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THE DOOM OF BABYLON AND THE DELIVERANCE OF THE REMNANT
(Chaps. 50, 51)
In the New Testament two solemn chapters are devoted to an account of the worldly glory and the awful overthrow of mystical, or spiritual, Babylon (Revelation 17:18). In our prophet, two chapters give in detail the splendor and ruin of literal Babylon, the city by the Euphrates, which answers to the Babylon of the Apocalypse as type to antitype.
It has been a question with many as to whether or not the literal city in the plain of Shinar is again to be built, and destined to become the queen city of the world. Those who think so consider the Babylon of Revelation to refer, not to Rome and its unholy politico-religious system, but to the actual Chaldean city, when it has awakened from the slumber of centuries. Such point to the fact that Babylon as well as Rome was built upon seven hills, or mounds; and as the prophecy of Jeremiah so closely connects Israel's restoration with Babylon's ruin, they hold that it is essential to prophetic exactness that this city shall once more become the wonder of the world.
On the other hand, the opponents of this view consider the resurrection of literal Babylon to be an idle dream, utterly opposed to the teaching of these chapters now before us. They hold that any plain man, reading Jeremiah's vivid description of the downfall of Shinar's capital, could but gather from it that it was cast down forever. Unless one has a theory to uphold, this would be the plain sense of the passage, in their judgment. There seems to them to be no proper reason for supposing the apocalyptic Babylon to be other than Rome, as held by the majority of Christians of all ages. The description so exactly tallies with papal and pagan Rome in the past, as well as with what one may so readily expect the papacy to develop in the future, when the Church has been caught up - and this view seems so thoroughly in accord with the predictions of Daniel and other prophets of both the Old and New Testaments - that one finds it difficult to believe in the necessity for the rebuilding of the literal city in order to carry out the "sure word of prophecy." (2 Peter 1:19)
Without desiring to be offensively dogmatic, the writer finds himself in this class, and is compelled, in what follows, to view the present portion of Jeremiah from this standpoint. Let the reader carefully seek to "prove all things, and hold fast that which is good." (1 Thessalonians 5:21) Because of these conflicting views, we shall not glance as cursorily at these chapters as we have done in regard to the others that give the prophecies of the nations; but we shall look at them verse by verse, seeking to point out the general trend of the teaching as we go along.
"The Word that the Lord spake against Babylon and against the land of the Chaldeans by Jeremiah the prophet" (Jeremiah 50:1).
It is noteworthy that the same man who had previously predicted the ascendancy of Babylon now foretells its doom. He who had counseled submission to its authority now exhorts the remnant of Israel to flee from it, that they be not partakers of its sins and its judgment. This is all perfectly consistent. Jeremiah was no politician, no courtier, no man-pleaser. He spake "as pleasing God that trieth the heart." (1 Thessalonians 2:4) When the Lord would chasten Judah, He chose Nebuchadrezzar to be His rod, When Babylon lifted up herself against Him, she too must fall, and fall lower far than Judah, never to rise again.
"Declare ye among the nations, and publish, and set up a standard; publish, and conceal not: say, Babylon is taken, Bel is confounded, Merodach is broken in pieces; her idols are confounded, her images are broken in pieces" (Jeremiah 50:2).
GOD speaks of the things that are not as though they were. Vividly He describes the downfall of the special form of idolatry that characterized Babylon, together with the taking of the city by the monotheistic armies of Cyrus. Bel was the sun-god worshiped under the names of Baal, Zeus, Jupiter, Osiris, etc., by various nations. Merodach is but another name for the same demon-deity. He is called Marduk in the Babylonian inscriptions. Often the two names are joined together, as Bel-Marduk. Bel was the name under which he was worshiped among the old Accadians. He is sometimes called Bel of Nippur. Before the power of the Lord's might he is to be put to shame, and all the images broken to pieces.
"For out of the north there cometh up a nation against her, which shall make her land desolate, and none shall dwell therein: they shall remove, they shall depart, both man and beast" (Jeremiah 50:3).
The northern nation was the Medo-Persian confederacy, whose end we have noted in chapter 49. The Persians generally were believers in one unseen GOD, whom they worshiped under the symbol of fire. They abhorred idolatry with a relentless hatred, and were a nation of iconoclasts. It was fitting that such a people should be used to overthrow the mother of all idolatrous practices - Babylon, with her powerful secret priest-caste. By this means should the way be opened for the return of the captivity of Israel and Judah to the land of their nativity.
"In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the Lord their God. They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten" (Jeremiah 50:4-5).
We know that it was a mere handful that thus responded to the opportunity given by Cyrus. Nevertheless they were prospered on their way, and were settled in their land when Messiah appeared. The perpetual covenant, however, shall not be truly entered into until their future return. The first was but a picture of the final restoration, when they shall be brought into millennial blessing.
Touchingly, the Lord describes the afflicted state of His people under Babylon's rule:
"My people hath been lost sheep; their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their resting place. All that found them have devoured them: and their adversaries said, We offend not, because they have sinned against the Lord, the habitation of justice, even the Lord, the hope of their fathers" (Jeremiah 50:6-7).
Thus had the nations combined to heap ignominy and reproach upon the failed nation that had enjoyed blessing above every other. But though the Lord permitted all this for their discipline, He had not failed to note the hatred manifested toward them by the haughty Gentile powers. The time was near when He was to awake for the deliverance of His own, and the judgment of their oppressors. To the leaders among the captivity He sends the word, "Flee" (or, remove) "out of the midst of Babylon, and go forth out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be as the he goats before the flocks" (Jeremiah 50:8). His wandering sheep are to be restored to their own fold under the guidance and care of the "Shepherd of Israel." (Jeremiah 31:10)
"For, lo, I will raise and cause to come up against Babylon an assembly of great nations from the north country: and they shall set themselves in array against her; from thence she shall be taken; their arrows shall be as of a mighty expert man; none shall return in vain. And Chaldea shall be a spoil: all that spoil her shall be satisfied, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 50:9-10).
The "assembly of great nations from the north" (Jeremiah 50:9) under Cyrus consisted of the Persians and Medes, together with the Elamites and the surrounding nations which had become tributary to the mighty conqueror, whose triumph Daniel had plainly predicted in the very court of the kings of Babylon.
The reason for the desolation of this once glorious city is given in the next two verses, as also a Summary of her destruction. "Because ye were glad, because ye rejoiced, O ye destroyers of My heritage, because ye are grown fat as the heifer at grass and bellow as bulls; your mother shall be sore confounded; she that bare you shall be ashamed: behold, the hindermost of the nations shall be a wilderness, a dry land, and a desert" (Jeremiah 50:11-12).
Only genuine faith in the Word of GOD could have led anyone to credit a prophecy so unlikely of fulfilment to the mind of the natural man. When Jeremiah spoke, or wrote, the words Babylon was the greatest city in the world, with apparently impregnable defenses. Her massive walls, with their hundred gates, seemed calculated to withstand the siege of centuries; especially as the vast space within, suitable for cultivation, apparently provided against all possibility of famine.
But GOD had spoken; and though her inhabitants knew it not, the doom of proud, luxurious, idolatrous Babylon was sealed. Where the city once stood, now all is desert, as foretold by both Jeremiah and Isaiah (see Isaiah 47:0). It was with great difficulty that archaeologists were even able to find its site, buried deep beneath the rubbish of ages. It shall never be rebuilt; for He who cannot lie hath declared,
"Because of the wrath of the Lord it shall not be inhabited, but it shall be wholly desolate: every one that goeth by Babylon shall be astonished, and hiss at all her plagues" (Jeremiah 50:13).
In the light of this verse, if there were no other corroborative, we cannot conceive of any room for the notion that the city is yet to be rebuilt in order to be thrown down once more. No one, without a theory to maintain, could gather from these words other than that, once destroyed, it should rise no more forever. Jeremiah's hearers must have so understood it. There was no hint that he referred to another destruction than that begun under Cyrus. It is useless to urge against this that the desolation was not accomplished at once, when Belshazzar was conquered and slain by the armies of Cyrus. The prophet does not predict a sudden blotting out. She is to become first the "hindermost of the nations;" then, eventually, "a wilderness." (Jeremiah 50:12) This is exactly what took place. GOD's word was fulfilled to the letter, for "the Scripture cannot be broken." (John 10:35)
As though beholding the invading army surrounding the city, Jeremiah vividly describes the onslaught of the Persian cohorts.
"Put yourselves in array against Babylon round about: all ye that bend the bow, shoot at her, spare no arrows; for she hath sinned against the Lord. Shout against her round about: she hath given her hand: her foundations are fallen, her walls are thrown down: for it is the vengeance of the Lord: take vengeance upon her; as she hath done, do unto her. Cut off the sower from Babylon, and him that handleth the sickle in time of harvest: for fear of the oppressing sword they shall turn every one to his people, and they shall flee everyone to his own land" (Jeremiah 50:14-16).
It is the undeviating law of GOD's government that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7) - and a nation in like manner. According as Babylon had done to others, so was it done to her. The New Testament seer uses language very similar in referring to mystical Babylon. (See Revelation 18:6). Retribution may be long delayed, but it is as certain as the fixed stars. “God is not mocked." (Galatians 6:7) He still sits on the throne as the moral Governor of the universe. How important, then, for the nations, as well as individuals, to remember and act upon the words of our Lord JESUS: "As ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." (Luke 6:31)
Again the prophet turns to Israel to declare GOD's unfailing promises. They have sinned, and sinned most grievously, but His Word cannot be thus made void.
"Israel is a scattered sheep; the lions have driven him away: first the king of Assyria hath devoured him; and last this Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon hath broken his bones. Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will punish the king of Babylon and his land, as I have punished the king of Assyria. And I will bring Israel again to his habitation, and he shall feed on Carmel and Bashan, and his soul shall be satisfied upon mount Ephraim and Gilead" (Jeremiah 50:17-19).
As surely as Assyria's haughty power had been broken, so should Babylon fall; and as surely as this seemingly impossible event should take place, so should Israel be brought back to the home of their fathers.
Nor was it the merely temporary return under Ezra and Zerubbabel that is here referred to, for:
"In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve" (Jeremiah 50:20).
This will only be when "they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced:" (Zechariah 12:10) and the remnant of Judah, as later the remnant of the ten tribes, shall say, "Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up" (Hosea 6:1).
Reverting again to the main theme, Jeremiah goes on to picture, as in vision, the desolation of Babylon.
"Go up against the land of Merathaim, even against it, and against the inhabitants of Pekod: waste and utterly destroy after them, saith the Lord, and do according to all that I have commanded thee" (Jeremiah 50:21).
Merathaim means "double rebellion," according to the best authorities, and seems here to be symbolically applied to Chaldea. Pekod is said by some to mean "Visitation;" and by reference to Ezekiel 23:23 it would appear to indicate a tributary city to the capital. If so, it is now impossible to find any trace of it. Some have thought it might simply refer to a certain quarter or suburb of the imperial city.
"A sound of battle is in the land, and of great destruction. How is the hammer of the whole earth cut asunder and broken! How is Babylon become a desolation among the nations! I have laid a snare for thee, and thou art also taken, O Babylon, and thou wast not aware: thou art found, and also caught, because thou hast striven against the Lord" (Jeremiah 50:22-24).
It was in this that her great offence consisted. She had lifted herself up against the Most High.
In no other city did idolatry assume so fearful a form and so dreadful an aspect as in the great city Babylon. She was, as before pointed out, the mother of almost every heathen system. From her, too, mystical Babylon borrowed far more than many have any conception. Almost every unscriptural practice in the great Romish apostasy can be traced back to the Babylonish rites and ceremonies.
Because of her dreadful impiety:
"The Lord hath opened His armory, and hath brought forth the weapons of His indignation: for this is the work of the Lord God of hosts in the land of the Chaldeans" (Jeremiah 50:25).
Not the superior strategy of Cyrus, nor yet the hardihood of his northern troops, nor the carelessness of her defenders, overcame Babylon. It was the hand of GOD that subverted that mighty empire when its iniquity had come to the full.
Though the Medo-Persian legions knew Him not, He it was who summoned them, saying:
"Come against her from the utmost border, open her storehouses: cast her up as heaps, and destroy her utterly: let nothing of her be left. Slay all her bullocks;. let them go down to the slaughter: woe unto them! for their day is come, the time of their visitation" (Jeremiah 50:26-27).
The prophetic ear, made quick to hear things yet to come, catches the sound borne down from the years of the future, of "the voice of them that flee and escape out of the land of Babylon, to declare in Zion the vengeance of the Lord our God, the vengeance of His temple" (Jeremiah 50:28).
That temple had been despoiled and burned with fire by the ruthless armies of Chaldea. Its sacred vessels had been carried to Babylon; and, later, we learn from the book of Daniel that the crowning act of Belshazzar's impiety was reached when he caused these holy vessels to be desecrated at his idolatrous feasts by pouring out in them drink offerings to his false gods, and using them for the awful revels of his last great affront to the GOD of Israel.
"The vengeance of the temple" (Jeremiah 50:28) was certain. No hand could stay it. Even as the feast went on, the wretched monarch's doom was sealed. Weighed in the balances, he was found wanting; his kingdom, numbered and finished, was given to the Medes and Persians.
"Call together the archers against Babylon: all ye that bend the bow, camp against it round about; let none thereof escape: recompense her according to her work; according to all that she hath done, do unto her: for she hath been proud against the Lord, against the Holy One of Israel" (Jeremiah 50:29).
It was not ignorance on her part. Testimony after testimony had been given to the true and living GOD, but she deliberately refused them all and rushed madly upon "the thick bosses of the Almighty." "Therefore shall her young men fall in the streets, and all her men of war shall be cut off in that day, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 50:30).
Falling into the hands of the GOD of judgment, she learns His awful power, when repentance is forever too late.
"Behold, I am against thee, O thou most proud, saith the Lord God of hosts: for thy day is come, the time that I will visit thee. And the most proud shall stumble and fall, and none shall raise him up: and I will kindle a fire in his cities, and it shall devour all round about him" (Jeremiah 50:31-32).
Do not the words, "The most proud shall stumble and fall, and none shall raise him up," (Jeremiah 50:32) clearly indicate that there can be no future rebuilding of this abhorred city? She had her day of opportunity. Blindly she refused the things that belonged to her peace.
When her time of visitation came, her fall was complete and final.
Precious is the word that follows for the remnant of Israel and for us:
"Thus saith the Lord of hosts: The children of Israel and the children of Judah were oppressed together: and all that took them captive held them fast; they refused to let them go. Their Redeemer is strong; The Lord of hosts is His name: He shall thoroughly plead their cause, that He may give rest to the land, and disquiet the inhabitants of Babylon" (Jeremiah 50:33-34).
Israel and Judah should yet know Him as a Saviour-God, delivering them from all that oppressed them. In His love and in His pity He had redeemed them of old, He would never give them up, but in His own appointed time He should arise to their deliverance. His lovingkindness endureth forever. His grace must have its full display, however unworthy the objects of it may be.
But if we read of mercy and compassion for His own, we find His sword of wrath unsheathed for the punishment of His enemies.
"A sword is upon the Chaldeans, saith the Lord, and upon the inhabitants of Babylon, and upon her princes, and upon her wise men. A sword is upon the liars" (or, boasters); "and they shall dote" (i.e., utter nonsense): "a sword is upon her mighty men; and they shall be dismayed. A sword is upon their horses, and upon their chariots, and upon all the mingled people that are in the midst of her; and they shall become as women: a sword is upon her treasures; and they shall be robbed" (Jeremiah 50:35-37).
It is a graphic delineation of unsparing judgment. No words of ours are needed as to what is in itself so plain.
The next verse clearly tells the reason for so frightful a catastrophe:
"A drought is upon her waters; and they shall be dried up: for it is the land of graven images, and they are mad upon their idols." (Jeremiah 50:38)
The Lord's controversy was not with the people of Babylon and Chaldea alone, but with the whole demoniacal system which, from the days of Nimrod, had its center in the plains of Shinar.
"Therefore the wild beasts of the desert with the wild beasts of the islands shall dwell there, and the owls shall dwell therein; and it shall be no more inhabited forever, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation" (Jeremiah 50:38-39).
This is surely conclusive. To look for a resurrection of Babylon only that she may be again destroyed is, in our judgment, an idle dream. She has been blotted off from the face of the earth, and shall be so forever.
"As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbor cities thereof, saith the Lord, so shall no man abide there, neither shall any son of man dwell therein" (Jeremiah 50:40).
The ruin is complete and irremediable. The silent mounds by the Euphrates are as distinct witness to the holiness of GOD as the salt plains by the Dead Sea.
Jeremiah 50:41-42 are a vivid description of the Persian cavalry, with their allies advancing to the siege of the luxurious city.
"Behold, a people shall come from the north, and a great nation, and many kings shall be raised up from the coasts" (or, uttermost parts) "of the earth. They shall hold the bow and the lance: they are cruel, and will not show mercy: their voice shall roar like the sea, and they shall ride upon horses, every one put in array, like a man to the battle, against thee, O daughter of Babylon."
One can almost see the advancing armies, with the forest of lances and standards, as they draw near the city that proudly boasted of being impregnable.
"The king of Babylon hath heard the report of them, and his hands waxed feeble: anguish took hold of him, and pangs as of a woman in travail" (Jeremiah 50:43).
All the might of Chaldea's armies, the ingenuity of her officers, and the walls and bastions around her capital, could avail nothing to turn aside the dire calamity. Babylon had lifted herself up against the Lord. She sought to measure her strength with the Almighty. She must be crushed to the dust never again to lift up her head.
Cyrus, GOD's chosen, whom Isaiah had called by name long before (Isaiah 45:1-4), is described as a lion coming up from the swelling of Jordan, driven into the inhabited country from the wilderness because of the rising waters.
"Behold, he shall come up like a lion from the swelling of Jordan unto the habitation of the strong: but I will make them suddenly run away from her: and who is a chosen man, that I may appoint over her? for who is like Me? and who will appoint Me the time? and who is that shepherd that will stand before Me?" (Jeremiah 50:44).
Almost the same words are used in Jeremiah 49:19 to describe the enemy of Edom. No strong habitation could withstand the assault of an army sent by GOD as a punishment for national iniquity.
"Therefore hear ye the counsel of the Lord, that He hath taken against Babylon; and His purposes, that He hath purposed against the land of the Chaldeans. Surely the least of the flock shall draw them out: surely He shall make their habitation desolate with them" (Jeremiah 50:45).
Even the feeblest could overcome the mighty, when fighting the battles of the Lord. He had but to give the word, and all the defenses of Babylon became as the toppling walls of Jericho. The astonishment of the nations is expressed in the closing verse of this chapter.
"At the noise of the taking of Babylon the earth is moved, and the cry is heard among the nations" (Jeremiah 50:46).
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Jeremiah 50". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19