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I. The oracle against Babylon chs. 50-51
Jeremiah wrote almost as much about Babylon’s future as he did about the futures of all the other nations in his other oracles combined. The length of this oracle reflects the great importance of Babylon in his ministry, as well as its role in the ancient Near East in his day.
"Fittingly, the empire which struck the most devastating blow ever suffered by the kingdom of David, receives the longest series of oracles about her own future." [Note: Kidner, p. 148.]
The 110 verses in these two chapters undoubtedly consist of several different messages that the prophet received from the Lord at various times, which the writer brought together in this collection. Two themes predominate: the judgment coming on Babylon, and the restoration of Israel and Judah to their homeland. The oracular material appears in three types of rhetorical statements: those dealing with war against Babylon, Israel’s departure from Babylon, and historical reminiscences. [Note: See M. Kessler, "Rhetoric in Jeremiah 50, 51," Semitics 3 (1973):3-32.]
This is a title verse for the oracle against Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans. In Scripture, "Babylon" often refers to the nation rather than the city, as this verse makes clear. Some expositors have applied almost all the prophecies to the city rather than to the whole nation. Probably both entities are in view, the city sometimes and the country sometimes.
The Chaldeans were the descendants of a semi-nomadic tribe that had settled south of Ur in Mesopotamia in the third millennium B.C. Nebuchadnezzar’s father, Nabopolassar, the founder of the Neo-Babylonian Empire (626-539 B.C.), was a native Chaldean. Nebuchadnezzar was the most illustrious and longest reigning of these Chaldean kings.
1. An overview of Babylon’s future 50:1-10
This oracle begins with an overview of what Yahweh would do to Babylon and Israel in the future. Much of the prophecy in this section has not yet been fulfilled.
The Lord commanded a proclamation among the nations that Babylon would be captured. Her chief idols, Bel and Marduk, as well as all her gods, would be humiliated, since it was their job to protect Babylon. [Note: See John D. W. Watts, "Babylonian Idolatry in the Prophets As a False Socio-Economic System," in Israel’s Apostasy and Restoration: Essays in Honor of Roland K. Harrison, pp. 118-20.] Bel was the title of the storm god Enlil, the chief god of Nippur. He was the equivalent of Baal in Canaan and Hadad in Aram. The Babylonians also called Marduk "Bel." [Note: Smothers, p. 365.] Marduk (Merodach) was the creator god who emerged as Babylon’s chief deity and the head of the pantheon of Babylonian idols. Jeremiah used Bel and Marduk in this verse to represent all the Babylonian gods. He referred to their images as pieces of human excrement (Heb. gilluleyha, "her idols"; cf. Leviticus 26:30; Deuteronomy 29:17; 1 Kings 15:12; 1 Kings 21:26; et al.). Ezekiel used this Hebrew word to describe idols no less than 38 times.
"In the spirit Jeremiah sees the fall of Babylon, together with its idols, as if it had actually taken place, and gives the command to proclaim among the nations this event, which brings deliverance for Israel and Judah." [Note: Keil, 2:269.]
An invader would descend on Babylon from the north and would make her an object of astonishment. All of Babylon’s inhabitants, humans and animals, would leave her. Elsewhere in Jeremiah the enemy from the north is Babylon, but in the future, ironically, the invader of Babylon itself would come from the north.
"The reference at this stage is hardly to the Persians who came from the east, although the strategic line of attack was roughly from the north." [Note: Thompson, p. 733.]
Neither was the land, or even the city, totally uninhabited after the Persians took over. People did not flee because of the Persians. For example, Daniel, who had access to Jeremiah’s prophecies (Daniel 9:1-2), remained in the capital city during and after its fall (Daniel 5:28; Daniel 5:30-31; Daniel 6:1-3).
"Several times Jeremiah repeated this fact about Babylon being without any inhabitants (cf. Jeremiah 50:39-40; Jeremiah 51:29; Jeremiah 51:37; Jeremiah 51:43; Jeremiah 51:62). The city was spared and made one of the ruling centers for the Persian Empire with Daniel serving there in an administrative position (cf. Daniel 5:30; Daniel 6:1-3)." [Note: Dyer, "Jeremiah," p. 1199.]
Alexander the Great destroyed Babylon in 330 B.C., but that destruction was not from the north, or final, either.
At the time of Babylon’s destruction, the Israelites would leave her-both Israelites and Judahites. They would go out, weeping as they left, and seeking Yahweh their God. This weeping probably anticipates Israel’s national repentance at the second coming of Christ (cf. Zechariah 12:10-14). Judah and Israel did not unite as one nation after the Persians took over, and most of the exiles did not return to the Promised Land.
"The phrase, In those days (4), is nearly always a pointer to the messianic age to come." [Note: Kidner, p. 149.]
The Israelites would seek direction to return to Zion. They would go back there to make an everlasting covenant with Yahweh, one that they would not forget, as they had their former (Mosaic) covenant. This is a reference to the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-33; Jeremiah 32:40). Israel has not yet experienced the changes that the New Covenant promised (e.g., Jeremiah 32:40). She did not enter into this covenant with God after Babylon fell to the Persians.
The Lord’s chosen people had gotten lost like sheep misled by their shepherds. They had wandered on dangerous mountains instead of staying in their safe places of rest. This verse reflects conditions that marked the Israelites long after Cyrus permitted them to return to Palestine. They are still scattered around the world today.
Enemies had devoured these "sheep," but had rationalized their sin by saying that the Israelites deserved what they got because they had sinned against their God. Yahweh was a dwelling place for Israel, identified by righteousness and the hope of their forefathers. These conditions describe Israel’s present plight as well as her state during the Babylonian Captivity.
The Lord encouraged His people to leave Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans. They should step out like rams to lead the rest of the flock. People other than Israelites left Babylon after it fell, but this prediction probably points primarily to Israel’s leadership of other nations to Messiah in the future.
Yahweh promised to become active again for His people and to bring many great nations from the north against Babylon. After a battle, Babylon would fall. The enemy would be skillful in archery and would take many captives. The enemy would take so much plunder that he would be satisfied. The references to "many nations" and "the north" point to a future fulfillment, in addition to a partial past fulfillment.
Babylon had rejoiced gleefully when she plundered Yahweh’s heritage, behaving like a young heifer at threshing time or like a lusty stallion. In ancient Israel, a man’s heritage (Heb. nahala) was the land he inherited from his ancestors. Jeremiah pictured the land of Israel as Yahweh’s heritage (cf. Jeremiah 2:7; Jeremiah 16:18).
2. The fall of Babylon 50:11-16
The next prophecies focus on the fall of Babylon.
Mother Babylon would be humbled when God made her the least of the nations. She would be like a desert compared to a fertile field. The Lord would remove her inhabitants and make her completely desolate. Observers would marvel and whistle at the horrible condition of the once proud Babylon.
"Cyrus did not destroy [the city of] Babylon when he captured it. Later in the Persian period the city revolted, and Darius Hystaspes captured it and destroyed its walls (514 B.C.), thus beginning its decay. The city continued to decline until well into the Christian era, when it ceased to exist. The desolate ruins remained for archaeologists to uncover in the nineteenth century." [Note: Graybill, p. 691.]
Yahweh called Babylon’s enemies to attack her with all their strength because she had sinned against Him. The destruction should continue until the land was thoroughly ruined. She had destroyed other nations, and now she deserved the same treatment. The clause "she has given her hand" may be treaty terminology (cf. 2 Kings 10:15; Ezekiel 17:11-21).
"What is clearly in view here is treaty violation by concluding a treaty with another party." [Note: Smothers, p. 366.]
The agricultural cycle would end, from sowing to reaping, because of the fighting of Babylon’s enemy. The enemy soldiers would return to their own lands when they finished their job.
"Cyrus, who unified the Medo-Persian Empire and then overwhelmed Babylon (ZPEB, 1:1054-56), was careful to spare the country; so the reference (Jeremiah 50:16) must be to a later attack." [Note: Feinberg, "Jeremiah," p. 674. ZPEB stands for the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible.]
The king of Assyria, Shalmanezer, had scattered the Israelites in the Northern Kingdom like sheep (in 722 B.C.; 2 Kings 17:1-6; 2 Kings 18:9-12), and the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, had done worse to the Judahites in the south (in 605-581 B.C.; Jeremiah 4:7; 2 Kings 24). He had broken their bones-not just scattered the people but also slain them.
"Politically, the intrigues and treacheries of Judah’s kings (’shepherds’, as the Old Testament regards them) had brought Assyria and now Babylon to the kill. Spiritually too (to adopt the New Testament connotation of ’shepherd’), a badly pastored flock is soon astray, then swiftly preyed upon." [Note: Kidner, p. 150.]
3. The restoration of Israel 50:17-20
The next section of the oracles emphasizes the restoration of Israel.
Because of this treatment, Yahweh of armies-Israel’s God-promised to punish Babylon as He had punished Assyria. Assyria had fallen to the Babylonians in 612-609 B.C., and now it was Babylon’s turn to fall.
The Lord would bring His sheep back to pasture in their own land. They would enjoy peace and plenty in the best portions of the western and eastern portions of Israel.
When the Lord finally did this, all the remaining remnant of His people would be free from sin; no one would be able to find any sin in them even though they would carefully search for it. The reason for the absence of their sin would be that Yahweh had pardoned it. Yahweh’s pardon of Israel lies in the future (Jeremiah 31:34).
"All this [i.e., the things predicted in Jeremiah 50:17-20] will be realized in messianic times, as Jeremiah 50:20 declares." [Note: Feinberg, "Jeremiah," p. 675. Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 185, agreed.]
The Lord commanded Babylon’s destroyers to go up against the land of double rebellion, the meaning of "Merathaim." Babylon was doubly rebellious (i.e., more rebellious) than other cities and nations-through its idolatry and pride. Assyria and Babylon both came from the same general area, Mesopotamia, and both nations had rebelled against Him. He gave their land the name Pekod, meaning "punishment." Divine punishment would single out Mesopotamia. The destroyer should carry out the Lord’s directions exactly by slaying and completely destroying the Babylonians. The Persians did not do this.
Merathaim (Mat Marratim) was a region at the head of the Persian Gulf where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers met. Pekod was a region, named after a tribe, in southeastern Babylonia (cf. Ezekiel 23:23). Jeremiah made a wordplay on these names to affirm the rebelliousness and certain judgment coming on Babylon.
4. Divine vengeance on Babylon 50:21-28
The following prophecies further describe the divine vengeance coming on Babylon.
The sounds of battle and great destruction would fill Babylonia. The nation that had been Yahweh’s hammer to smash so many other nations would be broken itself. It would become an object of horror in the earth.
The Lord described Babylon as a wild animal snared in a trap, and as a thief caught unexpectedly-because she had conflicted with Him. Previously Babylon had ensnared other nations.
"The point is made elsewhere in the prophets that Yahweh may appoint a nation to fulfil [sic] a purpose as his servant. But this does not absolve such a nation from the consequence of guilty acts or an insolent attitude [cf. Isaiah 10:5-19; Habakkuk 2]." [Note: Thompson, pp. 741-42.]
God would bring out His heavy artillery against the Chaldeans because He is the sovereign Yahweh Almighty. Babylon’s enemies would steal her resources, as people from afar empty out barns piled with good things, until nothing would be left.
The young leaders of the nation would die like bulls in a timely sacrifice. Fugitives and refugees would return to Zion from Babylon with word that Yahweh had taken revenge for the destruction of His temple.
Attackers would assail Babylon with their arrows. They would surround her and allow no Chaldeans to escape. They would pay her back for all the blood she had shed, because she had lifted herself up in pride against the Holy One of Israel (cf. Genesis 9:6).
5. Human arrogance in Babylon 50:29-32
The prophet next stressed Babylon’s arrogance.
Babylon’s young men would die because of fighting in the streets, and her soldiers would fall silent in death (cf. Jeremiah 49:26).
Yahweh Almighty announced His antagonism against Babylon for her arrogance. She was pride personified-the Arrogant One-the epitome of arrogance. The time for her punishment had arrived. The proud Chaldeans would trip and fall-hardly a desirable action for the arrogant-and none would help them up. The Lord would burn down their cities and consume their outlying areas.
Presently the Israelites and Judahites were oppressed, and their captors would not let them go, but their Redeemer (Heb. go’el), Yahweh Almighty, was strong (cf. Exodus 6:6; Exodus 7:4-5; Exodus 9:1-3; Exodus 9:13-17; Exodus 10:3; Exodus 15:13). He would plead their case vigorously by contending with their enemy. Formerly, Yahweh had brought charges against His people as a prosecutor (Jeremiah 2:9), but in the future He would act as their defense attorney (cf. Jeremiah 51:36). The Lord would bring turmoil to the Babylonians so that the rest of the world could enjoy rest when Babylon fell.
"The redeemer or advocate in normal life was a kinsman who took it upon himself to avenge the murder of a kinsman, to protect him, or to secure his freedom or the release of his property (cf. Leviticus 25:25; Leviticus 25:47-55; Numbers 35:21; etc. [Ruth 4])." [Note: Ibid., p. 743.]
6. Israel’s future redemption 50:33-40
The Lord promised Israel a future redemption.
Yahweh decreed a military invasion for all the people of Babylon, from the ordinary citizens to the officials and sages. The pagan priests would prove to be fools instead of wise men, and the bravest warriors would turn out to be losers.
Their horses and chariots would suffer defeat, and Babylon’s allies would be as ineffective in battle as most women. Her treasures would also perish at the hands of enemy looters.
Babylon’s waters would dry up, too, in judgment, because of the idolatry that was rampant there. The city of Babylon depended on waterways for irrigation and agriculture, just as the whole nation relied on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and their tributaries and canals. When Cyrus captured Babylon, he may have entered under the walls, using the dry riverbed, after he diverted the Euphrates River that flowed through the city. [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 185.] But cuneiform documents have put this account of Babylon’s fall by Herodotus in question. [Note: See Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah , 3:191.]
Babylon would be inhabited only by wild animals forever, no longer by human beings. It would be as uninhabited as Sodom and Gomorrah after the Lord overthrew those cities. Babylon continued to be inhabited for many years following the Persian take-over, and the present countries of Iraq, Kuwait, and Syria currently occupy its territory. This prophecy anticipates the future destruction of Babylon (cf. Zechariah 2:6-9; Revelation 16:19; Revelation 17:1 to Revelation 19:3).
"This prediction has not yet been fulfilled. Babylon has been inhabited throughout her history, and the government of Iraq has begun restoring some portions of the ancient city. Iraq’s plans to restore Babylon are published in a pamphlet, Archaeological Survival of Babylon Is a Patriotic, National, and International Duty (Baghdad: State Organization of Antiquities and Heritage, 1982). The prophecy about Babylon’s complete ruin awaits a future fulfillment during the Tribulation period." [Note: Dyer, "Jeremiah," p. 1201.]
Babylon’s invader would be an innumerable, vast, mighty army that would descend on her from the remote parts of the north. The Persians and their allies did not come from remote regions; they were the neighbors of the Babylonians. This invader would come with bows and javelins and would fight cruelly and unmercifully. The sound of its approach would be like the roaring sea. The soldiers would ride horses and proceed against the Babylonians with discipline. Babylon would be like a young girl in comparison. Whereas Cyrus’ army contained a variety of vassal contingents (cf. Jeremiah 51:27-28), he took the city by stealth. Thus the destruction envisioned here is probably a future one.
7. Babylon’s agony 50:41-46
The next section of prophecies stresses the agony of Babylon (cf. Jeremiah 6:22-24; Jeremiah 49:18-21).
When the king of Babylon heard about the coming enemy, he would go limp with fear, like a woman about to give birth (cf. Jeremiah 6:22-24). Compare the reaction of Belshazzar in Daniel 5:6.
Babylon’s enemy would come out against her like a lion coming out of the Jordan Valley jungle to a nearby pasture. The Babylonians would try to flee like sheep before the lion, but the Lord’s appointed agent would overpower the Chaldeans. The Lord would sovereignly control Babylon’s fate, and no one would have sufficient authority to call His decisions into question. No other shepherd of people could withstand the Great Shepherd.
God’s plan for Babylon was that an enemy would carry the Chaldeans off like a lion dragging a little lamb. Yahweh would clear the pasture of Babylon of its inhabitants.
When the Lord gave the command, the enemy would seize Babylon. The result would be a major upheaval in the affairs of the world, and a cry of surprise from the nations (cf. Revelation 18:15-19).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 50". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30