False Religion—Its Dramatic End Foreseen
“RELIGION Makes a Comeback.” That was the message proclaimed by an article in The New York Times Magazine. The article indicated that religion still seems to have a tenacious grip on the hearts and minds of millions of people. It may therefore be difficult to believe that a radical change in the world’s religious climate is about to take place. But such a change is indicated in the 47th chapter of Isaiah.
2 Isaiah’s words were fulfilled 2,500 years ago. However, the words recorded at Isaiah 47:8 are quoted in the book of Revelation and given a future application. There the Bible foretells the end of the harlotlike organization called “Babylon the Great”—the world empire of false religion. (Revelation 16:19) The designation “Babylon” for the false religions of the world is appropriate, since it was in ancient Babylon that false religion got its start. From there it spread to the four corners of the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9) Religious doctrines that originated in Babylon, such as the immortality of the soul, hellfire, and the worship of triune gods, are shared by virtually all religions, including Christendom.* Does Isaiah’s prophecy throw any light on the future of religion?
Babylon Brought Down to the Dust
3 Listen to this stirring divine declaration: “Come down and sit down in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon. Sit down on the earth where there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans. For you will not experience again that people call you delicate and dainty.” (Isaiah 47:1) For years Babylon has been enthroned as the dominating world power. She has been “the decoration of kingdoms”—a thriving religious, commercial, and military center. (Isaiah 13:19) At Babylon’s peak her empire extends as far south as the border of Egypt. And when she defeats Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E., it seems that God himself is unable to halt her conquests! Thus, she sees herself as a “virgin daughter,” one who will never suffer a foreign invasion.*
4 However, this haughty “virgin” is to be knocked off her throne as the undisputed world power and made to ‘sit in the dust’ in humiliation. (Isaiah 26:5) She will no longer be considered “delicate and dainty,” like a pampered queen. Jehovah thus commands: “Take a hand mill and grind out flour. Uncover your veil. Strip off the flowing skirt. Uncover the leg. Cross over the rivers.” (Isaiah 47:2) After having enslaved the entire nation of Judah, Babylon will now be treated as a slave herself! The Medes and the Persians, who unseat her from her position of power, will force her to do humiliating labor in their behalf.
5 Babylon will thus be stripped of her ‘veil and flowing skirt,’ losing every vestige of her former greatness and dignity. “Cross over the rivers,” her taskmasters will command. Perhaps some Babylonians will actually be ordered to perform slavish outdoor labor. Or the prophecy may mean that some will literally be dragged across rivers as they are taken into exile. In any event, Babylon will no longer travel in the grand style of a queen who is transported across a stream in a chair or by carriage. Instead, she will be like a slave who has to forsake modesty, raising her skirt and exposing her legs in order to wade across a river. How humiliating!
6 Jehovah continues his taunt: “You ought to uncover your nakedness. Also, your reproach ought to be seen. Vengeance is what I shall take, and I shall not meet any man kindly.” (Isaiah 47:3)* Yes, Babylon will suffer shame and dishonor. The wickedness and cruelty she perpetrates against God’s people will be openly exposed. No human can head off God’s vengeance!
7 After having been held captive in mighty Babylon for 70 years, God’s people will rejoice greatly at her fall. They will cry out: “There is One repurchasing us. Jehovah of armies is his name, the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 47:4) Under the Mosaic Law, if an Israelite sold himself into slavery in order to pay off his debts, a repurchaser (a blood relative) could buy him, or repurchase him, out of slavery. (Leviticus 25:47-54) Since the Jews will have been sold into slavery to Babylon, they will need to be repurchased, or set free. For slaves, conquest normally means little more than a change of masters. But Jehovah will move conquering King Cyrus to release the Jews from slavery. Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba will be given to Cyrus as “a ransom” in place of the Jews. (Isaiah 43:3) Appropriately, Israel’s Redeemer is called “Jehovah of armies.” Babylon’s seemingly powerful military force is puny when compared with Jehovah’s invisible, angelic hosts.
The Price of Cruelty
8 Jehovah resumes his prophetic denunciation of Babylon: “Sit down silently and come into the darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans; for you will not experience again that people call you Mistress of Kingdoms.” (Isaiah 47:5) There will be nothing but darkness and gloom for Babylon. No longer will she dominate other kingdoms as a cruel mistress.—Isaiah 14:4.
9 Why is Babylon allowed to harm God’s people in the first place? Jehovah explains: “I grew indignant at my people. I profaned my inheritance, and I proceeded to give them into your hand.” (Isaiah 47:6a) Jehovah has good reason to be indignant at the Jews. Formerly, he warned them that disobedience to his Law would result in their expulsion from the land. (Deuteronomy 28:64) When they fell into idolatry and sexual immorality, Jehovah lovingly sent prophets to help restore them to pure worship. But “they were continually making jest at the messengers of the true God and despising his words and mocking at his prophets, until the rage of Jehovah came up against his people, until there was no healing.” (2 Chronicles 36:16) God therefore allows his inheritance, Judah, to be profaned when Babylon invades the land and defiles His holy temple.—Psalm 79:1; Ezekiel 24:21.
10 In view of that, is not Babylon simply performing God’s will when she enslaves the Jews? No, for God says: “You showed them no mercies. Upon the old man you made your yoke very heavy. And you kept saying: ‘To time indefinite I shall prove to be Mistress, forever.’ You did not take these things to your heart; you did not remember the finale of the matter.” (Isaiah 47:6b, 7) God has not commanded Babylon to act with excessive cruelty, showing no favor “even to the old men.” (Lamentations 4:16; 5:12) Neither has he urged them to take sadistic pleasure in mocking their Jewish captives.—Psalm 137:3.
11 Babylon fails to grasp that her hold on the Jews is temporary. She has ignored the warnings of Isaiah that, in time, Jehovah will free his people. She behaves as if she were entitled to have permanent dominion over the Jews and to remain mistress over her vassal nations forever. She fails to heed the message that there will be a “finale” to her oppressive rule!
Babylon’s Fall Foretold
12 Jehovah declares: “Now hear this, you pleasure-given woman, the one sitting in security, the one saying in her heart: ‘I am, and there is nobody else. I shall not sit as a widow, and I shall not know the loss of children.’” (Isaiah 47:8) Babylon’s reputation for pleasure-seeking is well-known. Fifth century B.C.E. historian Herodotus tells of a “most shameful custom” of the Babylonians, namely, that all women are required to prostitute themselves in homage to their goddess of love. Ancient historian Curtius likewise said: “No contamination can surpass the manners of the city; no systematic corruption can offer more stimulations and allurements to debauchery.”
13 Babylon’s penchant for pleasure-seeking will hasten her fall. On the eve of her fall, her king and his grandees will feast, drinking themselves into a stupor. Thus, they will pay no heed to the Medo-Persian armies invading the city. (Daniel 5:1-4) “Sitting in security,” Babylon will imagine that her seemingly impregnable walls and moat will protect her from invasion. She tells herself that “there is nobody else” who could ever occupy her place of supremacy. She does not imagine that she could become “a widow,” losing her imperial ruler as well as her “children,” or populace. Still, no wall can protect her from the avenging arm of Jehovah God! Jehovah will later say: “Even if Babylon should ascend to the heavens and even if she should make the height of her strength unapproachable, from me the despoilers will come to her.”—Jeremiah 51:53.
14 What will result to Babylon? Jehovah continues: “But to you these two things will come suddenly, in one day: loss of children and widowhood. In their complete measure they must come upon you, for the abundance of your sorceries, for the full might of your spells—exceedingly.” (Isaiah 47:9) Yes, Babylon’s supremacy as a world power will suddenly come to an end. In the ancient Eastern lands, becoming a widow and losing children were the most calamitous experiences that a woman could undergo. We do not know how many “children” Babylon loses on the night of her fall.* In due time, though, that city will be abandoned entirely. (Jeremiah 51:29) She will also suffer widowhood in that her kings will be dethroned.
15 Babylon’s mistreatment of the Jews, however, is not the only reason for Jehovah’s rage. ‘The abundance of her sorceries’ also incites him to anger. God’s Law to Israel condemns the practice of spiritism; Babylon, though, avidly pursues the occult. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Ezekiel 21:21) The book Social Life Among the Assyrians and Babylonians says that the Babylonians’ lives “were passed in perpetual fear of the multitudinous demons by which they believed themselves to be surrounded.”
Trusting in Badness
16 Will Babylon’s fortune-tellers save her? Jehovah answers: “You kept trusting in your badness. You have said: ‘There is no one seeing me.’ Your wisdom and your knowledge—this is what has led you away; and you keep saying in your heart: ‘I am, and there is nobody else.’” (Isaiah 47:10) Babylon reckons that by means of her secular and religious wisdom, her military might, and her cunning ruthlessness, she can maintain her position as world power. She feels that no one can ‘see’ her, that is, hold her accountable for her wicked actions. Nor does she perceive a rival on the horizon. “I am, and there is nobody else,” she tells herself.
17 However, through another of his prophets, Jehovah warns: “Can any man be concealed in places of concealment and I myself not see him?” (Jeremiah 23:24; Hebrews 4:13) Jehovah therefore declares: “Upon you calamity must come; you will know no charming against it. And upon you adversity will fall; you will not be able to avert it. And upon you there will suddenly come a ruin that you are not accustomed to know.” (Isaiah 47:11) Neither Babylon’s gods nor the magical “charming” performed by her spiritistic practitioners can avert the coming calamity—one unlike anything that she has ever experienced!
Babylon’s Counselors Fail
18 With stinging sarcasm, Jehovah commands: “Stand still, now, with your spells and with the abundance of your sorceries, in which you have toiled from your youth; that perhaps you might be able to benefit, that perhaps you might strike people with awe.” (Isaiah 47:12) Babylon is challenged to “stand still,” or persist unreformed, in her reliance on magic. After all, as a nation she has toiled in the development of the occult arts from her “youth.”
19 But Jehovah mocks her, saying: “You have grown weary with the multitude of your counselors. Let them stand up, now, and save you, the worshipers of the heavens, the lookers at the stars, those giving out knowledge at the new moons concerning the things that will come upon you.” (Isaiah 47:13)* Babylon will face the utter failure of her counselors. True, centuries of astronomical observation will have gone into the development of Babylonian astrology. But on the night of her fall, the pitiful failure of her astrologers will expose divination as useless.—Daniel 5:7, 8.
20 Jehovah concludes this section of the prophecy by saying: “Look! They have become like stubble. A fire itself will certainly burn them up. They will not deliver their soul from the power of the flame. There will be no glow of charcoals for people to warm themselves, no firelight in front of which to sit down. Thus they will certainly become to you, with whom you have toiled as your charmers from your youth. They will actually wander, each one to his own region. There will be no one to save you.” (Isaiah 47:14, 15) Yes, fiery times are about to come upon these false counselors. It will be, not a cozy fire around which people can warm themselves, but a destructive, consuming fire that will expose the false counselors as useless stubble. Little wonder, then, that Babylon’s counselors will flee in panic! Babylon’s last support gone, there will be no one to save her. She will receive the very fate that she will have inflicted upon Jerusalem.—Jeremiah 11:12.
21 In the year 539 B.C.E., these inspired words start to be fulfilled. The armies of the Medes and the Persians under the leadership of Cyrus capture the city, killing its resident king, Belshazzar. (Daniel 5:1-4, 30) In one night Babylon is toppled from her position of world dominance. Thus ends centuries of Semitic supremacy, and the world now falls under Aryan control. Babylon itself goes into a centuries-long period of decline. By the fourth century C.E., it is nothing more than “piles of stones.” (Jeremiah 51:37) Isaiah’s prophecy is thus completely fulfilled.
A Modern-Day Babylon
22 Isaiah’s prophecy furnishes much food for thought. For one thing, it underscores the dangers of pride and haughtiness. Proud Babylon’s fall illustrates the Bible proverb: “Pride is before a crash, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” (Proverbs 16:18) Pride sometimes dominates our imperfect natures, but being “puffed up with pride” can lead to coming “into reproach and a snare of the Devil.” (1 Timothy 3:6, 7) We do well, then, to heed James’ counsel: “Humble yourselves in the eyes of Jehovah, and he will exalt you.”—James 4:10.
23 These prophetic words also help us to have confidence in Jehovah, who is more powerful than all his opposers. (Psalm 24:8; 34:7; 50:15; 91:14, 15) This is a comforting reminder in these difficult days. Confidence in Jehovah strengthens our determination to remain blameless in his eyes, knowing that “the future of [the blameless] man will be peaceful.” (Psalm 37:37, 38) It is always wise to look to Jehovah and not rely on our own resources in the face of Satan’s “crafty acts.”—Ephesians 6:10-13, footnote.
24 Notably, we are warned against spiritistic practices, especially astrology. (Galatians 5:20, 21) When Babylon fell, astrology did not lose its hold on people. Interestingly, the book Great Cities of the Ancient World notes that the constellations mapped out by the Babylonians have “shifted” from their ancient positions, “making nonsense of the whole idea [of astrology].” Still, astrology continues to thrive, and many newspapers carry columns that make horoscopes readily available to their readers.
25 What makes people—many of them well educated—consult the stars or engage in other illogical, superstitious practices? The World Book Encyclopedia says: “Superstitions will probably have a part in life as long as people fear each other and have uncertainties about the future.” Fear and uncertainty may drive people to become superstitious. Christians, however, shun superstition. They do not fear man—Jehovah is their support. (Psalm 6:4-10) And they are not uncertain about the future; they know Jehovah’s revealed purposes and have no doubt that “to time indefinite the very counsel of Jehovah will stand.” (Psalm 33:11) Bringing our lives into harmony with Jehovah’s counsel ensures a happy, long-term future.
26 In recent years some have tried to discern the future in more “scientific” ways. There is even a discipline called futurology, defined as “a study that deals with future possibilities based on current trends.” For example, back in 1972 a group of academics and businessmen known as the Club of Rome predicted that by 1992 all the world’s reserves of gold, mercury, zinc, and petroleum would be exhausted. Well, the world has faced horrendous problems since 1972, but that prediction was wrong on all counts. The earth still has reserves of gold, mercury, zinc, and petroleum. Indeed, man has worn himself out trying to predict the future, but his guesses are always unreliable. Truly, “the reasonings of the wise men are futile”!—1 Corinthians 3:20.
The Coming End of Babylon the Great
27 Modern-day religions have perpetuated many of ancient Babylon’s doctrines. Hence, the world empire of false religion is well named Babylon the Great. (Revelation 17:5) That international religious conglomerate has already suffered a fall similar to that of ancient Babylon in 539 B.C.E. (Revelation 14:8; 18:2) In 1919 the remnant of Christ’s brothers came out of spiritual captivity and shook off the religious influence of Christendom, a dominant part of Babylon the Great. Since then Christendom has lost considerable influence in many lands where it was formerly strong.
28 That fall, however, was just a precursor to the ultimate destruction of false religion. Interestingly, Revelation’s prophecy of the destruction of Babylon the Great reminds us of the prophetic words recorded at Isaiah 47:8, 9. Like ancient Babylon, modern-day Babylon the Great says: “I sit a queen, and I am no widow, and I shall never see mourning.” But “in one day her plagues will come, death and mourning and famine, and she will be completely burned with fire, because Jehovah God, who judged her, is strong.” So the prophetic words recorded in Isaiah chapter 47 stand as a warning to those who are still affiliated with false religion. If they are to avoid sharing in her destruction, let them heed the inspired command: “Get out of her”!—Revelation 18:4, 7, 8.
For detailed information on the development of false religious doctrines, see the book Mankind’s Search for God, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
In Hebrew “virgin daughter of Babylon” is an idiom referring to Babylon or the inhabitants of Babylon. She is “virgin” because she has not been despoiled by a conqueror since she became a world power.
The Hebrew expression rendered “I shall not meet any man kindly” has been described by scholars as “an extremely difficult phrase” to translate. The New World Translation inserts the word “kindly” so as to convey the thought that no outsiders would be allowed to come to Babylon’s rescue. A translation by the Jewish Publication Society renders this clause: “I will . . . let no man intercede.”
The book Nabonidus and Belshazzar, by Raymond Philip Dougherty, notes that while the Nabonidus Chronicle claims that Babylon’s invaders entered “without fighting,” Greek historian Xenophon indicates that there may have been considerable bloodshed.
Some render the Hebrew expression translated “worshipers of the heavens” as “dividers of the heavens.” This would refer to the practice of partitioning the heavens into fields so as to cast horoscopes.
1, 2. (a) Why does it seem unlikely to some that there will soon be a radical change in the world’s religious climate? (b) How do we know that the words of Isaiah chapter 47 have a future application? (c) Why is “Babylon the Great” an appropriate designation for all false religion?
3. Describe the greatness of the Babylonian World Power.
4. What will Babylon experience?
5. (a) How will Babylon be stripped of her ‘veil and flowing skirt’? (b) What may be indicated by the command for her to “cross over the rivers”?
6. (a) In what sense will Babylon’s nakedness be uncovered? (b) How does God “not meet any man kindly”? (See footnote.)
7. (a) How will Jewish exiles respond to the news of Babylon’s fall? (b) In what way will Jehovah repurchase his people?
8. In what sense will Babylon “come into the darkness”?
9. Why does Jehovah become indignant at the Jews?
10, 11. Why is Jehovah angry at Babylon, even though it is his will that she conquer his people?
12. Why is Babylon called a “pleasure-given woman”?
13. How will Babylon’s penchant for pleasure-seeking hasten her fall?
14. In what ways will Babylon suffer both “loss of children and widowhood”?
15. In addition to Babylon’s cruelty to the Jews, for what further reason is Jehovah wrathful with her?
16, 17. (a) How does Babylon ‘trust in her badness’? (b) Why can Babylon’s end not be averted?
18, 19. How will Babylon’s reliance on her counselors prove disastrous?
20. What will be the fate of Babylon’s counselors?
21. How and when do Isaiah’s prophetic words prove true?
22. What lesson about pride does Babylon’s fall teach us?
23. Isaiah’s prophecy helps us to have what confidence?
24, 25. (a) Why is astrology illogical, yet why do many turn to it? (b) What are some reasons why Christians shun superstition?
26. How have “the reasonings of the wise men” proved to be “futile”?
27. When and in what way did Babylon the Great undergo a fall like that of Babylon in 539 B.C.E.?
28. What boast does Babylon the Great make, but what awaits her?
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Pleasure-seeking Babylon will be brought down to the dust
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Babylon’s astrologers will be unable to predict her fall
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A Babylonian astrological calendar, first millennium B.C.E.
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Modern-day Babylon will soon be no more