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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Jeremiah 51

 

 

Verse 1

LI.

(1) I will raise up . . . a destroying wind.—Literally, the wind of a destroyer. In Haggai 1:14; Ezra 1:1; Ezra 1:5; 1 Chronicles 5:26 the phrase is used for “stirring up the spirit” of a man, and that may be its meaning here. The context, however, suggests, in the “fanners” of the next verse, the literal meaning of “wind,” and it is quite possible that the phrase may have been used by Jeremiah in this sense, and afterwards acquired a figurative meaning. It does not appear in any earlier book of the Old Testament.

Against them that dwell in the midst of them that rise up against me.—Literally, in the heart of my adversaries. In the judgment of most commentators the Hebrew words Leb-kamai, which answer to the last ten words of the English, furnish another example of the Atbash or cypher-writing of which we have seen an instance in the Sheshach of Jeremiah 25:26. Interpreted by that cypher Leb-kamai becomes Chasdim or Chaldæans. Obviously the significance of the cypher-words gives force to its employment here, and presents a parallel to the use of the names Merathaim and Pekod in Jeremiah 50:21. Some commentators, indeed, rest in that significance without recognising the hidden meaning of the Atbash. The LXX. and Syriac versions translate “against the Chaldæans,” as recognising the use of the cypher. Both this and Sheshach had probably become familiar in the correspondence between the exiles and those of their countrymen who remained in Judaea, and so both would understand them when used by Jeremiah.


Verse 2

(2) Fanners, that shall fan her.—The Hebrew word as it stands means “strangers,” but a change of the vowel-points would give etymologically “winnowers” or “fanners,” though the word is not found elsewhere. On the whole it would seem best to accept the meaning of “strangers,” the prophet connecting it with the verb for “fan,” which contains the same consonants, for the sake of a rhythmical assonance. The imagery in either case is that of the familiar picture of the “threshing-floor,” where the “strong wind” scatters the chaff in all directions (Psalms 1:4; Psalms 35:5; Isaiah 17:13; Isaiah 29:5). The word for “empty” is the same as that used with an emphatic significance in Jeremiah 19:7.


Verse 3

(3) Let the archer bend his bow.—The words represent the sense of the original, but the Hebrew word for “archer” is literally bender, and so the iteration of the verb gains its full rhetorical force. On “brigandine,” as meaning the “coat of mail” of heavy-armed troops, see Note on Jeremiah 46:4. The two classes of soldiers describe collectively the garrison that defended Babylon.


Verse 5

(5) Israel hath not been forsaken.—Better, widowed. The participle is from the word that commonly represents the idea of widowhood. Judah and Israel, the prophet declares, were not, as men thought, abandoned by their husband Jehovah. He was still their protector. The prophet has in his thoughts at once the image of apparent widowhood, as in Isaiah 50:1; Isaiah 54:4-6; Lamentations 1:1, and the thought that Jehovah is, after all, as the husband ready to forgive (Jeremiah 3:4; Jeremiah 3:14; Jeremiah 3:20; Jeremiah 4:1). The assurance of this returning love does not rest on any plea in extenuation of the nation’s guilt, which the words that follow admit without reserve. For “his” it would be better to read her or their, as keeping up the metaphor.

Against the Holy One of Israel.—On Jeremiah’s use of the name, see Note on Jeremiah 50:29.


Verse 6

(6) Flee out of the midst of Babylon.—The words reproduce the call of Jeremiah 50:8 with a fresh motive. The city was doomed. It was ill done for those who had not been guilty of her sins to involve themselves in her destruction. The call is reproduced, as referring to the mystical Babylon, in Revelation 18:4.


Verse 7

(7) Babylon hath been a golden cup . . .—The “golden cup” points to the splendour of Babylon, outwardly, as a vessel made to honour (see Notes on Jer. 1.37). But the “wine” in that cup was poisoned, intoxicating men with wild ambitions and dark idolatries. The same image re-appears in Revelation 14:8; Revelation 17:4, save that there the “golden cup” is in the hand of the harlot, “whose name is MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT.”


Verse 8

(8) Babylon is suddenly fallen . . .—The form of announcement seems taken in part from Isaiah 21:9.

Take balm for her pain . . .—The words are significant. The captive people are not invited simply to raise a shout of triumph at the fall of their oppressor: they are to “take balm” (comp. the use of the same image in Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 46:11), and try to heal her. They are still to “seek the peace of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7), to render kindly service, to pour balm into the bleeding wounds.


Verse 9

(9) We would have healed Babylon . . .—This is the dramatic answer of the Israelite exiles to the prophet’s appeal. They have done what they could, but all was in vain. The guilt could not be washed away, the punishment could not be averted. The “judgment” is measureless as is the distance from heaven to earth. This is also reproduced in Revelation 18:5. For the phrase, as applied to Nebuchadnezzar, see Daniel 4:20. Possibly there may be an allusive reference to the tower of Babel, “reaching unto heaven,” as the type of Babylonian greatness (Genesis 11:4).


Verse 10

(10) The Lord hath brought forth our righteousness . . .—The Hebrew noun is plural—the many righteous acts or forms of righteousness. The thought is parallel to that of Isaiah 62:1. The exile in Babylon had been a time of reformation and growth in righteousness. The day of vengeance on the oppressing city was also a day of acquittal for Israel. It was seen that she had not forfeited the favour of Jehovah. She could still sing, as of old (Judges 5:11), the righteous acts of the Lord, and would sing them, as of old, in the restored sanctuary of Zion.


Verse 11

(11) Make bright the arrows.—Better, Sharpen, the “polishing” or “making bright” being as the means to that end.

Gather the shields.—Literally, fill the shields, i.e., arm yourselves with them, The large shields of the Persian soldiers covered the whole body, and the man literally filled them. The LXX. and Vulgate agree in rendering the noun “quivers” instead of “shields,” but this would seem to have been a conjecture rising out of a wish to connect the two clauses. The rendering of the Authorised version agrees with the use of the word in Song Song of Solomon 4:4; Ezekiel 27:11; 2 Kings 11:10. Some critics interpret the words as meaning “fill the shields with oil,” as parallel to “sharpen the arrows,” and agreeing with “anoint the shield” in Isaiah 21:5.

Of the kings of the Medes.—As with the Greeks in their use of the terms Medise and Medism, so with the Hebrews the Medes are more prominent than the Persians in the work of destruction (comp. Isaiah 13:17). The “kings” are the chieftains of tribes more or less independent, but owning the suzerainty of the Persian king. It is noticeable that the ruler of Babylon, after its capture by Cyrus, in Daniel 5:31, is “Darius the Median,” and that he is called a “king.”


Verse 12

(12) Set up the standard upon the walls of Babylon.—The Authorised version, following the LXX. and the Vulgate, takes the words as an ironical summons to a defence which will prove fruitless. The preposition for “upon” may, however, mean against, and this agrees better with the context. The “standards” are the banners or signals that direct an attack on a given point of the walls. The “watch” and “watchmen” are the scouts and sentinels placed to give notice of any attempt at a sally on the part of the besieged. The “ambush” may indicate generally any sudden attack, or, more specifically, the stratagem of a feigned flight, like that employed by Joshua in the attack on Ai (Joshua 8:14-16; comp. Judges 20:33-35).


Verse 13

(13) O thou that dwellest upon many waters.—The words find an illustration of singular interest in an inscription of Nebuchadnezzar’s given by Oppert (Expéd. en Mésop. i. p. 231): “I made water to flow all around in this immense dyke of earth. I carried an aqueduct across these great waters that are like unto the depths of the sea.” See also Records of the Past, v. 128. The channels which were cut for the waters of the Euphrates seemed at once intended for a line of defence against attack, and for irrigation and navigation. To some extent Babylon, though an inland city, must have presented an appearance like that of Venice or Amsterdam.

The measure of thy covetousness.—The measure is literally “an ell,” and for “covetousness” many commentators give the meaning of “that which is cut off,” a “piece” or “section.” So taken, we may translate the ell-measure of thy portion, the allotted time of prosperity decreed in the Divine counsels. Others, following the Vulgate, “pedalis precisionis tuœ,” give “the ell-measure of thy cutting off,” i.e., the appointed time of destruction.


Verse 14

(14) The Lord of hosts hath sworn by himself.—This is, as in Jeremiah 49:13; Amos 6:8, the most solemn form of affirmation. Compare Hebrews 6:13, and Note on Jeremiah 49:13.

Surely I will fill thee with men, as with Caterpillers.—Better, with grasshoppers or locusts, the fullest type of the swarms of the destroyer (Nahum 3:15). The “Surely” answers to the Hebrew “For if,” as giving the condition on which the shouting depends.

They shall lift up a shout against thee.—The thought is the same as in Jeremiah 25:30. The “shout” is that of those who tread the grapes in the wine-press, and that, as in Isaiah 63:2-3, is the received symbol of conquest and destruction.


Verses 15-19

(15-19) He hath made the earth by his power . . .—The five verses are a reproduction of Jeremiah 10:12-16, fitted in here to enhance the majesty of Him Who decrees the destruction of Babylon, and appoints Israel to be the instrument of that destruction. The word “Israel,” as the italics show, is wanting in the Hebrew, and we have a sufficient sense without it. “He is the former of all things, and of the rod (i.e., the tribe) of his inheritance.” The English version follows the Vulgate and the Targum in treating the omission as an error of transcription. (See Notes on Jeremiah 10:12-16.)


Verse 20

(20) Thou art my battle ax . . .—Better, my mace. The axe is not found on Assyrian monuments as a weapon of war till a comparatively late period. It is a question who is thus addressed—Babylon, or Cyrus as the destroyer of Babylon, or Israel. On the whole, the second seems the more probable answer. The “hammer of the whole earth” is broken by a mightier weapon than itself. (See Note on Jeremiah 50:23.)

With thee will I break in pieces . . .—The tense, in this and in the following, should be the present. The force of the verb is multiplied by the emphatic iteration. All obstacles are to be crushed in the victorious march of the conqueror.


Verse 23

(23) With thee will I break in pieces captains and rulers.—The exhausting of all sorts and conditions of men culminates in the ruling caste. The Hebrew word for “captain” (Pekha) is interesting as connected with the Arabic, with which we are now familiar in the form Pacha (Fürst, Lex.).


Verse 25

(25) O destroying mountain.—Singularly enough the phrase is the same as that which is applied in 2 Kings 23:13 to the Mount of Olives, and is there rendered by the Authorised version as “the Mount of Corruption.” It adds to the interest that this name so given appears in the reign of Josiah, and must therefore have been familiar to Jeremiah. There it is applied to the Mount of Olives as having been the centre of the worship of Ashtoreth and Chemosh and Milcom, destroying the faith and life of Israel. Here, not without the thought that the false worship of Babylon was the root of all its evils, the prophet applies it to that city. The use of the term “mountain,” literally quite inapplicable, was symbolical of its sovereignty. The latter clause of the verse suggests the idea that the prophet had before him the picture of a volcano.

And will make thee a burnt mountain.—Literally, a mountain of burning—either actively, as rolling down its lava and stones to the destruction of all below; or passively, as spent and burnt out. As the sentence describes the doom of Babylon, the latter meaning seems preferable. It is interesting to note the fact that there is an extinct volcano known as Koukal (= fire), which rises to a height of 300 feet above the river Khabour, in Western Assyria (the Chebar of Ezekiel 1:3), consisting of loose lava, scoriæ, and ashes. (Rawlinson’s Ancient Monarchies, i. 189.) Possibly the prophet, who had journeyed to the Euphrates, had seen in this the symbol of the “destroying mountain” that destroyed itself. Babylon was for him an extinct volcano.


Verse 26

(26) They shall not take of thee a stone for a corner.—The prophet uses general language applicable to any city destroyed by fire, without noting the special fact that Babylon was built of bricks.


Verse 27

(27) Prepare the nations.—The word here and in Jeremiah 51:29 conveys, as in Jeremiah 22:7, the idea of consecration.

Call together against her the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashchenaz.—The first of these names was unknown to Greek and Roman geographers, and though here rendered Arareth by the LXX., is elsewhere translated by Armenia, as in the English version of Isaiah 37:38. The name Ararat is Sanscrit, and means “the holy land.” The site of Minni has not been identified, and the name does not occur elsewhere, unless, with some scholars, we find it in Psalms 45:9, and translate “out of the ivory palaces of Minni.” The name “Minyes” is found in Josephus (Antt. i. 3, p. 6), and Minnai in the Assyrian inscriptions. Rawlinson (Herod. i. p. 464) places them above Lake Urumiyeh. It is clear from the context that their country formed part of Armenia. Ashchenaz appears in Genesis 10:3 as connected with Gomer, i.e., with the Scythians. The first syllable has been supposed to contain the root of the name Asia, which has been gradually extended to the continent. The modern Jews apply the name Ashkenazim to those of their race that are settled in Germany and Eastern Europe, the name Sephardim being applied to those of Spain and the West.

Appoint a captain against her.—The word for “captain” is found only here and in Nahum 3:17. It was probably an Assyrian word, meaning either “captain” or “host.”

Cause the horses to come up as the rough caterpillers.—Better, as the bristly locusts. The word describes the insect in its third stage of growth, when the wings are not yet unfolded from their cases, and when they are most destructive in their ravages.


Verse 28

(28) All the land of his dominion.—The use of the singular pronoun indicates that the prophet recognises the fact that the kings, captains, and rulers (see Note on Jeremiah 51:23) are all under one sovereign leader—i.e., under the king of the Medes and Persians.


Verse 29

(29) And the land shall tremble and sorrow.—The verbs in the Hebrew are in the past tense, the prophet seeing, as it were, the very event which he portrays passing before him in his vision.


Verse 30

(30) The mighty men of Babylon have for born to fight.—The verses that follow paint the capture of the city by the stratagem related in the Note on Jeremiah 50:24. Those who “have burned” are, of course, the invaders. They here begin by setting the houses of the city on fire and breaking open the gates that led from the river into the streets of the city, while the panic-stricken people fled to their citadel in despair.


Verse 31

(31) One post shall run to meet another.—The words exactly answer to the account of the capture of Babylon given in Herod. i. (see Note on Jeremiah 51:24). The history of Belshazzar’s feast (Daniel 5:1-30) must obviously have ended in a like result. No words could paint more vividly the panic of the surprised city.


Verse 32

(32) That the passages are stopped.—These were probably the ferries across the Euphrates, by which one part of the city was in communication with the other. These were at the ends of the streets that ran at right angles to the river, and gates—left open in the panic of surprise—led down to them. Besides these there was one bridge over the Euphrates in the middle and a tunnel under it (Herod. i. 186). The word is elsewhere used for fords, as in Genesis 32:22; Judges 3:28, but cannot have that meaning here, as the Euphrates was not fordable at Babylon.

The reeds they have burned with fire.—The word for “reeds” is elsewhere (Isaiah 14:23; Isaiah 41:18; Exodus 7:19; Exodus 8:5) translated “pool.” Here it probably refers to the great pool constructed by Nitocris as a reservoir or dock. This was probably left dry by the diversion of the river into another channel, and the reeds which grew in it, perhaps also the flood-gates of the canals, and the ships that were in dock, were burnt by the Persians. The very pools were the scene of a conflagration.


Verse 33

(33) The daughter of Babylon . . .—More literally, The daughter of Babylon is like a threshing-floor, in the time when it is trodden (i.e., when it is being prepared for the actual process), yet a little while, and the time of harvest shall come to her. The imagery is so familiar that it hardly needs an illustration (see Psalms 1:4; Isaiah 21:10; Isaiah 28:27-28; Micah 4:13). The time of “her harvest” of the Authorised version is ambiguous. What is meant is that the heaped-up treasures of Babylon are but as the harvest which shall be reaped by her conquerors, and the city itself as the threshing-floor on which men shall trample on the plunder.


Verse 34

(34) He hath made me an empty vessel.—The pronouns in one form of the Hebrew text are most of them in the plural, “devoured us, crushed us, made us.” The prophet speaks of himself and Israel as having suffered wrong and outrage at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. The land had been spoiled till it was as an “empty vessel.”

He hath swallowed me up like a dragon.—The Hebrew noun probably stands for a “crocodile” (as in Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 51:9; Ezekiel 29:3), or is used generally for any sea-monster. The “delicates” (“dainties” in Genesis 49:20) are the corn and wine and oil and fruits of Palestine with which the Chaldæan armies had enriched themselves.


Verse 35

(35) The violence done to me and to my flesh . . .—The imagery of the “dragon” or “crocodile” is continued. The “inhabitress of Zion” pleads that her “flesh” and “blood” have been devoured by the Babylonian conqueror, and asks for the application of the law of retribution.


Verse 36

(36) I will dry up her sea . . .—The nouns have been variously interpreted, some commentators referring it to the “sea” of confluent nations, and finding the wealth of Babylon in the “springs” that fed its greatness; others to the Euphrates, or to the sea-like alluvial plain, intersected by canals and streams in which the city stood, often flooded by the river, so that it became as an actual sea (Herod. i. 184), or specially to the large lake described in the Note on Jeremiah 51:32. So in Isaiah 21:1 Babylon is described as “the desert of the sea.” The Hebrew word for “springs” is in the singular, her reservoir. Probably the literal and figurative meanings run into one another, and the “drying up” describes the exhaustion of the power of which the “sea” was the symbol. In Revelation 16:12 we have apparently an allusive reference to the language of this prediction.


Verse 37

(37) Babylon shall become heaps . . .—It is significant, as emphasising the law of retribution, that the terms are the same as those used of Jerusalem in Jeremiah 9:11; Jeremiah 19:8; Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 25:18. Nothing is more characteristic of the present aspect of Babylon than the “heaps” or mounds of brickwork, fragments of pottery and earth, that are now scattered over the plain, and are slowly yielding up their records of the past to explorers. The “dragons” here (not the same word as in Jeremiah 51:34) are the “jackals” that howl in the ruins. (See Note on Jeremiah 10:22.)


Verse 38

(38) They shall roar together like lions . . .—The words are not a continuation of the picture of the preceding verse, but carry us to the scene of revelry that preceded the capture of the city. The princes of Babylon were as “young lions” (Amos 3:4) roaring over their prey. The first clause as well as the second conveys this meaning, and there is probably a reference to the youth of rulers like Belshazzar.


Verse 39

(39) In their heat I will make their feasts . . .—The words are stern and bitter in their irony. When the revellers are hot with wine and lust (comp. Hosea 7:4-7) Jehovah would call them to a banquet of another kind. The wine cup which He would give them would be that of His wrath (Jeremiah 25:16-17), and their drunken joy should end in an eternal sleep. So Herodotus (i. 191) narrates that when Cyrus took the city by his stratagem the inhabitants were keeping a feast with their wonted revelry and license. (Compare Xenoph. Cyropœd. vii. 23.)


Verse 40

(40) I will bring them down like lambs to the slaughter . . .—The figure is changed, and the revellers appear as themselves destined to be the victims of the slaughter-house (Jeremiah 48:15; Jeremiah 50:27). As the “bullocks” of Jeremiah 50:27 are the chosen warriors, so the lambs, sheep, he-goats represent the different classes of the population of Babylon (Isaiah 34:6; Ezekiel 39:18). All alike are given over to the sword.


Verse 41

(41) How is Sheshach taken!—“Sheshach,” it will be remembered, is the cypher which, as explained in the Note on Jeremiah 25:26, stands for Babylon. Here, in the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, it balances the actual name of the city in the second clause of the verse. The word “surprised” is the same as that rendered “stopped” in Jeremiah 51:32.


Verse 42

(42) The sea is come up upon Babylon . . .—The literal explanation of the words as referring to the foundation of the Euphrates adopted by some commentators is clearly inadmissible, and is at variance with the next verse. The prophet falls back on an image which he had used before (Jeremiah 46:7), and which had become familiar through Isaiah (Isaiah 8:7-8; Isaiah 17:12), and speaks of Babylon as covered with the great sea of nations that were sweeping over her.


Verse 43

(43) Her cities are a desolation . . .—The word for “wilderness” is Arabah, commonly used of the sandy desert south of the Dead Sea. The prophet seems to dwell with a stern delight on the seeming paradox that the sea with which Babylon is to be oversowed, the floods of invaders and destroyers, shall leave her cities and her plains drier and more sandy than before.


Verse 44

(44) And I will punish Bel in Babylon.—See Note on Jeremiah 50:2. The god whom Babylon worshipped is, as before, thought of as sharing her downfall. He is made to disgorge his spoil, the vessels of the Temple of Jehovah that had been placed in his temple (Daniel 5:2; Ezra 1:7).

The wall of Babylon shall fall.—The words, though they repeat the statement of Jeremiah 50:15, have here a special significance. The two great walls of the city bore, as has been stated above, the names of Imgur-Bel (= Bel protects) and Nimetti-Bel (= the dwelling of Bel), and were thus specially consecrated to him as their tutelary deity (Oppert, Expédit. en Mésop., i. p. 227; Records of the Past, v. 124). The name of the last king of Babylon, Belshazzar, is a further indication of the reverence felt for him as the supreme object of worship.


Verse 45

(45) Go ye out of the midst of her . . .—The prophet repeats, with all the emphasis of iteration, the summons of Jeremiah 50:8; Jeremiah 51:6. The “fierce anger of the Lord” is that which was directed primarily against Babylon, but which would also fall on those who chose to remain and become “partakers in her plagues.” (Compare Revelation 18:4.)


Verse 46

(46) And lest your heart faint . . .—Better, Let not your heart faint; fear ye not . . .

For the rumour that shall be heard in the land.—It lies in the nature of the case that the final catastrophe of the city would be preceded by a period of uncertainty and suspense. Men would hear of the union of the Medes and Persians under Cyrus, of the murder of Evil-Merodach by Neriglissar, of the death of Neriglissar in fighting against the enemy (B.C. 555). The child-king, whom Berosus calls Laborosoarchod, was dethroned by his nobles after a few months, and was succeeded by the father of the Belshazzar of Daniel 5:1, the Labynetus of Herodotus, whose true name was Nabo-nahid. The whole empire was in the throes of dissolution. The words present a singular parallel to those which speak of “wars and rumours of wars” in Matthew 24:6-7; Luke 21:9.


Verse 47

(47) Therefore, behold, the days come . . .—The first word has its full force. The Israelite exiles were to infer from the rumours and disorders of the preceding verse, that the day of vengeance was at hand. The formula, “behold, the days come,” was Jeremiah’s customary manner of announcing a prediction (comp. Jeremiah 7:32; Jeremiah 16:14, et al.). For “slain” some commentators read “wounded” or “smitten,” as the word is rendered in Psalms 69:26; Job 24:12, the words that follow indicating that the wounded shall have no power to escape, but shall fill the city with their corpses.


Verse 48

(48) Then the heaven and the earth . . .—The prophet, following in the track of Isaiah (Isaiah 44:23), thinks of the whole creation as rejoicing in the righteous judgment of Jehovah on the guilty city, and in the liberation of His people. They sing, as it were, their Te Deum over the fall of Babylon under the attack of the Medo-Persian armies “from the North.”


Verse 49

(49) As Babylon hath caused . . .—The interpolated words and the marginal reading indicate that the construction is obscure, but the Authorised version probably comes close to the meaning of the original. The punishment that falls on Babylon comes on account of her slaughter of the Israelites, but in that punishment other nations from all parts of the earth who are mingled with her people should be involved. Perhaps, however. we should read the slain of all the land, as giving more emphatically the law of retribution. The rendering of the margin, “Both Babylon is to fall, O ye slain of Israel, and with Babylon . . .” is adopted by some recent commentators, but gives a less satisfactory meaning.


Verse 50

(50) Ye that have escaped the sword . . .—The words call on the people to fulfil the prediction of Jeremiah 50:4-5. Even in that distant land, “afar off” from the Temple of Jehovah, they are to remember that they are Israelites, and to think of Jerusalem as their home. In Psalms 137:5-6 we have, as it were, by anticipation, the answer of the exiles. They had not forgotten Jerusalem in the revelry of their conquerors. They were not likely to forget her when their conquerors were, in their turn, conquered.


Verse 51

(51) We are confounded, because we have heard reproach . . .—The answer which the prophet seems to hear from the lips of the exiles, is, however, for the present, of a different character. They are cast down and oppressed by the disgrace that has fallen on them and on the Holy City. Aliens in blood and faith have profaned their sanctuaries. Can anything wipe off the stain of that disgrace? The prophet had known the bitterness of that thought himself (Lamentations 1:10; Lamentations 2:7; Lamentations 4:12), and had learnt how to deal with it: “Yes,” he answers in the next verse, “there is comfort in the thought of retribution. The idol-temples which had been enriched with the spoils of their Temple shall be despoiled; the plunderers shall fall by the sword of the destroyer.”


Verse 53

(53) Though Babylon should mount up to heaven . . .—The special form of the phrase recalls the language of the builders of the Tower which made the name of Babylon conspicuous (Genesis 11:4). Even though that boastful attempt should be realised, Jeremiah says, it should prove a vain defence. As it was, the walls of Babylon which Nebuchadnezzar had built were of enormous height. Greek writers, possibly speaking of different walls (as there were two lines of fortifications), give from 75 to 335 feet. Nebuchadnezzar, in one of his inscriptions, records their greatness in words that remind us of Daniel 4:30. “To make more difficult the attack of an enemy against Imgur Bel, the indestructible wall of Babylon, I constructed a bulwark like a mountain” (Oppert, Expéd. en Mésop., i. p. 230; Records of the Past, v. p. 131).


Verse 55

(55) Because the Lord hath spoiled Babylon . . .—In Jeremiah 51:54 the prophet hears the cry of the captured city. The “great voice” which Jehovah “destroys” or “makes to cease” is the stir and tumult of life that surged, as it were, through the city (Isa. 18:12, 13). The “waves” are those of the “sea” of the legions of her conqueror (see Jeremiah 51:42), and they “roar” while the voices that were heard before are hushed in the silence of death.


Verse 56

(56) The Lord God of recompences . . .—The prophet clothes the law of retribution which he has been asserting throughout the chapter with a new majesty by connecting it with a new Divine Name (comp. Jeremiah 23:6). Jehovah delights, as it were, to manifest Himself in that aspect. He is a God of retribution, Jehovah, and will be true to that title.


Verse 57

(57) I will make drunk her princes.—The imagery is repeated from Jeremiah 51:39, and carries out the thought of Jeremiah 25:15-16; Jeremiah 25:27. On the list of officers see Note on Jeremiah 51:23.


Verse 58

(58) Her high gates shall be burned with fire.—These were part of the works on which Nebuchadnezzar prided himself as the restorer of the city. The inscription already quoted refers to these as well as to the walls: “Babylon is the refuge of the god Merodach. I have finished Imgur Bel, his great enclosure. In the threshold of the great gates I have adjusted folding-doors in brass.” (Oppert, ut supra; Comp. also Records of the Past, v. pp. 125, 127).

The people shall labour in vain.—The words are all but verbally identical, in some MSS. absolutely so, with those of Habakkuk 2:13. In both the thought is that the stately edifices which had been raised with so much toil by the slave-labour of Nebuchadnezzar’s subjects and captives should all be fruitless. The walls of Babylon are described by Herod. (1, 173), possibly with some exaggeration, as 50 cubits (= 75 feet) thick and 200 high.


Verse 59

(59) Seraiah the son of Neriah.—The great prophecy has reached its close, and the remainder of the chapter is of the nature of an historical appendix. The mention of both father and grandfather leaves no doubt that Seraiah was the brother of Jeremiah’s friend and secretary, Baruch (Jeremiah 32:13). It was, therefore, natural that the prophet should select him as the depository of the great prediction. The term “quiet prince,” which the Authorised version adopts from Luther, means really prince of the resting-place, and describes an office like that of our quartermaster-general. He would seem to have been attendant on Zedekiah, probably appointed by Nebuchadnezzar to regulate the details of the journey to Babylon, and arrange the resting-places at its several stages. The versions seem to have been perplexed by the unusual title, the LXX. giving “ruler of the gifts,” and the Vulgate “prince of prophecy.” The prediction would seem to have been of the nature of a parting gift to him.

In the fourth year of his reign.—The date is significant as giving a missing link in the history. The beginning of Zedekiah’s reign was memorable for the gathering at Jerusalem of ambassadors from the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Zidon, obviously for the purpose of forming a confederacy against Nebuchadnezzar, and Jeremiah had condemned all such schemes as contrary to the will of Jehovah (Jeremiah 27:1-13). It is probable that Nebuchadnezzar summoned the king of Judah to Babylon to question him as to this scheme, and to demand an act of renewed homage. On this journey he was accompanied by the brother of the prophet’s friend and fellow-worker, and Jeremiah takes the opportunity of committing to his charge what we may call an esoteric prophecy, lifting up the veil of the future. He counselled submission for the present, because resistance was premature, and would prove futile. He looked forward to the time when the law of retribution would be fulfilled in Babylon as it had been fulfilled in Jerusalem. The whole proceeding was in perfect harmony with the prediction of Jeremiah 27:7, that all nations should serve Nebuchadnezzar and his son and his son’s son till the “very time of his land” should come. It lies in the nature of the case that a duplicate copy was kept by Baruch or Jeremiah, of which the present text of Jeremiah 50, 51 is a transcript.


Verse 60

(60) So Jeremiah wrote in a book.—The “book” is, as elsewhere, a parchment roll. Stress is laid on the fact that the long prophecy was all written on one roll, so that it might be a fitter symbol of the city that was its subject.


Verse 61

(61) When thou comest to Babylon, and shalt see, and shalt read . . .—The meaning of the Hebrew would be better expressed by, thou shalt see to it and read, or see to it and read. The English version, as it is, leaves it doubtful who or what is to be seen. The verb for “read” implies reading aloud. Saraiah was to read the prophecy to those whom it concerned, probably to a chosen few among his own countrymen. The idea that it was to be read to the Babylonians is in the highest degree improbable.


Verse 62

(62) Then shalt thou say, O Lord . . .—The words which recite the predictions of Jeremiah 50:3; Jeremiah 50:39 are of the nature of an implied prayer, reminding Jehovah of that which He had promised, and entreating him to fulfil it. “Thou hast said” was to be the ground of the suppliant’s prayer for the fulfilment.


Verse 63

(63) Thou shalt bind a stone to it.—The meaning of the symbolic act, which has its parallel in the girdle of Jeremiah 13:1-7, in the potter’s vessel of Jeremiah 19:10, and in the yokes of Jeremiah 27:2, is explained in the following verse. The parchment roll by itself might have floated, and been picked up and read, and so the stone was tied to it that it might sink at once, and thus prefigure the destruction of the city. (Compare the reappearance of the symbols in Revelation 18:21, in connection with the destruction of the mystical Babylon.)


Verse 64

(64) They shall be weary.—The words are identical with those that had closed the great prophecy in Jeremiah 51:58. What was meant was probably that Seraiah was to repeat the last words of the prediction, and, as they passed his lips, was to fling the roll into the river. That submersion was typical of the end of the futile labour and weariness of the men of the doomed city.

Thus far are the words of Jeremiah.—The words are clearly of the nature of what we should call an editorial note by the compiler of Jeremiah’s prophecies, Baruch or another. He is careful to inform his readers that the narrative that follows in Jeremiah 52 was not written by Jeremiah.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 51:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/jeremiah-51.html. 1905.

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