What does the word Babylon mean in the Bible?

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What does Babylon mean?

Ishtar_Gate_Babylon
Rictor Norton – Flickr
Ishtar Gate. Pergamon Berlin Museum. before 4 BC

In Babylonian, the word Babylon is divided into two separate words:  Bab–ilu, which means the “gate of the gods.” The Babylonians kings in the ancient world 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 their claim that they had been ordered to rule the world by divine command. Other well known gates in ancient Babylon include the Ishtar Gate and the eighth gate to the inner city.

The Hebrew word for Babylon was associated with Balal, which means to confuse by mixing.

In Greek, 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 eventually 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). The Christian denominations agree that the term Babylon is defined as a sinful state of apostasy from God and rebellion against His good will.

The Tower of Babel

Babylon was the capital of the Babylonia. It was founded by Nimrod (Genesis 10:10; 11:1–9). At that time, the whole earth had one language (Genesis 11:1). From the very beginning, the city represented disbelief in the true God and defiance to His will. So, the people said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4–9).

For this reason, the Lord interrupted the building of the tower of Babel 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). By confusing their language and thus forcing them to separate, God planned to forestall future united evil action.

The founders of Babylon planned to set up a government independent of God, and had He not intervened, they would eventually have succeeded in banishing righteousness from the earth (Daniel 4:17). Upon repeated times since the dispersion of the races at Babel, world leaders have tried, unsuccessfully, to violate the divine decree of separation.

The prophet Isaiah identified Lucifer as the invisible king of Babel (Isaiah 14:4, 12–14). In fact, Satan designed to make his city the center and agency of his master plan to secure control of the human race, even as God purposed to work through Jerusalem. Thus, throughout the Old Testament times, the two cities typified the forces of evil and good at work in the world.

The rebuilding of Babylon and its destruction

Nebuchadnezzar II (born 630—died 561 BC), king of Babylon, rebuilt the ancient city of Babylon. And it became one of the wonders of the old world. It was famous for its size, strong walls and gates, and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon that he built for his wife. This kingdom 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.

Shortly after in the sixth century BC, Nebuchadnezzar II captured Jerusalem, taking prisoners into Babylonian captivity. Among the captives was Daniel, the author of the Book of Daniel in the Bible. 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.

Consequently, God humbled Nebuchadnezzar. And he repented of his evil ways (Daniel 4). And as a converted sinner, he recognized the righteousness of God and declared to his people, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down” (Daniel 4:37).

But his successors refused to humble themselves before the Lord. And they 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 to the Babylonians, “Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians” (Daniel 5:26–28). And this prophecy was fulfilled right away and the kingdom was dissolved by the Medes and the Persians.

The city of Babylon became one of the capitals of the Persian Empire. Later, it was partly destroyed by Xerxes, a Persian king. Finally, the city was further ruined by Alexander the Great in 331 BC. Thus, 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 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 Jeremiah 50:13; 51:37).

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). This tablet was found in the ruins of Babylon and dated back to the 23rd century BC. Robert Koldewey, a German archaeologist, was famous for his in-depth excavation of this ancient city in modern-day Iraq. With support from the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft (German Oriental Society), Koldewey led the excavation from 1899 through 1914.

Among the many discoveries of Babylon was the Hammurabi code by King Hammurabi. Some people believed for many years that the Code of Hammurabi was the oldest law. But recently, several much older laws were discovered. Such laws were the Code of Lipit-Isthar which came from Nippur and was published in 1948. This law was written in Sumerian language around one or two centuries before the Code of Hammurabi and is very similar to it (see Was the Mosaic law borrowed from the Babylonian code of Hammurabi?)

What does the word Babylon mean in 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 this cryptic title (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.

Ever since the fall of ancient Babylon, Satan has tried, through one world power after another, to seize control of the world empires. And he would have succeeded had it not been for God’s intervention (Daniel 2:39–43). His almost successful attempt to overthrow God’s church has been through the papal apostasy of the Middle Ages (Daniel 7:25). But God prevented the success each time in order to carry on His plans (Revelation 12:5, 8, 16). And the nations have never been able to “cleave” together (Daniel 2:43).

Thus, the word Babylon today is a symbol of a wicked city, which represents the persecuting powers of the world to God’s children. It refers to the great threefold religious union of the Papacy, apostate Protestantism, and spiritism (Revelation 16:13, 18, 19; 14:8; 18:2). This word refers to the organizations themselves and to their leaders, not so much to the members as such.

The fall of this wicked city would be the beginning of the end to all evil. “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). This prophecy of the fall of Babylon finds its last-day fulfillment in the departure of Protestantism from the purity and simplicity of the gospel (Revelation 14:4). Therefore, Revelation 18:2–4 proclaims the full downfall of Babylon and calls upon the faithful who are within the different religious bodies comprising Babylon, to separate from them.

At the close of time, Satan will be allowed to achieve a temporary success through the fallen churches (Revelation 16:13, 14, 16; 17:12–14). These churches are described as, “…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). But the Lord will conquer Satan and his fallen religious systems by His glorious appearing at the second coming.

Conclusion

When discovering what the word Babylon means, both literal and spiritual, 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 final end of that city and what it resembles 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 the wicked city will be no more (Revelation 19:20).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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