Summary: The two cities symbolise diametrically opposed principles, Jerusalem represents the eternal while Babylon depicts the earthly having no abiding value.
TWO CONTRASTING CITIES - BABYLON AND JERUSALM
Books which outlive the generation in which they were written are called “classics”. On e of these which I remember from my schooldays is Charles Dickens’ story of the French Revolution, "A Tale of Two Cities". It concerned a family caught up in those tumultuous days, as it affected them in their lives, in both London and Paris. It’s the tragic story of a Frenchman, Dr Manette, who for no fault of his own was wrongly imprisoned, in the infamous Bastille dungeon for eighteen years. After he was freed to go and live in London his son-in-law, a French nobleman hated by the revolutionaries went to Paris to help someone in trouble, and he too was imprisoned on false charges and sentenced to the guillotine - but more of that later. I’ve given this brief outline of the story as it’s a parable of life.
The Bible could equally well be entitled "A Tale of Two Cities", because the two cities most frequently mentioned, literally and symbolically, are Jerusalem and Babylon. Right the way through they is seen as opposites. This isn’t a coincidence, for the Holy Spirit has taken the two cities to symbolise two diametrically opposed principles. Jerusalem represents the eternal and the heavenly, while Babylon depicts things that have no abiding value, the earthly.
Both represent fallen mankind but there’s a great divide. Jerusalem is a picture of those who have been redeemed and brought back into fellowship with God, but Babylon pictures those still in bondage to sin. The Bible history of these two cities reveals a hostility and tension between them. It illustrates the spiritual battle between good and evil, the flesh warring against the Spirit. These two principles of life cannot co-exist. Let’s see how it began and trace its development. First:
In Genesis we’re told how fallen men sought to build a city, but it was more than a new town. "Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves" (11:4). This wasn’t an innocent building development - it was an attempt to dethrone God. The city became known as "Babel", and was the beginning of Babylon.
The first Babylon was the heart of the ancient world and its centre of power. Its people attempted to create a city as a divine gateway to an earthly paradise, and this is reflected in the name they gave it, Babil, meaning "the gate of the gods". But the Creator God would have none of it: he called it Babel meaning "confusion". God thwarted their scheming by confusing their language (7) so that they were unable to understand each other. They left their city half-built and the inhabitants scattered over the face of the earth. We must go on to think about:
THE CONTINUING BABYLON
Babylon, of course, represents the fallen world. But it would be wrong to rubbish the achievements of the human race. We’re made in the image of God and, although fallen beings it would be odd if our aspirations and longings didn’t contain some noble and good, and yet there always seems to be an element of evil that threatens to ruin the whole. Mixed in with ambition to succeed there’s greed; mankind manages to pollute the environment in careless exploitation of the earth’s resources; and the human race turns its back on its Maker and his rules of life with its desire to increase in wisdom and knowledge. This is Babylon, the city of man - it’s a city without foundations; in fact, it’s built on sand.
The words of Genesis, "Let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to heaven" reveals the whole story of fallen man. The emphasis is on "us" and "ourselves" - it’s man-centred. It shows the spread of disorder within God’s world. From the beginning man has sought to bridge the gulf between earth and heaven by his unaided efforts; to regain paradise lost, to bring in the Golden Age of equality, justice and peace. It’s been the guiding force of the great human personalities of history.
I like to watch the political party conferences on television and hear their leaders’ eloquent speeches to their followers - if words were sufficient the country would be a great place to live in! Yet so often it all ends in tears - the ideals hoped for turn to ashes. When society breaks the bounds of God-given order, and tries by itself to reach heaven, like with ancient Babel, the results are only frustration and disintegration.
This century has seen two world wars, and after each the nations resolved that the bloodshed must never happen again, and so there were established, first the League of Nations and then the United Nations. I thank God for the good that has come in looking after refugees and peacemaking, but really nothing has changed, for every decade has seen wars and uprisings in different parts.