Image credit: Lakeview Images/

Isaiah chapters 13, 14, 21, 44-47
Jeremiah 25:12-13, chapters 50-51

The Burden of Babylon – Isaiah 13 &14

Construction of Babylon began in the days of Nimrod as recorded in Genesis 10:10. It was the Tower of Babel that brought the judgment of God and confusion of languages. Babylon became the centre of idolatry and the Babylonian gods were worshipped under different names in other countries. Babylon rose to be the sole world empire in the days of Nebuchadnezzar after he defeated the Assyrians in 612BC and the Egyptians in 570BC. God used the Babylonian Empire as an instrument of judgment and was called “the hammer of the whole earth” (Jeremiah 50:23) and was also the first of four world empires that would occupy Jerusalem; a period that Jesus called the “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). Literal Babylon was conquered by Cyrus in 538BC and declined thereafter but “mystery Babylon” exists in the Roman Catholic Church which is the greatest centre of idolatry in the world and will be burned in the Tribulation period (Revelation chapters 1&18).

Jerusalem to be Destroyed and Jews Taken to Babylon

Isaiah prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in the days of Hezekiah when Merodachbaladan, King of Babylon, sent messengers to congratulate him on his recovery from sickness. (Isaiah 39). Hezekiah showed the Babylonians all his treasures and the treasures in the Temple so God said,

Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD (Isaiah 39:6).

This prophecy was about 700BC ; over 100 years before the event.

Jeremiah prophesied (604BC), about 18 years before Jerusalem was destroyed, that Jerusalem would be desolate for 70 years and the Jews would be taken to Babylon (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10). Also that after 70 years God would punish Babylon because they showed no mercy and went beyond what God required. To Babylon God said:

I was wroth with my people, I have polluted mine inheritance, and given them into thine hand: thou didst shew them no mercy; upon the ancient (elderly) hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke (Isaiah 47:6).

After the 70 years captivity in Babylon God said:

And I am very sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease: for I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction (Zechariah 1:15).

We know from Psalm 137 that the Babylonians mocked the captive Jews and their God while they were captive in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar was God’s servant to take the Jews to Babylon (Jeremiah 25:9; 27:6) but God never intended that they be mocked in Babylon or that they be ridiculed when they sang the songs of Zion. The psalmist wrote:

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land? (Psalms 137:1-4).

It was because of Babylon’s treatment of God’s people while they were under chastisement, that God would destroy Babylon.

O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones (Psalms 137:8-9).

Destruction of Babylon Foretold – Isaiah 13 (also Isaiah Chapters 14, 21, 44-47; Jeremiah 25:12-13; Chapters 50-51)

The “burden of Babylon” (Isaiah 13:1) was the heavy message that Isaiah was given concerning Babylon’s judgment. There is a near and far prophecy in Isaiah chapter 13. The near prophecy was fulfilled by the Medes; Mystery Babylon (Rome) will be destroyed in the latter days.

Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, which shall not regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it. Their bows also shall dash the young men to pieces; and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eyes shall not spare children. And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there (Isaiah 13:17-20).

In 538BC “Darius the Median” captured Babylon (Daniel 5:31). Babylon declined after it was occupied by Darius and has been totally destroyed; today it is like Sodom and Gomorrah – barren desert. It will never be rebuilt. Jeremiah told Seraiah to read God’s judgment on Babylon when he visited with King Zedekiah:

Then shalt thou say, O LORD, thou hast spoken against this place, to cut it off, that none shall remain in it, neither man nor beast, but that it shall be desolate for ever. And it shall be, when thou hast made an end of reading this book, that thou shalt bind a stone to it, and cast it into the midst of Euphrates: And thou shalt say, Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her (Jeremiah 51:62-64).

The Testimony of Herodotus

Herodotus was a Greek historian who lived 484 – 425BC and he wrote 9 books of ancient history gathered from sources available in his times. He travelled extensively from Greece to Persia, to Egypt and Ethiopia, gathering information on the histories of those lands. He is considered the “Father of Ancient History”;His works have been translated and are freely available on the internet.

Herodotus described the city of Babylon which existed in his day though declining; he gives the history of its construction. Herodotus wrote of two Queens who had a large part in Babylon’s construction; the first was Semiramis. Others have identified her as the wife of Nimrod who began construction of the city after the Flood (Genesis 10:10). When Nimrod was killed Semiramis reigned and raised floodbanks along the Euphrates to prevent flooding.

Another Queen, Nitocris, constructed extensive defences to the city. The city was 15 miles square and had two walls around it. In order to make bricks used to line the banks of the waterways, and to construct the wall, she dug a vast lake upstream to obtain brick- making clay. The perimeter of the excavation was 420 furlongs (52.5 miles perimeter or 22km sq.). She diverted the Euphrates to slow the flow of the river and then diverted the river into the excavation while she built piers in the river bed for a bridge joining the two halves of the city. The River Euphrates ran through the middle of the city. A wide brick-lined moat was around the city.

The walls that were built around the perimeter of the city and along each side of the river were 200 royal cubits high by 50 cubits wide. There were 100 brass gates and wide streets ran straight across the city in both directions. On the top of the wall a four-horse chariot could turn.

Housing in Babylon was mainly three or four stories high. There was a Temple on one side of the river and a Palace on the other side.

Herodotus wrote:

The centre of each division of the town was occupied by a fortress. In the one stood the palace of the kings, surrounded by a wall of great strength and size: in the other was the sacred precinct of Jupiter Belus, a square enclosure two furlongs each way, with gates of solid brass; which was also remaining in my time.

The Temple (The Tower of Babel) was eight stories high built as

a tower of solid masonry, a furlong (213m) in length and breadth, upon which was raised a second tower, and on that a third, and so on up to eight. The ascent to the top is on the outside, by a path which winds round all the towers. When one is about half-way up, one finds a resting-place and seats, where persons are wont to sit some time on their way to the summit. On the topmost tower there is a spacious temple, and inside the temple stands a couch of unusual size, richly adorned, with a golden table by its side.

There is no statue of any kind set up in the place, nor is the chamber occupied of nights by any one but a single native woman, who, as the Chaldaeans, the priests of this god, affirm, is chosen for himself by the deity out of all the women of the land.

Below, in the same precinct, there is a second temple, in which is a sitting figure of Jupiter, all of gold. Before the figure stands a large golden table, and the throne whereon it sits, and the base on which the throne is placed, are likewise of gold.

Herodotus continues…

The Chaldaeans told me that all the gold together was eight hundred talents’ weight (i.e. 1.2 million ounces of gold @$1300/ ounce =$1.56 billion todays value).

Outside the temple are two altars, one of solid gold, on which it is only lawful to offer sucklings; the other a common altar, but of great size, on which the full-grown animals are sacrificed. It is also on the great altar that the Chaldaeans burn the frankincense, which is offered to the amount of a thousand talents’ weight, every year, at the festival of the God.

In the time of Cyrus there was likewise in this temple a figure of a man, twelve cubits high, entirely of solid gold (18feet high).

Cyrus Given the Riches of Babylon

The Persians were not idolators like the Babylonians and God gave the riches of Babylon in their temples to Cyrus:

And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places (temples), that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel (Isaiah 45:3).

Isaiah described how these heavy gold images from the Temple in Babylon would be taken away:

Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth, their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy loaden; they are a burden to the weary beast. They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity (Isaiah 46:1-2).

Cyrus to Capture Babylon and Decree that the Temple be Rebuilt

It was Cyrus who gave the decree in 536BC for the Jews to return under Zerubbabel to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem

That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers: That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid (Isaiah 44:27-28).

The Gates of Babylon Would be Left Open for Cyrus

God promised to open the gates of Babylon for Cyrus:

Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron (Isaiah 45:1-3).

The River Would be Diverted to Lower the Level

Herodotus records how the river was temporarily diverted into the lake which was dug by Queen Nitocris when construction of the walls and bridge were performed. Cyrus diverted the river again allowing the Medes to walk down the riverbed with water to their thighs. Because it was a Babylonian feast, the guards were lax and the gates to the river were left open.

A drought is upon her waters; and they shall be dried up… (Jeremiah 50:38).

The Babylonians Would be Drunk

It was during a festival when many were drunk and they not able to fight.

In their heat I will make their feasts, and I will make them drunken, that they may rejoice, and sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the LORD (Jeremiah 51:39).

And I will make drunk her princes, and her wise men, her captains, and her rulers, and her mighty men: and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the King, whose name is the LORD of hosts (Jeremiah 51:57).

The King of Babylon would be Afraid

God said the King of Babylon would be afraid and his knees would shake:

Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut” (Isaiah 45:1).

The king of Babylon hath heard the report of them, and his hands waxed feeble: anguish took hold of him, and pangs as of a woman in travail (Jeremiah 50:43).

Daniel tells us that Belshazzar had a great feast and drank wine to his gods when a hand appeared writing in the plaster of the wall.

Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another (Daniel 5:6).

Babylon Would be Suddenly Captured, in One day

The capture of Babylon was prophesied to be sudden, in one night.

But these two things shall come to thee in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood: they shall come upon thee in their perfection for the multitude of thy sorceries, and for the great abundance of thine enchantments (Isaiah 47:9).

The Babylonians Would be Totally Surprised

The Babylonians would be taken completely by surprise and would not be aware that the city had fallen to the Medes.

Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know from whence it riseth: and mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it off: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou shalt not know(Isaiah 47:11).

The Jews Were Warned to Leave Babylon

The Jews in Babylon were warned to leave Babylon before Cyrus besieged it and were told when it would happen. There would be two years of rumours of unrest and a threat to Babylon. This would be the signal for the Jews to leave. They would also know that the 70 years of captivity (Jeremiah 25 & 29) was drawing to a close. The Babylonians would not let the Jews return to rebuild the Temple so it must be decreed by Babylon’s conqueror; Cyrus.

Isaiah had prophesied that Cyrus shall perform all My pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the Temple, Thy foundations shall be laid(Isaiah 46:28). He also told them,

Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The LORD hath redeemed his servant Jacob (Isaiah 48:20).

Jeremiah gave similar warnings:

Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and deliver every man his soul: be not cut off in her iniquity; for this is the time of the LORD’s vengeance (Jeremiah 51:6).

My people, go ye out of the midst of her, and deliver ye every man his soul from the fierce anger of the LORD. And lest your heart faint, and ye fear for the rumour that shall be heard in the land; a rumour shall both come one year, and after that in another year shall come a rumour, and violence in the land, ruler against ruler (Jeremiah 51:45-46).

Babylon’s Idolatry, Astrology and Sorcery Began With Nimrod

When the Tower of Babel was being built by Nimrod we read that its top was “unto heaven”. The KJV reads “may reach unto heaven”. The words, “may reach” are in italics indicating they are not in the original Hebrew and therefore the text should simply read, “unto heaven”. The NKJV reads “whose top is in the heavens”.

The top level of the tower, according to Herodotus who saw it, was a Temple with no image of any god in it. It was for the worship of the heavens; the sun, moon. and stars. Babylonians were astrologers, stargazers, monthly prognosticators and sorcerers and Isaiah indicates that this dated back to their origins; from Babylon’s “youth”.

Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast labored from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail.

Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators (foreteller)…Thus shall they be unto thee with whom thou hast labored, even thy merchants, from thy youth: they shall wander every one to his quarter; none shall save thee (Isaiah 47:12-15).

God reasons with the Babylonian astrologers to show them that they cannot predict the future. Only God knows the future.

Herodotus’ Account of the Taking of Babylon

Had the Babylonians been apprised of what Cyrus was about, or had they noticed their danger, they would never have allowed the Persians to enter the city, but would have destroyed them utterly; for they would have made fast all the street-gates which gave upon the river, and mounting upon the walls along both sides of the stream, would so have caught the enemy, as it were, in a trap. But, as it was, the Persians came upon them by surprise and so took the city. Owing to the vast size of the place, the inhabitants of the central parts (as the residents at Babylon declare) long after the outer portions of the town were taken, knew nothing of what had chanced, but as they were engaged in a festival, continued dancing and revelling until they learnt the capture but too certainly. Such, then, were the circumstances of the first taking of Babylon (Histories by Herodotus 1.191)

Thus Herodotus confirms the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Bible concerning Babylon.