March 21st, 1971 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-21-71 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Now the title of the message today is Mystery Babylon: this great Babylon.
In our preaching through the Book of Daniel, we are in chapter 4. “And at the end of twelve months,” verse 29 [Daniel 4:29], “Nebuchadnezzar walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. And the king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon?” [Daniel 4:29-30]. And either on top of one of those gigantic ziggurats or on the top of his luxurious and spacious palace, I can see the king standing in the center of his courtiers, and with a sweep of his hand from horizon to horizon the great city spreads out in gold before him. “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?” [Daniel 4:30]. Babylon.
As there is a God and a Satan, a Christ and an antichrist, a kingdom of light and a kingdom of darkness, a heaven and a hell, so there is in time and space and history and Scripture a Holy City, Jerusalem, and a city of the world, Babylon. And throughout the pages of the Word of the Lord will you find that golden city of Babylon presented. We shall look first then at the history of the capital of Babylonia.
In the tenth chapter of the Book of Genesis and the ninth verse, we are told that Nimrod, the mighty hunter, founded a city and he called it the “Gate of God”: Babel. He built it on the plain of Shinar [Genesis 10:9-10]; the Assyrians called it Chaldea [Daniel 3:8].. We know it as Babylonia, the Greek name for it [Daniel 3:1,12].
But in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Genesis there is another derivation given to the name. Nimrod called it Babel; in that language, the “gate of God” [Genesis 11:9]. But after the citizens of that great plain of Shinar sought to build a tower that would pierce the sky—not that they hoped to reach heaven by it, they were not stupid—but they were building a great tower, a ziggurat they called it. And there the Chaldean priests searched the heavens and the stars and mapped out, according to their horoscopic evaluations and prognostications, the destinies of all men and nations; and seeking thereby to control in one all of humanity, the Lord God in contempt came down and scattered them [Genesis 11:8]. And He did it by a confusion of tongues [Genesis 11:7, 9]. So in the Bible every time the name is mentioned in the Hebrew text it is “Babel.” But they said it came from the root Bal El “confusion,” and was a city that opposed God; its system of religion, and culture, and commerce.
That country then—not now, for the climate has changed—that country then was the garden of Eden. Even the Scriptures avow so. The Tigris River ran through it. The Euphrates River ran through it. And those are the two rivers we identify in the garden of Eden [Genesis 2:10-14]. They looked upon it as a paradise, the Persian word for “park.” It is made by the alluvial deposits of those two great rivers coming out of the mountainous country of Armenia. The alluvial soil was unusually fertile and productive. It was watered by uncounted numbers of interlinking canals and waterways. The climate was soft and salubrious. It looked like a paradise, an Edenic garden. It was fertile. It was fecund. It was virgin. It was emerald. It was a whole nation and country and land of prolific productiveness; green all the year round.
And in it was a dense population. The first inhabitants of the country were Sumerians, and they called it Sumer. Then waves of Semitic people came through the centuries and when we come to know it in the history of the Bible it is a Semitic city, as the Assyrians, and the Amorites, and the Arameans, and the Babylonians and the Hebrews were Semitic. That’s where Abraham came from.
Now these archeologists digging down in the strata of Babylon have identified civilizations that go back eight thousand years before Christ. It is a fantastic history. We first know of it especially in its great first Babylonian kingdom and in a dynasty of kings that numbered Hammurabi. There’s not a schoolboy that is not acquainted with the Code of Hammurabi. He reigned over Babylonia for forty-three years. It was out of his kingdom that Abraham left from Ur of Chaldea, one of the cities of Babylonia, to set his face toward the Promised Land in Canaan [Genesis 11:31].
As the centuries passed there was another tremendous king in that dynasty named Nebuchadnezzar: Nebuchadnezzar the first. He was a tremendous monarch. He conquered the Elomites, he conquered the Hittites, but he finally lost his kingdom to the Assyrians. This is in 1100 BC. And thereafter the Assyrian Empire, the winged bull of Asshur, conquered the civilized earth. And Babylonia was a subjugated province of the great empire of Assyria with its capital on the Tigris River at Nineveh. But all through those centuries, the province of Babylonia was restive and rebellious. In 700 for example they had a king named Merodach who sent to Hezekiah and said, “Let us rebel against Assyria” [Isaiah 39:1] And this Merodach-Baladan had revolted three times against Assyria; twice crowned himself king. Hezekiah was so flattered by the embassage from the king of Babylonia, Merodach-Baladan. That’s when Isaiah came before him and announced because of what he did, Hezekiah , the deportation of Judea and Jerusalem captives into that faraway land of Babylon [Isaiah 39:5-7]; just one of those little incidents along the way.
Anyway Merodach-Baladan so refused the sovereignty of Assyria that finally Sennacherib—one of the ablest generals and one of the greatest Assyrian emperors—Sennacherib came with his army and he destroyed the city utterly; even turned the waters of the Euphrates River over it. But in a strange providence of life, his son, Esarhaddon, rebuilt it. And his son, great Assyrian emperor, Ashurbanipal, also followed the same policy. Then they sent down to Babylon a viceroy by the name of Nabopolassar. And Nabopolassar, an Assyrian general of Chaldean in origin, revolted against Assyria and made himself king of Babylonia.
He was a shrewd and an able general. He made covenants with the other nations of the Assyrian empire. And especially, he took his son, Nebuchadnezzar II, and married him to Amytis, the princess of Media. And Nabopolassar and the kings of the Medes and the Scythians, and the hoards of the East, destroyed forever the Assyrian Empire and plunged Nineveh so completely into obliteration that Alexander the Great marched over it with his armies, and never realized that a vast city and a great civilization lay buried beneath his feet. This is in 612 BC.
In 605 Nebuchadnezzar, the son of Nabopolassar was on his way to subjugate Egypt. He stopped by Jerusalem, besieged it and took it. But he heard of the death of his father, so Nebuchadnezzar took Daniel and his three friends and a few others of the royal family and hastened back to Babylon, and there consolidated his throne. He was then just twenty years of age. And taking his Chaldean armies he swept over the civilized world until the whole earth belonged to Nebuchadnezzar [Daniel 4:22].. He never lost a battle. Now, when the days of the subjugation of the civilized world were done, from India through Egypt up through the Mesopotamia into the land of the Armenians and the Hittites, down to the Persian Gulf from side to side, the then known world; when the armies no longer marched and there was no need for warfare Nebuchadnezzar came back to the city of Babylon.
It had been destroyed a hundred years before by Sennacherib. And he set himself to building the greatest, grandest, most golden city of the world. He succeeded [Daniel 4:30].. There has never been before, there has never been since, there will never ever be another city like Babylon. A very simple reason why: Nebuchadnezzar had at his disposal for its erection hundreds of thousands, and hundreds of thousands, and hundreds of thousands of slaves to labor. If you build anything today, you’d go bankrupt paying the construction industry. You may be able to build a little building down here on the street, twenty stories high, maybe covering a quarter or half a block; cost millions and millions of dollars to build that little old thing, stick it up down here. Labor; he had no labor problems. He had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of nations he had subjugated. He uprooted them, and he brought them into Babylon, and there they labored to realize the dream of the great king.
Second: he not only had slave labor that cost him nothing, he also had the treasures of the world at his command. Wherever the armies of the cruel, cruel and merciless Chaldean went, he stripped the nations, and he brought back into the city the treasures of the then-known world. For example, he destroyed the temple of Solomon and brought back into Babylon all the golden altars and lampstands and utensils of the beautiful temple of Solomon [Daniel 1:1-2, 2 Kings 24:14-16]. That was a peccadillo compared to the treasures by which he pillaged and gathered forcefully, coercively from the ends of the earth. You don’t have that anymore. He had the opportunity that no man will ever have again, to build the incomparable city.
These things are not mythological. There were eyewitnesses who looked at it. One was Herodotus. Even though Herodotus, the great Greek historian was there about a hundred years after Nebuchadnezzar and it was in its decline, yet to the Greek when he looked at it, it was the Seventh Wonder of the World. Herodotus knew Athens. He knew the great Ionian cities, he’d seen Corinth. There was nothing like Babylon in man’s mind or imagination. Ctesias, the Greek physician, a contemporary of Herodotus, visited Babylon and wrote of it extensively. Besides, we have from other sources, the records of Diodorus, the geographer, Strabo, and Pliny. How many of those authors of ancient times wrote of the glory of Babylon. And in the Scriptures you will find in Isaiah and in Jeremiah the description of it as a golden city [Isaiah 47:5], a woman with a golden cup in her hand [Isaiah 14:4, Jeremiah 51:7, Revelation 17:4-5].
Now let’s visit it. We’re going to look at it as Herodotus did. There it stands, surrounded by a high wall. It is built in an exact square, set with the cardinal points of the earth; fifteen miles this way, that wall, fifteen that, fifteen that, and fifteen back again. The wall is three hundred fifty feet high. It is eighty-seven feet broad, and at the top so wide that six chariots can race around it breast to breast. It is pierced by one hundred gates, and the gates, each one, are two great leaves made out of burnished bronze. And the writers say when the sun rose in the morning and set in the evening, those gates looked like liquid fire.
The streets, everything in Babylon was symmetrical, at right angles; twenty-five avenues, a hundred feet wide from east to west, twenty-five avenues one hundred fifty feet wide from north to south. And where they came to the edge of the city, there was between the two walls was a great avenue into which they poured. In the center of the city there was an avenue that crossed over the bridge. And on that side was a regal palace and on this side a regal palace. The river Euphrates ran diagonally through it. And between the wall of the city and the river there were quays and wharves for the commerce of the world.
The palaces, the ruins of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace, covers now more than eleven identifiable acres; that one palace. Into those palaces he had brought the treasures of the world. They were gilded, they were silvered. The great banquet hall had in it the finest plastered walls. Against that plastered wall, the heavenly hand wrote in 539 BC, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin” [Daniel 5:25].
The Hanging Gardens—he was married by his father, Nabopolassar, to Amytis, the princess of Media. She was a mountain girl and the flat, alluvial plain of Babylon was boring to her. So he built for her a mountain. Terrace, terrace, terrace, terrace, up and up and up and up, covered with trees and shrubs and flowers. When Herodotus looked upon it and his Greek compeers, they called it alone one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
But the temples, the temples, into those temples Nebuchadnezzar brought the treasures of the whole earth and dedicated them to his gods; such as the utensils of gold and silver in Solomon’s temple; temples everywhere. They were dedicated to Ishtar from the Madonna and child dedicated to Nebo; dedicated to Beltis, the spouse of Marduk, the Hebrews call it Merodach; the temple of Merodach, an outer court, a central court, and an inner court. In the inner court the shrines to a thousand thousand gods and goddesses; there’s the great rising, pyramiding ziggurat; up, and up, and up, and up, over six hundred feet high; and on top of that vast temple, the shrine to Marduk.
They called him “Lord,” in their language, Bel, Baal. And in that shrine was the golden statue of Baal, Baal-Marduk, forty-nine feet tall. The furniture was solid gold. One of those ancient historians estimated in that one shrine alone there were eight hundred talents of gold. A talent is a weight; a weight that a strong man could carry; eight hundred talents of gold in that one shrine. No wonder the Bible calls it a golden city [Jeremiah 51:7].
But to me, the most impressive thing of that city, had I been able to see it—not the gold, and not the silver, and not all the treasures of the earth that he brought into it, but to me the most magnificently impressive thing about the city would have been its color. Being on the alluvial plain, the mountains being far away, very little stone was used. So Nebuchadnezzar employed colored enameled tile. In the heart of the city, beginning at the Ishtar Gate and running throughout the length of the city was the great procession street. It was a causeway. It was raised higher than the houses. And then on either side he built a great wall with towers. He paved it with stone. Then he lined the walls as he did the palaces, as he did the temples, with enameled colored tile. And those tiles presented scenes, flora, fauna, hunting, kings, queens, the history of the golden city.
You know why I say that’s the most impressive to me, could I have seen it then? Have some of you been to Bangkok, been to Bangkok? Oh, there’s a little section of Bangkok—two blocks of it, three blocks of it, two and half blocks of it—there’s a section of Bangkok and the temples are there, and the temples are made out of porcelain. They are made out of colored tile. I saw it first in 1950. And when I looked at it, I thought I had never seen anything like this in my life; the colors of it. Because you can make tile any color, any color; when you build with stone, you are limited, but when you build with man-made tile, there is no limit. And when I looked at those temples in Bangkok and the color of those tiles, it was astonishing to me! I had never seen anything like it in the earth; the color of it. Can you imagine, then, what Babylon looked like? Not two blocks of it, as in Bangkok, or a block and a half of it, but miles of it and miles of it and miles of it! The most gloriously colored, most beautiful decorated city the world has ever seen; Babylon. “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built for the house of my kingdom, by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?” [Daniel 4:30]. That indefatigable builder, Nebuchadnezzar, reigned over that kingdom for forty-three years. And with the treasures of the earth and with the slavery of the nations, it is fantastically unimaginable what that golden city looked like [Isaiah 14:4; Jeremiah 51:7]; Mystery Babylon.
What God says; Isaiah raised up his prophetic voice and said:
Babylon, Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees, it shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.
It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch his tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their folds there.
Wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; the houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell,
And the wild beasts of the inland cities shall cry in their desolate houses; and her time is near, and her days shall not be prolonged.
Jeremiah raised his voice and said:
Wild beasts of the desert, and of the inlands shall dwell there, and owls shall dwell there: it shall be no more inhabited for ever; no more inhabited for ever; neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation.
I can’t conceive of that. When Isaiah said his prophecy a hundred years before Nebuchadnezzar was born, and when Jeremiah said that at the zenith of the glory of the Nebuchadnezzar, the city had had a history already there of seven thousand five hundred years. It looked impregnable. It was so large that they could raise their own food inside it. And the Euphrates watered it, and a great moat was on the outside of the wall with drawbridges at every avenue. It was impregnable, invincible, unassailable, and was located in a paradise. Yet the prophet lifted up his voice and said, “It shall be waste and barren and desert and it shall never be inhabited fo rever” [Isaiah 13:19-20].
Layard, Austen Layard was one of the first archeologists who went over there to dig at the site of Babylon. And in 1845, this is what he wrote, “Shapeless heaps of rubbish cover for many acres the face of the earth. On all sides, fragments of glass, marble, pottery, inscribed brick are mingled with that peculiar nitrous and blanched soil which, bred from the remains of ancient habitations, checks or destroys vegetation, and renders the site of Babylon a naked and hideous waste. Owls start from the scanty thickets and the foul jackal skulks through the furrows. And the drifting sands of the desert for centuries and centuries and centuries have buried it out of sight,” the judgment of Almighty God. Whether a nation lives or not, whether a civilization endures or not, whether a city continues or not, lies in the imponderables of Almighty God. There has never been a city so apparently indestructible as Babylon. Even when Alexander the Great was there, having conquered the world, he intended to make Babylon the center of his empire and to build again that mighty fortress; cut down, as you know, possibly murdered in Babylon.
Now what God says: “Babylon, mystery, the great harlot. I will show thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters” [Revelation 17:1]. What does that mean? I haven’t time even to approach the hem of the garment. This is the seventeenth chapter of Revelation. But what is presented here is the religious system, the religious system that is unfaithful to God. Ah, when I think of it! These who purport to be servants of God, but they are whores and harlots and prostitutes; what God says [Revelation 17:1].
A popular magazine recently—and you read this. I hate to bore you with things that you already know better than I. A popular magazine hired pollsters and surveyed all of the seminaries of America and then published the results. And they were going to find out what kind of preachers we were going to have in the next generation. Seventy-one percent of the preachers do not believe in an afterlife. They believe that when you die, you die like a dog; there is no afterlife [Daniel 12:2, John 11:25]. Sixty percent of them do not believe in the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-25], nor do they believe in the resurrection from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. Ninety-eight percent of them do not believe we will ever see Jesus again [Acts 1:9-11]; ninety-eight percent of them. And a large percent of them do not believe in a personal God [Romans 8:15, Galations 4:6]. They believe in an “it,” in a motion, in a force, in some kind of an indescribable, intangible, ethereal principle that they can’t even speak of in metaphysical terms. But they don’t believe in a personal God; prostitutes, harlots, standing in the name of Christ and in the name of God and in the churches of the Lord, and denying the faith! “Come, I will show you the judgment of God upon the great whore” [Revelation 17:1]. The woman sits upon a scarlet-colored beast, having the names of blasphemy and her name is “Mother of Harlots, the Great Babylon” [Revelation 17:5]. Oh dear, we haven’t even begun what the Book says about that!
Look at Babylon. You have it translated here, so you don’t see it. She is full of sorcerers and sorceresses, sorcerers and sorceresses [Revelation 18:23]. Well, just let me look at that. The Greek word pharmakon is drug, pharmakon, drug. The Greek word for black magic, taking trips, the use of some kind of chemical to have all of these feelings of religion; they call the one who leads in that a pharmakos, a magician, you have it translated, a sorcerer.
And the Greek word pharmakeia, sorcery, magic, that’s where the pharmacist comes from. He deals in drugs. Where did all this drug stuff come from? It originally came from Babylon; using drugs in order to get people up to take trips. Look at this, the astrologers, horoscopists, astrologers; where did they come from? Why, didn’t I tell you back there in the beginning in Babel they raised a great tower up and up and up? [Genesis 11:4]. In order to get to heaven by stupid, they weren’t, nor are we. What they were doing was, on those ziggurats, their temples, the Chaldean priests gazed at the stars.
And hora, hour, skopos, look at, horoscope. They inquired the exact hour of your birth. And gazing at the stars, these astrologers would tell you the fixed destiny of your life; king, queen, slave, seer, plebe. And that is where that word “kismet” came from, “fate.” They taught the world that there’s no personal God to which we can make appeal and by which a man can change his life, but his life is governed by the stars, by a destiny that was set when he was born.
Babylon; all of that came from Babylon; Ishtar the goddess, the Madonna and child. Babylon continued through the centuries and into this present age; false religion! Dear me. That’s the seventeenth chapter of the book [Revelation 17:1-17]. The eighteenth chapter of the book is commercial Babylon, commercial Babylon [Revelation 18:1-24]. That great and mighty city, the merchants of the earth, precious stones and silver and gold, pearls, linen, purple silk, ivory, brass, cinnamon, frankincense, oil, wheat, sheep, horses, chariots, slaves and the souls of men; trafficking in the souls of men [Revelation 18:12-13]. What would the world of entertainment care if they destroyed five thousand thousand, trafficking in the souls of men? A system that is anti-God: what of China, or what does Russia care if two thirds of the earth are starved and dead, if the few that remain are Marxists, trafficking in the souls of men? [Revelation 18:13].
Anti-God, Babylon, the city that represents the system that someday God shall judge as He did Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 19:24-29]. Just look at it. In 14:8 in the Revelation: “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city” [Revelation 14:8]. Now look at that same identical phrase in chapter 18, verse 2, “The great angel cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen” [Revelation 18:1-2]. Well, wouldn’t it have been said, had he said it one time, “It is fallen.” He said it twice. Why? It referred to the system of idolatry and anti-godliness in so-called worship of the Lord. That’s fallen [Revelation 18:2].
And the second fallen refers to the great commercial cultural life of the people in the world that is an anathema to God; that leaves God out of life, out of culture and out of literature and out of commerce and out of the dreams and hopes and visions of the future for both the political leaders, the national leaders, the state leaders; a system that is godless; judged [Revelation 18:2], judged. Oh, my soul!
And the Book says that when we link our lives with that kingdom of darkness, when it perishes we shall perish with it, and when it goes down [Jude 1:11-13], we go down. When we link our lives with these systems represented by golden Babylon, the end thereof is judgment, and disaster, and death, and condemnation, and the fire and fury of a certain disastrous loss, and ruin, and damnation; the whole thing summed up in that awesome word “hell.” Cast down to hell; the judgments of Almighty God [Hebrews 10:26-27].
That’s why the Lord came. That’s why He became incarnate, left His throne in glory; came down here among men to deliver us from so awesome a judgment [Hebrews 10:5-14, 1 Timothy 1:15, 1 Corinthians 15:3]. And to those who turn in living faith to that living Lord [Romans 10:8-13, Ephesians 2:8-9], God has promised to us like the song says, a better day, a better day. Every day is a better day with the Lord. If you are a businessman and Christ is your partner, it’s a better day where you work. If you are in the world of the arts and culture, with Christ every creation is a better genius, a better inspiration, a better picture, a better song. And if you are in the world of religion, my world, the man who will honor Christ, Christ will honor. When we link our lives with God, God links His life with us. It’s great now [2 Corinthians 5:17]. It’s greater tomorrow, and it is greatest in that glorious new world that the Lord has prepared for those who love Him [John 14:3-4; 1 Corinthians 2:9].
And that’s our invitation in song today. You, and you, give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:8-13]. Link your life with the life of God. Open your heart to the blessed Jesus. “Lord, I’m coming today taking Christ as my Savior. Here I am.” A family you, “Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children. All of us are coming today; the whole family.” A couple you, or just one somebody you; you may be on that balcony on the topmost row, there’s time and to spare. Come. There is a stairway, at the top, at the back and on either side, make the decision now and when we stand in a moment to sing, stand coming. On this lower floor, you in that aisle and down here to the front, “Here I am, pastor. I’ve made the decision for God, and here I am. Here I am. Here I come.” Do it now. Make the decision now. And when you stand up in a moment, stand up coming down that stairway, into that aisle. “Here I am, pastor, today; taking the Lord as my Savior” [Ephesians 2:8], or putting your life in the fellowship and circumference of this precious church [Hebrews 10:24-25], ”Here I am, pastor, I’m coming now,” while we stand and sing.