At the Crossroads
“Take heed that no man deceive you,” are the first words that Jesus uttered in response to His disciples’ question, “what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” Christ proceeded to say: “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (, ). Throughout history and particularly in the end times, Satan’s master deception has been and shall continue to be the appearance of individuals who will falsely identify themselves either as Jesus Christ Himself or as Christ’s legitimate representatives. These false Christs or impostors will act with such skill and craftiness that “many”—meaning the majority of the world’s population—shall be deceived and led astray.
Using symbolic language,contains an amazing description of God’s judgments that shall be visited upon a wicked and immoral woman that is called “Babylon the great.” This woman wields tremendous global power in the days immediately preceding Christ’s second coming. She has succeeded in creating an unlawful alliance with the most powerful political, economic, and military leaders of the world. However, God’s judgments will suddenly fall upon “the great prostitute” and cause her utter destruction. Upon seeing Babylon’s terrible end, her many lovers will be inconsolable. Standing afar, they will lament the unexpected demise of the “great city” that had made them rich and powerful.
Of particular interest to us is the following short description of Babylon’s secret weapon for achieving the world domination: “. . . for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived” (, last part). Some other Bible translations use for this word “sorcery” (Greek pharmakeia), the words “witchcraft,” “enchantment,” or “magic spell.” It should not escape our attention that earlier in the same chapter we are told that all nations have drunk the wine of Babylon: “For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies” ( ). Two inferences follow from this verse: Babylon unquestionably exercises worldwide dominance, and second, this powerful but illicit liaison with the kings and merchants of the world and with the political bodies and commercial alliances they represent, is obtained to a large extent through the intoxicating and bewitching influence of Babylon’s wine.
It is precisely because of the deceptive use of her intoxicating wine upon the nations and their leaders which Babylon uses as vehicles for carrying out her ambitious and bloodthirsty agenda, that in the final judgment upon the great prostitute, God issues a command that Babylon be given her own medicine: “Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double” ().
In this article we will look more closely into the history and meaning of the name “Babylon” and of the “wine of Babylon.” Further, we will identify the agents that dispense it, the subjects who receive it, and the influence of that wine on those who drink it. We will take note of God’s care for His people in Babylon, and of the only protection available to God’s people against the wine of Babylon.
So, let us embark on this all-important journey of discovering the mysterious wine of Babylon—the greatest deception of all times from which no one on the earth shall escape except God’s little remnant, “that keep the commandments of God and have the faith of Jesus” ().
A correct understanding of the apocalyptic prophecies in the books of Daniel and Revelation requires consistent application of certain rules of biblical interpretation. One of the foundational rules of interpretation is that the Bible interprets itself. The New Testament book of Revelation is saturated with figurative language (words, phrases, imagery) that is firmly rooted in the Old Testament. Therefore, to understand the meaning of the key words that are of interest to us (like Babylon, wine, fornication, etc.), we first need to investigate the relevant Old Testament texts to ascertain their meaning.
The history of the name “Babylon” and of the city bearing that name is exceptionally interesting and even intriguing. It reaches back to the very dawn of the first civilizations that emerged in the wake of the worldwide flood in ancient Mesopotamia, along the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. Babylon is first mentioned in the Bible as a name of the city built by Nimrod, the descendant of Ham, one of the Noah’s three sons. The Bible says of him: “He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. . . . And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar” (, ).
The second notable mention of Babylon we find in the very next chapter of Genesis, in the story of the tower of Babel. Early inhabitants of Mesopotamia, moving from the east, “found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there” (). Sadly, they failed to trust in God’s promises and in the covenant which He had made with their ancestor, Noah. God promised to Noah and his descendants: “Neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth” ( ). They gave expression to their unbelief in God’s promises by saying: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” ( , NKJV). The Bible informs us that they might have succeeded in their enterprise had God not intervened and confused the one language used by all the builders.
The biblical record of that event and of God’s response to human rebellion reads as follows: “Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth” ().
Shinar is mentioned once more in Genesis chapterin the record of a military operation undertaken by a confederation of several kings against the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. As Sodom and Gomorrah suffered defeat, Abraham intervened and pursued the invading kings to rescue his nephew, Lot. The coalition of aggressors appears to be led by king Chedorlaomer, king of Elam. Noteworthy is that the first-named king in the list of the invading monarchs is Amraphel, king of Shinar ( ; the marginal reading for “Shinar” in the NIV Bible is “Babylonia”). Victorious Abraham is met on his way back from the battle with the kings by Melchizedek, the king of Salem, the same city that will later be named Jerusalem ( ).
From the historical account in the book of Genesis we can gather several important facts about ancient Babylon. They could be summarized this way:
1. In the biblical record, the name “Babel” appears to be associated with the Hebrew word for “confusion” that emerged once God “confused” the language of the builders (Heb. balal, “He confused”). The etymology of the word “Babel” can also be established by looking into the ancient Semitic languages (Assyrian, Arabic, Aramaic, and late Hebrew). In the Assyrian form, Bab-ili means the “the gate of god” (bab meaning a “gateway,” while the last syllable “-el” is a common word for “god”).1 It is important to observe that the names “Babel” and “Babylon” refer to the same entity, the same city. “Babylon” is just a transliteration of the Greek form of that name (Babylonos).
2. The location of the ancient city of Babylon or Babel—the one built by Nimrod and the one built by the builders of the tower of Babel—is “in the land of Shinar” (; ). Bible scholars and historians are of the opinion that the name “Shinar” is cognate with Sumer, the first and most fascinating major civilization in the annals of human history. Sumerian civilization flourished in the Fertile Crescent in the fourth and third millennium B.C. and became renowned for its innovations in language, governance, mathematics, astronomy, architecture, and more. The ruins of the ancient Babylon are located about 53 miles (85 km) south of Baghdad, Iraq.
3. Nimrod, the founder of Babel, is portrayed in the Bible as “a mighty hunter before the Lord,” in other words, a powerful man skilled in hunting and in the use of force. As such, Nimrod could be viewed also as violent and aggressive, capable of placing people under his control. He builds a kingdom consisting of several important ancient cities, the principal of which is Babel.
4. Successors of Nimrod carry on Nimrod’s work by expanding the city of Babel and by building an exceedingly tall tower. They act in defiance of God’s promise that there would not be another worldwide flood. Further, they strive to “make a name for themselves,” that is, to be established on their own, independently from God, by which they hope to prevent scattering in different parts of the world. These actions indicate human pride and rebellion, but also an intent to centralize the world government and to concentrate the world population in one location or one region. God frustrates this globalist agenda, confuses their common language, and disperses the city dwellers and builders all over the world.
5. The king of Shinar or Babylonia is part of an aggressive military expedition undertaken by several kings to deprive even some of God’s representatives of their freedom, their possessions, and their land. Abraham opposes this invasion and the aggressive conduct of the king of Shinar/Babylonia and of his allies. Abraham receives blessings from the priest of God Most High who is also the king of another major biblical city, the city of Salem. This is the first place in the Scripture where we find in an embryonic form the contrast between two major cities—Babylon and Jerusalem (Salem), and between two major classes of people—the followers of Nimrod, a mighty man who relies on his human prowess and ingenuity, in contrast to the followers of Abraham, a man who responds to God’s call by faith. Abraham, together with the promised descendants, represents the kingdom of God on earth. As we will see, Babylon and Jerusalem will remain in constant conflict until the end of this world.
From an independent city-state, Babylon will rise to the world fame under the First Babylonian dynasty in the 19th century B.C. The most notable ruler during that period was the Amorite king, Hammurabi (1792–1750 B.C.), who established the Old Babylonian Empire. In the centuries to follow, that early Empire will wane and pass through the Assyrian, Kassite, and Elamite domination. Babylon will restore its old glory and even surpass it when it became the capital of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (609/605–539 B.C.). This kingdom was founded by Nabopolassar (626–605 B.C.) but reached its zenith under his son and the well-known biblical character, Nebuchadnezzar II (605–561 B.C.).
Although the Neo-Babylonian Empire and its rulers were used as a tool in God’s hands to punish other nations, including God’s own people (, ), Babylon in the Old Testament represents the religious-political system that stands in opposition to the religion of the true God. Babylon’s chief aim is world domination and the establishment of a global order that is antithetical to the principles of God’s government. Babylon is therefore consistently portrayed as a great enemy of God’s people. The name is mentioned in the Bible about 280 times, second only to Jerusalem, clearly indicating that Babylon is Jerusalem’s chief rival. The pride, arrogance, and attitude of Babylon and its emperors toward God and His people ( ; , ) are used by the prophet Isaiah as a personification of the boastful claims of Lucifer and of his rebellion in heaven ( ).
It is no wonder then that God administers divine justice by punishing Babylon for her pride, defiance of God, idolatry, lawlessness, and particularly for the oppression of His people. The prophets Jeremiah (chapters 25, 50, and) and Isaiah (chapters 13, 44, 47) announced God’s judgment upon Babylon and her final doom. The language of the Old Testament prophets portraying the disposition and the evil deeds of Babylon and God’s judgment of Babylon’s rebellion, idolatry, and lawlessness, is closely followed by the New Testament authors, particularly by the apostle John in the book of Revelation. Although the ancient city of Babylon became an uninhabitable heap of ruins by the end of the first century A.D., Babylon remains a symbol of a power antagonistic to God and His people. Among both Jews and Christians, the cryptic name of Babylon was used with reference to Rome (see ).
Babylon’s intoxicating wine and the cup containing that wine are brought out to light by the prophet Jeremiah in his oracle against Babylon: “Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad” (). Babylon is the “cup of the wine of wrath” in God’s hand that is urged upon the nations because nations are guilty before God: “For thus saith the Lord God of Israel unto me; Take the wine cup of this fury at my hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send thee, to drink it” ( ). It clearly follows from these verses that the Babylon’s wine is an intoxicating or mind-altering substance that is dispensed in a costly and appealing vessel. Further, drinking of Babylon’s wine leads to God’s judgments.
The Old Testament prophecies about the ancient Babylon provide us with another important imagery which the apostle John will use in the Revelation. That is the image of Babylon as a woman that is both powerful and attractive, but also cunning, immoral, and exceptionally seductive. The prophet Isaiah says this of God’s judgment upon the “daughter of Babylon . . . daughter of Chaldeans.”
“Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen: I will take vengeance, and I will not meet thee as a man. . . . Sit thou silent, and get thee into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called, The lady [or queen] of kingdoms. . . . Therefore hear now this, thou that art given to pleasures, that dwellest carelessly, that sayest in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me; I shall not sit as a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children: but these two things shall come to thee in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood: they shall come upon thee in their perfection for the multitude of thy sorceries, and for the great abundance of thine enchantments. . . . Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee. . . . Thus shall they be unto thee with whom thou hast laboured, even thy merchants, from thy youth: they shall wander every one to his quarter; none shall save thee” (, , , , , ).
This is an amazing prophetic description of ancient Babylon! Babylon is an arrogant and wicked but immensely powerful and intelligent woman who is in an illicit relationship with the influential and wealthy people (“merchants”). Yet one quality of this woman stands out: Speaking to her, God says that Babylon’s fall from grace will come “for the multitude of thy sorceries, and for the great abundance of thy enchantments.” Unquestionably, this woman is exceptionally seductive. And further, she is very resourceful: for staying in power and for controlling her subjects, she relies on the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators. . . . But confronted and judged by the God of Israel, none of her expert advisers shall be of any avail to her. Her partners and suitors will abandon her; suddenly Babylon becomes childless and widowed.
It is widely recognized by Bible scholars and historians of religion that the most influential heathen deities and religious practices in the Old Testament times have their origin in the lands of ancient Babylon (Sumer and Akkad). The main female deity of the Ancient Near East was Ishtar, the Akkadian goddess of war, sexual love, and fertility (Sumerian Inanna).2
Ishtar was the wife of Tammuz (Akkadian Tammuzi, Summerian Dumuzi), the patron god of shepherds, later of agricultural workers. Tammuz was “god of fertility embodying the powers for new life in nature in the spring. . . . The cult of Tammuz centred around two yearly festivals—one celebrating his marriage to the goddess Inanna, the other lamenting his death at the hands of demons from the netherworld.”3 This cult was widespread in the Ancient Near East.
Ishtar and Tammuz had many counterpart deities among the West Semites (Canaan and Phoenicia). One of such Babylonian deities was the Canaanite goddess Ashtaroth (singular Ashtoreth, Greek Astarte; see “Ashtoreth” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia).4 Ashtaroth was also portrayed as a wife of Baal, the storm and weather god, whose worship deeply penetrated the nation of Israel, causing great spiritual harm to God’s chosen people.
Sadly, the immoral cult of Ashtaroth spread among the nation of Israel (, ; ). This originally Babylonian deity was also known in the Bible as “the queen of heaven.” The prophet Jeremiah sternly rebuked Israelites who engaged in this idol worship ( ; ). The worship of Ashtaroth included burning incense and pouring out drink offerings. The female members of the Jewish society took the leading role in this idol worship but not without the assistance of their husbands and children. A direct consequence of this idol worship was the punishment of the foreign invaders by sword and removal from the Promised Land.
We should also take note of the great abomination which God revealed to the prophet Ezekiel as taking place in Jerusalem. These idolatrous practices would be the cause for the withdrawal of God’s presence from the sanctuary, the destruction of the temple and of the city of Jerusalem, for the Babylonian invasion and the subsequent captivity. The sins practiced within the sacred precincts by both the common people and the elders in Judah were without exception idolatrous practices—worship of pagan deities. Two of these practices should be brought to our attention:
“Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. Then said he unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations than these. And he brought me into the inner court of the Lord’s house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east” (). [Emphasis added.]
Jewish women were weeping for the seasonal dying of the Babylonian god Tammuz and his descent into Hades. This religious belief and practice clearly presupposed the false belief in immortality of soul, spiritualism, and communication with demons. The second religious practice involving the prominent men in the house of Judah was clearly one of the worst forms of idolatry—worship of the sun god—worship of a created object instead of the Creator. The cup of iniquity was full, and the God of Israel did not have any other choice but to deliver His people into the hands of the nation whose religion Judah has chosen: “Therefore will I also deal in fury: mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: and though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them” ().
The apostate Jewish nation drank abundantly from the golden cup of Babylon’s religious fornication. The nation’s leaders and the common people became spiritually intoxicated with the wine of Babylon. They transgressed the law of God, desecrating the seventh-day Sabbath which was given to them as a sign to remember the only true God, God the Creator. They instead worshiped the sun. As a result of their covenant unfaithfulness, the land became polluted and needed to rest for seventy years (). Moreover, by forgetting the true God, the Jewish people began to communicate with false gods, the supposed spirits of the dead—in reality, with demons. Therefore, they were to be resettled to the very seat of demon worship and thus be given the opportunity to fully taste the fruits of Babylon’s religion.
In Babylon, they also obtain a firsthand experience of a society that is molded in the image and character of its immoral and vengeful deities, a society that does not respect the freedom of conscience and religious liberty, a state where religion is imposed by the force of arms. But God has never been without His faithful witnesses. The three brave Hebrews refuse to bow down to the golden image, the state-imposed religion, even when threatened to be thrown into a fiery furnace (see). God is being honored and He in turn honors the young heroes of faith not only by saving them from the deadly inferno, but by joining them in the middle of the fire!
When the time for Jewish captivity was about to be completed, the faithful Jews understood from Jeremiah’s prophetic word that God would soon deliver His people from Babylon (). The time had come to leave Babylon because God will judge this idolatrous, proud, and oppressive system. “Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and deliver every man his soul: be not cut off in her iniquity; for this is the time of the Lord’s vengeance; he will render unto her a recompence” ( ). Babylon and her false system of worship would be utterly destroyed: “Babylon will become a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals, an object of horror and hissing, without inhabitants. . . . And I will punish Bel in Babylon, and I will bring forth out of his mouth that which he hath swallowed up: and the nations shall not flow together any more unto him: yea, the wall of Babylon shall fall” ( , , KJB).
The Old Testament Babylon disappeared from the face of the world long time ago. But the Babylon of the book of Revelation is still alive. It is a powerful force for evil that opposes God and His people. We call this Babylon “spiritual Babylon” because she is symbolically portrayed as a wicked woman. Since a woman in Bible prophecy represents a religious body (), we know that this evil woman represents an apostate church. John has seen her in a vision, and described her this way:
“And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of harlots and abominations of the earth. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration” (). This woman, “Mystery, Babylon the Great,” exhibits the same or remarkably similar spiritual qualities as ancient Babylon. When John discovered the woman’s identity, he was in disbelief and awe. At one point in time that woman was a church of Christ! However, by desiring to become more popular, she gradually began adopting the beliefs and practices of the world. From a beauty she turned into a beast.
“The great sin charged against Babylon is that she ‘made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.’ This cup of intoxication which she presents to the world represents the false doctrines that she has accepted as the result of her unlawful connection with the great ones of the earth.”5
A Bible student who has carefully studied the story of Babylon in the Old Testament will not have difficulty understanding who is “Mystery, Babylon the Great” in the New Testament. Different historical actors have played the role of the ancient and of the modern Babylon, but the mind and heart of Babylon have not changed. If one understands what the wine of the ancient Babylon is, the same will quickly identify both the wine of the modern Babylon and those who dispense it.
In this article we have not fully unraveled the story of the modern Babylon, but have laid foundations for this work. We invite you, therefore, to study God’s word. Your only defense against the wine of Babylon, dear reader, is a prayerful study of the Holy Scriptures. “Only those who have been diligent students of the Scriptures and who have received the love of the truth will be shielded from the powerful delusion that takes the world captive. By the Bible testimony these will detect the deceiver in his disguise.”6
God’s last message to be given to this world is the message that calls God’s people out of Babylon. This message is urgent and needs to be given right now:
“Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies. And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” ().
“The Revelator says, ‘I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with His glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen’ (, ). This is the same message that was given by the second angel—Babylon is fallen, ‘because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication’ ( ). What is that wine?—Her false doctrines. She has given to the world a false sabbath instead of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment, and has repeated the lie Satan first told to Eve in Eden—the natural immortality of the soul. Many kindred errors she has spread far and wide, ‘teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.’
“When Jesus began His public ministry, He cleansed the temple from its sacrilegious profanation. Almost the last act of His ministry was to cleanse the temple again. So in the last work for the warning of the world, two distinct calls are made to the churches; the second angel’s message, and the voice heard in heaven, ‘Come out of her, my people, . . . For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities’ (, ).
“As God called the children of Israel out of Egypt, that they might keep His Sabbath, so He calls His people out of Babylon, that they may not worship the beast nor his image. The man of sin, who thought to change times and laws, has exalted himself above God, by presenting this spurious sabbath to the world; the Christian world has accepted this child of the Papacy, and cradled and nourished it, thus defying God by removing His memorial and setting up a rival sabbath.
“After the truth has been proclaimed as a witness to all nations, at a time when every conceivable power of evil is set in operation, when minds are confused by the many voices crying, ‘Lo, here is Christ.’ ‘Lo, He is there;’ ‘this is truth.’ ‘I have the message from God;’ ‘He has sent me with great light;’ and there is a removing of the landmarks, and an attempt to tear down the pillars of our faith—then a more decided effort is made to exalt the false sabbath, and to cast contempt upon God himself by supplanting the day He has blessed and sanctified. This false sabbath is to be enforced by an oppressive law. Satan and his angels are wide awake and intensely active, working with energy and perseverance through human instrumentalities to bring about his purpose of obliterating the knowledge of God. While Satan is working with his lying wonders, the time has come foretold in the Revelation, when the mighty angel that shall lighten the earth with his glory will proclaim the fall of Babylon and call upon God’s people to forsake her.”7
To come out of Babylon means to come out of confusion—to rightly discern the Scriptures in their clarity and perfection. If we come out of darkness into the marvelous light of God’s word, we won’t be drunk with the wine of Babylon. Instead, under the control of God, we will cheerfully comply with the inspired appeal of the apostle: “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (). Amen!