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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 49

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1


(1) Concerning the Ammonites.—The history of this people was, to a great extent, parallel with that of the Moabites. They had been conquered by Sihon, the great Amorite king, and when that monarch was, in his turn, conquered by the Israelites (Numbers 21:21-31) their territory was assigned to the tribes of Gad and Reuben (Numbers 32:34-38). In Judges 11:12-33 we have the record of an unsuccessful attempt to recover their lost territory, and like attempts appear to have been made by Nahash (1 Samuel 11:1-11), and Hanun (2 Samuel 10:6-14; 2 Samuel 12:26-31). On the deportation of the Trans-jordanic tribes by Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:29; 1 Chronicles 5:6; 1 Chronicles 5:26), they made a more successful effort, and their king Baalis appears as prompting the conspiracy of Ishmael, the son of Nethaniah (Jeremiah 40:14). The prophecy on which we now enter was probably delivered before that time, in or about the fourth year of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 25:21). Its opening words recall the long-standing territorial controversy. “Had Israel no heir?” Was the land he had occupied so long to pass into the possession of a stranger?

Why then doth their king inherit Gad . . .?—Better, with the margin and all the older versions, Melcom. The name, all but identical with the “Malcham” of Zephaniah 1:5, and connected with Moloch, was that of the god of the Ammonites, as Chemosh was that of the Moabite deity. He, as his very name implied, was their true king; and the complaint of the prophet is that he inherits Gad, which had been in the possession of Israel.

Verse 2

(2) Rabbah of the Ammonites.—More fully, of the children of Ammon.—Rabbah, or Rabbath, the “city of waters” (the word signifies “Great,” and the city was, as it were, the Megalopolis of Ammon), was the capital, and this was its full and formal title (Deuteronomy 3:11; 2 Samuel 11:1; 2 Samuel 12:26). It had been captured by Joab after the siege made memorable by the death of Uriah the Hittite. Jeremiah now predicts its destruction as Amos (Jeremiah 50:14) had done before him. Israel shall then re-enter on its occupation. Its site is now marked by ruins of a stately temple and theatres of the Syrian period (Tristram, Land of Israel, p. 540).

Verse 3

(3) Howl, O Heshbon, for Ai is spoiled.—Heshbon has appeared in Jeremiah 48:2; Jeremiah 48:45, as connected with the fortunes of Moab, but it was strictly an Ammonite city. The “Ai” here is obviously not the city near Jericho of Joshua 8:28, and unless we assume an error in the text (“Ai” for “Ar”= city), we must infer the existence of a Trans-jordanic city of the same name.

Run to and fro by the hedges.—Hedges, in the English sense of the word, have never been common in the East, and the word here denotes either the palings round the sheep-folds, or the walls round the vineyards of the villages that are described as the “daughters of Rabbah.” The word is never used for the walls of a city, but appears in Numbers 22:24; Numbers 32:16; Numbers 32:24; Numbers 32:36 in the sense of “sheep-folds.”

Their king shall go into captivity.—Better, as before, Melcom. As in Jeremiah 48:7, the captivity of the national deity with his priests (the fact that they are named is decisive as to the meaning) involves the captivity of the people.

Verse 4

(4) In the valleys.—The word exactly describes the conformation of the Ammonite country, as a high plateau intersected by streams which make their way to the Jordan. For “thy flowing valley” read “thy valley” (this is, of course, the valley in which Rabbah was situated) “that floweth with plenty.” The words admit, however, of being rendered, “Thy valley floweth away,” i.e., is wasted and emptied.

O backsliding daughter.—There is something suggestive in the fact that the prophet applies to Ammon the epithet which he had applied before to the kingdom of the Ten Tribes (Jeremiah 3:6; Jeremiah 3:8; Jeremiah 3:11; Jeremiah 3:14). Ammon also had the opportunity of worshipping the God of Israel, and had probably, as long as the Israelites were her rulers, adopted that worship wholly or in part, and so she also was an apostate. The question which follows, as in Jeremiah 21:13, implies that the people of Rabbah looked on their city as impregnable.

Verses 5-6

(5, 6) I will bring a fear upon thee . . .—As in the case of Moab, there is the doom of exile for Ammon also, but the sentence of punishment is tempered with mercy, and there is to be a return from the seemingly hopeless captivity.

Verse 7

(7) Concerning Edom.—A short survey of the past history is necessary that we may enter into the force of the prophet’s words. On the journey of the Israelites to Canaan the Edomites were left unmolested (Numbers 14:21; Deuteronomy 2:4). Conquered by Saul (1 Samuel 14:47), and yet more completely by David (2 Samuel 8:14), they made an unsuccessful attempt to throw off the yoke in the time of Solomon (1 Kings 11:14-22), but finally revolted with success in that of Joram (2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chronicles 21:8). Amaziah and Uzziah endeavoured to reassert dominion over them (2 Kings 14:7; 2 Kings 14:22), but under Ahaz they invaded Judah (2 Chronicles 28:17), and in the reign of Zedekiah appear as an independent power seeking to ally themselves with that king against their common enemy Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 27:3). Soon, however, they allied themselves with the Chaldaeans, and were conspicuous for their triumphant exultation in the destruction of Jerusalem (Psalms 137:7; Lamentations 4:21; Ezekiel 35:15; Ezekiel 36:5). Obadiah had prophesied against them, probably shortly before Jeremiah’s utterance, and what we find here stands in the same relation to his language as the prophecy against Moab in Jeremiah 48:0 does to Isaiah 15, 16. Possibly, however, as Obadiah 1:11 seems to indicate, Obadiah was the later of the two. (See Introduction to Obadiah.)

Is wisdom no more in Teman . . .?—The exact locality of Teman has not been determined, but it is always closely connected with Edom, and, as the word means “south,” may describe that region of the Edomite country. Its fame for wisdom seems to have been proverbial. So Eliphaz the Temanite appears as the chief speaker among Job’s three friends (Job 2:11; Job 4:1). So Obadiah (Obadiah 1:8) speaks of the “wise men” of Edom. So Solomon’s wisdom excelled that of “the children of the East” (1 Kings 4:30). The form of the questions implies that all three are to be answered in the affirmative.

Verse 8

(8) O inhabitants of Dedan.—See Note on Jeremiah 25:23. In Ezekiel 25:13 Dedan appears, as here, in company with Edom and Teman. In Isaiah 21:13 the “travelling companies of Dedanim” appear as carrying on the traffic of Edom with other countries. The words “dwell deep” are as a warning, bidding them retire as far as possible, so as to escape from the Chaldæan invaders.

Verse 9

(9) If grapegatherers come to thee . . .—The words are reproduced in Obadiah 1:5. Vine-gatherers leave some bunches for the gleaner; robbers are at last satiated with plunder; but the destroyers of Edom would be insatiable (comp. Isaiah 17:6). Esau (the name stands for Edom) should be laid bare, and perish utterly. It is significant that there is no promise to Edom that her captivity should be brought back.

Verse 11

(11) Leave thy fatherless children . . .—Were the words uttered in the stern irony of one who veils & threat in the form of a promise, as some have thought, or was there even in the case of Edom a mingling of pity for the helpless? The latter view seems truer to the prophet’s character (Jeremiah 48:36). If the sentence was passed which left the wives of Edom widows, and their children orphans, yet God had not forgotten that He was the God of the widow and the fatherless.

Verse 12

(12) Behold, they whose judgment . . .—The imagery is taken up from Jeremiah 25:15. Even those of whom it might have seemed that they were exempted, by God’s decree, from drinking of the cup of His wrath, had drunk. Could Esau hope for immunity? The thought is parallel to that of 1 Peter 4:17.

Verse 13

(13) Bozrah.—This, as in Isaiah 34:6; Isaiah 63:1, was one of the chief cities of Edom, probably identical with the modern El-Busaireh, half-way between Petra and the Dead Sea.

Verse 14

(14) I have heard a rumour from the Lord . . .—The thought is that of Jehovah, as the great King, sending forth His herald or envoy to call the nations to the attack on Edom. (Comp. Jeremiah 46:3-4.)

Verse 15

(15) Among the heathen.—Better here, as no marked contrast with Israel is intended, among the nations.

Verse 16

(16) Thy terribleness hath deceived thee.—The substantive does not occur elsewhere. Etymo-logically it may mean “terror of,” or “object of terror;” but a cognate word is found in 1 Kings 15:13; 2 Chronicles 15:16 in the sense of an “idol,” probably of the Phallic or Priapus type, and that is probably the meaning. Such an idol is called scornfully the horror of Edom, just as the God of Israel was the fear of Isaac” (Genesis 31:42). So Milton speaks of Chemosh as the “obscene dread of Moab’s sons” (Par. Lost, I. 406.)

O thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock.—Better, perhaps, in the fortresses of Sela. The words describe with a wonderful vividness the aspect of the rock-fortresses of Edom, the cities built into a ravine. The remains of Petra (the Sela of 2 Kings 14:7; Isaiah 16:1), commonly referred to as illustrating this description, are, it must be remembered, of Roman origin; but there can be little doubt that it occupied the site of an earlier city, and that there were other fortresses, even more like the eagle’s nest, perched upon the summit of the crags. In Job 39:27-30 we have a picture of the eagle’s nest drawn by a writer who was probably familiar with these rock fortresses.

Verse 17

(17) Edom shall be a desolation.—The words did not receive an immediate or even a rapid fulfilment. Idumæa was a populous and powerful country in the time of John Hyrcanus. Petra, as we have seen, was rebuilt by the Romans as a centre of trade and government, and had its baths, and theatres, and temples. But the end came at last, and there are few lands, once the seat of a thriving nation, more utterly desolate than that of Edom. From the ninth century of the Christian era it disappears from history (Robinson’s Researches, ii. 575).

Verse 18

(18) Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbour cities thereof.—The destruction of the two cities named had become proverbial, as in Isaiah 1:9; Jeremiah 13:19; Amos 4:11. What is noticeable here is the mention of the “neighbour cities.” We may connect it with the fact that they are named as Admah and Zeboim in Deuteronomy 29:23.

Verse 19

(19) Like a lion from the swelling of Jordan.—Better, as in Jeremiah 12:5, the pride of Jordani.e., the thick jungle-forests which were the glory of its banks.

Against the habitation of the strong.—Better, against the evergreen pasturage. The word for “habitation” is that used in Jeremiah 6:2 for the place where shepherds encamp, the other substantive conveys the idea of permanence rather than strength, and the image by which the prophet paints the Chaldæan invasion is that of a lion (comp. Jeremiah 5:6) making its way through the jungle, and rushing upon the flocks and herds in one of the meadow tracts along the course of the Jordan.

But I will suddenly make him run away from her.—Literally, I will wink, I will make him . . . The pronouns are obscure in the Hebrew as in the English, but the meaning seems to be, “I will, as in the twinkling of an eye, drive him (Edom) away from it” (his pasturage, or habitation).

And who is a chosen man, that I may appoint over her?—Better, who is a chosen one, and I will appoint him . . .? The word translated “chosen one” is commonly associated with the idea of youth, the flower of a nation’s strength, its chosen champions. Commentators for the most part apply it to Nebuchadnezzar as being, in the full vigour of his strength, the chosen ruler whom Jehovah would appoint over Edom. The interrogative form, however, and the implied negative answer to the questions that follow suggest a different interpretation. “Who,” the prophet asks in a tone of scorn, as though Jehovah spoke by him, “is a chosen champion of Edom? and I will appoint him.” The implied answer is that Edom has no such champion. Compare the taunting words uttered by Jehu (2 Kings 10:2-3)—“Look even out the best and meetest of your master’s sons”—and Rabshakeh (2 Kings 18:23).

Who is like me? and who will appoint me the time?—The questions follow rapidly one on another in the same tone. To “appoint a time” was the technical phrase, as in Job 9:19, for the notice by which a prosecutor summoned the accused to trial. “Who,” Jehovah asks, “will thus summon Me, and before what tribunal?” “What shepherd (i.e., what ruler) will stand before Me to defend his flock against My power?”

Verse 20

(20) Surely.—Literally, If not . . .”—the strongest Hebrew idiom of asseveration.

The least of the flock shall draw them out . . .—The English is obscure, probably because the object of the verb has been taken as its subject. Better, Surely they (i.e., the Chaldæan invaders) will vex them, the feeble ones of the flock; surely he will make their pasturage terror-stricken at them. The thought expressed is that the very fields of Edom would, as it were, shudder at the cruelty of their conquerors. It is noticeable that the whole passage is repeated in Jeremiah 50:44-45, and is there applied to Babylon.

Verse 21

(21) The noise thereof was heard in the Red sea.—Literally, as in the margin, the Weedy, or Reed sea. The crash of the fall of Edom, the cries of the slaughtered people, were to be heard far off on the waters of the sea that washed its shores. Elath, on the Gulf of Akaba, was the sea-port of Edom (2 Chronicles 26:2).

Verse 22

(22) He shall come up and fly as the eagle.—The prophet passes from one symbol of sovereignty to another, and instead of the lion we have (see Note on Jeremiah 48:40) the eagle. What Kerioth was to Moab, Bozrah was to Edom, and its capture is painted in the same terms.

Verse 23

(23) Concerning Damascus.—Damascus is named as the capital of Aram, or Syria. The kingdom first became powerful under Rezon after David’s death (1 Kings 11:23-24). In the history of 1 and 2 Kings we find it engaged in constant wars against Israel and Judah (1 Kings 22:1; 2 Kings 6:8) or in alliance with Israel against Judah (1 Kings 15:19; 2 Kings 16:5-6). The last of these alliances was the memorable confederacy of Isaiah 7:2, between Rezin and Pekah. That ended, as Isaiah foretold, in the subjugation of Damascus by the Assyrians (2 Kings 16:9). And so the Syrians continued subject till the downfall of the Assyrian Empire, when they naturally fell before the power of Nebuchadnezzar. The language of the prophet is vague, but probably points to his attack.

Hamath is confounded, and Arpad.—The former town was originally pointed out as the northern limit of the territory of Israel (Numbers 34:8), and this was attained under Solomon (2 Chronicles 8:4). It lies in a strong position in the valley of the Orontes, and under the name of Hamah is still a flourishing city with 30,000 inhabitants, Arpad, always joined with Hamath (Isaiah 10:9; Isaiah 36:19; Isaiah 37:13), must at the time have been nearly as important. The name Arpaddu has been found in cuneiform inscriptions, and its site has been placed at about fourteen miles north of Aleppo. For further details see Notes on Isaiah 10:9.

There is sorrow on the sea; it cannot be quiet.—The mention of the sea in connexion with Damascus presents some difficulty. The most simple solution is probably the truest. The terror that prevails at Damascus is thought of as extending to the sea (i.e., to the Mediterranean), possibly with special reference to its commerce with Tyre (Ezekiel 27:18). All is restless and unquiet as the sea itself. The last clause seems like a reminiscence of Isaiah 57:20. Many MSS. give the various reading “like the sea,” which would make the parallelism more complete.

Verse 25

(25) How is the city of praise not left . . . !—The exclamation, half scornful, half ironical, points to the fact that the inhabitants of Damascus had tried in vain to flee (Jeremiah 49:24). The city so fair and glorious, with its rivers Abana and Pharphar (2 Kings 5:12), had not been “left,” would not be empty when it was taken. The people would perish with it. Her young warriors and her veterans should be cut off within the walls.

Verse 27

(27) It shall consume the palaces of Ben-ha-dad.—Three kings of the name appear in Old Testament history; one as warring against Omri (1 Kings 20:34), another as a contemporary of Elisha (2 Kings 8:7), a third as the son of Hazael, and therefore belonging to a different dynasty (2 Kings 13:3). It is possible, as the name was thus associated with the greatness of the kingdom, that it may have been borne also by later kings. It appears in the form Ben-hidri in Assyrian inscriptions. The prophet’s words are, at any rate, a proof that the palaces of Damascus were either built by one of them, probably the first, or at any rate bore their name.

Verse 28

(28) Concerning Kedar . . .—The name belonged to a tribe of the Bedouin type, descended from Ishmael (Genesis 25:13), and at this time conspicuous as supplying the markets of Tyre with sheep and goats (Ezekiel 27:21). In PP. 120:5 it appears as the representative of the fierce nomadic life of the Arabians. Hazor appears as the name of many cities in Palestine (Joshua 11:1; Joshua 15:23; Joshua 19:36), but the combination with Kedar points to quite a different region. The probable explanation is that Jeremiah uses the term (as a like word, hazçrein, is used in Isaiah 42:11 for the “villages” of Kedar) for the region in which the Kedar Arabs had ceased to be nomadic, and had made a permanent settlement. According to Niebuhr (Assur u. Bab., p. 210) it answers to the modern Hadschar in the angle formed by the southern course of the Euphrates and the Persian Gulf.

Spoil the men of the east.—Literally, the B’eni-Kedem. or children of the East. The term appears in the Old Testament history from a very early date (Genesis 29:1; Judges 6:3; Judges 6:33; Judges 7:12; 1 Kings 4:30; Job 1:3), and has, as might be expected, though obviously indicating a nomadic form of life, like that of the Midianites, a somewhat wide and undefined connotation. The picture of the attack on them presents a marked contrast to that of the attack on Damascus: not palaces and treasures, but tents and flocks, the curtains or hangings of the tent, their implements (weapons, kneading troughs, and the like), their very camels, seized by the conquerors.

Verse 29

(29) Fear is on every side.—There is a striking individuality in this reproduction of the Magor-missabib cry which had been so prominent in the prophet’s own life and preaching (Jeremiah 6:25; Jeremiah 20:3; Jeremiah 20:10; Jeremiah 46:5).

Verse 30

(30) Dwell deep.—See Note on Jeremiah 49:8. The dwellers in the villages of Hazor are told, as those of Dedan had been, to flee into the furthest recesses of the wilderness. The words probably point to the time after the battle of Carchemish, when Nebuchadnezzar established his sovereignty over the lower Euphrates, Northern Arabia, and the Syrian desert.

Verses 31-33

(31-33) Arise, get you up . . .—The command of Jehovah goes forth to the invaders. Their work will be an easy one, for they are sent against a people that dwell defenceless in the open country, with no walls or gates, dwelling alone, without allies, their camels and their flocks offering an easy prey. Compare the description of Laish in Judges 18:7. The prophet repeats the characteristic term of scorn which we have found in Jeremiah 9:26; Jeremiah 25:23, “them that dwell in the utmost corners,” or more accurately, those with cropped-hair temples, as descriptive of the wild tribes that are thus doomed to destruction. Their land shall be a dwelling-place for jackals (not “dragons”; see Note on Jeremiah 9:11), desolate for ever.

Verse 34

(34) The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah the prophet against Elam . . .—It is noticeable that this is the only prophecy in Jeremiah 48, 49 with a date attached to it. Assuming the date to be rightly given, it indicates a time later than that of those that precede it, which belong probably to the group of predictions connected with Jeremiah 25:0. It has been maintained, however, by many critics that the absence of the name of Nebuchadnezzar, so prominent in Jeremiah’s predictions after the deportation of Jehoiachin, indicates an earlier rather than a later date, and that the compiler of the prophecies was mistaken in thus fixing the time of its delivery. The inference is, however, somewhat precarious, as the fact is common to the prophecies against the Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, &c., that precede this. Elam, though commonly identified with Persia, as in Isaiah 11:11; Isaiah 21:2; Isaiah 22:6, appears to be used with a somewhat wider connotation for the tribes beyond the Tigris (Jeremiah 25:25). The tone of the prophecy seems to imply that Elam had been prominent among the enemies of the people of Jehovah (as in Isaiah 22:6), and this has led to the inference that they had taken part in the attack on Judah, as auxiliaries in the army of Nebuchadnezzar. It is significant that the thought that Elam is to be the instrument of Jehovah for the destruction of Babylon (Isaiah 21:2), and that out of it was to come the appointed deliverer of Israel, does not seem to have been present to the prophet’s mind. His horizon is, as it were, bounded for the time by the more immediate future.

Verse 35

(35) I will break the bow of Elam.—As in Isaiah 22:6; Herod. vii. 61, Elam was conspicuous for its archers. We are reminded of the account which Herodotus gives (ii. 136) of the three things taught to the youth of Persia—to ride, to draw the bow, and to speak the truth. This weapon was “the chief of their might.”

Verse 36

(36) Upon Elam will I bring the four winds . . .—The words reproduce those of Jeremiah 49:32 as to the extent of the dispersion, but there is an added circumstance of terror in the picture of destruction. The “four winds” whirling round as in a cyclone are to be the instruments of destruction. The imagery of the threshing-floor seems once more brought before us, and the Elamites are as the chaff which the winds, in such a tempest, carry off in all directions.

Verse 38

(38) I will set my throne in Elam.—The throne of Jehovah is, it is clear, the throne of the king who is, for the time, His chosen instrument and servant, in this case therefore the throne of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 43:10), against whom. Elam, like the other nations in Jeremiah 25:13-25, and in Jeremiah 48, 49, had apparently risen in rebellion. Of this we have, perhaps, a trace in the statement of Jdt. 1:1-13, that Nebuchadnezzar defeated Arphaxad, a king of Media, in the seventeenth year of his reign. The words find an historical fulfilment in the fact that Shushan, “in the province of Elam,” became one of the royal residences of the Chaldæan kings (Daniel 8:2), and continued to be so under those of Persia, who, as regards the population of Elam proper, were as conquerors (Nehemiah 1:1; Esther 1:2). A like prediction of the fall of Elam, among other nations, before the attack of the King of Babylon is found in Ezekiel 32:24.

Verse 39

(39) I will bring again the captivity of Elam.—Of the special history of Elam, as distinct from the other provinces of the Persian Empire, history records but little. The mention of Elamites among those who were present at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9) shows that they were a recognised province under the Parthian monarchy, and that Jews had settled among them in large numbers, and so supplies a partial fulfilment of their return from their captivity.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 49". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/jeremiah-49.html. 1905.
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