A. Seventy years of judgment.
1. (1-2) The word to Judah and Jerusalem.
The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah (which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon), which Jeremiah the prophet spoke to all the people of Judah and to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying:
a. In the fourth year of Jehoiakim: This was 605 BC, an important year in world history and Biblical history. In world history the Egyptians were overwhelmed at Carchemish (Jeremiah 46:2ff.) in modern Turkey, near the Syrian border. The Babylonian armies chased the fleeing Egyptians south. In Biblical history, Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem but had to leave quickly because his father died and it was the first year of his reign in Babylon. It’s possible that this prophecy came between the two events.
i. G. Campbell Morgan believed that though this prophecy was first given in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, Jeremiah here repeated it as part of the extended prophecy to King Zedekiah (begun in Jeremiah 24). “Thus again Zedekiah, reminded of the prophecy delivered in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, would see how inevitable was the doom now threatening himself and Jerusalem.” (Morgan)
b. Jeremiah the prophet spoke to all the people of Judah and to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Though few received it, this was a message for all.
2. (3-7) The rejected word of the prophets.
“From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, even to this day, this is the twenty-third year in which the word of the LORD has come to me; and I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, but you have not listened. And the LORD has sent to you all His servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, but you have not listened nor inclined your ear to hear. They said, ‘Repent now everyone of his evil way and his evil doings, and dwell in the land that the LORD has given to you and your fathers forever and ever. Do not go after other gods to serve them and worship them, and do not provoke Me to anger with the works of your hands; and I will not harm you.’ Yet you have not listened to Me,” says the LORD, “that you might provoke Me to anger with the works of your hands to your own hurt.
a. This is the twenty-third year in which the word of the LORD has come to me: Jeremiah was only a little more than halfway through his long work as a prophet. Yet with 23 years of experience, he felt he had something to say to the people of Judah.
i. Jeremiah had “prophesied for almost twenty years under Josiah, followed by three months under Jehoahaz and three years under Jehoiakim. He was therefore in the middle of his career at this point.” (Harrison)
b. But you have not listened: Despite his many years of faithful service to God and the people, they did not listen to Jeremiah. They also did not listen to other servants the prophets that God sent to them.
c. They said, “Repent now everyone of his evil way and evil doings”: This was the message of both Jeremiah and the other faithful prophets. Over his complete ministry there were at times other faithful prophets who spoke a similar message as Jeremiah, warning the people against idolatry and to godly living.
i. “The work of your hands is sometimes taken to mean ‘idols your hands have made’ (NEB), but it may be a general reference to the actions of the people, that is, what they do.” (Thompson)
d. Yet you have not listened to Me: When the people of Judah ignored the faithful prophets, they weren’t just ignoring the human messengers; they rejected the God who sent the message. This hardened disobedience provoked God to anger.
3. (8-11) Seventy years of desolation.
“Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Because you have not heard My words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ says the LORD, ‘and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land, against its inhabitants, and against these nations all around, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, a hissing, and perpetual desolations. Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp. And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
a. Thus says the LORD of hosts: When God introduces Himself as the commander of heavenly armies (hosts), it is important to listen carefully.
i. Families of the north: “These people have been interpreted as being the allies of the king of Babylon, the many nations comprising the Babylonian Empire, subunits or divisions of a tribe, a political unit, or the Babylonians in general. Perhaps the last is the best interpretation because it best suits the context.” (Feinberg)
b. Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land: The conquering king of Babylon was God’s servant in accomplishing this work of judgment. God would raise Nebuchadnezzar up not only to conquer Judah, but also against these nations all around.
i. When Jeremiah made this prophecy, Babylon had just established itself as the dominant world power by defeating the rival Egyptians at Carchemish. The world waited to see what they would do with their power, and God told them through Jeremiah.
ii. Nebuchadnezzar My servant: “i.e., Mine executioner, the rod of my wrath, [Isaiah 10:5] and the scourge of the world, as Attila styled himself.” (Trapp)
iii. “It was not so much that God’s pleasure was on him but that as the Lord’s instrument he was to execute the divine plan for Judah and the nations. He was unconsciously doing God’s will by devoting whole populations to destruction.” (Feinberg)
iv. The Septuagint – the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures – does not include the words My servant. “The omission by LXX of this reference to Nebuchadnezzar may indicate that the translator objected to giving such a title and such a place of honor to a pagan king.” (Thompson)
c. Make them an astonishment, a hissing, and perpetual desolation: As Jeremiah did many times before, he announced the coming Babylonian conquest of Judah and Jerusalem.
i. Utterly destroy them: “They would be devoted to wholesale destruction (Hebrew heherim). The verb is related to the noun herem. It occurs frequently in the early narratives dealing with the holy war especially in Joshua. ” (Thompson)
ii. The sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp: “Where then the noise of the mill is not heard, nor the light of the candle seen, there must be desolation; because these things are heard and seen in every inhabited country.” (Clarke)
iii. “Jeremiah graphically highlights the unnatural silence and the frightening darkness of a desolated Judah.” (Cundall)
d. These nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years: Here, God gave Jeremiah an additional revelation. The forced exile of the people of God out of the Promised Land would last for seventy years.
i. There are many scholars and commentators (including more conservative ones) who take seventy years as an estimation or as a symbol for many (Judges 1:7, 8:14; 1 Samuel 6:19; 2 Samuel 24:15; Psalm 90:10; etc.).
ii. Harrison is a good example of this: “The seventy years of exile is a round figure, being reckoned from the fourth year of Jehoiakim (605 BC) to the start of the return under Cyrus’ regime, about 536 BC (cf. Zechariah 1:12; 2 Chronicles 36:20-23).” (Harrison)
iii. However, there is good reason to believe that the seventy years spoke of a literal 70 years. “On the other hand, there are many who take the number of years to be precise, namely, from the fourth year of Jehoiakim (the first year of Nebuchadnezzar) to the end of the Babylonian dynasty with the coming of Cyrus (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:21-22; Ezra 1:1-3). They hold that the reckoning must be precise because Daniel (cf. Daniel 9:1-2) went to Babylon with the first deportation and knew that he had been there seventy years.” (Feinberg)
4. (12-14) After the seventy years.
‘Then it will come to pass, when seventy years are completed, that I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity,’ says the LORD; ‘and I will make it a perpetual desolation. So I will bring on that land all My words which I have pronounced against it, all that is written in this book, which Jeremiah has prophesied concerning all the nations. (For many nations and great kings shall be served by them also; and I will repay them according to their deeds and according to the works of their own hands.)’”
a. When the seventy years are complete, that I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation: 70 years would not only measure the time of exile; it would also measure the time until God brought judgment upon Babylon. Even as they made Judah a desolation (Jeremiah 25:11), so God would make Babylon a perpetual desolation.
i. Judah’s desolation was appointed for 70 years; Babylon’s was to be perpetual. The Babylonian Empire never again ruled as such. The nation of Israel was formed again in the ancient world and exists today.
ii. “Babylonia, however, was no pure agent of justice; she was a cruel, avaricious heathen-power, subject herself to the judgment of God.” (Cundall)
b. I will repay them according to their deeds: Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians were God’s servant (Jeremiah 25:9) in carrying out His judgment against Judah; they would be judged by their evil deeds and works of their own hands. They served God’s purpose, but it did not excuse or justify their actions.
i. Many nations and great kings: “The ‘many nations’ and ‘great kings’ refer to the Medes and the Persians with their many allies or tributary kings under Cyrus the Great. They would impose forced labor on the once-invincible Babylonians.” (Feinberg)
B. Judgment on the nations.
1. (15-16) The cup of God’s fury.
For thus says the LORD God of Israel to me: “Take this wine cup of fury from My hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send you, to drink it. And they will drink and stagger and go mad because of the sword that I will send among them.”
a. Take this wine cup of fury from My hand: God spoke to Jeremiah with a picture, and in the picture God, as a bartender of judgment, gave the prophet a cup of fury, of judgment. “Or, Take this smoking wine cup.” (Trapp)
i. Several times in the Old Testament, a cup is a powerful picture of the wrath and judgment of God.
· For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is fully mixed, and He pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down. (Psalm 75:8)
· Awake, awake! Stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk at the hand of the Lord The cup of His fury; you have drunk the dregs of the cup of trembling, and drained it out. (Isaiah 51:17)
ii. “The drinking of a potion was also one of the ordeal processes for testing the innocence of a person, and the ‘cup of wrath’ symbol may have had its origin in such procedures (Numbers 5:11-31).” (Thompson)
iii. Jesus referred to this picture of the cup of fury when He asked in Gethsemane if the cup might pass from Him (Luke 22:42). In this sense, the cup didn’t represent death, but judgment. Jesus became, as it were, an enemy of God, who was judged and forced to drink the cup of fury from the Father so we would not have to drink from that cup. Taking this figurative cup was the source of Jesus’ greatest agony on the cross.
b. Cause all the nations, to whom I send you, to drink it: Jeremiah would announce God’s judgment (in the picture of the cup of fury) to the nations surrounding Judah.
i. “It described the processes of the Divine procedure in judgment in enlarging circles. First, there would be the judgment of Judah, Babylon being the instrument. Then would follow the judgment of Babylon by many nations. Then the judgment of the nations shall follow. Finally, the whole earth will be involved.” (Morgan)
c. They will drink and stagger and go mad because of the sword that I will send: Under the judgment to come, they would act as if they were intoxicated and impaired. They would act as if they were not in their right mind.
i. “The word translated ‘stagger’ suggests there is something venomous or poisonous in the cup. The cup of God’s wrath does not just intoxicate and inebriate; it staggers and stupefies.” (Ryken)
ii. “In its familiar reference to the nations and their downfall, its picture of judgment in the form of drunken stupor and collapse is all too recognizable in the collective madness that can take hold of a people to destroy it from within, by godless infatuations and perversions.” (Kidner)
2. (17-26) Jerusalem as the cup of staggering.
Then I took the cup from the LORD’s hand, and made all the nations drink, to whom the LORD had sent me: Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, its kings and its princes, to make them a desolation, an astonishment, a hissing, and a curse, as it is this day; Pharaoh king of Egypt, his servants, his princes, and all his people; all the mixed multitude, all the kings of the land of Uz, all the kings of the land of the Philistines (namely, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and the remnant of Ashdod); Edom, Moab, and the people of Ammon; all the kings of Tyre, all the kings of Sidon, and the kings of the coastlands which are across the sea; Dedan, Tema, Buz, and all who are in the farthest corners; all the kings of Arabia and all the kings of the mixed multitude who dwell in the desert; all the kings of Zimri, all the kings of Elam, and all the kings of the Medes; all the kings of the north, far and near, one with another; and all the kingdoms of the world which are on the face of the earth. Also the king of Sheshach shall drink after them.
a. Then I took the cup from the LORD’s hand, and made all the nations to drink: Jeremiah described either a vision, a dream, or he simply spoke according to the picture described in the previous verses.
b. Jerusalem and the cities of Judah: Judgment would begin among the people of God. They would be the first to drink the cup of God’s fury. Yet judgment would come upon the other nations. This principle was repeated in Proverbs 11:31 and 1 Peter 4:18: If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?
c. Pharaoh king of Egypt: Jeremiah began the list of judgment by mentioning Egypt, the other world power of the day. This was followed by a long list of other peoples and nations, with a special focus upon their kings or leaders. Since the list is so complete, there is not likely any particular event or period in which all these nations were judged. This list has its ultimate fulfillment at the end of the age in the judgment of the nations.
· All the mixed multitude.
· All the kings of the land of Uz.
· All the kings of the land of the Philistines.
· Edom, Moab, and the people of Ammon.
· All the kings of Tyre, all the kings of Sidon.
· The kings of the coastlands.
· Dedan, Tema, Buz, and all who are in the farthest corners.
· All the kings of Arabia.
· All the kings of the mixed multitude who dwell in the desert.
· All the kings of Zimri.
· All the kings of Elam, and all the kings of the Medes.
· All the kings of the north, far and near.
· All the kingdoms of the world which are on the face of the earth, emphasizing the complete character of this judgment.
i. Pharaoh king of Egypt: “Of whom Herodotus writeth that he persuaded himself and boasted, that his kingdom was so strong that no god or man could take it from him. He was afterwards hanged by his own subjects.” (Trapp)
ii. “The land of Uz, the home of Job (Job 1:1) probably lay to the east of Palestine. In Lamentations 4:21 it is connected with Edom.” (Thompson)
iii. Adam Clarke identified some of these peoples more specifically.
· Dedan: “Was son of Abraham, by Keturah, Genesis 25:3.”
· Tema: “Was one of the sons of Ishmael, in the north of Arabia, Genesis 36:15.”
· Buz: “Brother of Uz, descendants of Nahor, brother of Abraham, settled in Arabia Deserta, Genesis 22:21.”
· Zimri: “Descendants of Abraham, by Keturah, Genesis 25:2, 6.”
iv. “Since these kingdoms made up virtually the entire world of the Old Testament, the final verses can go on to speak in more and more sweeping terms, to present finally a picture which transcends these limits, to be fulfilled (as I see it) in the truly universal judgment of the end-time.” (Kidner)
d. Also the king of Sheshach shall drink after them: At the end of this long list, Jeremiah emphasized the judgment to come upon Sheshach – a code name for the Babylonians.
i. “Following Jerome, many hold that the name is a cipher (code) that stands for Babylon. The cipher is known as Atbash, a system of secret writing that substituted the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet for the first, and next to the last for the second, and so through all the Hebrew consonants.” (Feinberg)
ii. “In the text as it stands, where Babylon and Chaldea are named openly and often, it conceals nothing; but it gives a glimpse into the precautions which people evidently had to take at times in conversations or correspondence.” (Kidner)
iii. Even though there was a sense in which Nebuchadnezzar was God’s servant (Jeremiah 25:9) and God used the Babylonians, judgment still came upon them. “O disobedient and ungodly soul, thou mayest serve God’s purpose, yet He will not let thee be unpunished. Your condemnation now for a long time lingereth not.” (Meyer)
3. (27-29) The nations must drink the cup.
“Therefore you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Drink, be drunk, and vomit! Fall and rise no more, because of the sword which I will send among you.”‘ And it shall be, if they refuse to take the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: “You shall certainly drink! For behold, I begin to bring calamity on the city which is called by My name, and should you be utterly unpunished? You shall not be unpunished, for I will call for a sword on all the inhabitants of the earth,” says the LORD of hosts.’”
a. Drink, be drunk, and vomit: As much as they might not want it, there was no escaping this judgment to come. God would judge them with a figurative cup but a literal sword. If the cup was refused, God would insist: You shall certainly drink. Judgment could not simply be avoided by denial or positive thinking.
i. The King James Version has, Drink ye, and be drunken, and spue. Adam Clarke commented: “Why did we not use the word vomit, less offensive than the other, and yet of the same signification?” (Clarke)
b. For behold, I begin to bring calamity on the city which is called by My name, and should you be utterly unpunished: While judgment would begin among God’s people (Jeremiah 25:18), it would in no way finish there. The judgment of God’s people was a certain prophecy of coming judgment upon the nations.
c. I will call for a sword on all the inhabitants of the earth: Through history God has dealt with each of the nations listed in the previous verses. Yet the global reach of this judgment points to its ultimate fulfillment at the end of the age. The God of heavenly armies – the LORD of hosts – promised it so.
4. (30-33) The LORD’s controversy with the nations.
“Therefore prophesy against them all these words, and say to them:
‘The LORD will roar from on high,
And utter His voice from His holy habitation;
He will roar mightily against His fold.
He will give a shout, as those who tread the grapes,
Against all the inhabitants of the earth.
A noise will come to the ends of the earth—
For the LORD has a controversy with the nations;
He will plead His case with all flesh.
He will give those who are wicked to the sword,’ says the LORD.”
Thus says the LORD of hosts:
“Behold, disaster shall go forth
From nation to nation,
And a great whirlwind shall be raised up
From the farthest parts of the earth.
“And at that day the slain of the LORD shall be from one end of the earth even to the other end of the earth. They shall not be lamented, or gathered, or buried; they shall become refuse on the ground.
a. The LORD will roar from on high, and utter His voice from His holy habitation: When the judgment comes, God’s voice will be heard like the roar from a mighty lion. Those who didn’t want to hear God before will be forced to hear Him then. This would be true of His own people (His fold) and all the inhabitants of the earth.
b. A shout, as those who tread the grapes: Treading the grapes at harvest time was a celebration. There will be an element of righteous joy in the judgment of God at the end of the age.
c. Disaster shall go forth from nation to nation: Repeatedly, the worldwide nature of the judgment is emphasized.
d. At that day the slain of the LORD shall be from one end of the earth even to the other end: This ghastly picture is almost beyond comprehension. Nevertheless, it fits the descriptions of judgment found in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 19:11-18), which may have been inspired by this passage.
i. Refuse on the ground: “As the Judge of all the earth, God reads His indictment of mankind: the victims of the coming disaster will lie like so much manure on the surface of the ground.” (Harrison)
5. (34-38) The anger of the LORD against the shepherds.
“Wail, shepherds, and cry!
Roll about in the ashes,
You leaders of the flock!
For the days of your slaughter and your dispersions are fulfilled;
You shall fall like a precious vessel.
And the shepherds will have no way to flee,
Nor the leaders of the flock to escape.
A voice of the cry of the shepherds,
And a wailing of the leaders to the flock will be heard.
For the LORD has plundered their pasture,
And the peaceful dwellings are cut down
Because of the fierce anger of the LORD.
He has left His lair like the lion;
For their land is desolate
Because of the fierceness of the Oppressor,
And because of His fierce anger.”
a. Wail, shepherds, and cry: This has reference first to the kings and leaders of the nations, emphasized in the roster of judgment earlier in the chapter (Jeremiah 25:17-26). Kings and other leaders were called shepherds in those ancient cultures.
i. Amos 2:14 describes how the royal and mighty would not be able to escape judgment: Therefore flight shall perish from the swift, the strong shall not strengthen his power, nor shall the mighty deliver himself.
b. For the days of your slaughter and your dispersions are fulfilled: This has first in mind the judgment against Babylon for their conquest and exile of Judah. Other nations with similar sins would face similar judgment. Using this picture of judgment against shepherds, the LORD has plundered their pasture.
c. He has left His lair like the lion: The LORD in judgment is pictured as a lion coming against the shepherds and the flocks. They would not be able to resist Him as the shepherd David killed a lion (1 Samuel 17:34-36).
d. Because of the fierceness of the Oppressor, and because of His fierce anger: Judgment would certainly come, and it would come with passion, with fierce anger.
i. The translators of the New King James Version see this oppressor as the Lord Himself, as if God presents Himself here as the Oppressor, the one who would bring His judgment against those nations who rejected Him and performed slaughter and dispersions against others. Those who refuse to surrender to and embrace God as the Liberator will know Him instead as the Oppressor.
ii. It is also possible that the oppressor refers to the agents of God’s judgment (such as the Babylonians), and not directly to God Himself. Either way, the promise is sure: judgment is coming.
iii. “It is never pleasant to read of destruction, but this is the corollary of the Lord’s righteousness. It must also be remembered that it was anticipatory, and thus allowed the nations concerned time to repent.” (Cundall)