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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 51

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Verses 1-14

The Vengeance of the LORD on Babylon

This chapter continues the description of the judgment on Babylon that began in the previous chapter. The LORD uses every possible example and word to let us know how much He is wroth with Babylon and what He will do to her. Now He speaks of a spirit that He will stir up, a spirit that will destroy (Jeremiah 51:1). That spirit will come “against Babylon and against the inhabitants of Leb-kamai”. “Leb-kamai” is Hebrew for “heart of those who rise up against Me”. He will give in Babylon an evil spirit that will plunge them into destruction.

There will be winnowing on Babylon, enemies who will take away all that is precious from the land, leaving what is worthless (Jeremiah 51:2). Winnowing is also connected to the spirit (or wind, it is the same word) of Jeremiah 51:1. Winnowing is done by the wind. The wind then does take the worthless and scatters it, while what is precious is left behind. The enemy will scatter the people as worthless and appropriate the treasures.

Although the Babylonians are ready with bow and armor to defend themselves, all opposition will be ruthlessly struck down (Jeremiah 51:3). The young men are not spared, and all the army of Babylon is struck down. Dead bodies lie all over the land and in the streets of the cities (Jeremiah 51:4).

The LORD is also wroth with Israel and Judah, but He will have mercy on them (Jeremiah 51:5). Their land is full of guilt, the LORD sees this very well, yet He will not put an end to that people precisely because He is “the Holy One of Israel”. Isaiah uses this Name for the LORD twenty-five times. Jeremiah uses that Name here for the second and last time (Jeremiah 50:29), both times in connection with the judgment on Babylon. Therefore, He calls His people to flee from Babylon and not be destroyed along with her in her punishment (Jeremiah 51:6; Jeremiah 50:8). Babylon will receive from the LORD the judgment it deserves and the time for that is now.

Babylon was used by the LORD as a golden cup, a cup containing the wine of the wrath of God (Jeremiah 51:7). Nebuchadnezzar is the golden head (Daniel 2:38), to whom the LORD has given authority over all the nations. He executed God’s judgment on the nations. Every nation has trembled before him. But his power has come to a sudden end (Jeremiah 51:8). He has famously relied on his own power and has no regard for the LORD.

Attempts have been made, however, to heal Babylon again, to cure her. Indeed, Babylon has also brought many benefits. It has been a good land to live in. The fact that one was no longer free did not play a major role. However, the attempts to heal Babylon have proven to be in vain (Jeremiah 51:9). Therefore, everyone is telling each other to take the opportunity and return to their own land. It is pointless to stay there any longer because the situation is worsening instead of improving.

Israel will become aware that the LORD has stood up for them (Jeremiah 51:10). They are aware of how the LORD sees them according to His counsel. They also tell one another to go to their land. They do so with the intention of telling in Zion the deeds of the LORD their God. Herein lies the lesson for us that when the Lord has delivered us from a distressing situation, it is good to tell of it in the place where He dwells, the local church.

The LORD calls His instrument to sharpen the arrows and fill the quivers (Jeremiah 51:11). He is stirring up the spirit of the kings of Medes against Babylon. This fits into His plan to destroy Babylon. Babylon has destroyed His temple and for that she has brought upon herself the vengeance of the LORD. She will know against Whom she has rebelled.

The LORD begins by lifting up a signal, indicating that victory has been won even before the war has begun (Jeremiah 51:12). Before the battle itself, He gives orders to strengthen the guard, station sentries, and place men in ambush. The certainty of victory does not make one overconfident. In this way, He will also carry out His intention that He has declared.

Babylon dwells by many waters (Jeremiah 51:13), that is, she rules over many nations (Revelation 17:15). Babylon is also rich. She obtained this wealth through unbridled greed. However, her power and wealth are worthless as protection from God’s judgment. Babylon owes it to the LORD of hosts to have become as numerous as a swarm of migrating locusts, but she has given all the glory for it to herself. Therefore the LORD of hosts has sworn by Himself that He will judge her (Jeremiah 51:14). This will cause a shout of joy among the oppressed peoples.

Verses 15-26

The Almighty LORD and the Impotent Idols

The LORD places Himself in His omnipotence as Creator before Babylon (Jeremiah 51:15). He brought about the creation by “His power” while working with “His wisdom” and “His understanding” in the process. All of nature responds to His voice (Jeremiah 51:16). Clouds, lightning, wind, He disposes of them. This is also how the LORD once placed Himself opposite Job, after which Job humbled himself deeply (Job 40:1-Deuteronomy :; Job 42:1-Joshua :).

Babylon, however, has no attention for this almighty God. Babylon is a stupid man, without knowledge of God and therefore completely without knowledge (Jeremiah 51:17). A goldsmith is also a kind of creator, but of an idol. But what a deception, it is a dead thing. There is no breath or spirit in it. A goldsmith can only make something that is dead. Compared with Who God is, the silversmith’s work becomes a void and mockery (Jeremiah 51:18) that offers no protection in the day of retributive judgment.

How completely different is “the portion of Jacob”, which is the living LORD (Jeremiah 51:19). He is the Former of all things and in the midst of it He has a special relationship with Israel who are His property. He is the LORD of hosts, which is His Name. He is above all heavenly and earthly powers and no one is equal to Him.

Babylon is to the LORD a war-club, an armor to fight with (Jeremiah 51:20). Babylon must not imagine herself to be someone of importance and to have power of her own. Every work of Babylon is a work of the LORD. The LORD will smite nations and destroy kingdoms through Babylon. Everything that falls under the hammer of Babylon is an object of the LORD’s judgment.

The hammer of the LORD comes down on “the horse and his rider” and on “the chariot and its rider” (Jeremiah 51:21); on “man and woman”, on “old man and youth” and on “young man and virgin” (Jeremiah 51:22); on “the shepherd and his flock”, on “the farmer and his team”, on “governors and prefects” (Jeremiah 51:23). The word for “shatter” has the meaning of powerful and intense smashing, it is crushing smashing (Exodus 15:6; Psalms 2:9).

Babylon is an instrument in the hand of the LORD. This does not mean that the Babylonians do not have their own responsibility. For they have done evil to Zion without the LORD’s instruction (Jeremiah 51:24). The LORD cannot leave that unpunished, but will repay them.

The mighty mountain of Babylon that is destroying the whole earth will be judged by the LORD (Jeremiah 51:25). He will stretch out His hand against her so that she will roll off its high rock. He will set it on fire with His fire, so that it will become a mountain on fire. The destruction will be so radical that nothing useful will remain that could serve as a foundation for rebuilding the city (Jeremiah 51:26).

Verses 27-33

The Nations Commanded

Again the word of the LORD is to lift up a signal in the land, that is, in the land that is to make the attack on Babylon (Jeremiah 51:27). Other nations are called by the trumpet to join. There is to be a marshal and a crowd of horses. All that have already been brought under the rule of the kings of the Medes must be deployed (Jeremiah 51:28). Babylon will quake and writhe (Jeremiah 51:29). After all, the LORD has decreed it and it is fixed. Nothing more can be changed about it. Babylon will become a wasteland.

The mighty men of Babylon see the futility of fighting against the awesome superiority (Jeremiah 51:30). They stay in the strongholds, not to defend themselves, but to hide from the advancing enemies. The power they have possessed has ‘dried up’, every vitality is gone; they are weak as women. Their dwellings, by which may be meant barracks, where the mighty men, the soldiers, are stationed, have been set on fire. These forts are now open to all, for the bolts have been broken.

The king of Babylon is informed at breakneck speed by a relay of couriers and messengers how “his city” is doing (Jeremiah 51:31). He is told that the city is taken on all sides and that the escape routes through the fords of the Euphrates are occupied (Jeremiah 51:32). Escape is impossible.

Hiding in the marshes is not possible either, because the marshes have been burned. Nor can he count on human support, for the fighting men are overcome with terror and paralyzed. The LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, says that He will make the daughter of Babylon a threshing floor (Jeremiah 51:33). That threshing floor will be stomped on by the judgments that come upon it. The harvest is coming, the harvest of judgment.

Much of what is described here will be fulfilled by the Medes and Persians when they conquer Babylon (Daniel 5:30). However, the full fulfillment will occur in the end times (Revelation 18:1-Psalms :).

Verses 34-44

Pointless Defense of Babylon

Then we hear the complaint of Jerusalem or Zion about what Nebuchadnezzar has done to her (Jeremiah 51:34). He has devoured Zion and crushed it and emptied it like a sea monster. With all the delights of the land he has filled his belly, and the land itself he has washed away by carrying off the inhabitants from it. The inhabitant of Zion is encouraged to ask for retribution (Jeremiah 51:35).

That fits the times in which she lives. The believer of the church does not ask that, but asks forgiveness for his enemies. In the Old Testament and after the rapture of the church, the law applies. During those periods, God is in relationship with His earthly people, a relationship governed by the law. The time of the church, God’s heavenly people, on earth is characterized by grace.

The LORD answers the demand for retribution with the promise that He will take the trial of His people (Jeremiah 51:36). He will take vengeance for them. He will drain the border river Euphrates (Revelation 16:12) so that hostile armies can enter the land without difficulty. He will also ensure that there will be no new supply of water. Babylon will be destroyed (Jeremiah 51:37). Only jackals will dwell there. No man will covet that place anymore, because horror emanates from it and it has become a mockery.

The Babylonians have always seen themselves as roaring young lions from whom everyone flees (Jeremiah 51:38). They only have to growl and terror is the result. But the LORD will prescribe drink to them that will make them drunk and lose sight of reality (Jeremiah 51:39; cf. Daniel 5:1-Numbers :; Daniel 5:30). They will be killed and never wake up again. The “perpetual sleep” is not soul sleep, for there is no such thing, but an indication that they will never possess power again. The LORD will kill them like lambs for slaughter (Jeremiah 51:40; cf. Jeremiah 12:3).

Sheshak was conquered and with it the glory of all the earth was taken (Jeremiah 51:41). So relative is man’s fame, it can just perish. The impressive Babylon perished and thus became a horror. What no one thought possible, that this mighty Babylon would fall, has happened. A sea of nations rose up against it and Babylon sank into it (Jeremiah 51:42; cf. Jeremiah 51:13). Its cities were destroyed uninhabitable, as was the land (Jeremiah 51:43). No one lives there anymore, no one even migrates through it.

Two things by which Babylon was famous were the god Bel and the wall of the city. The LORD executes judgment on Bel, the god of Babylon (Jeremiah 51:44). Everything that has been conquered in the name of this god and dedicated to him, everything of which this abomination has received the honor, the LORD will take away from him. The demons behind this abomination will receive no more honor. The LORD will claim all honor. Every knee will bow before Him. After the judgment on the invisible demonic source of its power, the LORD also executes judgment on the wall, his tangible and visible source of power. All of Babylon’s resistance is broken with the fall of its wall.

Verses 45-48

Israel Must Come Forth From Babylon

In view of the judgment on Babylon, the LORD calls His people to leave Babylon (Jeremiah 51:45; cf. Jeremiah 51:6). His fierce anger has been kindled over Babylon. If they do not heed the call to leave Babylon, they will be frightened by the news that will reach them about what is happening in the land (Jeremiah 51:46). There will be civil wars that will destroy unity and take away strength.

Days are coming when the LORD will punish the idols of Babylon (Jeremiah 51:47). Then those idols will prove to be no protection at all. For that, they need only look at the fallen in their midst. When the destroyers come from the north and destroy Babylon, it will cause great joy in all creation (Jeremiah 51:48).

Verses 49-53

Certainty of the Fall of Babylon

Babylon has subjugated many nations, but the LORD charges Babylon especially with what she has done to Israel . Because she caused Israel to fall and has slain many, therefore there will be slain in Babylon, in the whole world empire. This is an encouragement to Israel, to those who have not been killed by Nebuchadnezzar’s sword, to remember the LORD and Jerusalem wherever they are (Jeremiah 51:50). That is what their hearts should be set on again.

They may recall the former glory. So let them do so, but with due shame (Jeremiah 51:51). It is because of their own unfaithfulness that there are now aliens in the holy places of the house of the LORD. When that recognition is there, they are in the right frame of mind to go back.

The LORD Himself will clear the way for them by punishing Babylon and its idols (Jeremiah 51:52). The land of Babylon will be full of the groans of the mortally wounded. There is no escape for Babylon from the judgment of the destroyers the LORD sends upon them (Jeremiah 51:53). No matter how high they would climb and how high they would build their fortress, judgment will strike them.

Verses 54-58

The Destruction of Babylon Is Total

Jeremiah sees the destroyers of Babylon as already present. There are cries coming from Babylon (Jeremiah 51:54). This is not a war cry, but a cry of anguish, because of the disaster that is coming to the land. That disaster comes upon them from the LORD, Who is destroying Babylon. He will stifle the great sound of their cries into an even greater sound of the approaching armies roaring like mighty waters (Jeremiah 51:55). The destroyer who comes upon Babylon will capture their mighty men and break every resistance (Jeremiah 51:56). Babylon has to deal with the LORD as the God of recompence. He repays to Babylon for all the evil she has done.

All who are responsible in Babylon for the evil they have done, the princes, wise men, governors, prefects and mighty men, will lose their minds and strength and perish (Jeremiah 51:57). They will never again awaken on earth (cf. Jeremiah 51:39) and never again be given the opportunity to do evil. He Who declares this is the King, and His Name is LORD of hosts. Therefore, it will be as He has said. The wall of Babylon is not a problem for Him (Jeremiah 51:58). All the work that has been done on it by people of all kinds is useless. All the forces have been wasted. They have tired and worn themselves out for nothing. Their work becomes a prey to the fire (cf. Habakkuk 2:13).

Verses 59-64

The Command to Seraiah

At the end of the long prophecy against Babylon, after all the words Jeremiah has spoken about Babylon, he has an command for Seraiah (Jeremiah 51:59). Seraiah is probably the brother of Baruch (Jeremiah 32:12) and quartermaster to Zedekiah. As quartermaster, he is to make sure that the king has a good home everywhere he travels.

In the fourth year of Zedekiah’s reign, he goes to Babylon. Jeremiah has written in a scroll all the calamity he announced about Babylon (Jeremiah 51:60). These are the words that were probably written down by Baruch when Jeremiah uttered them. He gives the scroll to Seraiah when he goes to Babylon. When he gets to Babylon, he must first look around carefully (Jeremiah 51:61). He will see all the glory and power of Babylon.

Then he is to read all the words of the scroll. He is to do so with the prayer to the LORD that He has spoken these words concerning Babylon (Jeremiah 51:62). As a true Elijah, he will be aware that he stands before the LORD and not before the power of Babylon (cf. 1 Kings 17:1). For Babylon, the end announced by the LORD will surely come. Nothing will be left of it. Jeremiah announced the downfall of Babylon, as he announced that of Judah and Jerusalem, even though there is not much to see of either downfall yet and even though many do not believe in it at all.

When Seraiah has finished reading aloud, he must tie a stone to the scroll and throw it into the middle of the Euphrates, where the river is deepest (Jeremiah 51:63). When he has done so, he must explain why he has done so, what that act means (Jeremiah 51:64). Just as the scroll sank to the depths of the river never to rise again, Babylon will sink and never rise again (Revelation 18:21). This is the doom that the LORD has decreed upon Babylon. The grueling efforts to keep Babylon afloat remain unsuccessful. We see here that Jeremiah, during the time he is calling for submission to Babylon, is at the same time announcing the eventual fall of that city.

This ends the words of Jeremiah. His service is at an end. His prophecy against Babylon is meant to be an encouragement to the faith of the people of Judah. The chapter that follows describes the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. But it is clearly stated beforehand that Nebuchadnezzar’s power is neither unlimited nor endless. God has the final say. This knowledge provides support only if we trust God at His word.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Jeremiah 51". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/jeremiah-51.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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