Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
PROPHECY OF THE SEVENTY YEARS OF CAPTIVITY
This remarkable chapter records the prophecy of Jeremiah which came at the end of twenty-three years of his ministry, during which he had continuously pleaded with Judah for their repentance and whole-hearted return unto the worship of their true God. Judah never heeded him.
The message here was stark and terrible. Judah's day of grace had expired; the longsuffering mercy of God could no longer postpone the deserved judgment of the rebellious nation; the calamity stored up for the Chosen People could no longer be averted or postponed; the time of judgment was at hand!
The chapter falls into three divisions: (1) The judgment of Judah and the eventual doom of Babylon (Jeremiah 25:1-14), (2) the cup of God's wrath upon the nations (Jeremiah 25:15-29), and (3) the judgment of the whole world (Jeremiah 25:30-38).
In the first division, we have the sensational prophecy that the captivity of Israel would last seventy years. This amazing prophecy foretold the exact duration of the Babylonian exile; and, "There was no possible way for Jeremiah to have known a thing like that except by the direct revelation of Almighty God."
We are aware of the glib manner in which many present day scholars speak of this prophecy of seventy years being a "round number," not meaning seventy years at all, but "a very long time." But such comments are worthless, being only the best that unbelievers can come up with in the form of denial. As Keil noted, "The term of seventy years mentioned is not a so-called `round number,' but a chronologically exact prediction of the Chaldean supremacy over Judah." Oh yes, we are aware that an exact calculation of the "seventy years" embraces the time from the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. to the 1st year of Cyrus, some sixty-seven years; but the additional three years were required for the establishment of the first wave of returnees; and besides that, as Dummelow pointed out, "The Jews, because of their love of round numbers, would have considered the number seventy here as standing for any approximation of that number."
However, Keil pointed out that, "The captivity should be reckoned from the first year of Jehoiachim (606 B.C.), till the first year of the sole supremacy of Cyrus over Babylon (536 B.C.), a period of exactly seventy years, this number being confirmed by the dates given by both profane and Scriptural historians." Many commentators miss the point here, namely, that the "captivity" should be dated from the first year of Jehoiachim, not the third or fourth year. With the first day of the accession of Jehoiachim, Judah was no longer an independent nation.
We find no fault whatever with Keil's calculations; and, additionally, the sacred Scriptures themselves refer to this prophecy as having an "exact fulfillment." 2 Chronicles 36:20-23 states that God required Israel's captivity to last seventy years in order that the violation of the divine requirement that the land should enjoy a sabbath every seven years might be confirmed and "made up" by Israel. In the 490 year time period between the accession of king Saul and the Babylonian captivity, Israel did not observe the commanded sabbaths for the land. The inspired writer of 2Chronicles stated categorically that the captivity lasted seventy years, "Until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths: for as long as it lay desolate, it kept sabbaths, to fulfill the threescore and ten years" (2 Chronicles 36:21). Too bad they had never heard of all those round numbers! One year out of every seven for 490 years equals exactly "seventy years."
Also, notice in this connection that Daniel the prophet (Daniel 9:2), in the first year of the Median king Darius, took note of the seventy years which God, according to the prophet Jeremiah, would accomplish for the desolation of Jerusalem. "Furthermore, Daniel's seventy prophetic weeks are based upon the seventy years of the captivity (Daniel 9:2,24)."
For all of these valid reasons, we reject as worthless the speculations that would rob this remarkable prophecy of its specific meaning. We are aware that "many current scholars" agree that the prophecy means only "a very long time"; but, it is a foregone certainty that when "many scholars" agree on some such an interpretation, only one of them is doing any thinking, and the rest are merely going along with the crowd. It is also probable that in such a concurrence of denial, there may not be very many believers.
"The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of Jehoiachim the son of Josiah, king of Judah (the same was the first year of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon), which Jeremiah the prophet spake unto all the people of Judah, and to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying: From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, even unto this day, these three and twenty years, the word of Jehovah hath come unto me, and I have spoken unto you, rising up early and speaking; but ye have not hearkened."
"The fourth year of Jehoiachim ..." (Jeremiah 25:1). Daniel gives this date as "the third year of Jehoiachim" (Jeremiah 1:1); but this is not a conflict. "There were two methods of reckoning `the year' of kings of the Near East during that period, as proved by archeology." The year of accession to the throne was not counted in one of the methods. (See my discussion of this "alleged contradiction" in Vol. 4 of the Major Prophets Series of my commentaries, pp. 17,18.) By the Babylonian method of calculating, it was the third year of Jehoiachim, and this reckoning was followed by Daniel. The Jewish calculation gave the year as the fourth of Jehoiachim. Both statements are correct.
The duration of twenty-three years up to this point in Jeremiah's ministry was made up of nineteen years of the reign of Josiah and four years of the reign of Jehoiachim, including the three-months reign of Jehoahaz.
"And Jehovah hath sent unto you all his servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them (but ye have not hearkened, nor inclined your ear to hear), saying, Return ye now everyone from his evil way, and from the evil of your doings, and dwell in the land which Jehovah hath given unto you and to your fathers, from of old, and even forever more; and go not after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them, and provoke me to anger with the work of your hands; and I will do you no hurt. Yet ye have not hearkened unto me, saith Jehovah; that ye may provoke me to anger with the work of your hands to your own hurt."
"Jehovah hath sent ... all his servants the prophets ..." (Jeremiah 25:4). Not merely the words of Jeremiah, but those of all of God's true prophets had been ignored and disregarded by apostate Judah. All these servants included Daniel, Ezekiel, Uriah (who was murdered) and Jeremiah.
"And go not after other gods ..." (Jeremiah 25:6). The unwavering passion of the Israelites for the licentious worship of the pagan idols proved to be the eventual destruction of the people.
"Ye have not hearkened unto me ..." (Jeremiah 25:7). The people simply would not receive correction. They stubbornly determined to Walk in their own way, regardless of the consequences; and that attitude resulted in the sentence that Jeremiah would announce in the next four verses.
"Therefore thus saith Jehovah of hosts: Because ye have not heard my words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith Jehovah, and I will send unto Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and make them an astonishment, and a hissing, and perpetual desolations. Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, and the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the lamp. And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years."
"All the families of the north ... Nebuchadrezzar ..." (Jeremiah 25:9). The meaning of this is that the king of Babylon and all of his allies would come against Judah. The north was the direction from which all of the military operations against Jerusalem were to come, due to geographical considerations; and this does not mean that all of the enemies mentioned here lived in areas north of Jerusalem, for, in fact, many of them came from the east.
"The voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, and the sound of the millstones, and the light of the lamp ..." (Jeremiah 25:10). The destruction about to come upon the last vestiges of the Old Israel was a very significant and historical event, because the Old Israel was a type of the New Israel, which would eventually be the Church "in Christ Jesus." Sadly enough, the scriptures teach that just as the Old Israel finally and completely rejected God, so will it be also with the New Israel when the fourth and final judicial hardening of the human race occurs, as fully prophesied in Revelation 16, at which time, God's New Israel, at that time, having become the shameless Whore of Revelation 17, and corresponding exactly to the final apostasy of Judah, then God will destroy them in the same manner that he destroyed Judah, many of these very expressions being woven into the prophecy that concludes with the last portion of Revelation 18. Those who are interested in a further study of this may wish to read our discussion of Revelation 9-11 in my commentary (Volume 12 in the New Testament Series).
"These nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years ..." (Jeremiah 25:11). See the chapter introduction for a full discussion of this prophecy.
"Perpetual desolations ... a desolation ..." (Jeremiah 25:9,11). A well known fact of history is that the majority of those nations which became slaves of Babylon did indeed become "perpetual" desolations, whereas, the mention of "a desolation" in Jeremiah 25:11 seems to avoid such a prophecy regarding Jerusalem; for that city would indeed be rebuilt, and God's servant Cyrus would significantly aid the restoration. Yes, Jerusalem would indeed become "a desolation"; but it would continue as a city until the Son of God should appear in her midst.
"Nebuchadrezzar, my servant ..." (Jeremiah 25:9). This glorious title was first given by God to Moses; and, in the Bible, it is usually reserved to the noblest and most faithful worshippers of the True God; but here it is thrice applied to Nebuchadrezzar, and also to Cyrus (in Isaiah). Such men were not servants of God in the highest sense of the word; but they were, nevertheless, very important servants, being, in truth, the instruments by which God punished his own rebellious children. Significantly, such persons did not consciously serve God but yet they executed his divine judgment upon others. As a rule, such "servants" became in time God's enemies and were in turn judged and punished by the will of God. As in Zechariah (Zechariah 1:18ff), the same nations might be either horns or smiths depending upon the circumstances.
A characteristic of human power is seen in the punishment that Babylon executed upon Judah. That punishment was aggravated by human lust and sadistic cruelty, greatly increasing sorrow and suffering; and the arrogant conceit and boastfulness indulged by such "instruments" of God inevitably led to their own destruction. It is this principle that led to the judgment announced in the next paragraph.
"And it shall come to pass when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith Jehovah, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and I will make it desolate for ever. And I will bring upon that land all my words which I have pronounced against it, even all that is written in this book, which Jeremiah hath prophesied against all the nations. For many nations and great kings shall make bondmen of them; and I will recompense them according to their deeds, and according to the work of their hands."
What an impossible prophecy this appeared to be as viewed by the people of Jeremiah's generation! No great power of human history had ever been terminated so quickly after reaching their zenith; but it came to pass exactly as the prophet foretold.
"Many nations and great kings shall make bondmen of them ..." (Jeremiah 25:14). "These were the Medes and Persians who subjugated Babylonia under Cyrus in 539 B.C."
"For thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, unto me: Take this cup of the wine of wrath at my hand, and cause all the nations to whom I send thee, to drink it. And they shall drink, and reel to and fro, and be mad because of the sword that I will send among them."
"The cup of the wine of wrath ..." (Jeremiah 25:15). This was no literal cup, but a symbol of God's wrath against many nations, a number of which would be named in this very chapter. Significantly, even the apostate church was made to drink of the cup of the wine of God's wrath in Revelation 18:6. It is also of very great significance that at the very time when God's people were to drink of the wine of God's wrath, the nations of mankind who knew not the Lord were also summoned to drink of the same cup! So will it be at the end of the age. When the final apostasy of mankind has taken place, and even the church has disappeared, or nearly so, from the face of the earth, as foretold by the Saviour in Luke 18:8, at that very moment the destruction of all the world shall immediately follow upon the occasion of the final Judgment, the redeemed in Christ Jesus being the sole exceptions!
The metaphor of God's giving the nations a cup of wrath that caused them to be mad and drunken ascribes "all that happens," whether good or evil, to God. This is hard for moderns to understand; but all of the prophets stressed this. "Shall there be evil in a city, and Jehovah hath not done it" (Amos 3:6)? How is God the author of evil? He has created the laws of control, not merely for the universe, but for men as well; and when men violate God's laws of control, evil is sure to result. In that sense, God does the evil. This was a necessary point of view on the part of God's prophets, because the pagans ascribed all evil to members of their pagan pantheon. The Great Truth proclaimed by the prophets was that God is the First Cause, and the Last Cause, and the Only Cause. As Cheyne stated it: "The faith of the Prophets compared to ours was as an oak tree to a sapling; and therefore they could express the truth of the Universal Causation of Jehovah with perfect tranquillity."
"The sword that I will send among them ..." (Jeremiah 25:16). This could mean the actual sword of human warfare, or God's own sword, as mentioned in Genesis 3:24. God is not dependent upon the swords of men for the accomplishment of his will. Many other instruments are available to the Eternal God.
"Then I took the cup at Jehovah's hand, and made all the nations to drink, unto whom Jehovah had sent me: to wit, Jerusalem, and the cities of Judah, and the kings thereof, and the princes thereof, to make them a desolation, a hissing, and a curse, as it is to this day; Pharaoh king of Egypt, and his servants, and his princes, and all his people."
"The cup at Jehovah's hand ..." (Jeremiah 25:17). Although Jeremiah is here represented as giving the cup to the nations, it is actually God who requires men to drink of it. As Green said, "This is a cup from which all men have to drink, the consequences of our wrong choices. Life places it to our lips, and its contents can be very bitter, whether the recipient be a nation or an individual."
"To wit, Jerusalem, etc." (Jeremiah 25:18). The expression to wit means "namely." It is used in legal documents to introduce a list or an explanation; and it is so used here. Significantly, it is Jerusalem that leads the list. Why? "Judgment begins at the house of God." (1 Peter 4:17). When any civilization has become so corrupt that even the people of God must be judged, that civilization in its entirety will most certainly suffer summary judgment. Notice here how all the nations of that whole era are severely judged, condemned, and punished in connection with the judgment against Jerusalem.
In this whole list of the nations scheduled to drink of the cup of the wrath of God, Smith pointed out that the arrangement here is remarkable.
"Jeremiah begins with the extreme south, Egypt; next, he takes Uz on the south-east, and Philistia on the south-west; next, Edom, Moab, and Ammon on the east; and Tyre, Sidon, and the Isles of the Mediterranean on the west; next in the far east, various Arabian nations; and then northward to Media and Elam; and finally to the kings of the north, far and near!"
We shall not attempt a nation by nation analysis of what is written here, because, very obviously, what the prophet reveals here is that "all earthly nations" were to fall under the punitive judgment of Almighty God. That is the simple meaning of this list, which cites nations sprawled all over the world in all directions. "We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God" (2 Corinthians 5:10).
"And all the mingled people, and all the kings of the land of Uz, and all the kings of the land of the Philistines, and Ashkelon, and Gaza, and Ekron, and the remnant of Ashdod; Edom, and Moab, and the children of Ammon; and all the kings of Tyre, and all the kings of Sidon, and the kings of the isle which is beyond the sea; Dedan and Tema, and Buz, and all that have the corners of their hair cut off; and all the kings of Arabia, and all the kings of the mingled people that dwell in the wilderness; and all the kings of Zimri, and all the kings of Elam, and all the kings of the Medes; and all the kings of the north, far and near, one with another; and all the kingdoms of the world, which are upon the face of the earth; and the king of Sheshach shall drink after them."
Jeremiah 25:26 leaves no doubt that every nation under the sun of heaven was included in this promise of the punitive judgment of God.
"And the king of Sheshach shall drink after them ..." (Jeremiah 25:26). Sheshach here stands for Babylon, indicating that the judgment of Babylon will come chronologically after the judgment of the other nations, the reason for that being that Babylon would be the instrument of punishment to the others before the punishment was executed upon themselves.
Sheshach in this passage is identified as an Atbasch, a form of writing in which the last letter of the alphabet is used for the first, and the letter next to the last is used for the second, etc. Here the word stands for Babylon.
It is surprising that the singular word "isle" is used instead of the plural in Jeremiah 25:22. "The word means any coastland; but as it is here distinguished from Tyre and Sidon, it probably refers to Cyprus.
"And thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink ye, and be drunken, and spew, and fall, and rise no more, because of the sword which I shall send among you. And it shall be if they refuse to take the cup at thy hand to drink, then thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: ye shall surely drink. For, lo, I begin to work evil at the city which is called by my name; and should ye be utterly unpunished? Ye shall not be unpunished; for I will call for a sword upon all the inhabitants of the earth, saith Jehovah of hosts."
"If they shall refuse to take the cup ..." (Jeremiah 25:28). Of course, no person or no nation can refuse to drink the cup of the wine of the wrath of God; and what this signifies here is the surfacing of any complaint against God's judgment that might be raised by sufferers of the consequences of their sins.
The judgment of God against the whole world derives from the fact that when the world has become so wicked that God's people themselves are swept into the near-universal rebellion against God, then the whole world at that time does indeed deserve destruction. It happened once upon the occasion of the destruction of the Old Israel; and it will occur again in the destruction of the New Israel at the end of the age in the events culminating in the Final Judgment of the Great Day. When will that happen? When the cities of the Gentiles have fallen, when the Great Whore, when oppressive anti-theistic government, and Satan himself shall all three have been cast into the lake of fire that burneth with brimstone. See the last three chapters of Revelation.
"Therefore prophesy thou against them all these words, and say unto them, Jehovah will roar from on high, and utter his voice from his holy habitation; he will mightily roar against his fold; he will give a shout as they that tread the grapes, against all the inhabitants of the earth. A noise shall come even unto the end of the earth; for Jehovah hath a controversy with the nations; he will enter into judgment with all flesh: as for the wicked, he will give them to the sword, saith Jehovah."
Notice how repeatedly the message is emphasized: (1) that all nations shall suffer judgment and destruction; (2) that death shall overtake the wicked; and (3) that there shall be no national exceptions to God's wrath.
"Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, Behold, evil shall go forth from nation to nation, and a great tempest shall be raised up from the uttermost parts of the earth. And the slain of Jehovah shall be at that day from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth: they shall not be lamented, neither gathered, nor buried; they shall be dung upon the face of the ground. Wail ye shepherds, and cry; and wallow in ashes, ye principal of the flock; for the days of your slaughter and of your dispersions are fully come, and ye shall fall like a goodly vessel. And the shepherds shall have no way to flee, nor the principal of the flock to escape. A voice of the cry of the shepherds, and the wailing of the principal of the flock! for Jehovah layeth waste their pasture. And the peaceable folds are brought to silence because of the fierce anger of Jehovah. He hath left his covert as a lion; for this land is become an astonishment because of the fierceness of the oppressing sword, and because of his fierce anger."
This graphic description has a double application, referring at once to the forthcoming destruction of the Old Israel and remotely to the Eternal Judgment of the Last Day. Some of the radical critics prefer to assign this passage to some other author than to Jeremiah, but, as Feinberg stated, "Such a denial of Jeremiah's authorship is based, not upon any evidence at all, but the subjective opinions of certain critics." "The prophecy is certainly not later than the mid-sixth century B.C., and we may credit it to Jeremiah."
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