Babylon: The Archetype of the State

This entry is part 9 of 18 in the series The Church of Christ and World-Powers

This article continues a series of weekly posts originally authored by David Lipscomb, an important figure in the Churches of Christ in the 1800s. Learn more about Lipscomb’s background here and here, and see other references to him on LCI here. The series is titled “The Church of Christ and World-Powers”, and it was also originally published as a series of 18 articles in The Gospel Advocate in 1866. (To read from the beginning of the series, start here.)

In this shorter segment of Lipscomb’s series, he elaborates a little more on the significance of the name “Babylon” in scripture. We are all familiar with those lovely expositions of Sunday school Bible teachers about the meanings of names in the Bible, but rarely do we hear of “Babylon” meaning “confusion, strife” and being connected to the powers that be. Lipscomb teases out the nuance of the use of “Babylon” in prophetic scriptures, noting the interesting take of John’s Revelation in particular. I surmise that he probably wrote this as an indirect response to questions he had received from Gospel Advocate subscribers looking for further clarity making the Babylon connection end-to-end in the Bible. (Or who knows, maybe he was running out of time to write that week!)

The Church of Christ and World-Powers (9) — David Lipscomb in The Gospel Advocate, April 17, 1866, pp. 245-246.

We wish to call attention to the biblical use of the term Babylon. It is given in Scripture as the name of the first, and in many respects, the head of the world-governments. It is derived from Babel, and means confusion. In the early days of the human family, and even to the present time, among the ruder nations of the world, all names are significant. This is especially so of the Bible names. Adam, means of earth, hence, he that was made of earth was called Adam. So of Babylon, it means confusion, strife; therefore, that which especially introduced confusion and strife into the world, was termed Babylon. Human government, or rather the substitution of human government for the well-being of man, instead of the Divine, has been, and is the chief cause of strife and confusion to the world; hence the first institution of human government is called Babylon. The historic portions of the Old Testament evidently use this term with reference to that first development of human government—the ancient Kingdom of Babylon.

The prophetic Scriptures of the Old Testament and New, use this term, however, in a sense not so specific, but certainly in a sense suggested by this first appropriated name, and in its peculiar, original signification. The Babylon of Revelation has been referred by protestants to the Romish Church. But the false church of Revelation was typified by the base woman. She had the name Babylon upon her forehead, and evidently dwelt in Babylon and* was in close alliance with it, but cannot certainly be called Babylon herself, nor answer to the different characters assigned to Babylon by the Bible. It was the earth power or rule in contradistinction to the Divine that was first called Babylon, that has supported and upheld the base woman, that has caused the different churches to commit adultery by alliances with it, by which she became the mother of harlots. It is this great principle of the man-governments that has given the kings of the earth their power with which they have lived deliciously, whose destruction they “lament and bewail.” It is this principle of man’s right to govern man; a right that God reserved to himself alone, that has usurped the place of God, that has contested the dominion of the world with God, that was the Babylon of confusion in its first development of human government and which “came in remembrance before God.”

It has been the Babylon that corrupted the church, that sustained and carried the corrupted church, by whose power the “kings lived deliciously,” and through whom the “merchants became rich,” “whose sins reached unto Heaven, and whose iniquities God hath remembered.” It is the beast full of names of blasphemy, and not the woman, that was carried by the beast, with the kings of the earth, that made war upon the lamb and his army. Rev.* 19:19. It was at the destruction of this power which had seduced the bride from her fidelity to her espoused husband, that she “made herself ready,” “arrayed herself in linen, clean and white,” and was fully married to the lamb. It was in view of the immediate destruction of this power with which God had had a long “controversy”—of this power that had contested with God the rule and dominion of the world—that was heard the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” Rev.* 19:6. It was the man-government in contradistinction and opposition to the Divine, that was Christened “Babylon,” or confusion and its birth, and in its death, had the simple epitaph inscribed by God, as characteristic of its life, “Babylon.”

* This denotes a word I inserted these words for clarity of reading (i.e., not in the original text).

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