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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 51

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1

THE HOSTILE NATION, Jeremiah 51:1-4.

1. Against them that dwell in the midst, etc. Literally, the inhabitants of the heart of my risers up. The original for heart of risers up is the word Chasdim, (Chaldeans,) written according to the canon Atbash, “for the purpose of obtaining the more important meaning that Chaldea is the centre of God’s enemies.” It is probable that some words in common use, written according to this cipher Atbash, were generally familiar.

Destroying wind Keil translates, spirit of a destroyer; but the leading Versions agree with the common English Version. The sense is a good one, and in harmony with the following verse.

Verse 2

2. Fan her Rather, winnow her.

Verse 3

3. Archer Literally, bender. The Masoretes have stumbled over the text of this verse, and there has been some variety of opinion among the critical expositors of recent times. But there is no serious difficulty in the text as it now stands, and it is by all means to be accepted.

Verse 7


7. Babylon… a golden cup This figure is used in Psalms 60:3, and in Jeremiah 25:15-16. The prominence given to it in Revelation 17:4, lends additional interest to the figure. “Golden,” to suggest the glory of the Babylonian kingdom.

Verse 8

8. Destroyed Literally, broken. This suggests a change in the figure, or that golden means ornamented with gold, or that this golden cup, though metal, is dashed so violently as to be shattered.

Verse 9

9. Let us go every one into his own country This is the language of mercenaries from different lands. Hence they say, We would have healed, etc.

Judgment Really the sin by which the “judgment” is measured.

Verse 10

10. Righteousness Literally, righteousnesses; the things which show us to be righteous.

Verse 11

11. Make bright Rather, sharpen.

Gather Better, fill; that is, put them on in their places.

Kings of the Medes Suggesting the various clans, or kingships, into which they were divided.

Verse 12

12. Upon the walls Rather, against “the walls of Babylon.” The language is not, as some have understood, ironical, but a summons to the enemy to make the attack. Make the watch strong, etc. This language has reference to the details of attack, rather than modes of defence.

Verse 13

13. Dwellest upon many waters An allusion to the elaborate system of irrigation in the Babylonian plain, to which was due its extraordinary fruitfulness, and in some degree the eminence of Babylon herself.

Measure of thy covetousness The limit of thine unjust gain.

Verse 14

14. The Lord of hosts hath sworn The solemnity of oathtaking is employed in announcing this destruction.

By himself The margin is more exactly literal and more expressive, by his soul.

Caterpillars Rather, locusts.

Shall lift up a shout Literally, the vintage song. The “vintage song” is, in the nature of the case, a battle song, and suggests that the men with which Babylon is filled, trample her under foot, thus executing the wrath of God upon her.

Verses 15-19


15-19. He hath made the earth by his power These verses are almost an exact transcript of Jeremiah 10:12-16, and hold up before the people the almightiness of Jehovah, the nothingness of idols, and the foolishness of those who put their trust in them. In one particular only is there a difference between the passage as given here and as found in the tenth chapter. In Jeremiah 51:19 the word Israel has been omitted, and the predicate is connected with the general subject, God. This is not an error of the text, as some have concluded, and the introduction of the word in several of the Versions is to be condemned.

Verses 20-24

20-24. Thou art By “thou,” Ewald understands the king of Israel; Grotius, Cyrus and the Medes; Nagelsbach, an ideal person; Calmet and most expositors, Babylon. The last is to be preferred, and is supported by Jeremiah 50:23. The enumeration of the things which this battle-hammer should break in pieces is an orderly one. 1) The nations and kingdoms. 2) The military forces the horse and his rider, the chariot and his rider. 3) The people man and woman… old and young…young man and… maid. 4) Occupations shepherd… husbandman… captains and rulers.

Verses 25-26

25, 26. Destroying mountain The same phrase is used in 2 Kings xxiii, 13, and is translated “mount of corruption.” It is there applied to the southern portion of the mount of Olives, in view of the idolatrous shrines set up by Solomon. Here the phrase is applied to Babylon, and suggests its eminence among the nations, and its power for evil in working physical and moral ruin.

Roll thee down The explanation of this phrase is doubtful. I… will make thee a burnt mountain Literally, a mountain of burning. Language founded on the conception of a volcano. The threat, Thou shalt be desolate forever, falls in well with the notion of a burnt-out mountain, though it means evidently more than that it should be a scene of ruin. It is never more to be used.

They shall not take of thee a stone for a corner, nor a stone for foundations Its history is terminated. Never again are human hopes and interests to be founded on Babylon.

Verse 27


27. Set ye up a standard Another call to war. This whole passage is a parallelism of that which commences at Jeremiah 51:12, but descends more into particulars.

In the land Better, earth.

Prepare Literally, consecrate; alluding to the religions solemnities with which war is begun. The kingdoms here mentioned, Ararat, Minni, and Ashchenaz, were located in or near Armenia.

Captain This word occurs besides only in Nahum 3:17, and its precise import is doubtful. In both passages the habits of locusts are probably had in view.

Rough caterpillars Rather, as the bristly locust; spoken “of the locust after its third skin, when the wings are still covered with the rough, horny hide.” Furst.

Verse 29

29. The land shall tremble The Hebrew of this passage is more expressive than the common English Version: Then the earth quaked and trembled. For the purposes of Jehovah against Babylon have stood fast To make Babylon a waste without inhabitant.

Verse 30

30. Have forborne Have ceased; not from cowardice, but from hopelessness. They become as women, and stay in the inaccessible places to await the end.

Verse 31

31. One post shall run… and one messenger Indicative of haste and confusion.

To show the king Who is in his royal palace. These messengers come from all directions and meet one another in the palace with the same dreadful news.

Verse 32

32. Passages Literally, crossing-places, either bridges or fords, or more probably both.

Are stopped Rather, seized, occupied.

Reeds… burned Better, marshes or ponds, alluding to the artificial lakes which, according to Herodotus, formed an important part of the defences of Babylon. As these could not be literally burned, the translation “reeds” has been adopted, but utterly without authority. The language is poetic and hyperbolic, and should not be forced.

Verse 33

33. A threshingfloor Trodden hard and ready for the time of harvest, which is also the time of threshing.

Verses 34-35

34, 35. The pronouns are in the plural, but have been without warrant changed into the singular in the Keri, and so in the English Version. The literal reading is, hath devoured us, crushed us, etc., etc. The reference is to Israel, and the doctrine of the passage is, that these calamities have fallen on Babylon because of its offences against Israel.

Dragon Usually a sea monster; probably the crocodile.

Verse 36

36. Her sea The Euphrates river. The distinction between seas and rivers was by no means so clearly drawn in ancient times as now. Hence Jonah speaks of a nahar (river) in the sea. Springs, in this passage, are the smaller streams which water and fertilize the country. Indeed, the literal import of the original is, her digging, and so it very exactly suits the artificial canals dug for this purpose.

Verse 37

37. Heaps Namely, of rubbish. How literally this has been fulfilled is shown by Rawlinson. ( Ancient Monarchies, 2: 521.)

Dragons Not the word used in Jeremiah 51:34, but one meaning jackals.

Verses 38-39

PICTURE OF BABYLON’S RUIN, Jeremiah 51:38-49.

38, 39. They… roar Not shall roar. The scene is that of a carousal, in the midst of which the blow falls. Whether the language here is a prophecy of the way in which Babylon was taken by Cyrus or not, it is certainly evident that it is quite suitable to it.

Verse 44

44. Swallowed up The sacred vessels, the spoil taken from other nations, and the voluntary offerings of the people.

Verse 46

46. And lest your heart faint In order that the sense here may come out into expression, some such word as beware should be employed. Beware lest your heart faint.

Verse 50

FINAL SUMMING UP, Jeremiah 51:50-58.

50. Remember the Lord afar off Namely, in Babylon, the land of your captivity. Such language as this would be well suited to stir up the hopes and affections of the captive Israelites. and induce a longing to return to their own land.

Verse 51

51. We are confounded This verse only recites the wrongs done, and the abject condition into which the people had come.

Verse 53

53. Height of her strength Possibly an allusion to the height of her walls and towers.

Verse 58

58. Broad walls… high gates See the descriptions of Babylon by Strabo and others. According to Herodotus the walls were eighty-five feet thick and three hundred and thirty-seven and a half feet high. Ctesias makes them three hundred feet high. Strabo, seventy-five feet high and thirty-two feet thick. Xenophon saw in Babylon walls a hundred and fifty feet in height. Duncker concludes that these walls must have had a height of two hundred feet above the ditch, and a proportionate breadth of from thirty to forty feet. This breadth would be sufficient to permit of teams being drawn along the rampart between the battlements, as Herodotus and Strabo inform us, without touching. The rampart on the walls of Nineveh is said to have afforded room for the driving abreast of three chariots. As to the “gates,” Herodotus represents them as most elaborately constructed and ornamented; the posts, the folding doors, and the thresholds being of bronze. Oppert quotes an inscription in which Nebuchadrezzar says, “In the thresholds of the great gates, I inserted folding doors of brass, with very strong palings and gratings.” There were one hundred of these gates, twenty-five in each of the four sides of the wall. (The remainder of the verse is quoted from Habakkuk.)

Verse 59

59. The word, etc. This is the caption of the brief historical appendage comprised in Jeremiah 51:59-64, which was sent to the captives at Babylon by Zedekiah. As to the reasons of Zedekiah’s visit to Babylon we have no intimation. In the Records of the Past, 3: 107, 120, we have a copy of a document from which we learn that Esar-haddon assembled twenty-two kings of Syria at the commencement of his great palace in Nineveh, and this may suggest how, for some similar reason of pomp and state, Zedekiah may have been summoned to Babylon. Or it may be, that his fidelity was suspected, and so he had to go to Babylon to vindicate himself.

A quiet prince Literally, prince of the resting place. The plural of this word is rendered “resting places” in Isaiah 32:18. This officer answers to the modern quarter-master, his duty being to go forward and select the places where the king and his train would stop for refreshments, and also where they would pass the night.

Verse 60

60. In a book Literally, in one book, a parenthetic remark which paves the way for the direction given in Jeremiah 51:63.

Verse 61

61. And shalt see, and shalt read Better, see that thou read. Not for the purpose of warning the Babylonians, but as part of a proclamation that the Jews might understand.

Verse 63

63. Bind a stone… cast… into the… Euphrates Not to destroy the book, but to perfect the symbolism. The stone is not only to make the book sink, but to keep it from rising again, thus betokening the permanent downfall and utter extinction of the greatest city then on the face of the earth.

Verse 64

64. Thus far are the words of Jeremiah This implies that the following chapter does not belong to this body of prophecy, but constitutes an historical appendix added by another hand. “It is an instance of the scrupulous care taken by the Jews of the sacred writings committed to their keeping.” Speaker’s Commentary.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Jeremiah 51". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/jeremiah-51.html. 1874-1909.
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