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Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Jeremiah 49

Verse 1

General Heading To The Whole Section.

Jeremiah 49:1

‘The word of YHWH which came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the nations.’

We have repeated this verse here so as to put what follows in context. Here we have an indication of what this final main section, commencing at Jeremiah 46:1, is all about. It deals with YHWH’s ‘powerful word’ (dbr YHWH) against all the nations which were affecting Judah/Israel at that time. It indicated that YHWH’s judgment would be active against such nations. It must be remembered that during the time of Jeremiah’s prophecies following Josiah’s death in 609 BC, Babylon was the dominant nation in the ancient Near Eastern world, and we therefore learn from these prophecies how their tentacles would embrace all the nations round about, bringing YHWH’s judgment on them. None would escape their attention. But the final important point is that in the end Babylon itself would succumb, overtaken by judgment from the north. In contrast God’s people would arise triumphantly from the ashes. Jeremiah’s message was thus that against all appearances it was to be recognised that God was still in control.


Verses 1-6

Judgment Against Ammon (Jeremiah 49:1-6).

Ammon were a fierce, half-civilised nation beyond the eastern borders of Israel and Moab, with their further borders connecting with the deserts of Arabia with their ferocious, wandering tribes and oasis ‘cities’. They were the chief worshippers of Molech (Melech, Malcom), their fierce, child-sacrifice demanding, tribal god, (although his worship spread much wider and was well known in Canaan) and were very much a tribal society. They regularly joined with their more sophisticated neighbours Moab in joint-alliance (e.g. Judges 3, 11), eponymously enjoying descent from a similar source through Lot (Genesis 19:37-38).

In Ammon’s case a charge is brought against them of having wrongly infringed against Judah/Israel in that they had taken advantage of Israel’s misfortunes by seizing land in Gad (southern Gilead), east of the Jordan, possibly after Gad was partially depopulated by the transfer of many of its inhabitants elsewhere by Tiglath Pileser III and the Assyrians (2 Kings 15:29). They also later joined with Nebuchadrezzar in helping to put down Judah’s rebellion in 600-597 BC (2 Kings 24:2), although they probably then had little choice. They were a subject nation. The fact that there is no mention of the part their king played in the assassination of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40:13 to Jeremiah 41:15) serves to confirm that the prophecy is earlier than that event. So they were a constant thorn in the side of Israel/Judah. But their main fault was in exalting Molech at the expense of YHWH.

Jeremiah 49:1

‘Of the children of Ammon. Thus says YHWH,

“Has Israel no sons?

Has he no heir?

Why then does Malcam (Molech) possess Gad,

And his people dwell in its cities?”

Ammon could not deny its belligerence against Judah/Israel for it was firmly encamped on their territory. It was on land that would not have been totally denuded of its inhabitants by the exile of its leading citizens, and it had not therefore been totally uninhabited. Thus Ammon’s act was an act of seizure. But worse was the fact that they were treating it as though it was Molech’s land, the possession of their evil god, and no doubt boasting that it was theirs because Molech was more powerful than YHWH. Thus YHWH enquires as to what right they have to be settled there, acting as though it was their possession, dwelling in its cities, and denying YHWH’s right to decide ownership, when there were currently Israelites available to possess it. By force of arms they had replaced YHWH by Molech, and then given the credit to Molech. It was now therefore necessary for Molech’s inadequacy to be exposed.

Jeremiah 49:2

“Therefore, behold, the days come,

The word of YHWH,

That I will cause an alarm of war to be heard,

Against Rabbah of the children of Ammon,

And it will become a desolate heap,

And her daughters will be burned with fire,

Then will Israel possess them,

Those who did possess him,

The word of YHWH.”

As a result of this the future was not bright for Ammon. The day was coming, as revealed in the prophetic word of YHWH (neum YHWH), when the alarm would be sounded against the capital city of Ammon. And, as the destructive invaders advanced, this would result in its becoming a desolate heap, along with its daughter towns, which would be burned with fire. And after this Israel would possess those who had once possessed them, in accordance with YHWH’s prophetic word. What they had done to Israel, Israel would do to them. Gad would once more be Israel’s. Rabbah was situated on the Jabbok, fourteen miles north-east of Heshbon, and was the capital city of Ammon.

We have in this a reminder that God is so gracious that He watches over even His erring people. He may chasten them for a time, even severely, but it is in order that they might be restored and brought back within the promises. On the other hand those who misuse God’s people will themselves be misused.

Jeremiah 49:3

“Wail, O Heshbon, for Ai is laid waste,

Cry, you daughters of Rabbah,

Gird yourselves with sackcloth,

Lament, and run to and fro within the fences,

For Malcam will go into captivity,

His priests and his princes together.”

Heshbon was a fortress city which had been the capital of Sihon’s empire (Numbers 21:26-27; Numbers 21:34; Joshua 13:10) and had been taken over by Israel (Joshua 13:10; Judges 11:26). It had probably become a Moabite city, taken from the Israelites (Jeremiah 48:34; Jeremiah 48:45). But at this point it was apparently in Ammonite hands (compare Jeremiah 48:2). It would appear, therefore, that it was not only on Israel that Ammon was preying. Ammon had become strong and was taking advantage of its neighbours.

The idea here may be that of the standpoint of the people in Heshbon as they will run around in panic within their strong walls at what they learn concerning what is happening around them, especially to the city of Ai. Neighbouring Ai (which means ‘a ruin’ and is not the Ai of Joshua 7) has been laid waste. But the word for ‘fences’ is not usually used of city walls. It rather indicates the fences and walls around sheepfolds and vineyards. There may therefore be in this a hint both of their prosperity (many sheepfolds and vineyards) and of their vulnerability (what protection was offered by sheep fences and vineyard walls against the great invader from the North?). It is a reminder that our wealth cannot help us in the day of calamity.

The ‘daughters of Rabbah’ (Rabbah being the capital city of Ammon) are either the womenfolk of Rabbah, or alternatively its surrounding towns and villages looked on as offspring (compare the use in Joshua 15:45; Joshua 15:47; Judges 11:26). Either way the Ammonites are called on to wail at what is coming on them, and especially on their god Molech (Malcam). The mighty Molech would be humbled by being dragged off into captivity (compare the vivid picture in Isaiah 46:1-2 of when the Babylonian gods were humbled by the Assyrians), along with his priests and princes. His helplessness, and the helplessness of those who had trusted in him, would be apparent to all.

Jeremiah 49:4

“Why do you glory in the valleys,

Your flowing valley, O backsliding daughter?

Who trusted in her treasures,

Saying, “Who shall come to me?”

Like Moab Ammon had also declared her own invulnerability. Such had been her self-confidence, and her certainty of her own strength (a strength partly based on her remoteness), that she had declared, ‘Who shall come to me?’, confident that no one could or would touch her. But now she is warned not to trust in her prosperity and wealth, her fruitful valleys and her treasures (much of it gained by raiding her neighbours), for on the horizon a dark shadow is looming. We are reminded here of the words of Jesus Christ concerning the need to seek treasure in Heaven rather than to trust in earthly treasures (Matthew 6:19 ff).

On the basis of a parallel Ugaritic word it has been suggested that the word for ‘valley’ should be translated ‘strength’. But the idea is the same whichever we accept, for her prosperity was her strength.

Jeremiah 49:5-6

“Behold, I will bring a fear upon you,

The word of the Lord, YHWH of hosts,

From all who are round about you,

And you will be driven out every man right forth,

And there will be none to gather together the fugitives,

But afterward I will bring back the captivity of the children of Ammon,

The word of YHWH.”

For in accordance with the prophetic word of YHWH (repeated twice, once with a special emphasis on His sovereignty) they who had been so arrogant would be in fear of all their neighbours, and would be driven out, every one of them, straight before them. The haste with which they would leave, and the completeness of the desertion, is made apparent in the fact that none of them will be available to help other fugitives in the face of the invaders. In the face of the invaders from the north none would be able to stand firm. It is a reminder of the devastation of such warfare. The cruel enemy raped and slew all whom they came across. There was no alternative but to flee, some to the mountains, others to neighbouring countries which would provide refuge..

But as with Egypt and Moab, once their punishment is over they will be restored. God will not make a full end of them. His mercy is made apparent. Afterwards the exiles would return, and in Nehemiah 2:10; Nehemiah 2:19; Nehemiah 4:7 we learn of their existence under Persian rule under their local governor Tobiah.


Verses 1-64

Prophecy Of Judgment On The Nations Continued (Jeremiah 49:1 to Jeremiah 51:64).

Having learned that judgment was coming on Egypt, Philistia and Moab, we now go on to learn that it will also visit Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Arabia, Elam and then Babylon itself. None are immune from God’s judgment.


Verses 7-22

Judgment Against Edom (Jeremiah 49:7-22).

Edom lay to the south east of Judah stretching from the borders of Judah down to the Gulf of Aqabah, a distance of 100 miles. Its importance generally lay in the fact that it gave access to the lucrative Red Sea trade through its port at Ezion Geber. The King’s Highway, the trade route from the north, passed through its territory, on the way to Ezion Geber, and those who travelled it were often prey to brigands descending from the Edomite mountains round about. Eponymously descended from Esau (although being a mixture of peoples) Edom was seen as a brother tribe to Israel, but rather than this making them more friendly towards Israel, it appears to have had the opposite effect. Their attitude towards Israel appears to have been one of constant hostility, and they appear to have taken great delight in Judah/Israel’s misfortunes, and to have taken advantage of them for their own ends. See 2 Chronicles 20:1; 2 Chronicles 28:17.

So, as in Isaiah and Obadiah, of all the nations the judgment on Edom is seen to be judgment at its most extreme (compare Isaiah 34; Isaiah 63:1-6; Obadiah). This seemingly occurred because, even though they were a brother tribe to Israel, they had constantly revealed their treacherousness by taking advantage of Judah’s weak position at times when they were in difficulties. This was especially so at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. It was a destruction in which they took great delight, exulting over Judah’s downfall (see Psalms 137:7; Lamentations 4:21; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:15; Ezekiel 36:5), and this in spite of the fact that they had initially been allies (Jeremiah 27:3). As a consequence they occupied parts of southern Judah. Thus their treachery was extreme. As a consequence Edom was to be wiped off the face of the map, becoming a desolation for ever (although interestingly their occupation of southern Judah, to which later Edomite refugees would flee, would prove to be a boon to them when they had nowhere else to go).

Edom’s meanness of spirit towards Israel had come out from the beginning. In the days of Moses they had refused to allow Israel safe passage through their territory, at a time when the Israelites had endured forty tortuous years in the wilderness (Numbers 20:14-29). And this attitude had continued throughout the centuries, no doubt exacerbated by the fact that when Israel was strong, in for example the days of Saul, David and Solomon, Israel in its turn had not hesitated to subdue Edom. But there was no doubt of Edom’s constant and mean-spirited animosity towards Judah/Israel throughout the centuries, and their constant attempts at various times to take advantage of Judah’s weakness, and this despite their relationship to Israel.

From the humane point of view the extremity of the judgment must, however, be seen as somewhat ameliorated by the fact that when they were finally driven out of their land by the Arabs, and later by the Nabataeans, and had settled in Southern Judah (what became known as Idumaea) the Edomites were absorbed into Israel and became Jews, although admittedly by compulsion under John Hyrcanus. Their need to seek refuge would thus prove to be a blessing in disguise, so that by the time of Jesus Edom had been absorbed into Israel.

In all this we see the sovereignty of God and the freewill of man going hand in hand. We must not put the blame for the cruelty of the invaders on God. It was the consequence of man’s inhumanity to man. What is, however, being brought out is that through it God was bringing about His purposes.

Jeremiah 49:7

‘Of Edom.’

The passage begins with the usual terse reference as to who is in mind in the prophecy, in this case Edom.

Jeremiah 49:7

“Thus says YHWH of hosts,

Is wisdom no more in Teman?

Has counsel perished from the prudent?

Has their wisdom vanished?”

Teman was proverbial for its wise men, and it is always closely associated with Edom. (Teman was a grandson of Esau). In Habakkuk 3:3 it appears to be used to describe Edom, the part representing the whole. One of Job’s ‘comforters’ was Eliphaz the Temanite (Job 2:11; Job 4:1), and the wise men of Edom are further referred to by Obadiah (Jeremiah 1:8). They were linked with ‘the children of the east’ who were renowned for their wisdom (1 Kings 4:30). Now, however, YHWH declares that they have lost their wisdom, something which is demonstrated by their behaviour. They have proved themselves foolish. In the Hebrew the questions anticipate a positive answer.

Jeremiah 49:8

“Flee you, turn back, dwell in the depths (caves),

O inhabitants of Dedan,

For I will bring the calamity of Esau on him,

The time that I shall visit him.”

Those who are associated with Edom are therefore advised to flee and leave them to their fate. Dedan was an Arabian city, not part of Edom, although closely linked with Teman and Edom in Ezekiel 25:13. They are advised to separate themselves from Edom and hide in remote places in view of what is coming on Edom. For it is Edom’s time to be visited by YHWH and to suffer calamity.

‘The calamity of Edom -- the time that I shall visit him.’ Chilling phrases which brings out what God has purposed for Edom. It will be a time when they will be visited by God in judgment. It is a reminder that God’s judgment is inexorable.

We have here a reminder to all that we should beware of connecting ourselves up with those whose way of life is unsatisfactory. If we do so we must not be surprised if we get caught up when they suffer the consequences of their behaviour.

Jeremiah 49:9-10

“If grape-gatherers came to you,

Would they not leave some gleaning grapes?

If thieves by night,

Would they not destroy only until they had enough?

But I have made Esau stripped bare,

I have uncovered his secret places,

And he will not be able to hide himself,

His seed is destroyed,

And his brothers, and his neighbours,

And he is not.

Leave your fatherless children, I will preserve them alive,

And let your widows trust in me.”

YHWH now makes clear the completeness of the judgment that is coming on Edom. Whereas grape-gatherers will always leave a few grapes for the gleaners, in accordance with the Mosaic law (Leviticus 19:10; Deuteronomy 24:21), and even thieves will always leave something behind once they are satisfied with what they have found, YHWH will leave Edom with nothing. It will be stripped bare. Even their most secret hiding places will be uncovered so that they cannot hide from the destroyers. Edom’s seed will be destroyed, apart, that is, from His showing of mercy to the fatherless and to widows. This exception is interesting in that it draws attention to the fact that the people are not suffering haphazardly. It is because of their sins and their attitudes. The innocent will be spared with a view to them trusting in YHWH. Throughout God’s judgment there is also a purpose of mercy.

It is interesting that Obadiah 1:5-6 makes use of similar illustrations in order emphasise the utter judgment which is coming on Edom. It may be that Jeremiah borrowed from him, or that they were both aware of a common prophecy against Edom. But in the end the words and the ideas were YHWH’s.

Jeremiah 49:12

“For thus says YHWH,

Behold, they to whom it pertains not to drink of the cup will assuredly drink,

And are you he who will altogether go unpunished?

You will not go unpunished,

But you will surely drink.

YHWH points out to Edom that even ‘innocent’ nations will have to drink of the cup of suffering, even though they did not deserve it, how much more then will Edom be made to drink of it, they who do deserve it. One thing therefore is sure, that they too will drink of it. They will not go unpunished for their sins.

The point is not that the other nations are not to be seen as sinful. It is rather that they have not shown enmity towards God’s people, this in contrast with Edom. Compare Amos 1:11. The picture of experiencing suffering and judgment in terms of drinking of a cup is a regular one in the Old Testament. See Jeremiah 25:15-29 for its use in Jeremiah. See also Psalms 75:8; Isaiah 51:17; Isaiah 51:22; Habakkuk 2:16; Psalms 11:6. It is in direct contrast to drinking of the cup of YHWH in a good sense (Psalms 16:5; Psalms 116:13).

Jeremiah 49:13

“For I have sworn by myself,

The word of YHWH,

That Bozrah will become an astonishment,

A reproach, a waste, and a curse,

And all its cities,

Will be perpetual wastes.”

Bozrah was once the chief city of Edom (to be distinguished from the Bozrah in Moab - Jeremiah 48:24). Its overthrow had already been prophesied by Amos 1:12. If we associate it with modern Buseirah it was situated 25 miles (40 kilometres) south east of the Dead Sea. Excavations there have revealed three principle levels of occupation in 8th century BC and later.

For YHWH to swear by Himself was a most solemn oath (compare Hebrews 6:13). It was the very declared intention of YHWH. And He swore that the proud city of Bozrah in its lofty security, a city at which men marvelled, would become a thing of astonishment as men beheld its ruin. It would be a perpetual sign of reproach in that it would demonstrate that they had behaved in such a way as to bring this in themselves. It would become a waste, a city under a curse. And all its surrounding towns and villages would become perpetual wastes. There was to be no future hope here for Edom.

Jeremiah 49:14

“I have heard tidings from YHWH,

And an ambassador is sent among the nations,

Saying, ‘Gather yourselves together, and come against her,

And rise up to the battle.’ ”

Jeremiah emphasises that what is prophesied is already taking shape. He himself has received tidings from YHWH, whilst an ambassador has already been sent by Him amongst the nations calling on them to gather themselves to battle against Edom (compare Jeremiah 46:3-4). The ambassador may indicate an angelic messenger acting invisibly, or it may have in mind those whom Nebuchadrezzar sent out to call tributaries to respond to the call to arms.

Humanly speaking this was not, of course, just YHWH’s doing. It was the result of man’s greed as he sought to establish empires and obtain much booty. Going forth to war was seen as an essential part of life (compare 2 Samuel 11:1 which speaks of ‘the time when kings go forth to battle’). And none partook in this more than the great kings. But YHWH was utilising man’s behaviour in order to bring about His own purposes.

Jeremiah 49:15-17

For, behold, I have made you small among the nations,

And despised among men.

As for your terribleness,

The pride of your heart has deceived you,

O you who dwell in the clefts of the rock,

What hold the height of the hill,

Though you make your nest as high as the eagle,

I will bring you down from there,

The word of YHWH,

And Edom will become an astonishment,

Every one who passes by it,

They will be astonished,

And will hiss at all its plagues.”

It is always a nations tendency to see itself as great, and to take pride in its defensive capability. And Edom was no exception. It saw itself as invulnerable and its armies as invincible. But they had never really been tested against such an army as Babylon’s. If we do not know the capacity of the enemy it is easy to deceive ourselves. It was to learn that it was but ‘small among the nations’, and that it would become a thing despised among men. Pride would come before a fall.

One of Edom’s strongpoints was its mountainous nature. Its cities were built in high places, making attack difficult. They ‘dwelt in the clefts of the rock’ and on ‘the height of the hill’. But they are warned that even though they make their nest as high as the eagle’s, they will be brought down from there. Eagles make their nests in inaccessible places (see Job 39:27-29). But however inaccessible, they can always be reached by a determined enemy. So it would be for Edom. And the result would be that instead of being envied and exalted they would become an object of astonishment and amazement because of what was to happen to them. Men would draw their breaths and gasp when they saw the disasters that were coming on them.

‘As for your terribleness.’ The word is an unusual one and may indicate the terrible aspect that they sought to present, proud of their own ferocity. But a cognate word found in 1 Kings 15:13; 2 Chronicles 15:16 may indicate that like ‘abomination’ it was used to depict idolatry. They were proud of their fierce god. Thus we have linked the ideas of pride and idolatry, both hateful to God. It may be that just as YHWH could be called ‘the Fear of Isaac’, so Edom’s god, possibly Qaus which appears in many Edomite names, could be called ‘the Terrible One of Edom’.

‘In the clefts of the rocks.’ Some would translate as ‘in the fortresses of Sela’, being a reference to the mountain top fortresses in Edom. Sela is elsewhere used of the city of Petra, built into the rocks, although the remains that we know of at Petra are of Roman origin. Here it appears to be referring to Edom as a whole.

For us the lesson is clear. If we trust in ourselves in our spiritual warfare, and see ourselves as upon the mountain tops and therefore secure, we must beware lest we need to humbled. We must ever remember the injunctions of Ephesians 6:10-18.

Jeremiah 49:18

“As in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah,

And their neighbour cities,

The word of YHWH,

No man will dwell there,

Nor will any son of man sojourn in it.”

Indeed the devastation was to be likened to that of Sodom and Gomorrah. The cataclysmic disaster that had occurred to Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19) had been so devastating that it had echoed down the centuries (Jeremiah 23:14; Isaiah 1:10; Isaiah 3:9; Isaiah 13:19; Amos 4:11; Zephaniah 2:9). It had become a byword for complete and utter disaster. Sodom and Gomorrah, with their neighbouring towns, had been wiped off the map, leaving an uninhabited land. In the same way Edom was to become so desolated that no man dwelt there, and no one lived in it. This found partial fulfilment in the arrival of the Arabs (5th century BC), and later the Nabataeans (3rd century BC, who drove out the Edomites. But it became even moreso in later centuries.

Jeremiah 49:19

“Behold, he will come up like a lion from the pride of Jordan,

Against the strong habitation,

For I will in the wink of an eye make them run away from it,

And whoever is chosen,

Him will I appoint over it,

For who is like me?

And who will appoint me a time?

And who is the shepherd who will stand before me?”

The ‘pride of Jordan’ was the description used of the area of thick jungle thickets on the banks of the Jordan in which many wild beasts found refuge. It was notorious for the lions that came from there seeking prey when they were hungry through shortage of prey in the thickets, when they could be a danger to men as they desperately sought for food, even entering towns and villages in their search. Compare Jeremiah 12:5; Jeremiah 25:38; Hosea 13:7-8. As soon as lone men saw them they ran away. They knew just how dangerous they could be under those circumstances. No adversary is named by Jeremiah, but the picture is a vivid one as the adversary is pictured as emerging from the thickets, hungry in his quest for prey. He is the chosen of YHWH, YHWH’s shepherd, emerging in YHWH’s time, a time which no one else can appoint and He alone will decide.

‘And whoever is chosen, him will I appoint over it.’ This may indicate YHWH’s chosen candidate, someone in the full bloom of young manhood (implicit in the word used) who has been chosen by YHWH. Or it may be a challenge to Edom to choose for themselves a champion so that YHWH may set him over them, indicating at the same time that any such appointment would be useless.

‘Strong habitation.’ This may refer to their invasion of towns and villages. Alternately we may render it as ‘evergreen pasturage’ or ‘secure encampment’, indicating the areas where the shepherds fed their flocks. The word here rendered ‘habitation’ is used in Jeremiah 6:3 to indicate the places where shepherds encamped.

‘And who is the shepherd who will stand before me?” This could refer to the predator arising as ‘the shepherd who stands before YHWH’, that is, as His true and reliable close servant, the question indicating that his identity is as yet to be seen as unknown. In this case he is YHWH’s shepherd. Or it may be questioning as to what shepherd could prevent YHWH from carrying out His purpose, the idea being that no shepherd of Edom could hope to outface or resist Him, any more than they could hope to outface a hungry lion who had seized one of their sheep. Of course there were exceptional shepherds who did outface lions (compare 1 Samuel 17:34-36). But the point here was that there was no one who could outface YHWH. We do not know enough about the history of the times to be sure as to who was in mind, but it may well have been Babylon (see Jeremiah 49:22).

Jeremiah 49:20-21

“Therefore hear you the counsel of YHWH,

Which he has taken against Edom,

And his purposes,

Which he has purposed against the inhabitants of Teman,

Surely they will drag them away,

The little ones of the flock,

Surely he will make their habitation,

Desolate over them,

The earth trembles at the noise of their fall,

There is a cry, of which the noise is heard in the Reed Sea.”

It is now emphasised that what is to happen to Edom is YHWH’s purpose. It is in accordance with His counsel. The invaders will be like hungry lions seizing the defenceless lambs, and dragging them away to be eaten. Their homes will be desolated. And such will be the awfulness of the situation that the whole earth will tremble at the noise of their fall, and their cries will be heard even at the Red Sea (literally ‘the sea of reeds’, which was on their southernmost border). This latter may indicate that many will attempt to flee by boat, or alternatively may simply be indicating that their cries of distress will be such that they will go beyond their borders. The kind of extreme language used here was common in the inscriptions of conquerors. It is not intended to be taken literally, but as underlining the greatness of the catastrophe. For Teman compare Jeremiah 49:7.

Jeremiah 49:22

“Behold, he will come up and fly as the eagle,

And spread out his wings against Bozrah,

And the heart of the mighty men of Edom at that day,

Will be as the heart of a woman in her birth pains.

The prophecies close with an indication of the might of their conqueror. He will come up like a mighty eagle searching for prey, spreading out his great wings against their capital city, which was built on the heights (compare Jeremiah 48:40). Such will be his might that the hearts of Edom’s finest warriors will quail, as a woman quails when approaching childbirth.

The picture of the mighty eagle is a common one for describing great conquerors. See, for example, Ezekiel 17:1-10.


Verses 23-27

Judgment Against Damascus (Jeremiah 49:23-27).

Damascus was the capital city of Aram, an Aramean state which was north of Israel and part of what we now call Syria. It was situated on the main trade routes and was a prosperous trading centre. The Aramean confederacy of which it was a part also included the great cities and regions of Hamath and Arpad. In the times of independence, prior to their subjugation by first Assyria and then Babylon, and following the days of David, and Solomon at his peak, Damascus had regularly been an adversary of Israel, seeking in its greed to obtain regular tribute from them, although sometimes, especially when danger loomed from the north, e.g. in the form of Assyria, they would be in an alliance. This situation naturally arose from the nature of the area, composed as it was of small kingdoms, which each at times sought to take advantage of the others and exact tribute from them.

But one consequence of this constant bickering and fighting was that they weakened each other, so that while in the days when David and Solomon ruled supreme over most of the area, and in the days of the powerful kings Jehoshaphat of Judah and Ahab of Israel, and later Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel, they were able to form alliances to thwart the Assyrian threat, at other times they were unable to do so. Had they all lived at peace and in harmony, each kingdom establishing its own prosperity, they would have been powerful enough when united to resist any outside invasion. But their greed resulted in the very opposite situation. They constantly fought each other with the result that whilst Israel had been able to supply 2000 chariots to the coalition formed to combat Assyria in the time of Ahab (853 BC), by the time of his sons Israel, as a result of the warlike activities of Damascus, was reduced to possessing only ten chariots, and was thus in no position to assist Damascus when the Assyrians under Shalmaneser III again invaded in 841 BC. Hazael of Damascus had to withstand them alone, losing large numbers of chariots and men in the process, and having to withdraw to Damascus and endure a seige. This allowed the Assyrians to lay waste the countryside, although failing to take Damascus. Thus the ability of the area to defend itself was constantly being reduced as a result of its own greed.

For certain periods, especially in the days of Hazael and Benhadad, Damascus lorded itself over Israel (2 Kings 8:12-13; 2 Kings 10:32; 2 Kings 12:18; 2 Kings 13:7; 2 Kings 13:22), but its power was later diminished and then smashed by Assyria, this latter occurring just prior to the time when Samaria was also destroyed in 722 BC (see 2 Kings 16:9; 2 Kings 17:5-6)) and Israel (northern Israel as opposed to Judah) ceased as a separate nation. Since then its effectiveness had been restricted, and it had been tributary first to Assyria, and then to Babylon.

But like most of the small nations at that time it would take ever opportunity to free itself from the yoke if there was a whiff of freedom. Tribute was heavy, and freedom from it something to be diligently sought. While it might appear to us as madness to seek to resist Babylon, they had no overall view which enabled them to know the real might of those against whom they rebelled, who could sometimes appear not to be so strong because they were occupied elsewhere. Thus by the time of Jeremiah Damascus was a very much weakened city, being part of the Assyrian province of Hamath, now under the control of Babylon.

Jeremiah 49:23

‘Of Damascus.’

Once again we have a brief heading indicating the subject of the prophecy.

Jeremiah 49:23

“Hamath is confounded, and Arpad,

For they have heard evil tidings,

They are melted away,

There is sorrow on the sea, it cannot be quiet.”

Hamath was a large city which was on the northernmost border of what was described as the land given by YHWH to Israel (Numbers 34:8), and was at one stage under Solomon’s control (2 Chronicles 8:4). It was an integral part of wider Aram. It lay in a strong position in the valley of the Orontes, and under the name of Hamah is still a flourishing city today. In the Scriptures Arpad is always linked with Hamath (see Isaiah 10:9; Isaiah 36:19; Isaiah 37:13) and was clearly therefore also an important city at the time. Under the name Arpaddu it is referred to in cuneiform inscriptions, and its suggested site, Tel Rif‘at, is around 30 kilometres (20 miles) north west of Aleppo.

The prophecy clearly links these two cities with Damascus. As important cities in the Aramean Confederacy they would take part in any revolt against Babylonian supremacy. Here their dismay is described at the thought of what is coming on them from the north. The evil tidings mentioned was no doubt the approach of Nebuchadrezzar’s armies, and their hearts were melting within them at the thought of them. The ‘sorrow on the sea’ is a little difficult as Aram was inland and had no coastline, but the idea may well be that Tyre and Sidon, which were seaports, were, because they were allies, included in the general dismay with the idea that the dismay had reached even as far as the sea. Alternately there may have been an inland lake in Aram of which we are unaware (‘sea’ often refers to a lake, compare the ‘sea of Galilee/Chinnereth’). Some would translate as ‘like the restless sea’ but that is not strictly true to the Hebrew.

Jeremiah 49:24-27

“Damascus is waxed feeble,

She turns herself to flee, and trembling has seized on her,

Anguish and sorrows have taken hold of her,

As of a woman in birth pains.’

How is the city of praise not forsaken?

The city of my delight?”

Therefore her young men will fall in her streets,

And all the men of war will be brought to silence in that day,

The word of YHWH of hosts,

And I will kindle a fire in the wall of Damascus,

And it will devour the palaces of Ben-hadad.”

Damascus was a powerfully fortified city and had previously resisted Assyrian sieges before finally succumbing. It was probably seen as the most powerful city in the Aramean confederacy. But she too would be terrified of the approaching Babylonians (or whoever the assailants would be). She too will shudder and cry out like a woman in birth pains, because of the anguish and sorrow coming on her, and will seek to escape by fleeing. But it will be too late. The prophecy expresses this in its surprise that the delightful city, renowned for its trade, has not been forsaken. Why are the people still there? Why have they not fled? There can be only one answer. They have left it too late. As a result her young men will fall in her streets as they resist the enemy, and her men of war will be silenced for ever. Then the city will be put to the torch, and all its fine palaces destroyed.

‘City of praise --- city of my delight’ are phrases intended to bring out that she is so delightful that even YHWH praises her and is delighted in her. It is not indicating that she was the chosen of YHWH, unless we see it as chosen for destruction.

‘The palaces of Benhadad.’ The dynasty of Benhadad (which had included Benhadad I, Hazael, and Benhadad II) had been very influential in Damescene history to such an extent that their palaces were seen in these terms even though that dynasty had ceased. It is, of course, very possible that they had built at least some of them. There is a poignancy in the fact that the remains of their famous dynasty would be put to the flames.


Verse 28-29

Nebuchadrezzar Is Called On To Fulfil YHWH’s Purpose (Jeremiah 49:28 a-29).

Jeremiah 49:28-29

“Thus says YHWH,

Arise you, go up to Kedar,

And destroy the children of the east.

Their tents and their flocks will they take,

They will carry away their curtains for themselves ,

And all their vessels, and their camels,

And they will cry to them,

‘Terror on every side!’ ”

YHWH’s call comes to Nebuchadrezzar to arise against ‘the children of the east’. Nebuchadrezzar would not have been aware of the call. He would have seen his actions as arising out of a desire to deal with people who were a constant menace to settled people and had much wealth. It was thus a combination of self-defence and greed. But Jeremiah is revealing that it was YHWH Who was controlling events, just as God is controlling events today, in spite of the mess being made by men. He is not responsible for man’s inhumanity to man, that is a consequence of man having freewill. But He is responsible for the destiny of nations.

The picture is a vivid one of the descent of the Babylonian forces (which would include contingents from vassal nations) on the tribesfolk in order to destroy them, possibly as the only way to prevent their future depredations, and certainly in order to obtain spoils. Note the emphasis on the carrying away by the Babylonian forces of ‘their tents and their flocks’, ‘their vessels and their camels’ . It was rich booty.

‘Terror on every side’ may have been the war-cry of the Babylonian forces, as they descended on the tribes-people and sought to terrify them into submission. Or alternately it may have been the cry of the fleeing tribespeople. It is a phrase found elsewhere in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 6:25; Jeremiah 20:3; Jeremiah 20:10; Jeremiah 46:5). It may well have been a well-used war-cry which had become a stock phrase.


Verses 28-33

Judgment Coming On Kedar and Hazor At The Hands Of Nebuchadrezzar (Jeremiah 49:28-33).

In this case it is made plain who the assailants are to be, Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon. It is therefore noteworthy that Nebuchadrezzar is portrayed as operating under God’s instructions in smiting Kedar and Hazor. Kedar were eponymously descended from Ishmael (Genesis 25:13; 1 Chronicles 1:29), but the large majority of the tribes would not be direct descendants, but descended from peoples who had united themselves with Ishmael’s descendants. Descendants of Kedar, Ishmael’s son, would have joined up with other nomadic peoples to form one ‘nation’, divided up into various tribes roaming the Syro-Arabian desert. The claim by Arabs that they are direct descendants of Ishmael are as false as claims by most Jews to be direct descendants of Abraham.

The term Kedar probably meaning ‘black’ and describes nomadic tribesfolk of the Syro-Arabian desert, covering an area stretching from southern Arabia to Mesopotamia. (Some tribes were, for example, present in southern Babylonia in 8th century BC). Isaiah prophesies their downfall (Isaiah 21:16-17). They lived in simple encampments made up of black tents (Isaiah 42:11; Song of Solomon 1:5; Psalms 120:5), and kept large flocks (Isaiah 60:17), growing very wealthy. We know from external sources that they clashed with Ashurbanipal and the Assyrians in 7th century BC, and were later attacked by Nebuchadrezzar and the Babylonians in 599 BC, as described here, partly due to their activities and partly due to their wealth. They discovered that their desert wastes did not give them the immunity they hoped for. They preferred descending on peoples from the desert in order to obtain spoils, rather than peoples descending on them. An example of this is found in Judges 6 where the invaders included ‘the people of the east’ (Judges 6:3). Hazor were a parallel group of semi-nomadic peoples in the Arabian desert (and is not to be confused with the Canaanite city of Hazor) . Their ‘cities’ and ‘villages’ were probably oasis encampments.

But as well as their depredations against His people, no doubt increased at the times of Israel/Judah’s discomfort at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians, YHWH also has in mind that these ‘people of the east’ have turned from the worship of the one true God of Ishmael, and have become idolaters, something revealed by their ‘cutting off’ of the corners of their hair.

Jeremiah 49:28

‘Of Kedar, and of the kingships of Hazor, which Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon smote.’

Once more the heading reveals the identity of those being prophesied against.


Verse 30

YHWH Gives Advice To The People Of Hazor (Jeremiah 49:30).

Jeremiah 49:30

“Flee you, wander far off,

Dwell in the depths (deep caves), O you inhabitants of Hazor,

The word of YHWH,

For Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon has taken counsel against you,

And has conceived a purpose against you.”

The call comes from YHWH for the people of Hazor to flee. This may indicate that the tribes of Hazor were to the south of the area, thus having time to flee. There may well have been a tent town of that name at a prominent oasis in the south. They were to flee, moving afar off, and dwelling in ‘the deeps’. This may indicate deep caves known to them which could provide refuge, or simply fleeing to the very depths of the desert where they alone could survive. It is the prophetic counsel of YHWH in view of Nebuchadrezzar’s intentions. For Nebuchadrezzar has gathered his war councils and they have taken a decision against them, conceiving the purpose of dealing with them once for all. Note how YHWH’s purpose has now become Nebuchadrezzar’s purpose, whilst YHWH is also seeking to advise those against whom He has set a purpose in motion so that they will not be totally destroyed, presumably because, as usual, Nebuchadrezzar was going beyond God’s purposes of chastening as the Assyrians had before him (Isaiah 10:5-15).


Verses 31-33

A Renewed Call To Nebuchadrezzar To Carry Out YHWH’s Purpose (Jeremiah 49:31-33).

Jeremiah 49:31-33

“Arise, get you up to a nation which is at ease,

Which dwells without care,

The word of YHWH,

Who have neither gates nor bars,

Who dwell alone.

And their camels will be a booty,

And the large numbers of their cattle a spoil,

And I will scatter to all winds those who have the corners (of their hair) cut off,

And I will bring their calamity from every side of them,

The word of YHWH,

And Hazor will be a dwelling-place of jackals,

A desolation for ever,

No man will dwell there,

Nor will any son of man sojourn in it.”

We have here a picture of the desert semi-nomads of ‘Kedar’, split up into different sub-tribes, living in tents in the desert where no one troubled them, and where no gates or bars were required to protect them, because the desert itself was their wall. At this time they were rich in cattle and camels, but felt at ease because of their situation, forgetting that their very wealth would prove to be a magnet to such as the Babylonians.

But now Nebuchadrezzar was called on to disturb their ease, take possession of their camels and large numbers of cattle, and scatter them into the desert. And we are given a reason for this. It was because of their idolatry. They, whose supposed descent from Ishmael should have ensured that they worshipped Abraham’s God, had themselves become idol worshippers, as was proved by their ritual act of cutting off the ‘corners’ of their hairs (having cropped hair temples). Compare for similar religious symbols Jeremiah 47:5.

The peoples of Kedar were to be hemmed in by the huge Babylonian armies, with no way of escape (‘I will bring their calamity from every side’), and even those in southern Arabia would be affected as Hazor became a dwellingplace for wild beasts, never again inhabited. Whether there was an actual town of that name, or whether it was an oasis encampment which had possibly become more urbanised, we do not know. But whichever it was it would be desolated. Thus all who followed after idols, not just Israel/Judah, came under God’s judgment.

The fulfilment of this came about when, after the battle of Carchemish, Babylon proceeded to extend its empire and seize spoil, establishing its authority over the lower Euphrates, Palestine and the Syro-Arabian desert. The so-called Babylonian Chronicle records the fulfilment of this in 599 BC


Verses 34-39

Judgment Against Elam (Jeremiah 49:34-39).

Elam was one of the nations in the area around Mesopotamia, situated in the plain of Khazistan and watered by the River Kerkh, which fed into the Tigris just north of the Persian Gulf. It bordered on Babylon, which lay to its west, and on Persia which lay to its east, and it controlled the trade routes to the Iranean plateau and to the south east. In ancient times it had been a powerful nation, bringing about the demise of Ur of the Chaldees around the time of Abraham, and later subjugating and ruling over Babylon (c. 1300-1120 BC). It had had an early form of writing in a pictographic script, and was famous for its archers (Jeremiah 49:35; Isaiah 22:6; Ezekiel 32:24). Many Israelite exiles had been settled there (Isaiah 11:13; compare Acts 2:9), presumably by Assyria. It included the mountainous region of Anshan.

Along with Media, Elam were called on by Isaiah to bring about the demise of Babylon (Isaiah 21:2), and while for a time subject to Assyria, during which time they would have provided contingents for the invasion of Israel/Judah, they were eventually allies with the Babylonians and Medes in ensuring Assyria’s overthrow. But their power had waned sine the earliest days, and by this time they were subject to Persia, with Persia’s king Teipes (675-640 BC) being also the title ‘king of Anshan’. In 539 BC Elam would assist Persia in the overthrow of the Babylonian empire. Elam is possibly included in the judgments because of the part they had played in the annexation of Galilee (2 Kings 15:29), the destruction of Samaria (2 Kings 17:6) and in the reception of exiles (note Jeremiah 49:36; Isaiah 11:11), and in the subjugation of Judah, their fierce bowmen being well remembered. There must certainly have been some reason for the emphasis on the fact that YHWH was ‘angry’ with Elam. Note the emphasis all the way through on the fact that YHWH is speaking directly to them. The judgment is very personal to Him.

Jeremiah 49:34

‘The word of YHWH which came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning Elam, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, saying:

For this phraseology compare Jeremiah 46:1; Jeremiah 47:1; Jeremiah 50:1. The prophecy occurred at a different time from the others (probably made in the reign of Jehoiakim), coming later during the reign of Zedekiah. ‘The beginning of’ merely indicates the early part of his reign, and is not more specific.

Jeremiah 49:35-36

“Thus says YHWH of hosts,

Behold, I will break the bow of Elam, the chief of their might.

And on Elam will I bring the four winds from the four quarters of heaven,

And will scatter them toward all those winds,

And there will be no nation to which the outcasts of Elam will not come.”

Note the emphasis on the fact that Elam’s chief weapon, the bow, will be broken, and the underlining of the fact of the scattering of their people into exile. What they had done to Israel would be done to them. As we have seen, Elam were famed for their prowess with the bow (Jeremiah 49:35; Isaiah 22:6; Ezekiel 32:24), and had themselves had their part in the taking of Israelites into exile (Isaiah 11:11). Now the very source of their might would be broken

For the scattering to the winds (as indicating being scattered in all directions) compare Jeremiah 49:32. The idea of the four winds from the four quarters of Heaven suggests that they will be subject to attack from all sides at the instigation of YHWH. Compare Daniel 7:2 where the four winds of Heaven indicated heavenly activity, and Daniel 8:8; Daniel 11:4 and Zechariah 2:6 where they indicate ‘in all directions’.

Jeremiah 49:37

“And I will cause Elam to be dismayed before their enemies,

And before those who seek their life,

And I will bring evil on them,

Even my fierce anger,

The word of YHWH,

Here YHWH is revealed as ‘angry’ with Elam. In the Scriptures God’s anger refers to His necessary reaction to and aversion to sin as He punishes it as necessary. It is a unique holy and necessary anger, totally under control. In this case Elam had sinned, and must therefore receive the consequences of their sin. As we have said their sin may well have been in the assistance that they gave, first to the Assyrians, and then to the Babylonians, against Israel and Judah. As Israel/Judah had been dismayed before the Elamites, so would the Elamites be dismayed before their enemies who sought their lives. Disaster (‘evil’) awaited them, disaster brought about as retribution for sin. And this in accordance with the word of YHWH. It is an example of Paul’s words, ‘whatever a man sows that will he also reap’ (Galatians 6:7). If we put ourselves on the side of the flesh we thereby reject the Spirit, thus coming under God’s anger.

Jeremiah 49:38

And I will send the sword after them,

Until I have consumed them,

And I will set my throne in Elam,

And will destroy from there king and princes,

The word of YHWH.”

In the form of the invaders YHWH would send the sword after them until they were consumed, and then He would set His throne in Elam and destroy its kings and princes. None could resist YHWH. It was customary for an invading king, once he had taken part of a land, to set up his throne there as evidence that the land was under his authority (compare Jeremiah 43:10). Thus YHWH is here taking possession of Elam. Whether an invisible heavenly throne, or merely a throne of the invading king, was intended the significance is the same.

Judith 1:1-13 refers to an invasion of that part of the world by Babylon when king Arphaxad of neighbouring Media was defeated by the Babylonians. Elam may well have rebelled along with them, or at another time, in order to avoid paying the hated tribute. Such rebellions regularly occurred at times when weakness was seen in the ruling nation, especially at the death of a king.

Jeremiah 49:39

“But it will come about in the latter days,

That I will bring back the captivity in exile of Elam,

The word of YHWH.”

But as with Egypt, Moab and Ammon, mercy was to be finally show to Elam. The exiles of Elam were to return to their own land. This probably occurred under Persian rule in the same was as it did to the Judeans (Ezra 1). Certainly Elamites are mentioned as present in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:9), demonstrating that Elam still survived as a recognised province. And even as early as Daniel their leading city Susa (Shushan) was a centre of at least regional, if not central, government (Daniel 8:2; Nehemiah 1:1).


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 49:1". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/view.cgi?bk=jer&ch=49. 2013.

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