All Eyes on Iraq
History is continuous, with a start point and an end point. All eyes are focused on Iraq, where history began, and where it will probably also end.
War on TV
As I write this article, British, American and Australian forces are at war with Saddam Hussein and his regime, to liberate the people of Iraq from his tyranny, and to seek out and destroy his alleged weapons of mass destruction. One of the benefits of his downfall, which is not talked about so much, is that he will no longer give a reward of $25,000 to each of the families of the suicide bombers who attack Israel. The world is holding its breath, waiting to see what will be the outcome of this war. Some people say that it should never have started, while others say it was necessary. Now that it is under way, people on both sides of the argument hope that it will be over with quickly with a minimum of casualties. My prediction is that the allied forces will win, and Saddam's regime will be toppled, but there will be trouble for years to come as the remnants of Saddam's regime carry out revenge attacks against the new administration and its supporters.
The world is glued to its television sets, watching the war as it unfolds in real time. For the most part, we are preoccupied with present-day events and the immediate future, but we need to consider how all this looks in the panoramic view of world history.
Ancient History and Prophecy
The most ancient recorded histories are agreed that the cradle of civilisation is the Middle East, and particularly the so-called "fertile crescent" stretching through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. It was along this fertile crescent that Abraham travelled from Ur of the Chaldees, north toward Haran, and then south to the land of Caanan that was promised by God to his descendants.
In my book, Forgotten History of the Western People, I have explained how the Biblical and Babylonian histories have similar accounts of Creation, the Fall, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, and the dispersion of the nations around the world. They also agree that, just as the world had a beginning, so also it will have an end, and on this matter they also agree with the Norse mythology and it's apocalyptic event called Ragnarok. They all contain an element of prophecy, looking at the future as well as the past, as if some great plan had been revealed from the beginning and passed on from generation to generation in different cultures.
The plan obviously includes salvation, through the offering of a perfect sacrifice, and the first mention of this event is in Genesis 3:15 where Adam and Eve have just fallen into sin, having been deceived by the serpent, and God rebukes the serpent with the words:
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
This is just one example of ancient knowledge that was probably understood plainly at the beginning, but became obscured through the corruptions of paganism, and had to be revealed to them again. Christianity spread rapidly throughout Greece, Rome and Western Europe during the first century, not just because of the dedication and commitment of the early Christians, but also because the pagans already had a vague knowledge of what had been revealed to their ancient ancestors, and the Christians were able to tell them about it plainly. One of the best known examples of this type of preaching was the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill in Athens, revealing to the Greeks the identity of their "Unknown God". (Acts 17:23).
If the pagans already knew something about their ancient history and the promises that had been given to them, where did their knowledge come from? From Babylon of course, the place of their dispersion. Now, we are all familiar with the story of the Tower of Babel and the confusion of tongues, but we might not know the reason why they were in Babylon in the first place. According to Berosus, a Chaldean priest of the third century BC who lived in Greece, the reason why the survivors of the Flood went to Babylon was to recover the history of the pre-Flood world. Xisuthrus, the Babylonian Noah, had been commanded by the god Kronus to build an Ark, because there was going to be a great Flood. He was also told to write a history of the world, up to the present time, and deposit it securely at the City of the Sun in Sippara (the Biblical Sepharvaim), not far to the north of Babylon. When the survivors emerged from the Ark, they went to Sippara, recovered their history, and then began to rebuild their former home at Babylon.
This story begs the question, why didn't Xisuthrus write his history and take it with him into the Ark, which was the most secure place during the Flood? One possible reason is that the survivors might have left it in the Ark, being more concerned about their own survival than the survival of their history. If we pre-suppose that the low-lying plain of Mesopotamia was much the same before the Flood as it is now, it would have been a good place for the preservation of history, even under flood conditions, because the waters would be relatively tranquil. However, the geology does not support this supposition, as there are deep layers of waterborne rock containing large numbers of dead things laid down by water. The Babylonian history cannot be verified in every detail, and in any case it differs from the Biblical history in a number of important matters, for example the number and identity of the people in the Ark, and the supposed translation of Xisuthrus to the gods after he had emerged from the Ark and offered sacrifices. For those who want to look at the Babylonian account in detail, the story is in my book. The approach of the historian (which is not always the scientific approach), is to find out the meaning and purpose of the story and not just the verifiable details. The important thing we learn from the Babylonian account is that Xisuthrus believed in a God who could be trusted, even though there were other gods in the Babylonian pantheon. It could even imply that they were originally monotheistic. The reason why Xisuthrus deposited his history at Sippara was because he was obedient to "Kronus", who in this context must be a Hellenised version of a Babylonian god who is in turn a pagan corruption of the One True God. Just as Xisuthrus was secure in the Ark, in obedience to the divine command, so his history would be secure at Sippara.
The command to recover the history also ensured that the survivors who emerged from the Ark would go back to their former home, after the Flood, which is in any case a natural thing to do. This pre-supposes that it continued to exist in a recognisable form, and again the historian takes the liberty of looking at the meaning and purpose of the story, not the detail. The will of "Kronus" was that the post-Flood world should have its origins on the plains of Mesopotamia, not on the mountains of Ararat where they emerged from the Ark. However, the obedience of Xisuthrus soon gave way to the ambitions of his descendants. Babylon was only intended to be a staging post where they could rebuild their community and then set off to other places around the world. The problem was, they fell into paganism, at the instigation of Nimrod, and became trapped under his dictatorship, but eventually God intervened and dispersed them in a state of confusion.
Having identified Babylon, or more specifically Sippara, as the place where the Flood survivors were to go to find out about themselves, their history, and the prophetic statements about their future, we will now see what the Bible says about the continuing history and end-time significance of Babylon.
Babylon the Great
During the reign of Rehoboam, son of Solomon, the nation of Israel became divided, with ten tribes going to the north and setting up their own kingdom under a rebel leader called Jeroboam. The remaining two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, remained in Jerusalem and the surrounding area of Judea. The northern kingdom was called Israel and the southern kingdom was called Judah. Both kingdoms continued for a while, each with a succession of kings that were sometimes faithful to the Lord and sometimes idolatrous. Israel was taken into captivity by the Assyrians, and this was seen as a judgment from God for their idolatry. For the most part, they were scattered and assimilated throughout the nations, so that nobody knows where they are now, but a small minority retained their identity and were known as Samaritans.
The southern kingdom of Judah was invaded by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, an event that was also seen as a judgement from God for their sins. The people were taken captive and remained in Babylon for seventy years, then a remnant returned and rebuilt Jerusalem, having been liberated by the Medes and Persians. The fate of Babylon is given to us by Daniel, one of the captives who rose to a position of influence in the royal court. Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by Belshazzar who became greatly troubled when he saw a hand, writing something on the wall, but he couldn't understand what it meant. He called his wise men and astrologers, but they couldn't interpret it, and finally he called Daniel, who interpreted it as the downfall of his kingdom, an event that took place the same night:
And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians. Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old. (Dan. 5:25-31)
The sudden downfall of Babylon was prophesied in advance by Isaiah and Jeremiah. Isaiah began his prophetic ministry about 760 BC, shortly before the death of king Uzziah, and continued during the reigns of his successors, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. The next in line were Manasseh, Amon and Josiah. Jeremiah began his ministry about 629 BC, during the reign of Josiah and continued during the reigns of his successors, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah. He witnessed the invasion of Judah and was taken prisoner, but was released and given the choice to go to Babylon or to go elsewhere. He tried to remain in Judah with some of his companions, in spite of the dangers, because he believed that this was God's will, but he could not persuade them to stay there and in 588 BC he went with them to Egypt. (Jer. 40:1 - 43:7). There is a tradition that he was stoned to death about five years later by some Jewish people who refused to believe his prophecy, although there is no certainty about the event. Whatever may have happened, he would not have survived to witness the sudden downfall of Babylon, in about 538 BC, and his words were prophetic.
The relevant prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah are as follows:
And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground. (Isaiah 21:9)
Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate... And thou saidst, I shall be a lady for ever: so that thou didst not lay these things to thy heart, neither didst remember the latter end of it. 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... 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. (Isaiah 47:1-15)
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 recompense. 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 suddenly fallen and destroyed: howl for her; take balm for her pain, if so be she may be healed. We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed: forsake her, and let us go every one into his own country: for her judgment reacheth unto heaven, and is lifted up even to the skies. (Jer. 51:6-9)
The New Testament Babylon
Rome was considered to be the New Testament "Babylon" because it persecuted the Christians and perpetuated the system of paganism that began in the real Babylon under the dictatorship of Nimrod. The Christians used "Babylon" as a code word for Rome when they wanted to say something about it that the Romans would consider uncomplementary. They would also say "Babylon" when they meant "Rome", to avoid giving away someone's location, since their letters might be read by the Roman authorities while in transit. An example is the Apostle Peter who wrote:
The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son. (1 Peter 5:13)
It is in this context that we have to see John's diatribe against Babylon, when he meant Rome. He denounces Babylon several times in the book of Revelation, saying:
...Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. (Rev. 14:8)
And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. (Rev. 16:19)
... mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth. (Rev. 17:5)
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. (Rev. 18:2)
... Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come. (Rev. 18:10)
And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all. (Rev. 18:21)
Clearly, John is quoting from Isaiah and Jeremiah and applying it to Rome, which shared a similar fate except that it did not collapse in a single day, not like the time when Belshazzar saw the writing on the wall. Instead, it gradually became weaker, and was abandoned as a political centre during the time of Constantine the Great, who moved the centre of his administration to Byzantium on the Bosphorus and re-named it Constantinopolis. At that time, the Roman Empire was divided into East and West, but a short time afterwards the Western Empire collapsed entirely, leaving Rome as a place of insignificance, except as a religious centre. Constantinopolis continued to prosper as the capital of the Eastern Empire, and lasted for about another thousand years until it was finally conquered by the Ottoman Turks and re-named Istanbul.
Rome was not finished when it was abandoned by Constantine. It was no longer an empire in the usual sense of the word, but instead it became a religious centre with enormous political power, so that many of the kings of Europe could do nothing without the consent of the Pope. It suffered a setback during the Reformation, but now it has re-emerged as the European Union, a new political empire based on the Treaty of Rome.
The early Christians used "Babylon" as a code word for Rome, not just as a matter of convenience, but as a reflection of the original Babylon, the birthplace of dictatorship where the true worship of God was usurped, and kings made themselves into gods for the purpose of their political ambitions. Now we have Saddam Hussein with gigantic images of himself all over Iraq and some of the people say he is a god. Not much has changed since the days of Nimrod, but we can be sure, one day we will see the end of the whole Babylon system, whether it's in Baghdad, Rome or elsewhere, when Jesus the Messiah comes to rule and reign. He is the one who will finally bring Babylon to an end in a single day.
We have reached a point in history where all eyes are on Iraq, and I write a few paragraphs and then take a break to watch the war on TV. It seems that we have come full circle, to the place where the post-Flood world began, wondering if this is where all of man's pride, and all of his evil imaginations will come to an end. Whatever happens, we need both history and prophecy to make any sense of it, and we get nowhere just by looking at the narrow present-day timeframe.