Jeremiah 50 – A Word of Judgment Against Babylon
“It is to be observed that there is no gleam of hope for Babylon; that power, for some time material, and persistently spiritual, which was conceived in an attempt to make man great by frustrating Divine purpose. Her doom is irremediable in Old and New Testaments.” (Morgan)
A. Babylon conquered, Israel and Judah restored.
1. (1-3) The conquest of Babylon and the humiliation of her idols.
The word that the LORD spoke against Babylon and against the land of the Chaldeans by Jeremiah the prophet.
“Declare among the nations,
Proclaim, and set up a standard;
Proclaim—do not conceal it—
Say, ‘Babylon is taken, Bel is shamed.
Merodach is broken in pieces;
Her idols are humiliated,
Her images are broken in pieces.’
For out of the north a nation comes up against her,
Which shall make her land desolate,
And no one shall dwell therein.
They shall move, they shall depart,
Both man and beast.”
a. Against Babylon and against the land of the Chaldeans: The larger region was known as Chaldea and the great city of the region was Babylon. This was a word of judgment against the empire that God used to bring judgment upon Judah in Jeremiah’s day.
b. Declare among the nations: The Babylonian empire had an impact on all surrounding nations, so they needed to hear this word of the LORD through Jeremiah the prophet.
c. Babylon is taken, Bel is shamed: The city would be conquered and the idols in whom they trusted would be humiliated – most notably Bel and Merodach. They and their city would be broken in pieces by the coming judgment of God.
i. “Bel (‘lord’) was the title of the storm-god Enlil, and when Marduk became head of the Babylonian pantheon in the second millennium BC he received the designation of Bel also.” (Harrison)
ii. Her idols are humiliated: The word translated her idols is an unusual one, “not the usual Hebrew term for idols, one of which appears earlier in the verse. Young’s Concordance lists ten different Hebrew words for idols, but even so fails to list the noun under discussion. Gillal, used many times in the OT but always in the plural, denotes ‘logs,’ ‘blocks,’ that is, shapeless things…Ewald, after the rabbis, renders it ‘dungy things.’” (Feinberg)
iii. “The word gillulim is indelicate, meaning ‘balls of excrement.’ It is applied to pagan idols in Leviticus 26:30; Deuteronomy 29:17; 1 Kings 15:12, 21:25; etc. Ezekiel used the word some thirty-eight times.” (Thompson)
d. For out of the north a nation comes up against her: God used Babylon to bring judgment against Judah and other nations. When the time was right God would use a nation out of the north to judge Chaldea and make her land desolate.
i. Out of the north: “The Medes, who formed the chief part of the army of Cyrus, lay to the north or north-east of Babylon.” (Clarke)
2. (4-5) The restoration of Israel and Judah.
“In those days and in that time,” says the LORD,
“The children of Israel shall come,
They and the children of Judah together;
With continual weeping they shall come,
And seek the LORD their God.
They shall ask the way to Zion,
With their faces toward it, saying,
‘Come and let us join ourselves to the LORD
In a perpetual covenant
That will not be forgotten.’”
a. In those days and in that time: Jeremiah connected the coming judgment upon Babylon to the restoration of Israel and Judah. They would return to God with repentance (continual weeping) and they would seek the LORD their God.
i. The restoration of the people of Israel is clearly an aspect of God’s plan for the last days (Matthew 23:39, Romans 11:26). Judgment upon Babylon is also an aspect of the last days (Revelation 17-18). Both the judgment of Babylon and the restoration of Israel here prophesied had a near fulfillment and will have an ultimate fulfillment in the very last days.
ii. The phrase with continual weeping they shall come speaks to the depth of Israel’s repentance in the last days, spoken of also in Zechariah 12:10. “We notice again that the exiles on their return were mourning while marching. Observe the words- ‘going and weeping.’ We might have thought, perhaps, that when they began to go to their God, so much light would break in upon them that they would cease to weep: but no, it is ‘going and weeping.’” (Spurgeon)
b. They shall ask the way to Zion, with their faces toward it: Part of the restoration would be the gathering of Israel and Judah back to the land promised to them as the covenant descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
c. Come and let us join ourselves to the LORD in a perpetual covenant: They would come back to God on His terms, the terms of His covenant. These are promises associated with the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34 and 23:3-8, Ezekiel 11:16-20 and 36:24-28).
i. This reminds the believer that our relationship with God is based on something with great foundation – on perpetual covenant. Hebrews 8:7-13 is a powerful description of this great covenant. God’s goodness and care is given to us on the basis of covenant.
ii. “I rejoice in those old Scotch books about the covenant: covenant truth was so inwrought into the Scotch heart that Scottish peasants as well as divines talked about it perpetually. You remember the good old cottager’s grace over her porridge. I cannot repeat it in pure Doric, but it ran like this: ‘Lord, I thank thee for the porridge, I thank thee for an appetite for the porridge, but I thank thee most of all that I have a covenant right to the porridge.’ Only think of that, a covenant right to the porridge.” (Spurgeon)
3. (6-7) The need for restoration.
“My people have been lost sheep.
Their shepherds have led them astray;
They have turned them away on the mountains.
They have gone from mountain to hill;
They have forgotten their resting place.
All who found them have devoured them;
And their adversaries said, ‘We have not offended,
Because they have sinned against the LORD, the habitation of justice,
The LORD, the hope of their fathers.’”
a. My people have been lost sheep: Speaking through Jeremiah, Yahweh spoke tenderly of His people as lost sheep betrayed by their shepherds. The poor leadership of these shepherds led to God’s people being turned away and scattered from mountain to hill, with no resting place.
b. We have not offended, because they have sinned against the LORD: The adversaries of God’s people devoured them, claiming justification as instruments of God’s judgment. Though it was true that Israel and Judah had sinned and deserved judgment, it did not justify those God used to bring the judgment.
B. Babylon fallen, Israel pardoned.
1. (8-10) Fleeing from Babylon under attack.
“Move from the midst of Babylon,
Go out of the land of the Chaldeans;
And be like the rams before the flocks.
For behold, I will raise and cause to come up against Babylon
An assembly of great nations from the north country,
And they shall array themselves against her;
From there she shall be captured.
Their arrows shall be like those of an expert warrior;
None shall return in vain.
And Chaldea shall become plunder;
All who plunder her shall be satisfied,” says the LORD.
a. Move from the midst of Babylon: God called upon the doomed Chaldeans to flee from their land. God would assemble a great army from the north country to come against Babylon and capture it.
i. Like the rams before the flocks: “Once the sheepfold was opened the male goats would rush to leave the enclosure first. So Judah would be in the forefront of captive peoples breaking loose from Babylon to return home.” (Thompson)
ii. An assembly of great nations from the north country: “The army of Cyrus was composed of Medes, Persians, Armenians, Caducians, Sacae, etc. Though all these did not come from the north; yet they were arranged under the Medes, who did come from the north, in reference to Babylon.” (Clarke)
b. Chaldea shall become plunder: The great army that would come against Babylon would take its wealth and greatness. This was fulfilled when the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon, and will be even more completely fulfilled in the fall of Babylon in the end times (Revelation 17-18).
2. (11-16) The fall of Babylon is the vengeance of the LORD.
“Because you were glad, because you rejoiced,
You destroyers of My heritage,
Because you have grown fat like a heifer threshing grain,
And you bellow like bulls,
Your mother shall be deeply ashamed;
She who bore you shall be ashamed.
Behold, the least of the nations shall be a wilderness,
A dry land and a desert.
Because of the wrath of the LORD
She shall not be inhabited,
But she shall be wholly desolate.
Everyone who goes by Babylon shall be horrified
And hiss at all her plagues.
Put yourselves in array against Babylon all around,
All you who bend the bow;
Shoot at her, spare no arrows,
For she has sinned against the LORD.
Shout against her all around;
She has given her hand,
Her foundations have fallen,
Her walls are thrown down;
For it is the vengeance of the LORD.
Take vengeance on her.
As she has done, so do to her.
Cut off the sower from Babylon,
And him who handles the sickle at harvest time.
For fear of the oppressing sword
Everyone shall turn to his own people,
And everyone shall flee to his own land.”
a. Because you rejoiced, you destroyers of My heritage: God promised this judgment against Babylon because they took undue pleasure in being the instrument of Yahweh’s judgment against His people. They were also ripe for judgment because they were proud and self-satisfied (fat like a heifer threshing grain).
i. Shall be a wilderness: “Its eventual decline into a heap of ruins (Jeremiah 51:37), a wilderness dry and desert (50:12b), was gradual, due largely to the building of a new capital, Seleucia on the Tigris, in 275 BC; but it still had inhabitants in the first century AD.” (Kidner)
b. Everyone who goes by Babylon shall be horrified: The coming judgment on Babylon would astonish the nations, who would become agents of God’s judgment (for it is the vengeance of the LORD). The same devastation the Chaldeans brought to others would come upon them (as she has done, so do to her).
i. “Powerful Babylon will be reduced to minor status in the Near East when God punishes her, and once more the passer-by will gasp in astonishment.” (Harrison)
c. Her foundations have fallen, her walls are thrown down: These phrases (and similar phrases in Jeremiah 50-51) are an interesting challenge in understanding prophetic fulfillment. Not very long after Jeremiah’s prophecy, Babylon was conquered, but not destroyed. The foundations did not fall and the walls were not thrown down.
i. “Cyrus, who unified the Medo-Persian Empire and then overwhelmed Babylon, was careful to spare the country; so the references (Jeremiah 50:16) must be to a later attack.” (Feinberg)
ii. “According to Herodotus (1.191), Cyrus captured Babylon by diverting the Euphrates River into a trench. The Persians attacked Babylon so unexpectedly that when the outer areas of the city had already been taken those in the center did not realize that they were captured.” (Feinberg)
iii. One important factor to take into account is that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, radically repented before God. It is possible that the worst of what was prophesied did not happen because God mercifully responded to Nebuchadnezzar’s repentance. “It is at least possible that the humbling of Nebuchadnezzar, culminating in his testimony in Daniel 4:34-37, opened the door to the mercy of 539 – for it is obvious from God’s generous response to even an Ahab, a Manasseh, or the city of Nineveh, that he meets a change of attitude more than halfway.” (Kidner)
iv. Another important factor to take into account is that God is not done with His judgment upon Babylon – the city second most mentioned in the Scriptures. Babylon was judged not far from Jeremiah’s time, but even that judgment pointed towards a greater fulfillment in the last days. The fall of Babylon prophesied by Jeremiah was partially fulfilled when the Medes and Persians conquered ancient Babylon. Yet the connection between this fall of Babylon and Revelation 18:2 (Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen) shows that there is an ultimate fall of Babylon to come.
v. “It has troubled some scholars that chapters 50-51 predict the violent destruction of Babylon, whereas its defeat by Cyrus in 539 BC took place without a battle and with no damage to the city. But with other predictive prophecies, if a fulfillment does not occur in one period, it is to be sought for in another and future one.” (Feinberg)
vi. In truth, this interpretive challenge is a strong testimony to the authenticity of Jeremiah’s prophecy. “Those critical scholars who reject the possibility of such a foretelling of the future, and who would put these chapters after Babylonia’s fall in 539 BC, face an insurmountable problem. If these words were written after the event, they would surely correspond more accurately with the events themselves.” (Cundall)
3. (17-20) God will pardon and preserve Israel.
“Israel is like scattered sheep;
The lions have driven him away.
First the king of Assyria devoured him;
Now at last this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has broken his bones.”
Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel:
“Behold, I will punish the king of Babylon and his land,
As I have punished the king of Assyria.
But I will bring back Israel to his home,
And he shall feed on Carmel and Bashan;
His soul shall be satisfied on Mount Ephraim and Gilead.
In those days and in that time,” says the LORD,
“The iniquity of Israel shall be sought, but there shall be none;
And the sins of Judah, but they shall not be found;
For I will pardon those whom I preserve.”
a. Israel is like scattered sheep; the lions have driven him away: Earlier in this prophecy, Jeremiah spoke of Israel as lost sheep (Jeremiah 50:6). Now he sees them as sheep scattered by the mighty lions of Assyria and Babylon.
i. Now at last this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has broken his bones: “All the descendants of Jacob have been harassed and spoiled, first by the Assyrians, and afterwards by the Chaldeans. They acted towards them as a lion to a sheep which he has caught; first he devours all the flesh, next he breaks all the bones to extract the marrow.” (Clarke)
b. I will punish the king of Babylon and his land, as I have punished the king of Assyria: God promised that just as the Assyrian empire was gone, so too would the mighty Babylonian empire one day be punished.
c. But I will bring back Israel to his home: In contrast to the passing empires of Assyria and Babylon, God would restore Israel to her land. They would once again feed on Carmel and Bashan and be satisfied on Mount Ephraim and Gilead.
d. The iniquity of Israel shall be sought, but there shall be none: This wonderful promise is another in the great promises of the new covenant, an aspect of which is the restoration and salvation of Israel. God promised to both pardon and preserve Israel.
i. I will pardon those whom I preserve: “One of the important features of the days of restoration is spiritual renewal with its concomitant of forgiveness. …The forgiveness of the remnant will be such that their guilt and their sins will be completely obliterated.” (Thompson)
C. Babylon broken, Israel redeemed.
1. (21-27) Babylon’s slaughter.
“Go up against the land of Merathaim, against it,
And against the inhabitants of Pekod.
Waste and utterly destroy them,” says the LORD,
“And do according to all that I have commanded you.
A sound of battle is in the land,
And of great destruction.
How the hammer of the whole earth has been cut apart and broken!
How Babylon has become a desolation among the nations!
I have laid a snare for you;
You have indeed been trapped, O Babylon,
And you were not aware;
You have been found and also caught,
Because you have contended against the LORD.
The LORD has opened His armory,
And has brought out the weapons of His indignation;
For this is the work of the Lord GOD of hosts
In the land of the Chaldeans.
Come against her from the farthest border;
Open her storehouses;
Cast her up as heaps of ruins,
And destroy her utterly;
Let nothing of her be left.
Slay all her bulls,
Let them go down to the slaughter.
Woe to them!
For their day has come, the time of their punishment.”
a. Go up against the land of Merathaim: God spoke judgment against specific regions of Babylon, Merathaim and Pekod. The command was clear: waste and utterly destroy them. Babylon was like a hammer against the whole earth, and she would be cut apart and broken because they contended against the LORD.
i. “Merathaim and Pekod were real locations in Babylon. Ironically, those place names sounded like the Hebrew words for ‘double rebellion’ and ‘punishment.’” (Ryken)
· The land of Merathaim: This was a literal place, but also “There is a play on words here, for the root mrh means ‘to rebel’ and the form of the word is dual, meaning ‘(land of) double rebellion,’ or ‘twofold rebel,’ that is, ‘rebel of rebels.’” (Thompson)
· The inhabitants of Pekod: “The root pqd means ‘to punish.’ Hence the land of Pekod is the ‘land of doom.’” (Thompson)
· “The prophets were fond of giving a word this kind of twist, adding to the liveliness of the attack and fastening it in the memory.” (Kidner)
ii. “He recognized that Babylon had been the instrument in the hand of Jehovah as he referred to her as ‘the hammer of the whole earth.’ But the hammer is broken, and Babylon become a desolation.” (Morgan)
iii. “Babylon was the maul or hammer of many nations, Nimrod began it, and his successors took after him. Charles Martel, King of France, was so called for like cause. Augustine also was worthily styled Haereticorum malleus, the hammer of heretics.” (Trapp)
iv. You have indeed been trapped, O Babylon: “It was not by storm that Cyrus took the city. The Euphrates ran through it; he dug a channel for the river in another direction, to divert its stream; he waited for that time in which the inhabitants had delivered themselves up to debauchery: in the dead of the night he turned off the stream, and he and his army entered by the old channel, now void of its waters. This was the snare of which the prophet here speaks. See Herodotus, lib. i., c. 191.” (Clarke)
b. The LORD has opened His armory: In His judgment God brought out the weapons of His indignation, coming against Babylon as the Lord GOD of hosts, Yahweh of heavenly armies.
c. Slay all her bulls, let them go down to the slaughter: The bulls once sacrificed to the idols of Babylon would be destroyed in the coming slaughter to come upon Babylon.
2. (28-32) Proud Babylon repaid.
The voice of those who flee and escape from the land of Babylon
Declares in Zion the vengeance of the LORD our God,
The vengeance of His temple.
“Call together the archers against Babylon.
All you who bend the bow, encamp against it all around;
Let none of them escape.
Repay her according to her work;
According to all she has done, do to her;
For she has been proud against the LORD,
Against the Holy One of Israel.
Therefore her young men shall fall in the streets,
And all her men of war shall be cut off in that day,” says the LORD.
“Behold, I am against you,
O most haughty one!” says the Lord GOD of hosts;
“For your day has come,
The time that I will punish you.
The most proud shall stumble and fall,
And no one will raise him up;
I will kindle a fire in his cities,
And it will devour all around him.”
a. The voice of those who flee and escape from the land of Babylon: In his prophecy, Jeremiah could hear those who managed to escape speak of the vengeance of the LORD. It was even the vengeance of His temple – the destroyed temple of Jerusalem visiting destruction upon Babylon. As they destroyed, so they would be destroyed.
b. For she has been proud against the LORD: This was the root of Babylon’s sin. Her pride led her to arrogantly think that she could measure out destruction to others without having it measured out against her, the most haughty one.
i. “He was under no delusion concerning Babylon itself. He knew its wickedness; and he knew that though God so overruled the affairs of men that Babylon was His instrument of chastisement, she herself must be judged.” (Morgan)
3. (33-34) Israel’s strong Redeemer.
Thus says the LORD of hosts:
“The children of Israel were oppressed,
Along with the children of Judah;
All who took them captive have held them fast;
They have refused to let them go.
Their Redeemer is strong;
The LORD of hosts is His name.
He will thoroughly plead their case,
That He may give rest to the land,
And disquiet the inhabitants of Babylon.”
a. All who took them captive have held them fast: When the empires of Assyria and Babylon took Israel and Judah captive, they did not let them go. It was only under those who conquered Babylon – the Medes and Persians – that the Jewish people were given permission to return to the Promised Land.
b. Their Redeemer is strong: Assyria and Babylon held Israel and Judah, but their strong Redeemer would thoroughly plead their case. Though God would disquiet the inhabitants of Babylon, He would give rest to the land.
i. “Few nations have ever realized that God is the Kinsman-Redeemer of Israel (Jeremiah 50:34). …The Kinsman-Redeemer is voluntarily committed to champion Israel’s cause. He brings peace to his own but unrest to his oppressors.” (Feinberg)
ii. All who dare to trouble Israel should remember, their Redeemer is strong. “The Jew has been held in contempt as the afflicted of God, and that has been the excuse urged sometimes even by so-called Christian nations for wrong and injustice done to him. Let it never be forgotten that God has not cast off His people, though He chastise them; and whatever nations persecutes them, sooner or later knows the fire of Divine wrath.” (Morgan)
iii. That He may give rest to the land: “The place where we lie down to rest is under the shadow of the Cross. Whilst we remain there, we are perfectly safe and blessed.” (Meyer)
D. The greatness of the judgment to come against Babylon.
1. (35-38) The sword against Chaldea.
“A sword is against the Chaldeans,” says the LORD,
“Against the inhabitants of Babylon,
And against her princes and her wise men.
A sword is against the soothsayers, and they will be fools.
A sword is against her mighty men, and they will be dismayed.
A sword is against their horses,
Against their chariots,
And against all the mixed peoples who are in her midst;
And they will become like women.
A sword is against her treasures, and they will be robbed.
A drought is against her waters, and they will be dried up.
For it is the land of carved images,
And they are insane with their idols.”
a. A sword is against the Chaldeans: God promised that His sword of judgment would come against the people of Babylon, as well has her princes and her wise men, as well as the soothsayers, mighty men – even her horses and her chariots.
b. It is the land of carved images, and they are insane with their idols: Everything that Babylon trusted in would feel the sword of God’s judgment. This included the mixed peoples who made up her armies, her treasures, and her idols. Idol-mad Chaldea would feel the complete edge of God’s sword.
2. (39-40) The complete nature of Babylon’s destruction.
“Therefore the wild desert beasts shall dwell there with the jackals,
And the ostriches shall dwell in it.
It shall be inhabited no more forever,
Nor shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation.
As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah
And their neighbors,” says the LORD,
“So no one shall reside there,
Nor son of man dwell in it.”
a. The wild desert beasts shall dwell there with the jackals: Babylon’s devastation would be so complete that the city would become a wasteland inhabited by wild animals – or unclean spirits.
i. Wild desert beasts, jackals: “The terms siyyim and iyyim are sometimes regarded as animals, but there was something uncanny about creatures who inhabited ruined cities and the terms demons and evil spirits would seem more appropriate.” (Thompson)
b. As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah: The destruction of Babylon would be so complete that the prophet could liken them to Sodom and Gomorrah.
3. (41-44) Destruction from the north.
“Behold, a people shall come from the north,
And a great nation and many kings
Shall be raised up from the ends of the earth.
They shall hold the bow and the lance;
They are cruel and shall not show mercy.
Their voice shall roar like the sea;
They shall ride on horses,
Set in array, like a man for the battle,
Against you, O daughter of Babylon.
The king of Babylon has heard the report about them,
And his hands grow feeble;
Anguish has taken hold of him,
Pangs as of a woman in childbirth.
Behold, he shall come up like a lion from the floodplain of the Jordan
Against the dwelling place 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?
Who will arraign Me?
And who is that shepherd
Who will withstand Me?”
a. A people shall come from the north: Babylon’s end would come from the Medes and Persians, roughly from their north. Since much of this prophecy speaks not only of that soon conquest but an ultimate destruction of Babylon (Revelation 17-18), their destruction will also in some way come from the north.
b. They are cruel and shall not show mercy: The conquerors of Babylon will be ruthless warriors. Babylon rarely showed mercy; they should expect none from their eventual conquerors.
c. Anguish has taken hold of him: In many places, Jeremiah described this effect of Babylon and her armies upon those they conquered (Jeremiah 13:8, 22:23, 48:41, 49:22). Now, a similar terror would come upon the king of Babylon.
i. “Small wonder that the Babylonian king, used to being the victor, is now petrified with fear as the potential victim.” (Thompson)
ii. He shall come up like a lion: “The lion (Jeremiah 50:44) now is Cyrus; in Jeremiah 49:19 it was Nebuchadnezzar.” (Feinberg)
d. Who is that shepherd who will withstand Me: God spoke the obvious. There was no shepherd, no king, no leader who could stand against Him and His coming judgment.
4. (45-46) The counsel of the LORD against Babylon.
Therefore hear the counsel of the LORD that He has taken against Babylon,
And His purposes that He has proposed against the land of the Chaldeans:
Surely the least of the flock shall draw them out;
Surely He will make their dwelling place desolate with them.
At the noise of the taking of Babylon
The earth trembles,
And the cry is heard among the nations.
a. Therefore hear the counsel of the LORD that He has taken against Babylon: God invited not only Israel and Judah, but also Babylon herself and all the nations to hear the counsel of the LORD. Judgment was coming against them and God wanted the entire world to know.
b. At the noise of the taking of Babylon the earth trembles: God would show His might, His wisdom, His justice, and His unfolding plan of the ages in and through the judgment of Babylon.