Babylon is often used as a symbol of wickedness. For example, in Ye Elders of Israel, Babylon is a something the righteous flee in favor of the mountains of Ephraim.
O Babylon, O Babylon, we bid thee farewell;Ye Elders of Israel #319
We’re going to the mountains of Ephraim to dwell.
In Israel, Israel, God Is Calling, Babylon is a symbol of the lands of woe, whose towers God will destroy.
Babylon the great is falling; God shall all her tow’rs o’erthrow.Israel, Israel, God Is Calling #7
These songs were based on scriptures, which were written at a time when Israel was occupied by Babylon. Babylon was their enemy and they used Babylon as a symbol of the evil and wickedness in the world. Christ recognized that was the case. He taught: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.” (Matt 5:43) However, he brought a higher law; one where we are supposed to love our enemies. The Old Testament did not follow this higher law. While we still read and follow the Old Testament, we cannot follow practices that were specifically condemned by Jesus Christ. We can not continue the practice of hating Babylon.
The ancient kingdom of Babylon sits in modern day Iraq, centered in a province called the Babylon Province. Even though the song references the ancient kingdom, the modern-inhabitants are very aware of their heritage and still use the name of Babylon. In 2002, the Babylon Province had an estimated population of 1,651,565 people. All of these people are children of God and deserve our upmost respect. Could you imagine walking into a church meeting and hearing people singing about how people from your land are evil? If we hope to expand to every nation, we need to make sure our hymns are welcoming to people of all nations.
Besides being offensive to the people of modern-day Iraq, there is also the general problem of using racial language for symbols of righteousness or wickedness. Once we start generalizing with one race, it is easy to start making generalizations about other groups of people. It is a thought pattern that encourages racism, and we should never be comfortable with it. No nation is wicked or heathen. We all have good and bad in all of us. It is important our new hymnbook invites people from all lands to come unto Christ, even Babylon.