posted on May, 5 2017 @ 05:01 PM
The power of Babylon is the subject of many of the Old Testament prophecies.
The key to understanding them is to realise that Biblical prophets, in the first instance, are always writing for, and addressing the concerns of, the
people of their own time.
So the prophecies about Babylon are not spread over many books, because the Babylonian impact on Israel’s history covered a comparatively short
period of time.
The Babylonians appear first as God’s instrument in the destruction of Assyria.
They must be providing the unnamed army (“the shatterer”) which comes up against Nineveh in Nahum ch2.
In so doing, they are fulfilling God’s warning to Ninevah; “Behold, I am against you, says the Lord of hosts” (ch3 v5)
I believe the same thing is happening in Habakkuk.
The prophet complains about the injustice of the world;
“Destruction and violence are before me, strife and contention arise.
So the law is slacked and justice never goes forth” (Habakkuk ch1 vv3-4).
God’s response is “I am arousing the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation” (v6).
It seems to me that the unrighteous city in the next chapter is another picture of Nineveh.
“His greed is as wide as Sheol; like death, he never has enough.
He gathers for himself all nations, and collects as his own all peoples” (ch2 v5).
Though an alternative explanation of the book, sometimes preferred, is that God is first arousing the Chaldeans against the injustice of Jerusalem.
Then the second chapter is the prophet’s complaint that the behaviour of the Chaldeans themselves is even worse.
When the Assyrian empire is destroyed by the Chaldeans and others, the king of Babylon asserts his own sovereignty over many of the former vassals (2
Kings ch24 v1).
So the next moment of impact is the crisis of Judah’s rebellion against Babylon.
Isaiah is said to have warned Hezekiah about this, on the day when the king showed the emissaries of Merodach around his treasure-chamber (Isaiah
Ezekiel is one of the exiles in Babylon at the time of the final siege, but he sees nothing in it except the action of God’s judgment against
“Because the land is full of bloody crimes and the city is full of violence, I will bring the worst of the nations to take possession of their
houses” (ch7 vv23-24).
In fact he treats the rebellion against Babylon as a rebellion against God, because the relationship was established by covenant;
“The king of Babylon came to Jerusalem… and he took one of the seed royal [Zedekiah] and made a covenant with him, putting him under oath… But
[Zedekiah] rebelled against him by sending ambassadors to Egypt… Will he succeed? Can a man escape who does such things? Can he break the covenant
and yet escape?”
Three times over the next few verses the prophet repeats that the king has despised the oath and broken the covenant.
“Therefore thus says the Lord God; As I live, surely my oath which he despised and my covenant which he broke, I will requite upon his
head… I will bring him to Babylon and enter into judgement there for the treason he has committed against me” (ch17 vv11-20).
The prophet also authorises Babylon to be God’s instrument of judgement against Tyre and Egypt;
“I will bring upon Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, with horses and chariots and with horsemen and a host of many soldiers (ch26
“I will give the land of land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall carry off its wealth” (ch29 v19).
Jeremiah’s approach is more ambiguous.
Yes, he agrees that Judah, and the surrounding nations, should put themselves “under the yoke” of the king of Babylon;
“Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant… All the nations shall serve him and his son
and his grandson” (Jeremiah ch27 vv6-7).
If the people of Judah had taken heed of this, they could have remained in the land subject only to the obligation to pay tribute.
Yes, he agrees that Babylon is acting as the instrument of God’s judgement against Judah;
“You have neither listened nor inclined your hearts to hear… Because you have not obeyed my words, behold I will send for all the tribes of the
north, says the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants” (ch25 vv4-9).
Yet he also declares that after seventy years have passed, the Babylonians themselves will be punished for their iniquity; “I will recompense them
for their deeds and the work of their hands” (vv12-14).
The prophet illustrates the sequence by taking a notional drinking cup from the Lord’s hand, containing the ingredients of confusion and
self-destruction, and making all the kings of the region drink from it.
The cup is first given to the king of Judah, but the final drinker is the king of Babylon himself (vv17-26).
The Babylonians may have been doing God’s work, but in their own minds they were acting only for themselves.
Therefore they were exceeding their commission;
“ I was angry with my people, I profaned my heritage;
I gave them into your hand, you showed no mercy;
On the aged you made your yoke exceedingly heavy
You said ‘I shall be mistress for ever’, so that you did not lay these things to heart or remember their end” (Isaiah ch47 vvv6-7).
The key to the problem is Babylonian pride. They are known for their pride, as the Assyrians had been known for their rapacity.
“You felt secure in your wickedness, you said ‘No one sees me’;
Your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart ‘I am, and there is no one besides me” (Isaiah ch47 v10).
In other words, Babylon mounts a challenge to the Creator God, who has been making the same claim.
The multiplicity of religion in Babylon, with its “enchantments and many sorceries”, already appals the Jewish observer. The man-made idols and
their devotees were mocked in the previous chapter.
However, the crowning offence is the perception that Babylon is putting herself on such a pedestal.
The pride of Babylon is also accused in another well-known passage;
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!” (Isaiah ch14 v12).
The king of Babylon said “I will ascend to heaven, above the stars of God”, but he will be “brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the
Even there he will find himself in disgrace, kept away from the kings of the other nations, “because you have destroyed your land, you have slain
your people” (vv13-20).
(Perhaps we may recognise in the phrase translated “Day Star” an allusion to Venus and hence to the city’s goddess Ishtar, who made her own
visit to the underworld)
Therefore, God says, “I am stirring up the Medes against them” (ch13 v17).
It becomes the turn of Cyrus to be praised as God’s instrument (ch45 v1).
Similarly Jeremiah devotes his three last chapters of prophecy to the downfall of Babylon;
“For Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the Lord of hosts, but the land of the Chaldeans is full of guilt against the Holy One of
Israel” (Jeremiah ch51 v5).
For this reason, the prophet adds the warning “Come out of her my people” (v45).
And of course the original site of Babylon has been deserted ever since, just as he predicted.
The main value of these prophecies for believers living in our own time is the testimony they provide of God’s determination to protect his people
against their adversaries.