” . . . Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! how long? And to him that ladeth himself with thick clay! Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee, And awake that shall vex thee, And thou shalt be for booties unto them? Because thou hast spoiled many nations, All the remnant of the people shall spoil thee; Because of men’s blood, and for the violence of the land, Of the city, and of all that dwell therein.”—Habakkuk 2:6b–8
This indulgence would not last forever. The Lord did indeed allow Babylon to have his indulgence, but it would only last for a season. Nebuchadnezzar was eventually brought to his knees before the Most High and had no choice but to admit, “How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation” (Daniel 4:3). The Lord pronounced a judgment on Babylon in Daniel 5: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.” Daniel records,
“This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.”
With just His finger, the Lord declared to Babylon that their days were numbered. How long will Babylon continue in his indulgence? Until they repent or the Lord stops it.
“Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee”
Notice first the timing of this destruction of Babylon. It was sudden. Listen to the account given in Daniel 5:29–30 immediately after Daniel’s interpretation of the writing on the wall.
“Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.”
What solemn words were written in this passage. Belshazzar thought in his might and power to reward Daniel for his interpretation. He commanded his servants to clothe Daniel in scarlet and put a chain of gold about his neck. He declared Daniel the third ruler in the kingdom, a kingdom that wouldn’t survive the night.
“And awake that shall vex thee”
Babylon had no worries for its destruction. Herodotus, a Greek historian in the 5th century BC, describes the surprise of Babylon’s fall. He records that a short battle was fought outside of Babylon whereupon Cyrus and the Persians gained victory. The gates were closed, and the walls were unable to be passed. The only opening was a river coming out of the city. Herodotus records,
Hereupon the Persians who had been left for the purpose at Babylon by the river-side, entered the stream, which had now sunk so as to reach about midway up a man’s thigh, and thus got into the town. Had the Babylonians been apprised of what Cyrus was about, or had they noticed their danger, they would never have allowed the Persians to enter the city, but would have destroyed them utterly; for they would have made fast all the street gates which gave access to the river, and mounting upon the walls along both sides of the stream, would so have caught the enemy, as it were, in a trap. But, as it was, the Persians came upon them by surprise and so took the city. Owing to the vast size of the place, the inhabitants of the central parts (as the residents at Babylon declare) long after the outer portions of the town were taken, knew nothing of what had chanced, but as they were engaged in a festival, continued dancing and reveling until they learnt about the capture. Such, then, were the circumstances of the first taking of Babylon.
The people inside the walls of Babylon were drinking, dancing, and partying. They knew the Persians were outside the walls, but how could they defeat the mighty Babylonians? Belshazzar was feasting joyously in his palace. In the midst of his drinking, he ordered his servants to bring in the golden and silver vessels which were taken from the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. While they feasted and drank from these vessels, they praised the gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and stone (Daniel 5:2–3). They spat in the face of the Lord God of Israel. In their indulgence, they had not a single worry. They only cared to gratify their lusts.
Meanwhile, Cyrus and his men marched through the river into the heart of Babylon. According to Herodotus, the inhabitants at the center did not even know the outer parts were taken. It is possible and even probable that when Daniel interpreted and declared “PERES: Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians,” the Persians had already taken the outer parts of the city.