As a born-again Christian, I enjoy studying ancient civilizations in the Bible and the symbolism attached to them. I find it exciting to watch God work through the lives of those who’ve gone before us. Next to ancient Egypt, I enjoy studying the Mesopotamian civilization. Once a global superpower, this ancient civilization is now remembered in infamy. Looking at it through the eyes of a theologian, I cannot help but wonder, “What does Babylon symbolize in the Bible?”
In this article, I’ll dive deep into the symbolism of Babylon. I’ll look at the historical and spiritual Babylon; and compare past, present, and prophesy. I’ll also explore the meaning and significance of Babylon and what characterized this city. Read on to find out more!
What does the word Babylon mean in the Bible?
In Hebrew, Babylon (or Babel) means confusion. This alluded to the events on the plains of Shinar when God confused the language of men as they built the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:8-9). Babel comes from the root word “Balal,” which means “to confound” or “confused sounds.”
However, in ancient Mesopotamian, the word Babylon meant “gate of the gods” because the people believed their gods dwelled in that city. The word appears in Akkadian text as “Bab-ilani,” a compound noun meaning gate of the gods. We also see the name appearing in the ancient Sumerian texts as “Din-tir,” which meant “the place of the seat of life.” An alternative form of the word in Sumerian was “Ka-ding’ irra,” which also meant gate of the gods.
Some Bible scholars argue that the distinction between the meaning of this word in Hebrew and Sumerian shows the contrast between how God saw Babylon (a confused people) and how man saw Babylon (the gate of heaven). I leave to you the final interpretation.
What is the significance of Babylon in the Bible?
The significance of Babylon in the Bible is its role as an image of the struggle between good and evil. We see this clearly in Revelation 17, where the Bible depicts Babylon as a great city filled with spiritual and moral corruption. Idolatry, materialism, and oppression are commonplace. Through her influence, world leaders gain more power, and merchants gain more wealth. Ultimately, Babylon will influence the rest of the world to worship the Antichrist.
The book of Revelation continues in Chapter 18 to tell us of the destruction of Babylon. Here, we see that Babylon is more than just a place. It is an economic and religious system that dominates the world. God, in this chapter, brings down this system, and we see its proponents weeping over it because of the massive losses they incur. In this struggle between good and evil, we see God emerging victorious.
What does Babylon represent in the Bible?
In the Bible, Babylon represents two things: the judgment of God and the rebellious world system.
In the Old Testament, Babylon was God’s instrument of judgment over the nation of Israel (Jeremiah 25:8-9). God used Babylon to punish Israel for their disobedience and sin. Since Israel was bent on pursuing idolatry, God had the most idolatrous nation on earth conquer His people. The Jews spent 70 years in Babylon, away from their temple, feasts, and everything that tied them to their Jewish heritage.
In the New Testament, Babylon represents the world’s religious and economic system (Revelation 17). It opposes the Kingdom of God, but ultimately, God shall destroy it (Revelation 18). Like in the Old Testament, Babylon as a world system will take over. It will subdue the truth and influence even the believers in Jesus. It is a system built on greed, lust, and murder meant to blind the world through promises of wealth and fame. We see world leaders and merchants profit from this system, but eventually, God will destroy it, and righteousness will triumph.
What does Babylon symbolize in the Bible?
Babylon usually symbolizes worldliness—a desire for beauty and splendor that is untempered by a love for holiness (Revelation 17:1-6). We see this symbol in both the Old and New Testaments.
In the Old Testament, we see Babylon as a magnificent city. Its towering walls, imposing brass gates, and hanging gardens were a wonder of the ancient world. The city amassed great wealth through commerce and conquest. Their culture and religion influenced the ancient world. However, the city was rotting from the inside. Prostitution and human sacrifice were the hallmarks of their rituals, and their civilization was built on the backs of slaves and driven by the lust and greed of the royal families (Isaiah 47). Their pride and vanity made them cruel and destructive.
The New Testament depicts Babylon as a great city where the merchants sold their wares. We see Babylon consumed in luxuries. It also entices the world into worldliness and materialism. In this city, wealth and power meant everything; there was no room for righteousness. In fact, Babylon is charged with killing anyone who tried to live a righteous life (Revelation 17:6). Babylon will lead the world in the worship of the Antichrist, the ultimate form of worldliness (Revelation 17:7)
Overall, Babylon symbolized a materialistic world system that opposed God and contradicted the values of God’s kingdom. As a system, Babylon seduced the Jews away from God. In Revelation 18, we see it able to deceive the world in the last days. The Bible warns believers against this system and calls them out of it in its final destruction (Revelation 18:4).
What does Babylon represent spiritually?
Spiritually, Babylon represents idolatry (Revelation 17:1-17). The angel in this chapter calls Babylon a prostitute with whom the world committed fornication. He interprets this as a mysterious religion that will lead people astray.
Most Bible scholars agree that this mysterious religion is the worship of the Antichrist, that great human leader who will arise toward the end of the age. He will demand worship, and we see Babylon enticing the world to worship him.
But what about the Antichrist makes the world so willing to worship him? Well, Revelation 13:1-10 tells us about the Antichrist. The writer depicts the Antichrist as a beast from the sea. Interestingly, this beast received a fatal wound on his head, which was miraculously healed. Christian theologians agree that this represents a counterfeit resurrection, just like the resurrection of Jesus. This “miracle” will thrust the world into the worship of the Antichrist. Revelation 17 calls the religious system in charge of all this Babylon.
Characteristics of Babylon according to the Bible
According to the Bible, Babylon was characterized by pride, idolatry, wealth, and violence.
The Bible often described Babylon as a proud and arrogant city. Isaiah depicts Babylon as a queen of the kingdoms who boast, claiming that there is none like her. She finds comfort in her power and wealth, which make her feel invincible (Isaiah 47:5-8). They’re so proud that on the eve of their destruction, the king threw a banquet with the Persian army at their doorstep! (Daniel 5).
Wealth and luxury
Babylon was a wealthy empire, and this showed in their building, dress, art, and possessions. Revelation 18:16 described Babylon as a city decked out in the best clothes and flooded with gold and other precious jewels. Their wealth soon possessed them, and they became greedy and cruel people who mercilessly conquered and destroyed their neighbors to accumulate more wealth (Jeremiah 50:17-18).
Idol worship was prevalent in Babylon. They worshipped false gods associated with nature, seasons, wealth, and power. Some of the most popular gods were Marduk, Ishtar, Nabu, Shamash, Sin, Ea, and Tiamat. Occasionally, kings would demand worship, as we see in Daniel 3.
Violence and oppression
The Babylonian army was merciless. They utterly destroyed their enemies. When they attacked Jerusalem, for example, they plundered the city, killed a significant portion of the population, exiled the rest, and razed the city to the ground.
2nd Kings 25:1-7 tells what Nebuchadnezzar did when he captured King Zedekiah. He had his men kill Zedekiah’s children in front of him before gouging out his eyes. He then bound and dragged Zedekiah to Babylon as his prisoner.
What is the spirit of Babylon?
The spirit of Babylon describes the rebellious and godless nature of Babylon. It manifests in greed, materialism, moral corruption, pride, and oppression. It’s associated with regimes, individuals, institutions, and systems that embody these traits. The spirit of Babylon is a metaphor for the prevalent corruption and sin.
How was Babylon destroyed in the Bible?
The city of Babylon fell in 539 BC to the Persians, led by Cyrus. Daniel 5 tells how King Belshazzar held a feast on the night of this attack. He did so in contempt of the force outside his gates since he was convinced they couldn’t penetrate his walls.
The historian Herodotus described Babylon as having two walls 350 feet high and 87 feet thick. The city had 150 gates of solid brass, and the walls had 250 watchtowers, each 100 feet higher than the walls. According to Belshazzar, these were more than a match for the Persian army. It was during this feast that he saw a handwriting on the wall. The Lord declared judgment on Babylon, and it fell that very night.
Spiritual Babylon will be destroyed at the end of the age, according to Revelation 18. In this chapter, God calls His people out of Babylon before its destruction. Those who benefitted from this system will mourn, while those on God’s side will rejoice at its destruction.
What does Babylon represent in the Book of Revelation?
In the Book of Revelation, Babylon represents rebellion against God. The Book of Revelation refers to Babylon six times in different contexts. Within each mention, we understand what Babylon symbolizes in Revelation.
In the first, we see Babylon used in conjunction with the worship of the Antichrist in Revelation 14. Here, John saw three angels making three announcements. The first called the world to repentance and worship the one true God; the second declared judgment on Babylon; and the third proclaimed destruction on any who worship the beast and his image (the Antichrist). From this text, we can infer that Babylon represents those who worship the Antichrist.
Babylon in Revelation could also represent the dominant world order at the end of the age. We see this in Revelation 16. Here, God pours out the seven bowls of wrath on the world. As God pours out judgment, nations gather for the final battle of Armageddon. The people unite against God, and Revelation calls this corporate entity Babylon.
Next, we see Babylon represent false religion. In Revelation 17, we see Babylon depicted as a Great Harlot called Mystery, Babylon the Great. She sits on the beast and holds a golden cup. She deceived the world’s leaders and led them into idolatry and the worship of the Antichrist.
Finally, Babylon represents the Global economy in Revelation 18. Here, the world’s economy is intertwined with immorality and sin. Man, at this time, lives for himself, seeking only pleasure and riches. There will be temporary prosperity in this economy, but God will bring it to an end. The destruction will sweep the merchants, shipmasters, and kings who profited from this system. They will weep as they watch the economic system crash. But God’s faithful will celebrate as righteousness finally reigns in the world.
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.