Babylon

Israel’s connection with Babylon began long before the nation of Judah was taken into captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:8-11). The people of Babylon were known as the Chaldees or Chaldeans. It’s noted in Acts 7:2-4 that Abraham came out of the land of the Chaldeans and was led by God to dwell in charan (khaw-rawn’) which eventually became the nation of Israel. God’s judgment of Babylon seems to be related to the effect its culture has had on his chosen people. The prophet Ezekiel’s parable of the adulterous sisters (aka Samaria and Jerusalem) indicated that the nations of Israel and Judah had committed whoredoms with Assyria and Egypt (Ezekiel 23:7-8) and lusted after the Chaldeans. Referring to the younger sister Aholibah who represented Jerusalem, Ezekiel prophesied, “Then I saw that she was defiled; both took the same way. But she increased her harlotry; she looked at men portrayed on the wall, images of Chaldeans portrayed in vermilion, girded with belts around their waists, flowing turbans on their heads, all of them looking like captains, in the manner of the Babylonians of Chaldea, the land of their nativity. As soon as her eyes saw them, she lusted for them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. ‘Then the Babylonians came to her, into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their immorality; so she was defiled by them, and alienated herself from them'” (Ezekiel 23:13-17, NKJV).

In his revelation of the end times, the Apostle John was shown “the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters: with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication” (Revelation 17:1-2, NKJV). John stated, “The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT,
THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” Revelation 17:4-5, NKJV). The Greek word translated mystery, musterion (moos-tay’-ree-on) means “(to shut the mouth); a secret or mystery (through the idea of silence imposed by initiation into religious rites)” (G3466). It could be that the actual identity of the harlot that John saw was Jerusalem because John was told, “the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17:18, NKJV). Earlier, John was told that the dead bodies of the two witnesses would “lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified” (Revelation 11:8).

The location of the harlot that John was shown in his vision of the future was the wilderness (Revelation 17:3). It says in Revelation 12:5-6 after the woman “bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron…Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.” It could be that the harlot and the woman that bore the male child represent the same entity, Jerusalem. Therefore, the judgment of Babylon and Jerusalem are linked together by their adulterous relationship. When John saw the woman in the wilderness, she was sitting on a scarlet colored beast, “full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns” (Revelation 17:3). John was told, “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. ‘Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time. The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition. The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast'” (Revelation 17:8-13, NKJV).

John’s vision of the woman sitting on the scarlet beast may have been intended to represent Jerusalem’s involvement in a political system that is run by Antichrist. It appears that Jerusalem will be betrayed and caused to suffer for her infidelity to God. John was told, “the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled” (Revelation 17:16-17, NKJV). Isaiah’s prophecy of God’s judgment for universal sin indicated that the entire world would be turned upside down (Isaiah 24:1) and the city of confusion broken down (Isaiah 24:10). The term “city of confusion” is probably a composite of all the cities opposed to God — such as Babylon, Tyre, Jerusalem and Rome” (note on Isaiah 24:10). John recorded, “And I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities…Therefore her plagues will come in one day—death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her” (Revelation 18:4-5, 8, NKJV).

An advantage

The chief priests and the Pharisees saw an advantage to having Jesus die for the Jewish nation (John 11:50). They may have thought they could turn the tide in their political future by demonstrating their loyalty to Rome. After they heard that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, “Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and our nation…Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death” (John 11:47-48, 53). It was in the winter of A.D. 29 that Jesus was no longer able to “walk openly” among the Jews and had to retreat to a city near the wilderness (John 11:54). Although he knew his death was imminent, Jesus probably wanted to protect his disciples from what was going on in Jerusalem until it was his appointed time to die.

It seems logical that the Jews were ready to kill Jesus even before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. All the accounts of what happened showed there was an ongoing plot to kill Jesus long before he was arrested and put on trial. There was most likely a concerted effort to take Jesus into custody for at least a few weeks and possibly as much as two to three months. It says in John 11:57, “Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should shew it, that they might take him.” One of the things that was an advantage for Jesus during this time was that the people loved him and his miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead was fresh in their minds. The only way the religious leaders were eventually able to capture Jesus was by turning one of his own disciples against him.

Collaboration

Nehemiah’s assignment to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem was something that he said, “my God had put in my heart to do” (Nehemiah 2:12). Initially, Nehemiah kept his mission a secret, perhaps because he thought there was a traitor among the Jews living in Jerusalem. It might have been that Nehemiah just wanted to get a first hand look at what needed to be done to secure the perimeter of the city before he shared his action plan. Nehemiah’s night inspection revealed that the wall had been completely destroyed. There was nothing left but rubble of the once magnificent structure that protected God’s people from enemy attacks. Immediately after he had gained the support of the people to start rebuilding the wall, Nehemiah was hit with opposition from what could be considered the local mafia or an organized crime syndicate. It says in Nehemiah 2:19-20:

But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king? Then answered I them, and said unto them, The God of heaven, he will prosper us: therefore we his servants will arise and build: but you have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.

The key to Nehemiah’s plan to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem was collaboration. Whether or not this idea came to him directly from God or was something that Nehemiah developed on his own was not clearly stated, but it seems likely that collaboration was God’s idea, not Nehemiah’s. Everyone in the city was expected to participate in the effort, including the priests, government officials, and even Nehemiah himself. Nehemiah gave out work assignments, making sure that every section of the wall had a leader assigned to it. The way Nehemiah described his plan, there were to be no gaps in building activity, everything was to be done simultaneously.

Throughout the third chapter of the book of Nehemiah the phrases “next unto him” and “after him” appear repeatedly. The picture that Nehemiah painted was an unbroken chain of people surrounding the city of Jerusalem, each person with an assigned task directly related to their own personal welfare and stake in the family’s inheritance of property. Included in Nehemiah’s plan was the restoration of ten of the twelve gates that controlled access into and out of the city. Beginning and ending with the sheep gate, Nehemiah laid out his work plan stating, “Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests, and they built the sheep gate; they sanctified it, and set up the doors of it; even unto the tower of Meah they sanctified it, unto the tower of Hananeel…After him repaired Malchiah the goldsmith’s son unto the place of the Nethinims, and of the merchants, over against the gate of Miphkad, and to the going up of the corner. And between the going up of the corner unto the sheep gate repaired the goldsmiths and the merchants” (Nehemiah 3).

Two sisters

Jerusalem and Samaria were described as two adulterous sisters in a parable that was intended to portray the two cities as corrupt and tied to the past by their habitual idolatry. (Ezekiel 23). The origin of the adulterous sisters’ behavior was an early exposure to sexual misconduct in the land of Egypt. The Israelites lived in bondage in Egypt for 430 years. When they were finally delivered from bondage by Moses, they had to be taken out of the land almost by force. During the 40 years they wandered in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land, the Israelites were continually reverting to old habits such as worshipping a golden calf (Exodus 32:4), and engaging in the fertility rites of Baal, the god of the Moabites (Numbers 25:1-2).

The parable of the adulterous sisters opened with a stark picture of violent sexual abuse. God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother: and they committed whoredoms in Egypt: they committed whoredoms in their youth: there were their breasts pressed, and there they bruised the teats of their virginity” (Ezekiel 23:2-3). The accusation of having committed whoredom was due to a voluntary and willful choice of a particular lifestyle that was contrary to God’s commandments. As God’s chosen people, the Israelites were forbidden to worship any god other than Jehovah. Even before Moses was given the Ten Commandments, it was clear to Abraham’s descendants that they were not to engage in idolatry. Circumcision was symbolic of God’s ownership rights to Abraham’s offspring, and a token of his entering into a covenant with each man individually (Genesis 17:10).

In the parable of the adulterous sisters, Jerusalem, capital of the nation of Judah, was designated as the younger sister, Aholibah, who followed in the footsteps of her older sister, Aholah, who represented Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel (Ezekiel 23:4). After the fall of Samaria, Jerusalem was expected to heed God’s warning and turn back to him, but instead, Jerusalem became even more corrupt than Samaria by defiling God’s holy temple. The result was alienation from God and isolation from his messengers, the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

In the parable, Ezekiel was told, “And when her sister Aholibah saw this, she was more corrupt in her inordinate love than she…She doted upon the Assyrians her neighbors, captains and rulers clothed most gorgeously, horsemen riding upon horses, all of them desirable young men” (Ezekiel 23:11-12). Jerusalem’s reliance on military strength rather than God’s protection was evident when king Jehoiakim paid tribute or ransom money in order to receive protection from Pharaoh-nechoh of Egypt (2 Kings 23:35). In the end, king Hezekiah of Judah invited the Babylonians to view the treasures of his kingdom which were later taken by king Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 20:13; Ezekiel 23:16).

Jerusalem

Jerusalem was more than just a city. As the capital of Israel, it represented the ideal of what God’s kingdom was supposed to be like and was symbolic of a way of life that was consistent with God’s character. When God decided to destroy the city of Jerusalem, it must have been as a last resort. There was so much of Israel’s history linked to Jerusalem that its destruction would have been perceived as the end of much more than just a 50 mi² piece of land.

Ezekiel was instructed to deliver an indictment of Jerusalem as if the city were responsible for all the failures that had taken place within her walls (Ezekiel 22:2). Among the many crimes that were listed was oppressing strangers, as well as, violence against the fatherless and widows. Particular attention was paid to sexual crimes including incest and rape. God said of Jerusalem, “In thee have they discovered their father’s nakedness; in thee have they humbled her that was set apart for pollution. And one hath committed abomination with his neighbor’s wife; and another hath lewdly defiled his daughter in law; and another in thee hath humbled his sister, his father’s daughter” (Ezekiel 22:10-11).

Although the term culture is not used in the Bible, the idea of a collective mindset or way of life was evident in God’s judgment of Jerusalem and other cities such as Sodom and Nineveh. What appears to have been the problem with Jerusalem was it had become so corrupt there was no hope of reform. God said, “And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none” (Ezekiel 22:30). When God sought to destroy Sodom, Abraham interceded on behalf of his nephew Lot. God agreed that if there were but ten righteous men in the city of Sodom, he would not destroy it for their sake (Genesis 18:32).

The lack of an intercessor for Jerusalem meant that it would be left to God to determine the city’s fate. The grievous crimes that had been committed within Jerusalem made it impossible for God to look the other way. God’s displeasure with sin was just as much evident in his condemnation of Jerusalem as it was with other wicked cities, if not more so. God told Ezekiel, “Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath: their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, saith the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 22:31).

The sisters

God’s anger toward the city of Jerusalem was not an isolated incident. Beginning with the flood that wiped out all life on earth (Genesis 7:21), God continually acted to rid the world of corrupt humans. Two cities in particular were singled out for their wicked behavior, Samaria and Sodom. God likened these cities to sisters that loathed their husbands and their children (Ezekiel 16:45). God said of Jerusalem, “And thine elder sister is Samaria, she and her daughters that dwell at thy left hand: and thy younger sister, that dwelleth at thy right hand is Sodom and her daughters” (Ezekiel 16:46).

The characterization of these cities as sisters was meant to portray a similar behavior that was common to all, as if it was a family trait. What was the same about all of them was idolatry. It was said of Jerusalem, “Thus saith the Lord GOD: Because thy filthiness was poured out, and thy nakedness discovered through thy whoredom with thy lovers, and with all the idols of thy abominations, and by the blood of thy children, which thou didst give unto them; behold, therefore, I will gather all thy lovers…and will discover thy nakedness unto them, that they may see all thy nakedness” (Ezekiel 16:36-37).

The city referred to as Jerusalem’s elder sister (Ezekiel 16:46), Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. Samaria was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. Among the many wicked kings that ruled over the northern kingdom of Israel were king Jeroboam who made two calves of gold to be worshipped as gods, and Omri who established the capital of Samaria and instituted Baal worship there. Comparing Jerusalem to Samaria, God said, “Yet hast thou not walked after their ways, nor done after their abominations: but as if that were a very little thing, thou wast corrupted more than they in all thy ways…Neither hath Samaria committed half of thy sins; but thou hast multiplied thine abominations more than they, and hath justified thy sisters in all thine abominations which thou hast done” (Ezekiel 16:47,51).

Sodom, a city that was destroyed when God rained brimstone and fire on it from heaven (Genesis 19:24), was described as haughty or proud. God said, “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49). God said that Jerusalem had justified Samaria and Sodom because she was more wicked than they were. The Hebrew word translated justified in this instance is tsadeq (tsaw – dak´). “This word is used of man as regarded as having obtained deliverance from condemnation, and as being thus entitled to a certain inheritance” (6663).

Because Jerusalem was proven to be no better than Samaria and Sodom, these two cities would be restored to their former estate, just as Jerusalem would be in the future. In other words, when the Messiah came, he would not limit his ministry to the city of Jerusalem. God intended to extend his grace to the surrounding region, and eventually to the entire world. In spite of Jerusalem’s failure to meet God’s standards, God did not abandon his holy city. He said, Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant…That thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 16:60,63).

The harlot

The city of Jerusalem was likened to a harlot or prostitute because of the idolatry that took place within her walls. God described Jerusalem as the child of prominent parents that was abandoned at birth, perhaps the result of a failed abortion. God said, “And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy naval wast not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the loathing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born” (Ezekiel 16:4-5).

God’s claim to the city of Jerusalem was based on a covenant he likened to a marriage contract. He said, “Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness; yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine” (Ezekiel 16:8). God’s relationship with his people was dependent on a land that would belong to them throughout eternity. In order to fulfill his promise to Abraham, God selected Jerusalem as the home where he would dwell with his people.

God’s commitment to the city of Jerusalem was met when king David made Jerusalem the capital of Israel and Solomon built his temple there. It was only because Good had chosen Jerusalem beforehand that these things were able to take place. Like a bride on her wedding day, God said, “Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil; and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper as a kingdom” (Ezekiel 16:13).

The city of Jerusalem became attractive to foreign kings because of the wealth that flowed into her gates as a result of God’s blessing. Without fully realizing what he was doing, king Hezekiah invited dignitaries from Babylon to tour his capital. It says in 2 Kings 20:13, “And Hezekiah hearkened unto them, and shewed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not.”

So that no one would be able to inhabit the city of Jerusalem besides his chosen people, God judged the land and caused it to become barren while his people went into exile. As if the land had committed adultery, God said of Jerusalem, “And in thine abominations and thy whoredoms thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, when thou wast naked and bare, and wast polluted with blood…Behold, therefore, I have stretched out my hand over thee, and have diminished thine ordinary food, and delivered thee unto the will of them that hate thee, the daughters of the Philistines, which are ashamed of thy lewd way” (Ezekiel 16:27).

Recompense

In an attempt to prepare Ezekiel for the worst catastrophe that the Israelites would ever experience, God showed Ezekiel exactly what his motivation was for completely destroying the city of Jerusalem. As if to announce a death sentence on a guilty prisoner, Ezekiel was told, “thus saith the Lord GOD unto the land of Israel; An end, the end is come upon the four corners of the land. Now is the end come upon thee, and I will send mine anger upon thee, and will judge thee according to thy wages, and will recompense upon thee all thine abominations” (Ezekiel 7:2-3).

The Hebrew word translated recompense in Ezekiel 7:3, nathan (naw – than´) means to give (5414). Nathan has a very broad context and can be used to convey many types of actions where there is a transfer of possessions. In a technical sense, nathan means to hand something over to someone in order to satisfy a debt or as payment for services rendered. “This word is used of ‘bringing reprisal’ upon someone or of ‘giving’ him what he deserves” as in the punishment for sins committed. The Apostle Paul taught in his message to the Romans, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Once again, Ezekiel was transported by the spirit to see with his own eyes the abominations taking place in Jerusalem. It says in Ezekiel 8:3, “And he put forth the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of mine head; and the spirit lift me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner gate that looketh toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy.” The image of jealousy was most likely a statue of Asherah, the Canaanite goddess of fertility. The presence of this idol in the temple of God suggested that the Israelites were intentionally provoking God’s anger.

Along with the idols that were openly displayed, numerous objects were kept in the secret chambers of God’s temple. Ezekiel was asked, “Then he said unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery?  for they say, The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth” (Ezekiel 8:12). The idea that God was limited in his awareness of what his people were doing came from a distorted view of his deity. Much like a man, God was expected to behave in ordinary ways and was thought to be temperamental and easily provoked.

One of the objectives God expected to accomplish by punishing his people was to restore their respect and reverence for his position. As the sovereign LORD of the universe, God could do whatever he pleased. In order to reestablish a proper relationship with his people, God chose to put an end to sacrifices and burnt offerings, so that the basis of salvation would not be confused with earning God’s favor. Once God punished his children, he would be free to move on with his plan of salvation, which included the provision for all to be saved by his grace.

The capture of Jerusalem

If there was one event in David’s life that stood out as his greatest moment, it was probably the conquest of Jerusalem. It’s likely that victory over the Jebusites, the people of Jerusalem, was considered impossible because of the strategic location of the city on a rise that was surrounded on three sides by deep valleys.

Jerusalem was the ultimate strong hold or fortress. It had been occupied for approximately 2000 years, since the time of Abraham, and at least two previous attempts to overtake it had failed. After conquering it, David renamed it the city of David (2 Samuel 5:7).

The capture of Jerusalem was probably important to David because he felt God was using him to establish a permanent kingdom on earth. David believed there would be a Messiah and may have known that Jerusalem would be the capitol from which he would rule and reign over his kingdom. Possession of Jerusalem was therefore and integral part of God’s redemptive program for Israel.

It says in 2 Samuel 5:6, “And David went on and grew great, and the LORD God of hosts was with him.” The term LORD God of hosts is used several times by David in his prayers for deliverance from his enemies. Although it is possible the hosts David was referring to were troops under his command, it s likely David was asking for help with spiritual warfare.

There are some battles that take involve both physical and spiritual warfare. Jerusalem was a key city in the Promised Land, but it is also described as a heavenly city. In Revelation 3:12, it says, “I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God.”

When Jacob was fleeing from his brother Esau, it says in Genesis 28:11 that he came to a certain place. “And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12). The place Jacob came to might have been a portal between the physical and spiritual worlds that enabled him to see what is normally outside of human perception.

One of the unique characteristics of king David was his awareness of the spiritual realm that existed around him. He often spoke to the LORD as if he was standing right next to him. When it says that the LORD God of hosts was with him, I believe it is saying that the LORD God of hosts, super human beings including God and his angels (430), were David’s constant companions.