Isaiah 21:5
Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise, you princes, and anoint the shield.
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(5) Prepare the table, watch in the watch-tower.—The words (historical infinitive) are better taken as indicative: They prepare . . . they watch. The last clause has been variously rendered, they spread the coverlet; i.e., for the couches of the revellers (Amos 6:4); and they take a horoscopes (Ewald). Here, with hardly a shadow of a doubt, there is a reference to the temper of reckless revel such as was the immediate forerunner of the capture of Babylon. The prophet had, perhaps, an analogue of such blind security before his eyes at the very time he wrote (Isaiah 22:13), which led him to anticipate a like state of things in Babylon.

Anoint the shield . . .—The summons is one which in the prophet’s vision breaks in on the songs and music of the revel. The shields thought of were those covered with leather, which was oiled, partly to protect it from wet, partly to make the stroke of the sword glide off from it. The call implies that even this precaution had been neglected by the revellers.

Isaiah 21:5. Prepare the table — Furnish it with meats and drinks, as it follows. The prophet foretels what the Babylonians would be doing when their enemies were upon the point of entering their city: Watch in the watch-tower — To give us notice of any approaching danger, that we may more securely indulge ourselves in mirth and pleasures. Arise, ye princes — Either, 1st, Ye princes of Babylon. Arise from the table, and run to your arms: which sudden alarm was the consequence of tidings from the watch- tower. Or, 2d, Ye Medes and Persians; as if he had said, While your enemies, the Babylonians, are feasting securely, prepare and make your assault. Most commentators understand the clause in this latter sense. Dr. Waterland, after Vitringa, renders it, The table is spread: the watchman stands upon the watch; they eat, they drink: Arise now, ye princes, &c. The words paint in lively colours the security and revelling of the Babylonians, at the very time when the divine command is given to the Medes and Persians to seize this proper moment to make the assault. See Jeremiah 51:11; Jeremiah 51:28, &c. The expression, Anoint the shield, means, Prepare your arms: make ready for the battle. The shield is put for all their weapons, offensive and defensive. They used to anoint their shields with oil to preserve and polish them, and make them slippery, that their enemies’ darts might not fix in and penetrate, but slide off from them.21:1-10 Babylon was a flat country, abundantly watered. The destruction of Babylon, so often prophesied of by Isaiah, was typical of the destruction of the great foe of the New Testament church, foretold in the Revelation. To the poor oppressed captives it would be welcome news; to the proud oppressors it would be grievous. Let this check vain mirth and sensual pleasures, that we know not in what heaviness the mirth may end. Here is the alarm given to Babylon, when forced by Cyrus. An ass and a camel seem to be the symbols of the Medes and Persians. Babylon's idols shall be so far from protecting her, that they shall be broken down. True believers are the corn of God's floor; hypocrites are but as chaff and straw, with which the wheat is now mixed, but from which it shall be separated. The corn of God's floor must expect to be threshed by afflictions and persecutions. God's Israel of old was afflicted. Even then God owns it is his still. In all events concerning the church, past, present, and to come, we must look to God, who has power to do any thing for his church, and grace to do every thing that is for her good.Prepare the table - This verse is one of the most striking and remarkable that occurs in this prophecy, or indeed in any part of Isaiah. It is language supposed to be spoken in Babylon. The first direction - perhaps supposed to be that of the king - is to prepare the table for the feast. Then follows a direction to set a watch - to make the city safe, so that they might revel without fear. Then a command to eat and drink: and then immediately a sudden order, as if alarmed at an unexpected attack, to arise and anoint the shield, and to prepare for a defense. The "table" here refers to a feast - that impious feast mentioned in Daniel 5 in the night in which Babylon was taken, and Belshazzar slain. Herodotus (i. 195), Xenophon ("Cyr." 7, 5), and Daniel Dan. 5 all agree in the account that Babylon was taken in the night in which the king and his nobles were engaged in feasting and revelry. The words of Xenophon are, 'But Cyrus, when he heard that there was to be such a feast in Babylon, in which all the Babylonians would drink and revel through the whole night, on that night, as soon as it began to grow dark, taking many people, opened the dams into the river;' that is, he opened the dykes which had been made by Semiramis and her successors to confine the waters of the Euphrates to one channel, and suffered the waters of the Euphrates again to flow over the country so that he could enter Babylon beneath its wall in the channel of the river. Xenophon has also given the address of Cyrus to the soldiers. 'Now,' says he, 'let us go against them. Many of them are asleep; many of them are intoxicated; and all of them are unfit for battle (ἀσὺντακτοι asuntaktoi).' Herodotus says (i. 191), 'It was a day of festivity among them, and while the citizens were engaged in dance and merriment, Babylon was, for the first time, thus taken.' Compare the account in Daniel 5.

Watch in the watch-tower - place a guard so that the city shall be secure. Babylon had on its walls many "towers," placed at convenient distances (see the notes at Isaiah 13), in which guards were stationed to defend the city, and to give the alarm on any approach of an enemy. Xenophon has given a similar account of the taking of the city: 'They having arranged their guards, drank until light.' The oriental watch-towers are introduced in the book for the purpose of illustrating a general subject often referred to in the Scriptures.

Eat, drink - Give yourselves to revelry during the night (see Daniel 5)

Arise, ye princes - This language indicates sudden alarm. It is the language either of the prophet, or more probably of the king of Babylon, alarmed at the sudden approach of the enemy, and calling upon his nobles to arm themselves and make, a defense. The army of Cyrus entered Babylon by two divisions - one on the north where the waters of the Euphrates entered the city, and the other by the channel of the Euphrates on the south. Knowing that the city was given up to revelry on that night, they had agreed to imitate the sound of the revellers until they should assemble around the royal palace in the center of the city. They did so. When the king heard the noise, supposing that it was the sound of a drunken mob, he ordered the gates of the palace to be opened to ascertain the cause of the disturbance. When they were thus opened, the army of Cyrus rushed in, and made an immediate attack on all who were within. It is to this moment that we may suppose the prophet here refers, when the king, aroused and alarmed, would call on his nobles to arm themselves for battle (see Jahn's "Hebrew Commonwealth," p. 153, Ed. Andover, 1828).

Anoint the shield - That is, prepare for battle. Gesenius supposes that this means to rub over the shield with oil to make the leather more supple and impenetrable (compare 2 Samuel 1:21). The Chaldee renders it, 'Fit, and polish your arms.' The Septuagint, 'Prepare shields.' Shields were instruments of defense prepared to ward off the spears and arrows of an enemy in battle. They were usually made of a rim of brass or wood, and over this was drawn a covering of the skin of an ox or other animal in the manner of a drum-head with us. Occasionally the hide of a rhinoceros or an elephant was used. Burckhardt ("Travels in Nubia") says that the Nubians use the hide of the hippopotamus for the making of shields. But whatever skin might be used, it was necessary occasionally to rub it over with oil lest it should become hard, and crack, or lest it should become so rigid that an arrow or a sword would easily break through it. Jarchi says, that 'shields were made of skin, and that they anointed them with the oil of olive.' The sense is, 'Prepare your arms! Make ready for battle!'

5. Prepare the table—namely, the feast in Babylon; during which Cyrus opened the dykes made by Semiramis to confine the Euphrates to one channel and suffered them to overflow the country, so that he could enter Babylon by the channel of the river. Isaiah first represents the king ordering the feast to be got ready. The suddenness of the irruption of the foe is graphically expressed by the rapid turn in the language to an alarm addressed to the Babylonian princes, "Arise," &c. (compare Isa 22:13). Maurer translates, "They prepare the table," &c. But see Isa 8:9.

watch in … watchtower—rather, "set the watch." This done, they thought they might feast in entire security. Babylon had many watchtowers on its walls.

anoint … shield—This was done to prevent the leather of the shield becoming hard and liable to crack. "Make ready for defense"; the mention of the "shield" alone implies that it is the Babylonian revellers who are called on to prepare for instant self-defense. Horsley translates, "Grip the oiled shield."

Prepare the table; furnish it with meats and drinks, as it follows. The prophet foretells what the Babylonians would be doing when their’ enemies were at their doors, that they would give up themselves to feasting and security.

Watch in the watch-tower, to give us notice of any approaching danger, that in the mean time we may more securely indulge ourselves in mirth and pleasures.

Arise, ye princes; either,

1. Ye Medes and Persians; whilst your enemies the Babylonians are feasting securely, prepare to make your assault. Or,

2. Ye princes of Babylon; arise from the table and run to your arms. Which sudden alarm and change of their posture proceeded from tidings out of the watch-tower, as may be gathered from the former clause,

and is more fully expressed in the following verses.

Annoint the shield; prepare yourselves and your arms for the battle approaching: The shield is put for all their weapons of offence and defence. They used to anoint their shields with oil, partly to preserve ahd polish them, and partly to make them slippery, that their enemies’ darts might not fasten in them, but slide off from them. Prepare the table,.... Set it, spread it, furnish it with all kind of provisions, as at a feast; and such an one Belshazzar made, the night the city was taken: these words are directed to him by his courtiers or queen, as represented by the prophet, in order to remove his fears; see Daniel 5:10,

watch in the watchtower; this is said to his servants, his soldiers, or sentinels, that were placed on watchtowers to observe the motions of the enemy, who were ordered on duty, and to be on guard, that he and his nobles might feast the more securely; and all this being done, a table furnished, and a guard set, he, his nobles, and all his guests, are encouraged to "eat" and "drink" liberally and cheerfully, without any fear of the Medes and Persians, who were now besieging the city; when, at the same time, by the Lord it would be said,

arise, ye princes; not, ye nobles of Babylon, from your table, quit it, and your feasting and mirth:

and anoint the shield; prepare your arms, see that they are in good order, get them in readiness, and defend your king, yourselves, and your city, as some; but the princes of the Medes and Persians, Cyrus and his generals, are bid to take their arms, and enter the city while indulging themselves at their feast: it was usual to anoint shields, and other pieces of armour, partly that they might be smooth and slippery, as Jarchi, that so the darts of the enemy might easily slide off; and partly for the polishing and brightening of them, being of metal, especially of brass; so the Targum,

"polish and make the arms bright;''

see 2 Samuel 1:21. Aben Ezra understands the words as an exhortation to the princes, to arise and anoint Darius king, in the room of Belshazzar slain; the word "shield" sometimes signifying a king, for which he mentions Psalm 84:9 so Ben Melech; but they are a call of the prophet, or of the Lord, to the princes of the Medes and Persians, to take the opportunity, while the Babylonians were feasting, to fall upon them; and the words may be rendered thus (u),

"in or while preparing the table, watching in the watchtower, eating and drinking, arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield;''

which was done by their servants, though they are called upon.

(u) "disponendo, mensam, speculando speculam, comedendo, bibendo, surgite principes, ungite clypeum", Montanus; and to the same sense Grotius.

Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: {h} arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield.

(h) While they are eating and drinking, they will be commanded to run to their weapons.

5. The prophet contrasts his own lonely vigils with the careless security of the Babylonian revellers (cf. Daniel 5; Jeremiah 51:39; Isaiah 14:11).

Prepare the table, &c.] Render as in R.V. They prepare the table, they set the watch (the only measure of precaution adopted by the revellers), they eat, they drink.

arise, ye princes] The banquet breaks up in confusion, for the foe is at the gates.

anoint the shield] Shields were oiled (2 Samuel 1:21), probably to make the blows glide off them.Verse 5. - Prepare the table, etc. With lyrical abruptness, the prophet turns from his own feelings to draw a picture of Babylon at the time when she is attacked. He uses historical infinitives, the most lively form of narrative. Translate, They deck the table, set the watch, eat, drink; i.e. having decked the table, they commit the task of watching to a few, and then give themselves up to feasting and reveling, as if there were no danger. It is impossible not to think of Belshazzar's feast, and the descriptions of the Greek historians (Herod., 1:191; Xen., 'Cyrop.,' 7:23), which mark at any rate the strength of the tradition that, when Babylon was taken, its inhabitants were engaged in revelry. Arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield. In the midst of the feast there enters to the revellers one from the outside, with these words, "Rise, quit the banquet; get your shields; anoint them; arm yourselves." That shields were greased with fat or oil before being used in battle appears from Virg., 'AEneid,' 7:625, and other places. It was thought that the enemy's weapons would more readily glance off an oiled surface. But if Egypt and Ethiopia are thus shamefully humbled, what kind of impression will this make upon those who rely upon the great power that is supposed to be both unapproachable and invincible? "And they cry together, and behold themselves deceived by Ethiopia, to which they looked, and by Egypt, in which they gloried. And the inhabitant of this coast-land saith in that day, Behold, thus it happens to those to whom we looked, whither we fled for help to deliver us from the king of Asshur: and how should we, we escape?" אי, which signifies both an island and a coast-land, is used as the name of Philistia and Zephaniah 2:5, and as the name of Phoenicia in Isaiah 23:2, Isaiah 23:6; and for this reason Knobel and others understand it here as denoting the former with the inclusion of the latter. But as the Assyrians had already attacked both Phoenicians and Philistines at the time when they marched against Egypt, there can be no doubt that Isaiah had chiefly the Judaeans in his mind. This was the interpretation given by Jerome ("Judah trusted in the Egyptians, and Egypt will be destroyed"), and it has been adopted by Ewald, Drechsler, Luzzatto, and Meier. The expressions are the same as those in which a little further on we find Isaiah reproving the Egyptian tendencies of Judah's policy. At the same time, by "the inhabitant of this coast-land" we are not to understand Judah exclusively, but the inhabitants of Palestine generally, with whom Judah was mixed up to its shame, because it had denied its character as the nation of Jehovah in a manner so thoroughly opposed to its theocratic standing.

Unfortunately, we know very little concerning the Assyrian campaigns in Egypt. But we may infer from Nahum 3:8-10, according to which the Egyptian Thebes had fallen (for it is held up before Nineveh as the mirror of its own fate), that after the conquest of Ashdod Egypt was also overcome by Sargon's army. In the grand inscription found in the halls of the palace at Khorsabad, Sargon boasts of a successful battle which he had fought with Pharaoh Sebech at Raphia, and in consequence of which the latter became tributary to him. Still further on he relates that he had dethroned the rebellious king of Ashdod, and appointed another in his place, but that the people removed him, and chose another king; after which he marched with his army against Ashdod, and when the king fled from him into Egypt, he besieged Ashdod, and took it. Then follows a difficult and mutilated passage, in which Rawlinson agrees with Oppert in finding an account of the complete subjection of Sebech (Sabako?).

(Note: Five Great Monarchies, vol. ii. pp. 416-7; compare Oppert, Sargonides, pp. 22, 26-7. With regard to one passage of the annals, which contains an account of a successful battle fought at Ra-bek (Heliopolis), see Journal Asiat. xii. 462ff.; Brandis, p. 51.)

Nothing can be built upon this, however; and it must also remain uncertain whether, even if the rest is correctly interpreted, Isaiah 20:1 relates to that conquest of Ashdod which was followed by the dethroning of the rebellious king and the appointment of another, or to the final conquest by which it became a colonial city of Assyria.

(Note: Among the pictures from Khorsabad which have been published by Botta, there is a burning fortress that has been taken by storm. Isidor Lwenstern (in his Essai, Paris 1845) pronounced it to be Ashdod; but Rdiger regarded the evidence as inconclusive. Nevertheless, Lwenstern was able to claim priority over Rawlinson in several points of deciphering (Galignani's Messenger, Revelation 28, 1850). He read in the inscription the king's name, Sarak.)

This conquest Sargon ascribes to himself in person, so that apparently we must think of that conquest which was carried out by Tartan; and in that case the words, "he fought against it," etc., need not be taken as anticipatory. It is quite sufficient, that the monuments seem to intimate that the conquest of Samaria and Ashdod was followed by the subjugation of the Egypto-Ethiopian kingdom. But inasmuch as Judah, trusting in the reed of Egypt, fell away from Assyria under Hezekiah, and Sennacherib had to make war upon Egypt again, to all appearance the Assyrians never had much cause to congratulate themselves upon their possession of Egypt, and that for reasons which are not difficult to discover. At the time appointed by the prophecy, Egypt came under the Assyrian yoke, from which it was first delivered by Psammetichus; but, as the constant wars between Assyria and Egypt clearly show, it never patiently submitted to that yoke for any length of time. The confidence which Judah placed in Egypt turned out most disastrously for Judah itself, just as Isaiah predicted here. But the catastrophe that occurred in front of Jerusalem did not put an end to Assyria, nor did the campaigns of Sargon and Sennacherib bring Egypt to an end. And, on the other hand, the triumphs of Jehovah and of the prophecy concerning Assyria were not the means of Egypt's conversion. In all these respects the fulfilment showed that there was an element of human hope in the prophecy, which made the distant appear to be close at hand. And this element it eliminated. For the fulfilment of a prophecy is divine, but the prophecy itself is both divine and human.

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