A Bible Theme We Must Learn
NO Bible reader can ignore the fact that one of the dominating themes of the Bible is the fall of Babylon. It is also forced on his attention that there are two Babylons, one greater than the other; and he reads of the fall of both of these cities. One is a prototype of the other, and the existence and fall of both of these cities has great effect upon the true worshipers of God, yes, upon the entire world.
It is a matter of historical record that the first Babylon has fallen and gone into complete ruin, without an inhabitant. Even to Jehovah God, the sovereign Ruler of heaven and earth, the fall of Babylon was very important, for he caused his prophet Isaiah to describe its fall and destruction more than 190 years before the event actually occurred. But long after the fall of the ancient city of Babylon, God again foretold through his greatest Prophet, Jesus Christ, the fall of a greater Babylon. Its prototype, Babylon on the Euphrates, was an enemy of God and a thresher of his people Israel, and her destruction was a cause for Israel to rejoice, but the fall and destruction of Greater Babylon are of universal consequence and occasions for rejoicing on the part of the heavens and those dwelling on earth who serve God in true worship.—Revelation, chapters 17, 18.
LIFE OR DESTRUCTION INVOLVED
This Bible theme, the fall of Babylon, is a theme that we must learn. Like ancient Babylon, Babylon the Great is an empire. Ancient Babylon was the center of false religion that opposed God. Babylon the Great has outdone its prototype in enmity against God, for it constitutes the world empire of false religion. It has misrepresented God, put men in bondage to fear and superstition, has influenced governments and set them against one another and has caused most of the bloodshed that has taken place on the earth. (Rev. 18:24) Babylon the Great, as in the case of ancient Babylon, is foretold to suffer, first, a fall that breaks her power to hold onto her captives, and, later, complete destruction and ruination. The outstanding feature of this theme is that if we are in Babylon we must get out quickly and after getting free be extremely careful not to touch her or have anything to do with her wickedness and spiritual fornication.—Rev. 18:4; Isa. 52:11.
In ancient times Babylon put men in fear of danger for their lives, but modern Babylon the Great puts men in graver danger. How? Jesus said that many will be resurrected: “The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28, 29) He tells us that even the people of such wicked cities as Sodom and Gomorrah, Tyre and Sidon, Nineveh, and the Jewish cities that did not like Jesus’ preaching, namely, Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, will come back for the great Judgment Day. (Matt. 10:15; 11:20-24; 12:41) But those who stay in Babylon the Great and refuse to come out till she is destroyed will lose even all opportunity of a resurrection, for these will go down into everlasting destruction with her.—Rev. 18:4, 21.
So this Bible theme is of paramount importance to us and we must understand it and its relation to God and his kingdom that now rules, in order to preserve our own lives and in order to help our loved ones and others to gain everlasting life on earth.
A PREVIEW OF BABYLON’S FALL
By understanding the theme of Babylon’s fall we can identify Babylon the Great and also understand what it means to escape before her complete desolation. In a vision given to Isaiah he not only heard about the fall of Babylon, but was actually given a preview of it and its conquerors. He said, under divine inspiration: “The pronouncement against the wilderness of the sea: Like stormwinds in the south in moving onward, from the wilderness it is coming, from a fear-inspiring land. There is a hard vision that has been told to me: The treacherous dealer is dealing treacherously, and the despoiler is despoiling. Go up, O Elam! Lay siege, O Media! All sighing due to her I have caused to cease.”—Isa. 21:1, 2.
The “wilderness of the sea” is an expression referring to the region of ancient Babylon, for Babylon lay across the Euphrates River, the eastern half of the city being between the Euphrates and the Tigris Rivers. When the two rivers overflowed, southern Mesopotamia became a wilderness sea. In order to reduce this recurrent condition, the Babylonians built a grand series of dikes, sluices, canals and catch basins. In the Bible the word “sea” sometimes refers to the west, and here may refer to the country west of the lands of Elam and Persia—Babylonia, which would become a wilderness state.
Now Isaiah saw a terrible storm coming upon Babylon from a fear-inspiring land that lay east of Babylon. The storm began to be stirred up when Cyrus II the Persian* made himself also king of Media. In his proclamation to the Babylonians Cyrus calls his ancestors, Teispes, Cyrus I and Cambyses I, by the title of “King of Anshan.” This same title is given to Cyrus II himself in the cuneiform inscriptions and in the Chronicle of Nabonidus of Babylon before Cyrus defeated and deposed Astyages, king of Media. Anshan was a district of Elam or Susiana and lay east of the Tigris River. Jeremiah, in 617 B.C.E., foretold a defeat of the Elamites. (Jer. 49:34-39) It is possible that Teispes conquered the district of Anshan (or, Anzan) in 596 B.C.E., to the south of which district the Persians had earlier located themselves. Teispes assumed the title of “Great King, King of the City Anshan.” So there was close association of the Persians with the Elamites as well as the Medes.
Therefore, this symbolic storm that Isaiah saw came from a bad source for Babylon, as from a fear-inspiring wilderness in the south. (Compare Job 1:19.) According to Isaiah’s prophecy, Babylon would become a treacherous dealer and a despoiler, especially toward God’s people Israel. Her overthrow would naturally end the sorrow of those whom she despoiled and bring joy to them.
FEAR SEIZES THE TREACHEROUS DESPOILER
Isaiah, depicting the effect of this storm upon Babylon, says: “That is why my hips have become full of severe pains. Convulsions themselves have grabbed hold of me, like the convulsions of a woman that is giving birth. I have become disconcerted so that I do not hear; I have become disturbed so that I do not see. My heart has wandered about; a shuddering itself has terrified me. The twilight for which I had an attachment has been made for me a trembling.”—Isa. 21:3, 4.
While dealing treacherously and acting as despoilers, the Babylonians could look forward to the twilight for a good night’s sleep without fear. But this storm would take away their comfort and wreck their sleep. Isaiah then addresses himself to the nobles of Babylon as though he could foresee the feast that Belshazzar later arranged. He says: “Let there be a setting of the table in order, an arranging of the location of seats, an eating, a drinking! Get up, you princes, anoint the shield. For this is what Jehovah has said to me: ‘Go, post a lookout that he may tell just what he sees.”’—Isa. 21:5, 6.
On the night of October 5-6, 539 B.C.E., there was great feasting in Babylon and great rejoicing over despoiled Jerusalem, with blasphemous defiling of the vessels Babylon had captured from Jehovah’s temple in 607 B.C.E. But that very night the city fell to the Medes and Persians. Then the Babylonian princes had to anoint the battle shield to defend the city. But this proved to be in vain. The conquerors entered the castle and killed King Belshazzar, making it necessary for the princes to anoint a new shield, install a new king. This new symbolic shield would have to be their conqueror; else it would go hard with the Babylonian princes.
Isaiah now tells what the watchman posted on Jerusalem’s walls reports: “And he saw a war chariot with a span of steeds, a war chariot of asses, a war chariot of camels. And he paid strict attention, with much attentiveness. And he proceeded to call out like a lion: ‘Upon the watchtower, O Jehovah, I am standing constantly by day, and at my guardpost I am stationed all the nights. And here, now, there is coming a war chariot of men, with a span of steeds!”’—Isa. 21:7-9.
So before the Chaldean lookout actually posted on Babylon’s walls in 539 B.C.E. saw the Medes and Persians coming against the city, the prophetic watchman on Jerusalem’s walls had a miraculous preview many years previously. This came to be a great comfort to God’s people when they later came into captivity in Babylon as they watched for the fulfillment of this and Jeremiah’s prophecies. Daniel, an exile for more than seventy years, was one who closely watched. He says: “In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus of the seed of the Medes, . . . I myself, Daniel, discerned by the books the number of the years concerning which the word of Jehovah had occurred to Jeremiah the prophet, for fulfilling the devastations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. And I proceeded to set my face to Jehovah the true God.”—Dan. 9:1-3.
Herodotus (I,80) records that Cyrus’ army carried its baggage on camels and that he even put riders on camels and used them in fighting against the horses of King Croesus of Lydia. He also used asses and camels as pack animals, and perhaps even to carry men into battle. The expression “war chariot” evidently describes a collection of chariots that the watchman saw, with steeds to pull them swiftly into battle. Or it may be that the two kinds of animals picture the two peoples in the siege of Babylon, the asses picturing the Elamites and the camels the Medes.
WE MUST BE ON THE WATCH
The watchman whom Isaiah sees in vision certainly sets us a fine example today in watching for and discerning the fall and the final destruction of Babylon the Great. Also Daniel, back in captivity in Babylonia, shows us the proper attitude toward this important Bible theme by watching and giving strict attention day and night.
Now the watchman calls out: “She has fallen! Babylon has fallen, and all the graven images of her gods he has broken to the earth!” (Isa. 21:9) This event would mean liberation and joy to God’s people back there and is the looked-for event that brings greatest joy to those on earth to whom God expresses his goodwill in this time of final judgment of Babylon the Great. Who was it that smashed the graven images of Babylon’s gods and broke them to the earth? Not the Elamites and Medes, for they did not go about doing this, but it was Jehovah himself, who by liberating his people and crushing Babylon, in effect threw all Babylon’s gods and images to the ground, for he proved that they were really no gods, that they were merely lifeless, helpless images. The Almighty God of heaven and earth merely used the Elamites and Medes as his weapons against Babylon. It is interesting to note that the victor Cyrus himself gives Jehovah God the credit, as recorded at 2 Chronicles 36:22, 23 and Ezra 1:1-3.
Now, long before it happened, the prophet Isaiah shows that Israel would receive a cruel threshing at the hands of Babylon: “O my threshed ones and the son of my threshing floor, what I have heard from Jehovah of armies, the God of Israel, I have reported to you people.” (Isa. 21:10) Jehovah’s people had become rebellious and unfaithful and it was on his threshing floor that he would allow the instrument Babylon to beat down his people. But this would be only for a time and then God would bring vengeance upon the thresher, who did it out of hatred for God and his people. This would also give the comforting news that a faithful remnant would survive Babylon’s fall and would be returned to Jerusalem.
Today is a time when God has gathered together his people and is causing the good news of the Kingdom to be proclaimed throughout all the earth as a witness to the nations, according to Jesus’ prophecy at Matthew 24:14. The Kingdom now rules. Babylon’s power to hold her captives is broken and she is exposed as God’s enemy.* This prophetic preview of Isaiah shows that Babylon would tread down Jehovah’s people Israel but that a faithful remnant would survive this “threshing.” Accompanying this understanding of the vision is the knowledge that Jehovah’s people will see Babylon the Great go down, to their joy; in the meantime they aid many others to freedom and survival by teaching the good news to them now. These will rejoice, too, in the vindication of God over his ancient enemy and the establishment of true worship exclusively in the earth, without a rival. They will be well on the road to everlasting life. Those who hang on to Babylon until her destruction will do so in spite of the preaching of the good news of the Kingdom, and because they want and love Babylon and her ungodly ways. They will be gone forever.
Then many of Babylon’s victims of the ages past will come back in a resurrection, to rejoice in the fact that she is gone and that in the great mercy of God he brought them back for an opportunity to learn of true worship and to serve the great King, with the prospect of everlasting life. What a fine conclusion to the theme, and how favored the ones learning it! Further discussion of the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah in this magazine will help us to learn the theme more thoroughly.
“Modern authorities have often supposed that Cyrus and his ancestors were in reality Elamites; but this is contrary to all tradition, and there can be no doubt that Cyrus was genuine Persian and a true believer in the Zoroastrian religion. In Herodotus vii, II the genealogy of Cyrus is given in exactly the same way as in the proclamation of Cyrus himself; Teispes [great-grandfather of Cyrus] is called here the son of the eponym Achaemenes.”—The Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 7, eleventh edition, pages 706, 707.
For a full discussion see the book “Babylon the Great Has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules!, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, 1963.