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Babylon| Isaiah 13 and the Language of Imminence


city of babylon
Isaiah 13 predicted the fall of Babylon, and said it was near. Opponents of Covenant Eschatology claim that Isaiah’s prophecy shows that “at hand” did not indicate true imminence. But, is this true?

Babylon| The Language of Imminence and Isaiah 13

Does the prophecy of the fall of Babylon in Isaiah 13 refute Covenant Eschatology? The opponents of Covenant Eschatology are constantly “grasping at straws” in order to respond to the power of the Truth. One of the most common objections offered is taken from Isaiah 13:

“Some prophecy teachers claim that Isaiah 13’s prophecy of the destruction of Babylon is yet future because, although the Medo-Persians captured Babylon, Babylon was never conquered. Furthermore, Isaiah prophesies that Babylon would “never be inhabited,” yet it has been inhabited in some form to this day. What is a Preterist response?”

Let’s take a quick look at this objection.

First of all, please note the somewhat desperate attempt to delineate between the capture of Babylon and the conquering of Babylon. I would suggest that the readers ask themselves the question: If Babylon was captured, were they in fact not conquered? How do you capture the capital city of a kingdom, without conquering it? One cannot impose such an arbitrary view on Isaiah 13.

The historical fact is that Babylon was conquered by the Medo-Persians. One has but to read any good critical commentary, and work of history to realize that the kingdom of Babylon that existed in the days of Daniel, ceased to exist on the fateful night described by Daniel 5. The ancient historians Xenophon and Herodotus, cited in Boutflower, (Charles Boutflower, In and Around the Book of Daniel, (Grand Rapids, Kregel, reprint of the 1923 version), clearly describe the conquering of Babylon by the Medo-Persian empire. The Zondervan Pictorial Dictionary of the Bible refers to, “the overthrow of the city” by Cyrus. ( Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1967) 93). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says that Cyrus entered the city, “thus ending the Chaldean dynasty as predicted by the Hebrew prophets.” (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, Vol. 1, 1979) 390.

Second, one needs to understand the focus of the prophecies. One of the mistakes of modern readers is to miss the point of the prophecy. The modern reader has a tendency to focus on purely physical features, such as the “it will never be inhabited” statements, and as a result, the point is missed. What is the point? It is that the kingdom of Babylon that existed at that time, as the enemy of YHVH, would cease to exist. The city itself was a symbol and sign of that specific kingdom to be sure. However, when the leaders of that kingdom were destroyed, then that kingdom ceased to exist, forever! The focus of Isaiah 13 is not just on the physical walls of the ancient city! It was the leaders of that city, the powers of that kingdom that was the center of YHVH’s attention. And so, when Isaiah 14 describes the fall of “Lucifer”, the king of Babylon, we need to understand what is going on. Lucifer’s (i.e. Nebuchadnezzar’s) kingdom, the one that captured Jerusalem, came to an end. It was conquered and absorbed into the Medo- Persian empire. This is an indisputable fact of history.

The argument that the city, actually part of the city, continued to exist is irrelevant to the prophetic issue. The point is that the kingdom of Babylon, the enemy of God that destroyed YHVH’s city and temple, was destroyed.

Babylon and a Question of Hermeneutic

Another issue, directly related to the above, is the error of interpreting the prophecies of scripture in a woodenly literal manner. It is argued that since Babylon as a city was inhabited for many years, and because even in modern times, Saddam Hussein attempted– unsuccessfully we might add– to rebuild the city of Babylon, that this negates the preterist perspective. This is simply not true. (We might add here that amillennialists and postmillennialists agree with the preterist view that Babylon was conquered in fulfillment of Isaiah 13-14 and Daniel. So, the preterist is not alone in contending for the fulfillment of the prophecies.) The fact that there were buildings in Babylon after her fall does not mean that the kingdom of Babylon still remained.

As we just noted, when the kingdom – the powers that represented that kingdom– were removed, then the prophecy must be seen to be fulfilled. High walls, strong fortifications, and people remaining in the city after its conquering mean nothing in regard to whether the kingdom fell!

Our point is verified by the vision of Daniel 2. Remember that Nebuchadnezzar was give the vision of a great beast. There was the head of gold, the chest of silver, the belly and thighs of bronze, and the feet of iron mixed with clay. In this familiar story, Daniel interpreted the dream to mean that there were four world empires that were to exist in sequence, until the kingdom of heaven would be established in the days of the fourth empire, Rome. The thing to notice for our purposes is that Babylon was clearly and indisputably the head of God “you are this head of gold” (Daniel 2:38).

Now, each kingdom in the series would destroy and replace the previous kingdom. Did the Medo-Persian replace the Babylonian empire? Patently so! Likewise in Daniel 7 we find the four beasts, the first being “like a lion and had eagle’s wings” (Daniel 7:3-4), and it represented Babylon. But, in the vision, that beast’s wings were plucked off and the kingdom like a lion became like a mere man. This patently represented the destruction of the Babylonian kingdom that gave way to the Medo-Persian empire.

Babylon in Revelation

Finally, we would take notice that one of the reasons that it is claimed that the prophecies of Babylon’s destruction were never fulfilled is because of theology. Here is what we mean. Due to the woodenly literal hermeneutic, it is popular among dispensationalists to argue that literal Babylon of Iraq is the Babylon of Revelation. The argument is made that the predictions of Babylon’s demise– just noticed– have never been fulfilled, but will be fulfilled during the seven year Great Tribulation period, that supposedly follows the rapture.

There was tremendous speculation surrounding Saddam Hussein’s attempt to rebuild the ancient city, and the fact that he reportedly saw himself as a reincarnation of Nebuchadnezzar. Lots of books were written prior to the first Gulf War, claiming that the end was near, Babylon was being rebuilt! Those claims have been falsified of course, but, the reality is that Babylon of Revelation was not, and is not literal Babylon in Iraq.

Babylon in Revelation is a figurative designation for the city, not the true name of the city. Furthermore, in Revelation, Babylon is depicted as the city that had killed the prophets of God (Revelation 16:6f), and the apostles and prophets of Jesus (Revelation 18:20-24). Ask yourself: Did literal Babylon ever kill a prophet? The answer is a resounding NO!

Ancient, literal Babylon tried, and tried hard, to kill YHVH’s prophets, with no success! Remember Daniel in the lion’s den? And what about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego? So, it cannot be argued that literal Babylon is the Babylon of Revelation, for she never killed a single prophet, and most assuredly never killed a single apostle or prophet of Jesus. See my book, Who Is This Babylon? for a full discussion of the identity of Babylon of Revelation.

So, we not only have the testimony of Daniel 5 that tells us that Babylon fell, as predicted, we have the testimony of ancient historians, and, we have the corroboration of the other prophecies in the book of Daniel. Finally, we have proof positive that Babylon of Revelation cannot be literal Babylon in Iraq, thus destroying the underlying theology that denies the fulfillment of the prophecies of Babylon’s destruction.

It is only by imposing an artificial hermeneutic on the text that we can deny the fulfillment of God’s prophecies concerning Babylon. That kingdom fell, and has never risen again, and will never rise again! This is not simply a preterist response to the objection, it is a Biblical and historical fact. The objection is over ruled!

Who is This Babylon
Is Babylon in Revelation literal Babylon in Iraq? Not according to Revelation!

See my book, Who Is This Babylon? which has an in-depth response to those who claim that modern day Babylon, in Iraq, is the Babylon of Revelation. Isaiah 13 says nothing to support that claim!