Jeremiah 51:20
You are my battle ax and weapons of war: for with you will I break in pieces the nations, and with you will I destroy kingdoms;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(20) Thou art my battle ax . . .—Better, my mace. The axe is not found on Assyrian monuments as a weapon of war till a comparatively late period. It is a question who is thus addressed—Babylon, or Cyrus as the destroyer of Babylon, or Israel. On the whole, the second seems the more probable answer. The “hammer of the whole earth” is broken by a mightier weapon than itself. (See Note on Jeremiah 50:23.)

With thee will I break in pieces . . .—The tense, in this and in the following, should be the present. The force of the verb is multiplied by the emphatic iteration. All obstacles are to be crushed in the victorious march of the conqueror.

Jeremiah 51:20-24. Thou art my battle-axe, &c. — Cyrus, or rather the army of the Medes and Persians, seems to be intended here; compare Jeremiah 51:11-12; as elsewhere the instrument of God’s vengeance is called a sword, a rod, a scourge. This army, with Cyrus, their general, God here says he will make use of for destroying the whole power of the Babylonish empire, and all orders and degrees of men in it, as he had formerly made that empire the executioner of his judgments upon other countries, Jeremiah 50:23. “Or else,” says Lowth, “the words may be understood of the church, and imply, that God will destroy all those earthly powers and kingdoms which are adversaries to his truth and people, in order to establish and advance his church. This will be fulfilled at the fall of mystical Babylon, when God’s kingdom shall break in pieces all the kingdoms of the earth, in the destruction of that remnant of the fourth monarchy, according to Daniel’s prophecy, Daniel 2:44.” And I will render unto Babylon all their evil (see Jeremiah 51:11, and Jeremiah 50:28) that they have done in Zion, in your sight — This may either refer to the evil done at Jerusalem and in Judea, by the Chaldeans, in the sight of God’s people, or to the open and public manner in which judgment would be executed on Babylon.51:1-58 The particulars of this prophecy are dispersed and interwoven, and the same things left and returned to again. Babylon is abundant in treasures, yet neither her waters nor her wealth shall secure her. Destruction comes when they did not think of it. Wherever we are, in the greatest depths, at the greatest distances, we are to remember the Lord our God; and in the times of the greatest fears and hopes, it is most needful to remember the Lord. The feeling excited by Babylon's fall is the same with the New Testament Babylon, Re 18:9,19. The ruin of all who support idolatry, infidelity, and superstition, is needful for the revival of true godliness; and the threatening prophecies of Scripture yield comfort in this view. The great seat of antichristian tyranny, idolatry, and superstition, the persecutor of true Christians, is as certainly doomed to destruction as ancient Babylon. Then will vast multitudes mourn for sin, and seek the Lord. Then will the lost sheep of the house of Israel be brought back to the fold of the good Shepherd, and stray no more. And the exact fulfilment of these ancient prophecies encourages us to faith in all the promises and prophecies of the sacred Scriptures.Or, Thou art my maul, weapons of war etc. The maul or mace Proverbs 25:18 only differs from the hammer Jeremiah 50:23 in being used for warlike purposes.

Omit the "will" in "will I break." The crushing of the nations was going on at the time when the prophet wrote. Most commentators consider that Babylon was the mace of God.

20. (See on [1003]Jer 50:23). "Break in pieces" refers to the "hammer" there (compare Na 2:1, Margin). The club also was often used by ancient warriors. Interpreters are here divided, whether by

thou or

thee in this and the following verses to understand Cyrus, whom God made use of to destroy Babylon and many other places, or Babylon. Our translators understand it of Cyrus, and therefore speak of the future tense,

will I. The Hebrew text will not resolve us; I rather incline to interpret it of Babylon, as indeed the most do, and so it should be, Thou hast been, and art, for that is the sense; Cyrus and Darius were not yet in being. God had made use of Babylon like a hammer or battle-axe to break many nations in pieces. Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war,.... This is said by the Lord, either to Cyrus, as some, to which our version inclines, whom God made use of as an instrument to subdue nations and kingdoms, and destroy them; see Isaiah 45:1; or rather Babylon, and the king of it, who had been the hammer of the earth, Jeremiah 50:23; as it may be rendered here, "thou art my hammer" (s); or, "hast been"; an instrument in his hands, of beating the nations to pieces, as stones by a hammer, and of destroying them, as by weapons of war: this, and what follows, are observed to show, that though Babylon had been used by the Lord for the destruction of others, it should not be secure from it itself, but should share the same fate; unless this is to be understood of the church of God, and kingdom of Christ, which in the latter day will break in pieces all the kingdoms of the earth, Daniel 2:44; which sense seems to have some countenance and confirmation from Jeremiah 51:24 "in your sight". The Targum is,

"thou art a scatterer before me, a city in which are warlike arms;''

which seems to refer to Babylon:

for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms; or, "with thee I have broke in pieces, and have destroyed"; the future instead of the past (t); as the nations and kingdoms of Judea, Egypt, Edom, Moab, Ammon, and others: or, "that I may break in pieces" (u), &c. and so it expresses the end for which he was a hammer, as well as the use he had been or would be of.

(s) "malleus es, vel fuisti mihi", Pagninus, Piscator, Cocceius, Schmidt. (t) "Dispersi, perdidi", Lutherus; "conquassavi", Munster; "dissipavi", Piscator. (u) "ut dissiparem", Junius & Tremellius; "ut dispergam", Schmidt.

Thou art my {n} battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms;

(n) He means the Medes and Persians, as before he called the Babylonians his hammer, Jer 50:23.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
20. battle axe] mg. maul, a war-club, mace. “The Assyrian mace was a short thin weapon, and must either have been made of a very tough wood, or—and this is more probable—of metal. It had an ornamented head, which was sometimes very beautifully modelled, and generally a strap or string at the lower end, by which it could be grasped with greater firmness.” (Rawlinson’s Anc. Mon. I. p. 458.) For this figure, as applied to Babylon, cp. Jeremiah 50:23.

20–24. Is it (a) Cyrus, as conqueror of Babylon, or (b) Babylon herself, that is addressed? Jeremiah 51:24 seems to support (a), but on the whole (b) is perhaps preferable. The future tenses can as well be rendered as presents, denoting what Babylon has hitherto been accustomed to do as the instrument of Jehovah. This view also harmonizes with Jeremiah 51:14 (while we omit 15–19; see note there), as well as with Jeremiah 51:25 ff., where Babylon is certainly the subject.Verses 20-26. - Israel is now to be Jehovah's hammer, striking down everything, even the Chaldean colossus. But though Babylon may be as great and as destructive as a volcanic mountain, it shall soon be quite burnt out. Verse 20. - My battle axe; or, my mace. The mace (for a picture of which, see Rawlinson, 'Ancient Monarchies,' 1:459) was a weapon constantly employed by the Assyrians and presumably by the Babylonian kings. The battle axe was much less frequently used. But who is addressed by this terrible title? The commentators are divided, some inclining to Babylon,

(1) because Babylon was the last person addressed (see ver. 14), and

(2) because a similar title was given to Babylon in Jeremiah 50:23: others to Israel, on the ground that the tenses are the same throughout the passage (vers. 20-24). The latter view is probably the best. How could Babylon be said to shatter her own "governors" and "viceroys" (for the prophet deliberately chooses the Babylonian official names)? The argument from the context is not very weighty; for it is clear that the connection of the parts of this prophecy is very loose. We may assume, then, that ver. 20 begins a fresh paragraph, standing quite apart from that which precedes. The objection of Graf and Keil, is that Israel could not himself be styled a "mace," it being Israel's destiny to be delivered by others. But is not a very similar statement made of Israel in Isaiah 41:15; Psalm 149:7-9? (Kuenen offers a third explanation - Cyrus.) The nations... kingdoms. First the great social organisms are mentioned; next comes the military power; next the population, according to sex, age, and class. The Lord announces destruction to Babylon with a solemn oath. Many take כּי אם in the sense of אם לא in oaths: "truly, certainly." But this use of the expression is neither fully established, nor suitable in this connection. In 2 Samuel 15:21 (the only passage that can be cited in its behalf), the meaning "only" gives good enough sense. Ewald (356, b) wrongly adduces 2 Kings 5:20 in support of the above meaning, and three lines below he attributes the signification "although" to the passage now before us. Moreover, the asseveration, "Verily I have filled thee with men as with locusts, and they shall sing the Hedad over thee," can have a suitable meaning only if we take "I have filled thee" prophetically, and understand the filling with men as referring to the enemy, when the city has been reduced (Hitzig). But to fill a city with men hardly means quite the same as to put a host of enemies in it. כּי serves merely to introduce the oath, and אם means "although," - as, for instance, in Job 9:15. The meaning is not, "When I filled thee with men, as with locusts, the only result was, that a more abundant wine-pressing could be obtained" (Ngelsbach), for this though is foreign to the context; the meaning rather is, "Even the countless multitudes of men in Babylon will not avail it" (Ewald), will not keep it from ruin. הידד, the song sung at the pressing of wine, is, from the nature of the case, the battle-song; see on Jeremiah 25:30.
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