(1) In the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah.—We are carried back in the present arrangement of Jeremiah’s prophecies to a much earlier period than that of the preceding chapter. It is the fourth (in Daniel 1:1, the third) year of the reign of Jehoiakim, who had been made king by Pharaoh-nechoh after his defeat of Josiah and capture of Jerusalem. Since the prophet had been called to his work, B.C. 629, a great revolution had been brought about in the relations of the colossal monarchies of the East. Nineveh had fallen (B.C. 606) under the attacks of Cyaxares the Mede, and Nabopolassar the Chaldaean. Nebuchadnezzar, the son of the latter, though his father did not die till the following year, was practically clothed with supreme authority, and had defeated Pharaoh-nechoh at Carchemish, on the banks of the Euphrates, in B.C. 605. The form of the name used here, Nebuchadrezzar, corresponds with the Assyrian, Nabu-kudu-ur-uzur. (Jeremiah 46:1; 2 Kings 23:29; 2 Chronicles 35:20.) He was now the master of the East, and it was given to Jeremiah to discern the bearings of the new situation on the future destinies of Judah, and to see that the wisdom of its rulers would be to accept the position of tributary rulers under the great conqueror instead of rashly seeking either to assert their independence or to trust to the support of Egypt, crushed as she was by the defeat at Carchemish. The clear vision of the prophet saw in the Chaldaean king the servant of Jehovah—in modern phrase, the instrument of the designs of the Providence which orders the events of history—and he became, from that moment, the unwelcome preacher of the truth—that the independence of Judah had passed away, and that nothing but evil could follow from fanatical attempts, or secret intrigues and alliances, aiming at resistance.
Rising early and speaking.—See Note on Jeremiah 7:13.
Nebuchadrezzar . . . my servant.—The use of the word which is applied by psalmists and prophets to David (Psalm 78:70; 2 Samuel 7:8) and to the future Christ (Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 52:13) is every way remarkable. It has its parallel, and, in fact, its explanation, in the language in which Isaiah speaks of Cyrus as the shepherd, the anointed, of Jehovah. (Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1) Each ruler of the great empires of the world was, in ways he knew not, working out the purposes of God. The phrase “I will utterly destroy” may be noted as specially characteristic of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 2:34; Deuteronomy 3:6, et al.) and Joshua (Joshua 2:10; Joshua 6:21; Joshua 8:26).
The wine cup of this fury.—Literally, the cup of wine, even this fury, or, better, this wrath.
Uz.—A district of Edom, famous as the scene of the great drama of the book of Job. It is commonly identified with the Arabia Deserta of classical geography. (See Notes on Job 1:1; Genesis 10:23.)
The land of the Philistines.—The four cities that follow belong to the same region. “Azzah” is the same as Gaza, the translators of the Authorised Version having in this instance, and in Deuteronomy 2:23; 1 Kings 4:24, adopted this instead of the more familiar form of the LXX. and Vulgate. “Gath,” which appears in the older lists of the five lords of the Philistines (1 Samuel 5:8; 1 Samuel 6:17; 1 Samuel 7:14), has disappeared, having possibly seceded from the confederacy. The “remnant of Ashdod” (the Greek Azotus) is a phrase characteristic of the prophet’s time, the Egyptian king Psammitichus having captured it, after a siege of twenty-nine years, in B.C. 630. (Herod. ii. 157.)
All that are in the utmost corners.—The marginal reading gives the true meaning—all that have the corners of their temples shorn. (See Note on Jeremiah 9:26.) The words point to the nomad tribes of Kedar, who were distinguished by this peculiarity. For “mingled people,” see Note on Jeremiah 25:20. The genealogies of Genesis 10, Genesis 25:1-16, and 1 Chronicles 1 point to a great intermingling of Cushite and Semitic races in these regions.
The kingdoms of the world.—The words are, of course, limited by the horizon of the prophet’s vision. As the “world” of the New Testament writers was the Roman Empire, so in the life of Jeremiah it was identical with that of Babylon. (Comp. Daniel 2:38; Daniel 4:22.)
The king of Sheshach.—The name, which obviously is, from its position, the culminating point of the whole prophecy, is found only here and in Jeremiah 51:41. No city or country bearing this name is mentioned in the Old Testament or in any ancient writer. The traditional Rabbinic explanation is beyond doubt the true one. We have here the earliest known example of the use of a cypher-writing to disguise the meaning of what was written from all but the initiated. The cypher in this instance, known by the significant name of ATBASH (i.e., A taking the place of T, and T of A, B of SH, and SH of B, and so on), consisted in the use of the Hebrew alphabet in an inverted order, thus giving SHeSHaCH as an equivalent for BaBeL. This, then, was the crowning mystery reserved to the last. The Chaldæan kingdom was to do its work as the scourge of God upon the nations; but it was simply an instrument in His hand, as the Assyrians had been in their day (Isaiah 10:15); and when the work was done, the law of a righteous retribution would be felt by it and by its rulers. It adds to the point of the enigma that the word Sheshach would suggest to an Hebrew, taking its probable etymology, the idea of “crouching” or “sinking.” It may be noted (1) that the use of such a cypher seems to belong to the same mental characteristics as the prominence of the Hebrew alphabet in the acrostic structure of the Lamentations; (2) that the name is omitted by the LXX. both here and in Jeremiah 51:41; and (3) that another instance of the same cypher is found in Jeremiah 51:1. The second fact is presumptive evidence that it was not found in the copy which the Greek translators had before them; and the natural inference from this is that there were two editions of the prophecy even in the prophet’s time—one with and the other without the enigmatic word, the latter being probably the earlier of the two, the former adding, for the comfort of Israel, at once the limits of their exile (Jeremiah 25:14), and this intimation (so veiled that the Chaldæans, if they came across it, would not be likely to understand its meaning) of the way in which it would at last be brought to its close. The use of the cypher has, however, been questioned by some writers, who refer the name to shishaki, a possible form of the name of the moon-god of the Chaldæans (Rawlinson: Herod, i., p. 616). If the existence of any obscure region bearing the name could be proved, it would still be perfectly compatible with the use of the cypher, as veiling its true significance. Other meanings for the word, such as “the warlike city,” “the king’s palace,” have been suggested by recent scholars.
A shout, as they that tread the grapes.—The image is reproduced from Isaiah 63:3. The “shout” of those who tread the wine-press, crushing the grapes beneath their feet (Isaiah 16:10), is as the victorious war-cry of the Lord of Hosts, working through human conquerors, and crushing the nations of the earth in His avenging wrath.
A controversy.—The term properly denotes a legal process, like the “pleading” of Jeremiah 2:9; Jeremiah 2:35, rather than a debate or discussion, and is therefore rightly followed by the technical term “will plead” or “judge.” Jehovah appears, so to speak, as the Accuser in the suit in which He is also the supreme Judge.
Wallow yourselves in the ashes.—The words in italics have probably been added to bring the passage into conformity with Jeremiah 6:26, but they are not needed, and the interpretation is unauthorised. Better, therefore, roll on the ground. By some interpreters the word is rendered “sprinkle yourselves.” The “principal of the flock” are the “strong ones,” i.e., the best and fattest of the rams, denoting figuratively the princes and captains of the people.
And of your dispersions.—The Hebrew text seems faulty, and a slight alteration, now generally accepted, gives, and I will scatter you.
Like a pleasant vessel.—The sudden change of metaphor is somewhat startling, as judged by our rules of rhetoric; but the poets and prophets of Israel wrote without the fear of criticism, and used each image that presented itself, if it was fit for its immediate purpose, without caring much for continuity. The thought of the scattered flock suggested the idea of a dispersion or breaking-up of another kind, even that of the “pleasant vessel” (literally, the vessel of desire, i.e., a vase made as for kingly and honourable uses), falling with a crash and shivered into fragments, which Jeremiah had presented to the people in his acted parable and spoken words in Jeremiah 19:10-11, and in Jeremiah 22:28. The LXX. translators give like the chosen rams, as if anxious to avoid the mixed metaphor, and venturing on a conjectural emendation of the text.
Because of the fierceness of the oppressor.—