THE DESTRUCTION OF BABYLON (TO POUR OUT GOD’S WRATH AND SECURE THE RELEASE OF GOD’S REMNANT) IS DESCRIBED IN A SERIES OF GRAPHIC IMAGES
These oracles against the nations reach their pinnacle in the scathing account of destructive judgment against Israel’s greatest adversary – the world power of Babylon.
Peter Wallace: Babylon is that power that opposes the LORD and his purposes in every age. God reserves words of hope and relief for His oppressed remnant as He commands them to flee the coming divine vengeance and return to Jerusalem. But there is no hope or relief for Babylon. The imagery is varied and intense in its depiction of Babylon’s fall and complete desolation at the hands of enemies orchestrated by the sovereign Lord whose power cannot be questioned. The One who created the universe calls all nations to ultimate accountability and will vindicate His kingdom purposes in the selection and preservation of His remnant tribe. Succinct commands for the Jews in Babylon to flee back to Jerusalem are interspersed with the predominant intense images of judgmental destruction.
David Guzik: As in many of the predictions of Jeremiah 51, we have prophecies that were fulfilled in one sense in the conquest of Babylon not far from Jeremiah’s own time. Still, because the Babylon of Jeremiah’s day was defeated yet not utterly destroyed, the devastation predicted in these chapters will have a second and ultimate fulfillment in the last days. This is vividly described in Revelation 17 and 18.
THE DESTRUCTION OF BABYLON (TO POUR OUT GOD’S WRATH AND SECURE THE RELEASE OF GOD’S REMNANT) IS DESCRIBED IN A SERIES OF GRAPHIC IMAGES
I. (:1-5) DESTRUCTIVE DESTROYER
A. (:1-2) Sudden Devastation – The Winnowing
“Thus says the LORD:
‘Behold, I am going to arouse against Babylon
And against the inhabitants of Leb-kamai
The spirit of a destroyer.
I will dispatch foreigners to Babylon that they may winnow her
And may devastate her land;
For on every side they will be opposed to her
In the day of her calamity.’”
Mackay: Leb Kamai is a cryptogram for Babylonia. (It is in fact an instance of athbash formed by switching the consonants of ksdym, “Chaldea/Babylonia” to lbqmy.) … means “the heart of those who rise up against me” (so NASB margin). . . Babylon is identified as the focus of rebellion against God . . . This note of a sudden, destructive force is taken up in the following verse in the metaphor of the destroyer coming upon Babylon like a winnowing wind.
Clarke: 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.
Parunak: Figures for the enemy:
1) a destroying wind that blows the houses down;
2) winnowers who break her and toss her to the wind;
3) emptiers who pour her out, as liquid from a bottle.
B. (:3-4) Indefensible Destruction – The Warring
“Let not him who bends his bow bend it,
Nor let him rise up in his scale-armor;
So do not spare her young men;
Devote all her army to destruction.
They will fall down slain in the land of the Chaldeans,
And pierced through in their streets.”
Thompson: vs. 3 seems to convey a picture of the complete inability of the defenders of Babylon to ward off the strength of the attack on Babylon. The attack would come so quickly that the Babylonians would be unable to offer resistance.
Longman: Though it will be a foreign nation (Persia) that will defeat Babylon, the oracle understands that God is the one instigating it.
C. (:5) Comfort for God’s Covenant Nation
“For neither Israel nor Judah has been forsaken by his God, the LORD of hosts,
Although their land is full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel.”
Parunak: the twofold basis of condemnation that we have traced through all of the oracles against the nations.
a) God has not forsaken his people. Babylon’s abuse of them stirs his wrath.
b) Their land (the land of Babylon) is full of guilt. Independently of their treatment of Israel, they are sinners against the Lord.
II. (:6-10) SHATTERED VESSEL
A. (:6) Command to Flee Babylon and God’s Vengeance
“Flee from the midst of Babylon,
And each of you save his life!
Do not be destroyed in her punishment,
For this is the LORD’S time of vengeance;
He is going to render recompense to her.”
Guzik: It is never good to remain in a place that is a target of God’s judgment.
Parunak: 70 years is a long time. When the opportunity to return to Jerusalem came under Cyrus, some didn’t want to go back. Many had become so comfortable, they didn’t want to return to a pioneer life, particularly the younger folk who had never known Judah.
B. (:7-8) Cup of God’s Wrath – Broken Beyond Repair
“Babylon has been a golden cup in the hand of the LORD,
Intoxicating all the earth.
The nations have drunk of her wine;
Therefore the nations are going mad.”
Suddenly Babylon has fallen and been broken;
Wail over her!
Bring balm for her pain;
Perhaps she may be healed.”
Constable: Babylon was responsible for seducing many other nations to join her in her sins. These nations had fallen under the power of Babylon and had behaved like drunkards (cf. Revelation 18:3). She had given the cup of God’s wrath to other nations, but now she would have to drink from it herself (cf. Jeremiah 25:15-29). A golden cup suggests the great wealth of Babylon.
The fall of Babylon would be sudden and final. The cup that was Babylon would break and be irreparable. People will lament over her demise, and will wish they could revive her, but will not be able to do so (cf. Revelation 18:11-19). Therefore, they would abandon her to her monumental judgment (cf. Numbers 13:28; Deuteronomy 1:28).
Kidner: What is special to this passage is the note of sadness over her incurable condition (Jeremiah 51:8-9) — a note which chimes in with this book’s description of sin as desperate sickness [cf. Jeremiah 46:11], and also with the many glimpses of God’s reluctant resort to judgment when all else has failed.
C. (:9-10) Command to Forsake Babylon and Return to Jerusalem
“We applied healing to Babylon, but she was not healed;
Forsake her and let us each go to his own country,
For her judgment has reached to heaven
And towers up to the very skies.
1The LORD has brought about our vindication;
Come and let us recount in Zion
The work of the LORD our God!”
III. (:11-19) CONQUERING LOCUSTS
A. (:11-14) Conquering Locusts Commanded by the Lord
“Sharpen the arrows, fill the quivers!
The LORD has aroused the spirit of the kings of the Medes,
Because His purpose is against Babylon to destroy it;
For it is the vengeance of the LORD, vengeance for His temple.
Lift up a signal against the walls of Babylon;
Post a strong guard,
Place men in ambush!
For the LORD has both purposed and performed
What He spoke concerning the inhabitants of Babylon.
O you who dwell by many waters,
Abundant in treasures,
Your end has come,
The measure of your end.
The LORD of hosts has sworn by Himself:
‘Surely I will fill you with a population like locusts,
And they will cry out with shouts of victory over you.’”
Kidner: In view of the larger connotation of “Babylon” in Revelation 17-18, we are reminded that the world’s campaign against God’s living temple is equally ill-fated, its rejoicing premature, and its life-span predetermined.
John Wesley: These seem to be the prophet’s words to the Babylonians, rousing them out of their security. Historians tell us that the city was fortified by walls of fifty cubits high, and two hundred cubits broad, and by a very deep and large ditch.
Longman: The Lord will avenge the destruction of his temple. . . Destructive locusts are often used as a metaphor for a destroying army (Judg. 8:5; 7:12; Jer. 46:23; Nah. 3:15-17; Rev. 9:7). The Lord himself takes an oath that this will happen and that the invaders will be successful.
B. (:15-19) Contrast: Power of the Creator God vs Impotence of Worthless Idols
“It is He who made the earth by His power,
Who established the world by His wisdom,
And by His understanding He stretched out the heavens.
When He utters His voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens,
And He causes the clouds to ascend from the end of the earth;
He makes lightning for the rain
And brings forth the wind from His storehouses.
All mankind is stupid, devoid of knowledge;
Every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,
For his molten images are deceitful,
And there is no breath in them.
They are worthless, a work of mockery;
In the time of their punishment they will perish.
The portion of Jacob is not like these;
For the Maker of all is He,
And of the tribe of His inheritance;
The LORD of hosts is His name.”
The God who created all things will have no problem accomplishing this judgmental and destructive portion of His kingdom agenda.
Thompson: The particular relevance of this passage in its present context seems to be that whereas in her hour of emergency Babylon’s gods were impotent (v. 17), there was no impotence in Yahweh, who was the creator and sustainer of the universe (vv. 15-16) and had the power and the authority to carry through his purposes in the destruction of Babylon and the release of Israel, his very own “tribe.”
In human affairs a man’s portion was the inheritance he received from his father. It was his by legal and moral right. So Yahweh was peculiarly the proper inheritance of Israel…Israel had Yahweh as her very own possession, her Portion.
IV. (:20-24) SHATTERING WAR CLUB
A. (:20-23) Divine Targets for Destruction
“He says, ‘You are My war-club, My weapon of war;
And with you I shatter nations,
And with you I destroy kingdoms.
With you I shatter the horse and his rider,
And with you I shatter the chariot and its rider,
And with you I shatter man and woman,
And with you I shatter old man and youth,
And with you I shatter young man and virgin,
And with you I shatter the shepherd and his flock,
And with you I shatter the farmer and his team,
And with you I shatter governors and prefects.’”
Kidner: Everything here stresses the indiscriminate ruin that an aggressor spreads around him.
B. (:24) Divine Justification for Such Widespread Destruction
“’But I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea for all their evil that they have done in Zion before your eyes,’ declares the LORD.”
V. (:25-26) BURNT OUT MOUNTAIN
A. (:25) Reversal of Fortunes
“’Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain,
Who destroys the whole earth,’ declares the LORD,
‘And I will stretch out My hand against you,
And roll you down from the crags,
And I will make you a burnt out mountain.’”
John Wesley: Babylon was very high for its power, and greatness, and had very high walls and towers, that it looked at a distance like an high rocky mountain. They had destroyed many people.
Parunak: Here Babylon bears the title “destroying mountain.” This is an unusual name, since Babylon is in a very flat area. But the title comes from 2 Kings 23:13, where it describes a southern summit of the Mt. of Olives, to the east of Jerusalem, where Solomon set up idolatrous altars for his pagan wives. If God brings such judgment on Israel because of the influence of Jerusalem’s “destroying mountain,” Babylon, with all its idols, must surely share the same fate.
B. (:26) Reduced to Desolation
“’They will not take from you even a stone for a corner
nor a stone for foundations,
But you will be desolate forever,’ declares the LORD.”
Wiersbe: The city of Babylon sat on a plain, but in the sight of the nations; it was a huge destroying mountain that loomed on the horizon of history. By the time God was through with it, however, Babylon would be nothing but an extinct volcano. Nobody would even excavate the ruins to find stones to build with; the city would be deserted and desolate forever.
Constable: God would so thoroughly destroy this “mountain” that people would not be able to use any of its stones to build. People would not be able to use the splintered remains of Babylon-after God had obliterated her – to build other nations. This devastation was not the condition of Babylon after Cyrus, or any past enemy, took the city. They left it intact. Thus this must refer to a future destruction of Babylon.
VI. (:27-33) UNINHABITABLE THRESHING FLOOR
A. (:27-28) Summoning Powerful Adversaries
“Lift up a signal in the land,
Blow a trumpet among the nations!
Consecrate the nations against her,
Summon against her the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni and Ashkenaz;
Appoint a marshal against her,
Bring up the horses like bristly locusts.
Consecrate the nations against her,
The kings of the Medes,
Their governors and all their prefects,
And every land of their dominion.”
B. (:29) Terrifying Babylon
“So the land quakes and writhes,
For the purposes of the LORD against Babylon stand,
To make the land of Babylon
A desolation without inhabitants.”
C. (:30-32) Acknowledging Defeat
“The mighty men of Babylon have ceased fighting,
They stay in the strongholds;
Their strength is exhausted,
They are becoming like women;
Their dwelling places are set on fire,
The bars of her gates are broken.
One courier runs to meet another,
And one messenger to meet another,
To tell the king of Babylon
That his city has been captured from end to end;
The fords also have been seized,
And they have burned the marshes with fire,
And the men of war are terrified.
Constable: The strong Babylonian warriors would become exhausted, stop fighting, and retreat to their strongholds like women. Women did not normally serve as soldiers in ancient times. The enemy would set their houses on fire and would break down the gates of the city.
Thompson: In the conduct of warfare in the ancient world specially trained runners brought news from the scene of battle to the king (cf. 2 Samuel 18:19-33). Babylon’s runners were renowned, and it was these men who came running from every direction to announce to the king that the city had fallen
D. (:33) Threshing Floor Imagery
“For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel:
‘The daughter of Babylon is like a threshing floor
At the time it is stamped firm;
Yet in a little while the time of harvest will come for her.’”
VII. (:34-35) CONSUMED FEAST
A. (:34) Devoured Like a Gluttonous Meal
“’Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has devoured me and crushed me,
He has set me down like an empty vessel;
He has swallowed me like a monster,
He has filled his stomach with my delicacies;
He has washed me away.”
B. (:35) Desire for Retribution
“‘May the violence done to me and to my flesh be upon Babylon,’
The inhabitant of Zion will say;
And, ‘May my blood be upon the inhabitants of Chaldea,’
Jerusalem will say.”
Thompson: Nebuchadnezzar is compared with a gluttonous man devouring Jerusalem and setting her aside as one does an empty vessel whose contents have been quaffed. In a more vigorous figure still, Nebuchadnezzar is compared to a monster gulping down food, filling its belly with food that delights it and then vomiting it up. Such gluttony left torn flesh and spilt blood behind. For such unspeakable viciousness Jerusalem calls for vengeance upon her captors.
VIII. (:36-46) HEAP OF RUINS
A. (:36-39) Advocacy of the Lord in Exacting Vengeance
“Therefore thus says the LORD,
‘Behold, I am going to plead your case
And exact full vengeance for you;
And I will dry up her sea
And make her fountain dry.
Babylon will become a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals,
An object of horror and hissing, without inhabitants.
They will roar together like young lions,
They will growl like lions’ cubs.
When they become heated up, I will serve them their banquet
And make them drunk, that they may become jubilant
And may sleep a perpetual sleep
And not wake up,’ declares the LORD.
Thompson: All this was a striking reversal of what she as formerly, a vast city, wealthy beyond reckoning, the focus of an empire, the center of Marduk-worship, with a large population both within the main city and in the extensive and prosperous surrounding area.
B. (:40-44) Object of Horror Among the Nations
‘I will bring them down like lambs to the slaughter,
Like rams together with male goats.
How Sheshak has been captured,
And the praise of the whole earth been seized!
How Babylon has become an object of horror among the nations!
The sea has come up over Babylon;
She has been engulfed with its tumultuous waves.
Her cities have become an object of horror,
A parched land and a desert,
A land in which no man lives
And through which no son of man passes.
I will punish Bel in Babylon,
And I will make what he has swallowed come out of his mouth;
And the nations will no longer stream to him.
Even the wall of Babylon has fallen down!’”
C. (:45-46) Command to God’s Remnant to Save Themselves
“Come forth from her midst, My people,
And each of you save yourselves
From the fierce anger of the LORD.
Now so that your heart does not grow faint,
And you are not afraid at the report that will be heard in the land—
For the report will come one year,
And after that another report in another year,
And violence will be in the land
With ruler against ruler—“
IX. (:49-51) SLAIN WARRIORS
A. (:47-49) Reversal of Fortunes
“‘Therefore behold, days are coming
When I will punish the idols of Babylon;
And her whole land will be put to shame
And all her slain will fall in her midst.
Then heaven and earth and all that is in them
Will shout for joy over Babylon,
For the destroyers will come to her from the north,’
Declares the LORD.
‘Indeed Babylon is to fall for the slain of Israel,
As also for Babylon the slain of all the earth have fallen.’”
Longman: (:46-48) God says that Babylon’s end and the punishment of her idols is sure. And the whole earth will celebrate its fall. Why? Because the whole earth has been the object of its violence and imperialistic impulses.
B. (:50-51) Command to Depart and Look to Jerusalem Despite the Disgrace
1. (:50) Command to Depart
“You who have escaped the sword,
Depart! Do not stay!
Remember the LORD from afar,
And let Jerusalem come to your mind.”
2. (:51) Memory of Disgrace
“We are ashamed because we have heard reproach;
Disgrace has covered our faces,
For aliens have entered
The holy places of the LORD’S house.”
John Wesley: Pagans that were strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, are come, not to worship, but to plunder, the sanctuaries of the Lord; even into the courts of the priests and of the Israelites; yea, into the most holy place.
X. (:52-58) DESTRUCTIVE DESTROYER
A. (:52-53) How the Mighty Have Fallen
“’Therefore behold, the days are coming,’ declares the LORD,
‘When I will punish her idols,
And the mortally wounded will groan throughout her land.
Though Babylon should ascend to the heavens,
And though she should fortify her lofty stronghold,
From Me destroyers will come to her,’ declares the LORD.”
Constable: No matter how heavily Babylon fortified herself, the Lord would destroy her with His appointed agents. Her attempt to ascend to heaven would prove futile (cf. Genesis 11:1-9; Isaiah 14:12-14). The Babylonians built ziggurats, pyramid-shaped structures with temples on top, to get as close to heaven as possible. These structures illustrate the Babylonians’ desire to get to heaven by their own works. The tower of Babel (Gr. Babylon) was probably a ziggurat.
B. (:54-56) Recompense from the Lord
“The sound of an outcry from Babylon,
And of great destruction from the land of the Chaldeans!
For the LORD is going to destroy Babylon,
And He will make her loud noise vanish from her.
And their waves will roar like many waters;
The tumult of their voices sounds forth.
For the destroyer is coming against her, against Babylon,
And her mighty men will be captured,
Their bows are shattered;
For the LORD is a God of recompense,
He will fully repay.”
Parunak: We hear the destruction of Babylon. Three reasons are given, in order of increasing power:
a) 55, she is dominated acoustically. The noise of the invading enemy is so great that it drowns out Babylon’s own haughty voice. (NB: KJV “her waves” should be “their waves.”)
b) 56a, she is dominated militarily. Her warriors are defeated and their weapons destroyed.
c) 56b she is dominated theologically. Translate, “YHWH is a god of recompense: he will surely repay.”
C. (:57) Perpetual Drunkenness and Sleep
“’I will make her princes and her wise men drunk,
Her governors, her prefects and her mighty men,
That they may sleep a perpetual sleep and not wake up,’
Declares the King, whose name is the LORD of hosts.”
D. (:58) Burned Up Rubble
“Thus says the LORD of hosts,
‘The broad wall of Babylon will be completely razed
And her high gates will be set on fire;
So the peoples will toil for nothing,
And the nations become exhausted only for fire.’”
A. (:59-60) Methodology of Prophetic Communication
“The message which Jeremiah the prophet commanded Seraiah the son of Neriah, the grandson of Mahseiah, when he went with Zedekiah the king of Judah to Babylon in the fourth year of his reign. (Now Seraiah was quartermaster.) So Jeremiah wrote in a single scroll all the calamity which would come upon Babylon, that is, all these words which have been written concerning Babylon.”
Kidner: Seriah was the grandson of the high priest Hilkiah who had discovered the lost book of the law in Josiah’s reign. He was himself the grandfather of Joshua-ben-Jozdak, the high priest at the return from exile. So the family line survived his violent death, and another branch of it would produce the great Ezra, a century hence.
B. (:61-62) Charge to Seraiah
“Then Jeremiah said to Seraiah, ‘As soon as you come to Babylon, then see that you read all these words aloud, and say, ‘You, O LORD, have promised concerning this place to cut it off, so that there will be nothing dwelling in it, whether man or beast, but it will be a perpetual desolation.’’”
C. (:63-64) Final Image: Babylon Sinking to the Bottom of the Euphrates
“And as soon as you finish reading this scroll, you will tie a stone to it and throw it into the middle of the Euphrates, and say, ‘Just so shall Babylon sink down and not rise again because of the calamity that I am going to bring upon her; and they will become exhausted.’ Thus far are the words of Jeremiah.”