The Historical Significance of Shinar in the Bible

Steppes of Faith
8 min readJun 16, 2023
SteppesofFaith.com

“They traveled from the east and found a plain in the land of Shinar.” Genesis 11:2

The region of Shinar is mentioned eight times in the Old Testament, always in reference to historical Babylon or Babylonia. It included both its northern (Accad) and southern (Erech) kingdoms and sometimes collectively called Sumer (Genesis 10:10). Revelation 18:2–3 also references Shinar.

Located around the estuaries of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, now commonly known as Iraq, Shinar is where Nimrod’s kingdom began (Genesis 10), the Tower of Babel was built (Genesis 11), and Kings Amraphel (Genesis 14; sometimes identified with Hammurabi) and Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1) made their homes.

Shinar was not necessarily a nice place. The Bible consistently uses it as an example of sin and a hub of malicious activity, mainly pagan idolatry, sexual immorality, human pride, and spiritual rebellion. But God has a special promise reserved for those who obey Him, even those in Shinar.

Confusion and Greed

In the generations after Noah died, God commanded the Israelites to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1,7).” As a result, the population quickly grew and spread across the land. Eventually, as the people wandered, they came to an open plain in the land of Shinar (modern Iraq).

There, they built a city with an enormous tower whose “top is in the heavens” to “make a name for” themselves. God looked at it and instantly disapproved, so He confused their singular language and divided it into many languages. This way, they could not continue building (Genesis 11:1–9).

The story of the Tower of Babel not only explains how we came to have different global languages but also how Shinar earned its name. Babel or Babylon means “confusion” and the people’s tendency toward pride, disobedience, and temptation.

Another story is when King Nebuchadnezzar seized Jerusalem, stole the holy elements from God’s Temple, and placed them in a pagan temple. Daniel 1:1–3 specifically mentions Shinar as the location of the king’s temple.

Second Chronicles 36:17 also discusses Jerusalem’s seizure and Judah’s forced exile.

“Therefore, [the Lord] brought against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary and had no compassion on young man or virgin, on the aged or the weak. He gave them all into his hand.”

In this passage, Chaldeans is yet another name for Shinar and an early name for Babylon. Second Kings 25 also describes Jerusalem’s seizure. In verse one, it refers to “Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon,” but then calls his army the Chaldeans several later verses.

Nebuchadnezzar’s takeover of Jerusalem demonstrates the sin and confusion encompassed in Shinar’s name as well as the king’s greed and willful temptation.

Stealing a Shinar Royal Garment

The book of Joshua provides a third mention of Shinar, this time associated with temptation.

In chapter six, God commands Israel to conquer Jericho by marching around the city until its walls fall. God then commands the people not to take “the accursed things (v18)” out of the city. However, a man named Achan from the tribe of Judah greedily disobeys. His violation caused Israel to suffer defeat when they first tried to conquer the land of Ai in chapter seven.

Achan’s actions caused God to command Joshua to call each of the leaders of the tribes of Israel forward. They were required to sanctify themselves and their households. One by one, the tribes presented themselves until Achan from the tribe of Judah confessed his crime.

“Indeed, I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I have done: When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian (Shinar) garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels. I coveted them and took them.” (Joshua 7:20–21, addition)

Once he recovered the royal garment, Joshua took Achan, his entire family, and all his possessions, including animals, to the Valley Achor (“valley of trouble”). There, they were stoned to death and burned (7:24–25), according to God’s command (7:15). After purging the sin, God again enabled Israel to defeat its enemies, including Ai (ch8).

Once again, we see Shinar’s curse of confusion and sin, even through an item of clothing once belonging to a member of Shinar’s royal household.

Wickedness in a Basket

Shinar also appears in the book of the minor prophet Zechariah, who represents the region with another aspect of evil — wickedness. In chapter five, the prophet has a visionary conversation with an angel about a woman in a basket.

“So I asked [the angel], ‘What is it?’

“And he said, ‘It is a basket that is going forth. This is their resemblance throughout the earth. Here is a lead disc lifted up, and this is a woman sitting inside the basket. This is Wickedness!’

“And he thrust her down into the basket and threw the lead cover over its mouth. Then I raised my eyes and looked, and there were two women coming with the wind in their wings, for they had wings like the wings of a stork. And they lifted up the basket between earth and heaven.

“So I said to the angel who talked with me, ‘Where are they carrying the basket?’

“And he said to me, ‘To build a house for it in the land of Shinar. When it is ready, the basket will be set there on its base.’” (Zechariah 5:5–11)

Scholars believe the woman in the basket symbolizes materialism and idol worship, sins that Israel picked up during their captivity in Babylon and brought back to Jerusalem. The lead cover represents the need to restrain the sins until Jesus removes them in the final days. The two flying women are compared to storks (unclean animals), indicating the women are spiritual forces of evil and secularism.

The prophetic vision shows God allowing the women to return the basket to Shinar (Babylon), a center of evil activity. There, they will place it in a “house,” which may be a pagan temple for idol worship, possibly belonging to the Antichrist. It will stay in Shinar until Jesus destroys all wickedness and Shinar itself.

Revelation 17–18 confirms Zechariah’s vision and includes yet another aspect of evil.

The Woman of Shinar

Like Zechariah, the apostle John also has a vision of a woman in Shinar in Revelation 17.

“And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead, a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON [Shinar] THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” (Revelation 17:3–6, addition)

Again, the Bible links a woman of Shinar with evil, immorality, and pagan idolatry. The scarlet beast is the coming Antichrist (see Daniel 8 for more about heads and horns). The woman’s dress and the golden cup symbolize great wealth, but spiritual fornication and apostasy defile the cup.

Verse six says the woman is drunk with the blood of the saints. These could be Old or New Testament saints, including those who come to Christ during the Tribulation, but the distinction is unimportant. The point is the woman is a murderer. False religions have caused the deaths of millions of Christ-followers for centuries, including modern times. But the future false religion system will be much deadlier.

The woman’s headband states her name for all to see — she is the “Mother of Harlots,” indicating that all false religions and teachings (not sin itself) ultimately stem from Shinar. Millions have and will continue to die because of her, right up to when Jesus contains Satan (Revelation 18–20). Based on the death rate, one can see why she is drunk and wealthy.

God’s Victory over Shinar

Thankfully, God promises to deliver a faithful remnant from Shinar and preserve them for Himself.

“In that day, there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner for the people. For the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious. It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord will extend His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left, from Assyria and Egypt, from Pathros and Cush, from Elam and Shinar, from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.” (Isaiah 11:10–11)

In the last days, God promises He will regather those who have found salvation in Him alone — both Jews and Gentiles, even those in Shinar — to worship the Messiah in the future millennial kingdom. All others will be cast away (Matthew 8:12).

Upon defeating the Antichrist and Shinar, the Root of Jesse and the son of David — the Messiah Jesus — will rule supremely. He will attract the remnant from the four corners of the world, and He will serve as a banner (translated as “signal flag”) as a rallying point for the people’s regathering.

Nothing will stand in the way of their return (“highway, v16), including God ensuring their safe passage as they cross the Euphrates River, which will be split into seven streams (v15) much as He did the Red Sea (Exodus 14). They will unify, set aside past arguments and hatred, and establish an unprecedented time of peace. God will remove all wickedness, defeat Israel’s enemies, and finally achieve Israel’s security (11:12–16).

Isaiah’s prophecy paints a powerful picture of Israel’s future. Despite the number of enemies, God will preserve the nation through His sovereign will. Verse 16’s mention of the Exodus, probably the most foundational event in Israel’s history, proves God’s commitment to His covenant with His chosen people and its ultimate fulfillment.

Isaiah’s prophecy is even more special because God will keep His covenant to the Gentiles through Jesus’ atoning work on the cross. One day, believers past, present, and future, worldwide, Jew and non-Jew alike, will join the Messiah in His defeat over Satan and remain in His glorious presence for eternity.

Shinar may be the birthplace of confusion and evil (some believe it is where the Garden of Eden once grew), but the Lord will be victorious over it. And if you are in Christ, you will be there to see it and offer Him a song of praise.

“Indeed, God is my salvation. I will trust Him and not be afraid. For the LORD, the LORD Himself, is my strength and my song. He has become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2)

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Steppes of Faith

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