Word Study: Unjust Gain בצח

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WORD STUDY – UNJUST GAIN – בצח
Jeremiah 51:13: “O’ you who dwell by many waters, abundant in treasures, your end is come, and the measure of your covetousness.”

Clearly the context of this passage related to a judgment against Babylon. So why should a prophecy of judgment against a city that existed over 2,600 years ago have any relevance to us? This is after all God’s Words and it has been written for us. Christians and Jewish scholars alike have taken various positions on what to do with passages like this that speak of a specific place and event.

Some will say to just read it as history and learn from its example. Other will say it is not only a picture of Babylon but any future cities that rebel against God. Others just take a spiritual reading of the passage with no historical significance. Then there are those who would search for hidden meanings behind words and letters. Finally there are those, like me, who would consider all of the above.

I think the first thing we need to consider here is who or what is Babylon besides just an ancient Mesopotamian city. I mean the word Babylon holds a high profile in prophecy such as in the Book of Revelations. The word itself is an Akkadian word. This is not surprising as the language of Babylon was Akkadian.

During the captivity the Akkadian language sort of merged with the Hebrew and became Aramaic. Sort of like Spanish is gradually doing with the English language. If you live in a major city and even cities not so major you will find billboards and signs in Spanish and English and sometimes just in Spanish. If you get a recorded message it often says: “Press 1 for English and 2 for Spanish.” Like it or not this is not unusual throughout history where two language that dominate a region eventually blend into each other to create a new language. Take a time machine one hundred or even fifty years in the future and you might have problems conversing in the English of today. It is for this reason that I study Ugaritic, Aramaic, Sumerian, Akkadian and Hebrew. These languages all dove tail and have share similar roots.

Babylon is one such word that is shared with other Semitic languages. The Akkadian word for Babylon is Babilu. This means a gateway of the gods. Many cities throughout history have been considered a gateway to the gods they worship and a Semitic story teller speaking of such a city might call it Babylon as a literary device. We use such a device in the Western world occasionally but not as often as it was and is done in Semitic regions. So even though this verse clearly speaks of the Babylon of the Mesopotamian city it could also refer to maybe New York City where it is perceived that the god of this nation is wealth and power and New York City would be called Babylon the gateway to the god of this nation, by a Semitic story teller.

But consider this, in Semitic story telling Babylon could also be a person. Could you and I be a Babylon? I would not hesitate to make a personal application. Could the church be a Babylon? There too, I would be comfortable to make such an application. Babylon could symbolize anyone or anything that people look up to because of their natural abilities or accomplishments who lead them to whatever god they worship.

So yeah, I do not believe that this Scripture is intended just to be historical but to be a lesson for anyone who sees a city, organization or person to be a gateway to their god. If you are such a person who sees your church as a gateway to God rather than Jesus, then your church is a Babylon and you dwell upon many waters. The word dwell in Hebrew is schakan means to dwell or possess. Thus the judgment that is to fall on this particular Babylon is a Babylon that dwells or possesses many waters.

Water in Hebrew is myim which not only means physical waters but also revealed and hidden knowledge. Specifically to the Hebrews it was the revealed and hidden knowledge of God. The city of Babylon dwelled by physical waters, but there are many believers who dwell by the spiritual waters. They have studied the Word of God and even entered into the mysteries of God. This is one that is abundant in treasures. Abundant is the Hebrew word rav which means great, strong or rich. Treasures is the Hebrew word osar which means a storehouse. This would be like investments, money market accounts and saving accounts. It would also mean the storehouse of food. Abundant in treasures would have the idea of one who is very secure in the natural world, secure job, finances, retirement etc. Thus this Babylon is one who has it all, security, power, influence etc. It is someone that you really envy, or it may be you that others envy you. They envy your social standing, your financial security etc.

It is not the power or influence that is wrong, it is how it was gained that brings on the following warning: “You’re end will come and the measure of your covetousness.” Covetousness in the Hebrew is betas which means unjust gain. This end will come to those who have gained at the expense of others. Gain of power by lying about someone to gain an advantage. Gain of wealth by preying on someone, legally or not. It is also gain acquired without the help, benefit or consideration of God.

My point, is this. Before pointing your finger at New York City saying: “Your end is near.” Take a look at yourself. You may, yourself, be a Babylon. Remember what old Job said: “The Lord gives, The Lord takes away.” Job 1:21.