Jeremiah 51
Clarke's Commentary
Sequel of the prophecies of Jeremiah against Babylon. The dreadful, sudden, and final ruin that shall fall upon the Chaldeans, who have compelled the nations to receive their idolatrous rites, (see an instance in the third chapter of Daniel), set forth by a variety of beautiful figures; with a command to the people of God, (who have made continual intercession for the conversion of their heathen rulers), to flee from the impending vengeance, Jeremiah 51:1-14. Jehovah, Israel's God, whose infinite power, wisdom and understanding are every where visible in the works of creation, elegantly contrasted with the utterly contemptible objects of the Chaldean worship, Jeremiah 51:15-19. Because of their great oppression of God's people, the Babylonians shall be visited with cruel enemies from the north, whose innumerable hosts shall fill the land, and utterly extirpate the original inhabitants, vv. 20-44. One of the figures by which this formidable invasion is represented is awfully sublime. "The Sea is come up upon Babylon; she is covered with the multitude of the waves thereof." And the account of the sudden desolation produced by this great armament of a multitude of nations, (which the prophet, dropping the figure, immediately subjoins), is deeply afflictive. "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." The people of God a third time admonished to escape from Babylon, lest they be overtaken with her plagues, Jeremiah 51:45, Jeremiah 51:46. Other figures setting forth in a variety of lights the awful judgments with which the Chaldeans shall be visited on account of their very gross idolatries, Jeremiah 51:47-58. The significant emblem with which the chapter concludes, of Seraiah, after having read the book of the Prophet Jeremiah against Babylon, binding a stone to it, and casting it into the river Euphrates, thereby prefiguring the very sudden downfall of the Chaldean city and empire, Jeremiah 51:59-64, is beautifully improved by the writer of the Apocalypse, Revelation 18:21, in speaking of Babylon the Great, of which the other was a most expressive type; and to which many of the passages interspersed throughout the Old Testament Scriptures relative to Babylon must be ultimately referred, if we would give an interpretation in every respect equal to the terrible import of the language in which these prophecies are conceived.

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;
Thus saith the Lord - This chapter is a continuation of the preceding prophecy.

A destroying wind - Such as the pestilential winds in the east; and here the emblem of a destroying army, carrying all before them, and wasting with fire and sword.

And 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.
And will send - fanners - When the corn is trodden out with the feet of cattle, or crushed out with a heavy wheel armed with iron, with a shovel they throw it up against the wind, that the chaff and broken straw may be separated from it. This is the image used by the prophet; these people shall be trodden, crushed, and fanned by their enemies.

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.
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.
For Israel hath not been forsaken - God still continued his prophets among them; he had never cast them wholly off. Even in the midst of wrath - highly deserved and inflicted punishment, he has remembered mercy; and is now about to crown what he has done by restoring them to their own land. I conceive אשם asham, which we translate sin, as rather signifying punishment, which meaning it often has.

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 recompence.
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.
Made all the earth drunken - The cup of God's wrath is the plenitude of punishment, that he inflicts on transgressors. It is represented as intoxicating and making them mad.

Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed: howl for her; take balm for her pain, if so be she may be healed.
Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed - These appear to be the words of some of the spectators of Babylon's misery.

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.
We would have healed Babylon - Had it been in our power, we would have saved her; but we could not turn away the judgment of God.

The LORD hath brought forth our righteousness: come, and let us declare in Zion the work of the LORD our God.
The Lord hath brought forth our righteousness - This is the answer of the Jews. God has vindicated our cause.

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.
Make bright the arrows - This is the prophet's address to Babylon.

The Lord hath raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes - Of Cyaxares king of Media, called Darius the Mede in Scripture; and of Cyrus king of Persia, presumptive heir of the throne of Cyaxares, his uncle. Cambyses, his father, sent him, Cyrus, with 30, 000 men to assist his uncle Cyaxares, against Neriglissar king of Babylon, and by these was Babylon overthrown.

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.
Set up the standard - A call to the enemies of Babylon to invest the city and press the siege.

O thou that dwellest upon many waters, abundant in treasures, thine end is come, and the measure of thy covetousness.
O thou that dwellest upon many waters - Thou who hast an abundant supply of waters. It was built on the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates; the latter running through the city. But the many waters may mean the many nations which belonged to the Babylonish empire; nations and people are frequently so called in Scripture.

The LORD of hosts hath sworn by himself, saying, Surely I will fill thee with men, as with caterpillers; and they shall lift up a shout against thee.
I will fill thee with men - By means of these very waters through the channel of thy boasted river, thou shalt be filled with men, suddenly appearing as an army of locusts; and, without being expected, shall lift up a terrific cry, as soon as they have risen from the channel of the river.

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.
He hath made the earth by his power - The omnipotence of God is particularly manifested in the works of creation.

He hath established the world by his wisdom - The omniscience of God is particularly seen in the government of תבל tebel, the inhabited surface of the globe. What a profusion of wisdom and skill is apparent in that wondrous system of providence by which he governs and provides for every living thing.

And hath stretched out the heaven by his understanding - Deep thought, comprehensive design, and consummate skill are especially seen in the formation, magnitudes, distances, revolutions, and various affections of the heavenly bodies.

When he uttereth his voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens; and he causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth: he maketh lightnings with rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of his treasures.
When he uttereth his voice - Sends thunder.

There is a multitude of waters - For the electric spark, by decomposing atmospheric air, converts the hydrogen and oxygen gases, of which it is composed, into water; which falls down in the form of rain.

Causeth the vapours to ascend - He is the Author of that power of evaporation by which the water is rarified, and, being lighter than the air, ascends in form of vapor, forms clouds, and is ready to be sent down again to water the earth by the action of his lightnings, as before. And by those same lightnings, and the agency of heat in general, currents of air are formed, moving in various directions, which we call winds.

Every man is brutish by his knowledge; every founder is confounded by the graven image: for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them.
Every man is brutish by his knowledge - He is brutish for want of real knowledge; and he is brutish when he acknowledges that an idol is any thing in the world. These verses, from fifteen to nineteen, are transcribed from Jeremiah 10:12-16.

They are vanity, the work of errors: in the time of their visitation they shall perish.
The portion of Jacob is not like them; for he is the former of all things: and Israel is the rod of his inheritance: the LORD of hosts is his name.
Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms;
Thou art my battle axe - I believe Nebuchadnezzar is meant, who is called, Jeremiah 50:23, the hammer of the whole earth. Others think the words are spoken of Cyrus. All the verbs are in the past tense: "With thee have I broken in pieces," etc., etc.

And with thee will I break in pieces the horse and his rider; and with thee will I break in pieces the chariot and his rider;
With thee also will I break in pieces man and woman; and with thee will I break in pieces old and young; and with thee will I break in pieces the young man and the maid;
I will also break in pieces with thee the shepherd and his flock; and with thee will I break in pieces the husbandman and his yoke of oxen; and with thee will I break in pieces captains and rulers.
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.
And I will render - The ו vau should be translated but, of which it has here the full power: "But I will render unto Babylon."

Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain, saith the LORD, which destroyest all the earth: and I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and roll thee down from the rocks, and will make thee a burnt mountain.
O destroying mountain - An epithet which he applies to the Babylonish government; it is like a burning mountain, which, by vomiting continual streams of burning lava inundates and destroys all towns, villages fields, etc., in its vicinity.

And roll thee down from the rocks - I will tumble thee from the rocky base on which thou restest. The combustible matter in thy bowels being exhausted, thou shalt appear as an extinguished crater; and the stony mutter which thou castest out shall not be of sufficient substance to make a foundation stone for solidity, or a corner stone for beauty, Jeremiah 51:26. Under this beautiful and most expressive metaphor, the prophet shows the nature of the Babylonish government; setting the nations on fire, deluging and destroying them by its troops, till at last, exhausted, it tumbles down, is extinguished, and leaves nothing as a basis to erect a new form of government on; but is altogether useless, like the cooled lava, which is, properly speaking, fit for no human purpose.

And they shall not take of thee a stone for a corner, nor a stone for foundations; but thou shalt be desolate for ever, saith the LORD.
Set ye up a standard in the land, blow the trumpet among the nations, prepare the nations against her, call together against her the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashchenaz; appoint a captain against her; cause the horses to come up as the rough caterpillers.
Set ye up a standard - Another summons to the Medes and Persians to attack Babylon.

Ararat, Minni - The Greater and Lesser Armenia.

And Ashchenaz - A part of Phrygia, near the Hellespont. So Bochart, Phaleg, lib. 1 Corinthians 3, lib. 3 c. 9. Concerning Ashchenaz Homer seems to speak, Il. 2:370, 371: -

Φορκυς αυ Φρυγας ηγε, και Ασκανιος θεοειδης,

Τηλ' εξ Ασκανιης.

"Ascanius, godlike youth, and Phorcys led

The Phrygians from Ascania's distant land."

Calmet thinks that the Ascantes, who dwelt in the vicinity of the Tanais, are meant.

Prepare against her the nations with the kings of the Medes, the captains thereof, and all the rulers thereof, and all the land of his dominion.
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.
And the land shall tremble - It is represented here as trembling under the numerous armies that are passing over it, and the prancing of their horses.

The mighty men of Babylon have forborn to fight, they have remained in their holds: their might hath failed; they became as women: they have burned her dwellingplaces; her bars are broken.
The mighty men - have forborne to fight - They were panic-struck when they found the Medes and Persians within their walls, and at once saw that resistance was useless.

One post shall run to meet another, and one messenger to meet another, to shew the king of Babylon that his city is taken at one end,
One post shall run to meet another - As the city was taken by surprise, in the manner already related, so now messengers, one after another, were dispatched to give the king information of what was done; viz., that the city was taken at one end. Herodotus tells us that the extreme parts of the city were taken, before those of the center knew any thing of the invasion. Herodot. lib. 1 c.

And that the passages are stopped, and the reeds they have burned with fire, and the men of war are affrighted.
That the passages are stopped - Either the bridges or slips for boats, by which the inhabitants passed from one side to the other, and may mean the principal gates or passes in the city, which the victorious army would immediately seize, that they might prevent all communication between the inhabitants.

The reeds they have burned with fire - What this means I cannot tell, unless it refer to something done after the taking of the city. Setting fire to the reeds in the marshy ground, in order the better to clear the places, and give a freer passage to the water, that it may neither stagnate nor turn the solid ground into a marsh. Dr. Blayney thinks it refers to the firing of the houses, in order to throw the inhabitants into the greater confusion; but no historian makes any mention of burning the city, except what is said Jeremiah 51:30, "They have burned her dwelling places;" and this may be a poetical expression. That they burnt nothing before they took the city must be evident from the circumstance of their taking the city by surprise, in the night time, with the greatest secrecy. Still there might have been some gates, barricadoes, or wooden works, serving for barracks or such like, which obstructed some of the great passages, which, when they had entered, they were obliged to burn, in order to get themselves a ready passage through the city. This is the more likely because this burning of reeds is connected with the stopping of the passages, burning the dwelling places, and breaking the bars.

For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; The daughter of Babylon is like a threshingfloor, it is time to thresh her: yet a little while, and the time of her harvest shall come.
The daughter of Babylon is like a threshing floor - The threshing wheel is gone over her; she is trodden under foot.

Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon hath devoured me, he hath crushed me, he hath made me an empty vessel, he hath swallowed me up like a dragon, he hath filled his belly with my delicates, he hath cast me out.
Nebuchadrezzar - hath devoured me - These are the words of Judea; he has taken away all my riches.

He hath cast me out - He shall vomit all up; i.e., they shall be regained.

The violence done to me and to my flesh be upon Babylon, shall the inhabitant of Zion say; and my blood upon the inhabitants of Chaldea, shall Jerusalem say.
The violence done to me - be upon Babylon, - and my blood upon the inhabitants of Chaldea - Zion begins to speak, Jeremiah 51:34, and ends with this verse. The answer of Jehovah begins with the next verse. Though the Chaldeans have been the instrument of God to punish the Jews, yet in return they, being themselves exceedingly wicked, shall suffer for all the carnage they have made, and for all the blood they have shed.

Therefore thus saith the LORD; Behold, I will plead thy cause, and take vengeance for thee; and I will dry up her sea, and make her springs dry.
I will dry up her sea - Exhaust all her treasures.

And Babylon shall become heaps, a dwellingplace for dragons, an astonishment, and an hissing, without an inhabitant.
Without an inhabitant - See Jeremiah 50:39.

They shall roar together like lions: they shall yell as lions' whelps.
In their heat I will make their feasts, and I will make them drunken, that they may rejoice, and sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the LORD.
In their heat I will make their feasts - It was on the night of a feast day, while their hearts were heated with wine and revelry, that Babylon was taken; see Daniel 5:1-3. This feast was held in honor of the goddess Sheshach, (or perhaps of Bel), who is mentioned, Jeremiah 51:41, as being taken with her worshippers. As it was in the night the city was taken, many had retired to rest, and never awoke; slain in their beds, they slept a perpetual sleep.

I will bring them down like lambs to the slaughter, like rams with he goats.
How is Sheshach taken! and how is the praise of the whole earth surprised! how is Babylon become an astonishment among the nations!
How is Sheshach taken! - Perhaps the city is here called by the name of its idol.

The praise of the whole earth - One of the seven wonders of the world; superexcellent for the height, breadth, and compass of its walls, its hanging gardens, the temple of Belus, etc., etc.

The sea is come up upon Babylon: she is covered with the multitude of the waves thereof.
The sea is come up - A multitude of foes have inundated the city.

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.
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.
I will punish Bel in Babylon - Bel or Belus was their supreme deity.

That which he hath swallowed up - The sacred vessels of the temple of Jerusalem, which were taken thence by Nebuchadnezzar, and dedicated to him in his temple at Babylon.

The wall of Babylon shall fall - It shall cease to be a defense; and shall moulder away until, in process of time, it shall not be discernible.

My people, go ye out of the midst of her, and deliver ye every man his soul from the fierce anger of the LORD.
My people, go ye out - A warning to all the Jews in Babylon to leave the city, and escape for their lives.

And lest your heart faint, and ye fear for the rumour that shall be heard in the land; a rumour shall both come one year, and after that in another year shall come a rumour, and violence in the land, ruler against ruler.
A rumor shall - come one year - A year before the capture of the city there shall be a rumor of war, - and in that year Belshazzar was defeated by Cyrus. In the following year the city was taken.

Therefore, behold, the days come, that I will do judgment upon the graven images of Babylon: and 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 Babylon: for the spoilers shall come unto her from the north, saith the LORD.
The heaven and the earth - shall sing for Babylon - Its fall shall be a subject of universal rejoicing.

As Babylon hath caused the slain of Israel to fall, so at Babylon shall fall the slain of all the earth.
Ye that have escaped the sword, go away, stand not still: remember the LORD afar off, and let Jerusalem come into your mind.
Ye that have escaped the sword - The Jews.

Let Jerusalem come into your mind - Pray for its restoration; and embrace the first opportunity offered of returning thither.

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.
Strangers are come into the sanctuaries - The lamentation of the pious Jews for the profanation of the temple by the Chaldeans.

Wherefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will do judgment upon her graven images: and through all her land the wounded shall groan.
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.
Though Babylon should mount up to heaven - Though it were fortified even to the skies, it shall fall by the enemies that I will send against it.

A 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:
The great voice - Its pride and insufferable boasting.

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 recompences shall surely requite.
The Lord God of recompenses - The fall of Babylon is an act of Divine justice; whatever it suffers, it is in consequence of its crimes.

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.
I will make drunk her princes - See on Jeremiah 51:39 (note).

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.
The broad walls of Babylon - Herodotus, who saw these walls, says, "The city was a regular square, each side of which was one hand red and twenty stadia, the circumference four hundred and eighty stadia. It was surrounded by a wall fifty cubits broad, and two hundred cubits high; and each side had twenty-five brazen gates." - Herod. lib. 1 c. Had not Cyrus resorted to stratagem, humanly speaking, he could not have taken this city. For the destruction of this wall and its very vestiges, see on Isaiah 13:19 (note).

The word which Jeremiah the prophet commanded Seraiah the son of Neriah, the son of Maaseiah, when he went with Zedekiah the king of Judah into Babylon in the fourth year of his reign. And this Seraiah was a quiet prince.
The word which Jeremiah - On account of the message sent by Jeremiah to the Jewish captives in Babylon.

So Jeremiah wrote in a book all the evil that should come upon Babylon, even all these words that are written against Babylon.
Wrote in a book - Whether this book contained any more than is recorded in this place we do not know; probably it contained no more than what is found in Jeremiah 51:62-64. A book, ספר sepher, signifies, in Hebrew, any writing, great or small.

And Jeremiah said to Seraiah, When thou comest to Babylon, and shalt see, and shalt read all these words;
Then shalt thou 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.
And it shall be, when thou hast made an end of reading this book, that thou shalt bind a stone to it, and cast it into the midst of Euphrates:
And thou shalt say, Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her: and they shall be weary. Thus far are the words of Jeremiah.
Thus shall Babylon sink, etc. - This is the emblem of its overthrow and irretrievable ruin. See Revelation 18:21, where we find that this is an emblem of the total ruin of mystical Babylon.

Herodotus relates a similar action of the Phocaeans, who, having resolved to leave their country, and never return to it again, μυδρον σιδηρεον κατεπονωσαν, και ωμοσαν μη πριν ες Φωκαιην ἡξειν, πριν η τον μυδρον τουτον αναφηναι· "threw a mass of iron into the sea, and swore that they would never return to Phocaea till that iron mass should rise and swim on the top." The story is this: The Phocaeans, being besieged by Harpagus, general of the Persians, demanded one day's truce to deliberate on the propositions he had made to them relative to their surrendering their city; and begged that in the mean while he would take off his army from the walls. Harpagus having consented, they carried their wives, children, and their most valuable effects, aboard their ships; then, throwing a mass of iron into the sea, bound themselves by an oath never to return till that iron should rise to the top and swim. See Herodotus, lib. 1 c.

Horace refers to this in his epode Ad Populum Romanum, Epode 16 ver. 25: -

Sed juremus in haec: simul imis saxa renarint

Vadis levata, ne redire sit nefas.

"As the Phocaeans oft for freedom bled,

At length with imprecated curses fled."


Thus far are the words of Jeremiah - It appears that the following chapter is not the work of this prophet: it is not his style. The author of it writes Jehoiachin; Jeremiah writes him always Jeconiah, or Coniah. It is merely historical, and is very similar to 2 Kings 24:18-25:30. The author, whoever he was, relates the capture of Jerusalem, the fate of Zedekiah, the pillage and burning of the city and the temple. He mentions also certain persons of distinction who were slain by the Chaldeans. He mentions the number of the captives that were carried to Babylon at three different times; and concludes with the deliverance of King Jehoiachin from prison in Babylon, in which he had been for thirty-seven years. It is very likely that the whole chapter has been compiled from some chronicle of that time, or it was designed as a preface to the Book of the Lamentations; and would stand with great propriety before it, as it contains the facts on which that inimitable poem is built. Were it allowable, I would remove it to that place.

Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke [1831].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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