By Dr. Tony Garland
Q. I just found your website and I really enjoy most of its content. It is set up in a great way and is really helping me understand idea's and concepts. it is encouraging to see others pour over these scriptures with fasting and prayer. I believe they are vital to understand.
My question is in regards to the Harlot of Revelation 17. You say in your notes that Jerusalem could not be the great harlot because she was not the one who started the harlotry, it was Babel/Babylon. I am leaning towards agreeing with you on this idea. I am currently in a discussion with a group of ministers in regards to this. They have been wondering why then, if Jerusalem is not the great Harlot, does almost every passage in the OT where the word harlot is used, it is referring to the nation of Israel? Also, I have heard it said that in order for one to become a harlot they would have had to have been in covenant with God. Israel is the only nation that was in covenant with God.
Thanks for you time and your diligent study of the scriptures.
A. I am pleased to hear that the materials on our website have been helpful to you as you continue to study the Revelation of Jesus Christ. I hope my additional comments can prove useful.
Why is the term Harlot so frequently applied to Jerusalem in the OT?
The main reason that Harlotry is more frequently associated with Israel and Jerusalem than other nations or cities in the OT is because Israel and Jerusalem were both specially chosen by God. Therefore, there is much greater emphasis upon Israel and Jerusalem than contemporaneous nations and cities. This is, in effect, why the OT—indeed the entire Bible—is so fixed upon the chosen nation and city. It is, from God's perspective, as if the other nations and cities are by-in-large secondary to the historic story-line of Scripture. It is because Israel and Jerusalem both enjoy a special relationship with God that God is especially upset by their harlotry and sends prophets to continually point out this grievous sin. So the frequency of warning relates to God's love and special relationship with the nation and city.
Must a Harlot be in Covenant Relationship?
The idea that for one to become a harlot they have to have been in covenant relationship with God is not supported by the Biblical evidence. A few examples demonstrate that this is so.
In Exodus 34, God warns the Israelites not to make a covenant with the surrounding pagan nations:
Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it be a snare in your midst. But you shall destroy their altars, break their [sacred] pillars, and cut down their [wooden] images '(for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name [is] Jealous, [is] a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they play the harlot with their gods and make sacrifice to their gods, and [one of them] invites you and you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters play the harlot with their gods and make your sons play the harlot with their gods. (Exodus 34:12-16, NKJV)
Notice that scripture identifies the practice of idolatry by the non-Israelite pagan nations as harlotry. These pagan nations were entirely separate from Israel and did not have a national covenant with God as Israel did.
In another passage, we see Isaiah apply the title of harlot to the Gentile city of Tyre:
Now it shall come to pass in that day that Tyre will be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king. At the end of seventy years it will happen to Tyre as [in] the song of the harlot: "Take a harp, go about the city, You forgotten harlot; Make sweet melody, sing many songs, That you may be remembered." And it shall be, at the end of seventy years, that the LORD will visit Tyre. She will return to her hire, and commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. (Isaiah 23:15-17)
Tyre was not in a special covenant relationship with God and yet was declared to be a harlot.
There are also examples where an unmarried woman is said to be guilty of harlotry (Lev. 19:29; 21:7-9,14; 22:13-22). A virgin who is not in a marriage covenant with a man can still be guilty of harlotry. Harlotry does not require either a national or marriage covenant to be in effect prior to committing the sin.
Other Reasons the Harlot of Revelation 17 is not Jerusalem
There are a number of additional reasons why the harlot of Revelation 17 cannot be Jerusalem:
Called Babylon—The harlot is also called Babylon. Revelation 17 and 18 are about the destruction of Babylon. This is the final fulfillment of the predictions made in Isaiah 13 and 14 and Jeremiah 50 and 51. In those chapters Israel and Jerusalem are contrasted with Babylon and the Chaldeans. These passages predict the overthrow of Babylon and the vindication of Israel and Jerusalem. Those who would teach that the harlot in Revelation 17, who is identified with Babylon (Rev. 17:5), is to be understood as Jerusalem must explain how it is that God's Holy Word, which Jesus said cannot be broken (John 10:35) can have its initial meaning completely reversed in fulfillment and still qualify as truth? How is it acceptable for God to prophesy the destruction of one city, but then "fulfill" that prophecy thousands of years later by destroying a completely different city? If so, then God is no longer a God of truth and Scripture is no longer inerrant. More than that, the prophecies as given to the original recipients were entirely misleading and essentially unknowable.
Euphrates—The river Euphrates is associated with the events transpiring in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 9:14; 16:12). Euphrates is associated with literal Babylon, not Jerusalem.
Global Scope—The harlot of Revelation 17 "sits on many waters" representing "peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues." This points to her global influence which much more naturally implicates Babylon, originally Babel, the first kingdom of man and the place where godless rebellion was globally dispersed by the introduction of languages.
The Mother of Harlotry—She is said to be the "Mother of Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth". This speaks of her role as the originator of harlotry and abominations. This much more naturally applies to Babylon (in the form of Babel, Nimrod's kingdom, Gen. 10; 11) than to faithless Israel or Jerusalem who's harlotry originated elsewhere.
Regarding Israel's harlotry, Ezekiel observes that it originated in Egypt (Eze. 23:8, 27).
She has never given up her harlotry [brought] from Egypt, For in her youth they had lain with her, Pressed her virgin bosom, And poured out their immorality upon her. (Ezekiel 23:8)
Ezekiel also points to the Hittites and Amorites as having been a source of Israel's harlotry:
'Like mother, light daughter!' You are your mother's daughter loathing husband and children; and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and children; your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite. (Eze. 16:3, 44-45)
Elsewhere, Ezekiel identifies those who commit harlotry with unfaithful Israel as having had their nativity in Babylon (Eze. 23:14-15).
Clearly, the passages show that harlotry infected Israel from a preceding influence—the mother of Harlotry—Babylon.
Global Slaughter of Saints—In the harlot of Revelation is found "the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth". Although apostate Jews contributed to this bloodshed ("... that on you [all, plural] may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth", Mat. 23:34-39), this speaks of unbelieving Pharisees in Jerusalem of Jesus' day as agents participating in the historic influence of the harlot. The slaughter of saints has now far surpassed the time of Jesus in both number and global scope. This can be seen in the multitudes of Christian martyrs who have perished since then in countries and under regimes completely disconnected from Israel and Jerusalem, including Islamic movements and nations in Asia and Africa who are responsible for many Christian martyrs in our own day, not to mention Rome of the past. If the final destruction of Babylon the harlot is future—and there are many reasons which indicate so—then she must also account for all the righteous blood spilled since the time of Jesus from all around the world. It simply isn't possible to place this at the foot of Jerusalem alone. A global responsibility is in view which is completely in agreement with the idea that the harlot is Babylon, the culmination of the rebellion which initially began at ancient Babel and resulted in all non-Christian systems of belief (including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Atheism, Darwinism, etc.). Restricting the harlot to be Jerusalem or Judaism is simply too narrow given the global scope of the Book of Revelation.
If language has any meaning and God is not the author of confusion, Babylon the Harlot in Revelation can only be made to represent Jerusalem by turning many OT passages entirely on their head.
For reasons why we believe the harlot of Revelation 17 is the city of Babylon rather than a separate entity, see our Revelation Commentary which discusses the unity of chapters 17-19 in the Book of Revelation.