MY WIFE was watching a video clip on her cellphone an hour ago. The narrator in the video, complete with texts and images, was proclaiming to all and sundry that the United States is the referent of “three Old Testament prophecies” concerning the “fall of Babylon.”
One of the Old Testament texts the narrator kept returning to are the prophecies of Jeremiah (chapters 50 and 51). I knew the narrator was using the texts improperly, that is, he was proof-texting without proper regard to context.[i] So, I opened the texts myself. I wanted to settle this matter for myself, for my wife and for all who might want to let the Word of God speak for itself.
My NIV provides a title for Jeremiah chapter 50, thus: “God’s message about Babylon.” The words of the first verse read, “This is the word the Lord spoke through Jeremiah the prophet concerning Babylon and the land of the Babylonians” (v1). The prophecies continue into chapter 51, and we are told in the last passage of this chapter that Jeremiah “had written on a scroll about all the disasters that would come upon Babylon – all that had been recorded concerning Babylon” (see 51:59-64).
That is, Jeremiah chapters 50 and 51 open and end with Babylon as the object of the prophecies contained within these two chapters.[ii]
Now, here is my $64 question. What “Babylon” had Jeremiah in mind when he wrote the prophecies? And since we can be sure that Jeremiah wrote the prophecies for others to read, what did the original readers know what Babylon was being referred to – “the land of the Babylonians” – in the prophecies?
This is a question of context. We must ask this question, or we are left with the alternative that Jeremiah and his readers did not know what the prophecies were talking about!
But to ask the question is to answer it. And the answer is found within the words of the prophecies themselves!
The prophetic preface makes it clear: “This is the word the Lord spoke through Jeremiah the prophet concerning Babylon and the land of the Babylonians” (v1). As we read along we come to the realization that, while the events are foretold, the “land of the Babylonians” is not, that is, Babylon and the land and its people were at the time of the prophecies in existence. In other words, the prophecies do not envision the “creation” of a future Babylon. Read this:
“’Israel is a scattered flock that lions have chased away. The first to devour him was the king of Assyria; the last to crush his bones was Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.’ Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will punish the king of Babylon and his land as I punished the king of Assyria. But I will bring Israel back to his own pasture and he will graze on Carmel and Bashan’” (50:18,19).
Does that sound like Babylon and Assyria are future nations yet unborn? The prophecies against Babylon and Assyria are related to – or were the consequence of – what these nations did to Israel in history![iii]
It cannot be other than the Babylon of history! If that text was not enough, consider the mention of the gods of ancient Babylon in the prophecies: Bel and Marduk (50:2b; 51:44[iv]) and of Nebuchadnezzar himself (51:34).
The prophecies also mention the “walls” of Babylon (51:44b,58)[v].
The point I am making is that Jeremiah and his readers knew exactly what Babylon was being referred to in the prophecies – and this Babylon is the same Babylon of history and not some future nation.
The second question is: for what reason was God going to punish Babylon? The text makes this clear likewise: because of what it did to Zion:
“’Before your eyes I will repay Babylon and all who live in Babylonia for all the wrong they have done to Zion,’ says the Lord” (51:24).
I am sure no Christian believer[vi] will claim that the United States has done evil to Israel and will be punished for it! The government of the United States together with the American people have been friends of Israel since its (modern) founding in 1948. To top it off, the present President of the United States, Donald Trump, recently declared that his administration will move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – with the inauguration expected to be held in May this year![vii]This bold move had earned the praise of Israeli government and religious leaders, including its people.[viii]
The third question that needs to be asked is about the “north.” The invasion is prophesied to come from the “north.” The prophecy says: “Babylon will be captured; Bel will be put to shame, Marduk filled with terror…. A nation from the north will attack her and lay waste her land” (50:2b).
And again, “I will stir up and bring against Babylon an alliance of great nations from the land of the north” (50:9). And again, “Look! An army is coming from the north, a great nation and many kings are being stirred up from the ends of the earth” (50:41). And again, “Then the heaven and earth and all that is in them will shout for joy over Babylon, for out of the north destroyers will attack her” (51:48).
Thus there are four references about the “north” in the prophecies. Where is the “north” in these prophecies? Did God reveal to Jeremiah what “north” nation this would be?
Yes, He did! The “north” in relation to the prophecies about Israel was no other than the ancient land of the Midia. “Sharpen your arrows, take up the shields! The Lord has stirred up the kings of the Medes, because his purpose is to destroy Babylon” (51:11). The prophecy then returns to the Medes in another verse: “Prepare the nations for battle against her – the kings of the Medes, their governors and all their officials, and all the countries they rule” (50:28).[ix]
By no stretch of the imagination can this “north” country be understood today as referring to Canada! Listen here: the Lord Himself has already had identified the “north” country for Jeremiah and for his readers as the land of the Medes. Why should we think of Canada?
Now to the fourth and final question. The narrator in the video claimed that Babylon – or the United States – will be destroyed “in an instant.” He warned his listeners that the fulfillment of this detail of prophecy is now available in human hands, thanks to modern technology. He was referring to the weapon “Electro Magnetic Impulse” or EMP.
While it is true that an EMP, blasted over a region, theoretically could demolish the sources of power and electricity in that region of the world “in an instant” – thus effectively incapacitating the affected region for possibly years on end – yet there is no indication that governments that are in possession of such technology are eager to use it.[x]
Consider the scenario. A madman in Russia or North Korea flies the missile loaded with EMP and detonate it over a region in the USA. The blast would then incapacitate everything in that region “immediately.” But does the madman believe the USA does not have its own EMPs lurking in the high seas somewhere? An EMP attack assures mutual destruction of all nations involved. Therefore, not only would the US be “destroyed” but other nations as well. Considering such frightful scenarioa final question now screams for an answer: what Bible text have likewise “prophesied” such scenario?
Babylon in the prophecies was ancient Babylon[xi], pure and simple. It does not refer to the United States of America! No textual acrobatics can make it so. Let us be content and accept what the word of God is plainly telling us.
[i] I listened in for a few minutes and heard enough to sufficiently grasp the narrator’s thesis. This prompted me to read the prophecies (again) myself.
[ii] The prophetic words were given before they were put into writing. This is a literary structure called inclusio where an idea in the beginning of a literary material corresponds with another idea in its end; everything in the middle is included in the envelop. In other words, Jeremiah chs 50 and 51, from beginning to end, constitute one prophecy concerning Babylon.
[iii] See also 50:35,40,45; 51:1,4,5. In fact, the prophecies against Babylon were linked to ancient Israel’s current existence and condition; see 50:18,19; 51:4,5,10,35-36,49.
[iv] “Babylon will be captured; Bel will be put to shame, Marduk filled with terror, Her images will be put to shame and her idols filled with terror” (the chiasm ABAB is unmistakable!). And “I will punish Bel in Babylon and make him spew out what he has swallowed” (51:44).
[v] “The nations will no longer stream to him. And the wall of Babylon will fall” (51:44b). And again, “Babylon’s thick wall will be levelled and her high gates set on fire” (51:58). New York had its Twin Towers, but the destruction was not blamed on Babylon! But what “walls” are we talking about here – if indeed the prophecies refer to the United States that we know? President Trump promised to erect a wall between the US and Mexico, but powerful people in and out of government have been fighting him tooth-and-nail to derail him! The Omnibus Budget that was just signed into law (yesterday, as of this writing) appropriated a paltry sum (token is more like it!) for the “wall.” I do not wish to state the obvious: America does not have “thick walls” that the Lord Almighty need to level flat to gain entry into it to destroy it!
[vi] I refer mainly to evangelical, Pentecostal communities.
[vii] The US Congress approved the relocation of the US embassy in 1995 entitled “The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995” by a vote of 93-5 in the US Senate. However, the law allowed a periodic re-assessment of political realities on the ground, and neither did Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama find the courage to implement the law. It took an “outsider,” Donald Trump, to do it amidst a cacophony of warnings from the east and west, including a few in his own administration.
[viii] In fact, the move was seen in Israel as prophetic in the context of Messianic expectations!
[ix] “North” in these prophecies refer to territories “above and beyond” the territory of ancient Israel.
[x] Last week (March 2018) Russian Pres Vlad Putin teased the international media about the idea of Russia sending a missile to Florida. But, considering that he was facing a re-election in a few days, political observers chalked such statements up as political posturing.
[xi] We may concede a double reference of “Babylon” as referring to ancient Rome (Rev 17:1-18:24). Here the prophecy identifies the harlot woman who sits on a scarlet beast (17:3) that has “seven heads.” The angel explains to John what the “seven heads” signify: “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits” (17:9). The ancient city of Rome is known to have been founded on seven hills. But the angel proceeds. The seven hills are “also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eight king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction” (Rev 17:9-11).“Five have fallen, one is.” What king (or kingdom) was that in John’s time? “The beast who once was, and now is not.” Who or what was this beast in John’s time? It appears in the foregoing prophecies that the subjects of the prophecies (king and beast) were existing in John’s time. This means that none of these prophecies conceive of the United States of America as “Babylon” of the future!