I have been told that the Church is Babylon and that revulsion to her sins has fostered the need to flee from this association. I think this is an unfair charge: however, I do find it fascinating that the Book of Revelation, which is at end of the Bible, uses the term “Babylon” to describe false Christianity. Its use in this context illustrates how Babylon has influenced religion as well as the inadequacy of tradition as a means to tell the truth about God. I was thinking about this during the week and wondered how the Babylonian view of God has shaped such concepts as law, justice, and judgment.
In the time of the prophet Daniel, the concept of “law” used by the Babylonians was both arbitrary and severe. A story passed down through tradition told of a Babylonian judge who broke the law and was punished for his crimes by being flayed alive. His skin was then used to upholster the judicial bench, so that he became the seat of justice on which his successor would sit. Such a conception of the law is rigidly interpreted and strictly mandated to ensure that it is followed. However, this conception is not in line with God’s law, which was given as a gift to reveal the proper way to live. Babylonians attempted to turn God’s teachings and instruction into arbitrary laws. In fact, Daniel speaks of attempts to “change” the sacred law (Daniel 7:25). In the Book of Daniel, we thus have two sides of the law: that of the Babylonians and that of Daniel’s gracious God (Daniel 6:4-10).
In the story of Daniel and the lions’ den, the King of Babylon told Daniel that the law could not be altered, no matter how much he desired to change it. The rules were set and unchanging, so that even the king who enacted a law was subject to it. This example reflects what we sometimes think about God: we think His law is hard and unyielding. The law as interpreted by Christians is often set within a Babylonian framework. God is presented as a hard and severe lawmaker who must be obeyed or, at one’s peril, disobeyed. On the day of judgment God will be forced to administer strict justice and eternal wrath. How can God’s law be interpreted and applied correctly? How can Christians recover the concept of God’s law as presented by Jesus?
The Babylonians had opinions on the fires of judgment, too. In a satanic rage, the King of Babylon prepared a blazing fire in a furnace, heated seven times hotter than usual (Daniel 3:23). He wanted to burn offenders in it as a severe form of punishment: fire and damnation for those who dared to disobey, a literal burning in a hellish furnace of fire. The condemned could feel the belching flames and anticipate the intense torment at his hands. In the Christian tradition, God is responsible for the burning of Hell—a Hell with superheated flames and prolonged torment for all eternity. When we choose a bold and undisputed sovereign who threatens with cruel punishment, that is Babylon. Could Daniel’s God be as gracious and respectful of our freedoms as Jesus was?
It makes me think that our perspectives of hell, law, justice, wrath, and judgment need to be redefined according to the interpretation and teachings of Jesus, lest we too become Babylonian in our thinking. Whenever we choose glory, power, or pride over the character of Jesus, we are opting for Babylon. Babylon is a metaphor for any opposing spiritual entity: a false or apostate church, a faith or religion promoting misrepresentations of God. How is God represented in Babylonian thinking? If we dig deeper, I think we will find that Babylon encompasses a cosmic reality trying to occupy the place of God. “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High…” (Isaiah 14:12-20, ESV). It is almost as if Isaiah intended to describe Satan but referenced Babylon instead. Babylon’s opposing views present another version of God. The most dangerous aspect of Babylon is what it tells us about God, and the apex of its horror is a demonic core with falsehoods about and gross misrepresentations of Him (Revelation 18:2, 23).
In a way, Babylon is a reality that we all live in: a world drunk on power. Babylon can be reflected in our actions as well when we choose to glorify ourselves. We can become spiritual Babylonians by carrying the pride of Babylon in our hearts. God, on the other hand, calls us away from pride and self-sufficiency. When Daniel was in Babylon, he prayed facing the direction of the Temple site where God’s name was placed. Likewise, we need to always keep the character of God in view when we are in Babylon. God’s presence, character, and reputation are what matter most.
We need to be like Daniel because we live in a world like Babylon. May God help us to avoid the attraction of Babylon and to manifest Jesus’ love and truth. May I exalt the name of God and not the works of my own hands, as Daniel did. May God help me to change my mindset from a Babylonian view of God to one shaped by Jesus’ testimony. If we are to serve the purposes of our Lord here on Earth, we need to change our view of God and reflect the true beauty of who He is. We are here to manifest His character and reputation in a world where many men and women have been deceived about Him.
Craig Ashton Jr.