Babylon was founded in the third generation after the flood by Nimrod, the grandson of Ham who was Noah’s disrespectful third son (Genesis 9:20-25, 10:6-8). “[Nimrod] was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, ‘like Nimrod, the mighty hunter before the Lord.’ And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel” (vs. 9,10). After the flood, God had told Noah and his family, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). But in rebellion, Nimrod and his followers said, “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” (Genesis 11:4). Thus the very foundation of Babylon was distrust of God, disobedience to His will and a desire for self to be exalted. As such it was a fitting representation of Satan’s earlier rebellion in heaven (“I will exalt my throne above the stars of God…I will be like the Most High” Isaiah 14:13,14). Ultimately Babel’s rebellion was such that it could not be ignored; God had to intervene in judgment, confusing their language and scattering the people.[1]

Abraham, the man chosen by God to be the father of God’s faithful people, was the first person to be called out of Babylon. “The Lord God...chose Abram, and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans [Babylon] and gave him the name Abraham”[2] (Nehemiah 9:7). Later the king of Babylon[3] (Shinar is the name of the plain where the tower of Babel was built, Genesis 11:2) led a force of kings who attacked Sodom, where Abram’s nephew Lot was living, and took him captive. Abram “armed the three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house and went in pursuit” and rescued Lot and his family, thus becoming the first man of God to save people out of the hands of the Babylonians (Genesis 14).

The Old Babylonian Empire reached its height between 1800-1500 BC (from the time of the patriarchs through the exodus from Egypt). Although they made many advances in writing, art, and legal and social order, they also perfected astrology and magic. Even the famous code of Hammurabi, a masterpiece of legal legislation, was considered to be a gift from the sun god. And a number of influential epic stories such as the Creation Story and the Epic of Gilgamesh, which were a mixture of truth and error about God’s creation and the flood, became some of the first written literature, thus preserving and legitimizing the fallacious narratives.

The Babylonians were conquered by the Assyrian Empire around the end of the tenth century BC (the time of Isaiah) but even then they were used by Satan against God’s people. When the Assyrians conquered the unfaithful northern tribes of Israel and took them into captivity, they brought in Babylonians (among others) to take their place.[4] They became known as the Samaritans, and incorporated the worship of the Lord into their own heathen religion, creating a poisonous mixture of truth and error that was a constant snare to God’s people. “They feared the Lord, yet served their own gods—according to the rituals of the nations from among whom they were carried away…They did not obey [the Lord], but they followed their former rituals. So these nations feared the Lord, yet served their carved images” (2 Kings 17:33-41). This has always been the pattern of Babylon—a mixture of truth with enough error to make it false and deadly.

God's chosen people found Babylonian religion irresistible. For example, during the time of Jeremiah the Jewish leaders who escaped the Babyonian captivity brazenly asserted, "We will certainly...burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her as we have done we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food and were well-off, and saw no trouble. But since we stopped burning incense to the queeen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to herm we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and famine[5] (Jeremiah 44:17,18).

In 626 BC Nabopolassar founded the neo-Babylonian empire. Determined to rule the world, he first conquered the Assyrians, destroying Ninevah in 612 BC (as described by the prophet Nahum) and then turned his attention to Judah. Because of their sinful idolatry Judah had provoked the discipline of the Lord, and He allowed Babylon as His "rod of chastening."[6] The powerful Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar inflicted a series of defeats upon Judah under the apostate kings Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin, taking captives which included Daniel and Ezekiel.[7] Finally, in crushing Judah’s revolt during the reign of Zedekiah in 587 BC, “the king of the Chaldeans killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, on the aged or the weak…burned the house of God, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious possessions. And those who escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon, where they became servants to him and his sons” (2 Chronicles 36:17-20).

The destruction of Jerusalem and captivity of God’s people by the Babylonians was considered the epitome of misery and disgrace. The psalmist wrote, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea we wept when we remembered Zion. We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it. For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song…How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalms 137:1-4).

But God had already prophesied the punishment of Babylon for their excesses—“When seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity,' says the Lord, 'and I will make it a perpetual desolation” (Jeremiah 25:12). Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, conquered Babylon by diverting the Euphrates River and marching into the city through the dry river bed on the night of Belshazzar’s idolatrous banquet in 539 BC. [8] The Persians made Babylon a capital of one of their provinces, and Alexander the Great intended to make it the capital of his Hellenistic empire when he defeated the Persians in 330 BC. But he died prematurely, Babylon was repeatedly overrun by the generals who succeeded him, and the great city slowly sank into obscurity and was abandoned.[9]

Continue to next section: BABYLON’S NEW HOME

[1] Genesis 11:6-9.

[2] Ur was a part of what later became the Babylonian kingdom, and the Chaldeans were the religious leaders of Babylon (Daniel 2:4).

[3] In Genesis 11 the attacking king is called the "king of Shinar." Shinar is the name of the plain where the tower of Babel was built (Genesis 11:2).

[4] 2 Kings 17:24.

[5] The "queen of heaven" was the Sumerian/Babylonian fertility goddess Inanna (Ishtar, Astarte) who was worshiped along with her son/lover Tammuz. The worship of the queen of heaven and Tammuz were condemned by Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 8:14, Jeremiah 7:18 44:17-25). See Wikipedia articles "Inanna", "Tammuz", "Queen of Heaven" for more detailed information.

[6] “Behold, I will send…Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant and will bring them against this land, against its inhabitants...and will utterly destroy them…And these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jeremiah 25:9-11).

[7] 2 Chronicles 36:5-10.

[8] See Daniel 5.

[9] Wikipedia contributors, "Babylon," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed September 16, 2014)