And in the fourth month, in the ninth day of the month, the famine was sore in the city, so that there was no bread for the people of the land.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)And in the fourth month.—Omitted in the Hebrew of 2Kings 25:3, but supplied in the English version.Zechariah 8:19;
the famine was sore in the city, so that there was no bread for the people of the land; for the common people; though there might be some in the king's palace, and in the houses of princes and noblemen, and officers of the army; yet none for the soldiers, and the meaner sort of people; who therefore were disheartened and enfeebled, that they could not defend the city, or hold out any longer: the famine had been before this time, but was now increased to a prodigious degree, so that the people had no bread to eat; see Jeremiah 38:9.And in the fourth month, in the ninth day of the month, the famine was sore in the city, so that there was no bread for the people of the land.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)6. In the fourth month] In memory of this date also, a fast was appointed (Zechariah 8:19). The numeral, which was dropped out of the Kgs. narrative, here survives.
famine] described in detail in Lamentations (Jeremiah 2:19 f., Jeremiah 4:3 ff., Jeremiah 5:10). Cp. Ezekiel 4:16 f., Jeremiah 5:16 f.
the people of the land] the poorer classes, who had taken refuge in Jerusalem, or who dwelt there.Verse 6. - The famine was sore (see the pathetic descriptions in Lamentations 1:19, 20; Lamentations 2:11, 12, 20; Lamentations 4:9, 10). Jeremiah 51:59. "The word which Jeremiah the prophet commanded Seraiah the son of Nerijah, the son of Maaseiah, when he went with Zedekiah the king of Judah to Babylon, in the fourth year of his reign. Now Seraiah was 'quartermaster-general'" (Ger. Reisemarschall).
(Note: The Peshito renders שׂר מנוּחה by "chief of the camp," evidently reading מחנה. Gesenius, following in this line, though that Seraiah held an office in the Babylonian army similar to that of quartermaster-general. It is evident, however, that he was rather an officer of the Jewish court in attendance on the king. Maurer, who is followed by Hitzig, and here by Keil, in his rendering "Reisemarschall," suggested the idea that he was a functionary who took charge of the royal caravan when on the march, and fixed the halting-place. - Tr.)
Seraiah the son of Nerijah was, no doubt, a brother of Baruch the son of Nerijah; cf. Jeremiah 32:12. שׂר מנוּחה does not mean "a peaceful prince" (Luther), "a quiet prince," English Version, but "prince of the resting-place" (cf. Numbers 10:33), i.e., the king's "quartermaster-general." What Jeremiah commanded Seraiah, or charged him with, does not follow till Jeremiah 51:61; for the words of Jeremiah 51:60, "And Jeremiah wrote in a book all the evil that was to come on Babylon, namely all these words which are written against Babylon" (in the preceding address, Jeremiah 50 and 51), form a parenthetic remark, inserted for the purpose of explaining the charge that follows. This remark is attached to the circumstantial clause at the end of Jeremiah 51:59, after which "the word which he commanded" is not resumed till Jeremiah 51:61, with the words, "and Jeremiah spake to Seraiah;" and the charge itself is given in vv. 61b-64: "When thou comest to Babylon, then see to it, and read all these words, and say, O Jahveh, Thou hast spoken against this place, to destroy it, so that there shall be no inhabitant in it, neither man nor beast, but it shall be eternal desolations. And it shall be, when thou hast finished reading this book, that thou shalt bind a stone to it, and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates (v. 64), and say, Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise again, because of the evil that I bring upon her; and they shall be weary." כּבאך בבל does not mean, "when thou shalt have got near Babylon, so that thou beholdest the city lying in its full extent before thee" (Hitzig), but, according to the simple tenor of the words, "when thou shalt have come into the city." The former interpretation is based on the erroneous supposition that Seraiah had not been able to read the prophecy in the city, from fear of being called to account for this by the Babylonians. But it is nowhere stated that he was to read it publicly to the Babylonians themselves in an assembly of the people expressly convened for this purpose, but merely that he is to read it, and afterwards throw the book into the Euphrates. The reading was not intended to warn the Babylonians of the destruction threatened them, but was merely to be a proclamation of the word of the Lord against Babylon, on the very spot, for the purpose of connecting with it the symbolic action mentioned in v. 63f. וראית does not belong to כּבאך ("when thou comest to Babylon, and seest"), but introduces the apodosis, "then see to it, and read," i.e., keep it in your eye, in your mind, that you read (cf. Genesis 20:10); not, "seek a good opportunity for reading" (Ewald). At the same time, Seraiah is to cry to God that He has said He will bring this evil on Babylon, i.e., as it were to remind God that the words of the prophecy are His own words, which He has to fulfil. On the contents of Jeremiah 51:62, cf. Jeremiah 50:3; Jeremiah 51:26.
After the reading is finished, he is to bind the book to a stone, by means of which to sink it in the Euphrates, uttering the words explanatory of this action, "Thus shall Babylon sink," etc. This was to be done, not for the purpose of destroying the book (which certainly took place, but was not the object for which it was sunk), but in order to symbolize the fulfilment of the prophecy against Babylon. The attachment of the stone was not a precautionary measure to prevent the writing from being picked up somewhere, and thus bringing the writer or the people of the caravan into trouble (Hitzig), but was merely intended to make sure that the book would sink down into the depths of the Euphrates, and render it impossible that it should rise again to the surface, thus indicating by symbol that Babylon would not rise again. the words which Seraiah is to speak on throwing the book into the Euphrates, contain, in nuce, the substance of the prophecy. The prophet makes this still more plain, by concluding the words he is likewise to utter with ויעפוּ as the last word of the prophecy. Luther has here well rendered יעף, "to weary," by "succumb" (erliegen). The Babylonians form the subject of יעפוּ.
(Note: Mistaking the meaning of the repetition of the word ויעפוּ, Movers, Hitzig, and Graf have thereon based various untenable conjectures. Movers infers from the circumstance that the whole epilogue is spurious; Hitzig and Graf conclude from it that the closing words, "Thus far are the words of Jeremiah," originally came after Jeremiah 51:58, and that the epilogue, because it does not at all admit of being separated from the great oracle against Babylon, originally preceded the oracle beginning Jeremiah 50:1, but was afterwards placed at the end; moreover, that the transposer cut off from Jeremiah 51:58 the concluding remark, "Thus far," etc., and put it at the end of the epilogue (Jeremiah 51:64), but, at the same time, also transferred ויעפוּ, in order to show that the words, i.e., the prophecies of Jeremiah, strictly speaking, extend only thus far. This intimation is, indeed, quite superfluous, for it never could occur to the mind of any intelligent reader that the epilogue, Jeremiah 51:59-64, was an integral portion of the prophecy itself. And there would be no meaning in placing the epilogue before Jeremiah 50:1.)
The symbolic meaning of this act is clear; and from it, also, the meaning of the whole charge to the prophet is not difficult to perceive. The sending of the prophecy through Seraiah, with the command to read it there, at the same time looking up to God, and then to sink it in the Euphrates, was not intended as a testimony to the inhabitants of Babylon of the certainty of their destruction, but was meant to be a substantial proof for Israel that God the Lord would, without fail, fulfil His word regarding the seventy years' duration of Babylon's supremacy, and the fall of this great kingdom which was to ensue. This testimony received still greater significance from the circumstances under which it was given. The journey of King Zedekiah to Babylon was, at least in regard to its official purpose, an act of homage shown by Zedekiah to Nebuchadnezzar, as the vassal of the king of Babylon. This fact, which was deeply humiliating for Judah, was made use of by Jeremiah, in the name of the Lord, for the purpose of announcing and transmitting to Babylon, the city that ruled the world, the decree which Jahveh, the God of Israel, as King of heaven and earth, had formed concerning the proud city, and which He would execute in His own time, that He might confirm the hope of the godly ones among His people in the deliverance of Israel from Babylon.
The statement, "Thus far are the words of Jeremiah," is an addition made by the editor of the prophecies. From these words, it follows that Jeremiah 52 does not belong to these prophecies, but forms a historical appendix to them.
Finally, if any question be asked regarding the fulfilment of the prophecy against Babylon, we must keep in mind these two points: 1. The prophecy, as is shown both by its title and its contents, is not merely directed against the city of Babylon, but also against the land of the Chaldeans. It therefore proclaims generally the devastation and destruction of the Chaldean kingdom, or the fall of the Babylonian empire; and the capture and destruction of Babylon, the capital, receive special prominence only in so far as the world-wide rule of Babylon fell with the capital, and the supremacy of the Chaldeans over the nations came to an end. 2. In addition to this historical side, the prophecy has an ideal background, which certainly is never very prominent, but nevertheless is always more or less to be discovered. Here Babylon, as the then mistress of the world, is the representative of the God-opposing influences on the earth, which always attempt to suppress and destroy the kingdom of God. The fulfilment of the historical side of this prophecy began with the capture of Babylon by the united forces of the Medes and Persians under the leadership of Cyrus, and with the dissolution of the Chaldean empire, brought about through that event. By this means, too, the people of Israel were delivered from the Babylonish captivity, while Cyrus gave them permission to return to their native land and rebuild the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem; 2 Chronicles 36:22., Ezra 1:1. But Babylon was not destroyed when thus taken, and according to Herodotus, iii. 159, even the walls of the city remained uninjured, while, according to a notice of Berosus in Josephus, contra Ap. i. 19, Cyrus is said to have given orders for the pulling down of the outer wall. Cyrus appointed Babylon, after Susa and Ecbatana, the third city in the kingdom, and the winter residence of the Persian kings (according to Xenophon, Cyrop. viii. 6. 22). Darius Hystaspes, who was obliged to take the city a second time, in consequence of its revolt in the year 518 b.c., was the first who caused the walls to be lowered in height; these were diminished to 50 ells royal cubits - about 85 feet, and the gates were torn away (Herodotus, iii. 158f.). Xerxes spoiled the city of the golden image of Belus (Herodot. i. 183), and caused the temple of Belus to be destroyed (Arrian, vii. 17. 2). Alexander the Great had intended not merely to rebuild the sanctuary of Belus, but also to make the city the capital of his empire; but he was prevented by his early death from carrying out this plan. The decay of Babylon properly began when Seleucus Nicator built Seleucia, ion the Tigris, only 300 stadia distant. "Babylon," says Pliny, vi. 30, "ad solitudinem rediit, exhausta vicinitate Seleuciae." And Strabo (born 60 b.c.) says that, even in his time, the city was a complete wilderness, to which he applies the utterance of a poet: ἐρημία μεγάλη ἐστὶν ἡ μεγάλη πόλις (xvi. l. 5). This decay was accelerated under the rule of the Parthians, so that, within a short time, only a small space within the walls was inhabited, while the rest was used as fields (Diodorus Siculus, ii. 9; Curtius, Ezra 1:4. 27). According to the statements of Jerome and Theodoret, there were still living at Babylon, centuries afterwards, a pretty considerable number of Jews; but Jerome (ad Jeremiah 51) was informed by a Persian monk that these ruins stood in the midst of a hunting district of the Persian kings. The notices of later writers, especially of modern travellers, have been collected by Ritter, Erdkunde, xi. S. 865f.; and the latest investigations among the ruins are described in his Expdition scient. en Msopotamie, i. pp. 135-254 (Paris, 1863).
(Note: Fresh interest in Babylonian archaeology has of late been awakened, especially in this country, by Mr. George Smith, of the British Museum, who has collected and deciphered about eighty fragments of some tablets that had been brought from Assyria, and that give an account of the deluge different in some respects from the Mosaic one. The proprietors of the Daily Telegraph have also shown much public spirit in sending out, at their own cost, an expedition to Assyria, for further investigation of the ruins there. - Tr.)
John the evangelist has taken the ideal elements of this prophecy into his apocalyptic description of the great city of Babylon (Revelation 16ff.), whose fall is not to begin till the kingdom of God is completed in glory through the return of our Lord.
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