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A Commentary on Jeremiah Chapter 51 - The Judgment of Babylon and the Exaltation of Israel
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A Commentary on Jeremiah Chapter 51 – The Judgment of Babylon and the Exaltation of Israel

Introduction

Babylon in Biblical Perspective: Unveiling Ancient Symbols and Modern Implications"”>Jeremiah 51 forms a continuation and conclusion of the prophecy against Babylon that began in chapter 50. This chapter provides elaborates on Babylon’s coming destruction using vivid imagery and literary devices to highlight the certainty, severity, and thoroughness of God’s judgment. Within these dire warnings are interspersed promises of Israel’s future exaltation and restoration.

Chapter 51 mirrors chapter 50 in beginning with a focus on Babylon’s demise (51:1-58) and concluding with a message of hope for Israel’s redemption from exile (51:59-64). As in chapter 50, Jeremiah utilizes irony, metaphors, rhetorical questions, and striking imagery to paint a literary masterpiece proclaiming the Lord’s justice and faithfulness. This commentary will highlight key literary techniques, theological themes, and historical background to provide deeper insight into this prophetic finale regarding Babylon and Israel’s contrasting destinies.

Key Takeaways from Jeremiah Chapter 51:

  • Babylon will fall suddenly and catastrophically because of her sins against the Lord.
  • God will unleash His wrath on Babylon using foreign invaders as instruments.
  • Babylon’s false gods and defenses will utterly fail against God’s decree of destruction.
  • A remnant of Israel will survive exile and return to their homeland.
  • God will one day restore Israel fully through a new covenant in the Messiah.
  • God faithfully fulfills His word of judgment and salvation despite human unfaithfulness.

Let us now delve into the riches of Jeremiah’s monumental prophetic proclamation in chapter 51 verse by verse.

A commentary on jeremiah chapter 51 - the judgment of babylon and the exaltation of israel

Commentary on Jeremiah 51:1-14 – Pronouncements of Babylon’s Demise

Thus says the Lord:
“Behold, I will raise up against Babylon,
Against those who dwell in Leb Kamai,
A destroying wind. (Jeremiah 51:1 NKJV)

As in 50:1, Jeremiah makes clear these judgments originate directly from the Lord. God will summon “a destroying wind” against Babylon. Leb Kamai likely refers poetically to Babylonia’s heartland.

And I will send winnowers to Babylon,
Who shall winnow her and empty her land.
For in the day of doom
They shall be against her all around. (Jeremiah 51:2 NKJV)

Winnowers sift grain, tossing it into the air to allow chaff to blow away in the wind (Psalm 1:4). Here, enemy invaders are figuratively depicted as winnowers who will thoroughly plunder and depopulate Babylonia. This siege will occur in Babylon’s “day of doom.”

Against her let the archer bend his bow,
And lift himself up against her in his armor.
Do not spare her young men;
Utterly destroy all her army.
Thus the slain shall fall in the land of the Chaldeans,
And those thrust through in her streets. (Jeremiah 51:3-4 NKJV)

A call goes out to enemy archers and soldiers to show no mercy but destroy Babylon’s mighty army entirely.

For Israel is not forsaken, nor Judah,
By his God, the Lord of hosts,
Though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel.” (Jeremiah 51:5 NKJV)

Amidst these pronouncements of destruction upon Babylon, Jeremiah interjects a word of comfort and hope for Israel and Judah. Though they have sinned, God has not permanently forsaken them as His covenant people.

Flee from the midst of Babylon,
And every one save his life!
Do not be cut off in her iniquity,
For this is the time of the Lord’s vengeance;
He shall recompense her. (Jeremiah 51:6 NKJV)

A command rings out to the exiles to escape Babylon before the lethal judgment falls, as God is taking vengeance on the nation for her sins.

Babylon was a golden cup in the Lord’s hand,
That made all the earth drunk.
The nations drank her wine;
Therefore the nations are deranged.
Babylon has suddenly fallen and been destroyed. (Jeremiah 51:7-8a NKJV)

A striking metaphor describes Babylon as a golden cup filled with intoxicating wine, depicting how Babylon’s oppressive power and wealth caused the nations to “drink” to excess, becoming intoxicated and acting foolishly. But now, Babylon will suddenly and shockingly fall.

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Wail for her!
Take balm for her pain;
Perhaps she may be healed.
We would have healed Babylon,
But she is not healed. (Jeremiah 51:8b-9a NKJV)

With irony, Jeremiah mocks insincere efforts to heal Babylon from her incurable judgment, as if nations would lament over her. In truth, her judgment is irreversible.

Forsake her, and let us go everyone to his own country;
For her judgment reaches to heaven and is lifted up to the skies. (Jeremiah 51:9b NKJV)

Rather than attempting to heal Babylon, foreigners should immediately abandon her, fleeing the all-encompassing judgment.

The Lord has revealed our righteousness.
Come and let us declare in Zion the work of the Lord our God. (Jeremiah 51:10 NKJV)

In contrast, Jeremiah calls upon the exiles to return to Zion and testify openly to God’s righteousness revealed in judging Babylon while restoring Israel.

Make the arrows bright!
Gather the shields!
The Lord has raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes.
For His plan is against Babylon to destroy it,
Because it is the vengeance of the Lord,
The vengeance for His temple. (Jeremiah 51:11 NKJV)

God has stirred up the warriors of the Medes for battle against Babylon as agents of His wrath in taking vengeance for Babylon’s plundering of the Jerusalem temple (2 Kings 25:13-17).

Set up the standard on the walls of Babylon;
Make the guard strong,
Set up the watchmen,
Prepare the ambushes.
For the Lord has both devised and done
What He spoke against the inhabitants of Babylon. (Jeremiah 51:12 NKJV)

Babylon is urged to prepare for battle and strengthen her defenses. But this is futile, since the Lord has already determined and accomplished her overthrow.

O you who dwell by many waters,
Abundant in treasures,
Your end has come,
The measure of your covetousness. (Jeremiah 51:13 NKJV)

Babylon sits by the Euphrates River and possesses abundant natural resources, but her greed and exploitation of others has sealed her fate.

The Lord of hosts has sworn by Himself:
“Surely I will fill you with men, as with locusts,
And they shall lift up a shout against you.” (Jeremiah 51:14 NKJV)

With an oath, the Lord declares He will overwhelm Babylon with armies swarming like locusts to destroy her with battle cries. What God purposes cannot be reversed or stopped.

This opening section utilizes vivid metaphors, irony, rhetorical questions, and oaths to emphasize the certainty, swiftness, and thoroughness of judgment upon Babylon for her sins. Her walls, defenses, and false gods cannot protect against the Lord’s decree.

Commentary on Jeremiah 51:15-33 – Praise to God for Babylon’s Judgment

He has made the earth by His power;
He has established the world by His wisdom,
And stretched out the heaven by His understanding. (Jeremiah 51:15 NKJV)

In contrast to powerless idols, Jeremiah exalts the one true God who created all things wisely by His might and understanding.

When He utters His voice—
There is a multitude of waters in the heavens:
“He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth;
He makes lightnings for the rain;
He brings the wind out of His treasuries.” (Jeremiah 51:16 NKJV)

God’s sovereign power is displayed through meteorological phenomena like rain, wind, and lightning. He inhabits the transcendent heavenly realm.

Everyone is dull-hearted, without knowledge;
Every metalsmith is put to shame by the carved image;
For his molded image is falsehood,
And there is no breath in them. (Jeremiah 51:17 NKJV)

In contrast, the people worshiping idols are ignorant and deluded, putting trust in carved images that are mere Lifeless falsehoods.

They are futile, a work of errors;
In the time of their punishment they shall perish. (Jeremiah 51:18 NKJV)

These worthless idols will be proven impotent at Babylon’s judgment and destroyed.

The Portion of Jacob is not like them,
For He is the Maker of all things;
And Israel is the tribe of His inheritance.
The Lord of hosts is His name. (Jeremiah 51:19 NKJV)

But the God of Israel is the Creator of all, the rightful Master and Shepherd of His chosen people.

“You are My battle-ax and weapons of war:
For with you I will break the nation in pieces;
With you I will destroy kingdoms; (Jeremiah 51:20 NKJV)

God addresses Israel, appointing them as His instruments against Babylon though they currently are oppressed by that nation. Ultimately it is the Lord who will break and destroy Babylon.

With you I will break in pieces the horse and its rider;
With you I will break in pieces the chariot and its rider; (Jeremiah 51:21 NKJV)

He will defeat Babylon’s vaunted military strength, destroying her cavalry and chariots.

With you also I will break in pieces man and woman;
With you I will break in pieces old and young;
With you I will break in pieces the young man and the maiden; (Jeremiah 51:22 NKJV)

All levels of society will perish – men, women, young, old, soldiers, and civilians. None will escape.

With you I will break in pieces the shepherd and his flock;
With you I will break in pieces the farmer and his yoke of oxen;
And with you I will break in pieces governors and rulers. (Jeremiah 51:23 NKJV)

From farmers to kings, all face devastation. Jeremiah uses repetition to drive home the comprehensive scale.

“And I will repay Babylon
And all the inhabitants of Chaldea
For all the evil they have done
In Zion in your sight,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 51:24 NKJV)

The motive behind this judgment is just retaliation for Babylon’s sins against God’s city Jerusalem.

“Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain,
Who destroys all the earth,” says the Lord.
“And I will stretch out My hand against you,
Roll you down from the rocks,
And make you a burnt mountain. (Jeremiah 51:25 NKJV)

Like a destructive volcano, Babylon laid waste other nations, so God vows to oppose and utterly obliterate her.

They shall not take from you a stone for a corner
Nor a stone for a foundation,
But you shall be desolate forever,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 51:26 NKJV)

Babylon will be demolished so completely, no one can even take stones to build with elsewhere. Ruin is permanent.

Set up a banner in the land,
Blow the trumpet among the nations!
Prepare the nations against her,
Call the kingdoms together against her:
Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz. (Jeremiah 51:27a NKJV)

Jeremiah metaphorically calls the enemies of Babylon to raise banners, sound trumpets and assemble their armies for battle. The three named kingdoms lay near Armenia in the north.

Appoint a captain against her;
Cause the horses to come up like the bristling locusts. (Jeremiah 51:27b NKJV)

He summons them to appoint military officers and swarm like locusts with their feared cavalry.

Prepare against her the nations,
With the kings of the Medes,
Its governors and all its rulers,
And all the land of his dominion. (Jeremiah 51:28 NKJV)

The alliance includes the Medes and others from regions once ruled by the Assyrian empire.

And the land will tremble and sorrow;
For every purpose of the Lord shall be performed against Babylon,
To make the land of Babylon a desolation without inhabitant. (Jeremiah 51:29 NKJV)

The prophesied military alliance will destroy Babylon, fulfilling the Lord’s intentions to depopulate and ruin her land.

The mighty men of Babylon have ceased fighting,
They have remained in their strongholds;
Their might has failed,
They became like women;
They have burned her dwelling places,
The bars of her gate are broken. (Jeremiah 51:30 NKJV)

Even Babylon’s warriors will cower helpless and weak as the city burns and defenses crumble.

One runner will run to meet another,
And one messenger to meet another,
To show the king of Babylon that his city is taken on all sides; (Jeremiah 51:31 NKJV)

Messengers racing to the king reveal the city’s capture from all directions. Panic grips the capital.

The passages are blocked,
The reeds they have burned with fire,
And the men of war are terrified. (Jeremiah 51:32 NKJV)

Escape routes blocked, waterways burned, and soldiers terrified – utter chaos prevails.

For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel:
“The daughter of Babylon is like a threshing floor
When it is time to thresh her;
Yet a little while
And the time of her harvest will come.” (Jeremiah 51:33 NKJV)

God declares Babylon is like a threshing floor ripe for harvest, and the time for threshing judgment is near.

This section powerfully proclaims the unavoidable fall of Babylon through descriptive imagery conveying panic and upheaval within the once proud capital. Jeremiah intersperses praise to God for His sovereign justice, mercy to Israel, and supremacy over all idols and nations.

Commentary on Jeremiah 51:34-50 – Israel’s Plea and God’s Promise

“Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon
Has devoured me and crushed me;
He has made me an empty vessel,
He has swallowed me up like a monster;
He has filled his stomach with my delicacies,
He has spit me out. (Jeremiah 51:34 NKJV)

Jeremiah employs metaphor to portray Babylon’s oppression of Israel. Nebuchadnezzar conquered Israel, “eating up” her riches and beauty, before tossing her aside.

Let the violence done to me and my flesh be upon Babylon,”
The inhabitant of Zion will say;
“And my blood be upon the inhabitants of Chaldea!”
Jerusalem will say. (Jeremiah 51:35 NKJV)

Zion and Jerusalem demand God’s just vengeance on Babylon for her atrocities against them.

Therefore thus says the Lord:
“Behold, I will plead your case and take vengeance for you.
I will dry up her sea and make her springs dry.
Babylon shall become a heap,
A dwelling place for jackals,
An astonishment and a hissing,
Without an inhabitant.
They shall roar together like lions,
They shall growl like lions’ whelps. (Jeremiah 51:36-38 NKJV)

The Lord promises to avenge Babylon’s crimes against Israel. Using images of dryness, ruin, and wild beasts, He vows to desolate Babylon into a ghost town of crumbling ruins.

In their excitement I will prepare their feasts;
I will make them drunk,
That they may rejoice,
And sleep a perpetual sleep
And not awake,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 51:39 NKJV)

At the height of Babylon’s drunken celebrations, the Lord will bring the eternal sleep of death upon her people.

“I will bring them down
Like lambs to the slaughter,
Like rams with male goats. (Jeremiah 51:40 NKJV)

Despite being mighty warriors, the Babylonians will be helpless as animals led to slaughter.

“Oh, how Sheshach is taken!
Oh, how the praise of the whole earth is seized!
How Babylon has become desolate among the nations! (Jeremiah 51:41 NKJV)

Sheshach was a cryptic name for Babylon. Jeremiah ironically mocks how the once universally praised Babylon has now become an object of scorn in ruins.

The sea has come up over Babylon;
She is covered with the multitude of its waves. (Jeremiah 51:42 NKJV)

Tidal metaphors symbolize Babylon being overwhelmed by invasion and engulfed in destruction.

Her cities are a desolation,
A dry land and a wilderness,
A land where no one dwells,
Through which no son of man passes. (Jeremiah 51:43 NKJV)

Once prosperous cities are now barren wastelands with no one coming or going.

I will punish Bel in Babylon,
And I will bring out of his mouth what he has swallowed;
And the nations shall not stream to him anymore.
Yes, the wall of Babylon shall fall. (Jeremiah 51:44 NKJV)

The judgment reverses Babylon’s former prosperity. The god Bel and the city walls will fall, as nations abandon her.

“My people, go out of the midst of her!
And let everyone deliver himself from the fierce anger of the Lord. (Jeremiah 51:45 NKJV)

A urgent call rings out for God’s people to immediately escape Babylon before God’s fierce judgment is unleashed.

And lest your heart faint,
And you fear for the rumor that will be heard in the land
(A rumor will come one year,
And after that, in another year
A rumor will come,
And violence in the land,
Ruler against ruler), (Jeremiah 51:46 NKJV)

The exiles are urged not to lose heart or fear concerning rumors of political turmoil and conflict during the years ahead. God is in control.

Therefore behold, the days are coming
That I will bring judgment on the carved images of Babylon;
Her whole land shall be ashamed,
And all her slain shall fall in her midst. (Jeremiah 51:47 NKJV)

Babylon’s idols will be proven worthless by the Lord’s judgment, bringing shame and death upon her people.

Then the heavens and the earth and all that is in them
Shall sing joyously over Babylon;
For the plunderers shall come to her from the north,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 51:48 NKJV)

Even the heavens and earth will rejoice over Babylon’s fall, as her former wealth is plundered.

As Babylon has caused the slain of Israel to fall,
So at Babylon the slain of all the earth shall fall. (Jeremiah 51:49 NKJV)

Babylon reaps what she has sown against Israel.

You who have escaped the sword,
Get away! Do not stand still!
Remember the Lord afar off,
And let Jerusalem come to your mind. (Jeremiah 51:50 NKJV)

A final urgent appeal summons the Jewish survivors to flee Babylon immediately without hesitation, remembering their holy city Jerusalem.

This section highlights two important themes – Israel’s appeal for God’s vengeance on Babylon for her cruelties, and God’s exhortations for the remnant to escape His coming wrath upon the nation holding them captive. Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God remembers His covenant promises to restore them. He passionately cares for the welfare of His chosen people.

Commentary on Jeremiah 51:51-58 – Babylon’s Demise Completed

We are ashamed because we have heard reproach.
Shame has covered our faces,
For strangers have come into the sanctuaries of the Lord’s house. (Jeremiah 51:51 NKJV)

Israel expresses dismay that Babylon defiled the Lord’s temple, letting foreigners enter the holy places.

“Therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord,
“That I will bring judgment on her carved images,
And throughout all her land the wounded shall groan. (Jeremiah 51:52 NKJV)

Idolatry again incurs judgment, causing many wounded to groan in pain across Babylon.

Though Babylon were to mount up to heaven,
And though she were to fortify the height of her strength,
Yet from Me plunderers would come to her,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 51:53 NKJV)

Babylon’s attempts to escape are futile, as God will send invaders even if she fortified herself in the heavens!

The sound of a cry comes from Babylon,
And great destruction from the land of the Chaldeans, (Jeremiah 51:54 NKJV)

Jeremiah foresees Babylon’s cries of anguish when destruction strikes suddenly.

Because the Lord is plundering Babylon
And silencing her loud voice,
Though her waves roar like great waters,
And the noise of their voice is uttered, (Jeremiah 51:55 NKJV)

The destruction will reverse Babylon’s former boasting and military might, pictured as loud roaring waves now silenced.

Because the plunderer comes against her, against Babylon,
And her mighty men are taken.
Every one of their bows is broken;
For the Lord is the God of recompense,
He will surely repay. (Jeremiah 51:56 NKJV)

The invaders will disarm and defeat her warriors, for the Lord is taking justified retaliation.

“And I will make drunk
Her princes and wise men,
Her governors, her deputies, and her mighty men.
And they shall sleep a perpetual sleep
And not awake,” says the King,
Whose name is the Lord of hosts. (Jeremiah 51:57 NKJV)

Her leaders will be made drunk then killed, fulfilling Jeremiah’s earlier prophecy (v. 39). The eternal God ensures His word comes to pass.

Thus says the Lord of hosts:
“The broad walls of Babylon shall be utterly broken,
And her high gates shall be burned with fire;
The people will labor in vain,
And the nations, because of the fire;
And they shall be weary.” (Jeremiah 51:58 NKJV)

Babylon’s seemingly impregnable defenses will be destroyed, despite massive efforts to fortify them. Opposing the Lord is futile.

Jeremiah completes his dirge of Babylon’s demise with further emphasis on the futility of resisting God’s set purposes. Even the greatest human power and wisdom cannot override the eternal plan of the Almighty.

Commentary on Jeremiah 51:59-64 – The Prophetic Scroll

The word which Jeremiah the prophet commanded Seraiah the son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, when he went with Zedekiah the king of Judah to Babylon in the fourth year of his reign. And Seraiah was the quartermaster. (Jeremiah 51:59 NKJV)

For a dramatic object lesson, Jeremiah gives his written prophecies to Seraiah, a high official traveling to Babylon with King Zedekiah circa 593 BC.

So Jeremiah wrote in a book all the evil that would come upon Babylon, all these words that are written against Babylon. (Jeremiah 51:60 NKJV)

The scroll contains the judgments pronounced in chapters 50-51.

And Jeremiah said to Seraiah, “When you arrive in Babylon and see it, and read all these words, then you shall say, ‘O Lord, You have spoken against this place to cut it off, so that none shall remain in it, neither man nor beast, but it shall be desolate forever.’ (Jeremiah 51:61-62 NKJV)

Seraiah is to dramatically read the scroll’s dire prophecies upon arrival in proud Babylon, as a testimony against the city.

Now it shall be, when you have finished reading this book, that you shall tie a stone to it and throw it out into the Euphrates. (Jeremiah 51:63 NKJV)

Afterwards, Seraiah is to sink the scroll in the Euphrates as a symbol of Babylon’s coming destruction.

Then you shall say, ‘Thus shall Babylon sink, and not rise from the catastrophe that I will bring upon her. And they shall be weary.’” Thus far are the words of Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 51:64 NKJV)

This action signifies how Babylon will permanently sink under God’s judgment for her sins. The visual parable reinforces the inevitability of Jeremiah’s prophecies against her.

This creative demonstration underscores God’s authority behind His word. Though Babylon stood in power, the prophecies would come true in due time. Jeremiah obediently delivered the message though it cost him personally.

Conclusion

This concludes the commentary on Jeremiah 51. The key points are:

  • Jeremiah employed elaborate imagery and literary devices to highlight God’s coming judgment on Babylon for her idolatry, cruelty, greed, and pride.
  • His descriptions underscore the totality, certainty, and thoroughness of Babylon’s prophesied destruction.
  • Israel is commanded to immediately escape God’s coming wrath against Babylon.
  • Words of hope remind God still cares for His chosen people and will restore them.
  • The prophetic scroll vividly reinforces the truth of God’s word against seemingly strong Babylon.

I hope this detailed analysis helps bring greater understanding of this monumental chapter. Please let me know if you would like me to expand or clarify anything.

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Pastor duke taber
Pastor Duke Taber

Pastor Duke Taber

All articles have been written or reviewed by Pastor Duke Taber.
Pastor Duke Taber is an alumnus of Life Pacific University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary.
He has been in pastoral ministry since 1988.
Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world.
He is currently starting a brand new church in Mesquite NV called Mesquite Worship Center, a Non-Denominational Spirit Filled Christian church in Mesquite Nevada.