Start watching 24:47 for the docu-message version of what’s written below.
If I asked you to think of a symbolic woman that represented the United States, many of you would likely think of the Statue of Liberty—a symbol of freedom and democracy—the kind of ideals that our country has hoped to stand for.
There she stands, the mighty woman towering 300 feet above us, lighting up the nation with her incredible torch, with the broken chains of slavery lying at her feet. She is free. Free to live. Free of oppression. Free of any kind of bond. And she invites others into that freedom—to seek and find a liberation from bondage.
But now I want you to imagine Lady Liberty in a different light. I want you to imagine that some have taken what she stands for too far. They want to live out the freedom she represents by living their lives however they want—free not only of the oppression of others, but of the ideals of anyone else. They think and behave however they want, and in doing so, they begin to exert their own freedom over the freedom of others.
And now, a woman who once used to represent freedom, has found herself with the new chains that freedom can offer. And so, she is ravished by those around her, left beaten, broken, and marked with a scarlet letter. She holds up her torch, trying to convince even herself that this is still the way, but its flame has gone dim by a great darkness that almost seems to devour it. Tears fall from her eyes as she wonders how something that was once so glorious could somehow become so painful—how freedom could somehow dismantle freedom. For in the freedom of others, she has become something like a slave again.
This image almost seems apocalyptic, yet it’s still not as apocalyptic as it could be; for we could take this image a few steps further—as far as the prophet Ezekiel once did. For just as we might view America as a woman, Ezekiel once viewed Israel as a woman.
Ezekiel 16 says that God found this woman abandoned out in a field and left to die when she was just a baby. He then took care of her, raised her, anointed her, and poured out blessings on her. He fed her the best foods and gave her beautiful clothes and golden and silver jewelry to wear. He treated her in every way like a queen. And this royal woman was so beautiful that all the nations took notice. But in a surprising turn of events, when she grew older she took all of these blessings and decided to use them to start a business in prostitution.
Now let’s pause there for a moment. We know from the stories and cases of modern day prostitution that no one would choose such a living for themselves. In fact, prostitution is typically forced upon people, not chosen. We see this in human trafficking cases all throughout the world. Pimps are the slave masters of today, forcing their slaves to give their bodies over to strangers in order to make them money. And these slaves are kept in these webs of suffering with death threats, drugs, Stockholm Syndrome and more. We know just how deeply damaging all of this is on a physical, mental, and spiritual level. No one would choose the way of prostitution out of their own desire—not now, not ever.
And that’s why Ezekiel’s story is so strange. For the woman Israel— his own Statue of Liberty—hasn’t been human trafficked into her situation, nor has she taken on this way of life to pay off some kind of debt. She isn’t seen as a woman that has men forced on her, but as a woman who pays other men to force themselves upon her. She uses all of God’s delicious foods as aphrodisiacs and all of His anointing oil as perfume. She sews together tents and bedding out of the beautiful clothes God gave her and there she worships the false gods she’s crafted out of God’s melted-down jewelry. She then takes her tent to every corner of every street of every city, looking for greater and greater satisfaction. Though already married, every time a man walks by, she gives herself away. Her life has become so dark that even the pagans are appalled.
This is an extreme image. And might I add that what I just shared is a toned down version of Ezekiel’s language?
This is the truly apocalyptic woman. Ezekiel says that, “The like has never been, nor ever shall be.” He and his audience knew that this was not how prostitutes lived or would ever desire to live. Something is very, very wrong. This woman has gone mad.
In the book of Revelation, John has his own national woman in mind. Her name is Babylon and she’s been around for a long, long, long time. She is, essentially, a city of people against the one true God. She is representative of the false gods and she is a nation opposed to what the true God wants for them.
Her story begins in Genesis 6 where spiritual beings known as “the sons of God” are found to be procreating with human women, creating a giant race known as the Nephilim. These giant offspring are not a minor story in the Bible, it’s found all throughout Scripture. God sends the flood in Noah’s time partially to wipe them out, but they survive. As they live on throughout the Old Testament they create new clans called the Anakim, the Emim, the Rephaim, and the Zamzummim. They are also spotted living among the human clans of the Amalekites, the Hittities, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Philistines. The most famous of these giants is Goliath, but he’s not the only one mentioned by name in the Bible. Other giants include Arba, Seshai, Ahiman, Talmai, Og, Ishbi-benob, Saph, and Lahmi.
Yes, this major plot line throughout the Bible starts with the giants in Noah’s time, who were originally known as the Nephilim—which Genesis 6:4 calls, “the men of renown”—or as they were known in Hebrew, the men of the “shem.” These giant men of the shem are the product of angels that rebelled against God and crossed the line to make their own creations by the means of marriage and procreation—something Jesus tells us the true angels of Heaven do not do.
Okay, but what does any of this have to do with Babylon, Jamin? Stay on track here.
It has more to do than you might think. We’ve talked about this before, but the Tower of Babel is an ancient ziggurat—that is, it’s a manmade mountain-of-sorts that tried to reach up high enough into the sky for the gods to step out of the heavens and walk downstairs to be with humanity. We know the Tower of Babel is a ziggurat because it’s described as “a tower with its top in the Heavens”—an ancient phrase describing a ziggurat in the Mesopotamian world. So we can see already that this religious building is carrying anti-God ideas—especially because part of the reason they built it was “to make a name for themselves”—or in Hebrew, “to make a Shem for themselves.”
Hebrew words are hyperlinks throughout the Bible. When you see one in one place, you have to check the other places to see if the Bible authors are trying to communicate something. And in this case, it seems they do have something to communicate. The tower of Babylon isn’t just a big building, it’s born out of the ideals of the giant men of the shem and their angelic rebellious parents—it’s a building that Babylon builds not in connection with the one true God, but with all that is against him. The world is lifting up the giants and the false gods, not Yahweh.
So God isn’t against Babylon because they like the architecture of skyscrapers. That’s not the story at all. He’s anti-Babylon because they are inherently anti-Him. He told humanity after the flood to spread out across the earth, and instead they ignored him and decided to stay in one place. He reset the world with a righteous man named Noah, hoping that this would cause those left on the earth to chase after Him, and instead they chased after the shem. Rather than try to go out and make the whole earth look like Heaven, they abandoned earth and built a building in attempts to get to Heaven—or at the very least, to get Heaven to come down to them.
This is the woman Babylon’s origin story. She was built on the shem. She was created out of the denial and rejection of God and his commands. She is the worship and pursuit of the false gods.
And she continues to be seen in a negative light through Israel’s history, and it’s no surprise why. When God saved the orphan baby girl Israel, she quickly rose to prominence in the world. She went from being a slave at the bottom of the social ladder to a beautiful woman given prominence and royalty. All the other nations could have their shems—their false gods and their giants—Israel had the one true God and he was proving very quickly to the world that no one could conquer Him. Different nations from around the world would rise up against the woman Israel and try to attack her and her God with the hope that their own false gods would triumph over the one true God and his woman. Sometimes, they’d see success when Israel wasn’t following God, but for the most part, Babylon never seemed to have the ability to truly overthrow or destroy Israel. Israel was still at the top, still blessed, still powerful even when hurt. Their God still won.
But eventually the woman Israel had gotten so corrupted by her beauty and blessings that God decided it was no longer right to protect her—for she was more evil than all the other nations attacking her. The prophets eventually said that they saw God leave Israel and their protection was gone.
And as he left, the lady Babylon, under the guidance of King Nebuchadnezzar, swooped in. It must have been confusing for the woman Israel. Even in the midst of all of her evil—of all her prostitution—she had always seemed to come out fine on the other end by the grace of God. But this time, God didn’t show up. She was pulled out of her idolatrous, sinful tent and taken out of her nation where her God was, and turned over to the land of Babylon—the land of the inferior false gods who had lost this great war in the past.
Imagine the celebration of the woman Babylon at her victory over the woman Israel. From Babylon’s perspective, she thought that she just finally conquered the one true God. She thought she had won! Her nation beat out the invincible nation! Her inferior gods and giants—her shem—had usurped the one true God!
But the prophets knew that wasn’t the case. For they prophesied that God was turning the woman Israel over to the other nations as punishment. It had to happen. But even in the midst of her evil, the prophets also said that God wasn’t done with his lady. He would be back for her. And as Christians know, He did just that when God put on flesh and came to earth as Jesus. God had stepped out of Heaven to Earth, but he had done it his way—not Babel’s way.
And after he left earth and ascended back into Heaven, he sent His Holy Spirit to his followers and gifted them with the tongues of the nations as a sign that He had not only returned for the woman Israel, but for anyone stuck under the oppression of the false gods who wanted to leave their gods and cities behind and join the woman Israel and follow the one true God that rules over her.
With all of this in mind, we can better see why John brings a prostitute named Babylon into his story when he tries to picture Satan and his minions wreaking havoc on the earth and against God’s people. The woman Babylon has always been anti-God, and now, she too is pictured as a prostitute who has become just as dark as the woman Israel had once become.
The two overlap. Lady Babylon is called the “mother of all prostitutes” and she has been sleeping around with the kings of the earth and has seduced all of the people of the earth with her wine. She, like Lady Israel, looks like royalty with all of her luxurious jewelry and clothes.
But her sins vary from Lady Israel as well. She has been killing Jesus’ followers and filling her cup with their blood, which she’s become drunk with. She is over run with demons—which, by the way, the Jews of Jesus’ time thought demons were the disembodied souls of the giants; so here we even see a possible allusion to the men of the shem still amongst Babylon. Babylon is filled to the brim with idol worship, false gods, and the giants of old. Lady Babylon is the epitome of all that is anti-Christ. She is in league with Satan—the true antichrist—and she like Satan, would like all the glory.
To be connected with the earth rather than Heaven; connected with Babylon rather than Israel; connected with Satan instead of Jesus; is to continue living in idolatry. To accept Babylon into our lives is to continue to be seduced by the “mother of all prostitutes” where all the earth’s abominations have originated from. When we live with her, we have committed the sexual immorality of idolatry; for throughout the Bible, to choose the other gods and their ways is constantly referred to as adultery against the one true God.
The woman Babylon is pictured as the new villain of Batman’s Arkham Asylum. She’s well beyond the depravity of the joker—she is evil incarnate. She is the thing behind all of the other bad guys. She has all the other bad guys in her pocket. She seduces them and uses them for her bidding. She is what Satan looks like if he were embodied in a city.
But just as God will not let Satan stand forever, nor will he let Satan’s minion, Lady Babylon, stand forever. Judgement has been reserved for her as well, so John encourages his readers to leave Babylon behind, lest they too find themselves deserving of her punishment.
And the list of what would make someone complicit with Babylon’s sins goes beyond false idol worship—for when we live out the ways of Babylon, we are inherently worshipping the false idols, even if we don’t know their names.
As John watches Babylon crumble, the world comes out to mourn over the lost luxuries they once had in her. Their economy has collapsed and they can no longer keep profiting in their trades. John lays out a list of all different kinds of businesses people have lost out on in Babylon’s destruction and if we do some historical research, we see all the nations hurting from Babylon’s pain.
They can no longer sell cargos of gold and silver from Spain; jewels and pearls from India; fine linen from Asia and Egypt; purple cloth from Asia minor; silk from China; scarlet cloth from Asia; all kinds of scented wood from Africa; all kinds of articles of ivory from Syria; bronze from Corinth; iron from Spain and Pontos; marble from Africa, Egypt, and Greece; cinnamon from India and Ceylon; spice from South India; incense from across the East; myrrh from the Near East; frankincense from Southern Arabia; wine from Sicily and Spain; oil from Africa and Spain; fine flour and wheat from Egypt; the riches that come with cattle, sheep, horses, and chariots; and last, but not least—slaves, or as John pauses to call them: human souls.
Slaves aren’t at the end of the list because they’re not important. They’re at the end of the list because John knows that slaves are the fuel of everything else on the list. It’s the oppression of human souls that makes the world go round and that’s a huge part of the reason Babylon will be judged. Both she and the nations that sleep with her have gotten rich off their oppression of these human souls—and God hates to see the poor and the marginalized persecuted. And it’s that kind of oppression of the poor and powerless that has brought God’s judgment on nations in the past.
Believe it or not, this was true even of Sodom and Gomorrah and part of the reason they were judged. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God said,
“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.”
John saw that Babylon would face the same judgment for her sins. Treating human souls as though they’re another luxury to be owned on a list next to flour and wheat—that whole system will come to an end. God’s got an eye for the oppressed, and he will not allow it to go on forever; for he knows that to oppress or overlook the poor is to live as Satan and Lady Babylon would have us live—and Jesus refers to such people as goats sided with the judgment of Satan rather than sheep sided with God and his grace. God is love—and he expects his love to be lived out through his people.
It’s convicting to note that John saw participation with the every day slave trade to be participation with Babylon, because we are guilty of the same thing. Every day, tons and tons of products are being shipped into America that are made by the poor and oppressed, and yes, some of those poor and oppressed are slaves. Simple products such as chocolate and coffee have been noted to be acquired by slaves across the world living in incredibly inhumane conditions. And since the same companies that make things like chocolate also make things like kitty litter, cat food, baby food, ice cream, and more—well it doesn’t take long to see that everyday items that we partake in are making us complicit with Babylon.
That’s hard to think about. So hard, in fact, that I’m guilty of preaching the opposite. I knew all the facts about modern day slavery and yet I once justified the Babylonian system of slavery by recognizing that these brands were cheap, and the poor of America had to eat something too. I sinned when I preached that message, as I tried to dumb down the conviction of my own everyday oppression.
In the TV show, The Good Place, a bunch of humans go up to a supernatural judge and try to explain just how hard it is to be a good person on the earth. You buy a tomato and you have no idea just how many bad things you endorsed in doing so. Simple decisions are hard. The judge in this show looks at their case and realizes, “Wow, you’re right! We need to figure out a better judgment system!”
But the book of Revelation simply doesn’t care to water things down and make John’s message less convicting. Things “being hard” does not lessen the weight of that tomato. John is looking for Christians who will rise up and face the Satanic chaos beast, as well as the prostitute that rides upon it. She represents a false way of life, the false gods, the demons, rebellion and much, much more. She stares us in the eye and John turns to us and says, “So what are you going to do about that?”
His listeners hear him loud and clear. In fact, they heard him clearer than we do. Because we’re still thinking that John was talking about the Babylonian empire—but John’s audience knew he was talking about Rome. They knew this because, for one, the Babylonian Empire had crumbled some 500 years earlier and, for two, John describes the woman Babylon with words that everyone related to the city of Rome. She was “seated on many waters” like Rome was; and she was “seated on seven mountains,” which are also found in Rome. On top of that, she’s also seen as riding the beast, which we already learned in a previous message, that the beast was representative of Rome.
That being said, John wanted his readers to recognize that Babylon wasn’t dead. It’s never dead. The domination system that is Satan will always rise back up when humans choose luxury over love and we view people as objects instead of souls. Everything that the lady Babylon represented, so the lady Rome represents. And not only can she be found in the nations of the world, but she can even be found in God’s own people when they won’t leave the kingdom of Babylon to follow the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact, I think that even Christians can get so twisted by Babylon that they can end up looking like the woman Israel once did: “The like of which has never been, nor ever shall be.”
Christian or not, we all have the capacity of Babylon within us. And God wants to liberate us from that slavery and that worship.
And we don’t get to talk about this without considering ourselves. For with everything we’ve learned, we realize that we can’t escape the question: What does Lady Liberty actually look like? Is America a bold woman holding a torch for the freedom of others? Or is she a poor woman, oppressed by her own people? Or… is she the oppressor? Is Babylon in her just as she has been in other earthly kingdoms? And if so, what does it look like for us as Christians to come out of her? This question isn’t appalling to John. If anything he’d be appalled by just how offended we are by that question.
Look, it’s not that nations are 100% corrupt as the humans that help run them can make good decisions. So when you see a nation make a choice that reflects God, that is all worth celebrating— for sometimes, even Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon herself, had some moments where he recognized the one true God and followed him. And we can help coach a nation towards God, like Daniel did with Nebuchadnezzar, while at the same time never willing to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s false gods even if he threatened our life. But if you celebrate a nation as though it is the one true God, that’s nationalism—and according to Revelation, that’s straight up idol worship. When we do that, we worship Lady Liberty, the fallen Israel, Rome—Babylon herself. And I cannot say this too strongly: that’s incredibly dangerous territory. To use John’s warning:
“Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”
We, as Christians, are faithful and married to—and only to—Jesus. And it’s the wedding supper between Him and His church that we turn to in next week’s message.