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Bible Commentaries

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books
Jeremiah 51

 

 

Verses 1-64

The following chapter, which closes the series, continues the same general subject.

"Thus saith the Lord: Behold, I will raise up against Babylon, and against them that dwell in the midst of them that rise up against Me, a destroying wind; and I will send unto Babylon fanners, that shall fan her, and shall empty her land: for in the day of trouble they shall be against her round about" (Jeremiah 51:1-2).

As grain is winnowed and the chaff carried off by the wind, so should the inhabitants of Babylon be swept away by the "destroying wind" (Jeremiah 51:1) of the Lord's indignation. The only wheat to be found therein was the feeble remnant of Israel and Judah-scattered because of their sins though they were.

"Against him that bendeth let the archer bend his bow, and against him that lifteth himself up in his brigandine: and spare ye not her young men; destroy ye utterly all her host. Thus the slain shall fall in the land of the Chaldeans, and they that are thrust through in her streets" (Jeremiah 51:3-4).

All attempts at defensive warfare were destined to be in vain. Neither archers nor strategy could avail anything to save the city when the Lord had devoted it to destruction.

"For Israel hath not been forsaken, nor Judah of his God, of the Lord of hosts; though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel" (Jeremiah 51:5).

Israel and Judah were under the rod of the Lord's chastening because of their sins, but nothing could alter His covenanted mercies to them. It was the Holy One with whom they had to do; one who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity; but even their failure could not change the word of His grace and the love of His heart. He was for them still, and therefore more than all that could be against them. Accordingly, He apprises them of the judgments before they fall, and warns them to depart from the doomed city.

"Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and deliver every man his soul: be not cut off in her iniquity; for this is the time of the Lord's vengeance; He will render unto her a recompense" (Jeremiah 51:6).

So also, in the days when the apocalyptic vials are being poured out upon the earth, the call will go forth to the Jewish remnant of that fearful time, "Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" (Revelation 18:4).

As righteous Lot was delivered from Sodom ere fire from heaven fell, so the opportunity was given for the men of Judah and Israel to flee out of Babylon in time to escape the visitation of the Lord's wrath. It was the same before Jerusalem was taken by Titus, when the Christians in accordance with the word of the Lord JESUS, were permitted to retire from the city prior to the final assault.

The same principle holds good in regard to the Church in this dispensation, which is to be caught away to be with the Lord before the seven-sealed book is opened and the trumpet and vial judgments are meted out to this guilty, Christ-rejecting world. "Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world" (Revelation 3:10).

"Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord's hand, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad" (Jeremiah 51:7).

It is the wine of idolatry that was passed from one nation to another, but which had its origin in Babylon. Her mystical antitype has in her hand a golden cup, with which she too makes drunk the nations "with the wine of her fornication" (Revelation 17:1-6). There, the wine speaks of spiritual adultery, which is the union of the Church and the world. It will be observed how closely the New Testament Babylon is likened to that of the older revelation.

"Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed: howl for her; take balm for her pain, if so be she may be healed." (Jeremiah 51:8) Though her fall is so sudden, yet, as remarked in our study of the preceding chapter, she was not instantaneously blotted out. Here, after her fall, her admirers have remedies to offer for her recovery. But it is too late. Her end is decreed.

So the remnant declares: "We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed: forsake her, and let us go every one into his own country: for her judgment reacheth unto heaven, and is lifted up even to the skies. The Lord hath brought forth our righteousness: come, and let us declare in Zion the work of the Lord our God” (Jeremiah 51:9-10).

May we not make an application of this solemn word to present conditions in Christendom?

Not yet have the Roman and Protestant communions fully developed into Babylon the Great. But is it not patent, even now, that there is no healing for the professing body?

- The Word of GOD is rejected, and its inspiration called in question.

- The Holy Spirit is quenched and resisted.

- The Lordship of CHRIST, the Church's Head, is denied practically.

What remains for those who value the favor and the truth of GOD in such a time as this but to forsake every company where these conditions prevail? And, like Judah and Israel returning to Zion, ask once more for the old paths and gather in simplicity to the name of the Lord JESUS, refusing, in any sense, to go on with that which dishonors Him through whose precious blood we have been redeemed to GOD.

"We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed: forsake her!" (Jeremiah 51:9)

It is useless to go on seeking to purify what will never be purified. When evil can no longer be purged out (as in accordance with I Corinthians 5), the only other resource is to purge one's self out of all that is in opposition to GOD and His Word, as in 2 Timothy 2:15-21.

When men who take the place of Christian teachers make it manifest that they have but a form of godliness and deny the power thereof, the only course left for those who would be faithful to GOD and His truth is implicit obedience to the injunction, "From such turn away" (2 Timothy 3:5).

Turning again to the words of Jeremiah, we note the realistic description of the march upon Babylon.

"Make bright the arrows; gather the shields: the Lord hath raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes: for His device is against Babylon, to destroy it; because it is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance of His temple. [See Jeremiah 50:28] Set up the standard upon the walls of Babylon, make the watch strong, set up the watchmen, prepare the ambushes: for the Lord hath both devised and done that which He spake against the inhabitants of Babylon" (Jeremiah 51:11-12).

With the vividness of an eyewitness, the prophet depicts the advancing army of the enemy, led, be it noted, not by Cyrus in person, though he directed it all, but by "the kings of the Medes." (Jeremiah 51:11) That part of the army which was sent against Babylon was, according to Daniel 5:31, under the command of "Darius the Median;" and although contemporary history does not use the actual name Darius, it does assure us that it was a Median chief and not the mighty Cyrus himself who had charge of the troops that besieged and sacked the capital city. Scripture is ever exact. How could it be otherwise, when it is the very breathing of the living GOD? Not only does Jeremiah vividly portray the assembling of the Median troops, but with a few master-strokes he presents the confident activity of the imperial guard. Every precaution was taken to insure the safety of Babylon; but they knew not that the hour of the Lord's vengeance had struck, the vengeance of His insulted and wasted temple.

Though they dwelt in apparent security "upon many waters," and flattered themselves that they were "abundant in treasures," the Lord had decreed, "Thine end is come, and the measure of thy covetousness." He had therefore sworn by Himself, saying, "Surely I will fill thee with men, as with caterpillars; and they shall lift up a shout against thee" (Jeremiah 51:13-14).

As the destruction of a field of green herbs by that most common of all tropical plagues - an onslaught of ravenous, crawling creatures - so should be the destruction of haughty Babylon, the queen city of the ancient world, whose gardens were numbered among its seven wonders.

He with whom they had to do was not as the powerless idols of the nations, nor yet as the malignant demons behind them.

"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" (Jeremiah 51:15).

Against the Mighty One who controls the vapors, the lightnings and the rain, had the Chaldean girded on his armor. Made brutish by idolatry, confounded because of confidence in breathless images, they must learn the vanity of their hope; for "in the time of their visitation they shall perish" (Jeremiah 51:16-18).

How different the "portion of Jacob." "He is the Former of all things: and Israel is the rod of His inheritance: The Lord of hosts is His name" (Jeremiah 51:19).

He, the omnipotent Creator of all things, had deigned to take up the seed of poor, failing Jacob - surnamed, in grace, Israel. This people He had formed for Himself. He would use them as His battle-axe and weapon of war. With them He would break in pieces the nations and destroy the kingdoms of their oppressors.

All classes must learn that the Lord hath chosen Jacob; for with them, not the warrior only, but the people in every walk of life, must be broken, and His word fulfilled which declared, "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, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 51:21-24). How deeply significant it was, in view of all this, that in the last night of the Chaldean kingdom, it was a Jewish captive, Daniel, who read the mystic letters of doom upon the wall of Belshazzar's palace and gave the terrified king the interpretation!

"Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain, saith the Lord, which destroyest all the earth: and I will stretch out My hand upon thee, and roll thee down from the rocks, and will make thee a burnt mountain. 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" (Jeremiah 51:25-26).

Words could not be plainer to declare Babylon's absolute destruction.

Not only shall the city itself never be rebuilt, but the very stones should not be used, as in the case of many another fallen capital, for the building of any other place. As an accursed thing, her foundations should be held in perpetual abhorrence and her site given up to continual desolation. Nor can the words, by any process of reasoning, be legitimately made to refer to a future overthrow immediately before the Millennium. For over two millenniums already the wastes of Babylon have been a testimony to the sure Word of GOD. It will be so forever.

Jeremiah 51:27-28 emphasize what we have been going over by recapitulation, with additional details. The kingdoms of Ararat, Minni and Ashkenaz are found under the Median standard.

"And the land shall tremble and sorrow: for every purpose of the Lord shall be performed against Babylon, to make the land of Babylon a desolation without an inhabitant" (Jeremiah 51:29).

The final entry into the city "at either end” and the demoralization of its defenders, are described before the actual event in language only possible to the pen of inspiration.

"The mighty men of Babylon have forborne to fight, they have remained in their holds: their might hath failed; they became as women: they have burned her dwelling-places; her bars are broken. One post shall run to meet another, and one messenger to meet another, to show the king of Babylon that his city is taken at one end and that the passages are stopped, and the reeds they have burned with fire, and the men of war are affrighted" (Jeremiah 51:30-32).

The waters of the Euphrates, which flowed directly through Babylon, having been, as described by Herodotus, turned out of their course through the city, left an entry way at each end for the warriors of Darius to enter, under the walls, in the dry river bed. Thus they were able to appear suddenly in the streets at a time when the people were given up to frivolity and merry-making, and a thousand of their lords were reveling in the palace of the effeminate Belshazzar.

Having thus pictured the consummation, the prophet goes back to continue the recital of the Lord's grievance against this impious city. As a ripe field, ready for the threshing-floor, Babylon's harvest was near, when judgment without mercy should be meted out to her because of Nebuchadrezzar's severity to the inhabitants of Zion and Jerusalem.

The violence done to Israel should be upon Babylon, and the bloodshed be upon the inhabitants of Chaldea (Jeremiah 51:33-35). The Lord would plead the cause of His downtrodden people. He it was, not Darius merely, who would "dry up her sea, and make her springs dry." As a result, "Babylon shall become heaps, a dwelling-place for dragons [jackals]", "an astonishment, and a hissing, without an inhabitant. They shall roar together like lions, they shall yell as lions' whelps" (Jeremiah 51:36-38).

It is to be noted that this utter desolation is to follow, not some future overthrow, but the sack of the city resulting upon the turning aside of the waters in which her inhabitants trusted. They are doomed to "sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 51:39).

From the bed of her river her enemies should arise and come upon her like the sea while her defenders were feasting and drunken. In that very hour they should be given up "as lambs to the slaughter, like rams with he goats." Thus should Sheshach be taken, and Babylon become a desolation among the nations (Jeremiah 51:40-42). Sheshach is used symbolically for Babylon. The name is said to be derived from the goddess Shach.

"Her cities are a desolation, a dry land, and a wilderness, a land wherein no man dwelleth, neither doth any son of man pass thereby" (Jeremiah 51:43).

Such is the present state of the once prosperous land of Chaldea. Even in the Millennium Babylon's judgment will be the perpetual reminder of GOD's abhorrence of idolatry.

"And I will punish Bel in Babylon, and I will bring forth out of his mouth that which he hath swallowed up: and the nations shall not flow together any more unto him; yea, the wall of Babylon shall fall" (Jeremiah 51:44).

It was against the demon symbolized by Bel that the wrath of the only true GOD was vented.

He it was who had instigated Nebuchadrezzar and the Chaldeans to persecute Judah. Because of their sins the Lord had given them into the hands of the Babylonians; but now He was about to visit their cruelties and wickedness upon their own heads. By this means would Judah's deliverance be effected. To them He says,

"My people, go ye out of the midst of her, and deliver ye every man his soul from the fierce anger of the Lord. And lest your heart faint, and ye fear for the rumor that shall be heard in the land; 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" (Jeremiah 51:45-46).

He would have His own little flock delivered from the strife of tongues, dependent upon Himself and resting on His Word.

Whatever might come, He would not forget them. The warring nations should but work out His counsels; for "He maketh the wrath of man to praise Him, and the remainder of wrath He doth restrain." (Psalms 76:10)

The disquieting rumors of approaching disaster, that might be calculated to strike terror to their hearts, but pointed to the overthrow of the power of their oppressors and the judgment of "the graven images of Babylon," when "her whole land shall be confounded, and all her slain shall fall in the midst of her. Then the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, shall sing for [joy over] Babylon: for the spoilers shall come unto her from the north, saith the Lord. As Babylon hath caused the slain of Israel to fall, so at Babylon shall fall the slain of all the earth" (Jeremiah 51:47-49).

Pointedly the remnant are told to count upon GOD when this awful period of judgment should arrive. It was but the precursor of their deliverance. "Ye that have escaped the sword, go away, stand not still: remember the Lord afar off, and let Jerusalem come into your mind" (Jeremiah 51:50).

In perfect accord with this, we find the Lord stirring up the spirit of Cyrus, in his first year as world-ruler, to permit the rebuilding of the temple and the return of the Jewish remnant to the land of their fathers.

Jeremiah 51:51 is the suited expression of their hearts as they turn again to their GOD. "We are confounded, because we have heard reproach: shame hath covered our faces; for strangers are come into the sanctuaries of the Lord's house."

This might be taken as the key to the attitude of the returned company, as told in the book of Ezra.

Because of the insult to the Lord's house, the days were near when He would pour judgment upon the idols of Babylon, and cause her wounded to groan through all the land.

"Though Babylon should mount up to heaven, and though she should fortify the height of her strength, yet from Me shall spoilers come unto her, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 51:52-53).

He was about to arise in His might to avenge His own elect.

Therefore:

"the sound of a cry cometh from Babylon, and great destruction from the land of the Chaldeans: because the Lord hath spoiled Babylon, and destroyed out of her the great voice; when her waves do roar like great waters, a noise of their voice is uttered: because the spoiler is come upon her, even upon Babylon, and her mighty men are taken, every one of their bows is broken: for the Lord God of recompenses shall surely requite. And I will make drunk her princes, and her wise men, her captains, and her rulers, and her mighty men: and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the King, whose name is The Lord of hosts" (Jeremiah 51:54-57).

Solemn indeed is the title taken by the offended GOD of despised Jacob in this section: "The Lord God of recompenses." (Jeremiah 51:56) How seldom do men in general think of Him in this character! In the 24th verse He had declared that He would do unto Babylon and Chaldea "all their evil that they had done to Zion." (Jeremiah 51:24) Here He reveals Himself in a special way as the GOD of vengeance. In Psalms 94:1 the remnant of Israel are heard addressing Him in this way: “O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth, show Thyself." And in the New Testament the apostle Paul reminds us that He has said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay [or, recompense], saith the Lord" (Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30; Deuteronomy 32:35).

Because of this he entreats the suffering Christians to avenge not themselves, but rather give place unto wrath. It is never necessary for the child of GOD to be occupied with the thought of self-preservation, or self-vindication. He can afford to leave all in the hands of "the Lord God of recompenses." (Jeremiah 51:56) No power can turn aside His governmental dealings; none can stay His hand, or hinder the activities of His righteousness.

"It is a righteous thing with God," we are told, "to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you" (2 Thessalonians 1:6). This being the case, the Christian can well afford to leave his affairs entirely in the hands of infinite wisdom, knowing that "he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong he hath done; and there is no respect of persons with God.” (Colossians 3:25)

It was because of this principle that Jeremiah had ever counseled submission and obedience to the king of Babylon.

He would have His people accept the affliction as from the Lord, and leave with Him the matter of dealing with the oppressing power in His own way and time. It was given to the same prophet to set forth that judgment, and to make known the nature of the recompense that had been decreed:

"Thus saith the LORD of hosts; The broad walls of Babylon shall be utterly broken, and her high gates shall be burned with fire; and the people shall labour in vain, and the folk in the fire, and they shall be weary" (Jeremiah 51:58).

With these words he concludes the burden of Babylon.

This, then, was to be the end of all her splendor and haughty independence of GOD. Her broad walls, upon which several chariots could be driven abreast of each other, if Herodotus is to be believed, were to be utterly thrown down, and her massive gates consumed by the flames.

The labor of the people to make it the grandest city in all the world would thus end in vanity. They had been building for the fire. How significant the words! May not the same be said of man's vaunted energy in this progressive age? He fancies he is building what shall be the lasting admiration of generations yet unborn. But, though he realizes it not, "the coming of the Lord draweth nigh," (James 5:8) and it soon shall be manifested that he has but been building for the fire!

Having concluded this series of messages to the nations, thus making known the future of the Gentiles surrounding Palestine, Jeremiah wrote in a book "all the evil that should come upon Babylon," (Jeremiah 51:60) and gave it into the hand of Seraiah, chief chamberlain of Zedekiah. These prophecies were uttered a number of years before this prince was taken captive; it is plain, therefore, there was a moral reason for placing them where they are in the book which we have been considering. Seraiah was going down to Babylon on behalf of the Jewish monarch, as an ambassador to the court of Nebuchadrezzar, in the fourth year of Zedekiah's reign (Jeremiah 51:59-60). We thus learn that during much of the time that Jeremiah was urging submission to Babylon, he was aware of its impending doom.

Seraiah was commanded to read the book when he reached his destination; and having done so, he was to 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 for ever" (Jeremiah 51:61-62).

Having so said, he was instructed to bind a stone to the roll and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates, crying, "Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her: and they shall be weary" (Jeremiah 51:63-64). Clearly and unequivocally the finality of her overthrow was thus attested in the mouth of two witnesses.

"Thus far are the words of Jeremiah." (Jeremiah 51:64)

We have now gone briefly over the varied messages of this honored, yet persecuted servant of the Lord, embracing a very wide range of prophetic ministry, commencing with his early appeals to Judah in the revival days of Josiah, and closing with his words to the nations. As to the actual order of his prophecies, the words of chapter 44 are the latest; but it was morally fitting that the messages to Judah and Israel should be given first, then those to the Gentiles. The order in the Septuagint varies considerably from that followed in the Hebrew, but it seems plain that in the Greek translation we have but a sample of man's meddling, attempting to improve upon the divine order. The words with which the chapter closes are, in our judgment, meant to inform us that Jeremiah was his own editor. He, by the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, arranged his books in the order we have in our Bibles. A later hand, equally inspired by GOD, added the Historical Appendix that follows.

 

~ end of chapter 25 ~

 

 

 


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Bibliography Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Jeremiah 51:4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/isn/jeremiah-51.html. 1914.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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