Babylon. What a city it must have been! Its walls were 200 to 300 feet high, and wide enough at the top for two carriages to pass one another. And within the city was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, a "not-to-be-missed-marvel", the Hanging Gardens of King Nebuchadnezzar, built, it was said, for his queen. Perhaps better termed the "overhanging" gardens, for lofty-reaching vegetation. No one really has any idea of what they looked like, for they were long gone, as the city was, by the time of Christ. Nonetheless, many have imagined the garden towers reaching to heaven, and spilling over with lushness, suffused with ingenious irrigated moistness in the midst of the desert, a cross between greenhouse and penthouse. And yet for all their splendors and beauty, beyond them and after them was a corrupt and then a fallen kingdom. The ziggurats of Babylon arched high, but the sins were piled higher.
The Israelites were conquered and brought to Babylon in 586 BC. By the rivers of Babylon, says Psalm 137, "we lay down and wept when we remembered Zion." How can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? Yet the exiled people remembered, they sang, they wrote the words that became Scripture.
Within two generations the Babylonians had themselves fallen to the Persians. The memory of that exile in Babylon persisted down to John's day. John himself was an exile in Patmos, on account of the Gospel, far from his roots in Jerusalem. In John's vision, Babylon, though physically in ruins 700 years after its peak, would in some form rise again with its riches and its dominance of the region.
Would it rise again as the expression of a 21st century dictator who fancied himself as Nebuchadnezzar II? Saddam Hussein sought to restore Babylon to new glory, to suit his own agenda. Presumably Saddam's dream will not be realized, but the hold that Babylon exerts and will continue to exert on the imagination means that the dream will remain to be sought out again. The Fertile Crescent in which Babylon rose was the cradle of civilization. Humans seek out our roots. We will inevitably seek them in Babylon again. But if the towers, like Babel, are built only through physical striving and with worldly wealth, they will fall again, and fall hard, and remain but a memory of a lost city.
Lord, help us to know that you alone are the source of richness in life.
May we long for the fruit that flowers in your gardens alone.
May we see the splendor that is reached only by walking through your gates.