Dr. Steven R. Cook
In Jeremiah 51:34-58, God continued to pronounce His judgment on Babylon. And in Jeremiah 51:59-64, Jeremiah directed Seraiah, an officer of the king, to perform a symbolic act that pictured Babylon’s destruction. Throughout this section we are reminded that God is sovereign over the nations of the world, and that He, as the primary agent of Babylon’s doom, would judge them by means of secondary agents He directed to do His will (Jer 51:1-2, 6, 11, 20-24, 29, 44, 47, 52-53, 55-56). The person operating from divine viewpoint is able to interpret God’s sovereign hand working providentially through secondary forces to accomplish His will.
Jeremiah opens this section with a continuation of God’s judgment on Babylon. God’s prophet, speaking from the viewpoint of the oppressed Judahites, states, “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has devoured me and crushed me, he has set me down like an empty vessel; he has swallowed me like a monster, he has filled his stomach with my delicacies; he has washed me away” (Jer 51:34). The picture is that of a monster who, driven by an irrational and violent hunger, consumed Judah and filled his belly with their delicacies. Judah, feeling unjustly mistreated, cries out to the Lord to render justice upon Babylon, saying, “May the violence done to me and to my flesh be upon Babylon,’ the inhabitant of Zion will say; and, ‘May my blood be upon the inhabitants of Chaldea,’ Jerusalem will say” (Jer 51:35). J.A. Thompson states:
- "Nebuchadnezzar is compared with a gluttonous man devouring Jerusalem and setting her aside as one does an empty vessel whose contents have been quaffed. In a more vigorous figure still, Nebuchadnezzar is compared to a monster gulping down food, filling its belly with food that delights it and then vomiting it up. Such gluttony left torn flesh and spilt blood behind. For such unspeakable viciousness Jerusalem calls for vengeance upon her captors."
Jeremiah then provides the Lord’s answer as follows:
- "Therefore, thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am going to plead your case and exact full vengeance for you; and I will dry up her sea and make her fountain dry. 37 “Babylon will become a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals, an object of horror and hissing, without inhabitants. 38 “They will roar together like young lions, they will growl like lions’ cubs. 39 “When they become heated up, I will serve them their banquet and make them drunk, that they may become jubilant and may sleep a perpetual sleep and not wake up,” declares the LORD. 40 “I will bring them down like lambs to the slaughter, like rams together with male goats (Jer 51:36-40)
God’s language is that of a courtroom, in which He pleads Judah’s case (רִיב rib) for them. Though the Babylonians had gloated over Judah like lions who had roared over their fallen prey, God would render judgment for their pride. God Himself would give them a feast, and after their celebration, He would make them drunk with His wrath, and they would be destroyed and sleep forever. Though Babylon saw themselves as ravenous lions, God likened them to helpless lambs that are led to slaughter. It would be decades later, during the reign of Belshazzar, that Babylon would fall in a single night (Daniel 5:24-31). Continuing the image of judgment, the Lord declares:
- "How Sheshak has been captured, and the praise of the whole earth been seized! How Babylon has become an object of horror among the nations! 42 The sea has come up over Babylon; she has been engulfed with its tumultuous waves. 43 Her cities have become an object of horror, a parched land and a desert, a land in which no man lives and through which no son of man passes. 44 I will punish Bel in Babylon, and I will make what he has swallowed come out of his mouth; and the nations will no longer stream to him. Even the wall of Babylon has fallen down!" (Jer 51:41-44)
The name Sheshak is likely a codename for Babylon (an atbash), which is perhaps used here for poetic variation in the judgment. The sea that engulfs Babylon is a reference to her enemies that God would raise up to wash over her until she was destroyed. Bel was one of the chief deities in the Babylonian religion, and here God reveals the futility of trusting in a dumb idol. Babylon, though pictured as a monster that consumes others, would eventually vomit what it had consumed. God even makes a point that Babylon’s walls, which were thought to be impenetrable, would be torn down in judgment. Concerning Babylon’s walls, F.B. Huey states:
- "Babylon was renowned for its god Bel (see 50:2) and the walls that surrounded the city (see 50:15; 51:58). The outer wall was twelve feet thick, and the inner wall was twenty-one feet thick with twenty-three feet separating them. Towers were located on the walls at intervals of sixty feet. There was a ditch outside the wall that was filled with water. Both these symbols of Babylon’s security would be destroyed. The defeat of a god in the ANE was tantamount to the nation’s defeat. Bel would be forced to give up the wealth of nations he had taken. This was the same god the Babylonians had credited for the Lord’s defeat in Jerusalem in 587. Now the Lord would show his superiority over Bel by bringing his people back to their land. The Lord had not been defeated by Bel; rather, he had used the Babylonians to punish his people. Babylon’s glory days were ending. Nations would no longer stream to it (cf. Isa 2:2; Zech 14:16; Rev 21:24)."
Then, speaking of Israel’s future release from Babylon, the Lord said:
- "Come forth from her midst, My people, and each of you save yourselves from the fierce anger of the LORD. 46 Now so that your heart does not grow faint, and you are not afraid at the report that will be heard in the land—for the report will come one year, and after that another report in another year, and violence will be in the land with ruler against ruler— 47 Therefore behold, days are coming when I will punish the idols of Babylon; and her whole land will be put to shame and all her slain will fall in her midst. 48 Then heaven and earth and all that is in them will shout for joy over Babylon, for the destroyers will come to her from the north, declares the LORD." (Jer 51:45-48)
After Nebuchadnezzar’s death, Babylon became politically corrupt and unstable. According to Huey, “Babylon did not remain a stable empire after Nebuchadnezzar’s death. His successor, Amel-Marduk, was assassinated in 560 by his brother-in-law Neriglissar (560–556). His successor, Labashi-Marduk, ruled only a few months until replaced by Nabonidus (556–539).”Babylon became internally weak before it was destroyed by external forces whom God raised up against the nation which had become arrogant and trusted in its idols. The expression days are coming reveal God’s pending judgment on Babylon and the rejoicing of many who will celebrate its destruction.
God would do His part to bring Babylon down, but He also called on His people to do their part by fleeing the city. The Lord said, “Indeed Babylon is to fall for the slain of Israel, as also for Babylon the slain of all the earth have fallen. 50 You who have escaped the sword, depart! Do not stay! Remember the LORD from afar, and let Jerusalem come to your mind” (Jer 51:49-50). The Lord’s directive for His people to remember (זָכַר zakar) meant it was their responsibility to keep His Word in their minds and to act on it when the time of His wrath came. Only those believers who knew His promises and directives could properly understand their times and respond in faith as the Lord instructed.
Strong faith would be needed by Israelites in captivity, for their world had been turned upside down by the Babylonian destruction of Judah and the invasion of Gentiles into the temple. Jeremiah provided a glimpse into the minds of Jewish captives, who were saying, “We are ashamed because we have heard reproach; disgrace has covered our faces, for aliens have entered the holy places of the LORD’S house” (Jer 51:51). To answer their shame and concerns, the Lord said, “Therefore behold, the days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘When I will punish her idols, and the mortally wounded will groan throughout her land. 53 Though Babylon should ascend to the heavens, and though she should fortify her lofty stronghold, from Me destroyers will come to her,’ declares the LORD’” (Jer 51:52-53). Again, we see God as the primary agent who would bring about Babylon’s destruction by means of secondary forces He would raise up against them. Though Babylon had built great towers for personal protection, these would be smashed and torn down in divine judgment. Jeremiah continued his prophetic announcement, saying, “The sound of an outcry from Babylon, and of great destruction from the land of the Chaldeans! 55 For the LORD is going to destroy Babylon, and He will make her loud noise vanish from her. And their waves will roar like many waters; the tumult of their voices sounds forth” (Jer 51:54-55). Here is lex talionis, in which Babylon would receive the same punishment they’d inflicted on others. Gentile nations would come from the north and crash over Babylon like destructive oceanic waves. J. A. Thompson states:
- "The sound of cries for help and a mighty crash in Babylon announce the end. Yahweh himself is the wrecker who silences (lit. “destroys violently”) its clamorous din (lit “mighty voice”). But in fact, it is the enemy from the north who comes with his invading army which is likened to the sea rolling over Babylon with a mighty roar…So tremendous will be the onslaught of the foe that it can best be likened to the release of the chaotic waters of the primeval ocean."
And Babylon’s efforts to defend herself would prove futile in the face of God’s judgment. God had already spoken about repaying Babylon for her sins (Jer 51:6, 11, 22, 36), and He repeated it again in the following verses, saying:
- "For the destroyer is coming against her, against Babylon, and her mighty men will be captured, their bows are shattered; for the LORD is a God of recompense, He will fully repay. 57 “I will make her princes and her wise men drunk, her governors, her prefects and her mighty men, that they may sleep a perpetual sleep and not wake up,” declares the King, whose name is the LORD of hosts. 58 Thus says the LORD of hosts, “The broad wall of Babylon will be completely razed and her high gates will be set on fire; so the peoples will toil for nothing, and the nations become exhausted only for fire.” (Jer 51:56-58)
Babylon was known for overcoming its enemy’s forces and fortifications. But when God’s wrath came upon them, their own forces and fortifications would prove ineffective, as God would fully repay them for their prideful atrocities against others. Babylon’s leadership—princes, wise men, governors, prefects, and mighty men—would all face death by the Lord’s hand. And the city which the Babylonians thought was impenetrable, would be completely razed to the ground.
Jeremiah 51:59-64: A Symbolic Act of Babylon’s Destruction
After Jeremiah’s prophetic pronouncement of future judgment on Babylon, he instructed a friend to perform a symbolic act that would provide a visual for what God would bring about.
- "The message which Jeremiah the prophet commanded Seraiah the son of Neriah, the grandson of Mahseiah, when he went with Zedekiah the king of Judah to Babylon in the fourth year of his reign. (Now Seraiah was quartermaster.) 60 So Jeremiah wrote in a single scroll all the calamity which would come upon Babylon, that is, all these words which have been written concerning Babylon." (Jer 51:59-60)
The preceding message was recorded and sent to Babylon by means of a Jewish official who traveled with King Zedekiah in the fourth year of his reign (ca. 594/593 B.C.). The written message likely contained Jeremiah chapters 50-51, which spoke of God’s judgment on Babylon. According to Constable, “The following message was one that Jeremiah gave to Seraiah the son of Neriah when he accompanied King Zedekiah on a visit to Babylon in 593 B.C. Seraiah was Baruch’s brother (cf. 32:12). The title he held, quartermaster, probably describes the official responsible for providing quarters for the king and his companions overnight as they traveled.” In the closing verses of this chapter we read about Jeremiah’s instruction to Seraiah.
- Then Jeremiah said to Seraiah, “As soon as you come to Babylon, then see that you read all these words aloud, 62 and say, ‘You, O LORD, have promised concerning this place to cut it off, so that there will be nothing dwelling in it, whether man or beast, but it will be a perpetual desolation.’ 63 And as soon as you finish reading this scroll, you will tie a stone to it and throw it into the middle of the Euphrates, 64 and say, ‘Just so shall Babylon sink down and not rise again because of the calamity that I am going to bring upon her; and they will become exhausted.’ Thus far are the words of Jeremiah. (Jer 51:61-64)
Babylon’s fate had been written by Jeremiah on a scroll, which he gave to Seraiah with the instructions to carry it to Babylon and read it aloud. Though the text does not say, it was most likely read to the Jewish captives to provide divine viewpoint concerning Babylon’s future judgment and desolation. Then, after reading the scroll, Seraiah was to tie it to a stone and hurl it into the Euphrates River. Afterwards, Seraiah was to make the pronouncement that just as the scroll tied to the stone sunk to the bottom of the Euphrates River, so God was going to bring down Babylon in judgment.
Throughout Scripture we are reminded that God is sovereign over His creation and that He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11). That He declares “the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’” (Isa 46:10). God controls the offices of human rulers, for “It is He who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan 2:21a), and “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan 4:17b). When necessary, God controls the rulers of the world to accomplish His purposes (Prov 21:1; Ezra 1:1; Rev 17:12-13, 17). Sometimes He raises up rulers to judge His people (Isa 3:4-5; Jer 25:8-9), and sometimes to rescue them (Judg 3:9, 15). The believer who operates from divine viewpoint is able to interpret God’s sovereign hand working providentially through secondary forces to accomplish His will.
 J. A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), 762.
 F. B. Huey, Jeremiah, Lamentations, vol. 16, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 427.
 Ibid., 428.
 J. A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, 769.
 Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Je 51:59.