by John W. Ritenbaugh
For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments; and He repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them. He will not be slack with him who hates Him; He will repay him to his face. Therefore you shall keep the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments which I command you today, to observe them.
God succinctly expresses that the basis of His and Israel's relationship is found in His faithfulness to His promises. At the same time, He openly declares His love for her, adding that she could add nothing to Him. In other words, He did not seek her out to "get" something from her as humans do. This passage also stipulates that Israel's responsibility in the relationship was to be faithful to Him by keeping His commandments, statutes, and judgments. These terms contain nothing hidden or mysterious.
Moses wrote Deuteronomy early in the relationship, but later writings vividly portray what happened. This article will explain why this tremendously beneficial relationship degenerated and how Israel earned the names Sodom, Egypt, Babylon, harlot, and mother of harlots in the book of Revelation. Like an inset chapter in Revelation, this article will provide background information to help make understanding fuller, deeper, and clearer. It may be somewhat of a digression, but one intended to highlight practical applications that might otherwise be missed.
Most of us live in the midst of the end-time manifestation of Babylon the Great. We, like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, are surrounded by it and subject to its influence minute-by-minute. Regardless of where we live, we are captive to it and cannot physically flee from it because it is a worldwide system. However, we can resist it and escape its spiritual influence if we understand what draws us to it and what we must do to counteract its seductive attraction. Recognizing it is essential to coming out of it.
A Deceitful Bow
God informs us in Psalm 78:56-57 of a devious characteristic He found in Israel: "Yet they tested and provoked the Most High God and did not keep His testimonies, but turned back and acted unfaithfully like their fathers; they were turned aside like a deceitful bow." A deceitful bow is one that gives every appearance of being good and true to its purpose until put to the test. In the pressure of battle, it fails to shoot arrows where the archer aims them.
This illustration is one of the many ways God describes His marriage relationship with Israel. He describes her in Ezekiel 16 as being like a beautiful woman, full of promise, who eagerly entered into marriage with Him, vowing to Him as she agreed to the covenant, "All that the Lord has said we will do and be obedient" (Exodus 24:7). However, under the tests of life, she did not behave like a faithful wife. She quickly broke her vows to be submissive to Him and Him only, unfaithfully behaving worse than a common street harlot! Notice this description of their relationship in Ezekiel 16:27-30:
"Behold, therefore, I stretched out My hand against you, diminished your allotment, and gave you up to the will of those who hate you, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. You also played the harlot with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable; indeed you played the harlot with them and still were not satisfied. Moreover you multiplied your acts of harlotry as far as the land of the trader, Chaldea; and even then you were not satisfied. How degenerate is you heart!" says the Lord God, "seeing you do all these things, the deeds of a brazen harlot."
Where Do the Clues Point?
At this point, it is helpful to remember that the book of Ezekiel indicates that its message applies to the end time. Clearly addressed to Israel, it was written more than a hundred years after the nation of Israel fell in warfare to Assyria and was transported into captivity. Ancient Judah heard its message, but Judah comprised only a small part of Israel. The majority of Israel never received this message, even though God addressed it to them.
Through Ezekiel, God uses what happened before the prophet's time as the basis for end-time prophecies—histories written in advance to guide the end-time church of God. Ancient Israel has regrouped in what the media frequently refer to as "the West," and most of the end-time church is located within its boundaries. Because modern Israel's conduct has closely paralleled ancient Israel's, we can learn how God evaluates us and what will happen in the years ahead.
How can God make such a harsh judgment as to call Israel Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon? Luke 12:47-48 contains a principle of judgment that explains why:
And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.
No other nation in the history of mankind has been given so much, especially concerning the knowledge of God and how people must conduct their lives. Israel should know better than to act as it does, therefore its judgment is sterner. God holds Israel to standards higher than He holds other nations to.
Does the Bible truly define its own symbols? If it does, then the "woman" figure is surely its symbol for a city or nation. There is no doubt the Woman riding the Beast in Revelation 17 symbolizes an entity of considerable power, as she is portrayed as controlling the fearsome Beast. She is not a church.
Ancient Babylon is the model for the Woman of Revelation 17 and 18. Was ancient Babylon only a church? No! Ancient Babylon was both a city and nation that manufactured, conducted business, and made war. Did it have its brands of religion? Of course it did. However, Babylon was far more—it was a highly developed, complete, anti-God culture founded by Nimrod and developed to its ancient peak of power by Nebuchadnezzar.
The end-time Mystery, Babylon the Great, will be the same complete package, only far greater in terms of its influence and power because these are now worldwide. It is Babylon the Great. Most of us reading this article live in the end-time epitome of Babylon.
The name "Mystery" has an interesting aspect. Conservative, Protestant commentaries all make a point to say the Woman is the Catholic Church. If that is true, then everybody—even commentators who lived hundreds of years ago—already seems to know who she is. Where is the mystery?
The Beast's power is symbolically portrayed in Revelation 13 as consisting of the strongest parts of a bear, leopard, and lion, each of which is a fearsome beast in its own right. Does not the question in Revelation 13:4, "Who can make war with him?" proclaim the Beast's power is such that nobody would even attempt it? The question implies fear to make war against it, yet the Woman in Revelation 17 is riding the Beast. She is shown in the position of control, as the rider of a horse directs the much stronger horse to go where he wants it to go.
Previously, we searched the Bible for evidence of the Woman's characteristics to determine her identity among today's peoples. There is no other viable candidate than Israel, the end-time progeny of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Only with Israel did God make a marriage covenant, reveal Himself, and give His Word. Israel is a nation of unparalleled blessings and grave responsibilities that nonetheless turned its back on its great blessings, even forgetting who it is.
Israel is a deceitful bow; unfaithfulness in its relationship with God is a key to its identity. God has identified where Israel is now located, and it remains to be seen whether we will take advantage of this revelation and humbly submit in gratitude to the great God, allowing Him to carry out His works of creation in us. His revelation of the mysterious but tremendously influential Woman of Revelation 17 is given, as Paul says in Romans 16:26, "for obedience to the faith."
We saw the Woman described as proud to the point of arrogance, wealthy, and committed to a lifestyle featuring a compromising, self-absorbed avoidance of suffering. In light of biblical clues, to whom can this apply except Israel?
In the Woman's impatient desire not to suffer, she will compromise with righteousness by telling all manner of lies to herself and others. To please herself, she pushes aside her covenant responsibility of submitting to His commandments, statutes, and judgments. God does not demand that one should seek to suffer, for in itself suffering is not inherently righteous. Indeed, suffering in the wrong attitude is destructive, not edifying. He hates the Woman's deceitful, compromising attitude.
Through modern Israel's example, we see hypocrisy on an international scale as she deceitfully palms herself off as a Christian nation—a nation of people who have made the New Covenant with God to be faithful to Him. Is Israel Christian? How does Israel manifest its massive, worldwide harlotry? Mystery, Babylon the Great is not a church, but does she have a religious component to her? Absolutely!
The religious component is not just what this world considers as Christianity, but it also consists of a wide variety of "New Age" religions, which are nothing more than pantheistic worship of the occult—witchcraft and demon worship in a nice dress. It also practices a number of the doctrines of ancient Gnosticism woven into its modern "Christian" religion. Occult worship has also given birth to Hinduism and its spin-off, Buddhism. In addition, Israel has made Islam its own. Israel exports a tremendously wide variety of idolatries, including the worship of celebrities from the film and athletic industries. We, more than any other nation, have accepted these false religions and spread them worldwide.
Most, if not all, of these are nothing more than direct descendants and modern representations of the religious forms established in ancient Babylon under Nimrod and Semiramis. Israel had a great deal of contact with the Babylon of Daniel and Jeremiah's day, Egypt, Canaan, Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Israel adopted parts of each of these cultures and adapted them to her faithless relationship with God. Each of these added to the list of what God in His Word calls fornications or adulteries. The spiritual reality is that these adopted practices were idolatry.
Revelation 12:9 states, "So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." One of the greatest end-time deceptions Satan has perpetrated has been to convince people that the Israelitish countries are Christian. A direct result of this has been the impulse in Israelites to colonize, partly in order to spread and share its "gospel" with those considered heathen. In so doing, she has spread the wine of her religious influence worldwide. All it has succeeded in doing is to give Christianity a bad name and to spread lies about the true God and the purpose He is working out.
The Dutch were the first of the modern Israelitish nations to carry their Babylonish/Roman brand of Christianity to other nations as they sought raw materials, cheap labor, and markets for their manufactured goods. The French, the British, and the Americans in turn followed their example.
Genesis 49:22 predicts regarding Joseph, Jacob's son through Rachel, "Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; his branches run over the wall." Joseph, modern Britain and America, is prophesied to be an unusually prosperous people whose influence spreads far and wide beyond their home locations. At the end time, they have been at the forefront of spreading the "wine of the wrath of her fornication" by means of their cultural influences.
Meanwhile in their homelands, Satan has convinced most Britons and Americans that everybody, regardless of personal beliefs and conduct, is worshipping the same God, the God of true Christianity! What mass confusion and a horrific influence this has been. In doing this, they make God to be a sovereign over mass confusion, unconcerned about what people believe about Him or how they worship Him. They make Him into a God with no purpose for His human creation except a vague concept of somehow "saving" them, whatever that means!
Is Israel Christian?
Most Americans believe the Founding Fathers of this republic were Christian men. They, for the most part, were men of considerable education, ample wealth, and high moral character, who had a wonderful but carnal vision of a nation. Their morality was indeed largely in agreement with biblical morality, but true Christians they were not, even though they and others would identify themselves as Christians. On the other hand, they were not secularists, who believe in no God or that He has no influence on their lives.
Some of them were Deists, who believe God exists and created all things but do not truly believe God as a true Christian does. Deists do not believe God is actively involved, participating in and governing His creation. They do not believe the great God is moving history and time toward a predetermined end. They essentially believe God created, stepped aside, and now merely "watches" what is going on. To them, the Creator is not actively working out any real purpose other than that He is "saving" men.
Thus, they did not believe themselves subject to Him in understanding and loving cooperation. As good as it is—and it is better than any other nation that has ever existed with the exception of ancient Israel at Mount Sinai—America's constitutional foundation, which places the greatest burden of governance on individual responsibility, is still nonetheless flawed by the Protestant Reformation.
The Protestant Reformation burst from Catholicism. All the reformers thought of the Catholic Church as the true church gone corrupt, but the truth is that the Catholic Church was never the true church, and the Protestant Reformation did not reestablish the true religion. The Catholic Church is exactly what it has always publicly called itself: It is the Roman Universal Church. It is a syncretic religion, that is, it possesses some biblical truths but its roots are in pagan Babylon. Despite the fact that it calls itself the church of God, it is not the church of God.
The Protestant Reformation simply splintered away from that syncretic religion, altering some onerous doctrines and practices but rejecting many clear biblical teachings. It established denominations of false religions masquerading as the true religion. It simply reformed the Roman Universal Church into many varieties without a pope, altered ceremonial requirements, and greatly reduced many of the more obvious corruptions. The Israelitish people then proceeded to spread these hybrid religions all over the world by colonizing other areas. These new faiths were better than the Roman Universal variety but still not the truth.
Was God involved in it? Absolutely! He governs His entire creation, and something of this magnitude could not have happened without His oversight. It did produce the release of many people from a great deal of religious and political slavery. It provided some of the impetus for colonization of other areas of the earth that God set aside for Israelitish people.
However, modern Protestantism has lost the cutting edge it once had, resulting in the loss of a great deal of influence. A number of years ago, a Protestant pastor commented that the church has become good at turning wine into water. In many cases, its services and teachings are nothing more than entertaining paganism and in other cases, a Sunday morning fraternal organization. Morality has fallen in the streets. As one recent writer proclaimed, America, largely a Protestant nation, is being swept away in a homosexual and pornographic tsunami.
Satan's deception has created a problem for the true church because its members gradually tend to accept as true Satan's lie that Israel is "Christian," thus feeling a spiritual affinity with their countrymen that has no basis in fact. Israel's modern "Christianity" makes doctrine of little or no importance, leaving everyone free to do what is right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25). If gradually accepted, it will produce the same tolerant, nonjudgmental, just-do-your-own-thing, politically correct, multicultural Laodiceanism we see so commonly in Israelitish countries.
When this happens, faith in the sovereign God to govern His creation vanishes, and people generally find justifications for idolatry, for Sabbath breaking, for murder, for lying, and for adultery. The so-called "Christian" nation finds justification for murder on a massive scale by calling its young men and women to fight its "just" wars. Did Jesus ever use any of these methods to solve His problems?
Modern Israel's religious beliefs and practices are reminiscent of Paul's comment in Titus 1:16 about some people of his day: "They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work." Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." Thus, widespread spiritual adultery is committed by a nation that symbolically entered into a marriage covenant with God but whose works of faithlessness have become a way of life.
Idolatry on an unrecognized but huge scale, Sabbath breaking, dishonoring parents, murder in a wide variety of ways, breaking of marriage vows through adultery and multiple marriages, lying, and coveting have become a lifestyle, committed and justified for moments of self-absorbed gratification and ease. Today, it is packaged for export two ways: on the movie screen as "entertainment" for the masses, and through the combination of advertising and business practices. By these, we have drugged others with our wine into a way of life to be imitated if one desires to have personal fulfillment, wealth, and national political and military power.
Uniformity or Variety?
Israel's great sin is unfaithfulness. In terms of her character, she is fickle, a term that needs defining. The Reader's Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder defines fickle as "inconstant, changeable, especially in regard to loyalty." Bible histories show Israelites have a clear record of being grossly fickle in their thinking: Change and variety are the keys to fulfillment!
This proclivity reveals itself in many areas of life: Socially, Israelites have multiple sexual partners before marriage and change spouses through divorce at a prolific rate. Merchandisers are aware of this driving "need" for change and know how to promote it through frequent fashion changes, design alterations, and "new and improved" claims featuring "hot" celebrity hawkers (usually entertainers and athletes). The new promotions come and go so rapidly that they seem to be seasonal.
There must always be something new to satisfy this craving for variety of experience—but it is costly. It tends to render the whole culture unstable ethically and morally, driving individuals into debt as they pursue satisfaction and fulfillment from things that cannot give it.
Israel can no longer be trusted to do what is right. Instead, she will do what she feels like doing at the moment rather than disciplining herself. This is especially the case if doing right requires a measure of personal sacrifice or will entail some pain or discomfort. Doing right means not just keeping the commandments, statutes, and judgments per se, but also doing what is right in terms of common-sense wisdom. Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death," describing Israel's lifestyle to a T.
None of what is written in this article will help us unless we become sharply aware that we live in the lands where this is actively taking place and that it is strongly and constantly influencing us to accept and conform to it. This attitude and way of life does not merely involve what we might term "church matters," but every aspect of living.
Some dictionaries define "religion" as the system through which one responds to deity. This definition applies to everyone because everyone, whether it is admitted or not, has a god. Some people's religion is more formal and systematized than others' are. However, one's religion, his system of responding to deity, is what governs how he conducts his life. In the Bible, God gives us an entire way of life within the commandments, statutes, judgments, testimonies, laws, precepts, and words. The New Testament calls it "the way" or "this way."
God wants us to be fulfilled in life by following His way ("choose life," He says in Deuteronomy 30:19). He tells us what not to eat and warns us against gluttony and overdrinking. He tells us when and where to worship and who to fellowship with. His law even covers clothing, strongly urging modesty. Its principles reach into every aspect of life. Israel has been unfaithful to things similar to this and many more.
God's way is alluringly confronted and challenged on every side by what the New Testament calls the "world" (Greek cosmos). Cosmos means an organized system, but one opposed to the way of God's commandment. Babylon, meaning "confusion"—confusion regarding a way of life—is the Bible's code name for that system. God charges us in Revelation 18:4 to come out of that confused system, and the only way we can do that is to quit practicing Babylon's ways of doing things in the worship of its gods.
Israel, however, lives for the moment and for as much immediate gratification as possible. As a whole, she does not believe God and is afraid to pay the costs to break away and be peculiar or distinctive in a right way. She finds it easier to be like everyone else and be willingly accepted on the world's terms rather than her Husband's.
God warns Israel many times against this because this rebellious proclivity in her is easily seen. Notice Deuteronomy 12:1-5:
These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. You shall not worship the Lord your God with such things. But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His habitation; and there you shall go.
The existence of this exhortation to seek Him only and destroy the worship of Canaan's inhabitants is strong evidence that God foresaw that Israel was thoroughly smitten with "the grass is always greener" disease. They failed both to dispossess the land's inhabitants and to destroy their places of worship. History records that God was right, and Israel is left without excuse for its spiritual adultery.
In its carnality, Israel reveals itself to be disastrously curious and incautious in temperament, thinking that variety of experience rather than the truth of God's Word is the answer to her dissatisfied, rebellious, unsettled, impatient nature. This fickle discontentment is not limited to just the worship of God. It reared its head early in the history of her relationship with God. Numbers 11:4-6 reports:
Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: "Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!"
A number of quite serious sins are exposed in this particular issue, perhaps the most serious being their lack of faith in God's providence. This sin is driven by an arrogant self-concern that forgets that God is working out a purpose and plan in us and overseeing everything in our lives. He bought and paid for us with Christ's sacrifice, and we vowed to submit to His authority when we gave Him our lives. What He provides to those of faith within that purpose is more than fair. In fact, it is usually quite generous.
He promises to supply the faithful with their every need, but in Israel's fearful and fickle discontentment, they did not seek Him to understand what He was doing. Instead, they sought something different from what He was providing in terms of experiences within the relationship. This drive for fulfillment in variety remains within the Israelitish people.
Though the emphasis under the New Covenant has shifted to the spiritual, God shows us in numerous ways that His desire is for His children to be unified in one system—His. The manna provided under the Old Covenant represents God's desire that we are to be strengthened in His way only through His Word.
Uniformity with His way is illustrated in several ways in the Old Testament. For example, the priests could use coals only from one particular fire for the incense offering. They had to be uniform in the clothing they wore when officiating at the one altar God permitted in only one place in Israel. In addition, Israel was allowed only one festival site, Jerusalem.
Consider how God concludes His instructions in Deuteronomy 12, which limited Israel's sacrifices to Him to one location:
When the Lord your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, "How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise." You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it. (verses 29-32)
This instruction is specifically aimed to stifle Israel's proclivity to look into foreign religions. The lesson is "curiosity killed the cat"! Deuteronomy 23:6 adds concerning the heathen, "You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all your days forever." In Ezra 9:12, where this also appears, God tells them to keep themselves so separated that they were never to make any kind of alliance with neighboring peoples!
As the Bible shows, Israel did not heed God's counsel. In stubbornness, she sought fulfillment in variety and became a great whore.