What the Bible says about
Babylon, Coming out of
(From Forerunner Commentary)
When Abraham was called, he was literally living in Babylon on the plain of Shinar in the city of Ur. He did not come from a God-fearing family, and there is no evidence that he was converted at the time of Genesis 12:1. Every indication is that he, too, was a heathen. As we shall see, every called person begins in idolatry.
God had in all likelihood begun to work with him, preparing him for his calling by guiding his thinking to begin to question areas of life he had previously accepted without question. Historical traditions indicate that his family was of a priestly caste, and perhaps he was already questioning the validity of the false gods he served.
Acts 7:2-4 clarifies a few things relating to the early period of his calling:
And [Stephen] said, "Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, 'Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.' Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell."
What is included in God's appearance is not known. Whether it was literal, in a vision, or by dream is not explained anywhere else. The element we need to understand is that, as with us, Abraham did not earn his calling. He had done nothing to earn or deserve God's notice.
Isaiah 51:2 adds a further piece of information worth considering: "Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you; for I called him alone, and blessed him and increased him." While Sarah is at least mentioned, no other family members are included within the scope of this statement. It appears that several members of Abraham's family depended on him, since much of his family left with him, yet God makes clear that Abraham was the only one spiritually called.
To how many of us has a similar thing happened? Why does this happen? Nobody knows! It is unanswerable. God shows mercy to whom He shows mercy. He loves Jacob but loves Esau less by comparison, despite their being twins. He accepts Abel and rejects Cain. He chooses only Noah among millions of others to whom He could have given grace.
This we know: At some time before leaving Babylon, God became a living reality to Abraham to a degree no one else near and dear to him experienced. Even amidst his personal self-seeking and self-pleasing, he was motivated to leave his set routines of life. It must have been similar to what Job experienced when he said, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You" (Job 42:5).
Whether the opening of Abraham's mind was gradual or sudden, God had graciously revealed Himself enough to make him move, and he did so to the extent of leaving his homeland and journeying over 1,200 miles, probably on foot or at best by donkey or cart, to a land known for violent weather, especially for its high temperatures.
Abraham was already 70 years old, yet he severed virtually every relationship that matters to normal human concepts of life and well-being. For a long time, stability became a thing of the past, considering that he never again dwelt in a home with foundations. This may seem an unusually hard and harsh requirement. Nevertheless, he embarked on a journey into an utterly unknown future.
What can we learn from this God-engineered example? Undoubtedly, He was testing Abraham, a process we should expect a measure of in our calling as well. We may never have to leave our homeland and set out on a long journey without knowing where we are headed, but it is highly likely that disruptions will accompany our calling.
A primary instruction God wants us to understand from Abraham's calling is that we must make a complete break from our old lives. We must clearly begin to sever ourselves from the old, "inner" life that was implanted in our character by our living according to the course of this world (Ephesians 2:2).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Six)
A popular question during the Vietnam War was, "What if they threw a war and nobody came?" This illustrates that we condone and lend support to activities we attend. If everyone obeyed God by refusing to keep pagan holidays, one of Satan's ploys to obscure God's plan for mankind would be thwarted. The Bible is very clear that we should avoid, flee, or turn away from the ways of this world and beware of their entry into the church of God (II Timothy 3:1-5).
Martin G. Collins
The Bible shows that God has a pattern of throwing His people right into the heart of the fire, so to speak, at important junctures in history, or we might say right into the heart of the issues that pertain to His purpose. He does this primarily for His glorification, as a witness, and for our preparation. He forces us to confront challenges we might otherwise withdraw or run from.
He did it with Noah and the Flood. He did it when Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac. He did it with Joseph in Egypt, with Moses and the Israelites in the Exodus from Egypt and their pilgrimage through the wilderness. He did it with Daniel in the lions' den, and literally with these three men in the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar.
We find ourselves living in the end-time Babylon grown to the greatest extent of its evil, anti-God influence. We are confronted by the fact that His people of old came through their trials because God delivered them. Now we are commanded to "come out of Babylon." However, this is no longer literally possible, because it is a worldwide, organized system. We can still come out of it spiritually by resisting it, not allowing it to influence our decision making and therefore our conduct and our attitude.
We have read of the encouraging victories of God in behalf of His people. But we also have read of the evidence of Israel's weaknesses and failure, and it helps for us to understand their weaknesses, because we are cut from the same cloth.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part Seven)
When Daniel prayed this, Judah had been scattered for about 70 years, and they were just about ready to go back to the Promised Land. God was just about ready to release them. Daniel was concerned due to what he saw in Babylon; it discomforted him. He likely saw some of the same conditions existing in Babylon that had caused the Jews to go into captivity in the first place almost 70 years before. His fears were justified because, when Ezra and Nehemiah went back to rebuild the Temple and then the wall around Jerusalem, very few Jews went back. In fact, it was such a small number by Ezra's count that he called a fast about it. He wanted to make sure that the people would be hidden on the way so that nobody would see them making the trip back to Judea and consider them "easy pickings."
When the church was finally begun in AD 31, Peter went to preach in Babylon because there was still such a large colony of Jews there. Indeed, they stayed in the world—in Babylon—and continued to multiply.
We can read between the lines of Daniel's prayer and understand that he was anxious over their return. Quite a number of commentators feel that this cannot be all Daniel prayed. Really, all that we have here is an outline of what he said, the high points. After praying it, Daniel went back to his office or to his home and jotted these things down so that they would be remembered. God undoubtedly inspired that. So we are actually seeing only the essence of what he said. He certainly went into a great deal more detail with God.
When we pray for repentance, we go into detail about things that we personally know about—especially those things that happen in our lives and perhaps those things that happen within God's work, of which we were aware. We do nothing about them then, but we certainly can ask God to forgive them.
Daniel begins by establishing between him and God that he, Daniel, understood that God is faithful. He keeps His covenant. He stands by Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. When something goes out of God's mouth, it does not come back to Him empty (Isaiah 55:11). There are no "hollow threats" with God! Do we understand that? His faithfulness is one of the things that makes Him God. He can always be depended upon. He is Jesus Christ—the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). "For I am the Lord, I do not change" (Malachi 3:6).
John W. Ritenbaugh
In addition to a wake of vultures being a symbol of God's judgment of shame, a gathering of vultures also indicates a diseased spiritual condition. In Revelation 18:2, Babylon the Great is described as being “a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird.”
Vultures are undoubtedly at the top of the list of unclean and hated birds! End-time Babylon is the focal point of demonic spirits, which are likened to unclean birds. Both of them prey on the sick and the injured, and they gather where death is.
Even so, our greatest threat is not the Tribulation at the end! As bad as it will be, far worse is being spiritually unprepared when Christ returns and being judged as unworthy to enter the Kingdom. This is what the Parable of the Ten Virgins and the Parable of the Wedding Feast describe. This is the substance of the warnings about Christ's return being like a thief in the night—coming when He is completely unexpected. This is why He warns us against neglecting so great a salvation and against being led astray by the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the pleasures of life. Jesus warns us to keep us on the path of life, so that we do not fall to the birds of prey that stalk the spiritually dying.
We are given the charge to come out of Babylon, so we do not share in her sins or in her judgment (Revelation 18:4). If we have a discerning heart, we should have a good idea of what will attract the vultures, as it will be giving off the smell of spiritual death. God gives us that discerning heart, so we can make good choices.
Do we really believe the scriptures about the swiftness of Christ's return? It is easy to look at world events and compare them to our understanding of prophecy; we know that things are bad and getting worse—but the end still seems to be just over the horizon. Because it is not here yet, it is easy to conclude, even subconsciously, that there is no need to become serious just yet.
However, this conclusion is filled with assumptions. One is that our understanding of end-time events is correct! A second assumption is that, even if we do have correct understanding, we will never lose it through deception. A third is that our faith will remain constant until the end. A fourth is that, when we do decide to get serious, that we will have ample time to build character, take on the image of God, and complete our sanctification. A fifth is that our Creator will go along with our agenda of pushing Him off until the last minute.
These are a lot of assumptions! If we are misjudging these things, we may hear those terrible words, “I never knew you; depart from Me” (Matthew 7:23)!
If we are delaying the time to start seeking God, the vultures may be eyeing us as ones who may not spiritually survive what lies ahead. Perhaps all of us have seen this happen to people we care about. If we are spiritually sick or injured, there is no time like the present to seek our Healer and Protector to beat off the hated birds!
In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, the foolish ones thought they had more time. They were probably aware that their reserves of oil were not as full as they could be, but they may have assumed that they could always attend to that later. They did not count on falling asleep. They did not count on life happening, that something would prohibit them from taking care of preparations they had put off.
A lesson we can draw is that, if we are not putting everything we have into our calling right now, how much time is left does not matter. If that is the case, we may find ourselves, like the foolish virgins, suddenly awake and realizing we cannot get ready in time. What we claimed we wanted will have slipped through our grasp, one day at a time.
Judgment is coming on the world, but it is on the house of God right now (I Peter 4:17). A gathering of eagles—a wake of vultures—is a symbol of God's judgment on those who stubbornly resist coming into alignment with Him. Vultures will literally gather for those who rebel against God in the final battle (Revelation 19:17-21), and they are metaphorically already circling those who cannot tear themselves away from Babylon—those who are on such good terms with the world that they are giving off the scent of spiritual death.
The multitude of warnings and prophecies means that it is a possibility for us, because it is a certainty for some. Yet, with all that God makes available, there is no good reason for that judgment to fall on us.
David C. Grabbe
Where the Eagles Are Gathered
Though converted for about twenty years when he wrote Romans, Paul comments in verse 17 that sin sufficiently strong enough to pull him in the wrong direction still remained in him. In verse 18, he leaves no doubt that sin was still in him. In verse 19, he admits to occasional sin, and in verse 20, he again states that sin still existed in him, and in verse 21, that evil was present with him. In verse 23, he says that a war raged within him between the law of sin and the law of his mind, and he mentions these two again in verse 25.
The evil that lived in him was the remnant of what he had absorbed of Satan's world before his conversion on the road to Damascus. The law of his mind was his new heart from God that he desired so strongly to rule his life. The war was between the remnant of Satan's world and his new heart. Galatians 5:16-17 confirms this last thought:
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.
Each influence on his mind was communicating to him. This is why we cannot physically escape Babylon. It has left its mark on our perspectives, attitudes, and characters; we carry it with us regardless of our location. Nevertheless, our escape from Babylon can be accomplished because, if it could not, God would not have commanded us to do it.
We achieve it by choosing to allow the law of our mind to triumph against the law of sin and death, even though to do so may require many painful sacrifices during the battle. Where does one find the strength necessary to make the sacrifices required? What might we need to supply us motivation?
First, we need to consider a vital promise. Paul proclaims in Philippians 4:19: "And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Jesus Christ." This assurance could just as easily been read as, "He shall supply all our need gloriously!" It is full of exuberant expectation.
What do we need? We need faith in the fact that God is, that He is indeed with us personally and individually, and that His Word is true and absolute. In addition, we need vision and hope regarding the value of what is to be gained or lost through making the right choices. We need much more, but certainly not least, we need God's love for Him and fellow man.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part Three)
In Ephesians 2:2, Paul writes of "the course of this world." The Greek word kosmos, translated into the English word "world," essentially means an "orderly system." To human eyes beholding all the activity throughout the earth, the world looks anything but orderly. It looks confusing, to say the least. However, that conclusion depends on one's perspective.
What is going on to discerning eyes, the eyes of one to whom God has revealed Himself, is an orderly system of deception cloaked by restless activity among humans involved in constant wars, thousands of religions, evil conduct, corrupting entertainments, and other distracting, time-wasting business and social vanities. All of this restless activity is in reality nothing but a smokescreen hiding a sinister influence from discovery.
Notice something to which we generally do not pay much attention. The word "world" appears as the object of the preposition "of." This prepositional phrase modifies "course," showing us that Paul is speaking of a specific "course" available to us to choose from among others. The Greek word translated "course," aion, is especially interesting. At first, it indicates "an age," "an indefinite period of time," and by extension, "perpetuity."
However, Vine's Dictionary of New Testament Words provides an interesting alternative, saying that it also means, "Time viewed in relation to what takes place during that period" (emphasis added). Aion, then, does not have to mean simply "time" in some form: Vine shows that it is correctly translated "place" in Hebrews 5:6. Other commentators go into greater detail, but we will quote only two highly respected ones that other commentators frequently cite as authorities.
First, Richard C. Trench is a resource virtually every commentator eventually quotes on the definitions of biblical words. He defines aion as:
. . . all that floating mass of thought, opinions, maxims, speculations, hopes, impulses, aims and aspirations at any time current in the world, which is impossible to seize and accurately define, but which constitutes a most real and effective power, being our moral or immoral atmosphere which at every moment of our lives we inhale, again inevitably exhale.
Aion, translated as "course" in Ephesians 2:2, is the vague, ever-present immaterial realm that we are surrounded by and live in. It is interesting that Trench ties his definition to air, in that, even as we unconsciously breathe air in and out to sustain life, the course of the world is every bit as necessary to carnal life and is affecting us invisibly and constantly.
Second, Johann A. Bengel adds that aion is ". . . the subtle informing spirit of the Kosmos, or world of men who are living alienated and apart from God." This is what Germans termed zeitgeist, the spirit of the age—the "informing spirit"! The term "spirit" is used to indicate the invisible, immaterial influence whose characteristics are absorbed and then manifested in the attitudes and conduct of the general population of a given people.
An American commentator, Kenneth Wuest, is very helpful at this juncture:
To distinguish between aion and kosmos, kosmos gives the over-all picture of mankind alienated from God during all of history, and aion represents any distinct age or period of human history as marked out from another by particular characteristics.
Course in Roget's International Thesaurus, under the heading "tendency," has such synonyms as "thoughts," "zeitgeist," "spirit," "disposition," "character," "nature," "makeup," "bent," "slant," "frame of mind," "attitude," "inclination," "mind-set," "drift," "perspective," and many more. It may be easier to understand "course of this world" by rephrasing it into statements such as, "according to the disposition of this world"; "according to the character of this world"; "according to the nature of this world"; "according to the makeup of this world"; "according to the mindset, drift, or perspective of this world."
This is the spirit from which we must be converted. It is the unseen foundation and fountain of our pre-conversion conduct, and it is the same spirit still motivating us when we act carnally or in the flesh. Despite conversion, it remains within us, compressed like a spring that is ready to jump into action and influence our conduct.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part One)
Exhorting one another - Exhort means "to aid, help, comfort, encourage, and beseech." In the Babylon of this world—with all its pulls and distractions to neglect our calling—every one of us needs exhortation to strive harder to stand.
We live in what can best be described as a Laodicean environment, just as did the Hebrews to whom Paul wrote. Many today challenge the foundation laid by God through His leaders, and sadly, many call into question even the commandments of God. In such an atmosphere of doubt and distrust, we all need exhortation to be faithful in all we have learned.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Paul first draws attention to the fact that, when God called Abram, as he was called then, he obeyed without knowing where he was to go. His reference is to Genesis 12:1-3:
Now the Lord had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
He had to leave his country, which was essentially Babylon; his family, meaning his ethnic kindred, the Semitic people; and his house, his near relatives. Verse 4 implies that he did not dilly-dally around, waiting for further or more specific directions, but that he responded quickly. It is not said how the Lord appeared to him. Perhaps He appeared to him physically, which would explain his quick departure.
Maybe God prepared him beforehand by revealing His existence to Abram, and this brought about social circumstances that added to Abram's urgency. In other words, God provided proof of His existence, which led to Abram receiving a measure of persecution in reaction to what he was learning. This is not unusual for God to do; He often provides incentive by leading a person through experiences in preparation for a more formal calling later.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Six)
In God's description of Babylon's evil qualities, He links demons with birds—not just any birds but unclean and hated birds, ones that display in their natural characteristics activities humans find disgusting and revolting.
America's national symbol, the bald eagle, is beautiful to behold and majestic in flight, but it is also a carrion eater, feeding on the dead, and a vicious killer, relentlessly and ruthlessly seeking to devour. Then there is the vulture, ugly to behold, which strips the flesh of anything, including unburied human dead. Other birds, like certain types of owls, have somewhat similar characteristics, yet are nocturnal in their habits, seeking to attack and kill under the cover of the darkness of night. They also seem to seek out ruins of buildings as their habitats, places that men perceive to be cursed.
God paints Babylon as a dangerous place inhabited by predators, as if it were the very generator and purveyor of all evil on earth. Babylon has spread its influence over the whole earth, but in another sense, its heart and core are in one place: the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:1-3).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part One)
Babylon, as an enemy of God, is used in several ways in the Bible. One is a literal city. A second is a worldwide system of government, trade, entertainment, and so on. A third symbolizes a spiritual entity. All three have to be considered together to understand Babylon. In Revelation 18:4, it is a city representing the worldwide way of life at the end time.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
This warning is sobering because the course of this world is closer than ever to reaching its anti-God fullness. There has never been a time in the out-working of God's purpose when this advice is more urgently needed.
Among mankind, the course of the world did not begin in the original Babylon but in the Garden of Eden with the disbelieving conduct of Adam and Eve. They introduced the alien spirit and conduct among mankind - they were mankind at that time. Under the deceitful influence of Satan, they disbelieved God, following the Devil's line of reasoning and conduct. They spread it to their children, who spread it to their children, and so forth.
We have reached the time the Bible calls "the last days" or "the end time." We stand on the cusp of the Tribulation and Day of the Lord, and God's Word prophesies that Babylon will once again be on the scene of events - only this time its powerful influence will be felt worldwide. This time, Babylon not only has dominant armies, powerful economic and educational systems, and strongly entrenched and popular religions, but it also has extremely effective mass communication networks to disseminate its ways into the minds of men, influencing men against their Creator and His people.
Thus, God's urgent warning to take action while one can. The influence of Babylon is imposed through communication. It occurs when we experience countless examples of misguided conduct by those who - unknown to them - are already enslaved by its evil influence.
The apostles Paul and John speak of this largely unrecognized burden mankind carries. In II Corinthians 4:3-4, Paul writes, "But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them."
Additional subtle influence occurs when a person experiences Babylon's ways and words and fails to monitor the attitudes he picks up and lives. Perhaps above all, men must deal with the inaudible but nonetheless attractive and powerful spiritual communication of Babylon's invisible god and leader, the prince of the power of the air, and his hordes of equally invisible demons. Resisting it can be a daunting task even for those aware that this communication is occurring; it calls on one to be constantly on guard. Nevertheless, resisting the communication is the key to blunting Babylon's siren call.
God admonishes us to come out of her, but there is physically no place to go! The influence of Satan through Babylon's powers of communication is everywhere. In Revelation 12:9, the apostle John confirms we have no place to run because this world's god and his assistants have been permitted to communicate with and deceive mankind over the whole earth: "So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." We have been born into this ready-made, deceived world, taken it for granted, and absorbed it until God revealed an alternative.
Compared to previous Babylons, the major difference in what we now face in modern Babylon lies in the intensity, availability, and receptivity of its communication. As far as we know, mankind has never before been confronted by these twisted, persuasive, demonic powers as he is today. They now have the global use of the visible and audible influence of radio, music, movies, television, and the Internet, in addition to the entrenched systems of thought and standards of conduct.
There is no place to run. The battle to resist, then, is almost entirely internal - it is fought right where we live and conduct the business of life. What we must believe, and trust with steely determination and discipline, is that God never gives a person a responsibility impossible to perform (see the principle in I Corinthians 10:13). What God commands of us we can do! Therefore, if He commands we come out, we can come out right where we are. The coming out will not be a physical leaving of a geographical area but a departure from Babylon's spiritual and physical influence.
This is not to say that changing one's physical location will not be helpful in fighting the spiritual battle - just as not frequenting a den of iniquity has definite advantages! It is logical to assume that the intensity of evil communication would be worse in the heart of Babylon than out in the hinterlands. However, we must acknowledge the reality that we can take Babylon's influence with us wherever we might go on earth. Even going to live on a deserted island will not spare us the burden of the influence Babylon has already exerted on us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part One)
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