The Future Fall of the City of Babylon

Jeremiah 50-51 is the longest continual prophecy in the Bible and therefore it deserves careful study as one of the key passages in the Scripture. When we consider all the topics addressed in the Scripture, and particularly in the prophets, it is interesting that God chose to direct the longest prophecy in the Bible at the city of Babylon. While many commentators assume that this prophecy was exhaustively fulfilled in ancient history, when we examine the prophecy closely we find that there are many details in the prophecy that were not fulfilled in ancient history. These details are repeated as key components of the prophecy.

The difference between what happened when ancient Babylon fell and what Jeremiah predicts in Jeremiah 50-51 forces us to make some decisions on how we will interpret the passage. Many commentators choose to deal with the discrepancy between the prophecy and ancient history by interpreting the details in the passage as figurative language that God never intended to fulfill literally. The problem with this view is that many of the details in the passage that do not match ancient history are repeated and emphasized.

If we consider predictive prophecy as one of the means by which God demonstrates His leadership over history, then we are faced with a decision on how we interpret this passage. Either the power of prophecy failed in some measure because the prophesied details did not actually come to pass or those details await a future, more complete fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy. Let’s look at some of the key details in the passage that were not fulfilled in ancient history and therefore point to a future and final fulfillment of this passage.

Key Details of Jeremiah’s Prophecy of Babylon’s Destruction

A Mighty Nation from the North

Jeremiah repeatedly prophesies that the invader who destroys Babylon will be a mighty nation who comes from the north. Jeremiah even describes the conquering invader as a strong coalition of nations and something stronger than a single nation. This detail is repeatedly emphasized by Jeremiah and does not describe the conqueror of ancient Babylon – Persia – who came from the east.

3For out of the north a nation comes up against her, Which shall make her land desolate, And no one shall dwell therein. They shall move, they shall depart, Both man and beast. (Jeremiah 50:3 NKJV)
9For behold, I will raise and cause to come up against Babylon An assembly of great nations from the north country, And they shall array themselves against her; From there she shall be captured. Their arrows shall be like those of an expert warrior; None shall return in vain. (Jeremiah 50:9 NKJV)

41“Behold, a people shall come from the north, And a great nation and many kings Shall be raised up from the ends of the earth. (Jeremiah 50:41 NKJV)

48Then the heavens and the earth and all that is in them Shall sing joyously over Babylon; For the plunderers shall come to her from the north,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 51:48 NKJV)

Not only does Jeremiah describe a great army coming from the north, he also tells us that multiple “great nations” are involved and verse 9 describes them in unity as they set themselves against Babylon and capture her. While the Persians did conquer the Medes and assimilate others into their army before taking Babylon, the Persians do not match this description of a multi-national force coming from the north.

Military Invasion and Siege

In addition, Jeremiah’s description of Babylon’s fall as a result of military invasion in no way resembles the nearly bloodless conquering of the ancient city by the Persian armies who snuck into the city. Instead, the language sounds much more like the eschatological king of the north that Daniel describes in Daniel 11 (Daniel 11:40). Ancient Babylon was defeated rather quietly in a sneak attack at night, but Jeremiah prophesies a great military conflict over the city.

As Jeremiah’s prophecy continues, he also repeatedly predicts a siege around Babylon in which the walls of the city are destroyed in the midst of a heated battle. Once again, this does not match the description of the defeat of ancient Babylon. Ancient Babylon was not taken by siege and her walls were not destroyed.

14“Put yourselves in array against Babylon all around, All you who bend the bow; Shoot at her, spare no arrows, For she has sinned against the Lord. 15Shout against her all around; She has given her hand, Her foundations have fallen, Her walls are thrown down; For it is the vengeance of the Lord. Take vengeance on her. As she has done, so do to her. (Jeremiah 50:14–15 NKJV)

21“Go up against the land of Merathaim, against it, And against the inhabitants of Pekod. Waste and utterly destroy them,” says the Lord, “And do according to all that I have commanded you. 22A sound of battle is in the land, And of great destruction. 23How the hammer of the whole earth has been cut apart and broken! How Babylon has become a desolation among the nations! I have laid a snare for you; (Jeremiah 50:21–23 NKJV)

29“Call together the archers against Babylon. All you who bend the bow, encamp against it all around; Let none of them escape. Repay her according to her work; According to all she has done, do to her; For she has been proud against the Lord, Against the Holy One of Israel. 30Therefore her young men shall fall in the streets, And all her men of war shall be cut off in that day,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 50:29–30 NKJV)

32The most proud shall stumble and fall, And no one will raise him up; I will kindle a fire in his cities, And it will devour all around him.” (Jeremiah 50:32 NKJV)

35“A sword is against the Chaldeans,” says the Lord, “Against the inhabitants of Babylon, And against her princes and her wise men. 36A sword is against the soothsayers, and they will be fools. A sword is against her mighty men, and they will be dismayed. 37A sword is against their horses, Against their chariots, And against all the mixed peoples who are in her midst; And they will become like women. A sword is against her treasures, and they will be robbed. (Jeremiah 50:35–37 NKJV)

41“Behold, a people shall come from the north, And a great nation and many kings Shall be raised up from the ends of the earth. 42They shall hold the bow and the lance; They are cruel and shall not show mercy. Their voice shall roar like the sea; They shall ride on horses, Set in array, like a man for the battle, Against you, O daughter of Babylon. (Jeremiah 50:41–42 NKJV)

43“The king of Babylon has heard the report about them, And his hands grow feeble; Anguish has taken hold of him, Pangs as of a woman in childbirth. (Jeremiah 50:43 NKJV)

30The mighty men of Babylon have ceased fighting, They have remained in their strongholds; Their might has failed, They became like women; They have burned her dwelling places, The bars of her gate are broken. (Jeremiah 51:30 NKJV)

31One runner will run to meet another, And one messenger to meet another, To show the king of Babylon that his city is taken on all sides; (Jeremiah 51:31 NKJV)

44I will punish Bel in Babylon, And I will bring out of his mouth what he has swallowed; And the nations shall not stream to him anymore. Yes, the wall of Babylon shall fall. (Jeremiah 51:44 NKJV)

58Thus says the Lord of hosts: “The broad walls of Babylon shall be utterly broken, And her high gates shall be burned with fire; The people will labor in vain, And the nations, because of the fire; And they shall be weary.” (Jeremiah 51:58 NKJV)

The assault on the city and the siege are so dreadful that Jeremiah predicts the following details:

  • Terror will strike the king of Babylon.
  • Terror will reduce the mighty men of the city to “women.”
  • The ground will shake at the fall of the city.
  • Babylon’s armies will be completely exhausted.
  • The walls of the city will fall.
  • Messengers will be carrying the urgent message of the warfare in the city.

These are all very specific details that pain a very vivid picture of what the destruction of the city will be like. The scene the prophet vividly paints here does not in any way describe the fall of the ancient city. It’s fall was the completely opposite of the scene Jeremiah predicts.

Jeremiah also prophesies that Babylon will be punished the way the king of Assyria was punished.

18Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will punish the king of Babylon and his land, As I have punished the king of Assyria. (Jeremiah 50:18 NKJV)

God specifically humiliated the king of Assyria when he tried to lay siege to Jerusalem. The Lord sent an angel to slaughter thousands of the Assyrians during the night causing the king to return home. The humiliation of Assyria’s king is recorded in Isaiah 37 and Jeremiah’s prediction of Babylon’s end is intended to remind us of how God humiliated Assyria. Of course, this does not resemble the fall of ancient Babylon.

In addition to God’s humiliation of Sennacherib when he laid siege to Jerusalem, the king of Assyria, ancient Assyria was broken by war and violence as Assyria’s empire imploded finally ending in a military defeat by Babylon. Babylon violently conquered ancient Assyria and when ancient Babylon’s fall did not at all resemble the way ancient Assyria was taken.

Babylon’s Global Influence Results in Global Mourning

Interestingly, Jeremiah also predicts a cry of distress in the nations at the sudden destruction of Babylon. This indicates that the fall of the city will have dramatic and negative consequences for other nations and the fierce nature of the city’s fall will cause nations to groan. It seems as though the nations are aligned with this city in a special way and that the destruction of the city is shocking to them. The fall of ancient Babylon was a relief to the nations because of Babylon’s war machine, but the fall of this city is distressing for the nations.

46At the noise of the taking of Babylon The earth trembles, And the cry is heard among the nations. (Jeremiah 50:46 NKJV)

7Babylon was a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, That made all the earth drunk. The nations drank her wine; Therefore the nations are deranged. (Jeremiah 51:7 NKJV)

This language is very similar to the destruction of Babylon in Revelation 18 and does not describe the way the ancient city of Babylon was taken. Jeremiah goes so far as to say that the nations have drunk of the “wine” of Babylon. This is more than a metaphorical description of the nations that ancient Babylon conquered. This indicates that the Babylon Jeremiah has in view will have great influence in the nations and will seduce them in the way that wine overcomes the human heart. The Babylon of Jeremiah 50-51 will not only conquer by force, it will have influence on the nations that alters their state and leaves them “deranged.”

Jeremiah also predicts that Babylon has become a praise in the earth and that the nations have streamed to it. This language emphasizes Babylon’s global influence and not just Babylon’s military might because the nations stream to Babylon presumably for worship or for other forms of allegiance. The city is being presented as a counterfeit of the future Jerusalem which will be a center of global worship and pilgrimage (Isaiah 2:2; Zechariah 14:16; Revelation 21:24).

41“Oh, how Sheshach is taken! Oh, how the praise of the whole earth is seized! How Babylon has become desolate among the nations! (Jeremiah 51:41 NKJV)
44I will punish Bel in Babylon, And I will bring out of his mouth what he has swallowed; And the nations shall not stream to him anymore. Yes, the wall of Babylon shall fall. (Jeremiah 51:44 NKJV)

The Day of the Lord’s Vengeance

The fall of Babylon is described as the day of the Lord’s vengeance. While this could be taken simply as vengeance for the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, the day of the Lord’s vengeance is a specific time in history when God judges the gentile nations for their response to Jerusalem’s final hour of suffering. It is the time when all things that are written are fulfilled and results in the salvation of Israel (Isaiah 34:8; 61:2; 63:3-5; Luke 21:22). The destruction of ancient Babylon was a day of vengeance for 586 BC, but it was certainly not the time of vengeance when all things will be fulfilled.

6Flee from the midst of Babylon, And every one save his life! Do not be cut off in her iniquity, For this is the time of the Lord’s vengeance; He shall recompense her. 7Babylon was a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, That made all the earth drunk. The nations drank her wine; Therefore the nations are deranged. 8Babylon has suddenly fallen and been destroyed. Wail for her! Take balm for her pain; Perhaps she may be healed. (Jeremiah 51:6–8 NKJV)

22For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. (Luke 21:22 NKJV)

Babylon’s Desolation

Jeremiah repeatedly says that the result of the invasion will be the desolation of Babylon. Jeremiah predicts this 9 times making it a central part of his prediction.

3For out of the north a nation comes up against her, Which shall make her land desolate, And no one shall dwell therein. They shall move, they shall depart, Both man and beast. (Jeremiah 50:3 NKJV)
13Because of the wrath of the Lord She shall not be inhabited, But she shall be wholly desolate. Everyone who goes by Babylon shall be horrified And hiss at all her plagues. (Jeremiah 50:13 NKJV)
23How the hammer of the whole earth has been cut apart and broken! How Babylon has become a desolation among the nations! I have laid a snare for you; (Jeremiah 50:23 NKJV)
45Therefore hear the counsel of the Lord that He has taken against Babylon, And His purposes that He has proposed against the land of the Chaldeans: Surely the least of the flock shall draw them out; Surely He will make their dwelling place desolate with them. (Jeremiah 50:45 NKJV)
26They shall not take from you a stone for a corner Nor a stone for a foundation, But you shall be desolate forever,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 51:26 NKJV)
29And the land will tremble and sorrow; For every purpose of the Lord shall be performed against Babylon, To make the land of Babylon a desolation without inhabitant. (Jeremiah 51:29 NKJV)
41“Oh, how Sheshach is taken! Oh, how the praise of the whole earth is seized! How Babylon has become desolate among the nations! (Jeremiah 51:41 NKJV)
43Her cities are a desolation, A dry land and a wilderness, A land where no one dwells, Through which no son of man passes. (Jeremiah 51:43 NKJV)
62then you shall say, ‘O Lord, You have spoken against this place to cut it off, so that none shall remain in it, neither man nor beast, but it shall be desolate forever.’ (Jeremiah 51:62 NKJV)

When ancient Babylon eventually became a desolate area over centuries, the conquering of the city by Persia did not result in the desolation of the city. The inhabitants of ancient Babylon did not experience this dreadful prediction that their city would be desolate. The word “desolate” is a frequently used Old Testament word that describes what happened to Jerusalem after the city fell to Babylon in 586 BC and the fall of Jerusalem is intended to be a picture of us of what the fall of Babylon will look like.

The assault on Babylon described in Jeremiah 50-51 is also described in terms that are very similar to the way that Jerusalem fell so it is not surprising that Jeremiah also predicts that invasion will leave the city desolate, and it is important to recognize that the city’s desolation is connected to the violent nature of the assault against it. The language of violent assault does not describe what happened to ancient Babylon and the desolation that comes after the city’s fall also did not come as a result of the Persian invasion of Babylon.

Israel’s Repentance and Final Salvation

Jeremiah also predicts that “in those days and in that time” when this destruction of Babylon happens that the people of Israel will return to the Lord is a permanent repentance unto the salvation of the entire nation. At this time, it will be impossible to find iniquity either in Israel or Judah because they will be completely cleansed. The salvation of all Israel is a consistent eschatological theme in the Old and New Testament (Romans 11:26-27). It occurs at the end of God’s redemptive plan and that makes it a key timing indicator for Jeremiah’s prophecy because Israel was not finally and completely saved and cleansed when ancient Babylon fell.

4“In those days and in that time,” says the Lord, “The children of Israel shall come, They and the children of Judah together; With continual weeping they shall come, And seek the Lord their God. 5They shall ask the way to Zion, With their faces toward it, saying, ‘Come and let us join ourselves to the Lord In a perpetual covenant That will not be forgotten.’ (Jeremiah 50:4–5 NKJV)

19But I will bring back Israel to his home, And he shall feed on Carmel and Bashan; His soul shall be satisfied on Mount Ephraim and Gilead. 20In those days and in that time,” says the Lord, “The iniquity of Israel shall be sought, but there shall be none; And the sins of Judah, but they shall not be found; For I will pardon those whom I preserve. (Jeremiah 50:19–20 NKJV)

The salvation of all Israel is a consistent eschatological theme in the Old and New Testament (Romans 11:26-27). It occurs at the end of God’s redemptive plan and that makes it a key timing indicator for Jeremiah’s prophecy because Israel was not finally and completely saved and cleansed when ancient Babylon fell. Jeremiah also specifically predicts that both Israel and Judah will return in repentance at this time. While a remnant of Judah returned under Persian rule, the exiles from northern Israel did not. We are still waiting for the return of exiles that is prophesied here to occur – one that includes both northern and southern trips and includes them all – it certainly did not come as a result of the fall of ancient Babylon.

Jeremiah and the Book of Revelation

Jeremiah 50-51 and Revelation 17-18 both form the longest prophecies in their respective testaments and both focus on the subject of Babylon. There are interesting parallels in the language between both passages and this similarity is more than John borrowing Jeremiah’s language because both Jeremiah and John record specific prophecies that are worded nearly identically. It is important to note that the book of Revelation was written long after the fall of ancient Babylon, but it predicts the destruction of another Babylon. Revelation uses Jeremiah’s language because it is emphasizing the future fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy.

Both Jeremiah and Revelation command God’s people to exit Babylon. This is a message that was not applied to ancient Babylon, but is applied to the future city being described. This indicates that this city must have some sort of dark allure that draws people to it that must be resisted by God’s people. The ancient Jews were liberated by the fall of Babylon, but the situation described here will be very different and salvation will be found by exiting the city of Babylon before it falls.

45“My people, go out of the midst of her! And let everyone deliver himself from the fierce anger of the Lord. (Jeremiah 51:45 NKJV)
4And 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. (Revelation 18:4 NKJV)

Both Jeremiah and Revelation describe heavenly singing and exaltation over the destruction of Babylon. There is something cataclysmic about the fall of this city because the future city has a reach and an influence that the ancient city did not. It is a city that represents the ultimate root of wickedness and has persecuted the apostles, prophets, and all God’s servants. The future fall of Babylon clearly occupies a significant place in redemption history, a place far more significant than the fall of the ancient city.

48Then the heavens and the earth and all that is in them Shall sing joyously over Babylon; For the plunderers shall come to her from the north,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 51:48 NKJV)
20“Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!” (Revelation 18:20 NKJV)
1After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God! 2For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her.” (Revelation 19:1–2 NKJV)

Conclusion

The fact that the longest prophecy in the Old Testament and the longest prophecy in the New Testament both focus on the fall of Babylon makes both prophecies worthy of our attention, particularly because the details of both prophecies predict a future destruction of a wicked city with global influence. When we look at the details of the prophecy, we see that there is something more to Jeremiah 50-51 than what happened to ancient Babylon. The language is too precise to be fulfilled in ancient history. Jeremiah 50-51 follows a common biblical phenomenon where an event in ancient history serves as a foreshadowing for an ultimate event in the future.

The emphasis God placed on this prophecy requires that we must also treat is seriously and be familiar with it as a key portion of Scripture. Once we recognize the significance of the passage, we must also be careful not to prematurely try to identify a modern city as the final “Babylon.” There are three key things we should recognize from this prophecy:

  • God wants us to recognize the spirit of Babylon and to “come out of it” or refuse the idolatry, immorality, and wickedness that will ensnare the earth and ultimately become concentrated in this final wicked city. God wants us to recognize and guard ourselves from this spirit wherever it manifests.
  • God wants us to be aware that a city will emerge just before the Lord’s return that is the ultimate and full embodiment of the spirit of Babylon. This city will influence the nations and operate as a counterfeit Jerusalem.
  • God also wants us to have confidence that He will destroy this city. While it will be powerful and prominent for a season, its destruction is assured. We can be confident in God’s sovereignty. He will judge evil; He will make things right. The destruction of the final wicked city of this age will be profound and final. The nations will mourn and the righteous will rejoice.

Throughout history we constantly see the battle of two cities beginning with the ancient city of Babel. Throughout history cities like Nineveh, Babylon, and Rome challenge God’s purposes for Jerusalem, and Jeremiah and Revelation both warn us that the spirit of Babylon did not end with the death of ancient Babylon. Jeremiah and Revelation warn us that before God’s city comes, one final great wicked city will emerge and attempt to ensnare the earth. However, the Bible ends with the promise that God will establish His own holy city on the earth and put an end to wickedness (Revelation 21).

Knowing all of this, we should recognize the spirit of Babylon and resist it wherever it emerges in the earth. Perhaps we will live during the hour of the last, great city of Babylon. Perhaps we will live during the time of other global cities that become centers of wickedness. Either way, we must recognize the spirit of Babylon, labor for a pure church, be aware that a global center of wickedness will emerge, and be settled that God has chosen a day when He will judge the coming city of wickedness just as He has judged previous centers of global iniquity.

3 thoughts on “The Future Fall of the City of Babylon”

  1. I have read elsewhere that Babylon is Jerusalem. I’m not sure if that is correct but the Lord straightforwardly calls her deeds those of a prostitute in Ezekiel 16 specially in verse 30. The curious thing is that both Babylon and Jerusalem are going to be desolated by the antichrist.

    But what makes me doubt about Jerusalem being Babylon is that Jerusalem is going to be the place where the Lord Jesus is going to rule over the whole earth and I’m not sure if this referes to the present city of Jerusalem or to the New Jerusalem that is going to descend from heaven.

    The desolation of the earthly Jerusalem makes me wonder why a New Jerusalem is needed. This is very puzzling to me.

    God bless

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