III. Prophecies Against Various Nations (Jeremiah 46:1–51:64)
III. Prophecies Against Various Nations (46:1–51:64)
46:1-9 It’s interesting that Egypt was first on Jeremiah’s list of prophecies against the nations. Egypt was the very place from which God had rescued his people in bondage and birthed the nation of Israel on the night of Passover. Tragically, the people of Judah had willingly chosen to put themselves back under bondage to their enemies by disobeying God. But because God still had a future for his chosen people, he would deal in judgment with the nations that had oppressed and mistreated them. And so Egypt was brought into the divine court to have its sentence pronounced.
The execution of God’s wrath against Egypt was fulfilled when the army of Pharaoh Neco . . . was defeated at Carchemish on the Euphrates River by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in the fourth year of Judah’s King Jehoiakim (46:2). This took place in 605 BC. Egypt was filled with pride. The Pharaoh had unlimited confidence in his army, and he had grand plans for Egypt to conquer the world and spread its influence like the Nile River overflowing its banks (46:7-8). But God had other plans. Here he sarcastically urges the Egyptian army to call out its forces and prepare for battle against Nebuchadnezzar (46:3-4, 9). Egypt’s army did all this, but the battle turned into such a rout that Egypt’s panic-stricken warriors stumbled over each other trying to get away from the slaughter (46:5-6).
46:10-12 The Babylonians may have thought they had conquered by their own strength, but the victory belonged to the Lord, the God of Armies (46:10). There would be no healing for the once great Egypt, no remedy for their dishonor (46:11-12).
46:13-19 There is a significant gap in time between the prophecy of Egypt’s defeat at Carchemish in 605 BC (46:2) and the events prophesied beginning in 46:13. The latter was a prophecy of Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Egypt, which occurred in about 568 BC. In between these events, Nebuchadnezzar’s father died, so he returned to Babylon to secure his throne. When he resumed his attack on Egypt, Pharaoh Hophra was king. Now instead of fighting the Babylonians by the Euphrates River, the Egyptians would see them coming against their own land, ravaging as they went. Pharaoh king of Egypt was all noise; he let the opportune moment pass (46:17). And since Pharaoh was all talk and no action, Egypt’s cities were destined for ruins (46:19).
46:20-28 God’s word against Egypt is a powerful, poetic description of the nation’s former glory and total defeat. Egypt is called a beautiful young cow (possibly a reference to the Egyptian bull-god Apis), and the mercenaries in their ranks are compared to stall-fed calves fattened up for slaughter (46:20-21). Egypt might hiss like a slithering snake (46:22), but that’s about all it could do in the face of the Babylonian horde (46:22-23). The nation’s doom at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar was sealed (46:26). God’s judgment would fall on Pharaoh, Egypt, her gods, and her kings (46:25).
This prophecy against Egypt ends with an intriguing statement: But after this, Egypt will be inhabited again as in ancient times (46:26). Egypt was promised a place in the future. In Isaiah 19, we also learn that Egypt will one day be redeemed and worship the true God. In the meantime, God assures Israel that his ultimate plan is for her restoration and redemption, even though she had to undergo discipline for her sins (46:27-28).
47:1-7 The Philistines were longtime enemies of Israel. One of the most well-known Bible stories recounts the battle between a young Israelite named David and a Philistine giant (see 1 Sam 17:1-58). The Philistines were seafaring people who lived along Israel’s coast and tried to push inland when they were strong. This prophecy pictures Bab-ylon as water . . . rising from the north that would overflow the land (47:2). Through them, the Lord would destroy all the Philistines (47:4). This happened in 604 BC when Nebuchadnezzar’s armies destroyed Ashkelon, one of Philistia’s principal cities (47:5).
God’s cup of wrath on the nations that opposed Israel included a long drink for the Philistines. They would be so terrified, fleeing from the Babylonian army, that fathers would not turn back for their sons (47:3)! Shaving one’s head and cutting oneself were signs of mourning (47:5). Such displays of horror and grief would be appropriate because the Philistines would be reduced to nothing when God was finished with them. The sword of the Lord would not rest until it had carried out his command (47:6-7).
48:1-10 Moab was located east of the Dead Sea between Edom and Ammon. The Moabites should have been allies of Israel, since they were the descendants of Lot and, therefore, of Abraham. But Israel’s history showed that the Moabites harassed and attacked the Israelites at various times—especially when they were weak. So Moab came up next in the court of heaven to have sentence pronounced on its people.
The Moabites trusted in their god Chemosh. In his unfaithfulness, Solomon had worshiped this false deity who was abhorrent to the Lord (see 1 Kgs 11:7). But this idol would topple, along with his priests and officials (48:7). The extent of God’s anger against the Moabites was such that he even warns her destroyers to be diligent in their work: The one who does the Lord’s business deceitfully is cursed, and the one who withholds his sword from bloodshed is cursed (48:10).
48:11-13 One reason for Moab’s sin was her complacency, since the nation had never really experienced hardship or exile. He had been left quiet since his youth. But all that was about to change; Moab would experience devastation from God. Though they hadn’t been poured from one container to another and gone into exile as other nations had, God was going to send pourers to pour him out (48:11-12). The Moabites had failed to learn an important lesson from their cousins in Israel. Moab would be put to shame because of Chemosh, just as the house of Israel was put to shame for their idolatry at Bethel (48:13; see 1 Kgs 12:25-33).
48:14-28 When God unleashed his judgment, Moab’s warriors in whom the people gloried would be of no use in stopping the slaughter (48:14-15). Even people in the distant town of Aroer would see the people of Moab running past and ask what happened (48:19). The chilling answer would be this: Moab is destroyed (48:20). This prophecy picturing the completeness of Moab’s destruction uses two familiar Old Testament metaphors for power: Moab’s horn is chopped off; his arm is shattered (48:25). They had scorned the Lord by scorning his people: Israel’s downfall was a laughingstock to Moab (48:26-27), so Moab’s people are warned to flee from their cities and hide in caves to escape God’s wrath (48:28).
48:29-39 Moab’s problem was pride. The nation was known for insolence, arrogance, pride, and haughty heart (48:29). But all of Moab’s boasting was just empty words (48:30). The nation had been secure and well off, and the people no doubt attributed their good fortune to their gods. But neither Moab’s gods nor its army could stop its destruction when God unleashed his fury. And yet, God says he will wail, cry out, and weep over Moab’s fall (48:31-32). His heart moans for Moab (48:36). God takes no pleasure in judgment. Nevertheless, his holy character demands it. Because of Moab’s arrogance, the nation would be made a laughingstock and a shock to all who saw it (48:38-39).
48:40-47 Changing the imagery, God says he will swoop down on Moab like an eagle (48:40) with such fury that even the warriors would become as helpless as a pregnant woman (48:41). Why? Moab has exalted himself against the Lord (48:42). Thus, though they try to run, those who flee will fall in the pit, and he who climbs from the pit will be captured (48:44). When you make yourself God’s enemy, then, there is no escape. Yet there is also a word of future hope for Moab, just as there was for Egypt (see 46:26). God declares, I will restore the fortunes of Moab in the last days (48:47)—most likely a reference to the millennial kingdom of Christ.
49:1-6 Ammon was Moab’s first cousin, the other son born to Lot’s daughters in their incestuous relationship with their father (see Gen 19:36-38). The reasons for Ammon’s judgment largely paralleled those of Moab: mistreatment of Israel, idolatry, and pride (49:1, 4). The Ammonite god Milcom (49:1), also known as Molech, was detestable to the Lord. His worship included child sacrifice, a horrific practice that Israel sometimes engaged in (see Lev 20:1-5; 2 Kgs 23:10; Jer 7:31). Ammon had dispossessed the tribe of Gad from their land, but God pronounced that Israel would dispossess their dispossessors (49:1-2). Yet, as in the case of other nations under his wrath, God promises to one day restore the fortunes of the Ammonites (49:6; see 46:26; 48:47).
49:7-22 Edom was next in line for judgment. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother. The wisdom in Teman was well known (49:7); “Eliphaz the Temanite” was one of the elders who counseled Job (Job 2:11). But their wisdom failed the Edomites as they fell under God’s condemnation.
Jeremiah describes the completeness of Edom’s destruction. Grape harvesters would typically leave behind some gleanings, and even thieves would only take what they wanted (49:9). But Esau would not be so fortunate. He [would] exist no longer (49:10). Ominously, there was no word of future restoration for Edom, as there was for Egypt, Moab, and Ammon. The Edomites felt secure because of their geographic location (49:16), but it would offer no protection from the Lord who would swoop down like an eagle to devastate them (49:22).
49:23-27 Damascus was the capital of Aram (modern Syria), another kingdom in Jeremiah’s day that came under God’s judgment. Even though God calls it the town that brings me joy here, her warriors were destined to perish (49:25-26). With the Lord of Armies directing their actions (49:26), the Babylonian army would not be stopped.
49:28-33 Kedar and Hazor were nomadic tribes of Arabia, which also experienced the fury of Nebuchadnezzar (49:28). They lived at ease and in security—or so they thought. They didn’t bother with doors or even a gate bar (49:31). In other words, they didn’t live in a walled city, which made them much easier prey. The devastation would be so great in their territory that no one would live there, not even temporarily (49:33).
49:34-39 Elam was a kingdom east of Babylon in modern-day Iran (49:34). God’s judgments against the nations were often described in terms appropriate to each country, and so it was with Elam. Her soldiers were well-known as archers, so God would shatter Elam’s bow in which they trusted (49:35). God declares, I will set my throne in Elam (49:38), so again, although Babylon would be the weapon in his hand, the Lord ultimately is the one who oversees the destruction. And yet, God also left Elam with a promise for the future: In the last days, I will restore the fortunes of Elam (49:39; see also 46:26; 48:47; 49:6).
50:1-3 Finally, Babylon was hauled into the divine courtroom for sentencing (50:1). Although God used Babylon to carry out his punishment of his people and the nations, Babylon was not a righteous servant of the Lord. While God’s intention was to exercise his holy justice upon wicked nations, Bab-ylon’s intention was to vanquish and dominate others for the sake of its own pride and power.
The initial descriptions of judgment reflect the familiar prophetic technique of blending the immediate with the far-off, since the great devastation outlined in 50:2-3 did not happen when the Medes and Persians conquered the city and killed King Belshazzar (see Dan 5:30-31). There is a future destruction of Babylon in Revelation 17–18 during the end of the tribulation, when this proud empire that came to stand for the worst in resistance to the Lord will be crushed. This may be what is in view here in Jeremiah.
50:4-7 Similarly, the prophecy that the Israelites and Judeans will come together, weeping as they come, and will seek the Lord their God (50:4) awaits Christ’s return in the millennium. At that time, his lost sheep (50:6) will recognize and bow before him as Savior and Messiah.
50:8-20 Turning back to Babylon’s judgment, the Lord describes a day when he would bring against Babylon an assembly of great nations from the north country (50:9). God was angered at Babylon’s joy and arrogance while plundering Judah, his inheritance (50:11). God’s judgment against Babylon would not be satisfied until every bit of her had become desolate (50:13). Assyria was the first to devour God’s people (the northern kingdom of Israel); Babylon was the next to crush them (the southern kingdom of Judah). But the Lord planned to punish Babylon just as he had punished Assyria (50:17-18). Then he would return his people to their land and forgive their sins (50:19-20).
50:21-32 Merathaim and Pekod were two districts in Babylon. The Lord would completely destroy them (50:21). Babylon’s power in the ancient world was illustrated by its description as the hammer of the whole earth that smashed everything in its path. But when it pitted itself against the Lord, the hammer would itself be smashed (50:23-27). Babylon’s arrogance against the Holy One of Israel and his people would be fully avenged (50:29-32).
In an amazing prophecy of God’s vindication of his people, the Lord speaks of fugitives from Babylon escaping the destruction and coming to the land of Israel to announce the execution of God’s vengeance on Bab-ylon for destroying his holy temple (50:28).
50:33-40 The Israelites and Judeans had been oppressed by strong captors who refused to release them (50:33). But their safety and return to their land would be guaranteed by an infinitely stronger power, the Lord of Armies (50:34). This announcement is followed immediately by a fivefold prophecy of the ways that God’s sword would assure Babylon’s destruction (50:35-37). More imagery of judgment followed, illustrating a nation so devastated that it would become the haunt of wild animals (50:39-40).
50:41-46 The chapter ends with a prophecy that seems to point to the final destruction of a rebuilt Babylon in the end times: At the sound of Babylon’s conquest the earth will quake; a cry will be heard among the nations (50:46). If this is yet future, it could refer to the wailing of Revelation 18:9-19, which ends with this cry of horror at Babylon’s complete destruction: “Woe, woe, the great city, where all those who have ships on the sea became rich from her wealth; for in a single hour she was destroyed” (Rev 18:19).
51:1-5 The prophecy of Babylon’s destruction continues in chapter 51. God’s people Israel and Judah had brought judgment on themselves, to be sure, because their land was full of guilt against the Holy One of Israel (51:5). So he summoned the Assyrians and the Babylonians as his agents to execute his wrath on them. But now it is Babylon’s turn to pay for her own idolatry and arrogance.
51:6-19 The warning to leave Babylon and avoid her guilt contains end-time imagery reflected in the book of Revelation (51:6-9). God proclaims that he will pour his wrath on Babylon during the tribulation: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins or receive any of her plagues” (Rev 18:4; see also 51:45-46). According to Jeremiah, Babylon’s destruction extends to the sky and reaches as far as the clouds (51:9). This reference to the sky is picked up by the apostle John in his recorded vision of an angel flying through the air, announcing, “It has fallen, Babylon the Great has fallen. She made all the nations drink the wine of her sexual immorality, which brings wrath” (Rev 14:8). To the one who is rich in treasures the end has come (51:13). Her carved images will be destroyed (50:17-18). No idol can deliver those under God’s wrath.
51:20-32 The reference to God’s war club that he used to smash nations (51:20-23) could refer to King Cyrus of Persia, who was Babylon’s conqueror. Just as the Lord used Nebuchadnezzar as his hammer of judgment against other lands, so he would use Cyrus to rout the Babylonians. God uses pagan powers to accomplish his will, but he still holds them responsible for their sins. His devastation of Babylon would be total (51:24-32).
51:33-58 The city of Jerusalem is pictured as the spokesman for God’s people, lamenting the devastation that Nebuchadnezzar brought upon the inhabitants of Judah (51:34-35). God vowed to hear his people’s cry, take up their cause, and bring vengeance on Babylon (51:36). The people and the temple of God figured prominently among the reasons for his fury against Babylon (51:49-51).
51:59-64 At the end of Jeremiah’s prophecy of Babylon’s destruction, we learn of his command to Seriah, the brother of Bar-uch, Jeremiah’s faithful secretary (51:59). Jeremiah wrote the prophecies of chapters 50–51 on a scroll for Seriah when he went to Babylon with King Zedekiah of Judah in the fourth year of Zedekiah’s reign, which was possibly a move by Nebuchadnezzar to ensure Zedekiah’s loyalty (51:59-60). Seriah was to read all these words aloud, tie a stone to the scroll, throw it in the Euphrates River, and declare, In the same way, Babylon will sink and never rise again (51:61-64). Such a prophecy hardly seemed possible at the time—except for those with eyes of faith to trust God’s sovereign promises.