They set the tables, they spread the rugs, they eat, they drink! Get up, you officers, oil the shields! (Isaiah 21:5)
If one looks at what went down the night Babylon was destroyed, it starts making good sense to follow the advice of the Word of God. We are warned continually and patiently. We are told that friendship with the world makes us an enemy of God. We are warned not to follow the ways of this world since it is passing away. We are encouraged not to become despondent when we see the wicked prosper. There are many warnings. And God repeats them throughout His word, because we need constant reminding.
Since Babylon is often seen as a symbol of the world system, one could look at the historical fall of Babylon and get a glimpse of what it will be like when the Lord finally puts an end to this corrupted world system. Jesus told us its end will not be very different from what it was like in the days of Noah. People will marry and party and suddenly, it will be all over. Perhaps we could never possibly imagine what it will be like and we may not know everything for certain. But one thing is certain. The world system is destined for an inevitable tremendous and final fall. And if we don’t want to be part of that fall, we would be wise to do some introspection and ask ourselves if we have our eyes fixed on things above or things on earth. Is our hope in a kingdom that cannot be shaken?
We may catch ourselves trying to fit in with the world. We may desire to be with the “in” crowd. But here again, we see a warning to come out of Babylon. In the verse above we have two very distinct pictures which paint opposing situations. On the one hand we have the enemy having fun at lavish dinner party. On the other hand we see a command to get ready for war. This depicts the astonishment with which they faced the contrast from partying to getting ready for war. The attack on Babylon was sudden and the officers were obviously not prepared. The shields were usually oiled to prevent the leather from becoming hard and prone to cracking. The oil made the shield shiny, protected the leather against moisture and helped to ward off strikes by the opponents’ sharp arrows. They were feasting the one moment and the next they had to come to their senses and get ready to defend themselves.
The setting of the tables is an allusion to their misguided confidence and how relaxed they had become because life was good and carefree in Babylon. The fact that the officers had to be called to action is an indication of their complacency and erroneous security. They figured that they were secure behind the high walls of Babylon and they did not bother to prepare for a possible attack and had to be called to get their weapons of defense ready.
Many historians agree that the Babylonians were attacked on a night they were enjoying a great feast. The Greek historian Xenophon writes,
“But Cyrus, when he heard that there was going to be a great feast in Babylon in which all the Babylonians would drink and revel through the night, on that night, as soon as it began to grow dark, taking many people, opened the dams into the river.”
Semiramis and her successors made the dykes that confined the waters of the Euphrates to one channel, making an uninhabitable county inhabitable. By allowing the water of the Euphrates once again to run across the country, Cyrus made it possible for his army to enter Babylon beneath its wall in the channel of the river. Xenophon records that Cyrus thereafter instructed his soldiers to go against the Babylonians since many of them were asleep by then; many of them were drunk and altogether unfit for battle.
It is thought that Cyrus and his men, aware of the festive atmosphere in Babylon, imitated the sounds of drunken party-goers until they surrounded the royal palace in the city centre. The king of Babylon heard the noise and assuming it was the sound of a drunken mob, ordered the palace gates to be opened so that they could investigate what’s going on. At that moment, Cyrus’ army rushed in and launched their attack. Cyrus didn’t attack the enemy from the peripheries, but went straight for the jugular. He starts his onslaught with the king inside his own palace. And so the unfathomable has happened. Babylon has fallen!
Today there may be countries, political leaders and rulers who appear to be unconquerable and great. But history tells us a different story. History shows us that many great nations had come and gone. Many impregnable countries and invincible leaders had been defeated and others rose in their place.
This serves as encouragement for those who feel hopeless when they look at the way things are going along in this world system. Corruption, greed, selfish ambition and hunger for power seem to be the winners. Those who attempt to fix things in honest and selfless ways are soon sidelined. But God is not turning a blind eye to these events. At exactly the right time He will put an end to it all. In the meantime, we are called to let our lights shine, to do good and live selfless lives as Jesus did so that we may be found working in our Master’s field when our Master returns.Resources: Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible The Bible: NIV Personal Journal Notes