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The long continuous prophecy which occupies the place of a great finale in the collection of Jeremiah’s writings (Jeremiah 50, 51.) is in many ways the most important of the whole book. It presents an aspect of the prophet’s mind and character which elsewhere is almost or altogether latent. For the most part, he appears as the supporter of the Chaldæans, opposing the policy of the kings and rulers who were bent on resistance, bidding the exiles to pray for the peace of Babylon (Jeremiah 29:7). Only once before, as in a germinal hint afterwards to be developed, and veiled beneath the cypher of the mysterious Sheshach (Jeremiah 25:26), had he given any intimation that it came within the horizon of his vision that she, too, was to drink of “the wine-cup of the Lord’s fury” (Jeremiah 25:15). It can scarcely be imagined, however, that the predictions of Isaiah against the Chaldæaan city in Jeremiah 13:1 to Jeremiah 14:22, or (if we acknowledge the later chapters of that book as authentic) those in Jeremiah 46, 47, were unknown to him; and we may well believe that when the great catastrophe had come upon Jerusalem, and the people were in exile by the waters of Babylon, he desired to comfort them with the thought that the righteous law of retribution under which they were suffering would in due time bring down the pride of their oppressor. When he had told them that their captivity would last for seventy years (Jeremiah 29:10), that lands should once again be bought and sold, and ploughed and planted in Judah (Jeremiah 32:15), there was an implied fore-knowledge of the doom of the golden city; and at last, probably as the closing vision of his life, the last case in which he was to “root out, and to pull down, and to destroy,” it was given to him to see how that destruction would be accomplished.
The authenticity of the chapter has, it is true, been questioned by some critics, partly on the assumption that prophecy cannot be prediction, and that the fulness of detail with which the apparent prediction is given implies a prophecy after the event, partly on the ground that the style differs from that of the other writings ascribed to Jeremiah’s name, and that it presents so many traces of acquaintance with Babylon and its customs that it must have been written by one who had been resident in that city. On this hypothesis Baruch has been named as its possible author.
The first ground of objection opens a wide question which cannot well be discussed on every occurrence of the principle which it involves. Here it will be enough to say that the assumption in question is at variance with the whole idea of their office which the prophets themselves recognised, and that it is not that on which the lines of interpretation followed in this Commentary have been based. Judgments based upon variations and differences in style are always more or less precarious. For my own part I do not see any such differences as to clash with the belief that these chapters were written by Jeremiah, and I find many parallelisms and coincidences, which will be noticed as we proceed, falling in with that belief. The third difficulty is sufficiently met by the thought that one who was in frequent intercourse both with the captive Jews at Babylon and with the Chaldæans as Jeremiah was (Jeremiah 29:1-32), to say nothing of his personal journeys to the Euphrates (Jeremiah 13:1-7), might well have acquired such a knowledge of the country as is indicated in these chapters.
(1) By Jeremiah the prophet.—Literally, by the hand of Jeremiah. The phrase is not found elsewhere in Jeremiah’s writings, with the one exception of Jeremiah 37:2. It probably indicates that the prophecy that follows was written with his own hand, and not dictated. (See Jeremiah 51:60.)
(2) Set up a standard.—Better, lift up a signal. The noun is the same as in Jeremiah 4:6; Jeremiah 4:21. Here, however, its use is not that of furnishing a rallying point for an army, but that of a means of rapid communication, like the succession of beacon-fires in the opening of the Agamemnon of Æschylus (Agam., 272-307). The tidings of the fall of Babylon are to be proclaimed as quickly as may be throughout the world.
Bel is confounded, Merodach is broken in pieces.—Strictly speaking these, as found in the inscriptions, were names of the same deity (see Note on Isaiah 46:1). The name of Bel appears in the names of the two great walls of Babylon, Imgur-Bel and Nimetti-Bel (Records of the Past, v. 125). The latter name, sometimes in the form of Marduk, appears as lord of heaven and earth, and Nebo is subordinate to him. Nebuchadnezzar’s devotion to him is indicated by the name he gave his son, Evil-merodach (Jeremiah 52:31), and by describing himself in his inscriptions as “worshipper of Marduk” (Records of the Past, v. 113). So we have among Chaldæan names Merodach-baladan (2 Kings 20:12; Isaiah 39:1), Kurdur-Marduk, and others. The inscriptions at Borsippa speak of him as “the great lord, the most ancient of the gods, the lord of the gates of heaven,” and so on (Rawlinson’s Herodotus, i. 627-631).
Idols . . . images.—The words had better be inverted. The former word denotes sculptured pillars, the latter blocks or columns. (See Note on Leviticus 26:30.)
(3) Out of the north there cometh up a nation.—It is significant that the very phrase which had described the danger that threatened Judah from Babylon (Jeremiah 1:10) is now used for the danger that threatened Babylon itself from Media. It is as though the prophet watched that northern quarter of the heavens, and saw storm after storm, torrent after torrent, bursting out upon the south. The nations are named in Jeremiah 51:27-28. We are almost irresistibly reminded of the language in which the historians of the fourth and fifth centuries speak of the Gothic and Teutonic tribes that poured down upon the Roman Empire.
(4) The children of Israel shall come . . .—The union of the divided sections of the people is significant as being that which the prophet had all along hoped for (Jeremiah 3:14-16). And the united people are to return with tears of mingled joy and penitence (comp. Ezra 3:13; Ezra 8:21-23), no longer worshipping Baal and the queen of heaven (Jeremiah 7:18; Jeremiah 44:17), but “seeking Jehovah their God.”
(5) They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward.—Literally, hitherward. The correction is not without significance, as showing that the prophecy was written in Judah, and therefore as far as that fact goes, as being in favour of Jeremiah’s authorship.
A perpetual covenant.—The prophet may have had the promise of the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31 in his thoughts, as being about to receive at least a partial fulfilment. In Ezra 8:21-23; Ezra 10:3 we find what we may look on as an effort of the people to enter into such a covenant.
(6) My people hath been lost sheep . . .—We note as interesting the dominance of this imagery here as in Isaiah 53:6; Ezekiel 34:5. The “shepherds” are, as ever, the kings and civil rulers of the people. In the “mountains” and “hills” we see partly the natural surroundings of the imagery, partly a special reference to the idolatrous worship of the high places (Jeremiah 3:2; Jeremiah 3:6). The Hebrew text as it stands gives, they have led them on seducing mountains, i.e., the “high places” which had so strange a fascination for them. The Authorised version follows the marginal reading of the Hebrew. The “forgotten resting place,” or, perhaps, the fold, is, as in Jeremiah 50:7, the “habitation of justice,” the true pasturage, the righteousness which is found in fellowship with Jehovah Himself.
(7) Their adversaries said, We offend not . . .—The words are suggestive as indicating a special aspect of the thoughts of the prophet as to the idolatry of Judah. What was to him its extremest humiliation. was that it put a taunt into the mouths of the enemies of her people. They were able to say, “We are acting rightly: we are but instruments in the hands of God.” The words that follow can scarcely be thought of as those of the enemies of Israel, but as added by the prophet to emphasise the guilt of his own people.
(8) Remove out of the midst of Babylon . . .—The prophet re-echoes almost the very words of Isaiah 48:20; Isaiah 52:11. It is obviously in marked contrast with the counsels in Jeremiah 29:5-7 that the exiles should build houses and plant gardens, and seek the peace of the city of their conquerors. That was a wise and right counsel for the time, but it was for a time only; and when the hour of the fall of Babylon came they were to be as the he-goats (better, rams) of the flock, leading the captives of other nations in the work of liberation and of flight. That was their only way of escape from being involved in the destruction of the doomed city.
(9) An assembly of great nations from the north country.—Like all the great monarchies of the East, the Medo-Persian kingdom, which was to be the destroyer of Babylon, was made up of a congeries of many different races. Herodotus (vii. 61-69), in his account of the army of Xerxes, names twenty-two, from the Medes and Persians at the head of the list to the Arabians and Ethiopians at its close.
From thence she shall be taken.—The Hebrew adverb may be taken either of time or place. The latter, as referring to the region from which the assailants come, gives the better sense.
As of a mighty expert man.—The marginal rendering, “destroyer,” follows the Vulgate and the Targum, and represents a various reading. There is no sufficient reason for rejecting the Authorised Version, which has the support of the LXX. and the Syriac versions.
None shall return in vain.—Grammatically the words may refer either to the warrior or the arrow. The use of the same phrase in 2 Samuel 1:22; Isaiah 55:11 is perhaps in favour of the latter.
(10) Chaldea.—The same word is used as for Chaldæans, but it is treated as the name of the country, and is therefore joined with a verb in the feminine singular.
(11) Destroyers of mine heritage.—Better, plunderers or robbers.
Ye are grown fat as the heifer at grass.—Better, the Hebrew text being in the singular, thou leapedst as the heifer while threshing. The rule of Deuteronomy 25:4 (“Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn “) made the image significant enough. The English version has, however, the support of the LXX. and Vulg.
And bellow as bulls.—Better, thou didst neigh as strong steeds. The verb is the same as in Jeremiah 5:8, the noun the same as in Jeremiah 8:16.
(12) Your mother shall be sore confounded . . .—The prophet speaks to the people of Babylon, and the city is therefore described as their mother.
The hindermost of the nations shall be a wilderness . . .—The interpolated words mar the force of the sentence. Better, behold the hindermost of the nations, a wilderness, a waste, and a desert. This was to be the state to which Babylon should be reduced.
(13) Every one that goeth . . .—We note the reproduction of the formula of Jeremiah 19:8; Jeremiah 49:17.
(14) All ye that bend the bow.—The words are descriptive of the light-armed troops that formed the strength of the Medo-Persian army (see Jeremiah 49:35; Jeremiah 1:14). The words belong properly to the previous clause, and the colon should come after them. Stress is laid in the latter clause on the fact that Babylon has sinned in her cruelty and luxury and tyranny against the righteous government of Jehovah.
(15) She hath given her hand.—The words paint the attitude of one who submits and stretches forth his hand, as a sign that he gives himself into the power of the conqueror. (Comp. Ezra 10:19; 2 Chronicles 30:8; Lamentations 5:6.) So in Latin “dare manum” was a synonym for submission (Cic. de Amic. 26).
Her foundations are fallen.—Better, with the LXX., bastions or bulwarks.
As she hath done, do unto her.—We note an identity of thought and almost of language with Psalms 137:8. Had the Psalmist heard the prophecy, or the prophet the psalm? The former seems the more probable alternative.
(16) Cut off the sower . . .—The rich alluvial plains of Babylon, so plentiful that they yielded an increase of two hundred-fold (Herod. iii. 8), were to be laid waste. There may, possibly, be a special reference to the fields within the walls of the city, upon which the population largely depended, and which were now to be devastated. (Diod. Sic. ii. 9; Pliny, Hist. Nat. xi. 111.)
For fear of the oppressing sword.—The versions present the same noticeable variations, as in Jeremiah 46:16, the LXX. giving “from the Greek sword,” possibly with reference to the belief that Cyrus had subdued the Æolians and Ionians before the conquest of Babylon, and that they were fighting in his army, or to Alexander’s capture of the city, and the Vulg. “from the sword of the dove,” the latter rendering being supposed to refer to the dove on the Babylonian standard, as the emblem of Semiramis. Here, however, as Babylon is the object of attack, the latter allusion is scarcely applicable, and there is no sufficient reason for altering the English version. (See Note on Jeremiah 25:38; Jeremiah 46:16.)
They shall flee every one to his own land.—The words are significant as showing that the Jews were not the only people for whom the fall of Babylon was the signal of a return from exile. The policy of Nebuchadnezzar, like that of Assyria, had been to people his own territory with the captive populations of other countries, and Israel (as in Jeremiah 50:8) was to lead the way in the return.
(17) Israel is a scattered sheep . . .—The words paint vividly the two blows that had fallen on Israel, as a sheep driven from the fold: first from the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom by Salmaneser, and then, when, as it were, the carcase was half devoured and only the bones left, from that of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. The “lion” appears here, as in Daniel 7:4, as the symbol of the great Eastern monarchies. The fact that the sculptured winged lion appears so constantly in the remains both of Assyria and Babylon gives the imagery a special force.
(18) As I have punished the king of Assyria.—Nineveh had fallen before Cyaxares and Nabopolassar, and Babylon was in like manner to fall before Cyrus. The one judgment was the pledge and earnest of the other.
(19) I will bring Israel again to his habitation.—Better, to his pasturage (as in Jeremiah 10:25; Jeremiah 23:3), as keeping up the figure of Jeremiah 50:17. The “scattered sheep” was to be brought back and to find pasture. The regions named are the representatives of the most fertile districts of Palestine, Carmel and Mount Ephraim on the west (Ezekiel 34:13), Bashan and Gilead on the east, of Jordan (Numbers 32:1; Micah 7:14).
(20) In those days, and in that time . . .—The formula is that which in prophetic language points to the far-off times of the Christ. Their restoration to their earthly homes was but a small thing. That which was to the prophet the great blessing of the future was that it would bring with it the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31, pardon and peace, iniquity and sin remembered no more.
I will pardon them whom I reserve.—The latter verb contains the root of the “remnant” which is so prominent in Isaiah (Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 7:3), and expresses the same thought. “The remnant,” the reserved ones, shall be pardoned.
(21) Go up against the land of Merathaim.—No such name is found in Babylonian inscriptions or is mentioned by historians. The most probable explanation of its use is that the prophet coined it as a descriptive word (= land of two rebellions), and then substituted it, after his manner (as with Sheshach, Jeremiah 25:6; Magor-missabib, Jeremiah 20:3), for the name Aram-Naharaim (= land of the two rivers = Mesopotamia), which was, as in Genesis 24:10; Deuteronomy 23:4; Judges 3:8; Judges 3:10, the recognised name of the country between the Tigris and Euphrates. It was, he seems to say, the country, not of rivers, but of rebellions, choosing the dual form, partly for the sake of assonance, partly to express the fact that Babylon having rebelled against Assyria, as, e.g., Merodach-baladan (Isaiah 39:1) and Nabopolassar had done, had also rebelled against Jehovah. Possibly, however, the dual may simply express intensity. Such changes of names were quite after the manner of Old Testament usage. So Beth-aven was substituted for Bethel (Hosea 10:5), Mephibosheth for Meribbaal (2 Samuel 4:4; 1 Chronicles 8:34). Micah 1:0 is full of such paronomasiae.
Against the inhabitants of Pekod.—Here we have a name which is found in Ezekiel 23:23 and in inscriptions as that of a Babylonian town, as in a list of rebels, and in the form Bukudu, as in the Cylinder of Sennacherib (Records of the Past, i. 26), and is the name of a city, Nahar-Pekod, mentioned in the Talmud (Fürst, Lex. s.v., and Neubauer, Géog. du Talm., p. 363). We can scarcely doubt, however, that the prophet chose this name for the sake of its meaning, “visitation.” It was necessary to find a word to be at once nomen et omen for the guilt of Babylon. There was one ready at hand applicable to its punishment.
Waste and utterly destroy.—Better, slay and devote to destruction. The latter verb is connected with the Hebrew Cherem, which expressed, as in Deuteronomy 7:26; Joshua 7:13, the idea of a solemn anathema.
(23) How is the hammer of the whole earth cut asunder . . . !—The image had been used before (Jeremiah 23:29) of the might of right as seen in the words of Jehovah. Here it describes the right of might as seen in the despotism of Babylon. The name of Charles Martel and, according to one etymology, that of Judas Maccabæus, present interesting parallelisms. And now the hammer itself, which had been as an instrument in the hand of Jehovah (Jeremiah 51:20), is to be, in its turn, crushed by a power mightier than its own.
(24) I have laid a snare for thee.—The two captures of Babylon by Cyrus and Darius both answered to this description. Cyrus turned aside the waters of the Euphrates into another channel, and entered by the river-bed, so that the city was taken before those who lived in the middle of the city knew that it was attacked (Herod. i. 191). In the latter case the gates were opened to Darius by the treachery of the Babylonian general Zopyrus (Herod. iii. 158). (Comp. Daniel 5:30; Isaiah 45:1.) In Jeremiah 51:31-32 we have the same fact more vividly described.
(25) The Lord hath opened his armoury.—The word is the same as that for “treasures” in Jeremiah 10:13; Jeremiah 51:16, the choice of the appropriate English word being determined, in each case, by the context. Here the figure is that of a mighty king going to his arsenal and equipping himself with the weapons which will insure his victory. An expansion of the same imagery is found in Wis. 5:17-23; Wis. 18:15-16.
This is the work of the Lord God of hosts.—Better, the Lord God of hosts hath a work . . .
(26) Open her storehouses.—The noun is not found elsewhere. Probably granaries would be a better rendering. The word for “heaps” is used in Song Song of Solomon 7:2; Ruth 3:7 for “heaps of corn,” and this is probably its meaning here. In Nehemiah 4:2, however, it is used of heaps of rubbish. The stored-up provisions of the captured city are to be piled up in its open places, as men pile the sheaves of corn after harvest, and burnt (for “destroy” read devote to destruction), as had been done, e.g., in the capture of Jericho and other cities (Joshua 6:24; Joshua 11:12-13).
Let nothing of her be left.—Literally, let there be no remnant, as in marked contrast with the “remnant” of Israel (Jeremiah 50:20).
(27) Slay all her bullocks.—The words are probably to be taken figuratively of the captains and men of war of Babylon, as in Psalms 22:12; Isaiah 34:7; Jeremiah 48:15 (see Note), and Jeremiah 51:40.
(28) The voice of them that flee . . .—The abruptness of the opening words, as if the prophet heard the cry of the escaping exiles, would be perhaps best represented by Hark, the voice . . . The words that follow define the cry as coming chiefly from the captive Jews, who see in the destruction of Babylon the vengeance of Jehovah for the destruction of His Temple.
(29) Recompense her according to her work . . .—As before, in Jeremiah 50:15, the prophet sees in the fall of Babylon the working of the Divine law of retribution. In “the Holy One of Israel” we note the occurrence, for the first time in Jeremiah, of the characteristic name which is so prominent in Isaiah, and is seldom found elsewhere. It occurs again in Jeremiah 51:5.
(30) Therefore shall her young men fall . . .—The verse is reproduced almost literatim from the prophecy against Damascus in Jeremiah 49:26.
(31) O thou most proud.—Literally, O Pride, the prophet using the word (Zadon) as a proper name for Babylon, as he had before used Merathaim and Pekod (Jeremiah 50:21). It is analogous in its meaning to the Rahab of Isaiah 51:9; Psalms 87:4; Psalms 89:10, as the name of Egypt. The word points, perhaps, to the self-exaltation of Nebuchadnezzar as embodying that of his people (Daniel 4:30).
(32) And the most proud shall stumble . . .—As before, Pride. The gender of the pronoun in “none shall raise him up” is determined by that of the Hebrew noun. The words furnish a striking illustration of the teaching of Proverbs 16:18.
(33) Were oppressed.—Better, are oppressed, and so on through the verse. The English tense is misleading. The prophet, having described the doom that lies in the future, now returns to the present, and finds in the actual state of Israel that which made the destruction of Babylon a necessary condition of its liberation. All appeals to the mercy of their conquerors, Assyrian or Chaldæan, had been made in vain.
(34) Their Redeemer is strong.—The word for “Redeemer” (Goël) includes, as elsewhere (Numbers 35:12; Ruth 4:1; Ruth 4:8; Job 19:25), the thought of “the next of kin,” with whom the right of redemption (in the technical sense) rested, and to whom belonged the duty of pleading for and avenging his kinsman when oppressed. It is interesting to note, in connection with the obvious allusion to Proverbs 16:18, that here, with the exception of the name of “the Lord of hosts is his name,” we have an actual citation from Proverbs 23:11.
That he may give rest to the land.—Better, to the earth, in its widest extent, as implying that the whole earth had groaned under the oppression of Babylon. “The land,” if we retain that rendering, would be, of course, “the land of Israel.” Some versions, however (e.g., the Vulg.), and some commentators (e.g., Ewald), give the verbs the sense of “set in motion,” i.e., “trouble,” and so make the parallelism of the two clauses one of resemblance and not of contrast.
(35) A sword is upon the Chaldeans.—Better, A sword upon the Chaldeans. Here, and in the verses that follow, the interpolated verb weakens the force of the passage. Jehovah is represented as calling the “sword” and the “drought” to do their work of destruction.
Upon her wise men.—The term points especially to the “wise men” in the technical sense of the term, the soothsayers and astrologers who were prominent among Nebuchadnezzar’s counsellors (Daniel 2:2; Daniel 2:13).
(36) A sword is upon the liars; and they shall dote.—The Hebrew word for “liars”—literally, boastings—implies the falsehood of folly rather than of purpose. Better, perhaps, the prating fools. The marginal readings “chief stays” and “bars” rest on no adequate authority. Here the word applies to the diviners and magicians (comp. Isaiah 44:25).
(37) And upon all the mingled people . . .—The phrase is the same as in Jeremiah 25:20. Here it is used of the auxiliaries of Babylon, which were probably as numerous, and to a large extent the same, as those of Persia. (See Note on Jeremiah 50:9.) The “treasures” point to the wealth in which Babylon exulted, and which gave to her the epithet of the “Golden City” (Isaiah 14:4). Even under the Persian monarchy Æschylus uses “gold-abounding” as a normal epithet for it. (Persœ, 53.)
(38) A drought is upon her waters.—Better, A sword. The Hebrew word for “drought” has the same consonants as that for “sword,” with different vowel-points. In the original text the form of the two words must have been identical, as the vowel-points were of later introduction. The editors of the present text were probably guided by the thought that the context in this case determined the meaning of the word as meaning “drought,” and not a “sword.” So in Deuteronomy 28:22 the text of the Authorised version gives “sword,” and the margin “drought.” There is, however, a certain loss of rhetorical emphasis in the change of the word with which the three previous verses had begun. The “waters” include the canals of Babylon as well as the Euphrates.
They are mad upon their idols.—The word for “idols” means literally “terrors,” or “objects of terror,” as in Psalms 88:16; Job 20:25, and this is the only place in which it is used of the objects of worship. In Genesis 14:5; Deuteronomy 2:10-11 it appears as the name of the Emim, probably as meaning “the terrible, or gigantic ones.” Here it seems used for the colossal figures—winged bulls, human-headed lions, and the like—which were the objects of Babylonian worship. (See note on Jeremiah 49:16.)
(39) Wild beasts of the desert . . .—The combination of the two forms of animal life seems taken from Isaiah 13:21-22. In the original the two words tziyyim and iiyyim have a kind of emphatic assonance. The English word in the first case answers to the etymology, but the animal referred to has been identified by some naturalists with the wild cats, which appear from Bar. 6:22 to have abounded in Babylon. In the second word the Authorised version follows a wrong etymology. Strictly the word means “howlers,” and should be translated “jackals.” For “owls” read “ostriches,” as in Isaiah 13:21.
(40) As God overthrew Sodom . . .—The whole verse is reproduced from Jeremiah 49:18. We enter here, indeed, upon a mosaic of quotations, or at least recollections of other prophecies. Thus Jeremiah 50:41-43 are taken from Jeremiah 6:22-24, “Babylon” being substituted for “Zion,” and “the king of Babylon” for “we;” Jeremiah 50:44-46 from Jeremiah 49:19-21, with the necessary substitutions of “Babylon” for “Edom,” the Chaldeans” for “Teman,” “among the nations” for “in the Red sea.” The reader is referred accordingly to the Notes on those passages. The reproduction in identical terms is probably connected with the thoughts of the retribution, on which the prophet dwells in Jeremiah 50:15. All that she had done Babylon was now to suffer.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 50". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29