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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 49

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verses 1-6


“Of the children of Ammon. Thus saith Jehovah: Hath Israel no sons? hath he no heir? why then doth Malcam possess Gad, and his people dwell in the cities thereof? Therefore the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will cause an alarm of war to be heard against Rabbah of the children of Amman; and it shall become a desolate heap, and her daughters shall be burned with fire: then shall Israel possess them that did possess him, saith Jehovah. Wail, O Heshbon, for Ai is laid waste; cry, ye daughters of Rabbah, gird you with sackcloth: lament, and run to and fro among the fences; for Malcam shall go into captivity, his priests and his princes together. Wherefore gloriest thou in the valleys, thy flowing valley, O backsliding daughter that trustest in her treasures, saying, Who shall come unto me? Behold, I will bring a fear upon thee, saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, from all that are round about thee; and ye shall be driven out every man right forth, and there shall be none to gather together the fugitives. But afterward I will bring back the captivity of the children of Ammon, saith Jehovah.”

“Hath Israel no sons… no heir” To understand this, one needs to recall some of the history of Ammon.


Ammon and Moab, were born to Lot by his incestuous union with his daughters (Genesis 19). Their original home was the extensive area east of the Jordan river, northward from the Moabites, and between the Arnon and Jabbok rivers. During the Amorite invasion, the Ammonites lost some of their territory to Sihon (Numbers 21:21-31), who in turn was conquered by Israel under Moses; and the territory was assigned to the tribe of Gad.

Thus, Israel benefited the Ammonites by destroying their old enemies, making the later conduct of Ammon even more reprehensible. Both during the days of the Judges and in the reigns of Saul and David they frequently fought against Israel (2 Samuel 10).

Amos prophesied against Ammon, particularly condemning them for “ripping up the women with child” (Amos 1:13).

The Ammonites regained their territory, and enlarged it by taking Heshbon from Moab, after Tiglath-pileser carried off the tribes of Israel that were east of the Jordan. They hated Israel and Judah continually, and their king engineered the assassination of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40).

This prophecy, therefore, begins with the question, “Why is the pagan god Malcam and his Ammonite followers in possession of the land God gave to Gad?” Is it because Gad has no heirs? The message is that God will throw Ammon out of the land they have usurped from Israel.

“Alarm of war to be heard against Rabbah” This was the most important Ammonite city and was defended by a strong citadel. It was here that David king of Israel arranged the murder of Bathsheba’s husband (2 Samuel 11:15).

Along with Damascus, this place has continued as one of the oldest continually populated cities in the entire area. The modern Rabbah is Amman, capital of the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan.

“Wail, O Heshbon” Robinson exclaimed that, “This must be corrupt, because Heshbon was a Moabite city.”(F1)

But Heshbon, at the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy was occupied by Ammon. This was the royal city of Sihon, king of the Amorites, whom Israel defeated (Numbers 32:37). Israel assigned it to Gad; and when an opportunity came, Ammon had taken the city. Generally, however, it was a Moabite city.

“Ai is laid waste” This is not the Ai captured by Joshua, for that was on the west side of Jordan. This place is mentioned nowhere else, and the location of it is unknown.

“Malcam shall go into captivity” This national pagan deity of the Ammonites was exactly the same as Milcom, or Molech.(F2) Solomon erected high places in Jerusalem, not only for Molech, in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but also for many other pagan gods and goddesses to please his wives.

Solomon was punished for this, as indicated by Ahijah, and God rent out of the hand of Solomon ten tribes of Israel, giving the ten tribes to Jeroboam I (1 Kings 11:31-33).

That the burning of infant children as sacrifices to this deity was actually practiced by the Israelites is proved by such passages as Deuteronomy 12:31; Deuteronomy 18:10-13. Also, it is quite likely that David, after the capture of Rabbah, sacrificed many of the survivors by making them “pass through the fire to Molech.” The passage on which this is based is disputed, but this writer, nevertheless, believes that is exactly what happened (2 Samuel 12:26-31).

“Wherefore gloriest thou in the valleys” The exact meaning of the text here is not known, but it is clear enough that “the valleys” were a possession in which the Ammonites trusted and gloried, along with the “treasures” mentioned in the same verse. The trusting in any material thing is sinful; and the “glorying” of mortals in anything whatsoever, except in the grace and forgiveness of God is likewise wrong.

“I will bring fear upon thee… ye shall be driven out… there shall be none to gather the fugitives” The total ruin of Ammon is prophesied here. The Bible records the fulfillment of it in 2 Samuel 12:25-31. The Ammonites were captured, the crown of their god Malcam, weighing a talent of gold, and set with precious stones, was given to David; and “the spoil of the city was exceeding much.”

“But afterward, I will turn back the captivity of the children of Ammon” Here again, the “afterward” suggests the times of Messiah. The Ammonites were eventually absorbed into the peoples of Arabia, some of whom were present on Pentecost; and it is very likely that “the three thousand souls saved that day” included some of the descendants of the Ammonites (Acts 2).

Verses 7-13

; Jeremiah 49:7-13)

“Of Edom. Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: Is wisdom no more in Teman? is counsel perished from the prudent? is their vision vanished? Flee ye, turn back, dwell in the depths, O inhabitants of Dedan; for I will bring the calamity of Esau upon him, the time that I shall visit him. If grape-gatherers came to thee, would they not leave some gleaning grapes? if thieves by night, would they not destroy till they had enough? But I have made Esau bare, I have uncovered his secret places, and he will not be able to hide himself: his seed is destroyed, and his brethren, and his neighbors, and he is not. Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive; and let thy widows trust in me. For thus saith Jehovah: Behold, they to whom it pertained not to drink of the cup, shall assuredly drink. For I have sworn by myself, saith Jehovah, that Bozrah shall become an astonishment, a reproach, a waste, and a curse; and all the cities thereof shall be perpetual waste.”

“Is wisdom no more in Teman…?” Eliphaz the Temanite (Job 2:11) was the famous wise man of his day, Teman being renowned for its allegedly wise men. “The term `Teman’ here refers to the whole northern district of Idumea, not merely to a city.”(F3) The question here is asked in irony and requires that it be understood negatively.

“Inhabitants of Dedan” “This place is identified with the modern Alula, some 70 miles southwest of Taima. In the times of Jeremiah it was a flourishing caravan city.”(F4)

“Would they not leave some gleaning grapes” The questions here imply affirmative answers; but the destruction coming upon Edom would be complete.

“Children... widows... I will preserve them alive” God’s mercy upon this portion of the posterity of Abraham was here promised; but it was not stated for how long a time. Edom indeed continued for many centuries; but they never forsook their wickedness. So marked was this element of Edomite life that their nation was used in the prophecy of Isaiah to stand for all mankind in the final destruction of Adam’s race. This is fully developed in Isaiah 34. See our introduction to this chapter in the commentary on Isaiah for discussion of the phenomenal wickedness of Edom and note the complete justification of God’s judgment upon that people.

“Bozrah... shall become a waste” “Located 30 miles south of the Dead Sea, Bozrah was the northernmost of the great Edomite cities. The overthrow of both Bozrah and Edom is prophesied both as a historical certainty and as symbolical of the Lord’s final dealing with Adam’s race.”(F5)

Verses 14-18


“I have heard tidings from Jehovah, and an ambassador is sent among the nations, saying, Gather yourselves together, and come against her, and rise up to the battle. For, behold, I have made thee small among the nations, and despised among men. As for thy terribleness, the pride of thy heart hath deceived thee, O thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, that holdest the height of the hill: though thou shouldest make thy nest as high as the eagle, I will bring thee down from thence, saith Jehovah. And Edom shall become an astonishment: every man that passeth by it shall be astonished, and shall hiss at all the plagues thereof. As in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbor cities thereof, saith Jehovah, no man shall dwell there, neither shall any son of man sojourn therein.”

“Thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rocks” Edom was probably the best fortified nation on earth when Jeremiah prophesied. The rocky vastness of Mount Seir, where Petra (Sela) was located, is a marvel even to this day for all who ever saw the place. Even yet it seems incredible that a nation with such a stronghold could be defeated.

Much of the little Book of Obadiah is incorporated into these prophecies by Jeremiah, and again we have evidence that Jeremiah was familiar with all that any of the prophets before him had written. Obadiah wrote during the ninth century B.C., and Jeremiah prophesied more than two centuries afterward. See Vol. 2 of the minor prophets series of commentaries for a full discussion of Obadiah.

Obadiah is not the only prophet who gave pronouncements of God’s wrath upon the Edomites. Others are Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; Joel 3:19; Amos 9:12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Isaiah 34:5-7; Isaiah 63:1-6. So far I have already commented upon all of these (except the ones in Ezekiel). To all of these, of course, there must also be added the prophecies against Edom through the prophet Jeremiah.

“Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbor cities” What is meant here is that the destruction of Edom would be total and complete like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, and that the old seat of the nation would become uninhabited. This, of course, is true to this very day. The neighbor cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were Admah and Zeboiim (Genesis 18-19; Deuteronomy 29:23-25 )

Verses 19-22


“Behold, he shall come up like a lion from the pride of the Jordan against the strong habitation: for I will suddenly make them run away from it; and whoso is chosen, him will I appoint over it: for who is like me? and who will appoint me a time? and who is the shepherd that will stand before me? Therefore hear ye the counsel of Jehovah, that he hath taken against Edom; and his purposes, that he hath purposed against Teman: Surely they shall drag them away, even the little ones of the flock; surely he shall make their habitation desolate over them. The earth trembleth at the noise of their fall; there is a noise whereof is heard in the Red Sea. Behold, he shall come up and fly as the eagle and spread out his wings against Bozrah: and the heart of the mighty men of Edom at that day shall be as the heart of a woman in her pangs.”

“Like a lion from the pride of the Jordan” This is a prophecy of the coming of Babylon upon Edom. The “pride of the Jordan” refers to the heavy timber and vegetable growth along the banks if the lower river, productive breeding ground for lions in ancient times.

Did Nebuchadnezzar really come against Edom? Indeed yes. Josephus has this.

“In the fifth year after the destruction of Jerusalem, which was the twenty-third of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, he made an expedition against Coele-syria; and when he had possessed himself of it, he made war against the Ammonites and the Moabites; and when he had brought all these nations under subjection, he fell upon Egypt and overthrew it, slew their king, and set up another in his place, and took those Jews that were there (the ones who were led away after the death of Gedaliah) captive.”(F6)

Despite the fact of Josephus’ having not mentioned Edom specifically here, the nations all around him were mentioned; and the words all these nations undoubtedly included Edom also.

However, the complete fulfillment of the prophecy against Edom did not take place immediately. It began with the activity of the Chaldeans five years after the destruction of Jerusalem. Keil stated that that destruction “is unquestionably inferred from Jeremiah 49:7 ff; Ezekiel 35; Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 25:21, and Malachi 1:3.”(F7)

Edom’s destruction continued when Alexander the Great conquered the world in the fourth century B.C.; Hyrcanus conquered them in 129 B.C., compelling them to accept circumcision and the Mosaic law. They continued until the first century A.D. as a prominent element among the Jews. The dynasty of Herod (an Edomite) perpetrated (1) the slaughter of the innocents, (2) the mockery of Christ, (3) the murder of John the Baptist, (4) the murder of the apostle James, (5) the imprisonment of Peter and of all the apostles, and (6) in the person of Bernice and Drusilla were factors in the persecution and imprisonment of the apostle Paul. The Herods precipitated the final and total judgment against Edom in the Jewish war that resulted in their being exterminated by Vespasian and Titus in 70 A.D. following the sack of Jerusalem.

“Noise heard in the Red Sea” Donald Wiseman commented on this: “Better, Reed Sea (The Hebrew has [~yam] [~cuwp]), that is, `marshes by the Bitter Lakes.’ “(F8) The word has not yet reached many scholars; but the old critical hog wash about [~yam] [~cuwp] meaning Reed Sea has been scientifically disproved and emphatically rejected. The rendition `Reed Sea’ was never anything but a crutch of unbelievers who would not believe that Israel crossed the Red Sea. As a matter of fact, the proper meaning of [~yam] [~cuwp] is “End Sea,” meaning the Indian Ocean, viewed by ancients as the end of the world. Thus it was actually an arm of the Indian Ocean which Israel really crossed by the miraculous power of God.

(See my full discussion of this (with documented proof) on pp. 177-179 of Vol. 2 (Exodus) in the series of commentaries on the Pentateuch.)

Verses 23-27


“Of Damascus. Hamath is confounded, and Arpad; for they have heard evil tidings, they are melted away, there is sorrow on the sea; it cannot be quiet. Damascus is waxed feeble, she turneth herself to flee, and trembling hath seized: anguish and sorrows have taken hold of her, as of a woman in travail. How is the city of praise not forsaken, the city of my joy? Therefore her young men shall fall in the streets, and all the men of war shall be brought to silence in that day, saith Jehovah of hosts. And I will kindle a fire in the wall of Damascus, and it shall devour the palaces of Benhadad.”

“There is sorrow on the sea” Damascus was not situated on a sea, but on the river Barada; and therefore this expression is a metaphor drawn from the restlessness of the ocean, indicating the grief and sorrow of Damascus, as indicated in the following verse. However, in the Old Testament, rivers (especially the Nile) were sometimes called “seas.” This could be another instance of the same usage.

“Hamath… Arpad” During Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah, Rabshakeh (his commander) mentioned the pagan gods of these cities, which Sennacherib had destroyed, and from this warned Hezekiah and Jerusalem not to trust in Jehovah (Isaiah 36:18). Hamath marked the farthest extent of the Solomonic empire, which was mentioned as having been restored by Jeroboam I (2 Kings 14:25). This ruthless, pagan city fully deserved the judgment of God pronounced upon then. One of their most intolerable sins was their slaughter of the people of Gilead with “threshing instruments of iron” (Amos 1:3). This happened during the Syrian war against Israel in the reign of Jehu (2 Kings 10:32-33; 2 Kings 13:7).

“Fire in the wall of Damascus” This verse is almost identical with Amos 1:4. Again it appears that Jeremiah was familiar with the prophets who were before him, Amos having prophesied in the eighth century B.C. There is additional comment on this in Vol. 1 of the Minor Prophets Series, pp. 55, 56.

Note that there is nothing in this prophecy that speaks of Damascus as a waste, or without inhabitants. Damascus has continued as an important city even until this day; and the Encyclopedia Britannica gave the population as 383,239 in 1933.(F9) This is impressive evidence that these prophecies are the words of God and not the words of men. Oh, but Damascus was on a river! So were Nineveh, and Babylon!

“As of a woman in travail” This expression or its equivalent is found many times in Jeremiah’s writings.

Verses 28-33


“Of Kedar, and of the kingdoms of Hazor, which Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon smote. Thus saith Jehovah: Arise ye, go up to Kedar, and destroy the children of the east. Their tents and their flocks shall they take; they shall carry away for themselves their curtains, and all their vessels, and their camels; and they shall cry unto them, Terror on every side! Flee ye, wander afar off, dwell in the depths, O ye inhabitants of Hazor, saith Jehovah; for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon hath taken counsel against you, and hath conceived a purpose against you. Arise, get you up into a nation that is at ease, that dwelleth without care, saith Jehovah; that hath neither gates nor bars, that dwelleth alone. And their camels shall be a booty, and the multitude of their cattle a spoil: and I will scatter unto all winds them that hath the corners of their hair cut off; and I will bring their calamity from every side of them, saith Jehovah. And Hazor shall be a dwelling place of jackals, a desolation forever: no man shall dwell there, neither shall any son of man sojourn therein.”

Little is known of Kedar or Hazor; but from the description here it appears that the people whom God commanded Nebuchadnezzar to destroy were desert-dwellers, living carelessly. Keil suggested that these names “refer to all of the nomadic tribes and shepherd nations of Arabia.”(F10)

Joshua (Joshua 11:1; Joshua 15:23) and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 11:33) both mentioned towns of the name of Hazor in Palestine; but the Hazor here is evidently Arabian.

“Curtains… vessels… camels… tents… flocks… cattle” What else was left in the desert? The devastation of these Arabian tribes would be complete and without mercy.

“This prophecy was evidently fulfilled in Nebuchadnezzar’s sixth year (599-598 B.C.) when the Babylonian Chronicle relates that the king of Babylon in Syria sent out companies, and scouring the desert, they took much plunder from the Arabs, their possessions, their domestic animals, and gods. The Babylonians did the same thing again in 581 B.C.”(F11)

“Them that have the corners of their hair cut off” This does not indicate that God is all that much disturbed about one’s style of haircut, or dress, but is doubtless a reference to this earmark of some pagan cult in rebellion against God. The mention of “their gods” in the above quotation indicates this probability.

Verses 34-39


“The word of Jehovah that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning Elam, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, saying, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: Behold, I will break the bow of Elam, the chief of their might. And upon Elam will I bring the four winds from the four quarters of heaven, and will scatter them toward all those winds; and there shall be no nation whither the outcasts of Elam shall not come. And I will cause Elam to be dismayed before their enemies, and before them that seek their life; and I will bring evil upon them, even my fierce anger, saith Jehovah; and I will send the sword after them, till I have consumed them: and I will set my throne in Elam, and will destroy from thence king and princes, saith Jehovah. But it shall come to pass in the latter days, that I will bring back the captivity of Elam, saith Jehovah.”

Elam was a very ancient kingdom mentioned in Genesis 14:1. Feinberg stated that it was two hundred miles east of Babylon and west of the Tigris river;(F12) and Hyatt located it “east of Babylonian and north of the Persian Gulf.”(F13)

The prophecy, unlike others in this chapter, is dated in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah in 498 B.C. Scholars, seeking to find some reason why this prophecy was given have surmised that, “At the time of this prophecy through Jeremiah the Elamites were threatening Babylon; and the Jewish exiles (hoping for a quick end of their exile) were expecting Elam to overthrow Babylon.”(F14) If that is true, the prophecy was then designed to show that no power could stand in the way of Babylon.

“I will break the bow of Elam” The Elamites were famous for their skilled use of the bow (Isaiah 22:6), but their skilled bowmen would not be able to stand against the judgment of God.

“Four winds from the four quarters of heaven” Jamieson thought this is a reference to “Nebuchadnezzar’s army, made up of soldiers from the four quarters of heaven,”(F15) i.e., from all over the world.

“Till I have consumed them” A total destruction of Elam as any kind of deterrent to the power and ambitions of Nebuchadnezzar is prophesied.

“I will set my throne in Elam” This occurred when Nebuchadnezzar, God’s instrument, “set up his throne in Media, of which Elam was a part.”(F16) Jeremiah 43:10 provides an example of how Nebuchadnezzar erected his throne in various countries which he conquered. A similar thing is prophesied here.

“In the latter days, I will bring back the captivity of Elam” “In the latter days” is a reference to the times of the Messiah; and it is a fact that Elamites participated in the blessings of the kingdom of God that began on Pentecost.

“How hear we every man in our own language wherein we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, etc.” (Acts 2:8-9)? Some of these, no doubt, were baptized on that Pentecost and formed part of the nucleus of the church of Jesus Christ the kingdom of God.

Note that “bringing back the captivity” of a nation was not primarily a promise of release from physical captivity, but a release from the slavery of sin. No captivity of Elam was mentioned.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Jeremiah 49". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/jeremiah-49.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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