In this chapter I will focus mainly on the claims about Mystery Babylon from Walid Shoebat in his book God’s War on Terror. It should be noted that Joel Richardson was the co-author of this book, and he seems to agree with this view as well.
Shoebat believes that Mystery Babylon in Revelation 17 and 18 is a reference to Saudi Arabia where the infamous city of Mecca is located. Based on his argumentation, it would not be proper to say Shoebat believes that Mystery Babylon is the city of Mecca but rather the entirety of Saudi Arabia. That being said, it should be noted that in some of his articles for World Net Daily, he claims that Mystery Babylon is the city of Mecca in the title of the article, even though the argumentation within the article itself is the same argumentation in his books that Mystery Babylon is Saudi Arabia in general. Because I can’t be exactly sure where Shoebat stands on this issue I will make arguments against both positions.
Most of Shoebat’s arguments center around the references to the destruction of Babylon in the Old Testament. Because of that, it is important for us to first take a step back and refresh our memories on a few subjects.
In the book of Revelation chapters 17 and 18, we hear of the infamous Mystery Babylon. John describes her as a woman who is riding the seven-headed, ten-horned beast. Later the angel gives us the interpretation of this vision describing the woman as a “city” which is causing the world to sin, especially in relationship to the Antichrist beast that she is riding. It is not clear from the text of Revelation 17 and 18 if we are to see the title of Mystery Babylon as referring to the ancient city of Babylon revived, or if the title “Mystery” is suggesting that there is another, entirely different city in view that is acting like Babylon of old. There are many good scholars on both sides of that issue.
There are also many references to the destruction of Babylon in the Old Testament, notably in Isaiah and Jeremiah. There can be no question that at least some of the Old Testament prophecies were predicting the demise of the historical Babylon both by Cyrus the great when he walked unchallenged into the city of Babylon, thereby ending the Babylonian Empire, and by the Assyrian king Sennacherib when he completely destroyed the city of Babylon in an effort to put down a rebellion. At the same time many phrases found in the Old Testament prophecies about the destruction of Babylon are reused by John in the book of Revelation. These phrases, such as “Babylon is fallen, fallen,” are very interesting; clearly there is some kind of association that readers of the Mystery Babylon passages in Revelation are supposed to make with Old Testament prophecies of the destruction of Babylon. In addition, certain prophecies about the destruction of Babylon in the Old Testament, such as the one found in Isaiah 13, clearly use imagery associated with the Day of the Lord and the end times. This has led to speculation as to how much of the Old Testament prophecies about the destruction of Babylon were historical and how much of them should be seen as prophecies that will ultimately be fulfilled in the future.
It is difficult to talk of a general consensus among scholars on this issue, but it seems that most of the premillennial prophecy experts see the Old Testament prophecies about the destruction of Babylon much like they see prophecies about the Greek king Antiochus Epiphanies or the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. That is, they see these prophecies as having both a near and far fulfillment in which certain aspects of the prophecy have been fulfilled while other aspects of the same prophecy await a future fulfillment. Perhaps another way to say this is that though these prophecy experts tend to see the Old Testament prophecies about the destruction of the historical city of Babylon as being fulfilled in the past, they understand that Scripture is using that historical event as a picture or type of the future destruction of the so called Mystery Babylon in Revelation 17 and 18.
With all that in mind I am going to try to take each claim that Shoebat makes about Mystery Babylon in Revelation or the Old Testament prophecies about the destruction of Babylon on a case-by-case basis. I’ll try not to assume too much about how the prophecies in the Old Testament about Babylon and the prophecies in the New Testament about Mystery Babylon are related. I will say, however, that Shoebat’s method of interpreting these prophecies is extremely unorthodox, and while that is not always a bad thing, it should be noted that very few people, if any, in the history of the church would apply the methods of interpretation that he does.
The centerpiece of Shoebat’s argument that Mystery Babylon is Saudi Arabia is found in Isaiah 21 in which Isaiah predicts the fall of Babylon. I will quote the entire chapter here for your reference.
“The burden of the desert of the sea. As whirlwinds in the South pass through; so it cometh from the desert, from a terrible land. A grievous vision is declared unto me; the treacherous dealer deals treacherously, and the spoiler spoils. Go up, O Elam: besiege, O Media; all the sighing thereof have I made to cease. Therefore are my loins filled with pain: pangs have taken hold upon me, as the pangs of a woman that travails: I was bowed down at the hearing of it; I was dismayed at the seeing of it. My heart panted, fearfulness affrighted me: the night of my pleasure hath he turned into fear unto me. Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield. For thus hath the LORD said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he sees. And he saw a chariot with a couple of horsemen, a chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels; and he hearkened diligently with much heed: And he cried, A lion: My lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime, and I am set in my ward whole nights: And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground. O my threshing, and the corn of my floor: that which I have heard of the LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel, have I declared unto you.
“The burden of Dumah. He calls to me out of Seir, watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come.
“The burden upon Arabia. In the forest in Arabia shall ye lodge, O ye traveling companies of Dedanim. The inhabitants of the land of Tema brought water to him that was thirsty; they prevented with their bread him that fled. For they fled from the swords, from the drawn sword, and from the bent bow, and from the grievousness of war. For thus hath the LORD said unto me, Within a year, according to the years of an hireling, and all the glory of Kedar shall fail: And the residue of the number of archers, the mighty men of the children of Kedar, shall be diminished: for the LORD God of Israel hath spoken it.” (Isaiah 21)
Shoebat’s main point is that this chapter contains numerous references to cities he believes are in Arabia, such as Duma, Tema and Kedar. Here are a few quotes from his book that highlight his position.
“Some might argue that the context of Isaiah 21 is only historical. But it is difficult to ignore the multiple references throughout the Book of Isaiah to Kedar, Tema, Dedan and Dumah. Dumah is in Saudi Arabia near Yathrib (Medina), and today is known as “Dumat el-Jandal.”1
“Contenders to this interpretation would have a difficult time refuting the very direct Biblical references. The names used in these passages make it clear that the reference is not to Rome or literal Babylon on the Euphrates River. Not once do they speak of Rome, Nineveh, Ur, Babel, Erech, Accad, Sumer, Assur, Calneh, Mari, Karana, Ellpi, Eridu, Kish, or Tikrit. All of these literal locations are in Arabia, which was part of the ancient Babylonian Empire.”2
We can begin to see his position is that Isaiah 21 is not a prophecy of the destruction of historical Babylon but is instead solely a prophecy of the future destruction of Mystery Babylon. Further he believes that this prophecy is not even referencing the geographical area of Babylon in Mesopotamia but rather a reference to Saudi Arabia. In verse 9, which clearly tells us that “Babylon” is in view in this prophecy, he seems to disregard it as a metaphorical reference to Saudi Arabia.
There are so many problems with this interpretation that it is difficult to know where to begin, but I think it would be helpful to try to put this chapter in its historical context first because doing so almost debunks Shoebat’s argument by itself.
At the time Isaiah was writing, the main empire of the day was Assyria. Babylon at this time was a major city in the Assyrian Empire, even though the Assyrians had a difficult time controlling Babylon because the citizens of the city were constantly rebelling against Assyrian rule.
Throughout the book of Isaiah, Israel is decimated by the Assyrian Empire. Not only did the Assyrians destroy and capture the entire northern part of Israel, but they also laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed all the towns and villages in Judah that were not protected by the walls of Jerusalem. In other words, Israel had very good reason to hate and fear the Assyrians at this time.
At some point a number of countries in the area decided to rebel against the Assyrians. They thought that if they got enough people together, they would be able to defeat the Assyrian Empire and throw off its yolk. This rebellion was led in part by a man from Babylon named Merodach-Baladan. Keep in mind that at this point it would still be another 100 years or so before Babylon would actually defeat the Assyrians. Merodach-Baladan was nothing more than a rebel leader who seized the city of Babylon and proclaimed himself king, even though the Assyrians still technically controlled Babylon.
Both the Bible and ancient inscriptions tell us that the king of Judah, Hezekiah, decided to make political alliances with Merodach-Baladan in Babylon as well as with Egypt. Hezekiah’s plan was to join this rebellion against Assyria in hopes of gaining independence from Assyria, even though by doing so he would be essentially joining up with his sworn enemies. The old adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” probably describes his position fairly well. This was a very dangerous move on Hezekiah’s part because if their rebellion, led by Babylon, was defeated by Assyria, there would be nothing in the way of Assyria expanding its empire to an unprecedented size.
There are several occasions in the Bible where the prophet Isaiah warns Hezekiah and the people of Judah that making these political alliances is not just foolish, but against the will of God. Despite Isaiah’s warnings, Hezekiah joined Judah to the rebels and rolled the dice, putting all his hopes on Babylon and the rebel leader Merodach-Baladan’s ability to defeat the Assyrians.
The battle, when it finally came, was devastating for the rebel alliance. The Assyrian king Sennacherib, who by this time was totally fed up with all the trouble that the city of Babylon was causing Assyria, completely destroyed the city. The complete destruction of Babylon and its temples, down to the foundations, is attested to in the historical inscriptions of the time as well as by modern archeologists. The destruction of Babylon shocked the world, mainly because temples in the city, which were considered very holy by many in the area, were also destroyed. Later when Sennacherib’s sons assassinated him, they seemed to suggest it was in retaliation for his completely destroying Babylon and its temples. Eight years later, the Assyrians began rebuilding the city from scratch. This marks the only time in history that the city of Babylon was completely destroyed.
After the Babylonian rebellion was crushed, the Assyrian Empire expanded significantly to the east and to the south. They finally conquered Egypt as well as the areas in northern Arabia that were specifically mentioned by Isaiah in chapter 21.
I will now begin making the case that Isaiah 21 should be viewed as prophecy describing the events I have just discussed; the references to the places in Arabia can easily be explained in this context.
Before I begin, I want to assure the reader that I have no trouble with understanding certain prophecies as having both a near and far fulfillment. I see other prophecies about Babylon in Isaiah as requiring us to understand them with that near/far concept in mind. At the same time, I do not see in Isaiah 21 the same “Day of the Lord” language as I see in Isaiah 13 and, therefore, see no reason in the text that demands chapter 21 should be seen as having a near and far fulfillment, let alone as having only a future fulfillment, as Shoebat claims.
I would also like to point out that many commentators, especially those of the previous centuries, have seen Isaiah 21 as a reference to Cyrus the Great’s conquest of the city of Babylon in 539 BC, which is pictured in Daniel 5, despite the fact that neither the city nor the temples were destroyed at that time. However, as more archeological evidence has become available in the last century, giving us specific details of the events Isaiah lived through and wrote about, we now can see a perfect match with the events described in Isaiah 21 and Sennacherib’s destruction of the Babylonian rebellion in 689 BC. As we will see, this not only explains many of the details of Isaiah 21 that were previously a mystery, but it also connects us to the very issues that Isaiah was writing about, such as the foolishness of Hezekiah making alliances with Babylon and Egypt. Thus it is a great theological lesson about failing to trust God that would be difficult to reconcile with any other interpretations.
This is not to say that I believe all references to the destruction of Babylon in Isaiah or Jeremiah refer to the 689 BC event; neither does it mean that I think every prophecy of Babylon’s destruction in the Old Testament is purely historical. Rather, I think each prophecy should be examined on a case-by-case basis, and in this case, I think Isaiah 21 is primarily a reference to the destruction of Babylon by Sennacherib in 689 BC.
One question that seems impossible to explain, if Shoebat’s interpretation of Isaiah 21 is correct, is why Isaiah, who sees himself as a “watchman” in this passage, is so upset when he hears the news of Babylon’s destruction in verse 9. He is “fearful,” “dismayed,” and his “pleasure has turned into fear” upon hearing the news that Babylon is fallen. It’s not as though this watchman can be seen as a pagan who is upset at Babylon being destroyed, because in verse 10 he tells us he is a servant of “the LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel.”
This makes sense only if you understand the context of the rest of the book of Isaiah, in which the prophet has warned Hezekiah of making alliances with Babylon and Egypt against Assyria. Upon hearing the news that Babylon, in whom Hezekiah has put his hopes of salvation, has fallen, there will be no one to stop the expansion of Assyria and thus is terrible news for Israel.
What about all the references to Arabian cities in the chapter? It is because of these references that Shoebat claims that Mystery Babylon is in Arabia, so we need to look closely at each reference to one of these cities.
“The burden of Dumah. He calls to me out of Seir, watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come.” (Isaiah 21:11–12)
This little prophecy comes directly after the section about the fall of Babylon and is pretty vague. It pictures the watchman being asked by a passerby “what of the night” and the watchman basically tells him that the morning is coming but also the night”
Dumah was a town located halfway between Israel and Babylon in Northern Arabia. It was the principal city of the Kedarites (a fact that will be important later). Because Dumah lay halfway between Babylon and Israel on a major trade route, it would be natural to inquire of the watchman for news of the events in Babylon. When we look at this in context, we see a man asking the watchman for news of the battle that was described earlier in the chapter, the one where Babylon rebelled against Assyria. The watchman essentially tells the person that there will be a kind of calm before the storm. He essentially says, “Yes, morning is about to come, but night is coming after that.” This is a particularly important prophecy when you consider the historical context. Dumah had a particular interest in the outcome of Babylon’s rebellion against Assyria since they too had thrown their lot in with the Babylonians in previous rebellions against Assyria.34 A year before the fall of Babylon to the Assyrians, Dumah was captured by the Assyrians and the Kedarite queen Te'elkhunu, who ruled from Dumah, was taken captive back to Assyria. The people in Dumah were devastated and were hoping the rebellion against Assyria by Babylon would be successful. However, as we know the rebellion was not successful and there would be no escape for the people of Dumah from the Assyrians. The people of Dumah, although now firmly under the Assyrian yoke, continued to rebel against Assyria in the years that followed but were defeated each time.
Walid Shoebat attempts to convince his readers that the mere mention of Dumah in Isaiah 21 means that Arabia is in view when the watchman speaks of “Babylon.” Shoebat doesn’t even attempt to explain the context of the passage or why Dumah is mentioned by the prophet. He simply makes the case that since the word Dumah appears in Isaiah 21 and that Dumah is in Arabia, Babylon really means Arabia.
One of the interesting patterns we will see is Shoebat trying his best to make it seem as if these place names are much further south in Arabia. Saying things like “Dumah is in Saudi Arabia near Medina.” In reality Dumah is closer to Israel or Babylon than it is Medina. The point here is that though these cities are technically in Arabia, they are all in the very north of Arabia, the only part of Arabia that would fall under Assyrian control. In addition, these cities all have something very important in common; they all had an interest in the Babylonian rebellion against Assyria and as a result of the fall of Babylon, every one of them would soon be swallowed up by the unchecked power of the Assyrian Empire.
The next place name in Isaiah 21 mentioned by Shoebat is Kedar. He makes the following statement about Kedar in his book.
“It is likely that Mecca is the ‘glory of Kedar’ mentioned in verse 16.”5
Shoebat gives his readers no clue as to why Kedar is “likely” to be a reference to Mecca; he simply states this as if it were true and then moves on. To be blunt, there is not a shred of evidence to back up this statement and quite a lot of reasons to refute it.
The Kedarites were a nomadic people who lived in parts of Transjordan and Northern Arabia We know quite a bit about where they lived from various historical records. For example, eighth century BC Assyrian inscriptions place the Kedarites as living in the area to the east of the western border of Babylon. They moved further east into areas of the Transjordan and southern Syria in the seventh century BC, and by the fifth century BC they had spread into the Sinai and as far as the Nile Delta.
By all accounts the Kedarites never extended anywhere near Mecca; at any given time in their history they were hundreds of miles north of Mecca. How could the “glory of Kedar” be a reference to Mecca when they never even came close to the city? We may never know since Shoebat never elaborates on this point.
The principal cities of the Kedarites were Tema, Dedan, and Dumah, all of which are mentioned in Isaiah 21. Dumah, which we have already mentioned, was the capital of the Kedarites. It was a very important religious and political center for them as it was strategically placed on an important trade route, making it sought after by the Assyrians and Babylonians.
Let’s look at what Isaiah says about Kedar to learn whether there are good reasons to see this as having any kind of historical fulfillment.
“The burden against Arabia. In the forest in Arabia you will lodge, O you traveling companies of Dedanites. O inhabitants of the land of Tema, Bring water to him who is thirsty; With their bread they met him who fled. For they fled from the swords, from the drawn sword, From the bent bow, and from the distress of war. For thus the Lord has said to me: ‘Within a year, according to the year of a hired man, all the glory of Kedar will fail; and the remainder of the number of archers, the mighty men of the people of Kedar, will be diminished; for the Lord God of Israel has spoken it.’” (Isaiah 21:13-17)
The Kedarites were considered to be synonymous with “Arabs.” This can be seen clearly in several ways, both in the Bible,6 as well as in historical inscriptions.
Geoffrey W. Bromiley points out7:
“Statements about the Qedarites in the annals of the Assyrian kings of Ashurbanipal and his son Esarhaddon indicate that the term Kedar was almost synonymous with Arabia. Hazael, who ruled c. 690–676 BC, is described as a Qedarite king by Ashurbanipal and ‘king of the Arabs’ by Esarhaddon.”
Thus, though it should be obvious from the context, the “burden against Arabia” in verse 13 is a burden against the Kedarites who are considered the kings of Arabia. This is made even more obvious because the three cities listed in the passage are the three principal cities of Kedar.
The rest of this prophecy is a picture of refugees fleeing. It seems contextually as though these refugees are fleeing from the battle with Assyria since the aforementioned trade route that goes out of Babylon leads strait to Dumah and the other Kedarite cities where the refugees would seek food and shelter.
The last two verses seem to be telling Kedar to give this aid to the refugees fleeing Babylon because in a short time it will be they who will conquered by Assyria, just like the refugees they are told to help.
“Within a year, according to the year of a hired man, all the glory of Kedar will fail; and the remainder of the number of archers, the mighty men of the people of Kedar, will be diminished.” (Isaiah 21:16)
The prophet says this will happen “within a year.” I believe that this is most properly to be understood as a year after this prophecy was given to them by the prophet Isaiah or perhaps a year after the refugees flee. In either case the prophecy seems to be accurate. I believe it is speaking of when they heard this prophecy, and thus determining when the prophet delivered this message is of some importance.
Although it is difficult to determine exactly when this section of Isaiah was written, we can get a pretty good idea. We know that Isaiah lived between 739-681 BC and most scholars think chapters one through thirty-nine were written somewhere around 700 BC, though finding the exact date for each prophecy within those chapters is difficult if not impossible. We know the Kedarites were conquered by the Assyrians in 690 BC, so just based on the most basic assumptions, we at least know that this prophecy of the Kedarites being conquered was fulfilled nine years before Isaiah died. In other words, he lived through the fulfillment of this prophecy; therefore, it is not hard to believe that he really did give them this message exactly one year before it happened.
The “glory of Kedar” could either be a symbolic reference to the good things of Kedar or it could be a reference to the fall of its capital city, Dumah. I believe the latter is the more likely option. When the Assyrians captured Dumah in 690 BC the Kedarite queen was taken captive and Assyrian rule was established. Dumah was by far the most glorious city of the Kedarites, and it contained the principal temple to the goddess Ishtar.
Shoebat doesn’t discuss in his book the references to Elam and Media in Isaiah 21:2, probably because they could never be said to live in Arabia, but I will make a brief mention of them and the most likely reason they are mentioned by the prophet.
Elam and Media were both long-time enemies of Assyria and long-time allies with one another. In fact, they formed the core of the Medo-Persian Empire that would come much later. They both joined several rebellions against the Assyrians around this time, and Elam played a major role in Merodach-Baladan’s rebel coalition, which resulted in the destruction of Babylon. Like all the other nations listed in this chapter, they had a lot to lose if the rebellion against Assyria failed. Indeed after Sennacherib destroyed Babylon, the Assyrians were able to spread their influence much further into Elam and Media, and though Elam and the Medes still rebelled from time to time, they would remain firmly under the Assyrian yoke after the fall of Babylon. Therefore, “Go up, O Elam: besiege, O Media” is a reference to Elam and Media’s participation in the rebellion against Assyria. In the New America Commentary, Larry Walker agrees with this when he says of the participation of Elam and the Medes:
“This probably relates to the Assyrian attack on Babylon around 689 BC. Babylon's neighbors are being encouraged to attack the Assyrian invading forces.”8
To make his case that Babylon is not in view but rather Mystery Babylon, which he says is Arabia, Shoebat points to the first verse in Isaiah 21:
“The burden of the desert of the sea.” (Isaiah 21:1)
He argues that this can’t be about Babylon in Mesopotamia since Babylon is neither “of” nor “by” the sea (both translations are possible). He says that Saudi Arabia is in view because it is bordered by the Red Sea on the west and the Persian Gulf on the east. Typically Bible scholars see this “desert of the sea” phrase as a reference to Babylon sitting between two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, and to the marshy conditions that surrounded the city. If this were the case, we would be encouraged that the same word for “sea” was used in other places to describe rivers that formed marshlands, such as the Nile delta (Isaiah 11:15).
The problem for Shoebat here is that verse 9 tells us bluntly that this burden is about “Babylon” and, whether we like it or not, we must, therefore, understand the “desert of/by the sea” as a poetic term that refers to Babylon. Such an understanding is made much easier when you find other instances of God referring to the rivers of Babylon as a “sea.” For example, when Jeremiah is referring to the destruction of Babylon he says:
“Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will plead your case and take vengeance for you. I will dry up her [Babylon’s] sea and make her springs dry.’” (Jeremiah 51:36)
We have taken a look at the centerpiece of Shoebat’s argument that Mystery Babylon is Saudi Arabia, which is found in Isaiah 21. As we have seen, his argument that there is no historical fulfillment of the events of Isaiah 21 is simply not true. There seems to be a perfect fulfillment in history with the complete destruction of Babylon in 689 BC by Sennacherib. We have also seen that the Arabian cities mentioned in Isaiah 21 which play such an important role in Shoebat’s view, have a very natural reason for appearing in the context of a prophecy about the geopolitical fallout that occurs after the destruction of Babylon in 689 BC and the expansion of the Assyrian Empire. There is no reason to suggest the mere appearance of these cities in the text gives us a license to suggest that “Babylon” in verse 9 should be understood as “Saudi Arabia.”
We will now move on to some of the other arguments that Shoebat makes in his attempt to equate Mystery Babylon of Revelation 17-18 with Saudi Arabia.
Revelation 18 describes how sea merchants will lament at the destruction of Mystery Babylon because they will no longer be able to sell the city their merchandise. Verse 9 says that these people will be able to see the smoke that arises from Mystery Babylon from far off. Walid Shoebat makes the following claim about this event in his book, God’s War on Terror:
“Where are these sea captains when they hear and view this destruction? Jeremiah tells us they will be in the Red Sea: ‘The earth is moved at the noise of their fall, at the cry the noise thereof was heard in the Red Sea’” (Jeremiah 49:21).9
Let’s examine Jeremiah 49:21 in context to see if this verse is really telling us that the merchants who see Mystery Babylon’s smoke in Revelation 18:9 are seeing that smoke from the Red Sea.
“Therefore hear the counsel of the Lord that He has taken against Edom,
And His purposes that He has proposed against the inhabitants of Teman:
Surely the least of the flock shall draw them out;
Surely He shall make their dwelling places desolate with them.
The earth shakes at the noise of their fall;
At the cry its noise is heard at the Red Sea.” (Jeremiah 49:20-21)
The first thing you might notice is that this prophecy isn’t even about historical Babylon at all; it’s about Edom. I would consider it bad form just to apply prophecies of historical Babylon directly to Mystery Babylon, but here Shoebat is going one step further by applying historical prophecies that have nothing to do with Babylon to Mystery Babylon!
In another place, Shoebat tells his readers that is OK for him to use prophecies about Edom and apply them to Mystery Babylon because small parts of Edom were located in modern day Saudi Arabia (very small parts), and since he believes Saudi Arabia is Mystery Babylon, he deems this to be an acceptable way to interpret Scripture when in fact it is nothing more than circular reasoning.
One more reason Shoebat believes it’s OK to treat prophecies of Edom as prophecies of the future Mystery Babylon is that he believes Psalm 137:7–8 says that Edom is the “Daughter of Babylon.”
“The Psalms even give us a literal reference to Edom being the daughter of Babylon (born of Babylon): ‘Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom the day of Jerusalem, who said, “Raze it, raze it, to its very foundation! O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed”’ (Psalm 137:7–8).”10
Let’s take a closer look to see why this verse isn’t saying that Edom is the “daughter of Babylon” at all.
In Psalm 137 we have a lament about the Israelites in bondage in Babylon. They are sad because they are being forced to sing happy songs by their Babylonian captors even though they quite naturally don’t feel happy at all. In verse 7 the psalmist is remembering that when the Babylonians destroyed the city of Jerusalem, their neighbors, the Edomites, rejoiced and even encouraged the Babylonian soldiers. This Edomite encouragement of the Babylonians soldiers can be seen in other places in Scripture (see Lamentations 4:21–22; Ezekiel 25:12; Ezekiel 35:5; Obadiah 1:10–14).
The issue, however, is with the next two verses in the psalm:
“O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed,
Happy the one who repays you as you have served us!
Happy the one who takes and dashes
Your little ones against the rock!”(Psalm 137:8–9)
This is talking about Babylon, not Edom! The Psalmist has at this point resumed speaking against Babylon and is reminding Babylon of their ultimate destruction. The term “Daughter of Babylon” is used in several places to describe the people of Babylon (Isaiah 47:1, Jeremiah 50:42, Jeremiah 51:33, Zechariah 2:7). The word Edom doesn’t even appear in any of those chapters. Referring to the “daughter” of a city is a very common biblical motif that refers to the people of that city.
I have read ten commentaries on this passage so far, and every single one of them understands “the daughter of Babylon” in Psalm 137:8 to be a reference to Babylon and not Edom. Walid Shoebat seems to be alone in his understanding of Psalm 137:8, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing if he weren’t using this interpretation to justify another interpretation, that is its OK to see references to biblical Edom as references to Mystery Babylon.
Getting back to his original claim, let’s try to overlook the fact that he is actually using a reference to Edom and telling his readers it’s about Mystery Babylon. Let’s test the merits of this interpretation using other criteria.
Remember, he said that Jeremiah 49 tells us the sea in which the merchants see the smoke of Mystery Babylon’s burning is the Red Sea. However, the verse he is referring to only says “the cry its noise is heard at the Red Sea.” This is talking about when Edom falls, people will be able to hear the noise as far as the Red Sea. This isn’t saying anything about merchants seeing smoke at all. In addition it’s totally logical to speak of the noise of Edom’s fall being heard at the Red Sea because Edom is touched by the Red Sea on its southwestern border.
To sum up this point, Shoebat’s claim that Jeremiah 49 tells us the merchants who see the smoke of Mystery Babylon’s burning in Revelation 18:9 are in the Red Sea is incompetent at best, and dishonest at worst. There is no mention of anyone seeing smoke or anything else in Jeremiah 49, nor are merchants mentioned at all. The fact that he uses a prophecy of Edom’s destruction in Jeremiah 49 and calls it a prophecy about Mystery Babylon is simply untenable, and his reasons for justifying such an interpretation are just as bad.
The city of Mystery Babylon is pictured in several places as having a cup of wine in her hand (Revelation 17:4, 18:3). In Revelation 18:3 it is said that the nations become drunk on her wine:
“For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.” (Revelation 18:3)
Walid Shoebat claims that the wine in the harlot’s cup is oil, and since Saudi Arabia is a very large producer of the world’s oil, this interpretation would obviously fit with his view that Saudi Arabia is Mystery Babylon. Shoebat argues that the nations will be intoxicated with their need for oil and this need for oil draws them into the Antichrist’s system.
I will attempt to refute Shoebat’s idea by taking a closer look at what Scripture says about this cup of wine Mystery Babylon is holding to see if his interpretation holds up to scrutiny.
Revelation 17:4 tells us the woman’s cup is filled with “abominations and the filthiness of her fornication”
“Having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication.” (Revelation 17:4b)
In Revelation 18:4 this is reiterated when it says the cup contains the “wine of the wrath (or fierceness) of her fornication.”
Regardless of their ultimate viewpoint as to the identity of Mystery Babylon, scholars typically see this cup as a symbol of the harlot’s fornication with the Antichrist. The picture being painted is that of a city having embraced the Antichrist and his doctrine with such passion that the rest of the world is made drunk by the intensity, or “wrath,” of this city’s religious fornication with the beast.
If we take Shoebat’s view that this cup contains oil, then the descriptions given to the contents of the cup do not make sense. It would mean that oil in itself is an “abomination,” “filthy,” and considered to be “fornication.” It’s important to recognize that when it uses this strong language, it is clearly talking about the actual contents of the cup; therefore, one must be ready to conclude that oil, in itself, is an abomination to God.
It is highly unlikely that crude oil would be considered sinful by God. While it is no doubt true that many terrible things have come about because of the use of oil, many good things have come about as well, such as missionaries being able to travel all over the world. Other types of oil were used in biblical times for a variety of purposes, such as lamps and anointing kings. One might argue that this was olive oil or other types of vegetable oil and thus didn’t need to be taken out of the ground. However, many other things, such as minerals, were taken out of the ground and made use of in biblical times. We never see a single hint in all of Scripture that using the natural resources of the earth is sinful in itself. However, believing that oil is inherently sinful is the logical outcome of Shoebat’s interpretation because the text is so clear that the wine itself is an abomination, not the act of letting the kings drink it.
I would also argue that this interpretation strips Mystery Babylon of her harlot status because the wine of her fornication and abomination is the very reason she is pictured as a harlot in the first place. She is committing the worst kind of fornication and abomination by embracing the Antichrist and promoting him to the rest of the world. If you replace that wine with oil, all she is really doing is selling oil to people, which does not seem nearly a bad enough crime to warrant her being labeled as a whore.
This interpretation also seems to suggest that the world is made to worship the Antichrist primarily because of oil. While I agree that the threat of being cut off from Saudi Arabia’s oil would be a major blow to the economy, it should be noted that, while they produce 13.80 percent of the world’s oil (as of 2014), the United States produces 13.09 percent, almost exactly as much. I can hardly imagine that Saudi Arabia’s refusal to sell oil to the world would lead the world to convert to Islam just to attain 13 percent more oil.
This idea of oil being the wine in the harlot’s cup does not adhere to sound methods of interpreting the Bible. I would be surprised if there is a single scholar who would endorse such a view, and as far as I know, none do.
In Revelation 17:3 John is taken by an angel to the wilderness to see a vision of Mystery Babylon. We are told this occurs “in the Spirit.”
“So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.” (Revelation 17:3)
This is similar to other visions that were given to Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel, who was also taken “in the spirit” to see part of God’s plan in the form of a vision.
“The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones.” (Ezekiel 37:1)
Walid Shoebat makes the case in his book that the word wilderness here, which can just as easily be translated “desert,” necessitates that the city in view here must be found in a desert. He believes this is an argument in support of his theory that Mystery Babylon is Saudi Arabia.
It does not seem at all clear that we are to understand the wilderness or desert to have a literal referent any more than the “waters” in which the beast sits. In 17:15 we are told by the angel that the water is a symbolic representations of many peoples and nations. Similarly we are told the woman in the vision is a symbolic representation of a city, and the beast’s heads are really kings.
It could be said that the waters and the woman were only elements of the vision, but the desert was the location of the vision and so is to be taken more literally than the elements of the vision itself. While this could be true, we must also remember that John, in the book of Revelation, is carried by angels to several places, and not all of those places would fit if we applied Sheobat’s methods. For example, in Revelation 13 John is taken to a seashore where he watches the Antichrist rise out of the sea. If we were to apply the same interpretation here, we must conclude that the Antichrist comes from somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea. Interestingly Shoebat, in the case of Revelation 13, sees the location of the vision as symbolic. Here in Revelation 13, he understands the sea to be symbolic of gentile nations, a point we will discuss in a later chapter. In essence, he is interpreting this in the exact opposite fashion that he does in Revelation 17. If this hermeneutic cannot be consistently applied in the same book, regarding the exact same seven-headed beast, it would seem to be a faulty method of interpretation.
To be fair there are many instances when the location that God took the prophets to have a vision has a clear correlation to the location of the events that he showed them. For example, Ezekiel is taken “in the Spirit” to Jerusalem to see the idolatry and Tammuz worship that was secretly going on in the temple (Ezekiel 8:1–13). However, in that case the vision was not at all symbolic; it was simply God showing Ezekiel the people and places He wanted Ezekiel to see. This correlation to the vision’s location with the events shown may not be the case when the vision is highly symbolic in nature, like so many of the visions in the book of Revelation. If we look at the vision of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37, which is much more symbolic, we see that he has again been transported “in the Spirit” by God. In this case he is taken to an unnamed valley. Here he sees a symbolic vision of Israel coming back from desolation, pictured as bones coming back to life. He also sees symbolic pictures of the two houses of Israel being reunited, as well as the start of the messianic kingdom. In this case are we to understand that this valley is where all these events will take place? If the Bible commentaries are correct, this valley that Ezekiel was taken to is the same one mentioned in Ezekiel 3:22, namely a valley near Tel-Abib in Syria. Surely Shoebat wouldn’t claim that the Messianic Kingdom will be centered in Syria because that is the location of this vision. If it is not a picture of that valley, then it could simply be a sort of “theater” in which to see symbolic visions. If this is the case, there is no reason to see the wilderness in Revelation 17 as the location for the symbolic events any more than the valley is the location for the symbolic events in Ezekiel 37.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the wilderness/desert in Revelation 17:3 is not just a theater of sorts for John’s vision, but rather that he was taken to some specific desert and this location plays a major role in the interpretation of the events in Revelation 17-18.
It should be noted that the most common usage for the Greek word translated as wilderness or desert in the New Testament refers to the wilderness of Judea. This desert is located less than five miles from the city of Jerusalem. It was in this desert that John the Baptist preached and Jesus spent forty days before he began His ministry. Jesus often went into this desert to pray. It is just as logical, if not more so, to understand the wilderness or desert in Revelation 17:3 as the Judean desert. I mention this to make the point that there are many possible places that could be in view in Revelation 17:3. To assume it is referring to Saudi Arabia above all the others, just because a wilderness is mentioned, would be very presumptuous.
It could also be the case that the Judean wilderness served as the theater for John to see the symbolic vision simply because of its significance to the events being described about the Antichrist. We know, for example, that the Antichrist will spend a great deal of time in Jerusalem, if not a majority of his time (Daniel 9:27, Matthew 24:15–16, 2 Thessalonians 2:4). Therefore watching a symbolic representation of the actions of the Antichrist from the Judean wilderness on the border of Jerusalem would be natural.
Most of the rest of Shoebat’s arguments for Saudi Arabia being Mystery Babylon are very general and, as such, can and have been applied to just about every candidate for Mystery Babylon in history. For example Shoebat spends a great deal of time telling us that Saudi Arabia is very wealthy. This may be true, but if we put Saudi Arabia’s wealth in context it is only the thirteenth richest nation in the world, just behind South Korea. It doesn’t sound nearly as interesting when you put it that way.
I feel that many commentators miss the point with this type of argumentation. Mystery Babylon’s wealth is related to the Antichrist and his massive conquests. We are told that he receives large amounts of gold from the nations he conquers during his rise to power (Daniel 11:43). In addition he seems to be able to control the buying and selling of all items sold in the world (Revelation 13:17), not to mention that he will be worshipped by the world. In other words, the Antichrist’s wealth has not been made yet; his city won’t become the political, military, and economic powerhouse it is said to be until he shows up. Therefore, all this talk about which nation is currently the strongest, the richest, or the most blasphemous is a waste of time. All we have are the words of Scripture to tell us what the Antichrist’s kingdom will be once he arrives. To say this another way, the chapters about Mystery Babylon tell us of the capital city of a future empire. And though that city almost certainly exists today, it is almost a guarantee that it does not currently act as it will when it becomes the capital city of the Antichrist.
Before concluding this chapter about Mystery Babylon, I would like to make a few other points that were not specifically addressed by Walid Shoebat in his book.
The angel in Revelation 17:18, while interpreting John’s vision, says the woman is a city.
“And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.” (Revelation 17:18)
Mystery Babylon is referred to as a city eight times in Revelation, and many of the things that happen to it in the narrative seem to be talking about a literal city. It is difficult to believe that the angel got this point wrong or that we are to understand the angel’s interpretation as an allegory, considering the fact that the whole purpose of the angel’s interpreting the vision was to explain the literal truth of John’s allegorical vision.
Shoebat claims that Mystery Babylon is not a city but rather Saudi Arabia. It may be argued that Shoebat occasionally says Mystery Babylon is Mecca, a particular city in Saudi Arabia. For example, he wrote an article for World Net Daily called “Mystery Babylon Is Mecca Not Vatican.”11 Yet in that article he uses the same argument discussed in this chapter (that Arabian cities are mentioned in Isaiah 21), which can only be an argument for Saudi Arabia, not Mecca. If Shoebat does believe that Mystery Babylon is Mecca and not Saudi Arabia, then he should write a new book with new arguments because most of the arguments for Saudi Arabia used in his book are not interchangeable with Mecca at all.
Another point that argues against Mystery Babylon being Saudi Arabia is that Saudi Arabia cannot be said to contain the “blood of the prophets.” It is true that Saudi Arabia is no friend to Jews or Christians, but if the term “prophets” in Revelation 18:24 refers to the biblical prophets, then we can say with certainty that Saudi Arabia is not in view, since no biblical prophets were killed there.
I believe that the best argument against Saudi Arabia, or any other candidate for Mystery Babylon, is the positive argument because if you truly have the correct view about Mystery Babylon or any other doctrine, then everything will fall into place. The difficult passage will no longer be difficult, and the mysteries will no longer be mysteries. I believe I know the correct view of Mystery Babylon (don’t we all right?). I wrote a book about it a few years back. However because of my commitment not to use my own personal views to debunk the Islamic Antichrist view in this section, I will refrain from explaining my view here. If you would like to know more, I will include in Appendix 3 of this book a short summary of my views about Mystery Babylon.