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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 49

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-6



Jeremiah 49:1-6

"Hath Israel no sons? hath he no heir? why then doth Moloch possess Gad, and his people dwell in the cities thereof?"- Jeremiah 49:1

THE relations of Israel with Ammon were similar but less intimate than they were with his twin brother Moab. Hence this prophecy is, mutatis mutandis, an abridgment of that concerning Moab. As Moab was charged with magnifying himself against Jehovah, and was found to be occupying cities which Reuben claimed as its inheritance, so Ammon had presumed to take possession of the Gadite cities, whose inhabitants had been carried away captive by the Assyrians. Here again the prophet enumerates Heshbon, Ai, Rabbah, and the dependent towns, "the daughters of Rabbah." Only in the territory of this half-nomadic people the cities are naturally not so numerous as in Moab; and Jeremiah mentions also the fertile valleys wherein the Ammonites gloried. The familiar doom of ruin and captivity is pronounced against city and country and all the treasures of Ammon; Moloch, like Chemosh, must go into captivity with his priests and princes. This prophecy also concludes with a promise of restoration:-

"Afterward I will bring again the captivity of the children of Ammon-it is the utterance of Jehovah."

Verses 23-27



Jeremiah 49:23-27

"I will kindle a fire in the wall of Damascus, and it shall devour the palaces of Benhadad."- Jeremiah 49:27

WE are a little surprised to meet with a prophecy of Jeremiah concerning Damascus and the palaces of Benhadad. The names carry our minds back for more than a couple of centuries. During Elisha’s ministry Damascus and Samaria were engaged in their long, fierce duel for the supremacy over Syria and Palestine. In the reign of Ahaz these ancient rivals combined to attack Judah, so that Isaiah is keenly interested in Damascus and its fortunes. But about B.C. 745, about a hundred and fifty years before Jeremiah’s time, the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser {2 Kings 16:9} overthrew the Syrian kingdom and carried its people into captivity. We know from Ezekiel, {Ezekiel 28:18} what we might have surmised from the position and later history of Damascus, that this ancient city continued a wealthy commercial centre; but Ezekiel has no oracle concerning Damascus, and the other documents of the period and of later times do not mention the capital of Benhadad. Its name does not even occur in Jeremiah’s exhaustive list of the countries of his world in Jeremiah 25:15-26. Religious interest in alien races depended on their political relations with Israel; when the latter ceased, the prophets had no word from Jehovah concerning foreign nations. Such considerations have suggested doubts as to the authenticity of this section, and it has been supposed that it may be a late echo of Isaiah’s utterances concerning Damascus.

We know, however, too little of the history of the period to warrant such a conclusion. Damascus would continue to exist as a tributary state, and might furnish auxiliary forces to the enemies of Judah or join with her to conspire against Babylon, and would in either case attract Jeremiah’s attention. Moreover, in ancient as in modern times, commerce played its part in international politics. Doubtless slaves were part of the merchandise of Damascus, just as they were among the wares of the Apocalyptic Babylon. Joel {Joel 3:4} denounces Tyre and Zidon for selling Jews to the Greeks, and the Damascenes may have served as slave agents to Nebuchadnezzar and his captains, and thus provoked the resentment of patriot Jews. So many picturesque and romantic associations cluster around Damascus, that this section of Jeremiah almost strikes a jarring note. We love to think of this fairest of Oriental cities, "half as old as time," as the "Eye of the East" which Mohammed refused to enter-because "Man," he said, "can have but one paradise, and my paradise is fixed above"-and as the capital of Noureddin and his still more famous successor Saladin. And so we regret that, when it emerges from the obscurity of centuries into the light of Biblical narrative, the brief reference should suggest a disaster such as it endured in later days at the hands of the treacherous and ruthless Tamerlane.

"Damascus hath grown feeble:

She turneth herself to flee:

Trembling hath seized on her.

How is the city of praise forsaken,

The city of joy!

Her young men shall fall in the streets

All the warriors shall be put to silence in that day."

We are moved to sympathy with the feelings of Hamath and Arpad, when they heard the evil tidings, and were filled with sorrow, "like the sea that cannot rest."

Yet even here this most uncompromising of prophets may teach us, after his fashion, wholesome though perhaps unwelcome truths. We are reminded how often the mystic glamour of romance has served to veil cruelty and corruption, and how little picturesque scenery and interesting associations can do of themselves to promote a noble life. Feudal castles, with their massive grandeur, were the strongholds of avarice and cruelty; and ancient abbeys which, even in decay, are like a dream of fairyland, were sometimes the home of abominable corruption.

Verses 28-33



Jeremiah 49:28-33

"Concerning Kedar, and the kingdoms of Hazor which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon smote."- Jeremiah 49:28

FROM an immemorial seat of human culture, an "eternal city" which antedates Rome by centuries, if not millenniums, we turn to those Arab tribes whose national life and habits were as ancient and have been as persistent as the streets of Damascus. While Damascus has almost always been in the forefront of history, the Arab tribes-except in the time of Mohammed and the early Caliphs-have seldom played a more important part than that of frontier marauders. Hence, apart from a few casual references, the only other passage in the Old Testament which deals, at any length, with Kedar is the parallel prophecy of Isaiah. And yet Kedar was the great northern tribe, which ranged the deserts between Palestine and the Euphrates, and which must have had closer relations with Judah than most Arab peoples.

"The kingdoms of Hazor" are still more unknown to history. There were several "Hazors" in Palestine, besides sundry towns whose names are also derived from Hacer, a village; and some of these are on or beyond the southern frontier of Judah, in the wilderness of the Exodus, where we might expect to find nomad Arabs. But even these latter cities can scarcely be the "Hazor" of Jeremiah, and the more northern are quite out of the question. It is generally supposed that Hazor here is either some Arabian town, or, more probably, a collective term used for the district inhabited by Arabs, who lived not in tents, but in Hacerim, or villages. This district would be in Arabia itself, and more distant from Palestine than the deserts over which Kedar roamed. Possibly Isaiah’s "villages (Hacerim) that Kedar doth inhabit" were to be found in the Hazor of Jeremiah, and the same people were called Kedar and Hazor respectively according as they lived a nomad life or settled in more permanent dwellings.

The great warlike enterprises of Egypt, Assyria, and Chaldea during the last centuries of the Jewish monarchy would bring these desert horsemen into special prominence. They could either further or hinder the advance of armies marching westward from Mesopotamia, and could command their lines of communication. Kedar, and possibly Hazor too, would not be slack to use the opportunities of plunder presented by the calamities of the Palestinian states. Hence their conspicuous position in the pages of Isaiah and Jeremiah.

As the Assyrians, when their power was at its height, had chastised the aggressions of the Arabs, so now Nebuchadnezzar "smote Kedar and the kingdoms of Hazor." Even the wandering nomads and dwellers by distant oases in trackless deserts could not escape the sweeping activity of this scourge of God. Doubtless the ravages of Chaldean armies might serve to punish many sins besides the wrongs they were sent to revenge. The Bedouin always had their virtues, but the wild liberty of the desert easily degenerated into unbridled license. Judah and every state bordering on the wilderness knew by painful experience how large a measure of rapine and cruelty might coexist with primitive customs. and the Jewish prophet gives Nebuchadnezzar a Divine commission as for a holy war:-

"Arise, go up to Kedar;

Spoil the men of the east.

They (the Chaldeans) shall take away their tents and flocks;

They shall take for themselves their tent coverings,

And all their gear and their camels:

Men shall cry concerning them,

Terror on every side."

Then the prophet turns to the more distant Hazor with words of warning:-

"Flee, get you far off, dwell in hidden recesses of the land, O inhabitants of Hazor-It is the utterance of Jehovah-

For Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon hath counseled a counsel and purposed a purpose against you."

But then, as if this warning were a mere taunt, he renews his address to the Chaldeans and directs their attack against Hazor:-

"Arise, go up against a nation that is at ease, that dwelleth without fear- it is the utterance of Jehovah-

Which abide alone, without gates or bars"- like the people of Laish before the Danites came, and like Sparta before the days of Epaminondas.

Possibly we are to combine these successive "utterances," and to understand that it was alike Jehovah’s will that the Chaldeans should invade and lay waste Hazor, and that the unfortunate inhabitants should escape-but escape plundered and impoverished: for

"Their camels shall become a spoil,

The multitude of their cattle a prey:

I will scatter to every wind them that have the corners of their hair polled;

I will bring their calamity upon them from all sides.

Hazor shall be a haunt of jackals, a desolation forever:

No one shall dwell there,

No soul shall sojourn therein."

Verses 34-39



Jeremiah 49:34-39

"I will break the bow of Elam, the chief of their might."- Jeremiah 49:35

WE do not know what principle or absence of principle determined the arrangement of these prophecies; but, in any case, these studies in ancient geography and politics present a series of dramatic contrasts. From two ancient and enduring types of Eastern life, the city of Damascus and the Bedouin of the desert, we pass to a state of an entirely different order, only slightly connected with the international system of Western Asia. Elam contended for the palm of supremacy with Assyria and Babylon in the farther east, as Egypt did to the southwest. Before the time of Abraham Elamite kings ruled over Chaldea, and Genesis 14:1-24 tells us how Chedorlaomer with his subject allies collected his tribute in Palestine. Many centuries later, the Assyrian king Ashur-bani-pal (B.C. 668-626) conquered Elam, sacked the capital Shushan, and carried away many of the inhabitants into captivity. According to Ezra 4:9-10, Elamites were among the mingled population whom "the great and noble Asnapper" (probably Ashurbanipal) settled in Samaria.

When we begin to recall even a few of the striking facts concerning Elam discovered in the last fifty years, and remember that for millenniums Elam had played the part of a first class Asiatic power, we are tempted to wonder that Jeremiah only devotes a few conventional sentences to this great nation. But the prophet’s interest was simply determined by the relations of Elam with Judah; and, from this point of view, an opposite difficulty arises. How came the Jews in Palestine in the time of Jeremiah to have any concern with a people dwelling beyond the Euphrates and Tigris, on the farther side of the Chaldean dominions? One answer to this question has already been suggested: the Jews may have learnt from the Elamite colonists in Samaria something concerning their native country; it is also probable that Elamite auxiliaries served in the Chaldean armies that invaded Judah.

Accordingly the prophet sets forth, in terms already familiar to us, how Elamite fugitives should be scattered to the four quarters of the earth and be found in every nation under heaven, how the sword should follow them into their distant places of refuge and utterly consume them.

"I will set My throne in Elam;

I will destroy out of it both king and princes-

It is the utterance of Jehovah";

In the prophecy concerning Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar was to set his throne at Tahpanhes to decide the fate of the captives; but here Jehovah Himself is pictured as the triumphant and inexorable conqueror, holding His court as the arbiter of life and death. The vision of the "great white throne" was not first accorded to John in his Apocalypse. Jeremiah’s eyes were opened to see beside the tribunals of heathen conquerors the judgment seat of a mightier Potentate; and his respired utterances remind the believer that every battle may be an Armageddon, and that at every congress there is set a mystic throne from which the Eternal King overrules the decisions of plenipotentiaries.

But this sentence of condemnation was not to be the final "utterance of Jehovah" with regard to Elam. A day of renewed prosperity was to dawn for Elam, as well as for Moab, Ammon, Egypt, and Judah:-

"In the latter days I will bring again the captivity of Ealm-It is the utterance of Jehovah."

The Apostle Peter {1 Peter 1:10-11} tells us that the prophets "sought and searched diligently" concerning the application of their words, "searching what time and what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto." We gather from these verses that, as Newton could not have foreseen all that was contained in the law of gravitation, so the prophets often understood little of what was involved in their own inspiration. We could scarcely have a better example than this prophecy affords of the knowledge of the principles of God’s future action combined with ignorance of its circumstances and details. If we may credit the current theory, Cyrus, the servant of Jehovah, the deliverer of Judah, was a king of Elam. If Jeremiah had foreseen how his prophecies of the restoration of Elam and of Judah would be fulfilled, we may be sure that this utterance would not have been so brief, its hostile tone would have been mitigated, and the concluding sentence would not have been so cold and conventional.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Jeremiah 49". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/jeremiah-49.html.
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