Revelation 18:17

in one hour
The merchants repeat the same lamentation as the kings concerning the suddenness of her destruction. See commentary on Revelation 18:10.

came to nothing
Came to nothing is ἠρημώθη [ērēmōthē] : “Be brought to ruin, become desolate, be devastated.”1 The same word is translated, desolate in Revelation Rev. 18:19+. The manner of her destruction matches that of the Harlot (Rev. Rev. 17:16+). She will be destroyed in such a way as to be eternally uninhabitable. See Babylon’s Predicted Destruction.

Every shipmaster
Like the ships of Tarshish at the loss of Tyre, those who make their living by the sea will wail over Babylon’s destruction (Isa. Isa. 23:14; Eze. Eze. 27:27-36). Like the kings (Rev. Rev. 18:10+) and the merchants (Rev. Rev. 18:15+), the mariners will keep their distance from the destruction of the city which is visible at a distance. Although Babylon on the Euphrates is not directly on the coast, the Euphrates is navigable for many miles:2

Rawlinson [Herodotus, i. 512] speaks of the Euphrates as being navigable for ships for some 500 miles from its mouth. And with little effort could be made available for ships of large size.3

Today these two streams [the Tigris and the Euphrates] are joined together and flow as one river, the Shatt el-Arab, 190 km (120 mi) to the gulf, where the water is deep enough for warships.4

There are a number of possible ways that commercial shipping could reach a rebuilt Babylon:
  • Improvements to the Euphrates - Sections of the Euphrates are dredged and otherwise improved so that ships from the gulf can directly navigate the approximately 370 miles upriver to Babylon.
  • Shuttle from the Gulf - Large ships anchor in the Persian gulf where cargo is transferred to shallow-draft barges which transport goods upriver to Babylon.
  • Land Transport - Ships make port at the seacoast and their cargo is transported by rail to Babylon. The port itself serves a strictly secondary role to the magnificent city upriver. The nautical emphasis in this chapter seems against this suggestion, although it must be noted that all the text requires is that Babylon be a major center of shipping. It does not require that ships make their way to dockside in downtown Babylon.
The prominence given to shipping in this passage provides evidence against identifying Babylon as Rome:5

Rome was not a major seaport or trading city. Rome was never a great city of commerce described in Revelation Rev. 18:1+. Revelation Rev. 18:17+ actually fits Babylon better than Rome because Rome had no seaport. . . . Revelation Rev. 18:17-18+ which describes those who make their living from the sea standing a far off and wailing at the sight of Babylon’s destruction, fits well with the geography of Babylon on the Euphrates. In ancient times, the Euphrates was navigable for ships for some 500 miles from its mouth.6

It is perfectly well known that Rome was never either “great” or commercial. It is no Port; and no “shipmaster” goes thither. . . . if Rome be the city, Rome must yet become the great political and religious centre; with port and harbour. And it is quite as difficult to believe in this revival of Rome, as to believe in the revival of Babylon.7

See Babylon is Rome?

Notes

1 Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 172.

2 “The Euphrates is about 2,890 kilometers (1,780 miles) long and is navigable for smaller vessels for about 1,950 kilometers (1,200 miles).”—Ronald F. Youngblood and R. K. Harrison, eds., Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1995), s.v. “Euphrates.” “The entire course is 1780 miles, and of this distance more than two-thirds (1200 miles is navigable for boats).”—William Smith, Smith’s Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), s.v. “Euphrates.”

3 E. W. Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1984, 1935), Rev. 18:17.

4 C. E. Harrington and W. S. Lasor, “Euphrates,” in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979, 1915), 2:203.

5 Some recognize the unsuitability of Rome, but are so set in their identification of Babylon as Rome, they attempt to circumvent Rome’s failure in fulfillment by spiritualizing the commerce: “Rome was not a commercial city, and is not likely from her position to be so. The merchandise must therefore be spiritual, even as the harlot is not literal, but spiritual.”—A. R. Fausset, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 1877), Rev. 18:10.

6 Andy Woods, What is the Identity of Babylon In Revelation 17-18?.

7 Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation, Rev. 18:1.