The long continuous prophecy which occupies the place of a great finale in the collection of Jeremiah’s writings (Jeremiah 50, 51.) is in many ways the most important of the whole book. It presents an aspect of the prophet’s mind and character which elsewhere is almost or altogether latent. For the most part, he appears as the supporter of the Chaldæans, opposing the policy of the kings and rulers who were bent on resistance, bidding the exiles to pray for the peace of Babylon (Jeremiah 29:7). Only once before, as in a germinal hint afterwards to be developed, and veiled beneath the cypher of the mysterious Sheshach (Jeremiah 25:26), had he given any intimation that it came within the horizon of his vision that she, too, was to drink of “the wine-cup of the Lord’s fury” (Jeremiah 25:15). It can scarcely be imagined, however, that the predictions of Isaiah against the Chaldæaan city in Jeremiah 13:1 to Jeremiah 14:22, or (if we acknowledge the later chapters of that book as authentic) those in Jeremiah 46, 47, were unknown to him; and we may well believe that when the great catastrophe had come upon Jerusalem, and the people were in exile by the waters of Babylon, he desired to comfort them with the thought that the righteous law of retribution under which they were suffering would in due time bring down the pride of their oppressor. When he had told them that their captivity would last for seventy years (Jeremiah 29:10), that lands should once again be bought and sold, and ploughed and planted in Judah (Jeremiah 32:15), there was an implied fore-knowledge of the doom of the golden city; and at last, probably as the closing vision of his life, the last case in which he was to “root out, and to pull down, and to destroy,” it was given to him to see how that destruction would be accomplished.
The authenticity of the chapter has, it is true, been questioned by some critics, partly on the assumption that prophecy cannot be prediction, and that the fulness of detail with which the apparent prediction is given implies a prophecy after the event, partly on the ground that the style differs from that of the other writings ascribed to Jeremiah’s name, and that it presents so many traces of acquaintance with Babylon and its customs that it must have been written by one who had been resident in that city. On this hypothesis Baruch has been named as its possible author.
The first ground of objection opens a wide question which cannot well be discussed on every occurrence of the principle which it involves. Here it will be enough to say that the assumption in question is at variance with the whole idea of their office which the prophets themselves recognised, and that it is not that on which the lines of interpretation followed in this Commentary have been based. Judgments based upon variations and differences in style are always more or less precarious. For my own part I do not see any such differences as to clash with the belief that these chapters were written by Jeremiah, and I find many parallelisms and coincidences, which will be noticed as we proceed, falling in with that belief. The third difficulty is sufficiently met by the thought that one who was in frequent intercourse both with the captive Jews at Babylon and with the Chaldæans as Jeremiah was (Jeremiah 29:1-32), to say nothing of his personal journeys to the Euphrates (Jeremiah 13:1-7), might well have acquired such a knowledge of the country as is indicated in these chapters.
Bel is confounded, Merodach is broken in pieces.—Strictly speaking these, as found in the inscriptions, were names of the same deity (see Note on Isaiah 46:1). The name of Bel appears in the names of the two great walls of Babylon, Imgur-Bel and Nimetti-Bel (Records of the Past, v. 125). The latter name, sometimes in the form of Marduk, appears as lord of heaven and earth, and Nebo is subordinate to him. Nebuchadnezzar’s devotion to him is indicated by the name he gave his son, Evil-merodach (Jeremiah 52:31), and by describing himself in his inscriptions as “worshipper of Marduk” (Records of the Past, v. 113). So we have among Chaldæan names Merodach-baladan (2 Kings 20:12; Isaiah 39:1), Kurdur-Marduk, and others. The inscriptions at Borsippa speak of him as “the great lord, the most ancient of the gods, the lord of the gates of heaven,” and so on (Rawlinson’s Herodotus, i. 627-631).
Idols . . . images.—The words had better be inverted. The former word denotes sculptured pillars, the latter blocks or columns. (See Note on Leviticus 26:30.)
A perpetual covenant.—The prophet may have had the promise of the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31 in his thoughts, as being about to receive at least a partial fulfilment. In Ezra 8:21-23; Ezra 10:3 we find what we may look on as an effort of the people to enter into such a covenant.
From thence she shall be taken.—The Hebrew adverb may be taken either of time or place. The latter, as referring to the region from which the assailants come, gives the better sense.
As of a mighty expert man.—The marginal rendering, “destroyer,” follows the Vulgate and the Targum, and represents a various reading. There is no sufficient reason for rejecting the Authorised Version, which has the support of the LXX. and the Syriac versions.
None shall return in vain.—Grammatically the words may refer either to the warrior or the arrow. The use of the same phrase in 2 Samuel 1:22; Isaiah 55:11 is perhaps in favour of the latter.
Ye are grown fat as the heifer at grass.—Better, the Hebrew text being in the singular, thou leapedst as the heifer while threshing. The rule of Deuteronomy 25:4 (“Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn “) made the image significant enough. The English version has, however, the support of the LXX. and Vulg.
And bellow as bulls.—Better, thou didst neigh as strong steeds. The verb is the same as in Jeremiah 5:8, the noun the same as in Jeremiah 8:16.
The hindermost of the nations shall be a wilderness . . .—The interpolated words mar the force of the sentence. Better, behold the hindermost of the nations, a wilderness, a waste, and a desert. This was to be the state to which Babylon should be reduced.
Her foundations are fallen.—Better, with the LXX., bastions or bulwarks.
As she hath done, do unto her.—We note an identity of thought and almost of language with Psalm 137:8. Had the Psalmist heard the prophecy, or the prophet the psalm? The former seems the more probable alternative.
For fear of the oppressing sword.—The versions present the same noticeable variations, as in Jeremiah 46:16, the LXX. giving “from the Greek sword,” possibly with reference to the belief that Cyrus had subdued the Æolians and Ionians before the conquest of Babylon, and that they were fighting in his army, or to Alexander’s capture of the city, and the Vulg. “from the sword of the dove,” the latter rendering being supposed to refer to the dove on the Babylonian standard, as the emblem of Semiramis. Here, however, as Babylon is the object of attack, the latter allusion is scarcely applicable, and there is no sufficient reason for altering the English version. (See Note on Jeremiah 25:38; Jeremiah 46:16.)
They shall flee every one to his own land.—The words are significant as showing that the Jews were not the only people for whom the fall of Babylon was the signal of a return from exile. The policy of Nebuchadnezzar, like that of Assyria, had been to people his own territory with the captive populations of other countries, and Israel (as in Jeremiah 50:8) was to lead the way in the return.
I will pardon them whom I reserve.—The latter verb contains the root of the “remnant” which is so prominent in Isaiah (Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 7:3), and expresses the same thought. “The remnant,” the reserved ones, shall be pardoned.
Against the inhabitants of Pekod.—Here we have a name which is found in Ezekiel 23:23 and in inscriptions as that of a Babylonian town, as in a list of rebels, and in the form Bukudu, as in the Cylinder of Sennacherib (Records of the Past, i. 26), and is the name of a city, Nahar-Pekod, mentioned in the Talmud (Fürst, Lex. s.v., and Neubauer, Géog. du Talm., p. 363). We can scarcely doubt, however, that the prophet chose this name for the sake of its meaning, “visitation.” It was necessary to find a word to be at once nomen et omen for the guilt of Babylon. There was one ready at hand applicable to its punishment.
Waste and utterly destroy.—Better, slay and devote to destruction. The latter verb is connected with the Hebrew Cherem, which expressed, as in Deuteronomy 7:26; Joshua 7:13, the idea of a solemn anathema.
This is the work of the Lord God of hosts.—Better, the Lord God of hosts hath a work . . .
Let nothing of her be left.—Literally, let there be no remnant, as in marked contrast with the “remnant” of Israel (Jeremiah 50:20).
That he may give rest to the land.—Better, to the earth, in its widest extent, as implying that the whole earth had groaned under the oppression of Babylon. “The land,” if we retain that rendering, would be, of course, “the land of Israel.” Some versions, however (e.g., the Vulg.), and some commentators (e.g., Ewald), give the verbs the sense of “set in motion,” i.e., “trouble,” and so make the parallelism of the two clauses one of resemblance and not of contrast.
Upon her wise men.—The term points especially to the “wise men” in the technical sense of the term, the soothsayers and astrologers who were prominent among Nebuchadnezzar’s counsellors (Daniel 2:2; Daniel 2:13).
They are mad upon their idols.—The word for “idols” means literally “terrors,” or “objects of terror,” as in Psalm 88:16; Job 20:25, and this is the only place in which it is used of the objects of worship. In Genesis 14:5; Deuteronomy 2:10-11 it appears as the name of the Emim, probably as meaning “the terrible, or gigantic ones.” Here it seems used for the colossal figures—winged bulls, human-headed lions, and the like—which were the objects of Babylonian worship. (See note on Jeremiah 49:16.)
Jeremiah 50:41Behold, a people shall come from the north, and a great nation, and many kings shall be raised up from the coasts of the earth.
Jeremiah 50:42They shall hold the bow and the lance: they are cruel, and will not shew 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.
Jeremiah 50:43The 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 50:44Behold, 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 50:45Therefore 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 50:46At the noise of the taking of Babylon the earth is moved, and the cry is heard among the nations.