Religion is not of God! In fact, it is the opinion of this writer that religion is a smokescreen to blind the unsuspecting from the truth of God. Through Jesus Christ, God has provided eternal life freely to all who will trust Him by faith. But many will not believe in Christ because they are being blinded by religion. The one doing the blinding is called the god of this world.
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:3-4)
There are hundreds of religions all over the world. Where did they begin? Let’s take a small glimpse.
Nimrod: The Tower of Babel
An entire religious system began with a strange prophecy pronounced upon Ham, one of the sons of Noah. The prophecy itself found its fulfillment in Ham’s Son, Canaan. Much of Israel’s history involves the interaction of Israel with the religious practices of the Canaanites. (See “Noah’s Sin and Prophecy.”) Look carefully at Ham’s family tree.
“The sons of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. The sons of Cush were Seba and Havilah and Sabtah and Raamah and Sabteca; and the sons of Raamah were Sheba and Dedan. Cush became the father of Nimrod he became a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD. The beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went forth into Assyria, and built Nineveh and Rehoboth-Ir and Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.” (Gen. 10:6-12)
Ham’s firstborn, Cush, had a son named Nimrod. The name “Nimrod” is taken from the Hebrew verb, “let us revolt.” Nimrod settled the land of modern Iraq. He was the founder of Babylon and Nineveh, both sworn enemies of Israel. He was called “a great hunter before the Lord.” The Hebrew words “before the Lord” could actually be translated “in defiance of the Lord.”
The Jewish Talmud called Nimrod “a hunter of the souls of men.” He was evidently the architect of the first rebellion against God and the one who began the first organized religious system.
“Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words.” (Gen. 11:1)
Following the flood, the human race spoke one language. Genesis 11 is a parenthetical section explaining how and why the nations were divided into different language groups.
“It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.” (Gen. 11:2)
Shinar refers to the place of the beginning of Nimrod’s kingdom.
“The beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.” (Gen. 10:10)
God had commanded Noah and his family to “fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1). It was not God’s plan for the people to come together. Nimrod disobeyed this command and sought to unite the race in the Tigress-Euphrates Valley near modern day Baghdad, Iraq. The ‘whole earth’ settled together in this one area united by their one language.
“They said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.’ And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar.” (Gen. 11:3)
“Let us” places the emphasis upon man. This surfaces man’s pride, public enemy number one with God (Prov. 6:16).
The Hebrew word for “tar” is a word from which the word “bitumen” comes. Where there is bitumen, there is oil! Brick “for” stone – the word “for” means in the place of. They used bricks in the place of stone, and they used tar in the place of mortar.
“They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Gen. 11:4)
A tower was a pyramid called a ziggurat. They are referred to in the Bible as “high places.” High places are mentioned at least 73 times in the Old Testament from Leviticus 26:30 to Habakkuk 3:19.
“Heaven” is a word that means universe. The tower was built in order to reach to the stars, including the sun and the moon. This was the very beginning of religion.
Religion is a distortion of God’s design. His universe is designed to reveal to man His power and His godhead.
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:18-20)
The stars were to tell the glory of God (Psa. 19:1). The consistent cycles of the sun and the moon and stars pointed to the cycles of planting, growth, and harvest of crops and were to be a witness of God’s faithfulness to man.
“Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17)
The human race began to worship God’s creation rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:21-25). The worship of these terrestrial objects changed into the worship of the life giving cycles of harvest or the worship of fertility.
Romantic history records that Nimrod created a God named Marduk. Marduk became the male god of the life cycle that included the sun and moon. He became the male god of fertility. Ancient history tells us that Nimrod had a wife named Semiramis. The Semiramus Hotel located in Egypt today is named after this woman. Semiramis was associated with the goddess of fertility.
History records that Nimrod and Semiramis had a son whom Semiramis claimed was virgin-born and the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15. The name of the child was Tammuz, the sun god. From Semiramis and Tammuz came the mother and child cult. The Babylonian religious system was the worship of a mother and child, supposedly virgin-born. The picture of the woman holding a child became the symbol of all of the fertility cults throughout history.
The woman-child pictured together became the symbol of the worship within the Babylonian religious system. It is interesting that Tammuz is mentioned in scripture.
“Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the room of his idols? For they say, ‘The LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land.’’ And He said to me, ‘Turn again, and you will see greater abominations that they are doing.’ So He brought me to the door of the north gate of the LORD’S house; and to my dismay, women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz.” (Eze. 8:12-14)
Semiramus claimed that Tammuz was gored by a wild boar and killed. After forty days of weeping and prayer, the child was miraculously raised from the dead. This rumor spread quickly and added sufficient fuel to propel the religious system throughout the ancient world. This supposedly happened on the feast of the Astoreth or feast to Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of fertility. Thus began the celebration of “Ishtar,” or as we know it, Easter. Ever wonder what bunnies and chickens and hiding “Ishtar” eggs have to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
Babylon is mentioned in the Bible over 300 times. It is the most mentioned city in the word of God. In fact, an underlying theme woven through the Bible is a tale of two cities: Jerusalem and Babylon. Babylon’s history begins with the Tower of Babel in Genesis chapter 11, continues throughout history, and it culminates just prior to the establishment of Jesus Christ’s kingdom upon the earth (Rev. 14). It is a city that represents man’s pride and power and rebellion against God. Babylon is the capitol city of Satan’s religious system.
The Babylonian system of worship is mentioned often in the Bible and is called the worship of the “host of heaven.”
“And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.” (Deut. 4:19)
“They forsook all the commandments of the LORD their God and made for themselves molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherah (female fertility goddess) and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal (the son of the god of thunder and lightening and rain and thus fertility).” (2 Kings 17:16)
“And those who bow down on the housetops to the host of heaven.” (Zephaniah 1:5)
“But God turned away and delivered them up to serve the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, ‘It was not to Me that you offered victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, was it, O house of Israel? ‘You also took along the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of the god Rompha, the images which you made to worship. I also will remove you beyond Babylon.’” (Acts 7: 42-43)
The various goddesses of fertility are called in the Bible “the queen of heaven.”
“The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods in order to spite Me” (Jer. 7:18).
“But rather we will certainly carry out every word that has proceeded from our mouths, by burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, just as we ourselves, our forefathers, our kings and our princes did in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; for then we had plenty of food and were well off and saw no misfortune. But since we stopped burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have met our end by the sword and by famine.” ‘And,’ said the women, ‘when we were burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven and were pouring out drink offerings to her, was it without our husbands that we made for her sacrificial cakes in her image and poured out drink offerings to her?” (Jer. 44:17-19)
Soon replicas of the tower of Babel sprang up all over the land. They were small symbols for the worship of the fertility gods and goddesses (the host of heaven and the queen of heaven). The Canaanites built several in the land of Canaan.
The idol “Al” supposedly had a son named “Baal,” (Hebrew, son of Al), the son of thunder and lightening. And the female counterpart was the Asteroth, or the Asheroth, or the Asherim (plural). These counterfeit gods became a continuous source of conflict among the Jews.
“For they also built for themselves high places and sacred pillars and Asherim on every high hill and beneath every luxuriant tree. There were also male cult prostitutes in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations which the LORD dispossessed before the sons of Israel.” (1 Kings 14:23-24)
“The sons of Israel did things secretly which were not right against the LORD their God. Moreover, they built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. They set for themselves sacred pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, and there they burned incense on all the high places as the nations did which the LORD had carried away to exile before them; and they did evil things provoking the LORD.” (2 Kings 17:9-11)
These high places – various sized pyramids, along with the picture of Semiramus holding her child Tammuz – were the means of marking religious cults all over the world. This was all inspired, designed, established, and perpetuated by Satan. The system is called in the Bible “mystery Babylon” (Rev. 17:5).
“The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.” (Gen. 11:5)
There never was a time when God did not know what the people were doing. The picture of Him coming down and seeing is written for man’s benefit.
“The LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.’” (Gen. 11:6)
That which they proposed to do would be to raise the standard of evil to the highest power. Their unity would provide a fertile field for the growth and expansion of their evil desires. It would be extended beyond its limits. That would lead to the extermination of the entire race.
There remains in man a political idealism that if we could just live together in harmony with perfect laws and perfect environment, there would be peace on earth. But the problem is human depravity, not the government or the environment.
Man, apart from God, will never be able to create a world having perfect peace. Notice how God responds to the building of the tower.
“Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” (Gen. 11:7)
This was an ingenious act on the part of God. If people cannot understand each other, they will scatter into smaller communities of similar language. This would eventually lead to physical boundaries and governments and armies that would provide a balance of power and protection for its citizens. This would give the human race the necessary time and security necessary to consider the grace of God (Acts 17:24-28). This would give man the freedom to consider the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.” (Gen.11:8)
Internationalism will not lead to peace but to ultimate destruction. Man will be truly united only when Jesus Christ is sitting upon His throne.
Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11: 9).
“Babel” comes from two Hebrew words, Ba-el, the gate of God. It is related to the ancient Aramaic word “balbel,” which means confusion.
When this “Babylonian religious system” spread throughout the earth, its name changed, but the worship remained basically the same. The system grew in Babylon (modern day Iraq) as the worship of Marduk and Ishtar. It went into Canaan as the worship of Baal and the Asteroth. It then went into Syria as the worship of Baal and Astarte. It found its way into Egypt as the worship of Horace (Ocirus, the sun God), and Ises (the corresponding female deity).
It eventually went into Greece as the worship of Aris (Ocirus became Aris) and Aphrodite (Ises became Aphrodite; the goddess of love). Ultimately this religion went into Rome as the worship of Cupid and Venus, the god and goddess of love.
Names changed, but the worship practices stayed pretty much the same. Religion continued to surround itself with fertility cults. The ziggurats, the pyramids in the midst of the city, and the mother-child picture all stayed pretty much the same. All pointed to the worship of the host of heaven.
Religion Blends with Christianity
During the Roman Empire, the emperors slaughtered thousands in the name of religion. One of the most famous of the early Christians, Tertullian, put it this way: “If the Tiber floods the city, or the Nile refuses to rise, or the sky withholds its rains, if there is an earthquake, famine, or pestilence, at once the cry is raised: ‘Christians to the lions!’” (Logos Library System)
Christians suffered greatly for centuries under the emperors of Rome.
“Nero had light blue eyes, thick neck, protruding stomach, and spindly legs, was a crazed and cruel emperor, a pleasure-driven man who ruled the world by whim and fear. He killed hundreds of Christians.
“Domitian likewise slaughtered Christians. He was a mentally demented man. He enjoyed catching flies and stabbing them with a pen. He liked to watch gladiatorial fights between women and dwarfs.
“Then there was Diocletian. The first of Diocletian’s edicts prohibited all Christian worship and commanded that churches and Christian books be destroyed. Two further edicts, required in the eastern provinces, ordered clergy to be arrested unless they sacrificed to pagan deities. By 304 this edict was extended to all Christians and was particularly vicious in Africa.” (The Logos Library System)
A crucial turning point was when the worship of the queen of heaven blended into the church of Jesus Christ around 300 A.D. As mentioned, the Babylonian religious system – the worship of Cupid and Venus, the god and goddess of love – had become the state religion of Rome. Around 300 A.D., Constantine 1 became Emperor of the Western Roman Empire. He was the first Roman Emperor to support Christianity.
In the spring of 312, Constantine began a final bid for supremacy in the West. Campaigning against his rival, Maxentius, through north and central Italy, he reached within five miles of Rome on October 27. That night he had a vision or dream that convinced him that his own destiny lay with Christianity. The next day he defeated Maxentius’s superior forces and entered Rome in triumph.
Constantine 1 then became engaged in a civil war with his brother Licinius who was the emperor of the Eastern Roman empire (capitol city of Constantinople, modern day Istanbul). Constantine supposedly had a dream of a cross and saw the Latin words “hoc signo vines,” “by this sign you will conquer.” He promised to free the Christians to worship as they pleased if they would help him defeat his brother. In February 313, Constantine met Licinius and soundly defeated him. Christians had aligned themselves with Constantine and they won.
The Edict of Milan
The Edict of Milan finally signaled the end to all persecution. Everyone was to be free to follow his own conscience. In fact, the Edict proved to be the death nail of the immortal gods. The church had triumphed! Or had they?
“Our purpose is to grant both to the Christians and to all others full authority to follow whatever worship each person has desired, whereby whatsoever Divinity dwells in heaven may be benevolent and propitious to us, and to all who are placed under our authority. Therefore we thought it salutary and most proper to establish our purpose that no person whatever should be refused complete toleration, who has given up his mind either to the cult of the Christians or to the religion which he personally feels best suited to himself. It is our pleasure to abolish all conditions whatever which were embodied in former orders directed to your office about the Christians, that every one of those who have a common wish to follow the religion of the Christians may from this moment freely and unconditionally proceed to observe the same without any annoyance or disquiet.”
The script goes out of its way to ensure evenhanded treatment for all: “no diminution must be made from the honor of any religion. But the strongly pro-Christian flavor is tasted in the instructions to restore to Christians all property that had been appropriated during the persecution. This applied to property belonging to individual Christians as well as to churches—and without regard for the present owners, who could apply to the state for compensation.
“In implementing these rulings, the governor was to give the Christians his ‘most effective intervention,’ making sure the terms were published to all. These actions, Constantine and Licinius concluded, would ensure that ‘the Divine favor toward us, which we have already experienced in so many affairs, shall continue for all time to give us prosperity and success, together with happiness for the state.’” (Quote from the Logos Library System; Persecution of the Early Church; The Edict of Milan)
The result was a union of the queen of heaven and Christianity. This ultimately produced what came to be called “the Universal Church.” We know it as the Holy Roman Catholic Church. This system ultimately became corrupt and helped plunge man into the dark ages of cults and superstition. The church of Rome twisted and distorted the truth of the gospel of grace. God graciously resurfaced the gospel through the Reformation in Europe during the sixteen century.
Many of the traditions of the “queen of heaven” still touch our lives today. The wedding ring, the veil, the cake, the music, and the prayers that were originally said to Zues and Aphrodite have come down to us. The bunnies and rabbits in the celebration of Easter (Ishtar) are residue from this sytstem. Many of the “Saint’s Days” that are celebrated today found their beginning in this system. Christmas trees and many of the wonderful “Christian traditions” that we hold today also find their origin in this religious system.
Satan’s Babylonian religious system is alive and well today! It has morphed into many different forms but it is still here. That is why it is called “mystery Babylon.”
I know that we are quick to think, “I do not worship idols, and especially the god’s of the Babylonian pantheon.” It is interesting that popular sports figures of the ancient world were made into gods and worshipped. In fact, idolatry is the worship of anything that is placed above God. This is why John said, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 Jn. 5:21).
The “hosts of heaven” and the “queen” are still here. They will continue to be used by the evil one to blind the minds of those who are perishing. This Babylonian religious system will remain until Jesus Christ returns to destroy it (Rev.17:1-3).
New American Standard Bible
Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost
Logos Christian History Interactive
Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament