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PROPHECY AGAINST BABYLON (continued)
(The introduction for Jer. 50 also applies to this chapter.)
Them that dwell in Leb-kamai
(Jeremiah 51:1). The proper name here is a kind of trick word called an athbash, devised by numbering the Hebrew alphabet from each end (for example, in English X, Y, Z, would be numbered 3, 2, 1, etc.; and A, B, C, would be numbered 1, 2, 3, etc. Thus, to form an athbash, the letters of a name would be changed. The letter A would be written Z, and the letter B would be written Y, etc.). Leb-kamai here is an athbash for Chaldea.F1
No one knows why such a device was used here. It was usually a device for concealing the meaning of a word from all except those "in the know"; but the equivalent of Chaldea, i.e., "Babylon," has already been mentioned. We encountered another example of this in Jer. 25:26.
Barnes believed that this word for Chaldea, Leb-kamai, was probably "known to everybody";F2 and, if so, it could have been a kind of nickname for Babylonia, such as "Gotham" or "The Big Apple."
A destroying wind
(Jeremiah 51:1). Keil noted that this should be translated, The spirit of a destroyer.F3 That rendition is most likely correct, because it was not a wind that mined Babylon; it was a human destroyer, i.e., Cyrus. In Hebrew, the word for wind and spirit is the same.
Strangers. they shall winnow her ..
(Jeremiah 51:2). These were the Medes (Jeremiah 51:11) who would destroy Babylon.F4 The word winnow was a word connected with the threshing industry; and one still hears remarks like, He gave him a threshing!
For Israel. Judah ... is not forsaken of his God ..
(Jeremiah 51:5). Throughout this chapter, the destruction of Babylon, and the protection and blessing of Israel are mentioned in that order repeatedly.
The analogy between the literal Babylon here and the spiritual Babylon of Revelation is amazing. Note the following: (1) Both shall be utterly destroyed (2) God's people are commanded to "come out of her." (3) She has a golden cup in her hand. (4) The nations have become drunk with her wine. (5) Her judgment reaches all the way to heaven. (6) Her doom is like a stone cast into the river (see last paragraph of this chapter). (7) She is responsible for all the slain in the land (Jeremiah 51:49). See Vol. 12 (Revelation) in the New Testament commentaries (Rev. 17--18).
Babylon is suddenly fallen
(Jeremiah 51:8), It happened in a single night, the tragic night dramatically described in the fifth chapter of Daniel.
She is not healed
(Jeremiah 51:9). Israel's wounds could be healed by balm from Gilead, but Babylon's fate was absolute.F5
Babylon hath been a golden cup
(Jeremiah 51:7). Not only that; she was called God's hammer in Jer. 50:23. As God's hammer, she was strong; as his cup of gold, she was rich and beautiful; but nothing could save her from the wrath of God as recompense for her sin.F6
O thou that dwellest upon many waters
(Jeremiah 51:13). The great wealth of Babylon was caused not merely by the Euphrates, but by a vast system of canals, which served for defense as well as for irrigation.F7 Harrison thought that there might be, A sarcastic reference here to the mythological tale of the Babylonians concerning a great subterranean ocean;F8 but we believe that the obvious reference to the canals of the Euphrates is a far better interpretation.
The measure of thy covetousness
(Jeremiah 51:13). This is a metaphor taken from weaving; it compares Babylon to a measure of cloth cut out of the loom, which is a figure for death.F9 Isa. 38:12 has the same metaphor.
As with the canker-worm
(Jeremiah 51:14). The canker-worm was a very destructive insect. It was the locust in the chrysalis stage, the most destructive phase of the locust's life.F10 This creature was the source of many of the worst plagues that ever came upon the people of the Near East. The promise here was that God would fill Babylon with men who would do the same thing to Babylon that the horrible locust plague would do to a field of grain.
These verses, with the exception of a single word are a verbatim repetition of Jer. 10:12-16. See my comment on these verses under that reference.
No comment is necessary on Jer. 51:20-24, which are merely a somewhat tedious way of saying that God will break in pieces just about everything that pertained to Babylon.
O destroying mountain
(Jeremiah 51:25). Keil uses several pages talking about a volcano here; but we believe Robinson was correct when he said, The language here is purely figurative.F11 Why did the Lord choose such a metaphor? It could be because of that false mountain called the Tower of Babel that had been erected there in the remote past, or because of that Ziggurat, the mountain-like temple of Babylon's pagan religious system. God would roll the whole nation down the multiple terraces of their false mountain.
Thou shalt be desolate forever, saith Jehovah
(Jeremiah 51:26). Thompson complained that, Cyrus entered Babylon without any appreciable resistance and left the city intact; and this is quite contrary to the description of devastation that appears in Jer. 51:26.F12 There are other phases of these prophecies against Babylon that indicate quite clearly that there would be a long period during which Babylon would be the hindermost of nations, and that the total desolation promised would be accomplished gradually, but that it would last forever. All of this took place exactly as prophesied. See further comment on this in the previous chapter in the discussion under Jer. 51:11-16.
(Jeremiah 51:27). This is an ancient name for part of Armenia, including the mountains where the ark rested. It was where the sons of Sennacherib went after they murdered him; and Jeremiah mentioned it here, along with the neighboring districts of Mini and Ashkenaz.F13
(Jeremiah 51:27). These people were the ancient equivalent of barbarians. Their neighbors were Ararat and Minni. They were located southeast of Lake Van.F14
(Jeremiah 51:27). This is the same as Mannai of the Assyrian inscriptions. They were located in the vicinity of the lakes Van and Urmia and seem to have been a very capable people in warfare. They aided the destruction of Nineveh (612 B.C.) and also participated in the capture of Babylon in 539 B.C.).F15 They were vassals of Babylon in the fall of Nineveh, and of the Medes in the fall of Babylon.
The rough canker-worm
(Jeremiah 51:27). This was the name of the locust in its most devastating phase. See under Jer. 51:14, above.
One post shall run to meet another. one messenger to meet another ..
(Jeremiah 51:31). The famed courier system of Babylon brought the drunken king (Dan. 5) the news of the city's capture from every quarter.
The men of war were affrighted
(Jeremiah 51:32). This is no wonder. The enemy were all over the city in total control of it; they had already burned the marshes, destroying any place of hiding or of ambush; the king was hopelessly drunk; and the mighty Babylon was as helpless as a woman untrained in war, with no protection, no armor, no weapons, and no hope. Let it be remembered, however, that this was a prophecy of what would happen, not a history of what did happen. The prophecy was so accurate, however, that some have mistaken it for history. The mention of the Medes and their allies both here and in Jer. 51:11 are all the proof that is needed that here we have predictive prophecy, not history. No writer, writing afterward would have mentioned the Medes without bringing in the Persians.
Yet a little while, and the time of her harvest shall come for her
(Jeremiah 51:33). Note the future verb. We have prophecy, not history. Also, the focus upon Israel here, along with the mention of the fall of Babylon follows the pattern already mentioned, namely, (1) the fall of Babylon, followed by (2) the God of Israel's care for his children.
Harrison's summary of this paragraph has this:
"Nebuchadnezzar has devoured Jerusalem with the greedy gulp of a monster (the New English Bible has "dragon"), and for this excess his land shall be punished. The idiom of recompense (Jeremiah 51:35) is that of Gen. 16:5)."F16
I will dry up her sea, and make her fountain dry
(Jeremiah 51:36). This writer cannot believe that Almighty God would dignify the mythological tale of a vast underground ocean by here promising to dry it up. Could God dry up something that never existed? Therefore, we reject the notion that, This is a reference to the mythological wellsprings of life.F17 The Euphrates and its system of canals were the wellsprings of life for Babylon, not some mythological underground sea. See under Jer. 51:13, above. Smith supposed that there might also be a reference here to, The great lake dug by Nitocris to receive the waters of the Euphrates.F18
Like a monster
(Jeremiah 51:34). See my comment on Isa. 27:1 regarding the monster mentioned there.
How is Sheshak taken
(Jeremiah 51:41). This is an ashbash for Babylon. See under Jer. 51:1, above, and under Jer. 25:26.
The sea is come up upon Babylon
(Jeremiah 51:42). This is a metaphor for the destroying army, composed of many nations under the lordship of Cyrus.
I will bring forth out of his mouth
(Jeremiah 51:44). This reveals the true identity of the one who swallowed up Jerusalem. It was not a sea-monster at all, but Babylon, because Babylon was the one that God forced to disgorge himself of that which he had swallowed.
Jer. 51:41-43 here are the same as Jer. 6:22-24. See my comments there.
All her slain shall fall in the midst of her
(Jeremiah 51:47). Harrison noted that this passage will bear the translation: Just as the whole earth's slain have fallen for Babylon, so at Babylon the whole earth's slain shall fall.F19 Certainly this idea must be in the passage, because of what God said through the apostle John.
"And in her (Mystery Babylon, the Great Harlot) was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all that have been slain upon the earth" (Revelation 18:24).
Jer. 51:44-46 are taken from Jer. 49:19-21. See my comments there.
Go ye, stand not still
(Jeremiah 51:50). See under Jer. 51:6, above for comment on this.
We are confounded
(Jeremiah 51:51). God's people appear to be the speakers here. God's thundering reply came in the next verse.
Fortify the height of her strength
(Jeremiah 51:53). This may be either a reference to their famed Ziggurat, or to their high wall that surrounded the 200 square mile interior of the city. Speaking of the great wall, Smith has given us various estimates of its height.
"There is in this an allusion to the vast height of the walls of Babylon, though their actual measurement is very uncertain. Herodotus gave the height as 335 English feet, Pliny 235, Q. Curtius 150, and Strabo 75!"F20
Incidentally, the above named historians regarding the walls of Babylon are among that company of pagan writers sometimes quoted by radical critics as "authorities" in remarks that are alleged to cast doubt upon or to deny something in the Bible. Can one intelligently suppose that the whole crowd of ancient writers were any more reliable than the sacred writers of the Holy Bible?
They shall sleep. saith the King ..
(Jeremiah 51:57). Right in the midst of all the records regarding ancient kings, governors, deputies, etc., the real KING is introduced. He is Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel.
The broad walls of Babylon
(Jeremiah 51:58). Once more, we shall allow the ancient pagan authorities to tell us about those broad walls. Herodotus gave their breadth as 85 feet, Strabo and Curtius agreed that they were 31 feet;F21 and Donald Wiseman found some pagan authority who gave the width as 25 feet!F22 One ancient writer tells us that four chariots could be raced abreast upon the top of Babylon's walls.
Seraiah... the chamberlain
(Jeremiah 51:59). This man was a brother of Baruch; and his being called the chamberlain indicates that he had charge of such things as accommodations and travel arrangements when Zedekiah made that trip to Babylon in the fourth year of his tenure as vassal king under Nebuchadnezzar, in 593 B.C.F23
"Jeremiah gave Seraiah a scroll upon which was written a prophecy against Babylon."F24 This comment is incorrect, because the scroll had not "a prophecy" against Babylon, but, it had all that Jeremiah said, "even all these words" (Jeremiah 51:60). This proves that all the prophecies of Jeremiah against Babylon came early in the reign of Zedekiah (593 B.C.). Jeremiah wrote many other prophecies after that date, but all the prophecies against Babylon were concluded before the event mentioned in this paragraph. "There is no valid reason for questioning either the act recorded here or the account of it. It is dated in the fourth year of the reign of Zedekiah (594-593 B.C.).F25
As he did in Jer. 18:1-17 when he visited the house of the potter, and again in Jer. 32:6-15 when he bought a field, Jeremiah here reinforced his prophecy against Babylon by a symbolical action carried out for him by Seriah who read the prophecies first (publicly) and then tied a stone to the scroll and cast it into the middle of the Euphrates.
The importance of this action is seen in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 18:21), where a similar action by a mighty angel of God symbolized the overthrow and destruction of Mystery Babylon the Great.
With regard to that trip which Zedekiah made to Babylon on that occasion in his fourth year as king, Smith sheds some light.
"Zedekiah made that trip possibly with the hope of receiving some favor from Nebuchadnezzar, or because Nebuchadnezzar summoned him to be present for some state occasion; and it is even possible that Nebuchadnezzar suspected the loyalty of Zedekiah and demanded that he appear in Babylon with an explanation of why the ambassadors that year (Jeremiah 27:3) were assembled in Jerusalem from Moab, Ammon, Edom and Phoenicia."F26
Thus far the words of Jeremiah
(Jeremiah 51:64). This is called a Colophon,F27 i.e., an editorial note probably inserted by the scribe who connected Jer. 52 to Jeremiah as an historical appendix. Very frequently in our Bible studies, we encounter allegations that editors, redactors, and interpolators have added this or that; but here we really have such an example; and let it be noted, that the addition is clearly distinguished from the words of the author. Whoever it was that added Jer. 52 evidently felt that it was his duty to point out that it was not written by Jeremiah. It is an instance of the scrupulous care the Jews took in guarding the integrity of their sacred books, which God committed to their keeping.F28
The fact of this comment's appearance here demonstrates that the postulation widely accepted by radical critics that all kinds of comments and additions were added to the original writings of the prophets is simply false. The attitude of the nameless scribe who wrote the final sentence of Jer. 51:64 effectively disproves it.
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.