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20 Studies in Bible Prophecy

Study 14 - The Rise and Fall of Babylon

In this study we will be forced to take a look into the distant past while at the same time we penetrate the future when, in a world without the church, an idolatrous system will appear upon the scene, linked with an apostate religious system with extensive influence. So modern Babylon in its wider applications, suggests Oliver Boyt, ". . . incorporates the whole of apostate Christendom, wherever her priestcraft, ritual and idolatry are practised or her superstitions penetrate."

Historical Babylon

The name Babylon is the Greek form of the Hebrew Bavel, which is uniformly Babel, probably derived from the Akkadian babilu, or "the gate of God." After the confusion of languages, the name was connected by the Hebrews with the root babel, "to confound." The name referred to the city itself and also to the country of which it was the capital. It was not the most venerable city of Babylonia, but it became the most prominent in size and influence.

Though the date of its establishment is difficult to confirm Babylon has been known for thousands of years. It was early in man's history as recorded in (Gen. 10:8-10) that Nimrod, the son of Cush and grandson of Noah, founded the city. YOUNG'S ANALYTICAL CONCORDANCE says, "It was latterly the capital of the country called in Genesis, Shinar, and in the later Scriptures, Chaldea or the land of the Chaldeans. The original city was built about 2230 B.C."

The beginning of Nimrod's kingdom was in Babylonia, from whence he moved northward to become the founder of Nineveh and other centres in or near Assyria. The name "Nimrod" may mean "we will rebel", and it is not without significance that three times in Gen. 10:8, 9, and once in 1 Chron. 1:10 the word "mighty" is used concerning him.

The political history of Babylon is both interesting and detailed. From the 18th century B.C. (about the time Terah emigrated from Ur of the Chaldees and settled in Haran, Abram and Lot proceeding to Canaan) until the period of the Assyrian dynasty, Babylon was the principal influence in Mesopotamia. It was during the reign of Hammurabi, the sixth and greatest king of the first dynasty, about 1728 - 1662 B.C. that the empire extended from the Persian Gulf to the middle of the Euphrates and upper Tigris regions. This monarch was renowned not so much for his military prowess, but for his work as a scholar-statesman. Archaelogical research has brought to light his famous law-code, the most complete expression of Babylonian jurisprudence extant.

Babylon flourished as the capital of Babylonia until the first dynasty fell to the Hittities around 1595 B.C., and for some three hundred years the dominion was at the mercy of the Kassites. This was followed by dynasty 11, its kings being native Babylonians. For some considerable time thereafter, the kingdom suffered various invasions, including that of Assyria, and by the time of Tiglath-pileser 111 of Assyria, Babylon was completely under Assyrian rule. Eventually under Sennacherib, Babylon was destroyed by fire in 689 B.C. It was left to his son, Esarhaddon to rebuild the city, and finally under Nabopolassar, the father of Nebuchadnezzar, ancient Babylon attained the height of splendour.

The Eminence Of Historic Babylon

We read (Dan. 2 : 37, 38) that the kingdom under Nebuchadnezzar represented the most powerful sovereignty in the world. It was here that Daniel and his captive friends from Judah were schooled in the wisdom of the Chaldees.

Out knowledge of ancient Babylon comes from a number of sources, the chief being from the pen of the Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote some 150 years after Nebuchadnezzar. According to Herodotus the city was a vast square of about 200 square miles, erected on both sides of the Euphrates. It was protected by surrounding walls, wide and durable enough to enable chariots to pass on top, this wall being reinforced by towers and pierced by eight gates.

The "hanging gardens" of Babylon were one of the wonders of the ancient world. These consisted of large rising terraces, supported by huge masonry arches, the height of the walls of the city. Gardens were laid out at different levels, and the soil was deep enough to enable great trees (including palm trees) to take root. The water was extracted mechanically from the river below to supply growing plants and trees with nourishment.

Babylon was also noted for its shrines and temples. One writer says that according to contemporary inscriptions, there were "altogether in Babylon fifty three temples of the great gods, fifty six shrines dedicated to Marduk, three hundred shrines belonging to earth divinities, six hundred shrines for celestial divinities, one hundred and eighty altars to the goddess Ishtar, one hundred and eighty to the gods Nergal and Adad, and twelve other altars to various deities." Prof. John F. Walvoord is certain that here we have "the source of counterfeit religion, sometimes in the form of pseudo-Christianity, sometimes in the form of pagan religion. Its most con-fusing form, however, is found in Romanism."

The End Of Historical Babylon

God's time-piece may seem to turn slowly, but He always moves with precision. Nebuchadnezzar died around 562 B.C. having reigned about 45 years, and after a succession of monarchs during whose rulership the empire deteriorated, in the days of the regent Belshazzar the empire perished at the hands of the Medes and Persians.

Daniel chapter 4 closes with the last recorded scene in Nebuchadnezzar's reign. Between this chapter and chapter 5 some twenty years must have elapsed, of which no details are given in Scripture. Dan. 5 opens with details of the event which terminated the supremacy of Babylon and the passing of dominion to the Medes and Persians.

It was a night of palace reveling, a drunken orgy in which the God of Israel was insulted by the command that the sacred vessels stolen from the temple, should be introduced to toast the gods of the heathen. In that same hour of reveling God stepped in and chronicled His message of judgment upon the wall. While Belshazzar was feasting in his fool's paradise, the forces of the Medes and Persians were entering the city along the bed of the diverted river. In that night the king was slain and the kingdom passed from Babylon to the Medes and Persians.

If one studies the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel concerning Babylon, it becomes clear that every word God uttered was meticulously fulfilled.

Apostate Babylon

Babylon was totally destroyed in later history, under Alexander the Great when the Persian empire fell to the Greeks about 331 B.C.

According to God's Word Babylon would never rise again, and to demonstrate this, Jeremiah took a stone and cast it into the River Euphrates, with the divine statement, "Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her" (51:64). Since Babylon has never been rebuilt, O.T. predictions leave no room for any re-emergence, "Its menacing spiritual impact remains", to quote Cecil Holloway. The system nurtured in ancient Babylon was developed later by fleeing leaders at Pergamum, the monarch of Pergamum becoming the Pontifex Maximus. When the Persian empire was conquered by the Greeks, the Babylonish system survived, and when Rome eventually succeeded Greece, Caesar became the head of the state, and also Pontifex Maximus of the ancient religion, and this continued until Gratian who refused the latter office. It then passed to the Roman bishop, and Dr. Tatford informs us that "The College of Cardinals is the counterpart of the pagan college of pontiffs, deriving from the original council of Babylon. The worship of the queen of heaven and her son, purgatorial purification after death, holy water, priestly absolution, dedicated virgins, reservation of ?11 knowledge to the priesthood, unification of political and religious control, and many other features of the ancient Babylonian system have been taken over and assimilated by Papal Rome." (See also THE TWO BABYLONS by Alexander Hislop, a volume which proves that Rome is the Apocalyptic Babylon).

Though Babylonian political rule ceased with the victory of the Medes and Persians, much of the ancient culture, pagan system and ideology are still with us, and will be even more manifested as the return of Christ draws near. In Rev. 17 and 18 we find Babylon pictured in a twofold way. In chapter 17 she is described as a great harlot, contrasted with the pure bride of Christ in chapter 19.

The destruction of apostate Babylon prophesied in chapter 17 portrays the end of Babylon in its ecclesiastical sense.

There is more than the papacy implied here. To quote Wilbur M. Smith, "This is apostate Christendom, a world religion that has betrayed Christianity, and is interlocked with the pagan, godless governments of the world. Many believe - and I would agree - that the day is coming when the Roman church itself will, in some mysterious way, enter into a compromising relationship with atheistic Communism."

In Rev. 18 we are confronted with Babylon in a political and economic context. As Prof. Walvoord states in his book on Revelation, the term "Babylon" in Scripture is more than a reference to the false religion of ancient Babylon. Out of ancient Babylon also came the political power represented in Nebuchadnezzar and fulfilled in the first world empire. In some sense that is continued in the commercial system which came from both the religious and the political Babylon. It seems that chapter 17 deals with the religious aspect and chapter 18 with the political and economic aspect? of Babylon."

As we look abroad, the spirit of Nimrod (type of Antichrist) and that of Babylon (which depicts all that is anti-God) is rampant. But as in the time of that early civilisation God said, "Let us go down and there confound their language" (Gen. 11:7), so the handwriting is already on the wall for modern Babylon. In (Isa. 13:1-11) the immediate and the distant are placed side by side, and in the following chapter the ultimate is viewed in relation to the return of Christ and the day of the Lord. So we conclude that Babylon as an influence for evil in both political and religious concepts will continue almost until the manifestation of the Lord in power and great glory.

Rev. 17 indicates that she will dominate the ten nations of the "beast's" empire until they ultimately turn upon her and destroy her power. (v.16).