “holiness to the LORD,” which is dedication and sanctification toward God. In the above verse we find that the true merchandise of a true child of God (“them that dwell before the LORD”) is to eat sufficiently, and to wear durable clothing. To have eternal life we must EAT of Christ, who is our spiritual bread (John 6:53). God’s merchandise for us is to see us eat sufficiently; that is to be full and satisfied with Christ, our spiritual manna (John 6:50). Our merchandise also is that we are to be adorned in “durable clothing.” The Hebrew defines 25*”durable” as properly, splendid, or antique. We are to be clothed and covered with durable or splendid clothing, which only Christ and His righteousness can give to us. Christ will spiritually robe us with His purity and righteousness (Rev. 7:13, 19:8). Apart from being spiritually clothed in Christ’s purity and righteousness, all of humanity is in the same condition as the man at the wedding feast who was not clothed in a wedding garment. This garment is the spiritual symbol of being accepted into God’s eternal kingdom. Without this garment, all the world is as this man in the wedding parable, they are cast into outer darkness (Matthew 22:1-14).
It is true that Isaiah 23:17-18 pictures Tyre, who is one of several Old Testament types of the spiritual harlot of the tribulation days. Even though Tyre has become a harlot, God still divulges her once true spiritual merchandise which will never succumb to degradation, because it is the true and unchangeable pure Word of God.
As we examine the Hebrew word merchant in the Old Testament we discover that there are four different Hebrew words translated in the English version to the word “merchant.” These four are:
1. Cachar (saw-khar’) #5503; a primitive root; to travel round (specifically as a peddlar); intensively, to palpitate: KJV – other renderings: go about, merchant (-man), occupy with, pant, trade, traffick.
2. Rakal (raw-kal’) #7402; a primitive root; to travel for trading: KJV – other renderings: (spice) merchant
3. Tuwr (toor) #8446; a primitive root; to meander (causatively, guide) about, especially for trade or reconnoitring: KJV – chap [man], sent to descry, be excellent, merchant [-man], search (out), seek, spy (out).
4. Kena’ aniy (ken-ah-an-ee’) #3669; patrial from 3667; a Kenaanite or inhabitant of Kenaan; by implication, a peddlar (the Canaanites standing for their neighbors the Ishmaelites, who conducted mercantile caravans): KJV – Canaanite, merchant, trafficker.
4.a Kena’ aniy is rooted from the word Kana (kaw-nah), meaning properly, to bend the knee; to humiliate, vanquish: KJV – bring down (low), into subjection, under, humble (self), subdue.
The above four Hebrew renderings all carry biblical significance and are linked in their spiritual purpose. For example, the first rendering (Cachar) is used in the following passages, of which are only a few listed below:
1. Cachar (Saw-khar’)
“And ye shall dwell with us: and the land shall be before you; dwell and trade [Cachar; “merchant”] ye therein, and get you possessions therein.” (Genesis 34:10)
As Jacob pitched his tent near the city of Shalem, in the land of Canaan, the invitation was extended to he and his sons to merchandise or trade in this land.
“Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen [Cachar; “merchant”]; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ish’-mee-lites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.” (Genesis 37:28)
As Egypt represents the unsaved world in scripture, Joseph was a symbol of the Word of God in a spiritually dead world. As Joseph was in Egypt, he typified Christ in the sin cursed earth. Joseph first had to endure the wrath of God, by being betrayed by his brethren, and made to endure the pit, in which his brethren cast him into “wherein was no water,” (Genesis 37:24). This pit surely pictured Christ as He endured hell on behalf of all who would believe in Him. Finally, Joseph escaped from the pit when merchantmen of the Midianites passed by the pit, purchased him, and sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer to Pharaoh. All of this pictures God’s salvation plan in highly symbolical and spiritual gestures. Joseph was the Word of God, spiritually purchased (bought and sold) from merchantmen, who are allegorically portraying those who spiritually buy and sell the Word of God. These Midianite merchantmen were led by God to take His gospel (Joseph) into Egypt.
“And bring your youngest brother unto me: then shall I know that ye are no spies, but that ye are true men: so will I deliver you your brother, and ye shall traffick [Cachar; “merchant”] in the land.” (Genesis 42:34)
Joseph, as ruler in Egypt, is giving his brethren permission to traffick (ultimately meaning to spiritually merchandise) in the land of Egypt.
“She is like the merchants’ [Cachar; “merchant”] ships, she bringeth her food from afar.” (Proverbs 31:14)
Throughout the Book of Proverbs we read of this virtuous woman, who can only be the true Church of Christ; Old and New Testament periods. God compares the Church’s cargo or merchandise to merchants’ ships, which carry her food from afar. The Church is equated to a ship throughout scripture. Our cargo is spiritual food which comes from afar, from the four corners of the earth and ultimately from God Himself.
2. Tuwr (toor)
Man is commanded by God to search and seek out God’s Divine wisdom:
“And I gave my heart to seek and search [toor; “merchant”] out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.” (Ecclesiastes 1:13)
“I applied mine heart to know, and to search [toor; “merchant”], and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness.” (Ecclesiastes 7:25)
The sons of men are to search out the Word of God (wisdom) as merchant men trafficking about seeking only spiritual commerce. We don’t traffic in the literal sense as in traveling here and there, but we traffic in the spiritual sense as we search here and there for the wisdom that leads to eternal life. Literal traffickers of Old Testament chapters were without question types and pictures of the spiritual trafficker seeking spiritual trade.
When the sons of men come inquiring into spiritual truth, it is as if we come as spies and merchants investigating and exploring a newly found land, as the parabolic “merchantman” of Matthew chapter thirteen went seeking those “goodly pearls.”
“And Moses sent them to spy [toor; “merchant”] out the land of Canaan, and said unto them, Get you up his way southward [south: God / north: Satan], and go up into the mountain.” (Numbers 13:17)
“In the day that I lifted up mine hand unto them, to bring them forth of the land of Egypt [spiritually representing the unsaved] into a land that I had espied [toor; “merchant”] for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands.” (Ezekiel 20:6 )
Our time of sojourning on this earth is a time of spiritual testing, as is indicated by the numbers forty, four hundred, and four thousand.
“And they returned from searching [toor; “merchant”] of the land after forty days.” (Numbers 13:25)
3. Kena aniy (Ken-ah-an-ee’)
“And the Arvadite, and the Zemarite, and the Hamathite: and afterward were the families of the Canaanites [Ken-ah-an-ee’; “merchant”] spread abroad.” (Genesis 10:18)
“And it shall be when the LORD shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites [Ken-ah-an-ee’; “merchant”], as he swear unto thee and to thy fathers, and shall give it thee.” (Genesis 13:11)
“And the captivity of this host of the children of Israel shall possess that of the Canaanites [Ken-ah-an-ee’; “merchant”], even unto Zarephath; and the captivity of Jerusalem, which is in Sepharad, shall possess the cities of the south.” (Obadiah 1:20)
As mentioned earlier, the Hebrew word for “merchant” (Ken-ah-an-ee’) is also translated as Canaanite and trafficker. This word is rooted from the Hebrew word kana (kaw-nah’) which means to bend the knee; to bring down low, to bring into subjection, to humble oneself, or to subdue. As is plainly observed, these definitions are descriptions of the biblical “broken and contrite heart” that God molds into all true believers; all true spiritual “merchants” (Canaanites; Ken-ah-an-ee’). These are they who inherit the spiritual promise land – the eternal land of Canaan (ken-ah-an-ee’).
Isaiah chapter twenty-three (The Burden of Tyre); Isaiah chapter forty-seven (O Virgin Daughter of Babylon); Jeremiah chapters fifty and fifty-one (Babylon); Ezekiel chapter twenty-seven (A Lamentation for Tyrus or Tyre); and Nahum chapter three (The Burden of Nineveh; which originated in the land of Babylon ), are all chapters that display the Babylon of Revelation chapter eighteen, in that they prophesy of a once great city that has fallen. Descriptions are very similar and much too numerous to detail in this study. These chapters, once carefully studied, no doubt prophesy and convey (with many similitudes) exactly what Revelation chapters seventeen and eighteen are teaching. The Book of Nahum pronounces judgment upon the city of Nineveh. Chapter three especially parallels many of the details given in Revelation chapter eighteen. Nahum 2:13 declares of Nineveh: “… and the voice of thy messengers shall no more be heard.” Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary defines the word “messenger” (mal-awk) as “to dispatch as a deputy; a messenger; specifically , of God i.e. an angel (also a prophet, priest or teacher). In other words, God’s voice; His Word declared by His priests, His prophets. His messengers will no longer be heard in this symbolical city. Merchants can be found in all of these chapters, and of course their merchandise is the original and true Word of God.
When we return to the eighteenth chapter of Revelation we see, as we stated at the beginning of this chapter, that there are four verses which speak of merchants. What do we notice about these merchants? What familiarity characterizes them? They are in mourning; they are grieving, sorrowing, and lamenting over the fact that their merchandise is no longer in demand! These merchants appear to be sincere believers in Christ. They have become spiritually rich through the abundance of the Church’s (Christ’s) delicacies, Revelation 18:3, (see Chapter 13 ). Now, in this time of the great tribulation, “no man buyeth their merchandise any more,” (Rev. 18:15). The voice of Christ and the voice of His true Church is heard no more in her. These merchants meant nothing to the world. They were obscure and inconsequential to the deceived eyes of the world. But God says of them: “… for thy merchants were the great men of the earth,” (Rev. 18:23). As merchants are portrayed in scripture as both believers and unbelievers, in the same manner the term “great men” can signify both believer and nonbeliver. In 2 Samuel 7:9 we read what the Lord has to say to David:
“And I was with thee whithersoever thou wentest, and have cut off all thine enemies out of thy sight, and have made thee a great name, like unto the name of the great men that are in the earth.”
David was a servant of God, of course. God states that He has made David a great name. God also states that He has made David to be among the great men of the earth. It may be doubtful that these other great men that God is referring to are worshippers of the one true God, however the fact remains that God relates to David as a great man of the earth. Again we must realize that both saved and unsaved men can be alluded to in scripture as great men.
Returning to our study, it is by this harlot’s sorceries that all nations were deceived, (Rev. 18:23). The merchants stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, verse fifteen says.
This chapter states that these merchants of the earth are representative of the true Church, which has fled from the corporate church. To the contrary, a false merchant could never sorrow because the true Word of Christ has been silenced from the corporate church. This anguish and lamenting comes only from the true child of God, whose heart aches over observing the world’s only hope for eternal salvation being suppressed and stifled as never before. The true merchant of God weeps because her merchandise is no longer being purchased; her true gospel is no longer being proclaimed.
At this point we should stress the fact that if this chapter has the literal destruction of the world in view, where then – we should ask – are this world’s material merchants standing from in order to be “afar off” from her torment? The entire earth will be destroyed at that day. No one can stand “afar off” and watch in the literal sense. Not even in outer space can one hide, for the universe itself will be dissolved. No, only by staying in harmony with scripture can these verses make sense. God commands the true believer to “flee to the mountains” once we see the abomination of desolation occurring in the congregations of the world. To “flee to the mountains” is a phrase used to indicate fleeing to the kingdom of God. God also says “come out of her my people,” (Revelation 18:4). To “flee to the mountains” or to “come out of her, my people” is indeed language indicating to “stand afar off” – “for the fear of her torment.”
“The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing.” (Revelation 18:15)
If this verse is read superficially, as if we were reading a mystery novel, then of course one’s logical conclusion would be that these merchants are literally standing a long way off from the physical destruction of this great city. We would want to keep our distance from its destruction, by all means. When one witnesses a large building ablaze, do we run up close and stand directly under the burning embers? No, naturally we would keep our distance from this calamity. However, as we compare the Bible as a whole, we know that God is calling for the true believers to keep their distance from this great harlot. We are to be obedient to God’s command. This great city is under God’s spiritual judgment, thus we are to stand afar off from her torment. Please see Chapter 21. Incidently, by studying this word “torment,” one will discover that it has everything to do with God’s eternal torment or wrath on the wicked of the world – all who know not Christ as Saviour.
“And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way.”
“And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:28-29)
25* “Aw-theek'” #6266 Strong’s Hebrew. Antique, i.e. venerable or splendid.
The Interlinear Bible; Hendrickson: “Choice covering”