Thursday, May 24, 2012

Babylon V. Zion as a Biblical Interpretive Theme

I am just finishing up my reading of Psalms in my Bible reading, and I just read Psalm 146, especially vv. 5-10, which reads as follows:

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
     who executes justice for the oppressed,
     who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
     the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
     the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
     he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
    but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10  The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord!

I couldn't help but think of the contrast that occurs between Revelation 17--18 & 21--22, and the two kingdoms involved there; Babylon V. Zion. Babylon in the Revelation passages operates with the same kind of oppressive power against the poor and powerless in the world as our Psalm vv.7-9 describes. And, just as the last line of v. 9 indicates 'but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin', this is exactly what happens in Revelation 19--20; which transitions us, finally from the oppressive hand and power of Babylon (and even Rome in the Revelation context), into what we have in our v. 10 of Psalms---i.e. God reigning forever from Zion (which correlates with Revelation 21--22). 

A quick application of this might shake us up, especially as Americans. Does America function more from Zion characteristics or Babylon/Roman characteristics and power? So, my question here obviously is a theopolitical question; one that I think is quite convicting, at least for me.


  1. Bobby:

    I think you're right on the money, Bobby. I've been saying similar things for years but I get pooh-poohed because too many American-Christian people want to identify the USA with Israel as the apple of God's eye. But all one needs for proof that we're Egypt/Babylon/Rome is to read the paper or watch the evening news (or prime time TV).


    1. Hi Michael,

      Yes, we agree then! (unfortunately)

      If you haven't you should read Richard Bauckham's 'The Theology of the Book of Revelation' I know you would appreciate it!

    2. I've been thinking of giving Bauckham a whirl. I plan to teach briefly through Revelation later this year or early next year and had thought of picking it up prior to that. Thanks for the recommendation!

    3. @Michael, yes, do, you won't be sorry!

  2. I may be a little slow here. How do you perceive this as being theopolicial? Do you consider that these verses pertain to the governments of these people?

    1. @Kc,

      No, I mean I think these verses indict "any" kind of power that oppresses people simply because they have "power". Does that help clarify? So political systems, like America's for example, are severely implicated.

    2. Bobby, How do you pervceive the American political system being oppresive? (This is a sincere question and not intended as a prelude to an argument.)

    3. Kc,

      It would be harder to ask how I don't perceive the American political system being oppressive.

      Ideally, in principle, a government for the people, by the people is not oppressive. But we no longer have that. I think the way sociopolitically our system works now---as a consumer society---we live off of the backs of slave labor (literally) in order to ensure the comfort of our society etc. We have this kind of global clout, largely because of our overpowering military might; and we have constructed economic structures etc that, again, ensure our comfort (relative) at all costs. I think my comment could be reduced simply to 'consumerism' and the kind of political policies and usage of our 'power' that that produces.

    4. Could you give me an example of what you mean?

    5. Yes, most of the clothes we wear and the wares we buy are imported from China; a direct result of trade policies our gvts have agreed upon. China's treatment of humanity are well known, so need to rehearse, in detail, those here. China trades with us because we are the financial power we once were, which is directly related to our military prowess and power in the world (which of course is fading rapidly!).

  3. Hey, Bobby:

    This reminds me of an essay by Neil Elliott in Richard Horsley’s Paul and Empire entitled “The Anti-Imperial Message of the Cross,” in which Elliott suggests that Jesus’ death on the cross was a message of the impending defeat of all earthly empires through Christ’s exaltation and coming kingdom.

    He argues this based on the fact that the cross was a weapon of Roman imperial dominance used to subjugate foreign people groups and to continue the oppression of these same people groups. (Note that only Roman non-citizens, except for those Roman citizens accused of treason, could be crucified.) Rome is part of (and perhaps, to some extent, symbolic of) the “powers” that Paul says were defeated in Christ’s Resurrection, pointing ahead to God’s final triumph.

    Very thought-provoking and, I think, relevant here.

    Here's a quote: “It is the resurrection of Christ the crucified that reveals the imminent defeat of the Powers, pointing forward to the final triumph of God."

    Here's the biblio info in case you're interested:

    Neil Elliott, "The Anti-Imperial Message of the Cross" in Paul and Empire: Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society, Richard A. Horsley ed. (Trinity Press International, 1997), 167-183.)

    Thanks for letting me comment.


    1. Hi Michael,

      I am familiar with some of Horsely's work, I used his stuff on Corinthians for my Master's thesis on I Corinthians 1:17-25.

      Thanks for the heads up, and Elliot's work sounds good. Indeed, quite in line with some of Barth's and Torrance's stuff. Thank you!


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