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Every Empire has an Achilles Heel
We all have a tendon in our foot named after Achilles, the great tragic hero of the Trojan War.
The mythical story tells how Achilles was dipped in the sacred river as a baby by his immortal mother allowing the water to provide magical protection as it washed over his body. She did not completely immerse him, however, because she held him up by the heel during the dipping process. A small portion of Achilles’ body was therefore, unprotected and remained secretly vulnerable throughout his life. Achilles was eventually killed in battle by a goddess-guided arrow shot into his vulnerable heel.
In modern times, the “Achilles Heel” metaphor represents a secret weakness in something otherwise strong and powerful. Every empire, no matter how strong or seemingly powerful, contains mortal weaknesses which are eventually discovered and exploited by its enemies. Only by God’s mercy and sovereign protection can any endure.
Babylon, the Proud
Nebuchadnezzar, the mighty Babylonian conqueror in the 6th Century BC seemed unstoppable. He prevailed against the mightiest armies of his day. He vanquished Egypt at the battle of Carchemish, he plundered Tyre, Moab, Ammon, Edom and God’s city Jerusalem.
Who could resist his power? Let’s say you were a rival King and you decided one day that you wanted to put a stop to Babylonian dominance. Perhaps you would strike at the capital city and show them what its like to be plundered. According to Herodotus you’ll be facing an enormous city of 196 square miles. If your troops are fortunate enough to beat the armies in the field, you’ll need enough boats to ferry your troops across the moat which surrounded the city because the draw bridges are pulled up during enemy assaults. Once across the moat, you’ll need to deal with a wall that was 56 miles long, 300 feet high and 25 feet thick with eight massive gates which we will assume will be closed to all invading armies. There were also 250 towers on these walls that were 450 feet high. On top of the wall and towers will be archers, and very nasty people who will be dropping heavy things, and perhaps molten lead on you as you attempt to what… put up 300 foot ladders? Perhaps you’ll rethink the attack and build a siege ramp large enough to fill in the moat and give you a shot at the wall.
If your army by some miracle were able to deal with the army, the moat, the wall and towers, the archers, and the molten lead, then you’ll find another huge wall behind the first one with a no-man’s land in between where they will continue to slaughter you from above.
Cyrus of Persia in 538 BC decided to take on the task. But instead of attacking the walls straight on, he went for the ‘Achilles Heel’. The Euphrates River flowed under the city with two giant gates containing spikes that reached to the river bottom. According to the famous Cyrus Cylinder inside the British Museum, Cyrus, a general of Darius, had his army dig trenches up stream depleting and rerouting the river so that his army could attack through the riverbed at night. Perhaps drunken debauchery within the city and the providence of God who prophesied through Isaiah a century earlier that He would “dry the river” (Isaiah 44:27) and “open the gates”, allowed Cyrus to breach the river gates at night and quickly over-run the city.
“Thus says the LORD to Cyrus His anointed, Whom I have taken by the right hand, To subdue nations before him And to loose the loins of kings; To open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: "I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars. "I will give you the treasures of darkness And hidden wealth of secret places, So that you may know that it is I, The LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. "For the sake of Jacob My servant, And Israel My chosen one…” Isaiah 45:1-4
It’s frightening to think that America has enemies at her gates looking for our Achilles Heel. Osama bin Laden wrote in February 2003, “We conclude that America is a superpower, with enormous military strength and vast economic power, but that all this is built on foundations of straw. So it is possible to target those foundations -- then the whole edifice will totter and sway.” “Messages to the World” by Osama bin Laden, Bruce Lawrence, James Howarth
Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it;
Unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain. Psalm 127:1
May we continually turn to God who loves us and calls to us every day, for He is our hope and salvation. May we seek Him daily in worship asking for His mercy, the knowledge of His will and strength to carry it out.
A prayer for salvation…
“Dear Lord, I know that I have sinned against You and by my sinful nature, You and I are alienated. I have heard the good news that You have sent Your Son Jesus to die for my sins and by accepting His sacrificial death on the Roman cross on my behalf, I can be completely forgiven and washed clean and that I will stand before You in His righteousness rather than my own. Lord I want this. Jesus be my Lord and Savior, forgive me of my sins and fill me with Your Holy Spirit. I worship You for giving me this amazing gift! Amen.”