by David Tavender
Pictured is Babylon c.1982, in the process of being rebuilt under the direction of Saddam Hussein.
Babylon is a city which features prominently in the Bible. However, it is helpful to realise that the city is known by several other titles in the Bible.
For instance, what we call Babylon is first referred to as ‘Babel’ (Genesis 10:10). Elsewhere we read of ‘Shinar’ (Genesis 11:2), or ‘Chaldea’ (Jeremiah 50:10; see vv.8-10). These were names for the region of which Babylon was the major city, and the Scripture passages concerning the city often go by these other names.
Today, Babylon’s locality is in modern day Iraq, about 80 kms (50 miles) south of Baghdad, near the modern day town of Al-Hillah.
Babylon is rarely presented in the Scriptures in a positive light. First, we read of a mighty hunter called Nimrod, whose name means “to rebel”, who established the city of Babel, where Babylon later sprung up (Genesis 10:8-10). Then there is the rebellious sin concerning the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9.
Later on, most prophecies regarding Babylon, its sin and what it stands for are not pleasant –
“Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isaiah 13:19);
“Behold, I will punish the king of Babylon and his land … She hath been proud against the Lord … I will render unto Babylon and to all the inhabitants of Chaldea all their evil that they have done..” (Jer. 50:18,29; 51:24). etc.
Under the last few kings of the Southern Kingdom, most Jews were exiled from their land to Babylon as a form of punishment (2 Chronicles 36:17-21). Overall, we could say that the city does not receive much good “press” in the Bible at all!
The fall of Babylon
Further to this, Babylon is spoken of in scathing language in Revelation chapters 17 & 18 –
“full of names of blasphemy… Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth” (17:3,5).
However, its fall and destruction are prophesied in the next chapter –
“Babylon the great is fallen … death and mourning and famine … she shall be utterly burned with fire … the kings of the earth.. shall bewail her and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning … thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all” (18:1, 8, 9, 21).
Interestingly, when Revelation was written in the first century A.D. Babylon was a far cry from being the “great city” described in these verses. It was actually a relatively small town by then, and, in time, ancient Babylon fell into gradual decline until uninhabited, and remained so for centuries. Note that it was not ever destroyed suddenly. Yet the prophecies of its destruction speak of the haste in which it will happen:
“Therefore shall her plagues come in one day (18:8)
“in one hour is thy judgment come” (18:10)
“in one hour so great riches is come to nought (18:17)
“in one hour is she made desolate” (18:19)
Given that the Bible should be taken literally wherever possible, and rightly divided, this leads us to the conclusion that a literal Babylon must come into existence again, become a great power, and be swiftly destroyed for these prophecies in Revelation to come to pass.