March 21st, 1971 @ 8:15 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-21-71 8:15 a.m.
On the radio of the city of Dallas you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Mystery Babylon. In our preaching through the Book of Daniel, we are in the fourth chapter, and I am speaking on this great Babylon, Mystery Babylon:
And at the end of twelve months Nebuchadnezzar walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon.
And the king spake, and said, 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?
He was not exaggerating. “Is not this great Babylon?” [Daniel 4:30]. As there is God and Satan, as there is Christ and Antichrist, as there is a kingdom of light and a kingdom of darkness, as there is a heaven and a hell; just so there is a holy city, Jerusalem, and there is a golden city of the world, Babylon. And throughout the Word of God will you find that city, Babylon, until you come to the consummation of the age when she is judged. She is called Mystery, Babylon [Revelation 17:5].
We look first at the course of her history. In the tenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, there was a mighty man, a hunter before the Lord, named Nimrod [Genesis 10:8-9]. And on the plain of Shinar, called by the Assyrians Chaldea, called by the Greeks Babylonia; on that plain he built a city, and he named it “the gate of God,” Babel [Genesis 10:10].
In the next chapter of the Book of Genesis, there is recorded the story in chapter 11 of the citizens of Babel who sought to build a tower, the top of which should search the heavens [Genesis 11:4]. They were not stupid enough, and some of us think, that they were trying to reach heaven by the building of a tower. It was what they called a ziggurat. They were searching the heavens to map the courses and the destinies of men, and through their horoscopic, astrological observations, to hold in hand all of the course of human history. It was then that the Lord God came down and confounded it [Genesis 11:7-9]. And throughout the Bible, the Scriptures, you will find the city called Babel, translated Babylon, but they called it uniformly Babel. And the Hebrew people said it came from the root word balal, which means to confound, the confusion that God wrought when they were seeking to build that great ziggurat to reach to the top of the sky.
Now the country was rich beyond anything the earth had ever seen. They believed, as we do, that it was the garden of Eden and that the Tigris River and the Euphrates River ran through it [Genesis 2:10-14], just as it says in the Bible. The climate is changed now. The face of the earth, by judgment, has changed, but in that day it was a paradise. The country was made by the alluvial deposits of the great Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The country was crossed and crisscrossed by innumerable canals and waterways. It was fertile. It was wondrously watered and it looked like a paradise. It was verdant and green and unbelievably fertile. It supported a dense population.
The archaeologists who go down in that soil say that the city has a history that goes back to eight thousand years before Christ, founded by Nimrod, the great grandson of Noah. For years the city continued and became famous under a dynasty of kings that built the first great Babylonian Empire. In the list of those kings, the most famous is Hammurabi, called in the fourteenth chapter of Genesis, Amraphel [Genesis 14:1]. Out of his kingdom, Abraham left in order to go to the Promised Land of Canaan [Genesis 12:1-5].
As the centuries passed, in 1100 BC there was a famous king named Nebuchadnezzar I. He defeated the Elamites to the east, the Hittites to the north, but was defeated by the Assyrians. And that gave rise to the glory of the Assyrian Empire. But all through the centuries of the domination of Assyria to the north, up there to the north, all those centuries, the great kingdom to the south, Babylonia, was restive.
You remember in 700 BC Merodach-Baladan, the king of Babylon, under Assyria but restive, sent to Hezekiah an embassy and encouraged Hezekiah to revolt against the Assyrians that would have helped Merodach-Baladan—for that province to revolt to the west and he would revolt to the south [Isaiah 39:1]. You remember the story in the Bible about Hezekiah and how delighted he was to have an embassy from Babylonia. That’s when Isaiah stood before him and because of what Hezekiah did, pronounced the captivity, though it was a hundred years and more beyond, of the nation into Babylon [2 Kings 20:12-18, Isaiah 39:1-8]. Anyway, Merodach-Baladan plotted against Assyria for over thirty years. Twice he had himself proclaimed king, as pulling it away from the Assyrian province and empire.
So there was a great king of Assyria, one of their ablest, named Sennacherib. You remember his name because the angel came and destroyed his army when he was beseeching Jerusalem [Isaiah 37:36]. Sennacherib was a mighty emperor. He became disgusted and weary with the disloyal province to the south, and Sennacherib came down with his armies and destroyed Babylon and turned the Euphrates River over the ruins.
But in a strange come to pass, his son, Esarhaddon, took a notion to restore it. And Esarhaddon’s son, Ashurbanipal, took a notion to help restore it. And in those days there arose an Assyrian general by the name of Nabopolassar. He was a Chaldean by origin. He was sent down there by the Assyrian king to withstand the enemies that encroached the empire from the south.
But Nabopolassar, in 625 BC, took Babylon for himself and proclaimed himself king. He was a wise general. He made contracts and covenants with the other provinces of the Assyrian Empire. He took his son, Nebuchadnezzar II, Nebuchadnezzar, and married him to Amytis, the princess of Media. And with the king of Media and the hordes of the tribes to the north and the east, Nabopolassar forever destroyed the Assyrian Empire and forever buried Nineveh out of historical sight. That was done in 612 BC. In 605 BC, the son, Nebuchadnezzar, with the army of Babylonia, was down on his way to conquer Egypt, which later he did. He took Jerusalem in the way [Daniel 1:1]. But while he was on the way toward Egypt, he heard of his father’s death. So he turned around with his army and took Daniel and some of the elite of the royal house and came back to Babylon to consolidate his throne [Daniel 1:1-6, 2 Kings 24:11-16]. He did that easily, and Nebuchadnezzar, then just about twenty years of age—Nebuchadnezzar was one of the most successful and mightiest warriors and generals the earth has ever seen. He never lost a battle. And in a matter of a small period of time, he had conquered the entire civilized world, from India on the right, down to Egypt on the left.
Now, having conquered the world, it came into the heart of this brilliant and able general to make of his capital the grandest, greatest golden city the world had ever seen! And he was an indefatigable builder. And the nations of the world, being at rest and under his suzerainty he poured the resources and the manpower of the empire in building that city. Remember, it had been destroyed about a hundred years before by Sennacherib. That’s why the king could speak and say, “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].
When he said that, he was either on top of the great ziggurat, the great temple of Marduk, or else he was on the top of his glorious palace. And he could see the vast city from horizon to horizon. There never has been, nor will there ever be again, a city like Babylon. There is not the combined wealth of the world to produce or to build such a city. Nebuchadnezzar used hundreds and hundreds and uncounted hundreds of thousands of slave labor to build it. You can’t do that anymore. You have to pay these workmen astronomical wages. He built it by uncounted thousands and possibly millions of people with slave labor.
Again, the treasures of the earth were at his hand. From one side of the civilized world to the other, he stripped it, and he brought, as he did from Jerusalem and from the temple of Solomon, he brought the treasures of the world into Babylon and into those palaces and temples [2 Kings 24:13]. Nor is this something fantastic or mythological. Herodotus visited it. He was there about a hundred years later. Even in the decline of the great city, the Greek historian Herodotus said there is nothing like it in the earth! It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Ctesius visited it, a Greek physician and a contemporary of Herodotus, and he wrote of it. And of course in ancient writers like the geographers, Strabo, Pliny, and Diodorus, world without end do you find those ancient writers wondering—amazed, as the Scriptures say, with a great amazement; wondering with a great wonder at the city of Babylon.
Well, let’s take those writers and describe it just for a moment. What did Babylon look like? Well, it was a great square. And the walls, according to these ancient writers like Herodotus; the walls were 350 feet high, 15 miles this way, 15 that way, 15 that way, 15 that way. And on those walls were towers 250 feet high. Those walls were 87 feet thick and at the top so wide, Herodotus says, that six chariots could race around them breast to breast. It was pierced by a hundred gates, two-leaved with burnished brass. And those writers say that when the sun rose in the morning and when the sun set in the evening, those leaves of brass shined like flaming fire!
The streets: there were 25 broad avenues, 150 feet wide. There were 25 great avenues that dissected the city from east to west and north to south. And everything was built at right angles. And in the river, which went diagonally through the city, there were walls on either side, and between the wall and the river, great wharfs for commerce. And the great central avenue of the city came to a bridge that crossed the river and on either side of the bridge a tremendous regal palace.
The palaces themselves were gorgeous beyond description. The ruins of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace, for example, cover over there, just the ruins, more than eleven acres. On the inside of the palace of Nebuchadnezzar were the treasures of the world. Gilded silver, there was a vast banquet hall, and it was covered with plaster of the finest quality. And against that wall and on that plaster did the heavenly hand of God write in 539 BC at the feast of Belshazzar [Daniel 5:5, 24-28].
In the city was what the Greeks were so amazed at, those great hanging Gardens. That is up and up and up the terraces rose and rose and rose and rose, covered with trees and verdant, emerald herbs and grasses. Nebuchadnezzar did that for his Median wife. She had grown up a princess in Media, the mountain country and the flat plain. He raised a mountain for her, just that she might look upon it and walk through it with delight.
The temples in the city; ah! how they rose against the horizon. The great god was Marduk, or as the Bible calls him Merodach. His wife, his spouse, Beltis; the mother and child Ishtar and Nebo, and a thousand other gods. As you came to the great temples, there would be an outer court and a central court, and then the inner court, and in the inner court the gods and the gods and the gods that were worshipped in the shrines. Then the great temple, the ziggurat, towering, they said, 600 feet in the air, up and up and up, and on top of the ziggurat, the great chapel and shrine of Marduk, Merodach, Bel. And inside that shrine, a statue of gold 45 feet high. The furniture, the utensils, all of gold; Jeremiah and Isaiah call it “the golden city” [Isaiah 14:4; Jeremiah 51:7]
One other thing; down through the middle of the city, beginning at the Ishtar Gate, Nebuchadnezzar had built a giant street of procession, a giant causeway, a sacred way. It was raised higher than the houses, and on either side it was walled. And it was paved with stone from the mountains. And the sides of the walls were made with enameled tile. And this was the procession street for the gods.
I’ve tried to envision in my mind what it would have looked like had you visited that city. Now let me give you an illustration. When I went to Bangkok in 1950, went back there last year, when I went to Bangkok in 1950 I looked upon those temples there, they are made out of glazed tile, enameled tile. And as I looked at them I thought I’d never seen anything like that in the world—the tile, the colored tile, the glazed enameled tile by which those temples in Bangkok are built. Now, let me use that for an illustration. In Bangkok you have three blocks of it. Two and a half blocks of it. Two blocks of it. That’s what you see in Bangkok. But in Babylon you would have seen miles and miles and miles and miles of those beautifully enameled bricks! Colorful, the walls, the temples, the palaces, with great hunting scenes and flora and fauna. It must have been the most stupendously amazing sight that the eyes of man had ever seen. So Herodotus, so Ctesius, so the ancient writers say.
This is golden 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].
Now, the intervention of God from heaven. First: the prophecies of the Lord—Isaiah:
And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, 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 fold there.
Wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there.
And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses… and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged.
The wild beasts of the desert and the wild beasts of the islands shall dwell there, and the owls shall dwell therein: and it shall be no more inhabited forever; neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation.
When Isaiah said that, and when Jeremiah said that, it must have sounded like the prating and the ravings of a madman! Why, Babylon had been a city eight thousand years before Christ, and Babylon was the tremendously great, golden city of the world! And yet the prophets say it shall be desolate and uninhabitable and an indescribable dreary and waste!
I read from Austen Layard, the first great tremendous archaeologist who explored the site in the last century and in 1845, listen to what he writes:
Shapeless heaps of rubbish cover for acres and acres the face of the earth. On all sides, fragments of glass, marble, pottery, inscribed brick are mingled with that peculiar nitrous and black 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 fowl jackals skulks through the furrows. The climate has changed, and the shifting sands of the desert have buried the ancient ruins out of sight. And there is not a human thing that lives there.
Golden Babylon. Mystery Babylon. I call her “Scarlet O’ Harlot.”
I saw a woman sit upon a colored beast, full of names of blasphemy [Revelation 17:3].
The woman was arrayed in scarlet and purple, decked with gold and precious stones . . . having a golden cup in her hand—
That’s from Jeremiah, describing the city. Babylon is a golden cup [Jeremiah 51:7].
Upon her forehead was the name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
In my preaching through the Revelation, we went into that in detail. This morning I have but opportunity to speak of it generally. What is Mystery, Babylon; the scarlet whore? It is the system of religion that is unfaithful and untrue to God.
Ah, you mean religion can be unfaithful to God? Did you read some time ago in a popular magazine, they hired pollsters to go through all the seminaries of America just in order to find out what kind of preachers we would have in the next generation? And they published the results of that poll of all the seminaries in America. Seventy-one percent of them do not believe in an afterlife! They believe when you die, you die like a dog; there is no afterlife. About sixty percent of them do not believe in the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-25], or the resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7]. To them, Easter, the resurrection, is a travesty, a psychological illusion. Ninety-eight percent of them, ninety-eight percent of them do not believe that Jesus will ever be seen again [Acts 1:11]; ninety-eight percent of them. And a large percent of them do not believe in a personal God. They believe in some kind of intangible, inanimate it or force or motion, but they don’t believe in a personal God.
Yet they stand as the exponents of the revelation of God Almighty! That is what God says they are prostituting the faith. They are harlots in the church! That is Mystery Babylon [Revelation 17:3-5].
Oh, I wish we had the hours! Let me go ahead. Mystery Babylon, false religion—full of sorcerers, as the Scriptures say in the Revelation [Revelation 18:23], and back there in the Book of Daniel [Daniel 2:2]. Full of sorcerers! Well, what an amazing thing when I look at this in the Bible! Sorcerers. Pharmakon is drugs in the Bible. Drugs. Pharmakon. Pharmakeas is a drug user. A sorcerer, it is translated, using the black magic. And pharmakon is sorcery. Where did that come from? It came from Babylon, the seat of the first use of drugs! Pharmakeia, like your pharmacy. Pharmakon, to take a trip, to have an experience; all of this came from Babylon; Mystery Babylon, the harlot before God [Revelation 17:1-5].
Once again, if we could take a moment for it: the astrologer. When you look at that in the Greek, horoskopos: horo, “our,” skopos, “to look at, to watch”—why those enormous ziggurats? That the Chaldean priests, the astrologers, might rise up and up and up and observe the heavens. Then the very hour of your birth—horoskopos—looking at the hour of your birth, they charted your life by the stars. That’s where kismet came from. Fate. There is no personal God. By the stars you are fated! Horoskopos, horoscope. I one time asked an editor, “Why in the name of culture, and education, and civilization, and modern Christian faith do you print in your paper every day the horoscopes, the astrological forecasts?” And the editor said to me, “If we did not print that we would have a revolt from the people, and it would be like a flood over us”; today, today, now!
Where did that come from? From the harlot Babylon [Revelation 17:5]. Things like that are an affront to God! Necromancy and witchcraft and fortunetelling, witches, horoscopers, astrologers, sorcerers; in the Old Testament severity of the law they were to be wiped out of the land [Exodus 22:18], yet it is a floodtide in modern religious life; the harlot of Babylon [Revelation 17:5].
I have to close. That’s the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Revelation. The whole eighteenth chapter of the Book of Revelation is given to cultural Babylon and commercial Babylon [Revelation 18:1-24]. Oh dear! Babylon was the commercial center of the earth. Up the Persian Gulf came the ships freighted from Indian Ceylon with spices and silks and satins. Down the Tigris and the Euphrates River came the barges laden from Kurdistan and Armenia, and the great caravans came across the deserts and poured the wares of the world into the commercial marts of Babylon. And there in Babylon was there offered and exchanged the finest merchandise: embroideries, carpets, silks. Why, don’t you remember the story of Achan before Jericho? He found a wedge of gold. He found a wedge of silver. He found a Babylonian garment! And he hid it [Joshua 7:20-21]. It was so beautiful. It was renowned in the world. Babylon.
Well, what is this eighteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation? This is Babylon, the cultural life and the commercial life that leaves out God; don’t need Him! No place in life! Dismiss Him! Look at the naming here in the eighteenth Book of the Revelation, what they were trafficking in; silks, scarlet, ivory, precious stone, wood, marble, cinnamon, frankincense, oil, flour, wheat, sheep, cattle, chariots, slaves and the souls of men, selling them in an open market, the souls of men! [Revelation 18:12-13].
Oh, when I look at that I think of the entertainment world. What do they care about the people who come? They ravish them and destroy them. So much of it is that way; trafficking in the souls of men. What does it matter to them that our youngsters might be debauched? Let’s make money out of these pornographic movies and out of these awesome, horrible scenes of violence and sex and rape. Trafficking in the souls of men [Revelation 18:13]; that’s in the Bible—I never thought up that phrase.
The whole life of Babylon, dragging men down to hell; will that last forever? Isn’t it a strange thing here in the fourteenth chapter of the Revelation? Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city [Revelation 14:8]. And over here again in the eighteenth chapter of the Revelation and the second verse, “And the angel cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen” [Revelation18:1-2]. Isn’t that strange to use both of those? Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen. Twice. Well, I think it refers, Babylon is fallen. The first fallen, that is false religion [Revelation 19:2]. Someday the Lord will come, and there will be no more false prophets, there will be no harlots who are prostituting the faith of Jesus. And the second fallen is a godless culture and a godless commercialism that leaves God out of its life [Revelation 18:2]—will be forever done away. When the Lord, by His own intervention, brings to this earth and to the heaven above a world of righteousness and the knowledge of the true and gracious and glorious God [Habakkuk 2:14], oh, oh! what the Lord has written in the Book!
Our time is far spent. We are going to sing our hymn of appeal in this moment. And a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, in the balcony round, and there is time and to spare; if you are on the last most seat, down one of these stairways, to the front, to the back, and down on either side, come. In the press of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front: “Here I am, pastor. I have decided for God, and I am coming.” To give your heart to Jesus, to put your life in the fellowship of this dear church, to pray with us, to love God with us, make the decision now in your heart wherever you sit. Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when you stand up, stand up coming. “Here I am, pastor. I make it today. I make it now. We are coming.” You, on the first note of that first stanza, down one of these stairways, into the aisle: “Here I come, pastor. I am making it now.” I’ll give you opportunity in a moment to go to Sunday school. Nobody moves except we move toward God. All of us praying, waiting before the Lord, that God will give us families and couples and souls, you, do it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.