The Beginning of a Bible Mystery
JEHOVAH is a God of light. In working out his purposes he has sacred secrets, yet he does not forever keep them to himself, but fully reveals them in his due time. He is not a God of unexplainable mysteries, but the reader of his Book the Bible will find that, starting with its first book Genesis and ending with its last book Revelation, he unfolds, step by step, a great mystery, not of his making, but by his allowance. At the end of the Bible the solution is revealed as in the brilliance of daylight. If you follow the thread of this mystery through the Bible, you find God’s revelation of it more absorbingly interesting than any fiction mystery and you become far more engrossed in it, for not only are the situations and personalities real, but your very own life hinges on your understanding of its solution. You cannot afford to leave out any of the clues presented, else you will get only a hazy understanding and will thus be unable to take the lifesaving course that God reveals as the mystery reaches its climax.
Just what is the theme of this mystery? It is the fall of “Babylon the Great.” The reason why it is so vital to the reader is that this fall is closely linked with God’s kingdom. In fact, its fall means that God’s kingdom is ruling. It was to come with such shocking suddenness that the vast majority of mankind was to be surprised and caught in the worldwide consequences of it. The understanding of this mystery will enable the righteous-hearted person to join with others who have for centuries prayed for this event, knowing that it means liberation from an oppression that has lasted so long.
If Babylon is doomed, then we are confronted with a choice that we must face honestly and courageously. With God’s Word the sacred Bible at hand we do not have to leave ourselves in ignorance over this choice. Through the pages of this Book we hear the rousing command to those who desire to be God’s people to get out of Babylon. This indicates that all such are somehow in captivity as slaves of Babylon. We must know what Babylon the Great is and also what God’s kingdom is, for the choice is: Stay in doomed Babylon and die or get out of her and put ourselves under the rule of God’s kingdom for life.
To get a complete understanding of what Babylon the Great is, we must first consider Babylon of old, which had a history-making fall in the year 539 B.C.E. Much information concerning Babylon, both archaeologically and historically, is available, especially now that its impressive ruins have been uncovered since 1899 and since the Bible gives us much of the history of ancient Babylon. Why is there so much in the Bible about Babylon of old? Romans 15:4 tells us: “All the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction, that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.” The mystery of Babylon the Great is now about finished. It is therefore important, yes, most urgent to understand ancient Babylon’s history, its fall and final destruction, thereby getting light on its counterpart, Babylon the Great, which the book of Revelation mentions as exercising ruling authority long after the city of Babylon had lost its world political empire.
AN OPPOSER OF GOD BUILDS BABYLON
The very first mention of Babylon in the Bible is at Genesis chapter ten, verse ten, which states: “And the beginning of his kingdom came to be Babel.” Babylon is the same as Babel, for the first written translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into a foreign language is the Greek Septuagint, and the Greek-speaking Hebrews doing the work translated the name Babel as Babylon. The Latin Vulgate version also uses the name Babylon, as do other translations. It is an interesting fact that the Bible is the only historical record that informs us about the origin and the founder of Babel or Babylon. It tells us that Babel’s founder was a man named Nimrod, an offspring of Cush, the son of Ham. He was therefore a great-grandson of Noah. It informs us, too, that Nimrod was the first human king. The American Standard Version Bible presents the record in these words: “Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, namely, of Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and unto them were sons born after the flood. The sons of . . . Ham: Cush, and Mizraim, and Put, and Canaan. . . . And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before Jehovah: wherefore it is said, Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before Jehovah. And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. Out of that land he went forth into Assyria, and builded Nineveh, and Rehoboth-Ir, and Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (the same is the great city).”—Gen. 10:1-12.
Hunters of note, even today, are nicknamed Nimrod. But was this Nimrod merely a hunter of animals? Just what kind of hunter was he? The Jewish Encyclopedia, Volume 9, edition of 1909, page 309, says that Nimrod, in the writings of Jewish rabbis, “is the prototype of a rebellious people, his name being interpreted as ‘he who made all the people rebellious against God.’”
Alexander Marlowe, in his work “The Book of Beginnings,” renders Genesis 10:8, 9 as follows: “And Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty tyrant in the land. He was a terrible subjugator, defiant before the face of Jehovah: wherefore it is said, even as Nimrod, the giant hunter, presumptuous in the place of Jehovah.”a
The Hebrew preposition liphneí is the word translated “before” in the expression “before Jehovah.” M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia, Volume VII, edition of 1894, page 109, says:
The preposition לפני has often, as [Lexicographer] Gesenius admits, a hostile sense—in front of, for the purpose of opposing (Numbers 16:2; 1 Chronicles 14:8; 2 Chronicles 14:10); and the Septuagint gives it such a sense in the verse under consideration—ἐναντίον Κυρίου—”against the Lord.” The [Jewish] Targums and [historian] Josephus give the preposition this hostile meaning. The context also inclines us to it. That the mighty hunting was not confined to the chase is apparent from its close connection with the building of eight cities. . . . What Nimrod did in the chase as a hunter was the earlier token of what he achieved as a conqueror. For hunting and heroism were of old specially and naturally associated, . . . The Assyrian monuments also picture many feats in hunting, and the word is often employed to denote campaigning. . . . The meaning then will be, that Nimrod was the first after the flood to found a kingdom, to unite the fragments of scattered patriarchal rule, and consolidate them under himself as sole head and master; and all this in defiance of Jehovah, for it was the violent intrusion of Hamitic power into a Shemitic territory.
In harmony with this discernment of matters, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, edition of 1961, translates Genesis 10:8-10 as follows: “And Cush became father to Nimrod. He made the start in becoming a mighty one in the earth. He displayed himself a mighty hunter in opposition to Jehovah. That is why there is a saying: ‘Just like Nimrod a mighty hunter in opposition to Jehovah.’ And the beginning of his kingdom came to be Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.”
MAN ACCOUNTABLE TO GOD FOR BLOOD SHED
When Noah and his family stepped out onto dry ground after one solar year in the ark, they had one spirit or mental inclination. Their first action, the record recounts, was their reestablishment of true worship on earth by building an altar and offering up to their Creator and Preserver pleasing, acceptable sacrifices of thanksgiving. In response God blessed Noah and his sons and stated the law that would now govern man’s relationship to animal creation and to his fellowman. He gave permission to humans, for the first time, to eat the flesh of animals, birds and fish. But as the Creator and Owner of all things, including the lives of animals and men, God rightly expressed to Noah at this time the fact that life is sacred to him. This was 1,657 years after the creation of Adam (2369 B.C.E., calculated according to the Gregorian calendar).
Jehovah God here explained to Noah that the life, or soul, of the flesh is in the blood and that, while he was now giving man flesh of animals to eat to sustain his life, no one had the right to eat or drink the creature’s blood, because this would mean taking to himself the creature’s life, which life or soul belongs to the Life-giver. (Gen. 9:3, 4) What was the way this blood should be disposed of? It had to be drained when the animal was killed and poured out on the ground, “mother” earth. (Lev. 17:13; Deut. 12:16; 15:23; Acts 15:20) It was like giving the life back to God, but taking only the flesh as something graciously granted by him. The Bible, therefore, does not condemn the hunting of animals for food, clothing or protection, but it does condemn wanton killing for the sake of sport or pleasure, spilling blood or life to no useful or God-ordained purpose.
More important than the life of lower animal creatures is the life of man, because man was made in God’s image. God emphasized how seriously he considers this when he said to Noah and his sons: “And, besides that, your blood of your souls shall I ask back. From the hand of every living creature shall I ask it back; and from the hand of man, from the hand of each one who is his brother, shall I ask back the soul of man. Anyone shedding man’s blood, by man will his own blood be shed, for in God’s image he made man.”—Gen. 9:5, 6.
So then, the blood or life of man was considered much more valuable than that of animals, and God said that he would demand an accounting from anyone who took human life. He would have to pay with his own life. All humankind, being descendants of Noah and his sons, are bound by this law of God.
GROSS VIOLATION OF GOD’S COMMAND ON BLOOD
But Nimrod manifested a different spirit from Noah and Shem. He exhibited the bad, selfish, ambitious, bloodthirsty spirit of the great opposer of God, Satan the Devil. Being the great-grandson of Noah, he was certainly bound by that law governing the use of blood. But his course showed he had complete disregard for the law of God, not only by hunting wild beasts in a wanton manner to make himself a hero, but by extending this hunting to conquest in battle and the killing of human creatures. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 10, page 741, says, concerning Nimrod as “a mighty hunter before the Lord”: “This last may be taken in the strict sense—hunter of wild beasts, for such we know the Babylonian princes to have been; or in the sense of warrior, the original word gibbor having the meaning ‘hero.’” With this last suggestion The Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 20, edition of 1929, page 350, agrees, saying: “He is styled a ‘mighty hunter before the Lord,’ a somewhat vague expression, but evidently referring to battle and conquest as well as to the chase.” The Bible says, at Genesis 10:11, 12: “Out of that land [of Shinar] he went forth into Assyria and set himself to building Nineveh and Rehoboth-Ir and Calah and Resen between Nineveh and Calah: this is the great city.”
By the time of Nimrod the population must have grown greatly in obedience to God’s command to Noah and his sons Shem, Ham and Japheth to “be fruitful and become many, make the earth swarm with you and become many in it.” (Gen. 9:1, 7) So there were people for Nimrod to set himself up over as king in the city of Babylon (Babel) in the land of Shinar.
Then, on extending his empire into Assyria from Babylon, he had to invade the territory of the son of Shem, because Assyria was the land of Asshur, son of Shem. (Gen. 10:22) This was aggressive action, and was undoubtedly attended by bloodshed, the killing of those whose territory he took in establishing Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. So Nimrod was a murderer, even to a greater extent than the first murderer, Cain. Nimrod’s capital city Babel was responsible, because it was building up its empire in bloodshed. No wonder that the land of the aggressive Assyrian World Power is called, at Micah 5:5, 6, the “land of Nimrod.” What a pattern Nimrod caused Babel to set for its counterpart, Babylon the Great, to follow!—Rev. 17:5, 6.
The Bible does not tell us how God required back from Nimrod all the blood that he had shed, but in the listing of the family lines from Noah’s three sons, Nimrod is not mentioned as having any children. So the Bible cuts him off, taking no note of any children that he might have had. Legends and traditions recorded by pagan historians indicate that Nimrod met a violent death at the hands of executioners.
But Nimrod did not stop even at wars of aggression and murder in violation of God’s law in his course of “opposition to Jehovah.” As we shall see in the next issue of this magazine, he used his city, Babylon, to go farther, even to defy Jehovah God’s universal sovereignty, thus providing another clue in the mystery of Babylon the Great.
a Quoted from the 1938 edition, by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.A.
[Picture on page 265]
BABYLON THE GREAT