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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 51

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1

Yahweh announced that He would arouse against Babylon and Leb-kamai the spirit of a destroyer, or a destroying wind. Leb-kamai (lit. heart of my adversaries) was a code name (atbash) for Chaldea (cf. Jeremiah 51:41; Jeremiah 25:26). Here it functions as a poetic synonym. [Note: Another use of the atbash was to hide the identity of the nation referred to (cf. 1 Peter 5:13).]

"This explanation of the name involves the thought that all enmity against God the Lord culminates in Babylon; on the basis of this representation Babylon is called, Rev. xvii. 5, ’the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.’" [Note: Keil, 2:289.]

Verses 1-14

8. The certainty of Babylon’s judgment 51:1-14

The next prophecies assure the judgment of Babylon.

Verse 2

The Lord would send foreigners to winnow the nation, as farmers tossed their grain in the air so the wind would blow the chaff away (cf. Jeremiah 49:32; Jeremiah 49:36). This enemy would oppose her on every hand and would devastate her land. The wind would not just blow the chaff away but would lay waste the entire land, like a devastating sirocco.

Verses 3-4

The Chaldeans need not try to defend themselves because the enemy would attack too quickly. The young Babylonian soldiers would fall in the streets of their cities. Sometimes conquerors spared the young soldiers to fight for them in the future, but the destruction of Babylon’s army would be thorough.

Verse 5

The Lord Almighty had not forsaken either Israel or Judah, even though they were guilty before the Holy One of Israel.

Verse 6

The Israelites should flee out of Babylon when the destruction came, because the Lord would pay Chaldea back for her sins. If they did not flee, they could get caught up in the fallout of divine judgment (cf. Genesis 19:26).

Verse 7

Babylon was responsible for seducing many other nations to join her in her sins. These nations had fallen under the power of Babylon and had behaved like drunkards (cf. Revelation 18:3). She had given the cup of God’s wrath to other nations, but now she would have to drink from it herself (cf. Jeremiah 25:15-29). A golden cup suggests the great wealth of Babylon.

Verses 8-9

The fall of Babylon would be sudden and final. The cup that was Babylon would break and be irreparable. People will lament over her demise, and will wish they could revive her, but will not be able to do so (cf. Revelation 18:11-19). Therefore, they would abandon her to her monumental judgment (cf. Numbers 13:28; Deuteronomy 1:28).

"What is special to this passage is the note of sadness over her incurable condition (Jeremiah 51:8-9 a)-a note which chimes in with this book’s description of sin as desperate sickness [cf. Jeremiah 46:11], and also with the many glimpses of God’s reluctant resort to judgment when all else has failed." [Note: Kidner, p. 151.]

Verse 10

The judgment of Babylon would vindicate God’s people (cf. Isaiah 40:2; Revelation 19:1-3). They would call on each other to glorify God in Zion by relating His great work of judging Babylon.

Verse 11

This oracle names the "Medes" as God’s instrument to destroy Babylon, as punishment for their destroying His temple. The fall of Babylon to the Medes was a fulfillment of this prophecy, but it did not fulfill all the prophecies about the fall of Babylon in these chapters. The Medes lived north of Babylon (in modern northwest Iran, Iranian Kurdistan). The Medes had been allies of the Babylonians in the destruction of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, in 612 B.C. Seventy-three years later, they joined with the Persians to defeat Babylon, in 539 B.C. (cf. Daniel 5:28; Daniel 5:31; Daniel 8:20).

"In 550 B.C. Cyrus the Persian ruler invaded the region [Babylon] and subjugated it. . . . There is some evidence that about 561-560 B.C. an invasion of Babylon by the Medes was expected. We have no historical evidence of any outcome. [Note: See Wiseman, p. 38.] On the other hand the term Medes may be a general one. It is known that the mother of Cyrus the Persian was a Mede, and the Medes and Persians were linked together several times in the book of Daniel (e.g., Daniel 5:28; Daniel 6:8; Daniel 6:12; Daniel 6:15). In that case the reference here may be to Cyrus, but the matter is still open to debate (cf. Isaiah 13:17)." [Note: Thompson, pp. 752-53.]

Verse 12

The Medes should prepare for an attack against Babylon because the Lord would fulfill His judgment of her. Jeremiah described the attack in traditional siege terms, although when the Medes took Babylon, they did not use these methods.

Verse 13

The end of wealthy Babylon, which stood by many waters, had come. A myriad of canals and waterways provided water and irrigation for Mesopotamia. Babylon’s great wealth had come to her largely from the temples and palaces of other nations that she had captured (cf. Jeremiah 52:12-13; Jeremiah 52:17-23; 2 Kings 24:13; 2 Kings 25:13-17; Daniel 5:2-4). Her end would come as when someone cut a piece of cloth from a loom, a common figure for death (cf. Isaiah 38:12).

Verse 14

Almighty Yahweh swore by Himself, the highest authority, that He would send invaders on Babylon, as thick and devastating as a locust plague, who would shout in victory over their foe.

Verse 15

Yahweh created the earth below with His power and wisdom, and He stretched out the heavens above with His understanding. "Marduk," the Babylonian "creator god" (Jeremiah 50:2), did not do this. This verse describes God’s past activity with regard to nature.

Verses 15-19

9. Yahweh’s sovereignty over Babylon 51:15-19

The next verses emphasize particularly Yahweh’s sovereignty over Babylon. The last verse of this section (Jeremiah 51:19) identifies the person being described as Yahweh Almighty. By referring to Him in the third person in the preceding verses, the writer built anticipation for the revelation of His identity. This prophecy is almost identical to the one in Jeremiah 10:12-16. There Jeremiah reminded Judah of the impotence of idols, and here he instructed Babylon about the same thing (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Corinthians 8:4; 1 Corinthians 10:7). There are many examples of doublets in Jeremiah. The prophet frequently repeated phrases, sentences, and whole passages in different contexts. [Note: Jesus did the same thing, as is clear in the Gospels.]

Verse 16

This verse describes His present activity. He is the one who gathers clouds together and sends rainstorms on the earth with lightning and wind. The Babylonian storm-god Bel was not responsible for this (Jeremiah 50:2).

Verses 17-18

Human beings are stupid for making lifeless idols-that only disappoint and shame them with their inability to control nature. These idols are worthless, and they mock their makers with their impotence. At the designated time they will perish.

Verse 19

The humble and despised nation that descended from Jacob has a better resource than idols. Yahweh Almighty is the name of its God. He is the Maker of everything and the God who chose Israel as His inheritance. Thus Yahweh was Israel’s portion in a unique sense.

Verses 20-23

The Lord addressed an entity, that He did not identify in these verses, as His "war-club" or "shatterer" (cf. Jeremiah 50:23; Isaiah 10:5). He would use this entity to destroy nations, armies, and people of all ages and all types.

Verses 20-26

10. Babylon’s destroyer 51:20-26

The next two prophecies further describe Yahweh’s instrument for judging Babylon.

Verse 24

He would use this entity to repay Babylon, and all the inhabitants of Chaldea, for what they had done to Zion. The Israelites would witness Babylon’s judgment.

Verse 25

The Lord described His antagonism against Babylon, which He likened to a mountain that towered over the other nations (cf. Daniel 2:35; Daniel 2:44-45). He would break down Babylon, which had destroyed the whole earth, as He might burn down a mountain. It would become like an extinct volcano that had spewed out destruction but then blew itself to bits. Yahweh would do this with His own powerful hand.

Verse 26

God would so thoroughly destroy this "mountain" that people would not be able to use any of its stones to build. People would not be able to use the splintered remains of Babylon-after God had obliterated her-to build other nations. This devastation was not the condition of Babylon after Cyrus, or any past enemy, took the city. They left it intact. Thus this must refer to a future destruction of Babylon.

Verse 27

Jeremiah called for an assembling of nations to go to war against Babylon. The kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz-all referred to in Assyrian inscriptions-were in eastern Anatolia (modern Armenia) north of Babylon. This united armed force would descend on Babylon like an army of locusts at a very destructive stage in their lifecycle (cf. Jeremiah 51:14). [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 188.]

Verses 27-33

11. God’s instruments of Babylon’s destruction 51:27-33

Several nations would ally themselves against Babylon.

Verse 28

The prophet called these nations to dedicate themselves to their task. Another nation summoned was the Medes (Jeremiah 51:11), which had extensive lands and armies to Babylon’s northeast.

Verse 29

The land would quake at the battle that would carry out the Lord’s will against Babylon, namely, to make it an uninhabited desolation.

Verse 30

The strong Babylonian warriors would become exhausted, stop fighting, and retreat to their strongholds like women. Women did not normally serve as soldiers in ancient times. The enemy would set their houses on fire and would break down the gates of the city.

Verses 31-32

The king of Babylon would learn from messengers running from opposite edges of the city that it had fallen. The enemy had captured the fording places of the waterways, and had burned the marshy areas where refugees might hide. He would hear that his soldiers were terrified.

Verse 33

Israel’s sovereign God announced that: even though Babylon had threshed other nations in the past, her own time of threshing would come.

Verses 34-35

Jerusalem, personified, would say that Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed her. He had eaten her up, crushed her, cast her aside, swallowed her like a monster, and washed her away as with a flood. Nebuchadnezzar had done to Jerusalem what the great fish had done to Jonah. Jerusalem wished that her bloodstains on Babylon would identify Babylon as guilty.

Verses 34-40

12. Judah’s complaint against Babylon 51:34-40

The prophet explained Judah’s complaint against Babylon.

Verse 36

Because of what Babylon had done to Judah, the Lord promised to act as her defense attorney and to get Babylon to pay full damages. He would dry up her broad river, the Euphrates, the source of her agricultural fertility.

"The LORD’s promised victory over ’her sea’ and ’her fountain’ recalls the LORD’s victory over sea at creation and in the Exodus (Exodus 15:8; Psalms 74:13-14; Psalms 89:9-10; Isaiah 27:1)." [Note: Smothers, p. 371.]

"Many expositors understand these words metaphorically, as referring to the sea of nations surging in Babylon (Jeremiah 51:42; Jeremiah 51:55), and view the treasures and riches as the fountain from which the sea of nations sprang up (Hitzig); but the context demands a literal interpretation, inasmuch as in Jeremiah 51:37 the subject treated of is the laying waste of the country." [Note: Keil, 2:307.]

Verse 37

Babylon would become nothing more than a heap of ruins that jackals would climb on, an uninhabited place that people would whistle at when they considered what had happened to the once-great city.

Verses 38-39

The Babylonians would growl in anticipation of their conquest, like young lion cubs did before they eat. When the Babylonians got worked up, the Lord would serve them a banquet that would finish them off. His cup of wrath would stupefy them. This was fulfilled many years later: King Belshazzar of Babylon was getting himself all liquored up at a banquet, when Daniel announced to him that Babylon would fall that very night-and it did (Daniel 5).

Verse 40

The Babylonians, formerly lion-like (Jeremiah 51:38), would fall like lambs, rams, and goats to the slaughter.

Verse 41

In the future, people from all over the world would marvel that Babylon, the city praised by the whole earth, had been captured. "Sheshak" was another code name (atbash) for Babylon, evidently used here for poetic variation (cf. Jeremiah 25:26).

Verses 41-48

13. Babylon’s fate 51:41-48

Again Jeremiah revealed the fate of Babylon.

Verse 42

It would be as though the waves of the sea had overwhelmed Babylon.

"There is probably an allusion here to the mythological chaotic waters of the primeval ocean (Tiamat) which, according to the Babylonian myth of creation, were overthrown by the god Marduk when he fought against Tiamat and destroyed her. The fall of Babylon would be of such gigantic proportions that it would appear as nothing less than a reversal of that primeval victory." [Note: Thompson, p. 764. See also Smothers, p. 371; and Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 187.]

Verse 43

All the cities of the land would become uninhabited, and the land would become a waterless desert. No one would even pass through the land.

Verse 44

Yahweh would humiliate Bel (lit. lord; cf. Jeremiah 50:2), the representative god of Babylon. The nation, personified as Bel, would regurgitate or give back what it had taken from other nations (cf. Jeremiah 51:34). Nations would no longer seek Babylon out because it would become weak and vulnerable to attack. Even her walls, which enclosed an area of 200 miles, would fall down. [Note: See Herodotus, 1:178-81.]

"The city wall proper was of double construction. The outer component was 12 feet thick, so that is [sic] was wide enough to allow several chariots to drive abreast along the walls. Towers were set into the walls at intervals of about 60 feet. Outside the walls lay a ditch lined with bricks and bitumen and kept filled with water from the Euphrates." [Note: Thompson, p. 765.]

Verse 45

The Lord directed His people to leave Babylon, because He would bring judgment on her, and because He would fulfill the promises of Israel’s restoration (cf. Jeremiah 51:6; Jeremiah 50:8). It was God’s will for the Israelites to return to the Promised Land at the end of the Exile.

Verses 46-47

God announced the coming judgment on Babylon, so that His people would have advance warning of it-even before the rumors of approaching invading enemies had reached their ears.

Verse 48

The whole earth-and heaven-would rejoice because of the coming enemy of Babylon that would descend on her from the north (cf. Revelation 16:19).

Verse 49

Babylon would fall because she had felled Israel and many other nations.

Verses 49-53

14. A call to flee from Babylon 51:49-53

Yahweh had messages for the exiles in Babylon.

Verse 50

The Israelites still alive in Babylon should "remember" Yahweh, and return to Jerusalem before destruction came on Babylon (cf. Jeremiah 51:45). In the Bible, remembering usually involves returning to, not just recalling.

Verse 51

The Israelites would be ashamed because word that pagans were desecrating the site of the temple would reach them (cf. Nehemiah 1:3). This would be a testimony to their sin, which resulted in captivity and the destruction of the temple.

Verse 52

Days would come, however, when the Lord would punish Babylon’s idols, and many people would die throughout the land of the Chaldeans.

Verse 53

No matter how heavily Babylon fortified herself, the Lord would destroy her with His appointed agents. Her attempt to ascend to heaven would prove futile (cf. Genesis 11:1-9; Isaiah 14:12-14). The Babylonians built ziggurats, pyramid-shaped structures with temples on top, to get as close to heaven as possible. These structures illustrate the Babylonians’ desire to get to heaven by their own works. The tower of Babel (Gr. Babylon) was probably a ziggurat.

Verses 54-55

When the Lord destroys the land of the Chaldeans, there will be loud cries of anguish that will replace the loud noise of her hustle and bustle. These cries would resemble the sound of the waves of the sea.

Verses 54-58

15. The justice of Babylon’s judgment 51:54-58

It was righteous and just for Yahweh to judge Babylon. The repetition of terms from Jeremiah 50:2-3; Jeremiah 50:46 forms an inclusio (bookends) that frames the entire oracle against Babylon. [Note: Smothers, p. 372.]

Verse 56

The Lord’s appointed destroyer will capture Babylon’s strong men, and break her military strength, because Yahweh will pay her back in full.

Verse 57

The leaders of Babylon will become as ineffective as people who get so drunk they pass out. But they will never wake up because they will die. This is what the King of all nations, Yahweh Almighty, promised.

Verse 58

The enemy will raze Babylon’s broad wall and set her many huge gates on fire. The captive peoples who will have toiled, building Babylon’s defenses, would have done so for nothing. They will have exhausted themselves constructing these edifices, only for them to go up in flames (cf. Jeremiah 51:64; Habakkuk 2:13).

Verse 59

The following message was one that Jeremiah gave to Seraiah the son of Neriah when he accompanied King Zedekiah on a visit to Babylon in 593 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar may have summoned his vassal kings to Babylon, at this time, in order to reaffirm their loyalty, following an attempted revolt in his empire a year earlier. [Note: William H. Shea, "Daniel 3 : Extra-Biblical Texts and the Convocation on the Plain of Dura," Andrews University Seminary Studies 20 (Spring 1982):29-52.] Seraiah was Baruch’s brother (cf. Jeremiah 32:12). The title he held, "quartermaster," probably describes the official responsible for providing quarters for the king and his companions, each night as they traveled on their journey.

Verses 59-64

16. Babylon’s fall dramatized 51:59-64

This oracle closes with a symbolic action against Babylon.

Verse 60

Jeremiah wrote all his prophecies about the calamity coming on Babylon-on one scroll!

Verses 61-62

The prophet instructed Seraiah to read his prophecies about Babylon publicly, right there at "ground zero"-in Babylon. Some commentators assume that Seraiah was to read the scroll only to the Jewish exiles, but there does not seem to be warrant for this limitation in the text. He was to announce that Yahweh had promised to destroy Babylon completely and to make it desolate. Seraiah carried out a mission to Babylon, similar to Jonah’s mission to Nineveh.

Verses 63-64

Then Seraiah was to tie a stone to the scroll and throw it into the Euphrates River. He was to announce that as the scroll had sunk in the river, so Babylon would sink and not rise again as a nation, because of God’s judgment on her (cf. Revelation 18:21). Babylon’s saviors would only exhaust themselves, trying to preserve her, and utterly failing to frustrate Yahweh’s purpose to destroy her (cf. Jeremiah 51:58).

"It is remarkable that at the very time Jeremiah was advising submission to that city, he was also foretelling her final overthrow. This answers the objections of those expositors who feel that chapters 50-51 could not have been written by Jeremiah in view of his attitude toward Babylon expressed earlier in the book." [Note: Feinberg, "Jeremiah," p. 687.]

Jeremiah 51:64 is the last verse in the book that Jeremiah wrote. The remaining chapter was evidently the writing of someone else, perhaps Jeremiah’s secretary, Baruch.

"Babylon is condemned for pride (Jeremiah 50:13-32, Jeremiah 51:25-26), for idolatry (Jeremiah 50:38, Jeremiah 51:17-18), and for sinning against the LORD (Jeremiah 50:14; Jeremiah 50:24; Jeremiah 50:29; Jeremiah 51:5). The full extent of Babylon’s sin against the LORD, other than pride and idolatry, is not clear, although it may be that Babylon’s action against Judah, even though sanctioned by the LORD, may have exceeded in severity anything that the LORD had intended (cf. Jeremiah 50:33). In any case, for the first time in the collection of OAN [oracles against nations] in Jeremiah is a nation judged for its treatment of the people of God." [Note: Smothers, p. 373.]

"None of the material [in chapters 50-51] shows any awareness of the fact that Cyrus finally captured Babylon without destroying the city, but rather these chapters speak in terms of the devastation of Babylon by its enemies. No reference whatever is made to the Persians [by name]." [Note: Thompson, p. 731.]

Clearly some of the prophecies in these chapters were fulfilled in the overthrow of Babylon by a northern confederation of enemies in 539 B.C. But the method and extent of overthrow was quite different from what Jeremiah predicted (cf. Jeremiah 50:3-10; Jeremiah 50:14-16; Jeremiah 50:19-20; Jeremiah 50:26; Jeremiah 50:39-46; Jeremiah 51:6; Jeremiah 51:45). Why did God not completely obliterate Babylon in 539 B.C. or at some later date?

"It is at least possible that the humbling of Nebuchadrezzar, culminating in his testimony in Daniel 4:34-37, opened the door to the mercy of 539-for it is obvious from God’s generous response to even an Ahab, a Manasseh, or the city of Nineveh, that he meets a change of attitude more than halfway." [Note: Kidner, p. 149.]

Most expositors who take these prophecies literally, namely, premillennialists, look for a future fulfillment in an even more violent and permanent destruction of Babylon-sometime in the future. Many of these expositors believe that Revelation 17-18 gives further revelation about that fall. Some look for a rebuilding of the ancient city and its subsequent destruction. Some amillennialists also believe in both a near and a far distant fulfillment. [Note: E.g., Keil 2:320-21.]

"The city of Babylon will be rebuilt only to be destroyed at the end of the Tribulation period before Christ returns to establish His millennial reign." [Note: Dyer, "Jeremiah," p. 1199. See also idem, The Rise of Babylon: Sign of the End Times, pp. 161-182; and Kenneth W. Allen, "The Rebuilding and Destruction of Babylon," Bibliotheca Sacra 133:529 (January 1976):19-27.]

Many premillennial scholars believe that a fall of some modern form-of what Babylon represented in ancient times-is in view. Others believe that Revelation does not describe the fall of a literal, historical Babylon, but the fall of what "mystery" Babylon has represented throughout biblical history. [Note: E.g., Feinberg, "Jeremiah," p. 685, and H. A. Ironside, Lectures on the Book of Revelation, pp. 297, 302, 307.] I believe there will be an eschatological judgment of Babylon (Revelation 17-18), though not necessarily one that requires the rebuilding of the city. Destruction terminology, such as appears in this passage, is common in the annals of ancient Near Eastern nations. It speaks generally and hyperbolically of devastating defeat and destruction, but it did not always involve exact or detailed fulfillment. [Note: See Homer Heater Jr., "Do the Prophets Teach that Babylonia Will Be Rebuilt in the Eschaton?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41:1 (March 1998):36, for further specifics.]

Many amillennialists view these prophecies as having been fulfilled in the Medo-Persian overthrow, and in the final spiritual destruction of the proud enemies of God’s people, through the salvation that Jesus Christ provided at Calvary.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 51". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/jeremiah-51.html. 2012.
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