Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chs. Jeremiah 50:1 to Jeremiah 51:58 (= LXX. Chs. 27, 28). Prophecy against Babylon
This long and vehement prophecy, though forming a member of the group with which we have been dealing (see introd. note on chs. 46–51), stands in a somewhat different position in view of the fact that recent commentators are virtually unanimous in holding it to be a composition of later date, even if it contain some, at most very slight, Jeremianic elements. It claims (Jeremiah 51:59 f.) to belong to the fourth year of Zedekiah (b.c. 594). Against this view there are to be urged four weighty considerations: (a) the historical situation which it presupposes is of a much later time: the people are exiles (Jeremiah 50:4 f., 17, Jeremiah 51:34), the Temple has been destroyed (Jeremiah 50:28—end, Jeremiah 51:11; Jeremiah 51:51); (b) the writer here emphasizes the speedy overthrow of Babylon, whereas at the date mentioned (see chs. 27–29) Jeremiah was maintaining the falsity of this same view against the prophets who urged it, and was advising the exiles to settle contentedly, as the captivity would last seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11, Jeremiah 29:10); (c) the joy with which the writer here contemplates the destruction of Babylon is quite at variance with Jeremiah’s often repeated conviction that the Chaldaeans were the divinely appointed agents for visiting upon his countrymen the punishment of their sins; (d) the utterly disproportionate length and constant repetitions (e.g. Jeremiah 50:3; Jeremiah 50:9; Jeremiah 50:25; Jeremiah 50:41, Jeremiah 51:1 f., 25; Jeremiah 50:8, Jeremiah 51:6; Jeremiah 51:45; Jeremiah 51:50). The chs. contain no doubt a considerable amount of phraseology which reminds us of earlier portions of the Book, but it is to be noted that such portions include some passages which we have recognised to be from later hands than Jeremiah’s. Thus all that we can infer is that the author was familiar with the writings ascribed in his day to Jeremiah. The date would naturally appear to be when the fall of Babylon at the hands of the Persians was imminent, an event which occurred b.c. 538. Peake, however, holds that the prophecy, as apparently dependent on such passages as Isaiah 13:1 to Isaiah 14:23 and Isaiah 40-55, which belong to that time, should be placed later, and is intended, by its anticipations of speedy vengeance, to meet the difficulties of those who were perplexed by the fact that Babylon was not really destroyed for several generations after the time of Cyrus.
The lack of arrangement and the frequent repetitions above mentioned preclude the construction of anything like a satisfactory summarization of the contents. Conspicuous thoughts are:
Babylon is a golden cup, from which all the nations have been forced to drink the wine of God’s wrath (Jeremiah 51:7); God brings forth from His armoury the weapons of His indignation for her destruction (Jeremiah 50:25); she shall be laid waste and overwhelmed by the multitude of her invaders (Jeremiah 51:41 ff.).
We may add that there is no clear indication of metrical arrangement in these chs.
The word that the LORD spake against Babylon and against the land of the Chaldeans by Jeremiah the prophet.
Declare ye among the nations, and publish, and set up a standard; publish, and conceal not: say, Babylon is taken, Bel is confounded, Merodach is broken in pieces; her idols are confounded, her images are broken in pieces.2. and set up a standard; publish] The LXX omit. Cp. for the “standard” Isaiah 13:2 (R.V. “ensign”) as the probable origin of the expression here. It was to be a signal either to attract attention or as a point of rendez-vous.
Bel] properly lord, apparently to be distinguished here from Merodach (Marduk), who was the tutelary divinity of Babylon. Cp. Isaiah 46:1, where Bel occurs coupled with Nebo, son of Merodach.
idols] lit. idol-blocks, a term of contempt very frequently found in Ezekiel (Jeremiah 6:4, Jeremiah 22:3, etc.). It seems to have meant primarily something rolled, hence a long sacred stone, then a stone image, lastly an idol in general.
dismayed] better, as mg. broken down.
For out of the north there cometh up a nation against her, which shall make her land desolate, and none shall dwell therein: they shall remove, they shall depart, both man and beast.3. out of the north] characteristic of Jeremiah, but meaning with him first the Scythians and then the Babylonians, whereas the Persians are here meant.
they are fled, etc.] Cp. Jeremiah 9:10.
In those days, and in that time, saith the LORD, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the LORD their God.4. The overthrow of Babylon shall be the signal for the deliverance and penitent return of the re-united people of God. Cp. Jeremiah 3:12; Jeremiah 3:18; Jeremiah 3:21-25, and elsewhere.
They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the LORD in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.5. thitherward] Heb. hitherward, shewing that the writer was himself in Palestine.
My people hath 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 restingplace.6. they have turned them away on the mountains] The consonants of the MT. should be rendered on the seducing or apostate mountains, but the variant (as in E.VV.) is probably right. It may refer to idolatrous worship, the mountains furnishing its favourite seats. But it is perhaps better to make the expression a metaphorical one, and consider mountains to be contrasted with fertile pastures representing safe and pious lives in Jehovah’s favour. Their guides have led them to bleak, barren, dangerous regions, where they have lost themselves.
All that found them have devoured them: and their adversaries said, We offend not, because they have sinned against the LORD, the habitation of justice, even the LORD, the hope of their fathers.7. We offend not] We are not guilty. Cp. Jeremiah 2:3. The enemy’s plea is, Israel is no longer holy to the Lord, and thus it is no sacrilege, though we devour her.
the habitation of justice] apparently taken from Jeremiah 31:23, where, however, the expression is used of Jerusalem. See note there.
Remove out of the midst of Babylon, and go forth out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be as the he goats before the flocks.8. Having told of the repentance of Israel, and of their sufferings in the land of exile, the prophet now calls upon them to set out upon their return. Cp. Isaiah 48:20.
be as the he-goats] who press to the front of the flock. So be ye the first of the exiled nations to leave before the crash comes.
For, lo, I will raise and cause to come up against Babylon an assembly of great nations from the north country: and they shall set themselves in array against her; from thence she shall be taken: their arrows shall be as of a mighty expert man; none shall return in vain.9. an assembly of great nations] such as Ararat, Minni, Ashkenaz. Cp. Jeremiah 51:27 f.
an expert mighty man] better than the mg. a mighty man that maketh childless. In the Heb. the two readings differ by the position of a dot.
none shall return] Rightly mg. that returneth not.
in vain] empty-handed, making the reference to be to the return of warriors with abundant spoil. Cp. 2 Samuel 1:22.
And Chaldea shall be a spoil: all that spoil her shall be satisfied, saith the LORD.10–12. Chaldaea shall be spoiled, because it rejoices in spoiling Israel.
Because ye were glad, because ye rejoiced, O ye destroyers of mine heritage, because ye are grown fat as the heifer at grass, and bellow as bulls;11. an heifer] LXX render calves, which is better.
that treadeth out the corn] mg. at grass, vocalising (with LXX) the Hebrew differently. The cattle were without muzzles when treading the corn (Deuteronomy 25:4).
neigh] See on Jeremiah 8:16.
Your mother shall be sore confounded; she that bare you shall be ashamed: behold, the hindermost of the nations shall be a wilderness, a dry land, and a desert.12. your mother] Babylon, as mother of the individual citizens. Cp. Hosea 2:2; Hosea 2:5.
a wilderness … a desert] Cp. Jeremiah 2:6, Jeremiah 51:43.
Because of the wrath of the LORD it shall not be inhabited, but it shall be wholly desolate: every one that goeth by Babylon shall be astonished, and hiss at all her plagues.13. Cp. chs. Jeremiah 18:16, Jeremiah 19:8, Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 25:11, Jeremiah 49:17, with notes.
be inhabited] See on Jeremiah 17:25.
Put yourselves in array against Babylon round about: all ye that bend the bow, shoot at her, spare no arrows: for she hath sinned against the LORD.14. Cp. Isaiah 13:16-22, specially Jeremiah 50:18.
Shout against her round about: she hath given her hand: her foundations are fallen, her walls are thrown down: for it is the vengeance of the LORD: take vengeance upon her; as she hath done, do unto her.15. submitted herself] lit. as mg. given her hand. Cp. Genesis 24:2; Genesis 47:29; 2 Kings 10:15; 1 Chronicles 29:24 (mg.); 2 Chronicles 30:8 (mg.); Ezra 10:19; Lamentations 5:6. Cp. also the Latin manus dare.
Cut off the sower from Babylon, and him that handleth the sickle in the time of harvest: for fear of the oppressing sword they shall turn every one to his people, and they shall flee every one to his own land.16. Cut off the sower from Babylon] Agricultural labour ceases, and foreign residents flee to their homes. Cp. Jeremiah 51:9; Isaiah 13:14. But it is perhaps better to make the reference to be to slaves or hired foreign labourers.
Israel is a scattered sheep; the lions have driven him away: first the king of Assyria hath devoured him; and last this Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon hath broken his bones.17. The people of God are like a stray sheep, driven hither and thither and preyed upon by savage beasts.
first the king of Assyria, etc.] in deporting the Northern tribes.
and last … bones] The people, weakened by the captivity of the Ten Tribes, have afterwards had the feeble remnant of their strength crushed at the hands of Babylon.
Therefore thus saith the LORD 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 habitation, and he shall feed on Carmel and Bashan, and his soul shall be satisfied upon mount Ephraim and Gilead.19. Assyria has already paid the penalty for its cruelty towards the people of God. Such too shall be the fate of Babylon.
pasture] her own fertile country, Palestine. Cf. Micah 7:14. The parts of the land mentioned are those which were most productive.
soul] as the seat of appetite. Cp. Jeremiah 31:14.
In those days, and in that time, saith the LORD, 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 them whom I reserve.20. In those days, and in that time, etc.] See on ch. Jeremiah 23:5 and cp. Jeremiah 31:34; Micah 7:18.
whom I leave] those who come forth at the end out of the long tribulation.
Go up against the land of Merathaim, even against it, and against the inhabitants of Pekod: waste and utterly destroy after them, saith the LORD, and do according to all that I have commanded thee.21. Merathaim is probably the Babylonian Marrâtim, the land by the nar Marrâtu (meaning bitter river) in S. Babylonia. To the Hebrew ear, however, the word suggests either Double (i.e. intensified) rebellion (so mg.) or Double bitterness (the sense which the LXX saw in the word).
even against it] awkward. Gi. suggests (by the substitution of one letter in MT.) to read, Go up to Elam, comparing Isaiah 21:2.
Pekod] Cp. Ezekiel 23:23. The Pukûdu were a people lying E. of the Tigris on the borders of Persia. But the sound would suggest to the Hebrew ear Visitation (so mg.) or Punishment.
utterly destroy] For mg. devote See on Jeremiah 25:9 and cp. Jeremiah 51:3.
after them] omit with LXX and Syr. It is a repetition of the consonants (almost identical in Heb.) of “utterly destroy.”
A sound of battle is in the land, and of great destruction.
How is the hammer of the whole earth cut asunder and broken! how is Babylon become a desolation among the nations!23. the hammer] For the figure cp. Jeremiah 23:29, and for its application to Babylon Jeremiah 51:20-23. Cp. for the title, as given in later days, Charles Martel (hammer), who was grandfather of Charles the Great, and conquered the Saracens in a decisive battle at Tours in 732 a.d., and Edward I of England, on whose tomb at Westminster Abbey are inscribed the words “Scotorum Malleus.”
I have laid a snare for thee, and thou art also taken, O Babylon, and thou wast not aware: thou art found, and also caught, because thou hast striven against the LORD.
The LORD hath opened his armoury, and hath brought forth the weapons of his indignation: for this is the work of the Lord GOD of hosts in the land of the Chaldeans.25. the weapons of his indignation] used also in Isaiah 13:5 of the nations who unconsciously discharge God’s bidding in war.
Come against her from the utmost border, open her storehouses: cast her up as heaps, and destroy her utterly: let nothing of her be left.26. from the utmost border] better, as mg. from every quarter. Heb. lit. “from the end.”
storehouses] better, as mg. granaries.
cast her up as heaps] “her” meaning the whole contents of the city, including the piled up treasures of grain.
destroy her utterly] See mg. and cp. Deuteronomy 13:15 f.
Slay all her bullocks; let them go down to the slaughter: woe unto them! for their day is come, the time of their visitation.27. her bullocks] her choice youths, the flower of her army. Cp. for the figure Isaiah 34:7. For the expression “go down to the slaughter” cp. Jeremiah 48:15, and for “the time of their visitation” Jeremiah 46:21.
The voice of them that flee and escape out of the land of Babylon, to declare in Zion the vengeance of the LORD our God, the vengeance of his temple.28. them that flee] the liberated Jews.
the vengeance of his temple] the requital for having burned it in their final capture of Jerusalem. Cp. Jeremiah 51:11.
Call together the archers against Babylon: all ye that bend the bow, camp against it round about; let none thereof escape: recompense her according to her work; according to all that she hath done, do unto her: for she hath been proud against the LORD, against the Holy One of Israel.29. the archers] This is no doubt right, as against mg. many. Cp. Jeremiah 50:14.
Therefore shall her young men fall in the streets, and all her men of war shall be cut off in that day, saith the LORD.30. Repeated from Jeremiah 49:26.
Behold, I am against thee, O thou most proud, saith the Lord GOD of hosts: for thy day is come, the time that I will visit thee.31, 32. O thou proud one … the proud one] Heb. as mg. (O Pride and Pride respectively), applied as a proper name to Babylon. With these vv. cp. Jeremiah 21:13 f.
And the most proud shall stumble and fall, and none shall raise him up: and I will kindle a fire in his cities, and it shall devour all round about him.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts; The children of Israel and the children of Judah were oppressed together: and all that took them captives held them fast; they refused to let them go.33. hold … refuse] The Babylonian oppressors act like Pharaoh of old.
Their Redeemer is strong; the LORD of hosts is his name: he shall throughly plead their cause, that he may give rest to the land, and disquiet the inhabitants of Babylon.34. redeemer] The Heb. is Goel, the title of the near kinsman, to whom according to Jewish law belonged the duty of revenging a murder, as well as that of advocate and general protector. In like manner the Lord is about to rescue His people and take vengeance upon their foe.
may give rest to the earth] All known nations had been more or less troubled by Babylon. Cp. Nahum 3:19, of Nineveh.
A sword is upon the Chaldeans, saith the LORD, and upon the inhabitants of Babylon, and upon her princes, and upon her wise men.
A sword is upon the liars; and they shall dote: a sword is upon her mighty men; and they shall be dismayed.36. boasters] better than mg. boastings. The reference is to prophets and diviners who promised permanent empire to Babylon.
dote] The same word is rendered are foolish in Jeremiah 5:4.
A sword is upon their horses, and upon their chariots, and upon all the mingled people that are in the midst of her; and they shall become as women: a sword is upon her treasures; and they shall be robbed.37. the mingled people] foreign mercenary troops. See on Jeremiah 25:20.
A drought is upon her waters; and they shall be dried up: for it is the land of graven images, and they are mad upon their idols.38. A drought] The Heb. words for drought and sword (differing by one vowel only, ḥôreb, ḥereb) are sufficiently alike to make it quite possible that here as at the beginning of the two previous verses the latter should be read. In that case sword is thought to be used figuratively in reference to the stratagem by which the water supply of Babylon was cut off by its assailants; though this seems rather a farfetched application of the word. Drought on the contrary will more naturally refer to the drying up of the many canals by which the water of the Euphrates was distributed throughout the whole country for drainage and irrigation as well as for commercial purposes. Cp. Jeremiah 51:13; Psalm 137:1.
they are mad upon idols] rather, through idols do they make themselves mad. “Idols,” lit. as mg. terrors, the grotesque objects by which heathen often represent their gods. But there is strong support in the Versions (LXX, Aq., Symm., Syr., Vulg., Targ.) for reading (with different vocalisation) and of idols do they boast themselves (cp. Psalm 97:7).
Therefore the wild beasts of the desert with the wild beasts of the islands shall dwell there, and the owls shall dwell therein: and it shall be no more inhabited for ever; neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation.39. wolves] or perhaps jackals, lit. howling creatures (as mg.).
39, 40. These vv. closely resemble Isaiah 13:19-22.
As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbour cities thereof, saith the LORD; so shall no man abide there, neither shall any son of man dwell therein.
Behold, a people shall come from the north, and a great nation, and many kings shall be raised up from the coasts of the earth.41. a people] the Persians. See reference in mg.
from the north] Cp. Jeremiah 50:9.
41–43. A repetition, with the necessary changes, of Jeremiah 6:22-24, where Jerusalem is the object of the threat. See notes there.
They shall hold the bow and the lance: they are cruel, and will not shew mercy: their voice shall roar like the sea, and they shall ride upon horses, every one put in array, like a man to the battle, against thee, O daughter of Babylon.
The king of Babylon hath heard the report of them, and his hands waxed feeble: anguish took hold of him, and pangs as of a woman in travail.
Behold, he shall come up like a lion from the swelling of Jordan unto the habitation of the strong: but I will make them suddenly run away from her: and who is a chosen man, that I may appoint over her? for who is like me? and who will appoint me the time? and who is that shepherd that will stand before me?44. like a lion] no longer Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 49:19) but Cyrus.
44–46. Adapted from Jeremiah 49:19-21 (where see notes), what is there said of Edom being here applied to Babylon.
Therefore hear ye the counsel of the LORD, that he hath taken against Babylon; and his purposes, that he hath purposed against the land of the Chaldeans: Surely the least of the flock shall draw them out: surely he shall make their habitation desolate with them.
At the noise of the taking of Babylon the earth is moved, and the cry is heard among the nations.46. At the noise of the taking of Babylon] rather, At the tidings (viz. that) Babylon is taken.
among the nations] no longer merely to the Red Sea (as in Jeremiah 49:21).