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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Jeremiah 51

 

 

Verses 1-14

YHWH’s Vengeance On Babylon And The Vindication Of Israel/Judah (Jeremiah 51:1-14).

The proclamation of the certainty of YHWH’s coming judgment on Babylon, and on all that it stands for, continues. While it may be necessary to pay tribute to it for a while, it is with the knowledge that God will judge it in the end. The same is true in all centuries. It is true today. Today Babylon controls the world, and we as Christians have to pay it tribute, but that does not mean that we should conform to its ways. We may be in Babylon, but we should not be of Babylon. Rather we are to flee from it, recognising that it will be brought into judgment, and that our citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20).

Jeremiah 51:1

“Thus says YHWH,

This phrase probably introduces a new prophecy, the prophet thereby emphasising that he is not just declaring his own ideas, but is bringing a true message from God..

Jeremiah 51:1-2

Behold, I will raise up (or ‘stir up’) against Babylon,

And against those who dwell in Leb-kamai,

The spirit of a destroyer (or ‘a destroying wind’) - ruach).

And I will send to Babylon strangers (or ‘winnowers’),

Who will winnow her,

And they will empty her land,

For in the day of trouble,

They shall be against her round about.”

The word ruach can mean ‘wind’, when speaking of nature, or ‘spirit’, when speaking of attitude of mind (see Jeremiah 51:11). It may well be that here both meanings are combined. The destroying spirit may be seen as present in the foreigners, sent by YHWH and moving them to act as they do (Jeremiah 51:11), or the destroying wind could be seen as YHWH’s activity in doing the winnowing (the removing of the chaff from the grain by it being tossed up into the wind with a winnowing-fork. See Psalms 1:4; Psalms 35:5; Isaiah 17:13; Isaiah 29:5). Either way the idea is that Babylon will be ravaged by foreigners in ‘the day of trouble’, who will bring on her a sifting which will destroy her. This may include the idea that the good grain, those who are ready and willing to flee Babylon (prominent in what follows), will come out of the situation still whole, while the chaff which is what Babylon essentially is, will be ‘blown away’. And it is emphasised that this will be at the hand of invading forces (‘they will be against her round about’).

The word for strangers (zrym) could with different vowel points signify ‘winnowers’ and would seem to suggest a play on words so common to Hebrew writers. The following verb ‘winnow’ (zrh) is based on the same stem.

‘Leb-kamai’ may be seen as an athbash for ‘Chaldea’ i.e. Babylon. An ’athbash is a cryptogram, regularly used in ancient days, whereby the last letter of the alphabet was put in the place of the first latter, the second last letter put in the place of the second letter, and so on. (In English that would mean that we would put ‘z’ instead of ‘a’, ‘y’ instead of ‘b’ and so on. In Hebrew tau instead of aleph, shin instead of beth and so on). But we must remember that in ancient Hebrew only consonants were used (with rare exceptions). Thus lbqmy becomes cshdym. Clearly its use here was not cryptographic as it is made plain in the parallel that Babylon is meant. This may suggest that the usage was rather openly derogatory of Babylon, with Leb-kamai having become a regularly used insulting epitaph.

Jeremiah 51:3-4

“Against the one who bends (i.e. is an archer) let the archer (bender) bend his bow,

And against the one who lifts himself up in his coat of mail,

And do not you spare her young men,

Destroy you utterly all her host,

And they will fall down slain in the land of the Chaldeans,

And thrust through in her streets.”

For the first line the Hebrew is very repetitive. ’l ydrk ydrk hdrk. In Hebrew an archer is ‘a bender (of the bow)’. Thus both the trained Babylonian archer, and the fully-armoured Babylonian soldier, will have the bows of the enemy bent against them. Nor are the young men to be spared. Indeed there is to be widespread death (‘all her host’) as men fall down slain, and are thrust through in the streets of her cities. This would necessarily occur as resistance was made to a powerful invader in a day when fighting and bloodshed was commonplace. Note that this ‘in the land of the Chaldeans’ not necessarily in the city of Babylon itself.

Jeremiah 51:5

“For Israel is not forsaken (literally ‘widowed’),

Nor Judah, of his God, of YHWH of hosts,

Though their land is full of guilt,

Against the Holy One of Israel.”

The reason why Babylon is being treated in this way is revealed. It is because YHWH has been so much aware of what they have done to His people, and that even though His people too were undeserving. For He wants His people to know that He has not forgotten them or forsaken them, even though their land is full of guilt against ‘the Holy One of Israel’. He has not ceased to be their husband (compare Hosea 2-3). Thus what is to happen to Babylon is partly due to His faithfulness to His people. He has not overlooked what Babylon has done to them.

The contrast with ‘the Holy One of Israel’, the One uniquely separate from all others as ‘Wholly Other’ (totally unlike all others in Being and essence and purity), suggests that the main guilt in mind was with regard to idolatry. They had chosen to worship what was of this world (‘the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds and of fourfooted beasts and of creeping things -’ - Romans 1:23) , rather than the One Who was not of this world, resulting in their own physical and moral debasement. And the signs of their guilt were everywhere, the land was full of them. But it would also include the fact that they were ignoring the requirements of the covenant in other ways as well, as Jeremiah has previously made clear. All breaches of the covenant brought them into a position of guilt, and they were, at the time at which Jeremiah was prophesying, making huge breaches in that covenant.

Jeremiah 51:6

“Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and save every man his life,

Be not cut off in her iniquity,

For it is the time of YHWH’s vengeance,

He will render to her a recompense.”

All who are in Babylon are called on to flee for their lives so that they will not share in her guilt. Babylon was no longer the place to be. The message is addressed to all sojourners in Babylon who are called on to return to their own countries (see Jeremiah 51:9). But following on Jeremiah 51:5 we may see this as especially an injunction to His erring people. They especially are not to cling to Babylon, for YHWH’s vengeance is coming on Babylon, and it is about to receive what is due to it at His hand.

Babylon was a centre to which men had flocked from all countries as they had sought wealth, pleasure and lascivious living within its walls. It was a hotbed of all that appealed to man’s lowest nature, and men loved it. Indeed many Israelites also would be reluctant to leave such things behind. But they are being reminded here that if they continue to associate themselves with Babylon they will share in its guilt and in the consequences of YHWH’s vengeance.

It is a warning to us all today. We too must choose between the degradation of Babylon and the purity of the Holy One of Israel. We must flee from Babylon. ‘Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world, for if any one loves the world the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away and all its desires, but he who does the will God abides for ever’ (1 John 2:15-17). For Babylon will perish, and all that it clings to, and only what is of God will endure.

Jeremiah 51:7

“Babylon has been a golden cup in YHWH’s hand,

Which made all the earth drunk,

The nations have drunk of her wine,

Therefore the nations are mad.”

For Babylon is like a golden cup, abounding in wealth, showy, and extravagant, full of intoxicating drink. And it has forced all the known world to drink of that cup, as it has ravaged and pillaged the nations, resulting in their behaving madly, partaking in her idolatry and her evil ways. But we are here reminded that Babylon has not just gone on its way randomly. For that cup is in YHWH’s hand. Nothing is outside His control, not even Babylon. And through that cup YHWH has brought judgment on the nations. For as we have seen described in the previous chapters He has had His purposes to fulfil against those other nations. And they have drunk of the cup of Babylon and are beside themselves at what has come upon them. Once more we are faced with the paradox of sovereignty and freedom. Babylon carried out its activities in accordance with its own evil desire, and the way it went about it was its own choice. It was not God Who made it do evil. It was Babylon’s inhumanity. But behind all, overruling history, was God, as He sought to bring about His purposes for all nations.

Jeremiah 51:8-9

Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed,

Wail for her,

Take balm for her pain,

If so be she may be healed.

We would have healed Babylon,

But she is not healed,

Forsake her,

And let us go every one into his own country,

For her judgment reaches to heaven,

And is lifted up even to the skies.”

In a striking display of compassion Jeremiah calls on Israel/Judah, not to exult in Babylon’s downfall, but to weep for her and even to take some balm to her in order to aid in her healing. But this is only in order to emphasise the doubt as to whether she can be healed. For Israel’s reply comes back, saying, ‘We would have healed Babylon but she is not healed’. Babylon was never willing to receive the truth, even when in extremity.

It is of great interest in this regard to note that Scripture depicts both Assyria and Babylon as having had their moments of revelation to which had they responded permanently they might have been healed. Jonah went to Nineveh which experienced a short term revival (Jonah 3:5-10), and Nebuchadrezzar had a unique experience of God Most High, the King of Heaven and responded in humility and worship (Daniel 4:34-37). Both were given the opportunity to be healed. But both in the end failed to respond to that healing. So Israel makes clear here that they have sought to heal Babylon by going there with Biblical truth, but that it has proved fruitless. In consequence the only thing left is to forsake her, and for everyone sojourning there to return to their home countries, because Babylon’s situation is hopeless. Her judgment is heaven sent.

‘For her judgment reaches to heaven, and is lifted up even to the skies.’ There may well here be a reference to the tower Babel which also reached up to heaven bringing judgment on itself (Genesis 11:1-9). The point is that Babel (Babylon) has not changed, and is still calling down judgment on herself. That is why she cannot be healed.

Jeremiah 51:10

YHWH has brought forth our righteousnesses,

Come, and let us declare in Zion the work of YHWH our God.”

In view of Jeremiah 50:4-6; Jeremiah 50:17-20; Jeremiah 50:28 we may see this as referring to the return of exiles from the many places to which they had been taken (Isaiah 11:11-12), including Babylonia (Jeremiah 50:28). There in those places many Israelites had been honed and moulded by YHWH so that they had begun to produce righteous behaviour (‘righteousnesses - plural noun), both religiously and morally. He had ‘brought forth their righteousnesses’. Therefore they were now determined to return to their land and declare in Zion what God had done for them as He had purified His people. They would declare ‘the work of YHWH our God’ upon themselves, in partial fulfilment of Jeremiah 31:31-34. For throughout all history God is continually working to bring out a remnant for Himself.

Jeremiah 51:11

“Make sharp the arrows,

Hold firm (literally ‘fill’) the shields,

YHWH has stirred up,

The spirit of the kings of the Medes,

Because his purpose is against Babylon,

To destroy it,

For it is the vengeance of YHWH

The vengeance of his temple.”

In a series of three short stanzas Jeremiah declares the certainty of God’s judgment on Babylon. Firstly he names those who will carry out God’s purpose, ‘the kings of the Medes’. Chief among these was Cyrus, king of Persia, whose mother was a Mede and who had close association with the Median royal family. He had subjugated Media with its kings. We note that it was ‘Darius the Mede’ (which may have been another name for Cyrus) who would ‘receive the kingship’ and rule in Babylon (Daniel 5:31). Media was a country north-west of Persia and north of Babylon. Their ‘spirit’ has been stirred up by YHWH, in order that they might carry out His will in obtaining vengeance for what Babylon had done to His Temple, something which had been an insult to YHWH as the Temple accoutrements were ignominiously carried off to Babylon. Babylon had destroyed the Temple. Now the God of the Temple would destroy Babylon. We can compare how YHWH was avenged on the Philistines when they carries off the Ark of the Covenant (1 Samuel 5). God is not mocked in the end.

‘Fill the shields’ might have in mind the full length size of the Persian shield into which a man could fit his body. Or it could refer to the means by which the shield was held as the man ‘filled’ it with his arm. As with sharpening the arrows it was basically indicating preparation for battle.

Jeremiah 51:12

“Set up a standard (or ‘signal’) against the walls of Babylon,

Make the watch strong,

Set the watchmen,

Prepare the ambushes,

For YHWH has both purposed and done,

What he spoke concerning the inhabitants of Babylon.”

The instructions to the invaders now continue. They are to go about the investment of Babylon efficiently and zealously. They are to set up their standards surrounding Babylon, or alternately the signals that direct the attack; they are to establish a good watch, preventing surprise attack or escape; and they are to prepare ambushes in case of sallies out of the city. And this was because God was carrying out His purpose against Babylon. Pre-eminent in Jeremiah’s thought is that in the end, whatever man’s part in it might be, all is determined by YHWH, for He has ‘spoken against the inhabitants of Babylon’.

Jeremiah 51:13-14

“O you who dwell on many waters,

Abundant in treasures,

Your end is come,

The measure of your covetousness (or ‘the time for you to be cut off’),

YHWH of hosts has sworn by himself,

(saying), Surely I will fill you with men,

As with the young locusts,

And they will lift up a shout against you.”

As well as being used for irrigation the River Euphrates would have been used as a means of arranging defences against attack, by causing it to flow round Babylon. This being so Babylon would look like a city ‘on many waters’. This could be seen as supported by the words on an inscription of Nebuchadrezzar’s, ‘I made water to flow all around in this immense dyke of earth --.’ Alternately the thought may simply be of Babylon’s prosperity as a result of benefiting from the Euphrates, thereby paralleling the ‘abundant in treasures’ and indicating that it was prosperous both agriculturally and materially. Paradoxically it was the diversion of the river that enabled the attackers to take the city by surprise.

The end that is coming on them reveals the depth of their greed. They had coveted the wealth of the nations, now they were receiving judgment in accordance with the measure of their greed. It was not just God against whom Babylon had done a disservice. They had robbed the nations. Thus they had brought on themselves men’s retribution as well as God’s, and would find themselves infested with men arriving like a swarm of locusts. But central is either the thought that God is judging them because of their attitude of heart which contradicted the tenth ‘word’ of the covenant (‘you shall not covet’), or that the measure of their cutting off (i.e. its time) had now come .

They had desired what the nations had, and had filled Babylon’s treasure houses with it, but they had not reckoned on the nations following this up by invading Babylon, filling the city with their ‘men’ arriving like a swarm of locusts. This was not, however, just man’s doing. It was what YHWH had purposed. Indeed He had sworn by Himself (the highest possible form of oath - see Jeremiah 49:13; Amos 6:8; Hebrews 6:13) that He would do it. Babylon’s prosperity was a constant reminder to God of how they had obtained it. Now the time for payment had come.

‘The lifting up of a shout’ may indicate the battlecries as they took over the city, or the cry of triumph that followed (or indeed both).


Verses 15-19

God As Creator Is Compared With Foolish Man Who Can Only Make Idols Which Are Futile And Lifeless (Jeremiah 51:15-19).

These verses are a repetition of Jeremiah 10:12-16 where YHWH as the genuine God of creation, the ‘former of all things’, was contrasted with the gods of the nations who had not made the heavens and the earth, but were themselves the ‘creations’ of foolish men, and who would themselves perish, gods in whom Israel were foolishly trusting. In a similar way here YHWH is set alongside the men who make those gods, His wisdom and understanding being compared with their folly and lack of knowledge. For whereas He makes and controls the heavens and the earth, they make gods which are false and have no life in them. Here, however, it is mainly the Babylonian gods which are in mind.

Jeremiah 51:15

“He has made the earth by his power,

He has established the world by his wisdom,

And by his understanding,

Has he stretched out the heavens,

When he utters his voice,

There is a tumult of waters in the heavens,

And he causes the vapours to ascend,

From the ends of the earth,

He makes lightnings for the rain,

And brings forth the wind out of his treasuries.

The greatness and power of YHWH is now contrasted with the follies wrought by man, lifeless gods which are false and vain. It is He Who by His great power and wisdom has made and established the earth. It is He Who by His understanding has stretched out the heavens. Thus both earth and heaven owe their existence to Him. This in contrast with foolish men who make gods for themselves, gods which are false, and thus demonstrate that they are brutish in nature and without true knowledge. They make for themselves a delusion.

But YHWH has not only made the world. He is the living God Who has but to speak to fill the heavens with water, as the vapours and mists arise from the earth. He also controls lightning and wind. The whole world was dependent on such water, which watered and fed the crops. And the world also marvelled at the lightning which often accompanied the rain, as well as benefiting by (it assisted them in winnowing the grain), or fearing (it could be hugely destructive), the wind. All were under God’s control.

Jeremiah 51:17-18

“Every man is become brutish,

Without knowledge,

Every goldsmith is put to shame,

By his image,

For his molten image is falsehood,

And there is no breath in them,

They are vanity,

A work of delusion,

In the time of their visitation,

They will perish.”

In huge contrast to the Creator God are the earthly ‘creators’ who make false images. When such men turn their thoughts towards divine things, instead of recognising the great Creator of all things, they make idols which cannot live or breathe, and which are vain and useless and a delusion. That Babylon’s gods are especially in mind comes out in the reference to ‘their (Babylon’s idol-makers) visitation’. At such a visitation by the living God, their gods will perish. They cannot even stand up for themselves. Thus YHWH is revealed as all-powerful, and the gods of Babylon as idle nothings who are helpless in the face of YHWH’s judgment.

Jeremiah 51:19

“The Portion of Jacob is not like these,

For he is the former of all things,

And he (Israel/Jacob) is the tribe of his inheritance,

YHWH of hosts is his name.”

For the products of the idol-makers are in total contrast to the One Who is Jacob’s Portion. He is the ‘Former of all things’. All of heaven and earth owe their being to Him. And He is also ‘Jacob’s Portion’, in a unique way the God of Israel, the One Who has chosen Israel to be His own inheritance, a special treasure to Him (Exodus 19:5-6), the One Who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the One Who has chosen Israel in order that He might reveal His purposes through them. That is why Babylon will collapse, and why Israel will prosper at Babylon’s downfall.

And what is the Name of the One so described? His Name is YHWH of Hosts. ‘YHWH’, the One ‘Who will be what He will be’ (Exodus 3:13-15); ‘of hosts’, the One Who is creator of ‘the hosts of heaven and earth’ (i.e. of all creation - Genesis 2:1), of the heavenly armies (Genesis 32:2; Nehemiah 9:6; Isaiah 24:21) and the earthly armies (regularly called ‘hosts’), and of all ‘the hosts of heaven’, the sun, moon and stars (Deuteronomy 4:19; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalms 33:6; Isaiah 34:4; Isaiah 40:26).


Verses 20-24

YHWH’s War-Club (Jeremiah 51:20-24).

The speaker here is clearly YHWH. What is more difficult to determine is the identity of God’s ‘war-club and weapons of war’. Note that the pronouns are singular. (‘Thou’ not ‘ye’). And if Jeremiah 51:24 is part of the passage, which the grammar suggests that it must be, the one in mind is clearly to be seen as an eyewitness to what had happened to Jerusalem. There are a number of possible alternatives:

· Some suggest Babylon itself. Babylon is called ‘the hammer of the whole earth’ in Jeremiah 50:23, and this would fit in with the picture of Babylon as ‘the destroying mountain’ (Jeremiah 51:25). But Babylon is not described asYHWH’shammer, nor is a war-club a hammer. Furthermore if it is referring to Babylon the passage does not fit easily into the context, for the context is God’s judgment on Babylon, and it might therefore be thought to be abrupt to suddenly introduce Babylon as YHWH’s war-club. It would also be necessary on this interpretation to exclude Jeremiah 51:24 as an essential part of the passage.

· Others suggest that it refers to Cyrus the Persian who would smite all the nations, including Babylon. But that is to overlook the intimate reference to what had happened to Zion as being ‘in your sight’.

· Another suggestion is Israel, but if so, many of the ideas are foreign to anything we find elsewhere about Israel. Nowhere else do we find Israel portrayed as the triumphant conqueror. Nor did Israel every do this to Babylon and the inhabitants of Babylonia.

· Even others suggest Jeremiah himself. This is much more likely. He was the one who was appointed over nations and kingdoms in order to tear down such nations and kingdoms by his prophetic word (Jeremiah 1:10), as through his prophecy he fulfilled YHWH’s work (Jeremiah 18:7). It seems therefore reasonable to see what is then here described resulting from that same prophetic word as nations crumbled before the word of YHWH (as they have done in chapters 46-49), a confirmation of his calling. This is especially so if we see Cyrus the Persian as arising as a result of Jeremiah’s prophetic word. Seeing it like that what is described can be seen as including both the activity of Babylon and the activity of Cyrus, all in accordance with Jeremiah’s prophetic word. But its reference only to Cyrus founders on the fact that he was not an eyewitness of what had happened to Zion. Thus it would appear that the best solution is that Jeremiah and his prophetic word are in God’s mind, a prophetic word fulfilled, firstly through Babylon, and then through Cyrus and the kings of the Medes (Jeremiah 51:11-12; Jeremiah 51:27-28).

Jeremiah 51:20-24

“You are my war club (or ‘mace’),

And weapons of war,

And with you will I break in pieces the nations,

And with you will I destroy kingdoms,

And with you will I break in pieces the horse and his rider,

And with you will I break in pieces the chariot and him who rides in it,

And with you will I break in pieces man and woman,

And with you will I break in pieces the old man and the youth,

And with you will I break in pieces the young man and the virgin,

And with you will I break in pieces the shepherd and his flock,

And with you will I break in pieces the husbandman and his yoke (of oxen),

And with you will I break in pieces governors and deputies,

And I will render to Babylon and to all the inhabitants of Chaldea,

All their evil that they have done in Zion in your sight,

The word of YHWH.”

Jeremiah is once more confirmed as God’s instrument in bringing judgment on the nations, as he was in Jeremiah 1:10. Here he is portrayed not only as God’s war-club, but also as all His weapons of war, a mighty armoury in the hands of God. By his prophetic word he is to be YHWH’s means of bringing destruction on the nations, as he was appointed to be in Jeremiah 1:10, and as indeed he has been revealed as doing from Jeremiah 46:1 onwards. Now he is to accomplish the same against Babylon. Through Jeremiah’s prophetic word God will render on Babylon and Babylonia all the evil that they have performed against Zion before Jeremiah’s very eyes. And this is the prophetic word of YHWH.

Note the vivid description which brings out in detail precisely what is to result from the fulfilment of God’s purposes. It was not that God chose for it to happen in this way. That was the choice of men. But it was the consequence of His moving the spirit of men to act in history. It covers the destruction of the military, the destruction of defenceless civilians, young and old, the destruction of the essential providers of food and finally the destruction of those in overall authority. All would be involved in the consequences of Jeremiah’s prophecies. And now especially Babylon because of the evil that she had wrought against Israel/Judah, in Zion its very heart.


Verses 25-29

Preparation For The Coming Total Destruction Of Babylon (Jeremiah 51:25-29).

With the mention of what is to happen to Babylon in Jeremiah 51:24, YHWH’s attention now turns on Babylon, describing it as a ‘destroying mountain’ or ‘mountain of destruction’. Interestingly the same phrase is used in 2 Kings 23:13 of the mountain on which Solomon erected temples to false gods on behalf of his wives, a phrase which may well have been known to Jeremiah. This would then bring out that Babylon was seen as destructive, not only in warfare, but also in the pernicious influence it wielded in forcing its own idolatry, with all its accompaniments, on the nations, including Israel/Judah (compare Isaiah 47:9-15). It destroyed not only the body but the soul. It was the very enemy of God. That was why it had to be annihilated.

The passage then goes on to describe the preparations to be made for the invasion of Babylon, and its subsequent pain.

Jeremiah 51:25-26

“Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain,

The word of YHWH,

Which destroys all the earth,

And I will stretch out my hand on you,

And roll you down from the rocks,

And will make you a burnt mountain,

And they will not take of you a stone for a corner,

Nor a stone for foundations,

But you will be desolate for ever,

The word of YHWH.”

The description of Babylon as a mountain refers to its might and power as like a gigantic mountain it engulfed the nations, towering over those nations, and destroying them, both physically and religiously. The later reference to foundations may suggest that it also saw itself as founding a new culture, presumably based on its gods. We can compare how in Daniel 3 Nebuchadrezzar does seek to make all the nations worship his false god. But it is then put in its place by the fact being made clear that it is not huge in YHWH’s eyes. For He will simply stretch out His hand and take that great mountain, and roll it like a stone down the mountainside of a far larger mountain of which it is only a part, informing it that it will become nothing but a burnt out volcano (such an extinct volcano known as Koukal is known in Western Assyria near the River Khabour) whose stones have been rendered useless for anything, its dreams of glory vanishing into thin air as it becomes desolate for ever. Nothing will ever be founded on it again. All that is anti-God will be destroyed. And this is the prophetic word of YHWH.

Jeremiah 51:27-28

Set you up a standard (or ‘signal’) in the land,

Blow the trumpet among the nations,

Prepare (literally ‘sanctify’) the nations against her,

Call together against her the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz,

Appoint a marshal against her,

Cause the horses to come up like the bristly young locusts,

Prepare against her the nations,

The kings of the Medes,

Their governors and all their deputies,

And all the land of his dominion.”

.

How God will roll Babylon down the mountains is now described historically. The command goes out to an unknown royalty connected with the Medes to set up the signal and blow the war trumpet among the nations, calling them to join him in his campaign against Babylon. These would include the Median kingdoms of Ararat, Minni and Ashkenaz. He was to ‘sanctify’ the nations against her, a reminder that armies dedicated themselves to their gods. They would include ‘the kings of the Medes’ and all who were under his control. The Persians and Medes were closely associated. Initially, the Medes were the more powerful, and Persia was subject to them. But Cyrus the Persian, who had a Median mother and was allied with the kings of Media, increased in power and gradually took over the kingdoms of Persia and Media, finally establishing from this power base a huge empire. He took the titles of ‘king of the Medes’ and ‘king of Elam’.

Ararat is ancient Urartu, mentioned regularly in inscriptions and located near Lake Van in what is today eastern Turkey. Minni is the ancient Mannai of Assyrian records, located south-east of Lake Urmia. Ashkenaz is connected with ancient Ascania, and is connected with the Ashguzai, nomads who lived east of Lake Urmia. Many identify them as Scythians. Ashkenaz and Mannai were involved together in a revolt against Assyria in c. 673 BC, but Mannai later sided with the Assyrians against the Babylonians in 616 BC. All were to be involved in the invasion of Babylonia. They had a reputation as fearsome fighters.

‘Appoint a marshal.’ The word for ‘marshal’ is a rare one coming from the Akkadian tupsarru. It occurs also only in Nahum 3:17. There too it is connected with locusts. The ‘bristly young locusts’ were the locusts in the third stage of growth prior to their wings unfolding. Such locusts moved across the ground in huge numbers (see the awesome descriptions in Joel 1:6-7; Joel 2:2-10) destroying all in their path. Thus the idea is of horsemen in awesome numbers who cause a wave of destruction.

Jeremiah 51:29

“And the land trembles and is in pain,

For the purposes of YHWH against Babylon do stand,

To make the land of Babylon a desolation,

Without inhabitant.”

In a brief synopsis Jeremiah describes the effect on Babylonia. ‘The land trembles and is in pain.’ For such a picture of the land trembling and writhing in pain see Judges 5:4; Nahum 1:5; Habakkuk 3:6. And the reason for it is because of YHWH’s purpose against Babylon, which is to make it desolate and totally deserted. It is coming under the judgment of the Almighty.


Verses 30-33

The Babylonian Response (Jeremiah 51:30-33).

As already mentioned Gobryas, the Persian general, took the city of Babylon by stealth, having diverted the water course that led into the city, thus being able to walk into the city with his men along the dry river bed. We can imagine the effect that the sudden appearance of these Persian soldiers within the city itself would have had on the inhabitants. They had been trusting in Babylon’s huge walls to prevent the taking of the city. They knew that no siege weapons would have been effective against them. They would thus have been utterly demoralised.

Jeremiah 51:30

The mighty men of Babylon have forborne to fight,

They remain in their strongholds,

Their might has failed,

They are become as women,

Her dwelling-places are set on fire,

Her bars are broken.”

We are not surprised therefore to learn that the mighty men of Babylon refrained from taking on the enemy but rather retired into their citadels. They ‘forbore to fight’. They ‘remained in their strongholds’. They knew very well that they were not a match for the whole Persian army which could now walk into the city without hindrance. Thus they ‘became as women’, unwilling and unready to fight. Meanwhile many buildings would be set on fire by the Persian looters, in spite of the instructions to spare the city. And the bars of the city gate would have been broken in order to ensure continual access for the invaders. What is remarkable is that this was foreseen by Jeremiah long before. It was YHWH’s doing.

Jeremiah 51:31-32

“One post will run to meet another,

And one messenger to meet another,

To show the king of Babylon that his city is taken on every quarter,

And the passages are seized,

And the reeds (literally ‘pools’) they have burned with fire,

And the men of war are terrified.”

The Babylonian system of postal runners was a marvel of the age, as one runner passed messages on to the next one in relays until they reached their destination. In this case the system was used for the purpose of getting the news of the fall of Babylon to ‘the king of Babylon’. This may have been to Belshazzar as he feasted with his lords in Babylon (crown prince but called king), or to Nabonidus, the king of Babylon, in his Arabian retreat. He quickly learned that every quarter in the city had fallen, and that the ways and ferries over the Euphrates, which joined two parts of the city together, had been seized. Furthermore he learned that the vegetation, (and possibly the boats and other structures), growing in the ‘pools’ around the city had been set on fire, in order to bring out the fugitives hiding there, and that his own soldiers were terrified, as well they might be, for they would expect the Persian soldiery to treat them as they would have treated others. The whole emphasis is on the demoralisation of the Babylonian defenders.

Jeremiah 51:33

“For thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel,

The daughter of Babylon is like a threshing-floor,

At the time when it is trodden,

Yet a little while,

And the time of harvest will come for her.”

For the truth was that Babylon’s time had come. It would be trodden down like a threshing floor at the time when the grain was trodden down, at the time of harvest, a harvest which was to come for Babylon in ‘a little while’. And this was the declaration of YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel. For He was repairing the damage done to His people.


Verse 34-35

The Cry Of Jerusalem For Vengeance (Jeremiah 51:34-35).

In these two verses we have the words of ‘the inhabitants of Zion’, the words of ‘Jerusalem’ as they remind God of what Nebuchadrezzar, the king of Babylon, had done to them. Jerusalem lay in ruins, the Temple destroyed and emptied of its treasures, the choicest of the people carried away into exile, the whole land utterly devastated. What was more they had watched as their babies’ heads had been smashed against the walls of their houses, their choicest young women, and even their older women and wives, had been ceaselessly raped and left for dead, and their sons had been slaughtered. They were totally distraught.

Jeremiah 51:34-35

“Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon has devoured me,

He has crushed me,

He has made me an empty vessel,

He has, like a monster, swallowed me up,

He has filled his maw with my delicacies,

He has cast me out.

The violence done to me and to my flesh be on Babylon,

Will the inhabitant of Zion say,

And, ‘My blood be on the inhabitants of Chaldea,’

Will Jerusalem say.”

The cry of God’s people that YHWH would see what Nebuchadrezzar had done and would avenge it on Babylon and Babylonia, is raised to YHWH. It is hugely descriptive. Nebuchadrezzar is depicted as a fearsome monster who has devoured them, who has crushed them, who has drained them of all that they had (made them like an empty vessel), who has swallowed them up, filling himself up on all their choicest things, and has then cast them away violently as unwanted scraps. And they pray that Babylon will reap the consequences of what it has done, and that their blood may be avenged on the whole of Babylonia as it thrived on its ill-gotten gains.

We must recognise that this cry was founded on what they saw as the basis of all justice, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, neither more nor less. That was true justice. It was not until the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that the possibility was mooted that there should be forgiveness, even for such things under all circumstances, something which He Himself illustrated as He cried out on behalf of those who had crucified Him, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’. Justice had been overridden by mercy.


Verses 36-40

YHWH Promises That They Will Be Avenged (Jeremiah 51:36-40).

God acknowledges the justice of their plea, and assures them that He will take vengeance on their behalf. Evil cannot be allowed to triumph, and therefore Babylon, that representative of all evil, must reap what she has sown. Babylon must be destroyed. This is in the end God’s verdict on all that is evil, and we must remember that to Jeremiah and Israel/Judah Babylon represented all that was anti-God, with its enforcement of the worship of its own gods and its destruction of God’s Temple. It had to be destroyed.

Jeremiah 51:36-37

“Therefore thus says YHWH,

Behold, I will plead your cause,

And take vengeance for you,

And I will dry up her sea,

And make her fountain dry,

And Babylon will become heaps,

A dwelling-place for jackals,

An astonishment, and a hissing,

Without inhabitant.”

YHWH promises that He will take up the cause of His people, first as defending counsel, and then as the exacter of retribution. He will ‘dry up her (Babylon’s) sea and make her fountain dry.’ This probably refers to the River Euphrates and all the multiplicity of channels which had been built for irrigation purposes or for defence of the city, which would make Babylon look as though it was in the midst of the sea, especially when the river was at its highest (compare the description of the River Nile as ‘the sea’ in Isaiah 18:2; Isaiah 19:5). Indeed the rise of the river would often turn Babylon into a sea as the waters overflowed its banks. But the main idea is that He will take away the means of her sustenance, dependent at it was on water. And whilst the Euphrates itself did not dry up as far as we know, certainly all the channels which were fed from it did cease to exist. Babylon would no longer be established on waters, and as a consequence it would not survive. Indeed it would become ‘heaps’, the mounds or ‘tels’ that grew up when a city was destroyed and nature was left to take its course.

The picture is of a ruined and desolate city, inhabited by jackals, which has become an astonishment to the world, which would draw in its breath and hiss when it saw what had happened to great Babylon. That once well populated city would be deserted. This did not happen as a result of Cyrus’ invasion, for he preserved its main buildings, but the destruction was completed by Xerxes as a result of later rebellion, and whilst Alexander the Great planned to restore the city he died before he could do so. Babylon did therefore finally literally become ‘heaps’. Note how the same judgment had previously been exacted on Jerusalem (Jeremiah 9:11; Jeremiah 19:8; Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 25:18). What Nebuchadrezzar had done to Jerusalem would now be done to Babylon (Jeremiah 50:15; Jeremiah 50:29).

Jeremiah 51:38-40

“They will roar together like young lions,

They will growl as lions’ whelps,

When they are heated, I will make their feast,

And I will make them drunk,

That they may rejoice, and sleep a perpetual sleep,

And not wake,

The word of YHWH,

I will bring them down like lambs to the slaughter,

Like rams along with he-goats.”

In vivid terminology YHWH describes the demise of the leading citizens of Babylon. They will roar together like young lions (compare Amos 3:4), prowling around and feasting, having made a prey of nations, until they are fully ‘heated’ in their pride. Then YHWH will make a feast for them, resulting in more drinking, leading on to drunkenness, as they drank of the cup of YHWH’s wrath (Jeremiah 25:15-28, and note that Sheshach in Jeremiah 51:26 = Babylon). Then in their drunken revelry death would come suddenly to them, and they would sleep a perpetual sleep and not awake. It is no doubt intended ironically that Babylon will drink of her own golden cup (Jeremiah 51:7). We could have no better description of the feast to which Belshazzar called for a thousand of his lords, a feast which ended in death as the city was taken (Daniel 5). Herodotus confirms that on the night of the taking of Babylon the city was engaged in feasting and revelry. Thus the roaring young lions would become as lambs, rams and he-goats to the slaughter.


Verses 41-44

An Exultation Over The City of Babylon’s Demise (Jeremiah 51:41-44).

We note in this exultation the emphasis on what is to happen to Bel (Marduk), the chief god of Babylon. Babylon had boasted that it was Marduk who had given them the nations. Now Marduk would be caused by YHWH to spew them out (although some see it as referring to the return of the Temple vessels), and no more nations would flow to him any more. Marduk would be revealed as just what he was, the work of man’s hands.

Jeremiah 51:41-43

“How is Sheshach taken!

And the praise of the whole earth seized!

How is Babylon become a desolation,

Among the nations!

The sea is come up on Babylon

She is covered with the multitude of its waves,

Her cities are become a desolation,

A dry land and a desert,

A land in which no man dwells,

Nor does any son of man pass by it.”

Sheshach was originally probably a cryptogram for Babylon on the athbash principle, shin replacing beth and chaph replacing lamed (similar to z replacing a, y replacing b, x replacing c, and so on). Used as a cryptogram in letters passing between Jerusalem and Babylon so as to disguise the fact that Babylon was being spoken of it may well have gradually been incorporated into Hebrew thought as a parallel name for Babylon. Indeed it may well be that its use here was intended to indicate that the cryptogram was no longer needed because Babylon’s power was broken.

Some, however, argue for Sheshach as being a genuine alternative name for Babylon, citing the possible name of a moon god, Shishaki, or seeing it as meaning ‘warlike city’. Whichever way it is taken, however, it undoubtedly refers here to Babylon. Only Babylon could have been described as ‘the praise of the whole earth’ (compare ‘Babylon the glory of the kingdoms’ - Isaiah 13:19, and this especially so when the name is given in parallel with that of Babylon in typically Hebrew fashion.

So that magnificent city, so powerful and seemingly impregnable with its vast walls, praised by the whole earth, will be seized. It will become a desolation among the nations. As Isaiah puts it, it will be ‘as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah’ (Isaiah 13:19). Once praised by all it will become a heap, a ruin. And this will be caused by ‘a sea’ coming up on it, covering it with the multitude of its waves. This picture is a regular one in Scripture to describe an invading army, a ‘sea of nations’. See, for example, Jeremiah 46:7; Isaiah 8:7-8; Isaiah 17:12-13.

And this ‘sea’, instead of refreshing the land like the Nile did Egypt, will turn it into a desert. Her cities will become a desolation, a dry land and a desert. It will become a land which is totally uninhabited, which no man passes through.

Jeremiah 51:44

“And I will execute judgment on Bel in Babylon,

And I will bring forth out of his mouth what he has swallowed up,

And the nations will not flow any more to him,

Yes, the wall of Babylon will fall.”

But above all would be the defeat of Bel (Marduk), the chief god of Babylon, of whom Nebuchadrezzar and the Babylonians had claimed that it was he who had defeated the nations and brought them in thrall to Babylon. It was he who in their eyes had swallowed up the wealth of the nations, including the golden vessels of the Jerusalem Temple. YHWH would execute judgment on him, and extract from his mouth all that he had swallowed up. The golden vessels would be returned to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:7-11). Nations would no longer flow to Babylon with their tribute, nor would they honour it and seek its glory. For even the mighty double wall of Babylon will fall, that double wall which bore the names of Imgur-Bel (Bel protects) and Nimetti-Bel (dwelling of Bel). The outer wall was four metres (12 feet) thick, and the inner wall six and a half metres (21 feet) thick. They were separated by a gap of seven metres (23 feet). It was a formidable defence. Thus would YHWH, having used Babylon as a means of chastening His people, bring Babylon into the dust, and Marduk would be unable to do anything about it. The dwelling of Bel would become a ruin, the protection of Bel would prove worthless. To the world of that day, which fervently believed in its gods, this would have been significant indeed.


Verse 45-46

God’s People Are Called On To Flee From Babylon (Jeremiah 51:45-46).

This is not so much a call to God’s people to return from exile, as a call to flee for their lives, deserting Babylon and all that it stood for, because of the catastrophe that was coming on it. Compare Jeremiah 50:8; Jeremiah 51:6. It is saying that Babylon was not the place for God’s people to be, because it was subject to the anger of YHWH against its multitudinous sins. They were, however, to bring Jerusalem to mind (Jeremiah 51:50). And the same applies today to the ‘Babylon’ represented by this world with its selfish aims and motives, and all its sexual crudeness and ‘liberality’. God’s people are to flee from it, for it is under the wrath of God, and instead they are to look to the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22).

Jeremiah 51:45-46

“My people, go you out of the midst of her,

And save yourselves every man from the fierce anger of YHWH,

And do let not your heart faint,

Nor fear you for the tidings that will be heard in the land,

For tidings will come one year,

And after that in another year, tidings,

And violence in the land,

Ruler against ruler.”

The call, then is for God’s people to flee from Babylon. We are reminded of Lot’s flight from Sodom (Genesis 19:12-13). Babylon was subject to the same anger, an anger arising because of the sins of Babylon. God’s anger is never arbitrary. It results from His aversion to sin. Note the individuality of the appeal. Each must ensure his own escape. Nor were they to fear the tidings that they would hear from Babylonia, for it was to be subject to a period of great political uncertainty, as year by year tidings of violence flowed from the land, with ruler battling against ruler.

Certainly after the death of Nebuchadrezzar uncertainty reigned in Babylonia. The rising power of the Medes and Persians threatened without, whilst the murder of Nebuchadrezzar’s son Evil-merodach (in 560 BC) would be brought about by Neriglissar, Nebuchadrezzar’s son-in-law, who would himself be killed fighting against Babylon’s enemies (in 555 BC). His infant son Labashi Marduk would also take the throne only to be replaced within months by Nabonidus, father of Belshazzar. And Nabonidus would ‘retire’ to Arabia (the details are obscure), leaving his son to rule Babylon. All was uncertainty.


Verses 47-49

The Reasons For Babylon’s Demise (Jeremiah 51:47-49).

We now learn again the reasons for Babylon’s demise. It was because of her graven images (Jeremiah 51:47), with all their para-normal ramifications (Isaiah 47:9 ff), and because of what she had done to Israel (Jeremiah 51:49). On the one hand she has exalted herself and led the world astray after the para-normal, on the other she has humiliated God’s people. These themes have been present throughout these chapters.

Jeremiah 51:47-49

“Therefore, behold, the days are coming,

That I will execute judgment on the graven images of Babylon,

And her whole land will be confounded,

And all her slain will fall in the midst of her,

.

Then the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them,

Will sing for joy over Babylon,

For the destroyers will come to her from the north,

The word of YHWH.

As Babylon has caused the slain of Israel to fall,

So at Babylon will fall the slain of all the land.”

‘Therefore --.’ That is, it is because of the weakness which will result from the constant changes in leadership described in Jeremiah 51:45-46. YHWH works through man’s history.

‘Behold, the days are coming --’. A regular Jeremaic introduction to future events. See Jeremiah 7:32; Jeremiah 9:25; Jeremiah 16:14; Jeremiah 19:6; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 23:7; Jeremiah 30:3; Jeremiah 31:27; Jeremiah 31:31; Jeremiah 31:38; Jeremiah 33:14; Jeremiah 48:12; Jeremiah 49:2; Jeremiah 51:52).

And what is coming? Judgment on the graven images of Babylon. They will be revealed as nothings, unable to prevent what is coming on Babylon. Their powerlessness will be laid bare, for they will be unable to protect either the land or the people, the destruction and slaughter of which will reveal their impotence. And the consequence will be that the very heavens, and all that is in them, will sing for joy over what is to happen to them. Such were the blasphemies perpetrated in the names of these gods that their downfall will be noted in Heaven, as well as on earth. This must be seen in the light of the great claims made by Babylon about her gods, whom she claimed had made her master of the world, and we must remember that many, even in Israel, would have believed it. Now those gods were to be totally humiliated.

Note how closely intertwined are the fates of the gods, the land and the people. The latter two were the responsibility of the former. Thus the ravaging of the land and the ‘wounding to death’ (compare the use of the word in Psalms 69:26; Job 24:12) of the people would be a slight on the very name of those gods. They would prove the impotence of Bel/Marduk and all the other gods of Babylon.

Thus there would be rejoicing in the heavens and on earth. Compare the similar idea in Isaiah 44:23 at the redemption of Israel/Judah. The rejoicing on earth would, of course, have been because at last Babylon’s iron grip had been broken and the nations would be freed from her cruel dominance. The overlordship of Cyrus that would follow would be in a totally different category for in the main it was humane and supportive, showing concern for the different peoples.

All this would be wrought by ‘the destroyers from the north’ (north as far as Israel was concerned. In fact Media, the prominent empire before the rise of Cyrus, was north of Babylon. Persia, however, was east of Babylon, but would still be ‘in the north’ as far as Israel was concerned). The forces of the Medo-Persian empire would sweep in and destroy Babylonia and its cities, even though Babylon itself would get off more lightly, partly due to the strategy by which it was taken (a surprise entry brought about by diverting the river and using the consequent river bed to enter the city), and partly due to the humaneness of Cyrus. Later rebellion would, however, result in the completion of the destruction of Babylon itself at Persian hands.

‘As Babylon has caused the slain of Israel to fall, so at Babylon will fall the slain of all the land.’ What Babylon has sown it will reap, and this especially because of what it had done to God’s people. Babylon had caused the slain of Israel to fall, now it would itself suffer the same fate. God is not unmindful of what happens to His people, and although His retribution may be delayed, leaving us sometimes bewildered, we can be sure that in the final analysis it is certain of fulfilment.


Verse 50-51

In The Light Of Events God Calls On His People To Remember Him Afresh, And To Remember Jerusalem, Revealing The State Of Confusion In Which His People Are (Jeremiah 51:50-51).

God now calls on His exiled people, in the light of the events which will take place, to ‘remember YHWH’ (turn their thoughts towards Him in worship and obedience) even though they are far from the land and the Temple site (at which spasmodic worship still continued), and to let Jerusalem ‘go up on their hearts’, i.e. affect their thinking spiritually, with the consequence that they will make their way back there. They are not to be content with their exile. For while God could be worshipped anywhere, as the prophets had made clear, the fulfilment of God’s purposes required His people to return to their land.

The people, however, were not so sure. All that they could see was that strangers occupied what remained of Jerusalem, and that, to their reproach, the holy Temple mount, with all that remained of its holy buildings, was occupied by them. They were acknowledging that they bore a great burden of guilt.

Jeremiah 51:50

“You who have escaped the sword,

Go you, stand not still,

Remember YHWH from afar,

And let Jerusalem come into your mind.”

The call goes out to those of Israel/Judah who had survived all that had happened and were still alive, not to stand still where they were, but to come back to their land despite the difficulties. This message would have gone out to exiled groups around the known world with whom Jeremiah was in contact. In their distant places they were to ‘remember YHWH’, calling to mind Him, His promises and His covenant. Parallel to this they were to ‘let Jerusalem go up on their hearts’, bringing it to mind and being filled with a desire to return there (compare Psalms 137:5-6). This in the end was why Babylon had had to be severely dealt with, for while Babylon ruled on, such a return to Jerusalem would be impossible.

Jeremiah 51:51

“We are confounded,

Because we have heard reproach,

Confusion has covered our faces,

For strangers are come into the sanctuaries of YHWH’s house.”

The reply of the worldwide exiles is that they are demoralised as they look at what the situation is. They see what remains of Jerusalem as occupied by foreigners, who even walk over the area where the holy places of YHWH’s house had been without giving it any thought, perhaps even conducting their own false worship there. And the thought fills the exiles with reproach, causing them to be confounded and confused and ashamed. One answer to their situation lies in the next verse. The graven images which had been given the credit for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple were themselves about to be humbled in the dust by YHWH. What had happened to His Temple He would be fully avenged for.

Furthermore, little did they realise that one day God would cause the greatest man in the world of that day to arrange for exiles to return from Babylon, giving them his support and permission, returning to them the Temple vessels, and promising funds for the rebuilding of the Temple. They would only be comparatively few to begin with, but gradually others would be galvanised to return from distant places, to become a part of the new Israel. The beginnings of the story are told in the Book of Ezra fortified by the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah


Verse 52-53

A Further Prophecy Of The Destruction Of Babylon And Its Gods (Jeremiah 51:52-53).

Note the similarity of these words with Jeremiah 51:47. The repetition brings out the importance and certainty of what is said. YHWH will execute judgment on the graven images of Babylon, bringing them into disrepute and shaming them utterly. Their gods would be shown up as helpless. That the destruction of Babylon would bring Bel/Marduk into disrepute was also the view of Nebuchadrezzar, for when speaking of the great walls which he had built, he stated, ‘to make more difficult the attack of an enemy against Imgur Bel, the indestructible wall of Babylon, I constructed a bulwark like a mountain’. He knew that as Babylon’s protective ‘wall’ Bel would have to take the shame of its defeat.

Furthermore the whole land of Babylonia was to be filled with the groans of the wounded. None of their gods would do them any good (each city would have its own gods). Why even though Babylon should mount up to Heaven it would not save her. There is a probable reference her to Genesis 11:4 in respect of the city and tower of Babel whose ‘top was unto Heaven’. Compare the similar hint in Jeremiah 51:8. So very much in Jeremiah’s mind was Babylon as antagonistic to YHWH from the beginning of history, the great anti-God city. But all its attempts to make impregnable defences would prove in vain. For the destroyers who came against her would be from YHWH.

Jeremiah 51:52-53

“Wherefore, behold, the days come,

The word of YHWH,

That I will execute judgment on her graven images,

And throughout all her land,

The wounded will groan.

Though Babylon should mount up to heaven,

And though she should fortify the height of her strength,

Yet from me will destroyers come to her,

The word of YHWH.”

Compare for the beginning Jeremiah 51:47. Once more the prophetic word of YHWH declares judgment on the gods of Babylon which are but ‘graven images’. The humbling of Babylonia was to be the humbling of these images, and a revealing of them for what they were. We must not underestimate the effect of these words on the people of Jeremiah’s day. To us they were long forgotten idols. To the people of Jeremiah’s day they had great significance. Besides being huge and awe-inspiring they could be seen as the foundation of the might of Babylon, and they sustained a huge culture of soothsayers, magicians, enchanters, astrologers, stargazers, prognosticators and religious wise men (Isaiah 47:9-15), all at the service of the king and of Babylon. But the defeat, and finally the destruction, of Babylon would bring the whole into disrepute.

‘Throughout all her land the wounded (literally those who have been pierced) will groan.’ The graven images will have proved unable to prevent the slaughter of its people, and the large number of dying wounded arising from the invasion. And this would be so whatever attempts (like that of Nebuchadrezzar above) were made to protect Babylon. Another attempt to mount up to Heaven would do her no good, and all her great fortifications would be in vain. For the destroyers who came against her would be from YHWH. And this was the assured word of YHWH.


Verses 54-58

A Prophetic Description Of The Fulfilment Of YHWH’s Word Spoken Against Babylon And Confirmation That It Would Be So (Jeremiah 51:54-58).

The section dealing with YHWH’s word against Babylon, which began at Jeremiah 50:1, ends with these verses making clear that Babylon will be laid waste and that God will obtain recompense for what Babylon had done to Israel/Judah, to His Temple and to the nations. It follows on Jeremiah 51:50 where we have more than a hint of the coming restoration of Jerusalem. Thus the restoration of Jerusalem and the destruction of Babylon can be seen as inter-connected. It is not accidental that chapter 52 will major on Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, followed by the hint of the restoration of the Davidic monarchy. Out of darkness will come the first glimmer of light.

Jeremiah 51:54-57

“The sound of a cry from Babylon,

And of great destruction from the land of the Chaldeans!

For YHWH lays Babylon waste,

And destroys out of her the great voice,

And their waves roar like many waters,

The noise of their voice is uttered,

For the destroyer is come upon her,

Even on Babylon,

And her mighty men are taken,

Their bows are broken in pieces,

For a God of recompenses is YHWH,

He will surely requite (‘requiting He will requite’).

And I will make drunk her princes and her wise men,

Her governors and her deputies, and her mighty men,

And they will sleep a perpetual sleep,

And will not wake,

The word of the King,

Whose name is YHWH of hosts.”

Note the continuing play on the idea of the voices arising from the land. Initially the sound of a cry coming from Babylon probably indicates a cry of hopelessness, for it is accompanied by the sounds of destruction coming from the land, and these arise because YHWH Himself is laying the land waste, even though the instruments be Medo-Persians. There might be a case, however, for seeing the cry that arises as being that of the invaders, tying in with Jeremiah 51:55 b. But either way the consequence is that ‘the great voice’ of Babylon is destroyed. The great voice of Babylon is the noise of the city’s conversations and cries arising out of its day to day living, and especially out of its festivities. That will be destroyed as the cry of Jeremiah 51:51 goes upwards.

‘And their waves roar like many waters, the noise of their voice is uttered, for the destroyer is come upon her, even on Babylon.’ If we take the cry in Jeremiah 51:54 as that of the invaders then the ‘their’ refers back to it. If we see it as referring to the plaintive cry of Babylon then the ‘their’ must still be seen as referring to the invaders, with the antecedent being found in ‘the destroyers’ of Jeremiah 51:53. ‘Their waves roaring like many waters’ parallels ‘the noise of their voice being uttered’, and refers not to literal waters but to the flood of armed men who will pour over the land crying out their war-cries, and shouting exultantly as they seize booty and rape women (compare Jeremiah 6:23), as the destroyer comes on Babylon. For the idea of a flood of invaders compare Isaiah 8:7-8

‘And her mighty men are taken, their bows are broken in pieces, for a God of recompenses is YHWH, He will surely requite.’ The result is that Babylon’s armed mighty men are rendered helpless, and their bows are broken in pieces. Compare Jeremiah 51:3. And this is because it is the recompense of God towards a sinful and evil nation. For He is ‘a God of recompenses’. It is His very nature. And He is requiting on them what they have done to others, and especially what they have done to His people, a continuing theme of the whole two chapters.

‘And I will make drunk her princes and her wise men, her governors and her deputies, and her mighty men, and they will sleep a perpetual sleep, and will not wake. The word of the King, Whose name is YHWH of hosts.’ Note the repetition of the idea in Jeremiah 51:29. The primary idea here is that they will drink of the cup of YHWH’s anger (antipathy against sin) which will result in perpetual sleep, i.e. death. See chapter Jeremiah 25:15-16; Jeremiah 25:26-27. There was, however, a more literal fulfilment as Daniel 5 makes clear. On the night that Babylon was taken Belshazzar and his lords were feasting and drowning themselves in drink, something which was immediately followed by their deaths as the Persian soldiery arrived in the palace. Herodotus tells us that in fact the whole city was engaged in feasting.

And so that we might have no doubt as to the fulfilment of this prophecy it is declared to be that, not only of YHWH, but of YHWH, King over all, in contrast to the mere princes of the Babylonians (which included their king).

‘Her princes and her wise men, her governors and her deputies, and her mighty men.’ This description covers all the people whom Babylon depended on for its security. The chief princes and their advisers, the governors and the deputies, and finally the trained fighting machine.

Jeremiah 51:58

“Thus says YHWH of hosts,

The broad walls of Babylon will be utterly overthrown,

And her high gates will be burned with fire,

And the peoples shall labour for vanity,

And the nations for the fire,

And they will be weary.”

The section on the judgment of Babylon closes with a confirmation of the fact that all its attempts to make itself invulnerable would fail. Its huge walls, one of the wonders of the ancient world, would eventually be overthrown. Its massive gates would be burned with fire. The labour of those who had built and erected them would turn out to be in vain, and they would weary themselves over something that would end up being burned with fire. That is the end of all labour and activity which is not truly God-driven (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

‘The peoples shall labour for vanity (for what is in vain).’ This is also cited in Habakkuk 2:13, possibly suggesting that it was a common saying.

‘And they shall be weary.’ The people will have worn themselves out for nothing. Possibly it also contains the idea that, having laboured so much on the walls, to then see their destruction rendering their labour useless, would add to their weariness. But its repetition in Jeremiah 51:64 suggests that it has a deeper meaning, and that is that the fruit of association with Babylon was not to be ‘rest’ (which was the destiny of God’s people) but permanent weariness. The repetition in Jeremiah 51:64 brings out that the state is to be seen as being a permanent one, just as today we live in a weary world.


Verses 59-64

Jeremiah Hands To One Of The Godly Leaders Who Is Going With King Zedekiah On A Journey To Babylon A Scroll Containing His Prophecies About Babylon. This Was To Be Used Symbolically To Denote The Certain Judgment Coming On Babylon By Being Thrown Into The Euphrates (Jeremiah 51:59-64).

In what may be seen as a postscript to the section on the judgment coming on Babylon, Jeremiah hands to Seriah, the quarter-master general (‘prince of the resting place’) who was going on a journey to Babylon with King Zedekiah, (presumably in order to swear fealty and pay tribute), a scroll which contained his prophecies declaring all the evil that was coming on Babylon. This serves to confirm that these prophecies were given prior to this date (the fourth year of Zedekiah).

The scroll was then to be read aloud in Babylon, no doubt to a select group, declaring God’s judgment on Babylon, prior to its being thrown into the Euphrates as a symbol of what was coming on Babylon. This would be seen by those who knew of it as making certain the fulfilment of the prophecies.

Jeremiah 51:59

‘The word which Jeremiah the prophet commanded Seraiah the son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, when he went with Zedekiah the king of Judah to Babylon in the fourth year of his reign. Now Seraiah was the quarter-master general (‘prince of the resting place’).’

This incident arises out of a journey made to Babylon by King Zedekiah of Judah, in the fourth year of his reign (594/3 BC), presumably required in order to swear fealty and pay tribute. He may also have been subject to questioning about the gathering of ambassadors from neighbouring countries at the beginning of his reign (Jeremiah 27:3), which may well have been seen as having in it a hint of rebellion, for although it would be quite normal for neighbouring countries to send ambassadors at the commencement of a new reign there is a hint in chapter 27 of possible rebellion brewing.

Accompanying King Zedekiah was Seraiah, a man who came from an important family in Judah, and whose responsibility would be to see to all the preparations for the journey, and the best place for ‘resting’ each night on the journey. He is called ‘the prince of the resting places’. He was brother to Baruch, Jeremiah’s friend and secretary (see Jeremiah 32:12; Jeremiah 36:8-32; Jeremiah 45:1), which may well explain why Jeremiah chose him for the assignment that he had for him. The importance of Seraiah comes out in that not only his father’s name is given, but also his grandfather’s. A stamp seal has been discovered bearing the name of ‘Seraiah the son of Neriah’.

The date given, the fourth year of the reign of Zedekiah (594-3 BC), suggests that all the above prophecies to the nations were given prior to that date.

Jeremiah 51:60

‘And Jeremiah wrote in a scroll all the evil that should come on Babylon, even all these words which are written concerning Babylon.’

We are clearly intended to see from ‘all these words which are written concerning Babylon’ that the above prophecies against Babylon were included in the scroll, which was an accumulation of prophecies against Babylon. The purpose of taking them to Babylon would be in order to ensure that the prophecies were declared in the place in which they would be fulfilled, giving added impact to their proclamation. This would probably be seen by the people as ensuring that the prophecies would be fulfilled. The word of YHWH was being released in Babylon. We can compare with this act Jeremiah’s own prophetic action in Babylon (Jeremiah 13:1-11), which in that case affected Israel/Judah.

Jeremiah 51:61-62

‘And Jeremiah said to Seraiah, “When you come to Babylon, then see that you read all these words, and say,

‘O YHWH,

You have spoken concerning this place,

To cut it off,

That none shall dwell in it,

Neither man nor beast,

But that it shall be desolate for ever.’

The words were seemingly to be read aloud in Babylon, presumably to a select company of reliable people who would act as witnesses. It is very unlikely that it was to be read to the Babylonians, who anyway would hardly be likely to take any notice of the prophecies of an obscure Judean prophet. It could, however, have been construed as treason if heard in the wrong quarters.

Having read the words he was then to lift them before YHWH, calling on YHWH to heed what He had promised, namely the cutting off of Babylon; and the removal of its inhabitants and its permanent desolation.

Jeremiah 51:63-64

“And it shall be, when you have made an end of reading this scroll, that you shall bind a stone to it, and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates, and you will say,

‘Thus will Babylon sink,

And will not rise again,

Because of the evil that I will bring on her,

And they will be weary.’

Having carried through the ceremony in due form he was to take the scroll to the Euphrates, bind it to a stone (so that it would sink), and hurl it in, and as he did so he was to proclaim that Babylon would sink in like measure, never to rise again. And this was because of the evil that YHWH Himself would bring on her. Note the words ‘and they will be weary’ repeated from Jeremiah 51:58, the final words of the judgment section on Babylon. The indication is that all that association with Babylon finally produces is permanent weariness.

So ends the two chapters of judgments on Babylon, the city which summed up all that was anti-God in the world. Apocalyptically Babylon represented all that was bad in the world (compare Isaiah 14; Revelation 17). These chapters were a guarantee that one day God would bring it all into judgment.

Jeremiah 51:64

‘Thus far are the words of Jeremiah.’

This statement seals off Jeremiah’s prophecies. It may well have been penned by Baruch as he accumulated Jeremiah’s prophecies together. It is also preparation for the historical narrative that follows, separating it off from the prophecies of Jeremiah. There is no real reason for doubting that it covers all that has gone before of his words in chapters 1-51, and it has been pointed out that ‘the words of Jeremiah’ echoes the opening words of the book (Jeremiah 1:1 a) forming an inclusio.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 51:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/jeremiah-51.html. 2013.

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