A Tale of Two Cities

The two most often referred to cities in the Bible are Jerusalem and Babylon. They are also the two most significant cities in history.

Babylon is mentioned first. It was the first great city built after the biblical flood. The city was constructed by a "mighty hunter" named Nimrod. In Genesis chapter 10 we read that Nimrod also built other great cities, including Nineveh - which later became the capital city of the Assyrian Empire.

But Babylon was the most important. It was the first great center of learning, of business and of enterprise. In fact Genesis chapter 11 tells us that it was in Babylon that people began to build a great tower - to reach the heavens. This was such a feat of engineering that the account tells us God had to intervene. ABut the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel -- because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:5-7)

So began a long conflict between the powers of mankind and the power of the God of Heaven. Babylon was to symbolize the powers and aspirations of mankind. It was to stand for all human enterprise that places itself in opposition to God. Much later (about 600 B.C.) a world empire that had its capital in Babylon destroyed the nation of Judah and carried the Jews away captive to Babylon. By that time it was a very sophisticated economic power, complete with advanced business practices in banking, bookkeeping, trade, and even insurance. Babylon came to represent international trade and commerce.

In the last chapters of the Bible we are told that Babylon falls Ain one hour. "When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: "`Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!' (Revelation 18:9)

Well, so much for Babylon and all the forces of mankind. But eternal glory, peace and real wealth will be centered in that other great city, Jerusalem.

The first time we visit Jerusalem in the Bible it is with Abraham - when he was returning from a war against some kings from Babylon. He had captured a lot of booty and went straight to a place know as Salem (site of modern day Jerusalem - the city of peace) which in the Hebrew means peace. There was a High Priest there named Melchizedek - the Priest of the Most High God. Abraham offered a tenth of the loot to this Man of God who blessed him saying: saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." (Genesis 14:19) So, from the earliest pages of the Bible, Jerusalem was recognized as a holy place of the God of Heaven.

David, the first great king of Israel recognized the significance of Jerusalem by establishing it as the capital city of the Nation of Israel. He was really only following the instructions of the Most High God who had declared it as a holy site in Deuteronomy. ABut you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety. Then to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name -- there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the LORD. (Deut. 12:5)

So Jerusalem was established as that very place and was proclaimed to be the future capital of the world - as central to an eternal kingdom to be established over the wreckage of Babylon. Consider what Isaiah the great prophet of Israel has to say about God's holy city. In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:2-4)

The Book of Revelation has the last word on Babylon. It also has the last word on the city of Jerusalem. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:2-4)

Babylon, representing all the enterprises of mankind comes to an end. Jerusalem, representing the eternal purpose of Almighty God lasts forever as a world capital for righteousness and peace. The Bible message is clearly that we should look to the heavenly city and not the earthly for our hope and prosperity.

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