(1) I will raise up . . . a destroying wind.—Literally, the wind of a destroyer. In Haggai 1:14; Ezra 1:1; Ezra 1:5; 1 Chronicles 5:26 the phrase is used for “stirring up the spirit” of a man, and that may be its meaning here. The context, however, suggests, in the “fanners” of the next verse, the literal meaning of “wind,” and it is quite possible that the phrase may have been used by Jeremiah in this sense, and afterwards acquired a figurative meaning. It does not appear in any earlier book of the Old Testament.
Against them that dwell in the midst of them that rise up against me.—Literally, in the heart of my adversaries. In the judgment of most commentators the Hebrew words Leb-kamai, which answer to the last ten words of the English, furnish another example of the Atbash or cypher-writing of which we have seen an instance in the Sheshach of Jeremiah 25:26. Interpreted by that cypher Leb-kamai becomes Chasdim or Chaldæans. Obviously the significance of the cypher-words gives force to its employment here, and presents a parallel to the use of the names Merathaim and Pekod in Jeremiah 50:21. Some commentators, indeed, rest in that significance without recognising the hidden meaning of the Atbash. The LXX. and Syriac versions translate “against the Chaldæans,” as recognising the use of the cypher. Both this and Sheshach had probably become familiar in the correspondence between the exiles and those of their countrymen who remained in Judaea, and so both would understand them when used by Jeremiah.
Against the Holy One of Israel.—On Jeremiah’s use of the name, see Note on Jeremiah 50:29.
Take balm for her pain . . .—The words are significant. The captive people are not invited simply to raise a shout of triumph at the fall of their oppressor: they are to “take balm” (comp. the use of the same image in Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 46:11), and try to heal her. They are still to “seek the peace of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7), to render kindly service, to pour balm into the bleeding wounds.
Gather the shields.—Literally, fill the shields, i.e., arm yourselves with them, The large shields of the Persian soldiers covered the whole body, and the man literally filled them. The LXX. and Vulgate agree in rendering the noun “quivers” instead of “shields,” but this would seem to have been a conjecture rising out of a wish to connect the two clauses. The rendering of the Authorised version agrees with the use of the word in Song Song of Solomon 4:4; Ezekiel 27:11; 2 Kings 11:10. Some critics interpret the words as meaning “fill the shields with oil,” as parallel to “sharpen the arrows,” and agreeing with “anoint the shield” in Isaiah 21:5.
Of the kings of the Medes.—As with the Greeks in their use of the terms Medise and Medism, so with the Hebrews the Medes are more prominent than the Persians in the work of destruction (comp. Isaiah 13:17). The “kings” are the chieftains of tribes more or less independent, but owning the suzerainty of the Persian king. It is noticeable that the ruler of Babylon, after its capture by Cyrus, in Daniel 5:31, is “Darius the Median,” and that he is called a “king.”
The measure of thy covetousness.—The measure is literally “an ell,” and for “covetousness” many commentators give the meaning of “that which is cut off,” a “piece” or “section.” So taken, we may translate the ell-measure of thy portion, the allotted time of prosperity decreed in the Divine counsels. Others, following the Vulgate, “pedalis precisionis tuœ,” give “the ell-measure of thy cutting off,” i.e., the appointed time of destruction.
Surely I will fill thee with men, as with Caterpillers.—Better, with grasshoppers or locusts, the fullest type of the swarms of the destroyer (Nahum 3:15). The “Surely” answers to the Hebrew “For if,” as giving the condition on which the shouting depends.
They shall lift up a shout against thee.—The thought is the same as in Jeremiah 25:30. The “shout” is that of those who tread the grapes in the wine-press, and that, as in Isaiah 63:2-3, is the received symbol of conquest and destruction.
With thee will I break in pieces . . .—The tense, in this and in the following, should be the present. The force of the verb is multiplied by the emphatic iteration. All obstacles are to be crushed in the victorious march of the conqueror.
And will make thee a burnt mountain.—Literally, a mountain of burning—either actively, as rolling down its lava and stones to the destruction of all below; or passively, as spent and burnt out. As the sentence describes the doom of Babylon, the latter meaning seems preferable. It is interesting to note the fact that there is an extinct volcano known as Koukal (= fire), which rises to a height of 300 feet above the river Khabour, in Western Assyria (the Chebar of Ezekiel 1:3), consisting of loose lava, scoriæ, and ashes. (Rawlinson’s Ancient Monarchies, i. 189.) Possibly the prophet, who had journeyed to the Euphrates, had seen in this the symbol of the “destroying mountain” that destroyed itself. Babylon was for him an extinct volcano.
Call together against her the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashchenaz.—The first of these names was unknown to Greek and Roman geographers, and though here rendered Arareth by the LXX., is elsewhere translated by Armenia, as in the English version of Isaiah 37:38. The name Ararat is Sanscrit, and means “the holy land.” The site of Minni has not been identified, and the name does not occur elsewhere, unless, with some scholars, we find it in Psalm 45:9, and translate “out of the ivory palaces of Minni.” The name “Minyes” is found in Josephus (Antt. i. 3, p. 6), and Minnai in the Assyrian inscriptions. Rawlinson (Herod. i. p. 464) places them above Lake Urumiyeh. It is clear from the context that their country formed part of Armenia. Ashchenaz appears in Genesis 10:3 as connected with Gomer, i.e., with the Scythians. The first syllable has been supposed to contain the root of the name Asia, which has been gradually extended to the continent. The modern Jews apply the name Ashkenazim to those of their race that are settled in Germany and Eastern Europe, the name Sephardim being applied to those of Spain and the West.
Appoint a captain against her.—The word for “captain” is found only here and in Nahum 3:17. It was probably an Assyrian word, meaning either “captain” or “host.”
Cause the horses to come up as the rough caterpillers.—Better, as the bristly locusts. The word describes the insect in its third stage of growth, when the wings are not yet unfolded from their cases, and when they are most destructive in their ravages.
The reeds they have burned with fire.—The word for “reeds” is elsewhere (Isaiah 14:23; Isaiah 41:18; Exodus 7:19; Exodus 8:5) translated “pool.” Here it probably refers to the great pool constructed by Nitocris as a reservoir or dock. This was probably left dry by the diversion of the river into another channel, and the reeds which grew in it, perhaps also the flood-gates of the canals, and the ships that were in dock, were burnt by the Persians. The very pools were the scene of a conflagration.
He hath swallowed me up like a dragon.—The Hebrew noun probably stands for a “crocodile” (as in Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 51:9; Ezekiel 29:3), or is used generally for any sea-monster. The “delicates” (“dainties” in Genesis 49:20) are the corn and wine and oil and fruits of Palestine with which the Chaldæan armies had enriched themselves.
The wall of Babylon shall fall.—The words, though they repeat the statement of Jeremiah 50:15, have here a special significance. The two great walls of the city bore, as has been stated above, the names of Imgur-Bel (= Bel protects) and Nimetti-Bel (= the dwelling of Bel), and were thus specially consecrated to him as their tutelary deity (Oppert, Expédit. en Mésop., i. p. 227; Records of the Past, v. 124). The name of the last king of Babylon, Belshazzar, is a further indication of the reverence felt for him as the supreme object of worship.
For the rumour that shall be heard in the land.—It lies in the nature of the case that the final catastrophe of the city would be preceded by a period of uncertainty and suspense. Men would hear of the union of the Medes and Persians under Cyrus, of the murder of Evil-Merodach by Neriglissar, of the death of Neriglissar in fighting against the enemy (B.C. 555). The child-king, whom Berosus calls Laborosoarchod, was dethroned by his nobles after a few months, and was succeeded by the father of the Belshazzar of Daniel 5:1, the Labynetus of Herodotus, whose true name was Nabo-nahid. The whole empire was in the throes of dissolution. The words present a singular parallel to those which speak of “wars and rumours of wars” in Matthew 24:6-7; Luke 21:9.
The people shall labour in vain.—The words are all but verbally identical, in some MSS. absolutely so, with those of Habakkuk 2:13. In both the thought is that the stately edifices which had been raised with so much toil by the slave-labour of Nebuchadnezzar’s subjects and captives should all be fruitless. The walls of Babylon are described by Herod. (1, 173), possibly with some exaggeration, as 50 cubits (= 75 feet) thick and 200 high.
In the fourth year of his reign.—The date is significant as giving a missing link in the history. The beginning of Zedekiah’s reign was memorable for the gathering at Jerusalem of ambassadors from the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Zidon, obviously for the purpose of forming a confederacy against Nebuchadnezzar, and Jeremiah had condemned all such schemes as contrary to the will of Jehovah (Jeremiah 27:1-13). It is probable that Nebuchadnezzar summoned the king of Judah to Babylon to question him as to this scheme, and to demand an act of renewed homage. On this journey he was accompanied by the brother of the prophet’s friend and fellow-worker, and Jeremiah takes the opportunity of committing to his charge what we may call an esoteric prophecy, lifting up the veil of the future. He counselled submission for the present, because resistance was premature, and would prove futile. He looked forward to the time when the law of retribution would be fulfilled in Babylon as it had been fulfilled in Jerusalem. The whole proceeding was in perfect harmony with the prediction of Jeremiah 27:7, that all nations should serve Nebuchadnezzar and his son and his son’s son till the “very time of his land” should come. It lies in the nature of the case that a duplicate copy was kept by Baruch or Jeremiah, of which the present text of Jeremiah 50, 51 is a transcript.
Thus far are the words of Jeremiah.—The words are clearly of the nature of what we should call an editorial note by the compiler of Jeremiah’s prophecies, Baruch or another. He is careful to inform his readers that the narrative that follows in Jeremiah 52 was not written by Jeremiah.