Q. Please help me to understand something about the future Babylon in Rev 18. 17-18 ; if Babylon is to be rebuilt on the plains of Shinar, then the phrase “And every ship master, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off” suggests a port city, a port by the sea in fact – how can this be? The plains of Shinar are nowhere close to the sea, or visible from the sea. What gives?
A. People who subscribe to the theory that the Babylon of Rev. 18 is meant to symbolize some other city often point to specific details like this to support their view. In doing so they rely on their human perception of what is or is not possible rather than trusting the Word of God.
While serving in the US Navy, I was stationed aboard the USS Independence. At the time it was the world’s largest aircraft carrier and our lookouts stood watch on a platform 9 stories above sea level. We considered their line of sight range to be about 20 miles. This was not considered to be “afar off” so their abilities were augmented by aircraft who were stationed several hundred miles ahead of us flying high enough to “see” several hundred more miles with their search radar and relay information back to the captain. In this way he could “see” things that were “afar off” and take appropriate action. These days we also have cell phones and satellite TV that make it possible for anyone to see almost anything from anywhere.
In addition, Rev. 18:18-19 says when these ship masters and sailors see the smoke of Babylon burning they’ll throw dust on their heads and cry out with weeping and mourning. If they can throw dust on their heads they must be on land, and if they’re on land they could be close enough to see from afar.
If you consider all the six chapters that the Bible devotes to the ultimate destruction of Babylon (Isaiah 13-14, Jeremiah 50-51 and Rev. 17-18) you’ll find there’s no Biblical reason to assume they refer to any place other than the actual city on the plains of Shinar.