Sunday, May 28th, 2023
Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 50". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ pet/ jeremiah-50.html. 2013.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 50". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
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Introductory Words (Jeremiah 50:1 ).
‘The word that YHWH spoke concerning Babylon, concerning the land of the Chaldeans, by the hand of Jeremiah the prophet:
The importance of these words is underlined by the fact that Jeremiah wrote them with his own hand (‘by the hand of Jeremiah the prophet’, compare Jeremiah 37:2). It is the prophecy of the downfall of Babylon and all that it stood for, the downfall of all that was anti-God, the downfall of secularism.
YHWH’s Judgment On Babylon And His Promises Concerning The Restoration Of The Remnant Of His People (Jeremiah 50:1 to Jeremiah 51:64 ).
The series of prophecies against the nations had commenced with the prophecy against Egypt, the greatest nation of the area south of the Euphrates. It now finishes with a declaration of judgment against mighty Babylon, which at this time towered over the nations of the whole area. It was also the centre of all that was seen as debauched and debased, it magnified wealth, it engaged in all forms of idolatry and its connected features, and it was glorified by the pagan world. It is representative of much of civilisation today. Geographically Babylon was situated in the area that is now southern Iraq. At the same time, however, alongside the judgments on Babylon is the fact that the restoration of God’s people is assured. It is always God’s aim to bring His people out of ‘Babylon’ to a place where they worship Him truly.
It must be recognised, as is clear from Isaiah’s prophecy, that Babylon was seen as more than just a powerful nation that arose and fell over this period. Rather to Israel it had symbolised all that was in rebellion against God from the beginning. It was the great anti-God city which had commenced its rebellion against God at the time of Nimrod and of the tower of Babel (Babylon) as far back as Genesis 10:10; Genesis 11:1-9. It had led the incursion into Palestine in the time of Abraham (Genesis 14:1 - Shinar = Babylon). And it would shortly underline its invidious position by its destruction of the Temple of YHWH, an act which would have so appalled all Israelites, that it would have been seen as confirming that Babylon was the great Anti-God. While not always independent its splendour and magnificence was renowned throughout the area, a symbol of all that was worldly and debauched. It contained over fifty temples to various gods, was at one stage 200 square miles in size, being built on both sides of the Euphrates, and had huge walls, containing 250 towers, along the top of which chariots could drive. Alexander the Great intended to make it the capital of his empire. Thus the fall of Babylon represented not only the cessation of a great empire, but the destruction of all that was anti-God from the beginning of recorded time. That is why prophecies against it always have such prominence. It was not just literal but symbolic. And it is significant that here in Jeremiah its judgment occupies almost as much space as the remainder of the prophecies against foreign nation put together. It is an indication that YHWH will not only restore His people, but will also finally deal with all that is ‘Anti-God’.
Thus while Jeremiah had earlier counselled submission to Babylon (e.g. Jeremiah 29:5-7), seen as God’s instrument of chastening, it had always been in the light of the coming ultimate destruction of Babylon, and the final restoration of Israel, which are the subjects of what follows. YHWH’s purposes would finally prevail.
It should be noted that unless we dogmatically assert that predictive prophecy is impossible, there are no grounds for refusing to attribute these prophecies to Jeremiah. There are indications of his style, and, as is revealed by his letters, he was sufficiently cognisant of what was going on in Babylon to be able to speak of it with some knowledge.
One last word should be said here. The importance of these chapters lies precisely in what Babylon represented, something which is equally prevalent in the world today. Babylon turned men’s thoughts to the supernatural world which was antagonistic to God, to entering the psychic world; it turned men’s minds to the desire for building up great wealth; it raised in men’s hearts thoughts of great pride and greed. The condemnation of Babylon is therefore a condemnation of all these things. That is one of its major messages for us today. If we shy away from the continuing threats being made against Babylon, we overlook the fact that God is equally vehement in His condemnation of all these traits in our world today. Every verse of these next two chapters should hammer into us the message, ‘God will call all things into account, and here is the evidence’.
The Fall Of Babylon Will Lead On To The Spiritual Restoration Of Israel (Jeremiah 50:2-5 ).
What is to come on Babylon is to be a warning to God’s people not to trust in Babylon or enjoy its debauchery and its false religious ideas. Rather they are to take heed to YHWH’s words and return to Him in repentance and tears. For God’s purpose is not only the destruction of Babylon, but the spiritual restoration of His people. And this is equally true for us today.
“Declare you among the nations and publish,
And set up a standard (or ‘signal’),
Publish, and conceal not,
Say, ‘Babylon is taken!’
Bel is put to shame,
Merodach (Marduk) is dismayed,
Her images are put to shame,
Her idols are dismayed.
For out of the north there comes up a nation against her,
Who will make her land desolate,
And none will dwell in it,
They are fled, they are gone, both man and beast.”
The prophet looks ahead and speaks as though Babylon’s defeat has just occurred. It is such an important and exciting event that the news has to be spread far and wide, by messenger, by signal fire, and by every other means. And the message is that ‘Babylon is taken’. It was news for which the world of that day had long waited. And not only is Babylon taken but also her chief god, Bel/Marduk, is put to shame (as he had been once before when Sennacherib had borne him off to Nineveh along with Nebo - Isaiah 46:1-2), along with all her other idols. The humiliation of the gods of these nations is an important aspect of Jeremiah’s prophecies (Jeremiah 46:25; Jeremiah 48:7; Jeremiah 49:3). They had been seen by these nations as rivals of YHWH. Now they were being revealed for what they were.
Nebuchadrezzar himself boasted of himself as a ‘worshipper of Marduk’, and confirmed it by naming his son ‘Amel-marduk (Evil-merodach)’, whilst in inscriptions at Borsippa Marduk is described as ‘the great lord, the most ancient of the gods, the lord of the gates of heaven --’. Here ‘he’ is being brought down to size.
The antagonists who will do this will come ‘out of the north’ (compare Jeremiah 1:14; Jeremiah 4:6; Jeremiah 6:1; Jeremiah 10:22; Jeremiah 13:20; Jeremiah 46:20 ’ Jeremiah 47:2; Jeremiah 50:9; Jeremiah 50:41; Jeremiah 51:48). From the point of view of Palestine Egypt was to the south. The ‘neighbouring nations’ were east and west. Any invaders must therefore come ‘from the north’. (To Babylon the Persians came from the east, bur from the Palestinian viewpoint from the north. Cyrus did not destroy Babylon, but sought to preserve its ancient structures. It was finally destroyed by Xerxes in 478 BC). These invaders will make her land desolate and uninhabited.
‘None will dwell in it. They are fled, they are gone, both man and beast.’ For this compare Jeremiah 46:19; Jeremiah 49:18; Jeremiah 49:33. What Babylon have done to others, will be done to them. Alexander the Great planned to restore the city, but died before it could be accomplished, and it began to deteriorate further. By the Christian era Babylon had virtually disappeared, although according to cuneiform texts the temple of Bel continued in existence until at least 75 AD.
“In those days, and in that time,
The word of YHWH,
The children of Israel will come,
They and the children of Judah together,
They will go on their way weeping,
And will seek YHWH their God.
The future of the people of Israel/Judah is directly contrasted with the fate of Babylon. ‘In those days and at that time’ ( the time when God will do His work of restoration) Israel and Judah together will come in weeping and repentance, seeking YHWH their God. This coming together of Israel and Judah is a fulfilment of Jeremiah 3:18. Note that the weeping and repentance is prior to their looking towards Jerusalem There will be a new attitude of heart resulting in a new beginning. We can see a partial fulfilment of this in Ezra 3:13; Ezra 8:21-23. A greater fulfilment occurred at the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is a reminder to us that however grievously we have sinned we can always turn to God in weeping and repentance with the assurance that we will be accepted as long as we intend to commence a new beginning.
“They will enquire concerning Zion,
With their faces turned towards it (literally ‘hitherward’),
Saying, ‘Come you, and join yourselves to YHWH,
In an everlasting covenant which will not be forgotten.’ ”
Their weeping and repentance will result in their looking towards Zion, calling on all His people to join themselves to YHWH in an everlasting covenant, one that will not be ‘forgotten’ as the old one had been. We have here a reminder of the new covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34, the covenant written in the heart. Note the use of the term ‘hitherward’ indicating that the author was in Palestine.
This commenced fulfilment when Israelites returned to Palestine in repentance from all parts of the world during the inter-testamental period, and continued when our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world and entered Jerusalem calling men and women to respond to the new covenant (Luke 22:20; Matthew 26:28; Mar 14:24 ; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 8:6-13). It continues as men continually respond to Jesus Christ and become partakers in that new covenant, turning their backs on ‘Babylon’, as members of the true Israel of God (Galatians 3:29; Galatians 6:16).
God’s Call To His Errant People To Flee From Babylon Because The Wrath Of YHWH Is Coming On It (Jeremiah 50:6-10 ).
Israel’s plight is described as resulting from her backslidden condition, a plight seen by onlookers as totally deserved because of her disobedience to God. Now, however, she is called on to flee from Babylon because Babylon faces judgment. God’s people should not become caught up in Babylon’s ways. Rather they should flee from them.
This call to flee from Babylon because of the disaster that is to come upon it echoes Isaiah 48:20 which referred not specifically to the return from exile (which was an ordered march not a flight) but to the need to come out from Babylon with all its evil and perverted ways, and to do it in haste because of the judgment that was coming on it. It did, of course, include the fact that when the opportunity arose to leave Babylonia they should take advantage of it. Babylon was exalted in men’s eyes, the seat of all that was against God (Isaiah 13:19; Isaiah 47:8-15), and men flocked there because of the pleasures and wealth that it offered. But God’s people are called on to flee such things, recognising that they can only finally lead to judgment.
“My people have been lost sheep,
Their shepherds have caused them to go astray,
They have turned them away on the mountains,
They have gone from mountain to hill,
They have forgotten their resting-place,
All who found them have devoured them,
And their adversaries said, ‘We are not guilty,
Because they have sinned against YHWH,
YHWH, the habitation of righteousness,
Even YHWH, the hope of their fathers.’ ”
The backslidden state of Israel/Judah is described. They are ‘lost sheep’ (compare Isaiah 53:6; Ezekiel 34:5), something later emphasised by Jesus (Matthew 9:36; Matthew 10:6; Matthew 15:24; Matthew 18:12-14; Luke 15:3-7; Luke 19:10). They have been led astray by their shepherds (their kings, priests, prophets and wise men) who have caused them to go astray. Thus they find themselves facing the danger of the diversified ‘mountains’ in which they find themselves, going from one mountain to another, lost and alone. They have ‘forgotten their resting-place’, their place of peace and security. This could be a covert reference to the Temple (2 Chronicles 6:41), or to God’s land in which they had had security when they were obedient to the covenant (Isaiah 65:10; Exodus 33:14; Deuteronomy 12:9-10; Deuteronomy 25:19; Joshua 1:13). But it was probably not true that they had forgotten either, as Jeremiah well knew. In the end it was their covenant God Whom they had forgotten, their God Who should have been their resting place as Jeremiah 50:7 makes clear.
And those who have ‘devoured’ them have been able to do so with a good conscience, because they were able to declare that what had come on Israel/Judah was due to its own failure in sinning against YHWH, their covenant God, against YHWH Who was the dwellingplace of righteousness and was the One to Whom their fathers had looked. They had forsaken Him and His way of righteousness in spite of all the promises which He had made to them, promises in which they gloried while worshipping other gods. They had ceased to be true to YHWH. They had still clung to the outward form of their religion, but they had ceased to observe its very essence, genuine spiritual response and obedience to their covenant God. As Jesus would later put it, ‘why do you call Me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things which I say?’ (Luke 6:46).
‘YHWH, the habitation of righteousness.’ This in contrast with Babylon which was the habitation of all evil and idolatry.
‘YHWH, the hope of their fathers.’ It was YHWH in Whom all the promises rested, and therefore in Whom their hopes should have lain. It was YHWH to Whom, in their best moments, their fathers had looked with such expectancy. Above all it was to YHWH that their founding fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had looked, as they had laid the foundation for what was to come. All their hopes had lain in Him.
“Flee out of the midst of Babylon,
And go forth out of the land of the Chaldeans,
And be as the he-goats,
In front of the flocks.”
Thus they are to be the first to flee from Babylon, and from Babylonia, with the same eagerness as he-goats or rams lead out the flock, giving an example to others. It is the thought of escaping from the clutches of Babylon that is pre-eminent here, not the idea of return to the homeland, although that may be seen as included. It was because Babylon was facing coming judgment. Thus they are to lead themselves and others to safety. The wording is remarkably similar to Isaiah 48:20; Isaiah 52:11 from which no doubt Jeremiah at least partly obtained these ideas.
We in this modern day are just as much in danger of God’s judgment on the Babylon that surrounds us, we too therefore need to flee from its corrupting influence and so escape that judgment. We might reinterpret John as saying, ‘Love not Babylon, nor the things that are in Babylon, for if any man loves Babylon, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in Babylon, the desires of the flesh, and the desire of the eyes, and the vainglory of life is not of the Father but is of Babylon. And Babylon passes away and its desires, but he who does the will of God abides for ever’ (see 1 John 2:15-16). In these chapters we have a picture of God’s judgment on that Babylon.
“For, lo, I will stir up and cause to come up against Babylon,
A company of great nations from the north country,
And they will set themselves in array against her,
From there she will be taken,
Their arrows will be as of an expert mighty man,
None will return in vain.
And Chaldea will be a prey,
All who prey on her will be satisfied,
The word of YHWH.”
The instruments of God’s judgment are now described. They consist of a company of great nations from the area around Babylonia (the north country as far as Palestine was concerned), stirred up by YHWH, who will set themselves in array against her and take her. They will include expert bowmen (Media, Elam and Persia were renowned for their bowmen), and all will obtain satisfactory spoils. Chaldea will be like a prey being hunted down by the hunter, and the hunters will come away satisfied, loaded with spoils. And all this according to the prophetic word of YHWH, and as a result of YHWH’s prompting in order to bring judgment on Babylon.
‘None will return in vain.’ This may refer to the men themselves, or it may refer to their arrows. In the former case it refers to the fact that they will return loaded with spoils. In the latter case the point is that each will have reached its target however skilful the bowman. God will have guided his hand. Arrows were valuable and would often be collected up after a battle. Thus when they were collected they would be reveal by where they were found that they had achieved their purpose.
The Reason Why Babylon Is To Be Destroyed (Jeremiah 50:11-13 ).
We now learn the reason why Babylon is to be destroyed. It is because of YHWH’s wrath at (His sense of aversion to) her sins. In the first place she was exulting in having brought God’s people into subjection, exacting from them heavy tribute, thus ‘plundering God’s heritage’, and treading them down with wild abandon like a heifer wantonly treads the grain, whilst at the same time she was making wild neighs as an indication of her supremacy. And secondly she is therefore to receive in accordance with how she has behaved towards others (Jeremiah 50:15). What she has sown she will reap.
Today in various parts of the world God’s people are effectively trodden down because they are not ‘of Babylon’. Here they are assured that in the end God will bring all things into judgment, and will reward His people.
“Because you are glad, because you rejoice,
O you who plunder my heritage,
Because you are wanton as a heifer which treads out the grain,
And neigh as strong horses,
Your mother will be utterly put to shame,
She who bore you will be confounded,
Behold, she will be the hindermost of the nations,
A wilderness, a dry land, and a desert.
Because of the wrath of YHWH she will not be inhabited,
But she will be wholly desolate,
Every one who goes by Babylon will be astonished,
And hiss at all her plagues.”
The Babylonians are pictured as exulting in their conquests and the spoils that they thereby achieve, and as overlooking the fact that they are trespassing on God’s heritage. The idea of Israel/Judah as God’s inheritance, and its land as being God’s own heritage given to His people is prominent in Scripture (e.g. Genesis 15:7-8; Genesis 28:4; Exodus 15:17; Exodus 34:9; Deuteronomy 4:20; Deuteronomy 9:29; Deuteronomy 12:9-10; Deuteronomy 25:19; Deuteronomy 32:9; etc). Thus the Babylonians have insulted God and have counted Him as of nothing worth. Furthermore they have done it wantonly and regardlessly, like a heifer treads the grain, and with an overshow of boasting like loud neighing ‘strong horses’. Therefore their mother (Babylon/Babylonia) will be put to shame and totally confounded. She will become the least of the nations, becoming a wilderness, an arid land, and a desert. And this will be because of the wrath of YHWH, His antipathy against their sins. Indeed she will be so desolate that those who pass by what was once a great city will be astonished, and will draw in their breath at what has happened. This was eventually literally fulfilled. Travellers could even pass by the mound that was Babylon and not even be aware that it had once been a great city.
The Call For Its Destruction (Jeremiah 50:14-16 ).
In view of the heinousness of her sins God will exact vengeance on Babylon, by exacting from her what she has exacted from others. And this was not only a message to Babylon, but to all who overrode others. Today it is a warning to all whose main interest is in secularism, self-interest and wealth that one day God will call them to account for their failure to listen to His voice.
“Set yourselves in array against Babylon round about,
All you who bend the bow,
Shoot at her, spare no arrows,
For she has sinned against YHWH,
Shout against her round about,
She has submitted herself,
Her bulwarks are fallen, her walls are thrown down,
For it is the vengeance of YHWH,
Take vengeance on her,
As she has done, do to her.”
The invading armies are called on to surround Babylon, setting themselves in array against her, giving out warlike cries against her, whilst the archers are called on to pour in arrows on her in large numbers. And this because she and her inhabitants have sinned against YHWH. It is the vengeance of YHWH. For they are accountable for what they have done to His people. The consequence is then seen. Her bulwarks fall, her walls are thrown down. And this is because YHWH is taking vengeance on her on behalf of all against whom she has sinned. What she has done to others will now be done to her (compare Psalms 137:8). It is a reminder that, in the end, all, however great, come under YHWH’s judgment.
When Cyrus the Persian took Babylon his general did so by his troops diverting the river and entering the city along the dried up river bed. The main buildings were preserved, and in line with his policy (which also resulted in the restoration of official worship at Jerusalem) the national gods were restored to prominence and the new year festival became once more prominent (both had suffered decline under Nabonidus and Belshazzar). It would be later under Xerxes that the city was finally destroyed in accordance with Jeremiah’s prophecy.
‘She has submitted herself.’ Literally, ‘she has given her hand’ in submission. Compare the use of the phrase in Ezra 10:19; 1 Chronicles 29:24; 2 Chronicles 30:8; Lamentations 5:6.
“Cut off the sower from Babylon,
And him who handles the sickle in the time of harvest,
For fear of the oppressing sword they will turn every one to his people,
And they will flee every one to his own land.”
The idea of the sower and the sickle-bearer being cut off is an indication of hard times ahead when all fruitfulness will cease. There will be no joy in harvest, for there will be no harvesters. They will have been slaughtered. This was an inevitable consequence of long term invasion, but few had thought that it would ever happen to Babylon. But now it would. Babylon would find itself under siege, with food supplies growing short. Yet there would still be time for people to flee as the invading armies approached.
For Babylon was a centre to which people flocked from many nations in order to enjoy its way of life, a life of luxury, idolatry and debauchery, and in order to engage in trade (see Isaiah 47:15). Now the fear of what was coming through ‘the oppressing sword’ would cause them to desert the city and return to their own peoples and to their own lands. Babylon would find herself forsaken by her erstwhile friends. The way of the transgressor is always hard in the end.
Those Who Misuse God’s People Will Be Punished Accordingly Whilst The Restoration Of His People Is Sure (Jeremiah 50:17-20 ).
Babylon’s great crime lay in what it had done to God’s people. Like Assyria before it, its armies had descended on hapless Israel/Judah like a pack of lions separating off one of the sheep from the flock and hunting it down to its death. The king of Assyria had done it first, devouring the sheep so that northern Israel ceased to be. Now Nebuchadrezzar had done the same, breaking what was left of its bones by destroying Jerusalem and annexing Judah.
But the king of Assyria had been punished and his empire had collapsed. Now in the same way the king of Babylon and his land will be punished. He will die and the land will become barren and fruitless. This was because, in spite of being YHWH’s chosen instruments of chastening, in both cases they had exceeded YHWH’s purpose for them (Jeremiah 50:11; Isaiah 10:5-15), and now they would suffer the consequences. In contrast the remnant of God’s people will be restored to fruitfulness and will once again enjoy fruitful fields and vineyards. The ‘dead sheep’ will live and pasture on Carmel (a fruitful area west of Jordan) and Bashan (a fruitful area east of Jordan), and on the hills of Ephraim (central Israel west of Jordan) and in Gilead (the land east of Jordan).
“Israel is a hunted sheep,
The lions have driven him away,
First, the king of Assyria devoured him,
And now at last Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon has broken his bones.
Therefore thus says YHWH of hosts,
The God of Israel,
Behold, I will punish the king of Babylon and his land,
As I have punished the king of Assyria,
And I will bring Israel again to his pasture,
And he will feed on Carmel and Bashan,
And his soul will be satisfied,
On the hills of Ephraim and in Gilead.”
Lions would warily approach a flock, guarded by its shepherds, with the aim of separating off one of the sheep and then hunting it down and devouring it, afterwards picking its bones. In the same way had hapless Israel been treated, first by the king of Assyria who had devoured the northern kingdom (2 Kings 15:29; 2 Kings 17:1-6), and then by Nebuchadrezzar who had done the same with Israel/Judah. It is interesting that the lion was a symbol that both nations applied to themselves. The sculptured winged lion is a prominent feature of both empires. But both had overlooked the fact that YHWH, Who is the Lord of all hosts both in Heaven and on earth, was also especially the God of Israel. Thus they had dishonoured Him by their behaviour. In consequence YHWH will exact retribution on Babylon as He had on Assyria. Nineveh was destroyed in 612 BC at the hands of the Babylonians and their allies. But instead of recognising that this was the fate of all such empires Babylon had pursued similar tactics and would now itself suffer similar consequences.
And what is more YHWH will restore the remnant of Israel to its own land, where they will feed on Carmel, the fruitful upland on the west coast, and Bashan, the fruitful land in Transjordan, famous for its trees. And also on the hills of Ephraim, the central highlands, and in Gilead to the east of Jordan. The fulfilment of this took place in the inter-testamental period so that by the time of Jesus Israel was restored to its own land and was prospering.
“In those days, and in that time,
The word of YHWH,
The iniquity of Israel will be sought for,
And there will be none,
And the sins of Judah,
And they will not be found,
For I will pardon them,
Whom I leave as a remnant.”
But the promise included more. Israel would be restored to purity of heart. Its iniquity would be removed, and its sins found no more. For the pardon of YHWH would reach out to the remnant of Israel. This found its glorious fulfilment in the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ, Who called out a remnant of Israel to be purified and cleansed through His cross and resurrection, and became the foundation of the new restored Israel, ‘the congregation’ (church), the true Vine (Matthew 16:18; John 15:1-6).
‘In those days and at that time.’ Compare Jeremiah 50:4. The reference is to the future days (future to Jeremiah) when God will commence His work of restoration. It is not time specific. It found its fulfilment in the coming of Jesus Christ and His ministry.
YHWH Calls On The Nations To Fulfil His Will As Regards Babylon (Jeremiah 50:21-32 ).
We should note here how personal God’s involvement is seen to be in the judgment coming on Babylon. It is in accordance with His commands (Jeremiah 50:22). It is He Who has laid a snare for, and has ensnared Babylon (Jeremiah 50:24). It is He Who has opened His armoury and brought forth His weapons (Jeremiah 50:25). It is He Who is against them and it is the time of His visitation (Jeremiah 50:31). It is He Who kindles a fire in their cities (Jeremiah 50:32). It is He Who gives rest to the earth and disquiet to the inhabitants of Babylon (Jeremiah 50:34). This is a reminder of the fact that while it might sometimes not outwardly appear so, God is in control of history. Nothing happens outside His cognisance, and all will eventually work out in accordance with His will.
“Go up against the land of Merathaim,
Even against it, and against the inhabitants of Pekod,
Slay and utterly destroy after them,
The word of YHWH,
And do according to all that I have commanded you.
A sound of battle is in the land,
And of great destruction.”
YHWH’s command to the nations is that they ‘go up against the land of Merathaim, even against it and the inhabitants of Pekod’. The two together are probably intended to indicate the whole of Babylonia. There was a region in southern Babylonia near the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates called ‘Nar Marratu’, a name which means ‘bitter river’. It may be that Merathaim, which means ‘twofold rebellion’ or ‘two rebellions’ is a deliberate word play on the name Marratu indicating a land that was in total rebellion against YHWH. Alternatively the writer may simply be indicating by the name that Babylonia was a ‘land of double rebellion’ against YHWH. Instead of being ‘the land of two rivers’, as it was popularly known, it had become ‘the land of two rebellions’. Pekod, which means ‘punishment’ or ‘visitation’, was the name of a small Aramean tribe east of the lower Tigris (see Ezekiel 23:23), mentioned in Assyrian records as Puqudu. It thus indicated that YHWH Himself was ‘visiting’ Babylonia to carry out His will against it. So the two name are probably intended to indicate the whole of Babylonia, being chosen because of the significance of the names, indicating a land in total rebellion against YHWH which was being visited by Him.
It is made clear that the armies of the nations who come against Babylonia are under YHWH’s command. They are to slay and utterly destroy (cherem - ‘devote to destruction, devote to YHWH’) in the way that YHWH has commanded them. And this will result in the sound of battle in the land and great destruction. The fact that Babylon itself was spared destruction due to the clever strategy of Cyrus’ general does not alter the fact of how much Babylonia as a whole suffered. The land was filled with the sound of battle. Violence was everywhere. Babylon itself would experience its total destruction under a later Persian king, Xerxes.
“How is the hammer of the whole earth cut asunder and broken!
How is Babylon become a desolation among the nations!
I have laid a snare for you, and you are also taken, O Babylon,
And you were not aware,
You are found, and also caught,
Because you have striven against YHWH.”
YHWH here, as it were, exults over the fact that He has caught Babylonia in a cleverly laid snare, one of which they had not been aware. In spite of their pride in themselves as ‘the hammer of the whole earth’ they have been taken by surprise. He has proved to be cleverer than they. In consequence, even though they were ‘the hammer of the whole earth’, they have been cut asunder and broken. How the mighty have fallen. The nation of Babylon has become a desolation among the nations. And this because they had striven against YHWH. ‘The hammer of the whole earth’ had come up against YHWH’s word, which was itself the ‘hammer which breaks the rock in pieces’ (Jeremiah 23:29). And YHWH’s word would prevail.
Babylon is paralleled by the growing secularism of our day. That too sees itself as conquering the whole world with its ideas. But it too will come under the hammer of God.
“YHWH has opened his armoury,
And he has brought forth the weapons of his indignation,
For the Lord, YHWH of hosts, has a work,
In the land of the Chaldeans.”
We are left in no doubt that this was to be seen directly as YHWH’s doing. He Himself had opened His armoury and brought forth therefrom the weapons of His anger, which were to be found in the armouries of many nations. And this was because as the Sovereign Lord, YHWH of the hosts of heaven and earth, He had a work to accomplish in the land of the Chaldeans. He wanted it left in no doubt as to Who was responsible for the destruction of this evil empire in accordance with its deserts.
“Come against her from the furthest border,
Open her store-houses,
Cast her up as heaps, and destroy her utterly,
Let nothing of her be left (literally ‘let there be no remnant’).
Slay all her bullocks,
Let them go down to the slaughter,
Woe to them! for their day is come,
The time of their visitation.”
The fate of Babylonia was to be total and complete. The enemy would come from her furthest borders, they would open up her granaries and empty them, they would ravage the country leaving no remnant. This last in direct contrast with the remnant of Israel who would be left who would be pardoned by YHWH (Jeremiah 50:20). Here there would be none who would seek pardon. All would come under judgment.
All her livestock would be slain, or alternatively all her choicest sons, portrayed as bullocks (compare Jeremiah 50:8; Jeremiah 51:40; Psalms 22:12; Isaiah 34:7; Ezekiel 39:18). Her people would go down to the slaughter (compare Jeremiah 48:15). It was the day that was coming on them, the day of woe. It was the time when their sins would be visited on them in the day of God’s visitation. The whole passage is a constant reminder that in the end God calls sin into account.
“The voice of those who flee,
And escape out of the land of Babylon,
To declare in Zion the vengeance of YHWH our God,
The vengeance of his temple.”
Escaping refugees would arrive in Palestine from Babylonia acting as heralds, declaring that YHWH had at last exacted His vengeance on Babylonia (compare Ezekiel 33:21). The destruction of YHWH’s Temple, which to an Israelite would have been seen as one of the most devastating moments in Israel’s history, and one which had seemed inexplicable, had been avenged.
So those of His people who had heeded YHWH’s warning and had taken the opportunity to flee from Babylon (Jeremiah 50:8) would arrive in Palestine and declare in Zion that YHWH their God had indeed taken His vengeance. He had avenged the destruction of His Temple. To a people to whom the Temple had meant everything, and who had been unable to comprehend how YHWH could allow His Temple to be destroyed, this would mean so much. It would be clear that YHWH was triumphant after all.
We must recognise that the invasion of Babylon would, for the first time, have enabled those who would to flee from it. The restrictions which had previously been placed on them would no longer have been binding. So this may well have been the initial returning of refugees, prior to the more official one which would follow (Ezra 1:1). They were the firstfruits. But the emphasis here is not so much on the returning of the refugees, but on the exacting by YHWH of His vengeance on those who had sinned against Him. It had taken 48 years (587 BC to 539 BC), but it had come at last.
“Call together the archers against Babylon,
All those who bend the bow,
Encamp against her round about,
Let none from her escape,
Recompense her according to her work,
According to all that she has done, do to her,
For she has been proud against YHWH,
Against the Holy One of Israel,
Therefore will her young men fall in her streets,
And all her men of war will be brought to silence in that day,
The word of YHWH.”
Once again we are given a vivid picture of the final investment. The archers are brought together to rain death on Babylon (see Jeremiah 50:9; Jeremiah 50:14). The armies encamp round about her. She is to receive full recompense for what she has done. As she has done, so will be done to her (compare Jeremiah 50:15). And this is because she has exalted herself against YHWH, against the very ‘Holy One of Israel’. This use of a title common in Isaiah but rare elsewhere (only twice in Jeremiah) emphasises what is at stake. The uniqueness of YHWH in His holiness and righteousness is being set against the background of the debased attitudes and behaviour of His enemies, and especially against the background of her ‘pride’ as she exalts herself against God, a pride revealed by her promulgation of idolatry and all its evil accompaniments such as sorcery, enchantments, witchcraft, astrology, penetration of the unseen world, etc. (see Isaiah 47:9; Isaiah 47:12-13). They have opposed His holiness and His righteousness. Now they will receive what is their due. That is why her young men will fall in the streets, and all her men of war will be silenced. And this is the word of YHWH.
In the event the initial taking of Babylon was far milder than this. Of course there was inevitably death and destruction, and many would die as the city was initially invested before it was taken, but by diverting the Euphrates Cyrus’ general was able to enter the city along the river bed almost unopposed. The need for water always made cities vulnerable (compare 2 Samuel 5:8). And thus the city was taken by surprise, and mercy shown to its inhabitants, many of whom actually welcomed the invaders as preferable to Nabonidus and Belshazzar, who were seen as blasphemers because of their attitude towards Babylon’s chief god, Marduk. We have an interesting cameo of the last night of the siege in Daniel 5:0. But the relief was only temporary. In the days of Xerxes the final destruction would take place. God does not always exact all His judgments at once. He gives men time to think over their position and repent.
We must not stop short at just thinking of ancient Babylon. The message is relevant to all ages. It is the case of the world in its pride in opposition to God, and is a reminder that in the end God will prevail with His remnant. To the prophets Babylon represented man’s pride, man’s greed and man’s false ideas. Its destruction was therefore necessary. Note especially the emphasis on Babylon’s pride in the following verses. Indeed she is ‘the Proud one’.
“Behold, I am against you, O you proud one,
The word of the Lord, YHWH of hosts,
For your day is come,
The time that I will visit you.
And the proud one will stumble and fall,
And none will raise him up,
And I will kindle a fire in his cities,
And it will devour all who are round about him.”
Babylon is not only proud in the general sense but is also ‘proud against YHWH’ (Jeremiah 50:30). It is thus here given the name of PROUD (translated above as ‘you proud one’). Note how it is contrasted with ‘sovereign Lord’ in an expansion of the usual phrase ‘word of YHWH’, and contrasts with the previous reference to ‘the Holy One of Israel’. Babylon is a religious usurper. But now its day has come and it is to be ‘visited’ in judgment (see also Jeremiah 50:27). Then he who is so proud will stumble and fall (see Proverbs 16:18), and ‘none will raise him up’. He will be left to himself with no one willing to come to his aid. Furthermore all his daughter cities will be put to the torch, so that all who are round about him will be devoured. Putting their trust in Babylon would prove their downfall.
Compare here Jeremiah 21:13-14 where similar things were threatened against Judah. All come under similar judgment in the end, whether rampant secularism, or perverted religion. Babylon will receive what she had brought upon others.
YHWH Will Act On Behalf Of His People (Jeremiah 50:33-34 ).
One reason why it was necessary to bring judgment on Babylon was because otherwise God’s people would not be released. While they had a certain amount of freedom, there were apparently strict regulations which prevented them from returning to their homeland. This applied both to the children of Israel exiled under the Assyrian empire, and the children of Judah exiled under the Babylonian. All were now being oppressed. And those who were oppressing them refused to let them go. However there was One Who purposed to deliver them, a strong Redeemer (Deliverer, Payer of a Price) Who would set them free from their obligations. He was about to plead their cause in order to bring rest to the earth, and if that involved disquieting the inhabitants of Babylon, so be it. This was why Babylon had to be destroyed as a ruling power, because it stood in the way of God’s purposes.
“Thus says YHWH of hosts,
The children of Israel and the children of Judah are oppressed together,
And all who took them captive hold them fast,
They refuse to let them go.”
‘Thus says YHWH of hosts.’ In this passage this phrase demonstrates an important action about to take place in which God is directly involved, in this case His intention to plead on behalf of His people.
And the reason for His action is that His whole people, both Israel and Judah, are still under oppression. They are being forced to stay in a foreign land (even though with a certain amount of freedom as a reading of Ezekiel makes clear) by those who refuse to let them go. They are forbidden to return to their own land.
“Their Redeemer is strong,
YHWH of hosts is his name,
He will thoroughly plead their cause,
That he may give rest to the earth,
And disquiet the inhabitants of Babylon.”
But their position is not desperate because they have a strong Redeemer, Whose name is YHWH of Hosts. The idea of a Redeemer is of one Who steps in on behalf of another in order to obtain their relief either by the exertion of effort or by the paying of a price (Leviticus 25:25; Leviticus 25:35; Leviticus 25:47-49; Ruth 4:1; Ruth 4:8; Job 19:25). Here YHWH will step in to plead their cause, and it is made clear that this will involve the people of Babylon in some ‘disquiet’. And this is because they have disquieted others.
However His overall purpose is to bring ‘rest to the earth’ through His people. Whilst Babylon was around there could be no permanent rest, thus its cessation would result in a period of rest (under the Persian empire which was much more humane). But we must never overlook the fact that Israel were chosen in order that they might bring blessing to the world (Genesis 12:3; and often). Thus the purpose in their deliverance was to be blessing for the world. And when they were re-established in the land the process began. Many Gentiles responded to their teaching in synagogues around the world and became proselytes (those who were circumcised and became full Jews) and God-fearers (those who accepted their teachings and partook with them in worship but refused to be circumcised). The light was reaching out to the Gentiles. Then came God’s crowning solution. Our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world and offered Himself up outside Jerusalem in order to obtain salvation and redemption for all who would turn to Him, and then established a remnant who would go out into the world from Jerusalem proclaiming the Gospel. Rest was indeed being given to the earth as a consequence of deliverance from Babylon.
The Coming Judgment On Babylon In Accordance With YHWH’s Purpose (Jeremiah 50:35-40 ).
The opening verses could be called ‘the Song of the Sword’. The sword is mentioned five times.
“A sword is upon the Chaldeans,
The word of YHWH,
And upon the inhabitants of Babylon,
And upon her princes,
And upon her wise men.
A sword is upon the boasters,
And they will become fools,
A sword is upon her mighty men,
And they will be dismayed.”
A sword is upon their horses,
And upon their chariots,
And on all the mingled people who are in the midst of her,
And they will become as women,
A sword is upon her treasures,
And they will be robbed.”
The sword will bereft Babylon and Babylonia (the Chaldeans) of all that it holds dear, in accordance with the prophetic word of YHWH, whether they be princes, wise men, mighty men, battle horses, chariots, foreign mercenaries or treasures. Their boasters will become fools, because their boasting will prove to be folly; their mighty men will lose heart and shrink before the enemy; their foreign mercenaries will become like weak women, pathetic and clinging to each other in the face of what is coming; their great treasures will be stolen. All in which they gloried will collapse. Let us not be in any doubt. This is the destiny of all those who oppose God.
A drought is upon her waters,
And they will be dried up,
For it is a land of graven images,
And they are mad over idols.
Therefore the wild beasts of the desert with the wolves will dwell there,
And the ostriches shall dwell in it,
And it will be no more inhabited for ever,
Nor will it be dwelt in from generation to generation.
As when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
And their neighbouring cities,
The word of YHWH,
So will no man dwell there,
Nor will any son of man sojourn in it.”
Because Babylonia was a major centre of idolatry and all that that involved (compare Isaiah 47:9; Isaiah 47:12-13) it will become barren. Its waters will be dried up (irrigation will cease), its choice places will become the habitat of wild beasts, it will cease to be inhabited, in the same way as no one ever again dwelt in Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighbouring cities whose fate it to some extent shares.
There is a play on words in that ‘drought’ (horeb) is very similar to the word ‘sword’ (hereb) emphasised in Jeremiah 50:35-37. Both sword and drought were familiar means of YHWH inflicting punishment. For drought as such an instrument see Deuteronomy 28:22-24; Amos 4:7-8. Some would indeed repoint the original consonants to mean ‘sword’, but drought fits the illustration better. Once a nation became disorganised one of the first things to suffer were its systems of irrigation, systems which were so important in the Mesopotamian region in order to make use of the great rivers.
‘Mad over idols.’ The word used here for ‘idols’ signifies ‘objects of terror’ and possibly even ‘gigantic objects of terror’. See its use in Psalms 88:16; Job 20:25; Genesis 14:5; Deuteronomy 2:10-11. The idea is probably that in the same way as they have allowed themselves to be terrified by their gigantic idols, so now they will be terrified by YHWH.
We are not sure what kind of creatures were involved in the words used in Jeremiah 50:39. Various translations give various renderings. But the point is the same. Wild creatures will have taken over from man. The comparison with Sodom and Gomorrah is common among the prophets (e.g. Jeremiah 23:14; Jeremiah 49:18; Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 13:19; Amos 4:11; Zephaniah 2:9). They were a symbol of God’s utter judgment. Compare for these verses Isaiah 13:19-22 (of Babylon); Jeremiah 34:11-17 (of Edom).
The Invaders From The North Before Whom Babylon Will Quail And Who Will Finally Take Babylon (Jeremiah 50:41-46 ).
We must not judge ancient descriptions in terms of modern geography. They had no atlases to guide them. To the Jews Egypt and North Africa was the South. The Great Sea (the Mediterranean), and the people beyond it, was to the West. The Arabian desert was to the East. All else was to the North. And major trouble always came on them from the North. The ‘people come from the north’ thus indicated peoples ‘north’ of Palestine in their eyes, and to them Persians, Medes, Elamites and the rest were ‘people of the north’, whilst any beyond them were ‘the furthest parts of the earth’.
“Behold, a people come from the north,
And a great nation and many kings will be stirred up from the furthest parts of the earth.
They lay hold on bow and spear,
They are cruel, and have no mercy,
Their voice roars like the sea,
And they ride on horses,
Every one set in array,
As a man to the battle, against you, O daughter of Babylon.”
‘The people come from the north’ here represent the Persian and Median empires made up of a great many nations and kings. They will arrive well armed with bow and spear, shouting their battlecries (‘their voice roaring like the sea’), mounted on horses whose thundering hooves would add to the ‘roaring’, prepared for battle, totally merciless, and their one aim will be the taking of Babylon, where Belshazzar (Bel-sar-usur) the crown prince was in control (Daniel 5:0). All the emphasis is on the terrible nature of the invaders.
Babylon was at this time under the rule of Belshazzar. The ruling king, Nabonidus (Nabu-naid), was campaigning in Arabia, where he remained in a kind of isolation, possibly to pursue his studies, at the oasis of Teima (the details are obscure), having, according to the Nabonidus Chronicles. ‘entrusted the army and the kingship’ to Belshazzar. Belshazzar died at the taking of Babylon, Nabonidus was arrested on his later return
“The king of Babylon has heard the reports of them,
And his hands grow feeble,
Anguish has taken hold of him,
Pangs as of a woman in travail.”
Such would be the terrible nature of the enemy that when the king of Babylon (the crown prince) heard of them he would be rendered helpless, and would suffer agonies of fear. Indeed he tried to solace himself by holding a great feast, confident that the great walls of Babylon would keep the invader at bay, little realising that at that very moment they were creeping into the city along the dried up water-course. Note the heightening of the narrative in these verses. There is an apocalyptic feel to it. The emphasis is on the fact that Babylon is doomed, just as all that sets itself against God is doomed. It is on the fact of God’s inevitable final triumph.
“Behold, they will come up like a lion from the pride of the Jordan,
Against the strong habitation,
For I will suddenly make them run away from it,
And whoever is chosen, him will I appoint over it,
For who is like me? and who will appoint me a time?
And who is the shepherd who can stand before me?”
Nothing was more feared by shepherds than the season when lions, maddened by hunger, would emerge from the thicketed area by the Jordan (the ‘pride of Jordan’) in order to find food. For these verses compare Jeremiah 49:19 spoken of what would happen to Edom.
The ‘pride of Jordan’ was the description used of the area of thick jungle thickets on the banks of the Jordan in which many wild beasts found refuge. It was notorious for the lions that came from there seeking prey when they were hungry through shortage of prey in the thickets, when they could be a danger to men as they desperately sought for food, even entering towns and villages in their search. Compare Jeremiah 12:5; Jeremiah 25:38; Hosea 13:7-8. As soon as lone men saw them they ran away. They knew just how dangerous they could be under those circumstances. The picture is a vivid one as the adversary is pictured as emerging from the thickets, hungry in his quest for prey. He is the chosen of YHWH, YHWH’s shepherd, emerging in YHWH’s time, a time which no one else can appoint and He alone will decide.
‘And whoever is chosen, him will I appoint over it.’ This may indicate YHWH’s chosen candidate, who has been chosen by YHWH to take Babylon. Or it may be a challenge to Babylon to choose for themselves a champion so that YHWH may set him over them, indicating at the same time that any such appointment would be useless.
‘Strong habitation.’ This may refer to their invasion of towns and villages. Alternately we may render it as ‘evergreen pasturage’ or ‘secure encampment’, indicating the areas where the shepherds fed their flocks, for the word here rendered ‘habitation’ is used in Jeremiah 6:3 to indicate the places where shepherds encamped.
‘And who is the shepherd who will stand before me?” This could refer to the predator arising as ‘the shepherd who stands before YHWH’, that is, as His true and reliable close servant, the question indicating that his identity is as yet to be seen as unknown. In this case he is YHWH’s shepherd. But more likely it is questioning as to what shepherd could prevent YHWH from carrying out His purpose, the idea being that no shepherd of Babylon could hope to outface or resist Him, any more than they could hope to outface a hungry lion who had seized one of their sheep. Of course there were exceptional shepherds who did outface lions (compare 1 Samuel 17:34-36). But the point here is that there is no one who can outface YHWH.
“Therefore hear you the counsel of YHWH,
That he has taken against Babylon,
And his purposes, that he has purposed,
Against the land of the Chaldeans.
Surely they will drag them away,
The little ones of the flock,
Surely he will make their habitation,
Desolate over them.
At the noise of the taking of Babylon the earth trembles,
And the cry is heard among the nations.”
The picture of the hungry lion continues as we learn of what YHWH has determined against Babylon, and what He has purposed against Babylonia. Babylon will see her young ones dragged away, in the same way as the remorseless hungry lions drag away the young of the flock, that is the more vulnerable who found it most difficult to escape. Many habitations in Babylonia would have been rendered desolate by the invaders, and even in Babylon itself, though its major buildings were preserved, the rampaging soldiery would think nothing of tearing down or burning the dwellings of the poor as they sought for spoils.
‘At the noise of the taking of Babylon the earth trembles, and the cry is heard among the nations.’ This is, of course, hyperbole. It is saying that the taking of Babylon was an earth-shaking event which changed the whole course of the history of the time, and caused men to cry out to each other ‘Babylon has been taken’. It probably seemed unbelievable. But the world was transformed almost overnight as a new more benevolent ruling power took over the empire. What represented all that was anti-God had been utterly defeated.