The first kingdom among men was begun at Babel, in the land of Shimar, by Nimrod (Gen.10:9,10). Ancient histories, as a rule, place the first monarchies in Egypt or Assyria. Historians have discredited this primitive empire on the ground that Nimrod was an Ethiopian, the son of Cush, who was a son of Ham. But the earliest inscriptions (which have lately come to light) fully bear out the Scriptural account of this, the primeval monarchy among mankind. The language of these inscriptions bears a very remarkable resemblance to that still used among the aboriginal tribes of Abyssinia. It was an Ethiopian tongue and the earliest empire was founded by the sons of Ham.
Babel, or Babylon, the beginning of this kingdom, seems to have been a city even before this, for it is not said that Nimrod built it as he did Nineveh and the Assyrian cities. It was in the plain of Shinar that the descendants of Noah congregated after the flood. Here they built a city and a tower, with its head in the heavens, and made themselves a name in case they should disperse to other lands. Here we have the germ of all future world empires. Its essence is the concentration and exaltation and perpetuation of human power and achievement. God's name and glory must be banished to give place to human self-adulation. How this operates is well illustrated in the case of Babel. It is probable that the name was originally given to signify "The Gate of God." But the Hebrew for Babel changes it to "In confusion." It is not that God wishes them ill, but that He wishes to become their Blesser Himself. So He takes up Abram the Hebrew and proposes to make a nation out of him, through whom He can bless the whole earth in such a style that they will not only enjoy the blessing but the Blesser too. Happiness with its Source unknown and unacknowledged is a traitor to its very nature, for it is intended to draw the creature to the One who finds His blessedness in making others happy.
The supremacy of Babylon does not seem to have lasted more than a few hundred years, for in Abraham's day Amraphel, king of Shinar, is a subordinate to Chedorlaomer, king of Elam (Gen.14: 1). From that time until Babylon reappears in the sacred records the Cushite character of the kingdom seems to have been completely banished by the inroads of the Arabians and Assyrians. The rise of Assyria between the land of promise and the plain of Shinar kept them from contact with each other, so that the sacred historians give us no account of Babylon in this interval.
When, however, the God of heaven determines to punish the nation He has chosen for Himself, and to turn over the world empire which He purposes for them into the hands of the other nations while they are apostate, He chooses the king of Babylon as the first great head of world dominion. Thus, in Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon, the first of the kingdoms in order of time, becomes once more the first in rank. Not since its earlier days had there been a ruler whose sway extended over the whole earth, for Babylon, and Babylon alone, is the seat of world empire.
It is remarkable to find how exactly the ancient inscriptions tally with the Scriptures in their account of this Kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar's boast, "Is not this great Babylon, which I have built?" is fully borne out by the immense preponderance of his bricks over all the other kings on the site of Babylon. He was the great builder, or founder or restorer of almost all the temples and public buildings in the country. His dominion extended over the whole known earth.
How much more trustworthy God's history is than the works of secular historians and their modern followers is well illustrated by the account of the fall of Babylon as recorded by the prophet Daniel. Were it not for the discovery of a small fragment of stone on which we are informed that "Nabu-nahed, king of Babylon," in his later years reigned conjointly with his eldest son, Bil-shar-uzar, we would still be gravely informed by modern "scholars" that Daniel cannot be taken as authentic, that it teems with "historical inaccuracies" and contradicts "trustworthy profane writers." If modern destructive criticism ever received a rebuke, it was when that fragment of clay fell upon its blasphemous words against the God of Daniel. The account of Babylon's fall was found to be far more accurate than they knew how to be, for Belshazzar offers Daniel, not the second place in the kingdom (which he assuredly would have done if he had occupied the first) but he says that "whosoever should read the writing...should be...the third ruler in the kingdom" (Dan.5:9), Nabonedus, his father, though not a descendant of Nebuchadnezzar himself, had probably married into his family so that Belshazzar was a "son" of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan.5:13), and Nabonedus was probably in Borsippa, away from Babylon, and probably lived some time longer, but Belshazzar was slain the night the city was taken and the capital of the kingdom fell into the hands of Darius the Median, and Daniel, instead of being slain, as the third ruler in the Chaldean kingdom, is exalted to the second place in the conquered realm.
The image of world dominion seen by Nebuchadnezzar (Dan.2: 31-35) and the vision of the ram and the he-goat (Dan.8:22) assure us that the Babylonian supremacy was succeeded by the Medo-Persian, and this by Javan, or the Grecian. Darius conquered Babylon and thus made himself master of the world. Alexander, in his turn, bore rule over all the earth by making Babylon his capital.
It is thus probable that each of the sons of Noah has had the helm of human government. The descendants of Ham first founded the kingdom. The Babylonians and Medo-Persians probably sprang from Shem. The Grecian, as Javan, their Hebrew name, indicates, came from Japheth (Gen.10:2). As each, in turn, enters Babylon in triumph, the banner of earth's sovereignty is unfurled, so it will be in the coming conquest of the world. A city will have a "kingdom over the kings of the earth" (Rev.17:18), and the city is no other than Babylon, once more the Mistress of Kingdoms.
Before enlarging upon the future dominion of Babylon it will be well to pause and consider the oft-repeated objection that Babylon has been destroyed "as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah" never more to be inhabited nor dwelt in from generation to generation, and that the Arabian shall never again pitch his tent there, nor shepherds make their fold there. It would be well for each one to turn to the Burden of Babylon as detailed by Isaiah in his thirteenth chapter, and the humiliation of the city described in his forty-seventh chapter, as well as the judgments pronounced upon Babylon by Jeremiah in his fiftieth and fifty-first chapters and note especially the suddenness of Babylon's destruction and desolation. It is a matter of history that, until recent years the city gradually fell into decay so that only the central portion has been continuously inhabited. It certainly was a city in the days of the apostles, for Peter sent his first epistle from Babylon (1 Peter 5:13). A half a century later the Babylonian Talmud originated from the colony of Jews which still inhabited the place. Indeed, it has always been inhabited up to the present day.
From these few facts it is clear that the prophecies concerning it have not yet been fulfilled. Indeed its destruction is in the Day of Yahweh (Isa.13:6), when there are signs in the heavens (v.10; Matt.24:29; Rev.6:12). It has been inhabited through all the years (see v.20), the Arabians do pitch their tents within the boundaries of the ancient city and the shepherds continue to make their folds there. Does this look as though the prophecy has been fulfilled? By no means. There is not a single item in these definite predictions which will fit the city at any time in her history.
No desolation has come upon Babylon suddenly (Isa 47:11), but her decadence has been gradual hitherto, while her rejuvenation promises to be a speedy one.
Jeremiah tells us that "In those days and at that time, saith Yahweh, the sons of Israel shall come...and seek the Lord their God."
Babylon's doom and Israel's restoration are to occur together. If one is future, so is the other (Jer.50:4,5). He confirms Isaiah's words that "it shall no more be inhabited for the eon, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation" (Jer.50:39). He assures us that "every purpose of Yahweh shall be performed against Babylon, to make the land of Babylon a desolation without inhabitant" (Jer.51:29). In view of all these solemn words it is ours to bow before them and acknowledge that they have never yet found fulfillment but will find it in the day of Yahweh, even as it is described to us in the Apocalypse. Jeremiah tells Seraiah to tie a stone to the scroll which contained the evils which should come upon Babylon, and to cast it into the midst of the Euphrates. Thus will Babylon sink and not rise from the evil which shall destroy her (Jer.51:60-65). But now, she is rising from the dust, and no city in the world has such prospects of regaining its former greatness. If God be true, then Babylon must be rebuilt. Until recent years such an idea was likely to rouse ridicule, but now it is rapidly becoming a matter of course.
Those whose hearts are stirred within them at sound of His approaching footfalls will do well to mark the progress of events as they cluster around two cities, Jerusalem and Babylon.
Babylon may wait a little longer, but her time will also come. How the restoration of the State of Israel will bring this about is set forth in Zechariah's vision of the Ephah, which will occupy our thoughts in the next chapter.