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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 51

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

Verses 1-26

The Threat of Jehovah in its Various Forms

v. 1. Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up against Babylon and against them that dwell in the midst, literally, "in the heart," of them that rise up against Me, the inhabitants of the insurgent country, a destroying wind, or "the spirit of destruction,"

v. 2. and will send unto Babylon fanners, whose work it was to separate the wheat from the chaff by casting up and scattering the threshed grain, that shall fan her and shall empty her land, sweeping away the guilty like chaff before the wind; for in the day of trouble they shall be against her round about, attacking from all sides.

v. 3. Against him that bendeth let the archer bend his bow, sure to put to death every one who attempts resistance, and against him that lifteth himself up in his brigandine, having put on his armor for battle; and spare ye not her young men, the ablest warriors, destroy ye utterly all her host.

v. 4. Thus the slain shall fall in the land of the Chaldeans, and they that are thrust through, pierced by arrow or lance, in her streets. All this would happen on account of Israel's just cause against the Chaldeans.

v. 5. For Israel hath not been forsaken nor Judah of his God, of the Lord of hosts, the chosen people of Jehovah being still in His care, under His gracious protection; though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel, rather, "but the land of the Chaldeans is filled with guilt," because they refused to accept the true God in spite of the many manifestations of His power and glory in their midst as brought to their attention, for instance, through Daniel and his friends. Therefore the Lord addresses Himself to the members of His chosen people living in Babylon, urging the proper behavior at the time of Babylon's downfall.

v. 6. Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and deliver every man his soul, not only his physical life, but his spiritual life as well; be not cut off in her iniquity, by taking part in the idolatry which brought destruction upon her; for this is the time of the Lord's vengeance; He will render unto her a recompense. Note the contrast between human transgression, on the one hand, and the righteous punishment of the Lord, on the other. This is brought out most strongly by the picture of the golden cup.

v. 7. Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord's hand, a nation noted for power and glory, all this due to the Lord's blessing, that made all the earth drunken, namely, in pouring out the wine of His wrath upon all whom He desired to punish; the nations have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad, intoxicated, bereft of reason, bound for destruction.

v. 8. Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed, no longer a golden cup, but a fragile glass; howl for her, make a lamentation for her; take balm for her pain, a balsam to heal her bruises, if so be she may be healed, if there is still a possibility of effecting a cure. But the representatives of the various nations assembled in Babylon state that their attempts are vain.

v. 9. We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed, it is impossible to mend her hurt. Forsake her, so they now admonish one another, and let us go every one into his own country; for her judgment reacheth unto heaven, her guilt crying to the Lord to be avenged, and is lifted up even to the skies, it towers up to the clouds.

v. 10. The Lord hath brought forth our righteousness, the just cause of the captives, so the Israelites in their midst declare. Come and let us declare in Zion the work of the Lord, our God. Cf Psalms 102:13-21. The Lord now calls upon the northern nations to make their attack upon Babylon.

v. 11. Make bright the arrows, polishing and sharpening them; gather the shields, literally, "fill the shields," slipping their straps over their arms for immediate use. The Lord hath raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes, the conquerors of Babylon; for His device is against Babylon to destroy it, He has definitely made up His mind to that effect; because it is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance of His Temple, whose profanation at the hands of the Chaldeans must be punished.

v. 12. Set up the standard upon the walls of Babylon, raising a flag or emblem to indicate a particular point of attack, make the watch strong, so that the siege would be equally effective along the whole line, set up the watchmen, against the city, so that there would be no loophole of escape for the besieged, prepare the ambushes, in order to take the first opportunity of entering into the city; for the Lord hath both devised and done that which He spake against the inhabitants of Babylon, that is, what He had determined upon He would most certainly carry out against the wicked city.

v. 13. O thou that dwellest upon many waters, the Euphrates with all its tributary canals, irrigation ditches, and swamps being included here, abundant in treasures, both on account of its natural resources and on account of the plunder which had been amassed in the city, thine end is come and the measure of thy covetousness, for there would be no more unjust enrichment through robbery and plunder after the fall of the city.

v. 14. The Lord of hosts hath sworn by Himself, by His own soul or life, saying, Surely I will fill thee with men as with caterpillars, rather, "Have I filled thee with men as with locusts?" and they shall lift up a shout against thee, that is, numerous as the people of Babylon were, the invaders would be more numerous and would sing a "Hedad," the shout of the vine-dressers, the song of slaughter, upon the city.

v. 15. He hath made the earth by His power, He hath established the world by His wisdom, and hath stretched out the heaven by His understanding.

v. 16. When He uttereth His voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens, and He causeth the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; He maketh lightnings with rain and bringeth forth the wind out of His treasures.

v. 17. Every man is brutish by his knowledge; every founder is confounded by the graven image; for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them.

v. 18. They are vanity, the work of errors; in the time of their visitation they shall perish.

v. 19. The Portion of Jacob is not like them; for He is the Former of all things, and Israel is the rod of His inheritance; the Lord of hosts is His name. This paragraph is repeated from chapter 10:12-16, where the prophet described the almighty power of the living God and pointed to the destruction of the idols at the time of the great judgment. In chapter 10 he intended to combat the fear of the idolatrous people concerning the power of the heathen gods; here he wants to overthrow the confidence of the Chaldeans in their idols, telling them that their gods are powerless before the omnipotence of Jehovah, and that Israel would realize this fact when the judgment would be brought about. By the overthrow of Babylon, Jehovah proved Himself to be the Creator of Israel, the Former of the universe, the one true God. The next paragraph is addressed to Babylon, as the "hammer of nations," 50:23, and the narrative ought to be given in the present or in the past tense, as a prophetic statement.

v. 20. Thou art My battle-ax, a hammer, a club used for total destruction, and weapons of war, all instruments of warfare being comprehended in this term; for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms, Jehovah had, in fact, used Babylon to overthrow nations;

v. 21. and with thee will I break in pieces the horse and his rider, and with thee will I break in pieces the chariot and his rider, the armies of the enemies with all their divisions;

v. 22. with thee also will I break in pieces man and woman, and with thee will I break in pieces old and young, and with thee will I break in pieces the young man and the maid, every age and every station;

v. 23. I will also break in pieces with thee the shepherd and his flock; and with thee will I break in pieces the husbandman and his yoke of oxen, all the laboring classes; and with thee will I break in pieces captains and rulers, the highest dignitaries of the realm. But at the same time the hammer would itself be overthrown, both actions taking place at the same time in the sight of the eternal God.

v. 24. And I will render unto Babylon and to all the inhabitants of Chaldea all their evil that they have done in Zion in your sight, before the eyes of the Jews, when they defiled the Lord's Sanctuary, saith the Lord.

v. 25. Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain, saith the Lord, Babylon called thus on account of the physical and moral destruction which it brought upon the nations by a false use of its great power, which destroyest all the earth; and I will stretch out Mine hand upon thee and roll thee down from the rocks, which it occupied, as it were, in its position on the summit of the mountains above all nations, and will make thee a burnt mountain, a volcano extinct on account of having its substance devoured by fire, so that it could no more serve as a rock-foundation for further, kingdoms of destruction.

v. 26. And they shall not take of thee a stone for a corner nor a stone for foundations; but thou shalt be desolate forever, saith the Lord, perpetual ruins. The great mass of materials of which Babylon was built to this day are lying more or less decomposed in the mountains of rubbish which mark the site of the once magnificent city. Thus the word of the Lord was fulfilled with its usual exactness.

Verses 27-64

The Work of the Spoilers

v. 27. Set ye up a standard in the land, around which the attacking forces might rally in order to proceed against Babylon, blow the trumpet among the nations, summoning them to be mustered for war, prepare the nations against her, call together against her the kingdoms of Ararat, Upper Armenia, Minni, Lower Armenia, and Ashchenaz, a country bordering on Armenia; appoint a captain against her, so that there would be efficient leadership; cause the horses to come up as the rough caterpillars, like hairy-crested grasshoppers.

v. 28. Prepare against her the nations with the kings of the Medes, the satraps, or princes, of the empire, the captains thereof, the governors of the smaller provinces, and all the rulers thereof, and all the land of his dominion. This detailed enumeration is made for the purpose of increasing the impression of great and irresistible power.

v. 29. And the land shall tremble and sorrow, as with a great earthquake; for every purpose of the Lord shall be performed against Babylon, every plan that He had decided upon, to make the land of Babylon a desolation without an inhabitant.

v. 30. The mighty men of Babylon have forborne to fight, they gave up resistance, they no longer waged offensive warfare, they have remained in their holds, what they believed to be impregnable fortresses; their might hath failed, they became as women, altogether discouraged, not daring to offer active opposition; they, the enemies, have burned her dwelling-places, her bars are broken. When the stratagem of Cyrus in diverting the stream of the Euphrates succeeded and his soldiers entered the city through its empty bed, they found little or no opposition and could easily open the city gates from within.

v. 31. One post, or courier, shall run to meet another, and one messenger to meet another, coming from all parts of the city with their information concerning the taking of the city, to show the king of Babylon, to bring him the news, that his city is taken at one end, that is, to its utmost end, every part in the hands of the enemies,

v. 32. and that the passages are stopped, the places where the river was usually crossed being occupied by the enemy's forces, and the reeds they have burned with fire, taking away even the last means of defense, and the men of war are affrighted. Such was the message which the couriers would bring from every side.

v. 33. For thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, The daughter of Babylon is like a threshing-floor, the whole empire being included in this figure; it is time to thresh her, by the customary treading or stamping by means of which the kernels of grain were separated from their hulls; yet a little while, and the time of her harvest shall come, when she would be trodden under foot. The inhabitants of Israel and Judah are now introduced with a lament showing the reason for the Lord's punishment upon Babylon.

v. 34. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, hath devoured me, he hath crushed me, he hath made me an empty vessel, discarding them like a useless dish, he hath swallowed me up like a dragon, like some monster of the deep, he hath filled his belly with my delicates, with all the finest foods, he hath cast me out. The heaping of similar expressions brings out the greatness of the ruin which had come upon Judah.

v. 35. The violence done to me and to my flesh be upon Babylon, shall the inhabitant of Zion say, in pleading for justice against the oppressor; and my blood upon the inhabitants of Chaldea, shall Jerusalem say.

v. 36. Therefore, thus saith the Lord, in answering this cry of His children, Behold, I will plead thy cause and take vengeance for thee, acting as the Advocate in defending the rights of His people; and I will dry up her sea, the Euphrates with all its channels, canals, and swamps, and make her springs dry, so that she would no longer have a rich supply of water to give fertility to her land.

v. 37. And Babylon shall become heaps, abandoned ruins, a dwelling-place for dragons, of jackals, an astonishment, and an hissing, without an inhabitant.

v. 38. They shall roar together like lions, shouting in drunken revelry; they shall yell as lions' whelps, growling over their food. This probably is a reference to the fact that Babylon was taken on a night when its rulers and leading citizens were attending a drunken debauch.

v. 39. In their heat I will make their feasts, or, "For their intoxication I prepare them a drinking-bout," and I will make them drunken that they may rejoice and sleep a perpetual sleep, being overcome by death, and not wake, saith the Lord.

v. 40. I will bring them down like lambs to the slaughter, like rams with he-goats, all the classes of Babylon's population being included. And here the prophet inserts a word of astonishment over the downfall of Babylon.

v. 41. How is Sheshach taken! Cf. Jeremiah 25:26. And how is the praise of the whole earth surprised! namely, Babylon, which was an object of envy and praise throughout the world. How is Babylon become an astonishment among the nations! an object of surprised horror.

v. 42. The sea is come up upon Babylon, namely, in the hostile armies which would flood the land; she is covered with the multitude of the waves thereof. The image is based upon the action of the Euphrates, which, without the restraint of dikes and irrigation canals, would sometimes rise so high as to overflow the entire valley.

v. 43. Her cities are a desolation, reverting back to the desert stage, a dry land and a wilderness, where amid steppes stretched interminably, a land wherein no man dwelleth, neither doth any son of man pass thereby.

v. 44. And I will punish Bel in Babylon, the chief deity of the Babylonians, and I will bring forth out of his mouth that which he hath swallowed up, taking away from him what he had robbed and devoured through the hands of those who worshiped him; and the nations shall not flow together any more unto him, flocking to Babylon in streams to consecrate their treasures to him; yea, the wall of Babylon shall fall, so that the city would be open to all enemies. The destruction of Babylon thus being decided, the people of God are admonished to leave its confines.

v. 45. My people, go ye out of the midst of her, fleeing out of the city appointed to ruin, and deliver ye every man his soul from the fierce anger of the Lord, which would be poured out upon Babylon.

v. 46. And lest your heart faint and ye fear for the rumor that shall be heard in the land, namely, tales of war and of acts of violence, which should not daunt the people of Jehovah: a rumor shall both come one year, and after that, in another year, shall come a rumor and violence in the land, ruler against ruler, so that rebellion and revolution preceded the fall of the empire. Some commentators find here a sequence of events for the guidance of the Jews; for the first rumor spoke of the uprising of the Medes, the second of the approach of Cyrus, while this event fixed the time when the Jews should prepare to leave the city of Babylon.

v. 47. Therefore, behold, the days come that I will do judgment upon the graven images of Babylon, executing His sentence of destruction upon them; and her whole land shall be confounded, be put to shame by His punishment, and all her slain shall fall in the midst of her, practically all her inhabitants being included in the slaughter.

v. 48. Then the heaven and the earth and all that is therein shall sing for Babylon, rejoicing over her fall; for the spoilers shall come unto her from the North, saith the Lord, and the sentence executed by him is the cause of their jubilation.

v. 49. As Babylon hath caused the slain of Israel to fall, being engaged in their slaughter, so at Babylon, by a just recompense, shall fall the slain of all the earth, for representatives of the various nations of the earth were at Babylon at the time of her overthrow. The prophet now summarizes the guilt and the punishment of Babylon.

v. 50. Ye that have escaped the sword, at or before the taking of the city, go away, stand not still, in order not to share the fate of Babylon. Remember the Lord afar off, Jehovah, the God of the covenant, and let Jerusalem come into your mind, so that the thought of the return to their home country and its capital would immediately occur to them. But the prophet now, in the name of the congregation, gives utterance to an objection on their part, with the purpose of removing it.

v. 51. We are confounded, so the Jews might say, because we have heard reproach, they had recollections only of the deepest shame and humiliation in connection with Jerusalem and the Temple; shame hath covered our faces, for strangers are come into the sanctuaries of the Lord's house, even into those parts which were forbidden to the heathen. But the prophet anticipates and removes these objections.

v. 52. Wherefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will do judgment upon her graven images, the idols of Babylon, this being Jehovah's answer upon their taunt in burning His Temple as though He were powerless to avenge Himself; and through all her land the wounded shall groan, stricken down by the Lord's mighty hand.

v. 53. Though Babylon should mount up to heaven, in an attempt to storm the stronghold of the Lord itself, and though she should fortify the height of her strength, literally, "make inaccessible the height of her firmness," so that her walls would rise up to a precipitous height, apparently impregnable, yet from Me shall spoilers come unto her, saith the Lord, so that she would be overthrown and destroyed.

v. 54. A sound of a cry cometh from Babylon, as the invading enemies begin their work of destruction, and great destruction from the land of the Chaldeans,

v. 55. because the Lord hath spoiled Babylon, and destroyed out of her the great voice, the deafening din of the boastful revelers; when her waves, the surging streams of her inhabitants, do roar like great waters, a noise of their voice is uttered, it sounds far and wide, in a mighty commotion.

v. 56. Because the spoiler is come upon her, even upon Babylon, and her mighty men are taken, her greatest champions and heroes being obliged to submit without a struggle, since resistance was impossible, every one of their bows is broken, all their weapons rendered useless, for the Lord God of recompenses shall surely requite, rewarding them the evil which they had committed, paying back their wickedness as they deserved.

v. 57. And I will make drunk her princes and her wise men, the counselors of the kingdom, her captains and her rulers and her mighty men, all those who were at the head of the nation, both in peace and in war; and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, namely, the sleep of death, saith the King, whose name is the Lord of hosts.

v. 58. Thus saith the Lord of hosts, in a final summary of His warning and threat against Babylon, The broad walls of Babylon, which, according to some accounts, were so broad that two four-horse chariots could pass anywhere, shall be utterly broken, demolished completely; and her high gates, the one hundred magnificent gates of brass, shall be burned with fire; and the people shall labor in vain, in erecting the mighty wall which was their pride, and the folk in the fire, rather, "for the fire," their handiwork being consumed in the general destruction, and they shall be weary. Cf Habakkuk 2:13. The prophecy thus having been stated, the chapter closes with a historical conclusion concerning the manner in which the prophecy was delivered.

v. 59. The word which Jeremiah, the prophet, commanded Seraiah, the son of Neriah, the son of Maaseiah, evidently a brother of Baruch, when he went with Zedekiah, the king of Judah, rather, "in behalf of Zedekiah," on an embassy for him, into Babylon in the fourth year of his reign, six years before Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. And this Seraiah was a quiet prince, literally, "prince of the resting-place," that is, marshal of the caravan, he who had charge of the journey.

v. 60. So Jeremiah wrote in a book all the evil that should come upon Babylon, even all these words that are written against Babylon, as contained in the last two ers.

v. 61. And Jeremiah said to Seraiah, When thou comest to Babylon and shalt see, rather, "then observe very carefully," and shalt read all these words,

v. 62. then shalt thou say, O Lord, Thou hast spoken against this place to cut it off that none shall remain in it, neither man nor beast, but that it shall be desolate forever, reminding the Lord, as it were, that the threats of His prophecy must be fulfilled.

v. 63. And it shall be, when thou hast made an end of reading this book, the communication contained on this roll, that thou shalt bind a stone to it and cast it into the midst of Euphrates, in a symbolical act expressing the fulfillment of the prophecy upon Babylon,

v. 64. and thou shalt say, Thus shall Babylon sink and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her; and they, the Babylonians, shall be weary, they shall be so overcome that it would be impossible for them to recover their strength. Thus far are the words of Jeremiah, the last chapter being in the nature of a historical epilog added by some other inspired writer. To proclaim the Word of God to friend and foe alike, regardless of consequences, that is a characteristic of the true servant of the Lord.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Jeremiah 51". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/jeremiah-51.html. 1921-23.
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