The fall of Babylon described in Daniel 5 was a spectacular event, but there’s more to it than what Daniel reports. This isn’t so surprising since the Big Picture is beyond the scope of what he’d know without divine revelation.
We might think it weird that the leaders of a city under siege might be hanging out having a big drunken bash. Why weren’t they planning a defense or a counter-attack? At the time, Babylon was considered impregnable. The wall was actually two concentric walls, one of which was wide enough to hold chariot races on top of. There were lookout towers of impressive height at various locations around the wall. They had enough stored food to outlast the average siege. Water was a non-issue because the Euphrates River ran through the city and fed the moat between the walls. By the technology of the time, this place was ready for everything and anything.
Belshazzar didn’t count on Cyrus’ general, a pretty clever dude. He stationed part of his troops upriver and concocted a way to divert the Euphrates. On cue, the upriver troops engaged their feat of engineering, and the moat dropped to the height of a man’s thigh. The rest of the group just waded in under the wall and took over. This was actually done so quietly that most of the city didn’t know it had happened for three days. Babylon became the capital for the Persian King Cyrus and later for Alexander the Great, a young Greek guy who kicked butt and took names. That’ll be important later.
After the general had secured the city, Cyrus himself put in an appearance. The Bible calls him “Darius1,” and there are many who suspect that “Darius” is actually a title. Others suggest that Cyrus was the king over all and Darius was a prince put in charge of a certain area2.
God, by way of Isaiah, had written a letter to Cyrus outlining his career3. They were not contemporaries. Isaiah lived during the reign of Judah’s King Manassah, which was a good, long time before the Babylonian captivity, which itself lasted 70 years. There is tradition that Daniel handed Cyrus the letter in Isaiah, which greatly impressed Cyrus and caused him to sponsor the return of Jews to Israel to rebuild the Temple4.
Remember that I said it was important that Cyrus and Alexander the Great both used Babylon as a capitol city? Well, there’s another set of prophecies about Babylon’s utter destruction. The place is going to be wiped out like Sodom and Gomorrah. The building materials will not be used again. No one will ever be able to live there again5. There are some scholars who insist that has already happened when Cyrus defeated Belshazzar, but Babylon was not wiped out in that encounter. Without a formal battle of any sort, Cyrus’ troops just walked in and took over. I get the impression from reading Isaiah 13, Jeremiah 50-51, and Revelation 17-18 that Babylon becomes the next best thing to a nuclear wasteland.
There are still people living near and in Babylon. When archaeologists appeared on the scene, they were able to hire local help. Saddam Hussein worked at rebuilding the city and even held state events in the very hall where Belshazzar got the bad news that he was destined for an early demise. Clearly the prophecy about Babylon the Great or Mystery Babylon hasn’t happened yet.
So, who or what is Mystery Babylon? Some speculative types suggest that Mystery Babylon is an allegory for somewhere else, like the United States. There is some evidence to suggest that could be possible. After all, John refers to Israel as Egypt and Sodom6. I am, however, leery of treating Scripture as an allegory. You can get into really messy situations that way and end up undermining most of what the Bible is saying.
Others suggest that Mystery Babylon is the Roman Catholic Church. Dave Hunt’s The Woman Rides the Beast gives evidence to why that could be. One of his points is that Mystery Babylon is described as being drunk with the blood of the saints7. In Chuck Missler and Dave Hunt’s The Kingdom of Blood, they report that “One Pope in one afternoon killed more saints than all the Roman persecutions combined.” Yikes.
The easiest solution is that Mystery Babylon is the rebuilt city of Babylon. Hussein started to rebuild it. Maybe someone else will continue or finish the city. If the city is standing and flourishing as a trade center again, then it could be wiped out as the Bible describes.
I’m not sure which theory will prove the correct one. The real answer may be a combination of two or more ideas or something else altogether. Stay tuned. The answer may be closer than we think.
Missler, Chuck. The Book of Daniel: A Commentary. Koinonia House.
1 Daniel 5:31
3 Isaiah 44:28-45:7
4 Ezra 1:1-2
5 Psalm 137:8-9, Isaiah 13-14, Isaiah 21:1-10, Jeremiah 50-51, Revelation 17-18
6 Revelation 11:8
7 Revelation 17:6