Tuesday, April 9, 2024

The Recurring Empire

Not only was Babylon an ancient kingdom, but it also serves in Scripture as a symbol for the repeated attempts by kings and tyrants to establish regional and global empires and their inevitable destruction. The rising and falling of empires is as old as human civilization, and the phenomenon continues to this day as one presumed world ruler replaces another. Underneath its shiny exterior, it is always the same beastly entity.

Babylon is called the “Land of Shinar” in the Book of Daniel, linking it to the founding of the first imperial city in Mesopotamia, namely, Babel. The story is also alluded to in Chapter 3 when the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, gathered all the nations of his realm to pay homage to his great and “high” golden image built in the “Plain of Dura.”

Obelisk - Photo by peter bucks on Unsplash
[Photo by peter bucks on Unsplash]

The Neo-Babylonian Empire was not a new political entity. It had an ancient pedigree, and in the New Testament, “
Babylon” becomes the cipher for the latest incarnation of the World Empire.

In Genesis, God thwarted the completion of the high tower in the “Land of Shinar,” which caused the diversity and spread of languages and tribes across the region. That story provides us with the true origins of this history-spanning empire – (Genesis 11:1-9).

  • In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Jerusalem, and laid siege against it; and the Lord gave into his hand Jehoiakim king of Judah and a part of the vessels of the house of God, and he brought them into the LAND OF SHINAR into the house of his gods, and the vessels brought he into the treasure-house of his gods” - (Daniel 1:1-2).

The opening paragraph of Daniel builds on the story of Babel and its high tower when the “whole earth was of one language and one speech.” The name ‘Shinar’ is the Hebrew equivalent of ‘Sumer,’ the first known civilization of Mesopotamia.

The people of Shinar built a city with a high tower “in the plain.” They intended it to “reach the heavens and thus make us a name, lest we be scattered across the whole earth.” This reflects the Sumerian culture where individual cities featured temples built on tiered mounds that formed the highest point of the city. Each was dedicated to the city’s chief deity and functioned as the city’s civil, economic, and religious center.

God commanded Adam to “multiply, replenish and subdue the earth,” a command reiterated to Noah after the Great Flood. However, humanity chose instead to move to Mesopotamia and build a new civilization, thereby making a name for itself. In the Bible, Babylon is characterized by arrogance and self-deification - (Genesis 1:28, 9:1, Isaiah 14:13-14, 63:12-14, Jeremiah 32:20).

If humanity united under one language, the wickedness of man would know no bounds. By confounding the language of Babel, God caused humanity to spread throughout the Earth, and He stopped the first attempt to establish a centralized State. The idolatrous ambitions of Babel were delayed for a time, though under King Nebuchadnezzar Shinar began to rise once more.

The ruler of the latest version of “Babel” attempted to reverse God’s ancient judgment. Having conquered Judah, Nebuchadnezzar set out to gather different ethnic groups in his city to be educated in the “language of Babylon,” and to honor his idolatrous “high golden image.”


Like the story in Genesis, Nebuchadnezzar gathered captives in Babylon, the great city that HE BUILT. Under his direction, the different tribes and peoples of his kingdom would learn the “LANGUAGE OF THE CHALDEANS.” What the inhabitants of ancient Babel began to do, Nebuchadnezzar attempted to complete.

The King also “SET UP” a great golden image of exceptional “HEIGHT” in the “PLAIN of Dura,” then decreed that “ALL PEOPLES, RACES, AND TONGUES” must render homage to it.  He gathered representatives from every province and nation “to the dedication of the image.” The whole Earth was summoned to one place to behold and venerate his “HIGH” golden image - (Daniel 3:1-8).

The verbal parallels are deliberate.  Just as the earlier inhabitants of Mesopotamia united to build a city and high tower to glorify their “name,” so the later king(s) of Babylon presumed to gather all humanity under his sovereignty.

In Revelation, “Babylon” becomes a cosmic entity that wages war against the “Lamb” and his people, the World City is contrasted with the “City of New Jerusalem.” She is the “Great Whore” full of “abominations” and every “unclean thing.” Her hands are stained with the “blood of the prophets and saints that have been slain on the earth.” She is characterized by her cruelty, arrogance, and self-worship – (Revelation 17:1-6, 18:24).

Her influence and mischief impact the entire Earth, not just Mesopotamia or the Near East. The key to her power is the control of global commerce, and economic sanctions are her weapon of choice – (Revelation 18:1-24).

This Babylonian entity spans History. She rides the “Beast from the Sea” that has “Seven Heads and Ten Horns,” the monster that has “ascended from the Sea” repeatedly over the centuries.

Washington Monument - Photo by Harrison Mitchell on Unsplash
[Photo by Harrison Mitchell on Unsplash]

Its “
Seven Heads” represent seven kingdoms or empires. Five had fallen by the time John received his vision. One existed in his day, and the seventh and final incarnation was yet to come. “Babylon” has been an ever-present reality throughout human history, pursuing world domination and persecuting the People of God, whether as the Assyrian, Greek, or Roman Empire – (Revelation 17:7-12).

Likewise, today we see “Babel” rising again as another imperial power ascends from the “Sea.” Even now, it is imposing economic control over peoples and nations, corrupting the Earth, and suppressing groups that refuse to pay the “Beast” the homage she and the “Beast” that she rides demand.

  • Calvary or Rome? - (When offered by Satan, Jesus refused the political power of Rome. So, why do we continue to seek what he rejected?)
  • The Ancient Empire - (Imperial arrogance is the legacy of the Tower of Babel incident, humanity’s first but not last attempt at building the Dragon’s great World Empire)
  • Which Kingdom? - (The message of Jesus centers on the “Kingdom of God,” a political system that bears little resemblance to the kingdoms of this world)