Jeremiah 51:1-64 (28:1-64, LXX)

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YHWH revealed that he would stir up a “destructive wind” (“destructive hot wind” [LXX]) “against Babylon and against the inhabitants of Leb-kamai [residing Chaldeans (LXX)].” The designation “Leb-kamai” may be a cryptogram for Chaldea (Kasdím). This would be according to a system called atbash, where the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet is substituted with the first, and the next to last letter is substituted with the second, and this is done with each letter of the alphabet. It is also possible that the name Leb-kamai called attention to the hostility of Babylon toward YHWH’s people and, therefore, toward him, for this name may be rendered “heart of those rebelling against me.” A destructive wind, like the hot wind from the east that withered vegetation, would come against Chaldea and the capital city Babylon in the form of military invasion and conquest. (51:1 [28:1, LXX])

Apparently the warriors that would be coming to attack Chaldea and its capital Babylon are referred to as “winnowers” (“arrogant ones” [LXX]). With a shovel or fork, winnowers tossed threshed grain into the air so that the wind would blow the lighter chaff away. The winnowing to which the Babylonians would be subjected in the form of warfare would blow them away like worthless chaff, for they would either become casualties of war or be forced to scatter in panicky flight, leaving the land empty. According to the Septuagint, the arrogant or insolent ones would treat Babylon insolently and lay “her land” waste. In the “day of evil,” calamity, or trouble for Babylon, the “winnowers” or warriors would come against the city from every side. (51:2 [28:2, LXX])

The meaning of the opening compound sentence depends upon which Hebrew manuscript reading is followed. Manuscripts either contain or do not contain the word that may be translated “not.” (“Let the one not treading his bow not do treading.” “Let the one treading his bow do treading.” [The reading without the “not” has the support of the Septuagint.]) Treading the bow was required to string it. An archer would place his foot in the center of the bow and then tie the loose end of the string to the other end of the bow. If the reference is to not treading, the words could be understood to be directed to the defenders of Babylon. With a successful defense against the attacking army being doomed to failure, preparing the bow for battle would have been useless. Similarly, a Babylonian warrior would find that standing up with the protection of his “coat of mail” (a cloak made from thick cloth or leather, commonly with metal scales attached) did not benefit him. Modern translations vary in their renderings and the meanings they convey. “Let not the archer bend his bow, and let him not array himself in his coat of mail.” (NRSV) “Let not the archer string his bow, nor let him put on his armor.” (NIV) “Let no archer bend his bow! Let no man swagger in his breastplate!” (NJB) “Don’t let the [Babylonian] archers put on their armor or draw their bows.” (NLT) “Don’t give its [Babylon’s] soldiers time to shoot their arrows or to put on their armor.” (TEV) “Attack quickly, before the Babylonians can string their bows or put on their armor.” (CEV) “Let the archer draw his bow, and let him stand ready in his coat of mail.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) The attacking warriors were to show no mercy to the “young men” of Babylon. In this context, the “young men” may be young warriors. The entire Babylonian military force was to be annihilated as if it had been put under a sacred ban. (51:3 [28:3, LXX])

Babylonian warriors were to fall slain in the “land of the Chaldeans” and, in the streets of Babylon [“outside” the land (LXX)], as men pierced or wounded with spears or swords. (51:4 [28:4, LXX])

The ruin that would come upon Babylon and the land of the Chaldeans would be retribution for what their warriors had done to YHWH’s people whose relationship to him was like that of a wife to her husband. “Israel [the people of the former ten-tribe kingdom of Israel] and Judah [the people from the kingdom of Judah] had not become “widowed from their God, from YHWH of hosts” (the God with hosts of angels in his service [Lord Almighty (LXX)]). Therefore, the time would come when he would act as the defender and avenger of his people. The reason for their unfavorable circumstances was that their land had become full of guilt or unfaithfulness to YHWH, the “Holy One of Israel [injustice against the holy things of Israel (LXX)].” (51:5 [28:5, LXX])

The conquest of Babylon would open the opportunity for God’s people to leave the place of their exile and to return to their own land. They were to “flee from the midst of Babylon,” with every “man” or person escaping with his “soul” or life. Their flight out of Babylon included not permitting defilement, especially idolatrous practices from there, to cling to them. This possibly was the reason for the imperative that may be rendered, “Do not be silenced [brought to a finish (thrown away [LXX])] in her guilt (injustice [LXX])].” The people were not to become sharers in the punishment for wrongs that would be meted out to Babylon. It would then be YHWH’s “time of vengeance,” bringing retribution on the Babylonians for the ruthless way they had treated them and their abominable idolatrous practices. There is a possibility that the imperative to flee included foreigners “in the midst of Babylon” so that they could thereby escape the punishment that would result from the guilt Babylon incurred by aggressive warring. (51:6 [28:6, LXX])

YHWH had permitted Babylon to be an agency to administer punishment. Therefore, Babylon is represented as a “golden cup in his hand.” The reference to a “golden cup” may serve to allude to the wealth and splendor of Babylon. From that cup, “all the earth,” or people from areas far beyond Chaldea, had been made to drink. The “wine” in that cup from which nations drank was the bitter potion of humiliating military conquest and devastation. Its effect on the nations was comparable to having been robbed of their senses or to making them mad from having become intoxicated (shaking them [LXX]). (51:7 [28:7, LXX])

The fall of Babylon would occur suddenly, and this fall would leave her completely broken, unable to recover her former position as the dominant power in the region. All that anyone could do would be to howl or wail over Babylon. YHWH is quoted as taunting any would-be healers of Babylon. “Take balm for her pain; possibly she may be healed.” The reality was that recovery would be impossible. (51:8 [28:8, LXX)

Supporters of Babylon from other nations are represented as saying that they would have healed Babylon but that this could not be done. Therefore, they would abandon Babylon, returning each “man” (or each person) to his own land. Her record of guilt that called for ”judgment” was so great that it reached the “heavens” (the perceived celestial dome) and was “lifted up to the clouds [stars (LXX)].” (51:9 [28:9, LXX])

In recognition of the retributive judgment on Babylon, God’s people would be prompted to acknowledge, “YHWH has brought forth righteousness [justice or vindication (plural in Hebrew)] for us.” After their return to Zion or Jerusalem, they could say to one another, “Come, and let us declare in Zion [or Jerusalem] the work of YHWH our God,” acknowledging him as the one who caused Babylon to fall and made it possible for them to return to their own land from the region of their exile. (51:10 [28:10, LXX])

The attacking warriors were directed to “polish” or “sharpen” the arrows (“ready the arrows” for use [LXX]), apparently to increase their penetrating capacity, and to “fill the shields,” possibly meaning “with a warrior for each shield.” The Septuagint says “fill the quivers,” and many modern translations also contain this rendering to indicate that the arrows were to fill the quivers. YHWH is identified as having “stirred up the spirit of the kings [king (LXX)] of the Medes,” arousing their desire to share in a campaign against Babylonia and the capital city Babylon. These “kings” may have included rulers over realms that were subject to the monarch of Media. All the rulers would serve YHWH’s purpose to destroy Babylon. According to the Septuagint, this would be an expression of “his wrath.” The time of the attack and conquest would be the time for the manifestation of the “vengeance of YHWH,” the “vengeance for his temple [his people (LXX)].” It was his temple in Jerusalem that the Babylonians had destroyed. (51:11 [28:11, LXX])

Raising a “signal against the walls of Babylon” could refer to hoisting a banner or battle flag around which the warriors would assemble to launch the assault. Making the “watch” strong could mean to reinforce it with additional warriors or to blockade the city so that no one could escape from there. Guards needed to be posted at strategic points. Another preparatory act for the attack was to ready an ambush. The Septuagint says, “Place quivers [for arrows]; rouse a guard; prepare weapons.” By means of the military force that would include Median warriors, YHWH would carry out his purpose and do what he had spoken regarding the residents of Babylon (“for he took in hand, and the Lord will do what he spoke against the residents of Babylon” [LXX]). (51:12 [28:12, LXX])

Babylon is being addressed as the one “dwelling by many [or great] waters” and as having “great treasures.” Built on both banks of the Euphrates River and with a system of canals, Babylon was abundantly supplied with water. The city became rich in treasures through successful military campaigns and the receipt of tribute from conquered peoples and nations. This circumstance would not continue, for the end for Babylon had come, the “cubit [or measure] of [her] unjust gain.” In their renderings, translators have variously interpreted the words about “unjust gain.” “The thread of your life is cut.” (NLT) “But now the time has come for you to die.” (CEV) “The time is come, the hour of your end.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Your end has come, your destiny is certain.” (REB) “You now meet your end, the finish of your pillaging.” (NJB) The Septuagint says, “Your end has truly come into your inward parts.” (51:13 [28:13, LXX])

“YHWH of hosts” (the God with hosts of angels in his service [the “Lord” (LXX)] swore “by his soul” (“by his arm” [LXX]), or solemnly declared by himself, “I will fill you with men [literally, “man” or earthling (a collective singular)] like locusts, and they will raise a shout over you.” These men would be warriors, numerous and destructive like locusts. The “shout” could be a battle cry or a celebratory shout in triumph. (51:14 [28:14, LXX])

The solemn declaration of YHWH regarding Babylon would unerringly be fulfilled because of who he is. He is the one who “made the earth by his power,” “established the arable land by his wisdom,” and “stretched out the heavens by his understanding” or stretched out the celestial dome like a tent over the land. No one can match his power, wisdom, and understanding. Therefore, no one can hinder or stop his purpose from being carried out. (51:15 [28:15, LXX]; see 10:12 for the same wording.)

YHWH’s “voice” probably denotes the sound of thunder, with the roar or rumbling of “waters in the heavens” referring to peals of thunder coming from the clouds. At the distant horizon, clouds may begin to appear. Seemingly for this reason, YHWH is represented as causing “vapors” or “clouds” (LXX) to rise “from the end of the earth” or the extremity of the land. According to the Septuagint, he “led the clouds from the end of the earth.” The making of “lightnings for the rain” is attributed to YHWH. This could mean that he causes lightning to appear while it is raining. YHWH is also represented as bringing forth “wind from his storehouses.” In the Septuagint, the reference is to his bringing forth “light,” possibly meaning “sheet lightning.” (51:16 [28:16, LXX]; see 10:13 for the same wording.)

The deities that people worshiped were unrealities and could do nothing. Therefore, those who revered them were foolish. This is the reason for referring to “every man” or all earthlings who worshiped nonexistent deities as stupid or unreasoning, not having knowledge. Every goldsmith or metal worker involved in the fashioning of images would be put to shame. This would be when the deities which the images represented would be exposed as worthless. The image was a “falsehood” or a delusion, for it represented a deity that did not exist, and the image itself was lifeless, having no breath in it. According to the Septuagint, “every goldsmith was put to shame by his carved things [or idols], for they [the goldsmiths] have cast lies; there is no breath in them [the images].” (51:17 [28:17, LXX]; see 10:14 for the same wording.)

Both the idols and the deities which they represented were “vanity,” emptiness, or worthlessness, for they could do absolutely nothing. The images were a work (works [LXX]) of delusion or mockery, for they were representations of gods and goddesses that did not exist. At the time of YHWH’s visitation to execute his judgment, the images and the deities they supposedly represented would perish. There would then cease to be any idolaters to revere them. (51:18 [28:18, LXX]; see 10:15 for the same wording.)

The “Portion” or “Share of Jacob” was not like the images that idolaters worshiped. Jacob here designates the people who descended from him, the Israelites. On the basis of the covenant that YHWH concluded with their ancestors at Mount Sinai, they were his people and had a relationship with him as their God. Therefore, he was their Portion or Share. In the case of the deities that idolaters revered, the lifeless images were the work of craftsmen. The God of the Israelites, however, was not fashioned by them. He himself was the one who had formed them into a nation and, in fact, had formed all things. Israel was the “tribe [or rod] of his inheritance,” or the people who belonged to him. He identified himself to them as bearing the name “YHWH of hosts,” their God with hosts of angels in his service to carry out his purpose. (51:19 [28:19, LXX]; see 10:16 for the same wording.)

The context is not specific enough to establish the instrument YHWH purposed to use as his “shatterer” or “club” and as his “implements” or “weapons of war” for smashing nations. With this instrument, YHWH determined to “destroy kingdoms.” Regarding the instrument he would use, the Septuagint says, “For [or by] me you scatter implements of war, and by you I will scatter nations, and from you I will remove [enemy] kings.” The reference could either be to the use YHWH made of King Nebuchadnezzar and his troops or to his use of Cyrus and his military force against Babylon and the land of Chaldea. A number of modern translations are more specific than is the Hebrew text and the Septuagint. “Babylonia, you were my hammer; I used you to pound nations and break kingdoms.” (CEV) “Babylonia, you are my hammer, my weapon of war. I used you to crush nations and kingdoms.” (TEV) “You [possibly Cyrus, whom God used to conquer Babylon (footnote)] are my battle-ax and sword.” (NLT) (51:20 [28:20, LXX]) The description of what YHWH resolved to do with his “shatterer” or “club” continues. “And with you I will smash [scatter (LXX)] a horse and its rider, and with you I will smash [scatter (LXX)] a chariot [chariots (LXX)] and the charioteer [charioteers (LXX)].” (51:21 [28:21, LXX]) “And with you I will smash [scatter] man [young man (LXX)] and woman [young woman and virgin (LXX)], and with you I will smash old man and youth, and with you I will smash [scatter (LXX)] young man [man (LXX)] and virgin [woman (LXX)].” (51:22 [28:22, LXX]) “And with you I will smash [scatter (LXX)] a shepherd and his flock, and with you I will smash [scatter (LXX)] a farmer and his team [of draft animals], and with you I will smash [scatter (LXX)] governors and prefects” or officials (commanders [LXX]. (51:23 [28:23, LXX])

YHWH declared that he would repay Babylon and the inhabitants of Chaldea “for all their evil [evils (LXX)]” or for all the injury they did “in Zion” or Jerusalem before the “eyes” of his people or in their sight. Babylonian warriors devastated the city, slaughtered many of the inhabitants, and took survivors as captives into exile. (51:24 [28:24, LXX])

The opening word for “see” or “look” directs attention to YHWH’s view of Babylon. He was against Babylon, a “destructive mountain [corrupting mountain (LXX).” As the dominant power in the region, Babylon, like a mountain, towered above subjected lands and nations. It was destructive (corrupting [LXX]) to “all the earth” like an erupting volcano, causing ruin and devastation with its military campaigns against peoples living far beyond the borders of Chaldea. YHWH purposed to stretch out his “hand” against Babylon and to “roll [it] down the crags” or tumble Babylon from its lofty position and make it a “burned-out mountain.” This could mean that the city would eventually be leveled and come to be a pile of burned ruins. (51:25 [28:25, LXX])

In time, Babylon would be transformed from a thriving city to desolate place from which no one would take a stone to serve as a cornerstone nor as part of a foundation. YHWH’s judgment was that, after it was reduced to waste areas, the site would remain in ruins for limitless time to come. (51:26 [28:26, LXX])

As in verse 12, raising a “signal” on the “earth” or “land” could refer to hoisting a banner or battle flag around which the warriors would assemble to prepare for the attack. Blowing a shofar (a ram’s-horn trumpet) apparently served to gather troops from “among the nations.” Warfare was regarded as a holy task that needed the support of deities. Therefore, the warriors from among the nations would be sanctified to engage in the campaign against Babylon. Troops for the campaign against Babylon were to be summoned from the realms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz (warriors from the regions in eastern Asia Minor that appear to have then been part of Media). The official to be appointed against Babylon may have been a scribe who enrolled the warriors. According to the Septuagint, “siege engines” were to be set up against Babylon. Horses were to be brought up like “bristling locusts” or as numerous as a locust swarm (“like a multitude of locusts” [LXX]). (51:27 [28:27, LXX])

The reference to sanctify “nations” against Babylon is repeated. (See verse 27.) Those sanctified to participate in the military campaign against Babylon included the “kings [or rulers] of Media [the king of the Medes and all the earth (LXX)],” its “governors” and all its “prefects” (or all the lesser officials), and “every land” (or all the warriors of every land) under the “dominion” of each of the officials. According to the Septuagint, the ones included were the “leaders” and “all the commanders” or generals of the “king of the Medes.” (51:28 [28:28, LXX])

The trembling of the “earth” or land and its writhing in pain could apply to the great devastation that would result from the invasion and conquest of the land of Chaldea and its capital Babylon. This development was certain to occur, for YHWH had purposed to make the “land of Babylon” a desolation without inhabitants. (51:29 [28:29, LXX]; see the Notes section regarding chapter 51.)

The description of the capture of Babylon is portrayed as if it had already happened. Babylon’s warriors “ceased to fight, remaining in their fortified places. Their strength “dried up” (“was shattered” [LXX]) or failed. Instead of being like valiant mighty men, they were weak or helpless like “women.” Dwellings in Babylon came to be in flames, and the bars that prevented access through the gates were broken. The wording fits the accounts in Xenophon’s Cyropaedia (VII, v, 7-33) and the Histories (I, 190, 191) of Herodotus about what happened on the night that Babylon fell. It was the time for a festival in the city, and the warriors who were not asleep or drunk were unprepared for battle. The gates had not been shut and so the condition of the bars was as if they had been broken. (51:30 [28:30, LXX])

Seemingly portraying what would occur when quarters of Babylon were being captured, the text indicates that one runner or courier would run to meet another runner or courier to relate the news, and one messenger would meet another messenger. Possibly the messengers from various parts of the city would be meeting near the palace complex. Their objective was to get the report to the king of Babylon that “his city” had been taken at the “extremity,” perhaps referring to the most distant section from the palace complex. (51:31 [28:31, LXX])

Seizure of the “fords,” or the places where the Euphrates could be crossed, may have served to block escape routes. In the Septuagint, the expression “at the end” or “extremity” (51:31) is linked to the phrase about the fords. (“At the end of his [the king’s] fords, they [Babylonian warriors] were captured.”) There is uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew word ’agám, usually meaning “pool.” This is because water cannot be burned. Possibly the reference is to “marshes,” particularly the tall reeds or rushes growing there. Vegetation in marshes could provide cover for people trying to flee. It may be for this reason that attacking warriors would burn marshes or the vegetation there. In this context and on the basis of Arabic, another suggested meaning for ’agám is “fort.” This explains why some translators have opted for such renderings as “bastions” (NJB), “guard-towers” (REB), and “fortresses.” (TEV) The wording in the Septuagint could be translated to indicate that “garrisons were burned in fire.” Babylonian warriors would be in panic, probably because the means of escape from the enemy force were blocked. The Septuagint says, “his [the king’s] men, the warriors, are coming out.” (51:32 [28:32, LXX])

The quoted declaration of “YHWH of hosts [the God with hosts of angels in his service], the God of Israel,” may be understood in two different ways. One significance would be that the “daughter of Babylon,” or Babylon itself (the “houses of the king of Babylon” [LXX]), is being likened to a threshing floor that is trampled down in preparation for the threshing of the grain at harvesttime. Within a short time, this “time of the harvest” for Babylon would come. Another meaning would be that Babylon is like the harvested grain about to be threshed. Both interpretations appear in the renderings of a number of modern translations. “Soon Babylon will be leveled and packed down like a threshing place at harvest time.” (CEV) “Babylon is like wheat on a threshing floor, about to be trampled. In just a little while her harvest will begin.” (NLT) “Soon the enemy will cut them down and trample them like grain on the threshing floor.” (TEV) The harvest represents the military campaign against Babylon. (51:33 [28:33, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

Zion or Jerusalem is personified and represented as relating what “Nebuchadrezzar [Nebuchadnezzar] the king of Babylon” had done. “He has devoured me and confounded me,” causing ruin and confusion through warfare. By seizing the treasures and depopulating the city, Nebuchadnezzar made Jerusalem an “empty vessel.” Like a “dragon” or a monster, the king of Babylon filled his “belly” with the “delights” of Jerusalem or with everything that was desirable and precious. The reference to being “rinsed out” could mean that everything Nebuchadnezzar did not want he discarded. This aspect has been interpretively rendered in a number of ways. “He gobbled down what he wanted and spit out the rest.” (CEV) “He took what he wanted and threw the rest away.” (TEV) “He has thrown us out of our own country.” (NLT) (51:34 [28:34, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

There would be an accounting for the blood that the Babylonian troops had spilled in aggressive warfare. Therefore, every “inhabitant of Zion” would say, The “violence done to me and to my flesh [be] upon Babylon.” “Jerusalem” is the parallel designation for “Zion,” and the expression of Jerusalem would be, “My blood [be] upon the inhabitants of Chaldea.” (51:35 [28:35, LXX])

YHWH promised to take up the case of Jerusalem or Zion (judge your opponent [LXX]), executing vengeance for his people upon Babylon for the hardship, oppression, and misery to which they had been subjected. His causing the “sea” of Babylon to dry up and making her “well” or fountain dry could refer to drying up all the sources of water and transforming the site with its ample supply of water in its canals and reservoirs to an arid place. In a judgment message against Babylon, Isaiah 21:1 contains the expression “wilderness of the sea.” Babylon was situated on the Euphrates River in the plain extending eastward to the Tigris. At flood stage, the two rivers formed what could be called a “sea,” and this may be the reason for the expression “wilderness of the sea.” Possibly the word “sea” here in the book of Jeremiah has a similar significance. (51:36 [28:36, LXX])

Babylon would become heaps of rubble. Jackals, animals that can survive in desolate regions, would have their lair in the ruins of the city. In its devastated state, Babylon would be a “horror” and a “hissing” or whistling, “without inhabitant.” Those passing by the ruins would be horrified or astonished when seeing the devastation. They would “hiss” in expression of scorn and shock or out of superstitious fear that the site had become the haunt of demons. The shorter text of the Septuagint indicates that Babylon would be destroyed and come to be without inhabitants. (51:37 [28:37, LXX])

The ones who would roar like lions and growl like lion cubs are not specifically identified. A number of modern translations, however, do so. “The Babylonians all roar like lions and growl like lion cubs.” (TEV) “The Babylonians roar and growl like young lions.” (CEV) “Her people [the people of Babylon] will roar together like strong lions. They will growl like lion cubs.” (NLT) This roaring or growling may be understood to be for prey or booty from military campaigns. (51:38 [28:38, LXX]) When the Babylonians were “inflamed” or hot, reveling in what they had attained as if heady from wine or, like lions hungering for prey, greedily wanting more spoils from warfare or tribute from conquered peoples and nations, YHWH would prepare a different kind of feast for them and make them drunk. They would have to drink the bitter potion of humiliating defeat and conquest. According to the Septuagint, the effect from this drinking would be to stupefy the Babylonians and plunge them into a sleep from which they would never awake. Based on the emendation of the Hebrew word meaning “exult,” the Hebrew text may be understood to indicate that they would “swoon away” and sleep a perpetual sleep. (51:39 [28:39, LXX])

YHWH would bring the Babylonians down to “slaughter like male lambs, like rams along with he-goats” (“kids” [LXX]). Both the masses and the prominent ones of the nations (like rams and he-goats) would perish. (51:40 [28:40, LXX])

“Sheshach” (Sheshak) is commonly considered to be a cryptogram for Babylon (Babel). This is according to a system called atbash, where the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet is substituted with the first, and the next to last letter is substituted with the second, and this is done with each letter of the alphabet. Accordingly, in the case of Sheshach (Sheshak), the beth has been substituted with the shin, and the lamed has been substituted with the kaph. In the Septuagint, however, there is no corresponding phrase about Sheshach (Sheshak). The fate of “Sheshach” or Babylon would give rise to astonishment. This is reflected in the exclamation, “How Sheshach has been captured, and the praise of all the earth seized! How Babylon [Babel] has become a horror among the nations!” Prior to the fall of Babylon to the Medo-Persian troops under the command of Cyrus and its decline in the centuries that followed, the city had been an impressive place with its strong fortifications, the famed Hanging Gardens, imposing temples, palaces and other structures, and a paved Processional Way lined with walls that were decorated with dragons, lions, and bulls. People from all the nations who saw Babylon must have been awed, and thus it was the “praise of all the earth.” In its desolated state, Babylon would give rise to horror or astonishment among all who saw the formerly impressive city in ruins. (51:41 [28:41, LXX])

The invading military force is likened to a sea that would flood Babylon, covering the city with the “sound,” roar, or great number of “its waves.” (51:42 [28:42, LXX])

Military invasion and conquest would transform the cities of Chaldea into a “horror,” causing people to be horrified or astonished when seeing the devastation. The region would become a waterless or parched land and an arid steppe (“and untrodden” [LXX]). No man would reside there (“in her” [Babylon], LXX), and no “son of man” (no earthling) would pass through the area (“rest up in her” [Babylon], LXX). (51:43 [28:43, LXX)

“Bel,” meaning “owner” or master, was a title initially applied to Enlil, the god of Nippur. In time, Merodach or Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, came to be called “Bel.” The Babylonians attributed their military triumphs to this deity. Their defeat would deliver into the hands of the victors everything the Babylonians had seized from conquered peoples and nations. Therefore, at the time YHWH would “visit” Bel or give his attention to him, he would be taking from his “mouth” everything that he swallowed or everything that the Babylonians believed they had gained with his help in their military campaigns. The swallowed things would have included the sacred vessels Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and which King Cyrus returned to the Israelite exiles when he permitted them to go back to their own land. (Ezra 1:7-11) People of formerly conquered nations would no longer stream to Bel, either as worshipers with their offerings or as acknowledging this deity as superior to their own gods and goddesses on account of having been defeated and subjugated by the Babylonians. This change would come about because the wall of Babylon would have fallen or the city would have been breached and captured. In the Septuagint, there is no mention of Bel. God is represented as saying, “And I will take vengeance upon Babylon and bring forth from her mouth what she swallowed, and by no means [literally, not, not] will the nations still gather to her.” (51:44 [28:44, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

The directive to the Israelite exiles, YHWH’s people, was to “get out of the midst” of Babylon. Each one of them was to make an escape for “his soul” or life from the “burning [or fierce] anger of YHWH.” A number of modern translations contain renderings that apply the words to a time before the capture of Babylon. “Get out of Babylon, my people, and run for your lives, before I strike the city in my anger!” (CEV) There is no indication, however, in the writings of first-century Jewish historian Josephus that suggests any efforts on the part of Israelite exiles to escape from Babylon before the city fell, and the book of Daniel from a much earlier time also contains no hint about anyone fleeing from the city at that time. Therefore, it appears preferable to consider the imperative to leave Babylon as applying after the capture of the city. The seeming urgency of the command to depart suggests that the favorable time for leaving would not last long. There is some evidence to this effect in developments after the reign of King Cyrus ended about three years after he allowed Israelite exiles to return to their own land. Josephus, referred to a document from the successor of Cyrus, his son Cambyses, prohibiting the Jews from rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. (Antiquities, XI, iv, 6) This may well have contributed to less favorable circumstances for Israelite exiles who had remained in Babylon and had not availed themselves of the opportunity to leave as persons with the official support of Cyrus. It is most unlikely that anyone wanting to return to Jerusalem or to the former territory of the kingdom of Judah would have had the favorable view and support of Cambyses. Even after the fall of Babylon, the fierce anger of YHWH continued toward Babylon, for the foretold devastation did not take place until much later. (51:45; see the Notes section.)

If the words of verses 45 and 46 are considered to apply prophetically after the fall of Babylon to the Medo-Persian troops under the command of Cyrus, the phrase “lest your heart grow faint and be fearful at a report [or rumor] being heard in the land” could be understood to a change in circumstances for the Israelite exiles still living there. News about the ban on rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem and troubles in the empire of Medo-Persia may well have caused any Israelite who may have wanted to depart from Babylon to be “faint,” weak, or timid at heart or in his inmost self and to be restrained by fear to leave. Regarding reports or rumors, the text continues, “And [there] will come in one year the report” and then in another year “the report, and violence in the land and ruler against ruler.” Cyrus and his son Cambyses continued to engage in military campaigns, and rebellions occurred in the realm. These developments must have given rise to troubling reports and do fit the words about “violence in the land,” with “ruler” being “against ruler.” (51:46; see the Notes section.)

According to the word of YHWH, “days” or the time would be coming when he would “visit” or give attention to the “images of Babylon” or the nonexistent deities that these idols represented. The expression “look” focuses on this development, a development that would expose the images as worthless, for the nonexistent deities could provide no help for the people of Babylon. All the land that came under the dominion of the capital Babylon would become ashamed on account of military invasion and conquest, and the slain would fall in the midst of the city. (51:47)

There would be universal rejoicing (rejoicing of “heavens and earth”) over Babylon, for destroyers would be coming “from the north” against Babylon to execute retributive justice. (51:48; see the comments on 50:41.) Babylonian troops had not just slain people of Israel but also had been responsible for causing the slain to fall in “all the earth” or in regions far beyond the borders of Babylonia. (51:49 [28:49, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

The Israelites who had escaped from the “sword” that the Babylonian warriors wielded should “go,” departing from Babylon and not stand still (as if yearning to return to the advantages life in Babylon had to offer). From a great distance away from their own land, the Israelites were to remember YHWH, reminding themselves of their relationship to him as his people. Jerusalem, YHWH’s representative place of dwelling because his temple had been located there, was to come up into their “heart,” being the focus of their desire to be at his rebuilt temple to worship him. (51:50 [28:50, LXX])

Regarding developments involving the Babylonian troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar, God’s people are represented as saying, “We have been put to shame, for we have heard reproach [from the Babylonian warriors (against us [LXX])]. Dishonor has covered our faces, for aliens [foreign warriors] have come into the [our (LXX)] holy places of YHWH’s house [into the house of the Lord (LXX)]” or temple. Humiliation came to the people in the form of siege and devastation, and the Babylonian warriors trampled in and destroyed the temple precincts. (51:51 [28:51, LXX])

“Therefore (in view of what the Babylonian troops had done), YHWH declared that “days” or the time would be coming when he would “visit,” turn his attention to, or execute judgment against the images of Babylon (the representations of nonexistent deities that the Babylonians worshiped). At that time, throughout all the land of Babylon or throughout Babylonia, those pierced or wounded in warfare would groan (“wounded ones will fall” [LXX]). To focus attention on these developments, the message is introduced with the Hebrew word for “look.” (51:52 [28:52, LXX])

There would be no escape for Babylon from the judgment YHWH purposed for the city and its inhabitants. Although Babylon occupied a lofty position that appeared out of reach for conquest, as if she had ascended up “to the heavens [heaven (LXX)]” and fortified her “strong height,” destroyers would come against her from YHWH, for he had determined that this would take place. (51:53 [28:53, LXX]) As if Babylon had already been overthrown, the text continues, “Listen! An outcry from Babylon, and a great shattering [or crash] in the land of the Chaldeans.” The people of Babylon would cry out on account of humiliating defeat, conquest, and the associated misery and suffering. Devastation would be seen throughout Babylonia. (51:54 [28:54, LXX])

The act of laying Babylon waste and silencing her “great” or mighty “voice” or “sound” is attributed to YHWH. This great voice or loud sound could designate the noise or din from the city’s sizable population, especially at times when the people would be honoring their deities with festivals and processions. The Septuagint rendering is specific in describing the “great voice” or loud sound as the resounding or roaring like that of “many waters.” A number of modern translations convey the same basic significance. “For the LORD is ravaging Babylon; He will put an end to her great din, whose roar is like waves of mighty waters, whose tumultuous noise resounds.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Yes, Yahweh is laying Babylon waste and silencing her monstrous din, whose waves used to roar like the ocean and their tumultuous voices rang out.” (NJB) In the Hebrew text, the connection of the concluding part of the verse to the “great voice” is not readily apparent and could be literally translated, “and their waves roar like many waters; the din of their voice is given out [or resounds].” The absence of a definite link to the “great voice” has resulted in interpretive renderings that describe the troops coming against Babylon as roaring waves like those of “many waters.” “The LORD will destroy Babylon; he will silence her noisy din. Waves of enemies will rage like great waters; the roar of their voices will resound.” (NIV) “For the LORD is destroying Babylon. He will silence her loud voice. Waves of enemies pound against her; the noise of battle rings through the city.” (NLT) “I [the LORD] am destroying Babylon and putting it to silence. The armies rush in like roaring waves and attack with noisy shouts.” (TEV) “The shouts of the enemy, like crashing ocean waves, will drown out Babylon’s cries as I [the LORD] level the city.” (CEV) According to the Septuagint, the Lord destroyed the “voice” of Babylon. (51:55 [28:55, LXX])

A “destroyer” (“misery” or “hardship” [LXX]) would be coming upon Babylon. Warriors of Babylon would be captured and their bows broken (“their bow was terrified” [LXX], unable to function as if paralyzed by fear). Defeat was certain, for there was no possibility that the Babylonians could mount an effective defense against the enemy. YHWH had purposed that this would happen. In his role as a “God of recompense,” YHWH would for a certainty repay Babylon for what her troops had done to his people, their land, and the temple in Jerusalem. (51:56 [28:56, LXX])

The “King,” whose name is “YHWH of hosts” (the God with hosts of angels in his service [the “Lord Almighty” (LXX)] determined that he would make Babylon’s princes, sages, governors, prefects (officials of lower rank), and “mighty men” or warriors drunk. They would be made to drink the bitter potion of humiliating defeat. Their state of slumber from being drunk would not be one from which they would wake up. It would be a sleep of death that would last for limitless time to come. (51:57 [28:57, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

“YHWH of hosts” (the God with hosts of angels in his service [the “Lord” (LXX)] purposed that the “broad wall of Babylon” (or, according to another manuscript reading, the “walls of broad Babylon”) would be leveled to the ground (literally, “to strip, will be stripped” [“to lay bare, will be laid bare”]), and the “high gates” of the city would be burned. This would mean that people who had been conscripted to work on building projects would have labored “for nothing,” and “nations” (people from nations that the Babylonians had subjugated had exhausted themselves “only for fire” or just to have the results from their wearying toil burned up. The Septuagint rendering differs significantly. It says that people “will not exhaust themselves for nothing” and that “nations in authority will fail.” (51:58 [28:58, LXX]; see the Notes section regarding the “wall” of Babylon.)

“Seraiah the son of Neriah the son of Mahseiah” was the brother of Jeremiah’s scribal secretary Baruch and served as the “quartermaster” (literally, “prince of the resting place”) for King Zedekiah. This could mean that Seraiah was responsible for the accommodations of the king when he was away from his palace in Jerusalem. Other renderings for the Hebrew designation “prince of the resting place” are “staff officer” (NIV, NLT), “lord chamberlain” (NJB), and “personal attendant” (TEV). The Septuagint uses the expression “ruler of gifts,” which could mean that Seraiah was in charge of royal treasures. In the fourth year of the reign of “Zedekiah the king of Judah” (about 7 or 8 years before the destruction of Jerusalem), Jeremiah had a command or directive for Seraiah who, as part of a delegation “with” King Zedekiah, was about to leave Jerusalem for Babylon. Possibly King Nebuchadnezzar had summoned Zedekiah. The Septuagint rendering indicates that Seraiah was sent “from” (pará) Zedekiah (Sedekias), suggesting that Seraiah had been commissioned by him to go to Babylon. In the Vulgate, however, the meaning is “with” (cum) Zedekiah. (51:59 [28:59, LXX])

On one scroll, Jeremiah wrote about “all the evil” or calamity that “would come upon Babylon.” This could mean that he personally wrote all the words that were directed against Babylon (in what are now the words in chapters 50 and 51 of the book of Jeremiah). At other times, Jeremiah had Baruch the brother of Seraiah do the actual writing. Possibly, in this case, Jeremiah did the writing by dictating the words to Seraiah. It may also be that another copy was made, for the scroll was later tossed into the Euphrates River. (51:60 [28:60, LXX])

Jeremiah told Seraiah that, upon his arrival in Babylon, he should “see” that he read aloud (literally, “see and read”) “all these words” that had been written. (51:61 [28:61, LXX]) Probably before starting to read, Seraiah was to say, “O YHWH [Lord, Lord (LXX)], you have spoken concerning this place that you will cut it off [destroy it], so that no one may be residing in it, neither man nor beast [domestic animal],” but that it may be ruins for all time to come. (51:62 [28:62, LXX]) Upon finishing the reading, Seraiah was to tie a rock to the scroll that he would have rolled up and then cast it into the Euphrates River. (51:63 [28:63, LXX]) Regarding this symbolic act, he was to say, “Thus will Babylon sink and rise no more because of [literally, from the face of] the evil [calamity or disaster] that I [YHWH] am bringing upon her, and they will weary themselves.” In the Septuagint, the words, “and they will weary themselves,” are omitted, and numerous modern translations have not included them in their renderings. Possibly these words indicate that the Babylonians would exhaust themselves in a vain attempt to defend the city or that all the wearying toil involved in building Babylon would be for nothing. In the Hebrew text, this section concludes with the words, “Thus far [are] the words of Jeremiah,” possibly meaning all the words in the scroll from which Seraiah read. (51:64 [28:64, LXX]; see the Notes section.)


As in chapter 50 and also in chapter 51, the references to the complete desolation of Babylon do not apply to the fall of the city to the troops under the command of Cyrus. The prophecy was fulfilled centuries later.

In verse 33 of chapter 28, the Septuagint rendering “houses” appears to have arisen when the translator read the Hebrew word for “daughter” as the plural “houses” and then concluded that these houses were those of the king.

The Septuagint, in verse 34 of chapter 28, says that King Nabouchodonosor (Nebuchadnezzar) devoured, apportioned or divided, and seized Sion (Zion or Jerusalem), a “small vessel.” According to another reading, the reference is not to a “vessel” (skeuos) but to “darkness” (skótos), and the phrase could be rendered, “Fine darkness has seized me.”

In verse 35 of chapter 28 of the Septuagint wording, the meaning depends on whether the Greek word is exosén (“he has driven out”) or exosán (“they have driven out”) and the relationship to the text that follows. If the meaning is “they have driven out,” the initial sentence may be rendered, “My troubles and my miseries have driven me out into Babylon.” When the word is exosén and regarded as ending the sentence in verse 34, the opening phrase of verse 35 would be, “My troubles and my miseries [come] into Babylon.”

The Septuagint, in verse 44 of chapter 28, does not include a reference to the wall of Babylon, and the text in verses 45 to 48 and the initial part of verse 49 is also missing. This deletion is often attributed to scribal error.

If the words of verses 46 apply prophetically after the fall of Babylon, the following excerpts from the extensive inscription of Darius I (Darius the Great) on a cliff at Mount Behistun may be regarded as providing background information. These excerpts are quoted from the English translation of L.W. King and R. C. Thompson.

“King Darius says: The following is what was done by me after I became king. A son of Cyrus [Kûruš], named Cambyses [Kabûjiya], one of our dynasty, was king here before me. That Cambyses had a brother, Smerdis [Bardiya] by name, of the same mother and the same father as Cambyses. Afterwards, Cambyses slew this Smerdis. When Cambyses slew Smerdis, it was not known unto the people that Smerdis was slain. Thereupon Cambyses went to Egypt. When Cambyses had departed into Egypt, the people became hostile, and the lie multiplied in the land, even in Persia and Media, and in the other provinces. … Afterwards, there was a certain man, a Magian [maguš], Gaumâta by name, who raised a rebellion in Paishiyauvada, in a mountain called Arakadriš. On the fourteenth day of the month Viyaxana [11 March 522 BCE] did he rebel. He lied to the people, saying: ‘I am Smerdis, the son of Cyrus, the brother of Cambyses.’ Then were all the people in revolt, and from Cambyses they went over unto him, both Persia and Media, and the other provinces. He seized the kingdom; on the ninth day of the month Garmapada [1 July 522 BCE] he seized the kingdom. Afterwards, Cambyses died of natural causes. … The kingdom of which Gaumâta, the Magian, dispossessed Cambyses, had always belonged to our dynasty. After that Gaumâta, the Magian, had dispossessed Cambyses of Persia and Media, and of the other provinces, he did according to his will. He became king.

“There was no man, either Persian or Mede or of our own dynasty, who took the kingdom from Gaumâta, the Magian. The people feared him exceedingly, for he slew many who had known the real Smerdis. For this reason did he slay them, ‘that they may not know that I am not Smerdis, the son of Cyrus.’ There was none who dared to act against Gaumâta, the Magian, until I came. … On the tenth day of the month Bâgayâdiš [29 September 522 BCE] I, with a few men, slew that Gaumâta, the Magian, and the chief men who were his followers. At the stronghold called Sikayauvatiš, in the district called Nisaia in Media, I slew him; I dispossessed him of the kingdom. …

“After I had slain Gaumâta, the Magian, a certain man named ššina, the son of Upadarma, raised a rebellion in Elam, and he spoke thus unto the people of Elam: ‘I am king in Elam.’ Thereupon the people of Elam became rebellious, and they went over unto that ššina: he became king in Elam. And a certain Babylonian named Nidintu-Bêl, the son of Kîn-Zêr, raised a rebellion in Babylon: he lied to the people, saying: ‘I am Nebuchadnezzar, the son of Nabonidus.’ Then did all the province of Babylonia go over to Nidintu-Bêl, and Babylonia rose in rebellion. He seized on the kingdom of Babylonia.”

After King Darius sent to Elam, ššina was brought to him in fetters, and he killed him. The inscription of Darius continues: “Then I marched against that Nidintu-Bêl, who called himself Nebuchadnezzar. The army of Nidintu-Bêl held the Tigris; there it took its stand, and on account of the waters [the river] was unfordable. Thereupon I supported my army on [inflated] skins, others I made dromedary-borne, for the rest I brought horses. …Then did I utterly overthrow that host of Nidintu-Bêl. On the twenty-sixth day of the month Âçiyâdiya [13 December 522 BCE] we joined battle. … After that I marched against Babylon. But before I reached Babylon, that Nidintu-Bêl, who called himself Nebuchadnezzar, came with a host and offered battle at a city called Zâzâna, on the Euphrates.” I did utterly “overthrow the host of Nidintu-Bêl. The enemy fled into the water; the water carried them away.”

In verse 49 of chapter 28, the shorter text of the Septuagint is, “And in Babylon all the wounded ones of the earth [or land] will fall.”

The Septuagint does not include the reference to a perpetual sleep. (28:57)

Babylon was an impressive city. The Greek geographer Strabo (Geography, xvi 1.5), who lived much of his life in the first century BCE, wrote that the wall (51:58) was fifty cubits (75 feet [based on a cubit of 18 inches]; nearly 23 meters) high and that the roadway on top was wide enough for a chariot drawn by four horses to comfortably pass another chariot like it.

In verse 64 of chapter 28, the Septuagint rendering ends with the words, “the Chaldeans whom I am bringing upon her [Babylon].” There is no corresponding wording for the additional phrases of the Hebrew text.