The Bible portrays Babylon1 as a major threat to God’s people. Historic Babylon participated in the destruction of ancient Israel (Jer. 52), and end-time Babylon is declared guilty of the slaughter “of prophets and of God’s holy people” (Rev. 18:24). Throughout history, Babylon had recourse to more insidious strategies to destroy God’s people. Its corrupt methodology deserves both uncovering and reflection on the reason for its effectiveness.
The treatment the Hebrew youth received in ancient Babylon illustrates Babylon’s multiple strategies. Babylon uprooted them from their homeland and threw them into the fire when they refused to worship according to the defined pattern. This was the same power that had treated them as princes, inviting them to eat at the king’s table! Whether through oppression or manipulation, Babylon pursues the same agenda of destroying God’s people. Annihilation and assimilation are only different weapons in his armory.
End-time Babylon serves intoxicating wine (Rev. 17:2, 4). The image evokes the Old Testament warning against deception (Prov. 20:1). Wine’s attraction and appeal ends in disaster (Prov. 23:31, 32). Babylon “sits by many waters” (Rev. 17:1) representing its far-reaching influence over “peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages” (verse 15). There is no deception-free zone on Planet Earth. In the end, Babylon will be condemned for using its magic spell (Rev. 18:23).
Many are privileged to live where overt persecution seems far removed from reality. We are protected by human rights and religious liberty legislations. In such contexts it would be naive to believe that Babylon is inactive. This apparent calm gives the impression that the storm has left our borders.
Ellen White wrote about the false calm: “Everything may move forward amid apparent prosperity; but Satan is wide awake, and is studying and counseling with his evil angels another mode of attack where he can be successful.”2 Balak, the Moabite king, was more successful in accomplishing his design of destroying Israel by befriending rather than by cursing or fighting Israel (Num. 25:1-18). Babylon, the crafty manipulator, is a dangerous foe.
Whether through oppression or manipulation, Babylon pursues the same agenda of destroying God’s people.
Effective manipulation depends on the capacity of the manipulator to convince without the victim realizing the lie. As the father of lies (John 8:44), Babylon excels in this area (Isa. 14:3-12). The prowess of the manipulator alone, however, is never sufficient for the manipulation to succeed. Manipulation thrives on existing desires in the one being manipulated.
Babylon’s strategies are multifaceted, oscillating from brutal coercion to subtle manipulation. According to Revelation 17:2 Babylon is spreading its adulteries over the nations, a clear reference to Babylon’s design to influence the world into unfaithfulness (Hosea 5:3; Isa. 1:21; Eze. 16:15).
Revelation 18:3 repeats the idea of spreading unfaithfulness and introduces a new element: “The merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.” Several other passages in this chapter identify Babylon as the source of economic prosperity (Rev. 18:11, 15, 19).3
Paul predicted that earth’s last-days generation would be characterized as “lovers of themselves” (2 Tim. 3:1, 2). In their self-serving capacity Babylon and friends partake of the poisonous potion from the tree of evil, whose root is the love of money (1 Tim. 6:10). Ellen White’s warning is apropos: “Covetousness is one of the most common and popular sins of the last days, and has a paralyzing influence upon the soul.”4
The Bible is clear about the source of true riches: “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deut. 8:18). In opposition, Babylon presents itself as the provider of riches. As people follow this prompting, they continue to come to God for salvation, but they work for their living by themselves and through all available Babylonian schemes. We can observe financial practices among believers that violate or compromise God’s clear instructions.
When God is not considered as the source of blessing, it is unlikely that someone will honor God with their acquired riches. It creates a situation of dual allegiance, where money competes with God for worship (Matt. 6:24).
The call to get out of Babylon involves resisting the manipulation of Babylon, including in issues of finance. In our collective conscience money has become synonymous with happy living. Jesus disagrees: “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).
The apostle Paul makes the point that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6). Contentment is nourished by a spirit of thankfulness. Ellen White recommended the practice of systematic giving: “This system is so arranged that men may give something from their wages every day and lay by for their Lord a portion of the profits of every investment.”5 The prescription is to combat the drive of always seeking for more, by giving regularly, in proportion, a percentage of blessings received. “Constant, self-denying benevolence is God’s remedy for the cankering sins of selfishness and covetousness.”6
There is a higher pathway to happiness: “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ ” (Acts 20:35). Real happiness is in the happiness of those we bless and help.
It is not always possible to escape Babylon’s persecution. But we can choose to resist the charms of Babylon and of its king. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
Aniel Barbe is an associate director of the Stewardship Department at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland.