What does Babylon mean in the Bible?

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What does Babylon mean?

What the word Babylon means depends upon the language in which it is spoken. In Babylonian,  the word “Babylon” is divided into two separate words:  Bab–ilu which means the “gate of the gods.” The kings of Babylon named their city the “gate” of the gods because they believed it to be the place where the gods communicated with people in order to direct their lives on earth (Judges 9:35; Ruth 4:1; 1 Kings 22:10; Jeremiah 22:3). Thus, the name supported the claim of the Babylonian kings that they had been ordered to rule the world by divine command.

In Hebrew, the word Babylon is associated with Balal, which means to confuse by mixing. In Greek, the word Babylon was used mainly in the book of Revelation and is defined also as  “confusion.” This word, in this context, refers to an evil and persecuting system that will be destroyed by God for its wickedness (Revelation 18).  It is symbolic of the evil state of affairs just prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ (Revelation 19). Within many Christian denominations, the term Babylon is defined as a sinful state of apostasy from God and rebellion against His good will.

The confusion at the Tower of Babel

The origin of the word Babylon is based on the beginning of the city itself which was the capitol of Babylonia, a region around the third millennium BC.  It was a city that has gone through many phases, rulers, victories and setbacks.

Nimrod was the first founder of Babylon (Genesis 10:10; 11:1–9). From the very beginning, the city was known of its disbelief in the true God and was famous of its defiance to His commands (Genesis 11:4–9). The builders of Babylon attempted to set up a government fully independent of the Creator, and had He not interrupted their work, they would have eventually succeeded in eliminating His truth from the earth (Daniel 4:17).

For this reason, the Lord in His mercy interrupted the building of the tower and scattered its builders.  He said, “let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city” (Genesis 11:7, 8). Upon repeated occasions since the dispersion of the races at Babel, world leaders have attempted, unsuccessfully, to violate God’s decree of separation.

The rebuilding and final ruin of Babylon

Nebuchadnezzar II (born c. 630—died c. 561 bce) rebuilt the ancient city of Babylon and it became one of the wonders of the ancient world. The kingdom of Babylon was situated in ancient Mesopotamia. It was built along both banks of the Euphrates river and thus had its own water supply. This river watered the many gardens it contained, such as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

King Nebuchadnezzar’s plan was to make his kingdom universal and eternal (Daniel 3:1; 4:30). This proved to be a success to the extent that, in glory and power, the new Babylonian Empire exceeded its predecessors. However, the king became proud and cruel. And he conquered God’s people and took them into Babylonian captivity.

Consequently, God humbled Nebuchadnezzar and he repented of his evil ways (Daniel 4). But his successors refused to humble themselves before God and trusted in the pagan gods of materialism and worldly power (Daniel 5:18–22). Eventually, the kingdom was weighed by God in the balances of heaven and found wanting. And the Lord decreed, “Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians” (Daniel 5:26–28). And the kingdom was destroyed and dissolved by the Medes and the Persians.

The great city of Babylon became one of the capitals of the Persian Empire. However, it was partly destroyed by Xerxes, a Persian king. Finally, the city was further destroyed by Alexander the Great in 331 BC. The Neo-Babylonian Empire gradually lost its importance. The Chaldean Empire was the last to overtake it toward the close of the 1st century AD. And the city of Babylon ceased to exist just as the Lord predicted: “And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeanspride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isaiah 13:19 also Revelation 18:21).

Archeology

The earliest record of the city of Babylon can be found in a clay tablet from the reign of Sargon of Akkad (2334–2279 BC), dating back to the 23rd century BC. Robert Johann Koldewey, a German archaeologist, was famous for his in-depth excavation of the ancient ruins of Babylon in modern-day Iraq. With support from the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft (German Oriental Society), Koldewey led the excavation of Babylon from 1899 through 1914.

Mystical Babylon in the Bible

Isaiah identified Lucifer as the invisible king of Babylon – the rebellious city (Isaiah 14:4, 12–14). Satan tried to make this city the center and tool of his wicked plan to control the world. He attempted to have full ruler-ship over the human race, even as God purposed to work through Jerusalem. Thus, throughout the Old Testament times, Jerusalem and Babylon symbolized the forces of good and evil at work against each other in the world.

As with so many other terms and expressions in the book of Revelation, the importance of the name Babylon (Acts 3:16) may best be understood in the role of its historical counterpart in Old Testament times (Isaiah 47:1; Jeremiah 25:12; 50:1; Ezekiel 26:13; Revelation 16:12, 16). The designation “mystery, Babylon” in Revelation 17:5 specifically identifies the name as figurative (Romans 11:25; Revelation 1:20; 17:5).

Christians, toward the close of the 1st century AD, referred to the city and empire of Rome by the cryptic title Babylon (1 Peter 5:13). At that time, this once great city, laid in ruins (Isaiah 13:19). Its destruction was a clear illustration of the future destiny of mystical Babylon – Satan’s kingdom.

In the book of Revelation, the word Babylon means something more symbolic. It is used as a symbol of a wicked city. This city symbolizes the persecuting powers of the world to God’s children. It is the name put on the forehead of a wicked woman who embodies this city. “…The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon The Great, The Mother Of Harlots And Abominations Of The Earth” (Revelation 17:4-5).

The fall of Babylon would be the beginning of the end of all evils. “And another angel followed, saying, ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication'” (Revelation 14:8).

The word Babylon in the book of Revelation is the name by which Inspiration refers to the great threefold religious union of the papacy, apostate Protestantism, and spiritism (Revelation 16:13, 18, 19; 14:8; 18:2). Keep in mind that the term “Babylon” refers to the organizations themselves and to their leaders, not so much to the members as such.

Satan’s nearly successful attempt to conquer the church has been done through the papal apostasy of the Middle Ages (Daniel 7:25). But God prevented this success to the ultimate accomplishment of His good purposes (Revelation 12:5, 8, 16; Daniel 2:43). However, at the close of time, Satan will be allowed to achieve a temporary success (Revelation 16:13, 14, 16; 17:12–14). But the Lord will conquer him eternally by His glorious appearing at the second coming.

Conclusion

When discovering what the word Babylon means, both literal and mystical, we can see that it has long been recognized or associated as the enemy of God’s Word and people (Revelation 17:5; 18:24). But the ultimate end of Babylon will be accomplished by Christ when He will destroy all the forces of evil at His coming (Revelation 18:18). Then, God’s people will rejoice for Babylon will be no more (Revelation 19:20).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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