Lessons from Babylon the Great

Lessons from Babylon the Great

Every generation has been long fascinated with stories of the collapse of bygone empires and civilizations.

The story of the Titanic has captivated us from the day the great ship went down. It had been called the “unsinkable ship”, it was the very best of technology. The best, brightest, richest and highest in social standing boarded the ship that night and most never reached their destination. History is full of similarly provocative illustrations.

On the night of October the 12th 539 BC, BEL-SHA’ZAR, the crown prince of Babylon gathered 1000 of his lords, princes, wives and concubines for a night of wine, food and song; or as the Old Testament prophet Isaiah put it, a “night of pleasure.”

News of the Persian army arriving outside the walled city didn’t concern BEL-SHA’ZAR, after all the City of Babylon stood as a monument to the high achievement of modern man.

It had been specifically designed and built to deny an enemy the important advantages of assault, mobility and firepower; and to provide maximum protection and security for those defending the city. It boasted of the very best of modern high tech fortifications.

The walls were high and wide to prevent scaling and breaching, in-fact a chariot and 4 horses could easily maneuver in a circle across the top. The base of the walls were deep and broad to prevent undermining of the foundations or tunneling.

If he penetrated the outer gate, the enemy would find himself in a passage between the gates, which had numerous firing positions along its length, exposing him to crossfire from two, three, or four different directions.

Without a doubt the ancient City of Babylon was, by the standards of its day, impregnable.

A large city in the desert, its lifeblood was the Euphrates River on which it was built. The Euphrates watered its gardens and guaranteed an uninterrupted supply of food and drinking water. The internal infrastructure of the great City was completely dependent upon the river.

On hearing news of the approaching Persian Army, BEL-SHA’ZAR would have done what every king had done in numerous past vain attempts on the city. He ordered the city gates closed and then set about organizing a party to praise the “gods of Babylon”, while the enemy perished in the hot desert sands out-side the city.

Overlooked by the military strategists of the great city, at the foundation of the city’s strategic strength lay what could only be described as a “system fragility”. Babylon was built on an Ox-bow of the river. As history records, the Persian army quickly dug a channel across the narrowest point between the riverbanks, easily diverting the river flow away from the city.

Now we had a situation where an entire city was locked inside its city-gates, in the middle of a desert, completely dependent on a river that no longer flowed through it.

That night a Hebrew called Belteshazzar, known to us as Daniel, was bought before the King BEL-SHA’ZAR. His words to the Crown Prince are recorded in Chapter 5 of the Old Testament book of Daniel “You have lifted yourself against the Lord of Heaven . . , God has numbered your kingdom and finished it . . , you are weighed in the balances and found wanting . . , your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and the Persians.”

As predicted by Daniel, on the 13th day of October the armies of the Medes and Persians marched up the dry river bed unopposed into the city and the Persian King Cyrus made his triumphant entry into Babylon just 16 days later.

The ancient city of Babylon had been a monument to the high achievement of modern man. It boasted fortification and strength, military-might and wisdom in design, yet at its core was a dependence on a fragile system, and as a result the city fell to the enemy without a fight.

We are likewise living in perilous and changing times.

To prevent ourselves, our families or our hard earned “net worth” from falling into the hands of the enemy, in whatever form he shows himself, requires our diligent attention. To take a lesson from the ancient Babylonian story;

1) Don’t party while the enemy is at the gate. This one is simple, it speaks for itself.

2) Always remember to apply the time proven principle of reducing personal dependence on potentially fragile systems, no matter how strong and impregnable they may look from the outside. Many of today’s “monuments to the modern man”; our financial institutions, systems and infrastructures are far more fragile than they may seem at first look.

Again, the prophet Isaiah said “(because of) the wisdom of their wise, men shall perish.”

by Philip Judge