In Babylonian the name Bab–ilu (Babel, or Babylon) meant “gate of the gods,” but the Hebrews derogatorily associated it with balal, a word in their language meaning “to confuse” (Gen. 11:9). The rulers of Babylon doubtless called their city the “gate” of the gods in the sense that they chose to think of it as the place where the gods consorted with men, to order the affairs of earth (Judges 9:35; Ruth 4:1; 1 Kings 22:10; Jer. 22:3). The name reflected the claim of the Babylonian kings (Gen. 11:4).
Babylon was founded by Nimrod (Gen. 10:10; 11:1–9). From the very beginning the city represented disbelief in the true God and defiance of His will (Gen. 11:4–9), and its tower a monument to apostasy. The prophet Isaiah identifies Lucifer as the invisible king of Babylon (Isa. 14:4, 12–14). In fact, it would appear that Satan designed to make Babylon 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 OT times, the two cities typified the forces of evil and good at work in the world. 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 (Dan. 4:17). For this reason God saw fit to destroy the tower and to scatter its builders (Gen. 11:7, 8).
When Nebuchadnezzar II rebuilt Babylon it became one of the wonders of the ancient world (Dan. 4). His plan to make his kingdom universal and eternal (Dan. 3:1; 4:30) was a success to the extent that, in splendor and power, the new Babylonian Empire surpassed its predecessors. However, it also became proud and cruel. It conquered God’s people and threatened with defeat His purpose for them as a nation. In a dramatic series of events God humbled Nebuchadnezzar and secured the submission of his will. But his successors refused to humble themselves before God (Dan. 5:18–22), and eventually the kingdom was weighed in the balances of heaven, found wanting, and its mandate revoked by the decree of the divine Watcher (Dan. 5:26–28).
Later Babylon became one of the capitals of the Persian Empire, but it was partly destroyed by Xerxes. Over the centuries the city gradually lost more and more of its importance and eventually, toward the close of the 1st century a.d., virtually ceased to exist (Isa. 13:19; Rev. 18:21).
Ever since the fall of ancient Babylon Satan has sought, through one world power after another, to control the world, and would probably long since have succeeded had it not been for repeated instances of divine intervention (Dan. 2:39–43). Undoubtedly his most nearly successful attempt to subvert the church has been through the papal apostasy of the Middle Ages (Dan. 7:25). But God intervened to prevent the success of each subsequent threat to the ultimate accomplishment of His purposes (Rev. 12:5, 8, 16), and the nations have never been able to “cleave” together (Dan. 2:43). Evil is inherently divisive. However, near the end of time Satan will be permitted to achieve what appears, briefly, to be success (Rev. 16:13, 14, 16; 17:12–14).
By the 1st century AD the once magnificent literal city of Babylon lay, almost in ruins, an uninhabited waste. It was an illustration of the impending fate of mystical Babylon. The Jews were again in exile under the merciless hand of Rome, even as they had once been exiled by Babylon, and Christians also experienced repeated persecution at her hand. Among Jews and Christians alike, Babylon thus became an appropriate term to describe imperial Rome.
Babylon, both literal and mystical, has been recognized as the traditional enemy of God’s truth and people. As used in the Revelation the name is symbolic of all apostate religious organizations and their leadership, from antiquity down to the close of time (chs. 17:5; 18:24).
In His service,