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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Jeremiah 51

 

 

Verses 1-64

CHAPTER XXV

BABYLON

Jeremiah 50:1-46, Jeremiah 51:1-64

"Babylon is taken, Bel is confounded, Merodach is broken in pieces."- Jeremiah 50:2

THESE chapters present phenomena analogous to those of Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24, and have been very commonly ascribed to an author writing at Babylon towards the close of the Exile, or even at some later date. The conclusion has been arrived at in both cases by the application of the same critical principles to similar data. In the present case the argument is complicated by the concluding paragraph of chapter 51, which states that "Jeremiah wrote in a book all the evil that should come upon Babylon, even all these words that are written against Babylon," in the fourth year of Zedekiah, and gave the book to Seraiah ben Neriah to take to Babylon and tie a stone to it and throw it into the Euphrates.

Such a statement, however, cuts both ways. On the one hand, we seem to have what is wanting in the case of Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24 -a definite and circumstantial testimony as to authorship. But, on the other hand, this very testimony raises new difficulties. If 50 and 51 had been simply assigned to Jeremiah, without any specification of date, we might possibly have accepted the tradition according to which he spent his last years at Babylon, and have supposed that altered circumstances and novel experiences account for the differences between these chapters and the rest of the book. But Zedekiah’s fourth year is a point in the prophet’s ministry at which it is extremely difficult to account for his having composed such a prophecy. If, however, Jeremiah 51:59-64 is mistaken in its exact and circumstantial account of the origin of the preceding section, we must hesitate to recognise its authority as to that section’s authorship.

A detailed discussion of the question would be out of place here, but we may notice a few passages which illustrate the arguments for an exilic date. We learn from Jeremiah 27:1-22; Jeremiah 28:1-17; Jeremiah 29:1-32, that, in the fourth year of Zedekiah, the prophet was denouncing as false teachers those who predicted that the Jewish captives in Babylon would speedily return to their native land. He himself asserted that judgment would not be inflicted upon Babylon for seventy years, and exhorted the exiles to build houses and marry, and plant gardens, and to pray for the peace of Babylon. [Jeremiah 29:4-14] We can hardly imagine that, in the same breath almost, he called upon these exiles to flee from the city of their captivity, and summoned the neighbouring nations to execute Jehovah’s judgment against the oppressors of His people. And yet we read:-

"There shall come the Israelites, they and the Jews together:

They shall weep continually, as they go to seek Jehovah their God;

They shall ask their way to Zion, with their faces hitherward." [Jeremiah 50:4-5]

"Remove from the midst of Babylon, and be ye as he-goats before the flock." [Jeremiah 50:8]

These verses imply that the Jews were already in Babylon, and throughout the author assumes the circumstances of the Exile. "The vengeance of the Temple," i.e., vengeance for the destruction of the Temple at the final capture of Jerusalem, is twice threatened. [Jeremiah 50:28; Jeremiah 51:11] The ruin of Babylon is described as imminent:-

"Set up a standard on the earth,

Blow the trumpet among the nations,

Prepare the nations against her."

If these words were written by Jeremiah in the fourth year of Zedekiah, he certainly was not practising his own precept to pray for the peace of Babylon.

Various theories have been advanced to meet the difficulties which are raised by the ascription of this prophecy to Jeremiah. It may have been expanded from an authentic original. Or again, Jeremiah 51:59-64 may not really refer to Jeremiah 50:1 - Jeremiah 51:58; the two sections may once have existed separately, and may owe their connection to an editor, who met with Jeremiah 50:1-46; Jeremiah 51:1-58 as an anonymous document, and thought he recognised in it the "book" referred to in Jeremiah 51:59-64. Or Jeremiah 50:1-46; Jeremiah 51:1-58 may be a hypothetical reconstruction of a lost prophecy of Jeremiah 51:59-64 mentioned such a prophecy and none was extant, and some student and disciple of Jeremiah’s school utilised the material and ideas of extant writings to supply the gap. In any case. it must have been edited more than once, and each time with modifications. Some support might be obtained for any one of these theories from the fact that Jeremiah 50:1-46; Jeremiah 51:1-58 is prima facie partly a cento of passages from the rest of the book and from the Book of Isaiah. [Jeremiah 50:8; Jeremiah 51:6, with Isaiah 48:20;, Jeremiah 50:13 with Jeremiah 49:17; Jeremiah 50:41-43 with Jeremiah 6:22-24;, Jeremiah 50:44-46 with Jeremiah 49:19-21;, Jeremiah 51:15-19 with Isaiah 10:12-16]

In view of the great uncertainty as to the origin and history of this prophecy, we do not intend to attempt any detailed exposition. Elsewhere whatever non-Jeremianic matter occurs in the book is mostly by way of expansion and interpretation, and thus lies in the direct line of the prophet’s teaching. But the section on Babylon attaches itself to the new departure in religious thought that is more fully expressed in Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; Isaiah 56:1-12; Isaiah 57:1-21; Isaiah 58:1-14; Isaiah 59:1-21; Isaiah 60:1-22; Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12; Isaiah 63:1-19; Isaiah 64:1-12; Isaiah 65:1-25; Isaiah 66:1-24. Chapters 50, 51, may possibly be Jeremiah’s swan song, called forth by one of those Pisgah visions of a new dispensation sometimes granted to aged seers; but such visions of a new era and a new order can scarcely be combined with earlier teaching. We will therefore only briefly indicate the character and contents of this section.

It is apparently a mosaic, compiled from lost as well as extant sources; and dwells upon a few themes with a persistent iteration of ideas and phrases hardly to be paralleled elsewhere, even in the Book of Jeremiah. It has been reckoned that the imminence of the attack on Babylon is introduced afresh eleven times, and its conquest and destruction nine times. The advent of an enemy from the north is announced four times. [Jeremiah 50:3;, Jeremiah 50:9; Jeremiah 51:41; Jeremiah 51:48]

The main theme is naturally that dwelt upon most frequently, the imminent invasion of Chaldea by victorious enemies who shall capture and destroy Babylon. Hereafter the great city and its territory will be a waste, howling wilderness:-

"Your mother shall be sore ashamed,

She that bare you shall be confounded;

Behold, she shall be the hindmost of the nations,

A wilderness, a parched land, and a desert.

Because of the wrath of Jehovah, it shall be uninhabited;

The whole land shall be a desolation.

Every one that goeth by Babylon

Shall hiss with astonishment because of all her plagues." [Jeremiah 50:12; Jeremiah 13:13; Jeremiah 50:39-40; Jeremiah 51:26; Jeremiah 51:29; Jeremiah 51:37; Jeremiah 51:41-43]

The gods of Babylon, Bel and Merodach, and all her idols, are involved in her ruin, and reference is made to the vanity and folly of idolatry. [Jeremiah 51:17-18] But the wrath of Jehovah has been chiefly excited, not by false religion, but by the wrongs inflicted by the Chaldeans on His Chosen People. He is moved to avenge His Temple:- [Jeremiah 50:28]

"I will recompense unto Babylon

And all the inhabitants of Chaldea

All the evil which they wrought in Zion,

And ye shall see it-it is the utterance of Jehovah". [Jeremiah 51:24]

Though He thus avenge Judah, yet its former sins are not yet blotted out of the book of His remembrance:-

"Their adversaries said, We incur no guilt.

Because they have sinned against Jehovah, the Pasture of Justice,

Against the Hope of their fathers, even Jehovah". [Jeremiah 50:7]

Yet now there is forgiveness:-

"The iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none;

And the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found

For I will pardon the remnant that I preserve". [Jeremiah 50:20]

The Jews are urged to flee from Babylon, lest they should be involved in its punishment, and are encouraged to return to Jerusalem and enter afresh into an everlasting covenant with Jehovah. As in Jeremiah 31:1-40, Israel is to be restored as well as Judah:-

"I will bring Israel again to his Pasture;

He shall feed on Carmel and Bashan;

His desires shall be satisfied on the hills of Ephraim and in Gilead." [Jeremiah 50:19]

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Jeremiah 51:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/jeremiah-51.html.

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Thursday, January 23rd, 2020
the Second Week after Epiphany
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