BABYLON? WHAT BABYLON?
HISTORICAL JUSTIFICATION OF THE BIBLE THROUGH PROPHECY

What is Prophecy, What Purpose does it Serve?
A prophecy is a prediction that something will happen in the future. The purpose of prophecy is to add credibility to a witness, so that when the predicted event actually happens then the prophet’s audience is more likely to believe them a second time around. Naturally, the more unlikely the prophesied event is, the more useful the prophecy for building credibility for the prophet. If, for example, one were to predict that tomorrow morning will be sunny in San Diego, California then, even if the event were to come true, this would not add any significant credibility to the prophet because he predicted an event that was very likely to happen anyway. If however, the prophet were able to predict the name and address of the next person to win the state lottery, this would indeed be an amazing prophecy, because the probability of being correct by chance is so tiny.

What does this have to do with the Bible? The Bible contains a lot of prophecy and the events that are predicted are extremely unlikely indeed. Here are five extremely unlikely events that are prophesied in the Bible:

  • God intends for Jesus Christ to return to this Earth (Acts 1:11) to set up a permanent kingdom (Isaiah 9:7) – and God’s intentions are always accomplished (Isaiah 55:10-11)
  • All who have responded to the call of the Gospel in baptism (Acts 2:38-40) and a subsequent life of faithfulness (Romans 6:1-18) will be included in this kingdom (Matthew 25:31-46)
  • Even those who have died will be raised to life to be judged whether they can be included in this kingdom (John 5:24-29)

Now clearly these events will affect everyone – if they are true. But why would anyone believe these unlikely postulates? Can we test them? Unfortunately not: obviously by the time they occur, if they occur, it will be too late. Does the Bible have any credibility as a prophet by which we should trust them? To help answer this very question, the Bible supplies other, equally unlikely, prophecies that we can test and thereby work out whether we should believe the prophecies above. The Bible also predicts (prophesies):

  • The population of one particular country, Israel, will be regathered to their own land after losing that territory to other nations and being scattered over all the Earth. (Ezekiel 37:1-14)
  • Babylon, a once massive and famous city, will suffer a terrible destruction and after that will never again be populated. (Jeremiah 50:1-40)

Let’s test these two unlikely prophecies to see if we can obtain any credibility for the Bible and therefore a reason to trust the prophecies above about our own personal future.

Prophecy 1: Israel to be Regathered into their own Land
This compelling example of a detailed and unlikely Biblical prophecy has indisputably come to pass in the past half century! In 1948 the Jews were regathered from all of the nations of the earth to reconstitute the nation of Israel. This event was originally prophesied in the Bible a few thousand years ago and recorded by the prophet Ezekiel. Below is the text of the prophecy recorded by Ezekiel:

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live... Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold they say, Our bones are dry and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus sayeth the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people and brought you up out of your graves. And shall put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it,” declares the LORD. (Ezekiel 37:9, 11-14)

Figure 1: The Balfour Declaration

Twentieth century history declares irrefutably that this prophecy has been fulfilled. Beginning with the Balfour declaration in 1917 (Figure 1), where the British Foreign Office minister publicly unveiled the plans for the establishment of a new state of Israel, to the Declaration of Independence on 14 May 1948 (Figure 2), this seemingly impossible event has indeed occurred before the eyes of the entire world: you can research it at your own library.

Figure 2: Declaration of Independence, Israel, May 1948

Potential Objections to the Fulfilled Prophecy
Let’s not be so trusting, however. If our purpose is to examine Biblical prophecies in order to test whether or not the prophet can be trusted, we should examine all the possible objections one might have to this being a genuinely fulfilled prophecy. We might argue:

  1. Israel isn’t the only country to have gained independence recently. In fact, hasn’t there been a huge number of countries gaining independence in the last 100 years (Table 1)? Doesn’t this make Israel’s story relatively commonplace and therefore, not an unlikely event?
  2. Table 1: Countries gaining or regaining independence: 1901-2000
    1903 Panama 1960 Mauritania 1968 Swaziland
    1912 Albania Niger Nauru
    1915 Egypt Nigeria 1970 Fiji
    1916 Iceland Senegal Tonga
    1918 Poland
    1929 Vatican Somalia 1971 Bangladesh
    1945 Austria Tongo 1974 Guinea Bissau
    1946 Syria Burkina Faso Grenada
    Mongolia Zaire 1975 Angola
    Philippines 1961 Cameroon Mozambique
    1947 India Sierra Leone 1976 Djibouti
    Pakistan 1962 Samoa 1981 Belize
    1948 Israel Uganda 1990 Germany
    Myanmar Jamaica Lithuania
    Sri Lanka Trinidad 1991 Estonia
    1949 Hungary Algeria Latvia
    1951 Libya Rwanda Belarus
    1954 Laos 1963 Kenya Ukraine
    1956 Morocco Malaysia Moldova
    Sudan 1964 Malta Georgia
    Tunisia Tanzania Armenia
    1957 Ghana Zambia Azerbaijan
    1958 Iraq Bahamas Turkmenistan
      Guinea 1965 Singapore Uzbekistan
    1960 Cyprus Zimbabwe Tajikstan
      Cen. Af. Rep. 1966 Barbados Kirghizia
     

    Chad

    Lesotho Kazakhstan
      Congo Gambia Bosnia Herz.
      Benin Botswana Slovenia
      Gabon Guyana Macedonia
      Cote D'Ivoire 1967 Yemen 1992 Croatia
      Malagay 1968 Eq. Guinea 1993 Czech Rep.
      Mali Mauritius Slovakia

    At first the list of countries gaining independence might seem to support the objection that Israel’s independence is not a unique event. But upon closer examination we realize there is a major difference between Israel’s national reconstitution and that of other states. Israel differs fundamentally from every other country in this table because it is the only country whose population had been previously dispersed “to the four winds” (Ezekiel 37:9, see also Zechariah 2:6, Matthew 24:31) into almost every other country on the planet before being regathered into a state. The independence of every other country in the table was greatly assisted by the fact that the indigenous population had always lived in their land – no-one else was scattered and regathered. This is what makes the establishment of Israel so monumentally bizarre and unlikely – and therefore how extraordinary is the fulfilment of the Bible’s prediction!

    We may still not be convinced, although the evidence is becoming irresistible already. Let’s try a more general objection. We might argue:

  3. Isn’t the philosophy of prophecy something of a cheat? After all, if a Bible prophecy is fulfilled then the Bible believer can claim a victory, but if not the Bible believer merely claims that the prophecy hasn’t been fulfilled yet. Why doesn’t the Bible have the courage not only to predict that something unlikely will happen, but also that something that is likely will never happen, and then the Bible could be disproved at any moment?
  4. In truth, the answer to this second objection is simple: the Bible does make a prophecy assuring that a very likely (and desirable, as we shall see) event will never happen, and therefore stands to be disproved at any moment. But it hasn’t been. This leads us to examine the second major category of Biblical prophesies: events the Bible predicts will never take place despite the likelihood that they should.

Prophecy 2: Babylon is Never to be Reinhabited (Jeremiah 50:1-40)
This second prophecy concerns the city of Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah records God’s prediction that Babylon will never again be inhabited. Given that Babylon was one of the largest cities in the world at its time, this prediction is extremely unlikely!

This is the word the LORD spoke through Jeremiah the prophet concerning Babylon and the land of the Babylonians… It will never again be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation. As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah along with their neighbouring towns,” declares the LORD, “so no one will live there; no man will dwell in it.” (Jeremiah 50:1,39-40)

Amazingly, twentieth century history proves this simple, yet bizarre, prophecy remains entirely true! Babylon was first discovered in 1811 in Iraq by British archaeologist Claudius James Rich although most of the excavation occurred later in 1899-1914 and was conducted by the German Oriental Society, led by Robert Koldewey. The few sceptics were readily convinced by the signatures of Nebuchadnezzar’s name in the brickwork. From that day to this Babylon, one of the world’s most famous cities, remains with a population of zero: just as the Bible predicts!

This truly is one of the most compelling prophecies in all of scripture! But just to make sure we can trust it really is the fulfilment of an astonishing prophecy beyond the realms of reasonable coincidence, let us again consider every possible alternative why Babylon might remain unpopulated.

Potential Objections to the Fulfilled Prophecy:
  1. Maybe Babylon remains unpopulated because it doesn’t have any relevance in contemporary culture: it’s a name from long ago that no-one remembers and therefore there’s simply no impetus to repopulate it.

    Any cursory scan of literature and music shows Babylon is one of the most commonly mentioned place-names in popular culture (Figure 3). Whether used literally or as a metaphor, a list of contemporary book, music and film titles indicates the familiarity modern culture has with this city is comparable to the popularity of New York, Paris or Rome. This common knowledge of Babylon is all the more extraordinary since its population is zero!

  2. Figure 3: Proliferation of "Babylon" in modern culture.

  3. Maybe Babylon remains unpopulated because there is simply no market to rebuild it.

    Anyone who has visited Las Vegas quickly realizes that rebuilding Babylon would be one of the most successful business ventures of all time! Not only would the endeavour prove popular because of Babylon’s “sex, drugs and rock and roll” image [the modern meaning of “Babylon” is made very clear by the subtitles of the books in Figure 4] but also for the (considerable) historical and cultural interest it would arouse. Here are just some of the reasons the reconstruction would be a massive success:

    1. The world’s most popular and lucrative industry is the sex industry (e.g. in 2001 the number one search term on the Web was “sex”) and since Babylon is a common metaphor for hedonism this would be the ideal location for all sexually oriented festivals – from the clandestine affair of the married businessman; to the excessive orgy of the sexually oriented religious cult, or just the wild parties of those seeking to be drunken and debauched. For all these Babylon lends itself as the ideal venue: this alone would make the venture a massive success.
    2. Babylon would undoubtedly constitute the number one venue for any rock band to perform – rock bands have been fascinated by the name “Babylon” for decades. Would any of today’s’ leading rock bands really prefer to play London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles or Rio de Janeiro rather than Babylon?
    3. Archaeologists, historians and Bible students would descend upon Babylon from all over the globe due to its vast and fascinating history – which includes a period as one of the world’s very few all-dominant Empires!
    4. The reconstruction of Babylon would categorically disprove the veracity of the Bible! This is as important, if not more so, than any of the above reasons. Have not anti-Christian or anti-Semitic fundamentalists – and atheists – sought every possible way to disprove the Bible for years – including drastic measures of killing themselves and others? Why not simply rebuild Babylon and erect in the city square a golden plaque 50 feet high bearing the words of scripture that are proven foolish by the city’s existence?

    Yet despite all of these compelling reasons, Babylon remains uninhabited.

  4. Maybe Babylon remains unpopulated because no-one has ever tried to rebuild it – as soon as someone important (i.e. rich and/or powerful) wants it rebuilt and repopulated: it’ll be done.

    Figure 4: Depiction of the ancient Ishtar Gate (above). Ishtar Gate reconstructed by Saddam Hussein 1987 (below).

    Yet someone very rich and very powerful has already attempted to rebuild the city! Saddam Hussein (1937-2006), one of history’s most powerful men, has tried and failed to rebuild Babylon (Figure 4).

    “In 1971, UNESCO announced that it would help Iraq completely restore the ancient city of Babylon. The reconstruction would be under the general supervision of Saddam Hussein. There was a four-lane highway between Baghdad and Babylon with brick factories along the way turning out bricks for this tremendous reconstruction project. On one end of the brick was the name Nebuchadnezzar, and on the other end was the name Saddam Hussein who, then and now, envisions himself as a modern Nebuchadnezzar to restore the glory that was once Babylon's. In spite of the 10-year suicidal war with Iran which began in 1980, Hussein continued the restoration project. In 1987 the rebuilding of the temples, the palaces, and the gardens had proceeded to a point where a month's Babylonian festival was set to declare to the world that Babylon had been restored to its former glory, and a new Nebuchadnezzar has been resurrected, or at least his spirit now lived in Saddam Hussein… Hussein appointed as marshal of the festival a musician by the name of Bashir, who invited famous musicians and personalities from around the world -the very best talent possible-to participate in the Grand Festival”

    Nevertheless hostilities arising between Iraq and the western world, sparked by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August of 1990, led to the Gulf War conflict. The United States led the Allied forces’ retaliation: Iraq subsequently surrendered in March 1991, and Saddam’s pet project to rebuild Babylon, along with more than 20,000 lives of his countrymen, was destroyed.

    And let’s be sure we realize that Saddam Hussein, the man who failed to repopulate Babylon, was indeed one of the richest and most powerful (although not the most moral) men the modern world has ever seen. As Robert Fisk, of The Independent newspaper explains,

    “Saddam thought he had permission to gobble up all of Kuwait. And so we went to war with the Hitler of the Euphrates. And so he lives on in his palaces and bunkers while his people die for lack of clean water and medicines under the UN sanctions that are supposed to harm Saddam. We still bomb him every day – our war with Saddam has lasted 10 years now – and slowly, the Arabs, dismayed by the bloodshed in the Palestine-Israel war, are warming once more to the man who never gave in. Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia – almost all of them America’s allies in 1991 – are now breaking the air embargo by flying into Baghdad. Saddam lives.”

    Yet this man, Saddam Hussein, who invaded another country at will, who stood up against the combined might and outrage of the Western world, not only surviving the Gulf War but maintaining dictatorial power of his nation for more than a decade afterwards until his eventual capture and execution in 2006 – this man could not repopulate a city within his own country: the city of Babylon. Why ever not? The Bible said all along that Babylon would remain uninhabited. And uninhabited it stays.

Conclusions
We are left with only one remaining possibility why Babylon remains unpopulated to this day: because the Bible is what it claims to be: the Inspired Word of God! Prophecy has indeed fulfilled its function, for now the emptiness of Babylon lends credibility to the remaining prophecies the Bible makes (Table 2). As we examine prophecies the Bible makes about God’s future plan for the earth the lessons of Israel and Babylon cause us to stop and consider more seriously the possibility that they too will come true.

Table 2: Current status of five Bible prophecies
 
Prophecy
Status
1
Israel will be regathered
Fulfilled!
2
Babylon will remain deserted forever
Fulfilled!
3
Jesus Christ will return to the Earth
 
4
Jesus will rule God’s Kingdom
 
5
The faithful will be included
 

Table 2 goes out as a challenge to the reader. It is easy to conclude that the latter three prophecies are extremely improbable events, well out of the range of human experience. But this article has demonstrated that the first two prophecies, while equally unlikely, have still happened exactly as predicted! Why does this challenge the reader? Because while the first two prophecies and their fulfilments might not have affected the reader directly, (if the reader is not an Israeli or an Iraqi, for example) obviously the remaining three, should they occur, will impact everyone’s lives directly!

Biblical predictions about the return of Christ to the earth and the establishment of God’s kingdom dramatically alter our understanding of the future of this planet and our very lives. The Bible is not just predicting future events that will temporarily alter the course of history. Rather, the prophecies in the Bible directly impact our futures forever! The fulfilment of predictions about the regathering of the nation of Israel and the desolation of Babylon should at the very least make us pause to reconsider the possibility that God’s word is true and accurate. Isn’t there too much at stake not to investigate further?


SOME RESPONSES YOU MAY HAVE TO THE ABOVE ARTICLE

But doesn’t modern science demonstrate that parts of the Bible are clearly untrue?

Maybe some of these predictions have come true, but why would I necessarily trust all the Bible as true?

I want to know more about these events of Jesus’ return and the Kingdom of God that are mentioned here.

I’m convinced this demonstrates the truth of the Bible – so what response from me is God looking for?