|In Scripture "Babylon' refers to both the city and empire. In apocalyptic literature "Babylon the Great" represents
human political, economic, and religious systems devoted to crass materialixm and ungodly living in defiance of the holiness and
sovereighty of God.
Ruins of the ancient city lie along the river Euphrates, about 50 miles south of Baghdad in modern Iraq. At its height, the city covered between 3.5 and 6 square miles (9 and 15.5 square Kilometers). According to Herodotus, who wrote in the fifth century B.C., it was surrounded by 60 miles of walls up to 300 feet high and 87 feet wide. Archaeological expeditions between 1899 and 1917, and after 1958, have revealed much about this enormously wealthy city and its kings.
Babylon may be the oldest city in the world. The traditional site of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9), it was one of several cities founded by Nimrod (Gen. 10:10).
The oldest settlement at Babylon, established prior to 3000 B.C., was destroyed by Sargon of Akkad about 2400 B.C.
Near the end of the 2000s B.C., an Amorite dynasty adopted Babyon as its capital. This dynasty, the Old Babylonian, persisted until the city was sacked by the Hittites in 1595 B.C. The most famous king of this era was Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.), known for his codification of strict laws intended to correct social and economic ills. Features of these laws are similar to those found in the Mosaic code.
During the last centuries of this period, Babyon became an educational and litererary center. The city boasted a famous school for scribes, and scholars produced a vast library of materials. Detailed technical works in astronomy and astrology were written in cuneiform on clay tablets.
For the next four centuries (1570-1150 B.C.) a Kassite dynasty controlled the city and maintained close relationships with Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar I (1124-1103 B.C.) made Babylon his capital. The dynasty he founded lasted about a hundred years.
Although the city was incorporated into the Assyrian Empire about 1000 B.C., it resisted outside rule, and was alternately controlled by the Assyrians and the Chaldeans, an aggressive tribe of Viking-like raiders from northeast Arabia. In 698 B.C., the Assyrian ruler Sennacherib destroyed the city, but his successor Ashurbanipal rebuilt it.
The Neo-Babylonian Empire was launched in 625 B.C. when the Chaldean Nabopolassar took the throne. Within two decaddes he, in league with the Medes under Cyaxares, crushed the Assyrian armies. Habakkuk may be referring to his phenomenal rise when he reports God's words, "look at the nations and watch -- and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you woud not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the babylonians (Chaldeans)". (Hab. 1:5-6)
Under Nabopolassar's son, Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 B.C.), Babylon reached the pinnacle of world power. In the process Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed and the Jewish people werer deported from their national homeland. Nebuchadnezzar II was a builder and master administrator as well as conqueror. He constructed several palaces, a massive ziggurat with a temple to the god Marduk on top, and the famous hanging gardens, a wonder of the ancient world.
The last Babylonian ruler Nabonidus (555-539 B.C.) retired to the Arabian city of Teima, leaving his son Belshazzar in charge as co-regent. Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. and established the Persian Empire.
Under Cyrus and his successors, the city of Babylon retained its influence as a vastly wealthy commercial and intellectual center. Residing in it was a large and prosperous Jewish community, whose active involvement in study of the OT is reflected in the Babylonian Talmud, which established some of the traditions still followed in modern Judaism. the city continued to exert its influence in Mesopotamia for several centuries, even into the Christian era.
Envoys from Babylon visited King Hezekiah of Judah (715-686 B.C.) to congratulate him on his recoveryy from serious illness. Hezekiah showed them the nation's wealth, and earned Isaiah's rebuke (2 Kings 20:12-18; Isa. 39). A century later, Babylonians were to carry those riches away.
Miraculously, Judah had been able to stay out of the clutches of the Assyrian Empire, even though the northern kingdom of Israel had been swept away. But the rise of Babylon marked the end of Judah's independence. Nebuchadnezzar II made Judah a vassal state in 605 B.C. Three years later, when King Jehoiakim rebelled, Nebuchandnezzar's armies invaded.
Jerusalem surrendered, and young King Jehoiachin was taken to Babylon with 10,000 artisans and all the Temple's treasures. A list of rations provided for Jehoiachin and his family has been found among the thousands of babylonian records recoverd by archaelogists.
Nebuchadnezzar installed Zedekiah as king of Judah. but this puppet ruler also rebelled. A final invasion culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon's Temple in 586 B.C. At that time most of the nation's remaining population was taken to Babylon.
Several OT prophetic books relate closely to these events. Habakkuk, in Josiah's time (640-609 B.C.) foretold the coming Babylonian invasion as a divine discipline. Jeremiah futilely urged submission to the babylonians during the reigns of Judah's last four rulers. Ezekiel, taken to Babylon with the first group of captives, had a vision of God's protecting presence departing from the Jerusalem Temple, and he also urged the same submission to Babylon as Jeremiah had.
Although they urged submission, these OT prophets also predicted Babylon's final doom (Isa. 13, 14, 47, 48; Jer. 25). Like Assyria, historic Babylon lay under the judgment of God.
The Book of Daniel also concerns the Babylonian captivity, telling of a young Jewish captive sho rose to influence with Nebuchadnezzar and subsequent rulers. The Book of Lamentations (probably composed by Jeremiah) expresses the anguish felt by the Jewish people at being torn from their homeland.
Moses had warned that if God's people sinned they would be uprooted from their land and scattered among the nations (Deut. 28:15-68). The Babylonian captivity partially fulfilled this warning. Yet the captivity proved a blessing. The Hebrew people were purged of idolatry in Babylon. Their religion was refocused on the Sccriptures, and the synagogue was developed as a place of study and worship.
As predicted in Isa 13:19-20, Babylon ultimately became a completely deserted site (partly because its soil had become saline through two millennia of irrigation) and totally abandoned except for the Jewish suburb of Hillah.
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