Bible Commentary: Jeremiah 49:1-33

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Jeremiah 49:1-33

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Prophecy Against Ammon

Continuing on from the prophecy against Moab in our previous reading, we move to Jeremiah's prophecy against Moab's brother nation, Ammon, which immediately follows in verses 1-6 of chapter 49.

The Ammonites lived just north of the ancient Moabites on the east side of the Jordan River. Today their descendants live primarily in the same area, the nation of Jordan and surroundings. Their ancient capital, "Rabbah of the Ammonites" (verse 2), is now the site of Jordan's modern capital, Amman.

When Gad and the other Israelite tribes east of the Jordan were deported by the Assyrians, the Ammonites took over Gadite territory. God speaks in verse 1 of Milcom inheriting Gad. Milcom (Hebrew Malcam, "their king," KJV) was the god of the Ammonites—another form of the name Molech (meaning "King")—"essentially identical with the Moabitish Chemosh" ("Molech," Smith's Bible Dictionary, 1986). Thus, the comments regarding Chemosh in the highlights from our previous reading would also apply here. Indeed, Milcom is to suffer the exact same fate as Chemosh (compare Jeremiah 48:7; Jeremiah 49:3). To be sure, they are one and the same.

We see then that the Ammonites encroached on Israelite territory and set up their worship throughout it. Yet they were not Israel's rightful heirs, as God points out in verse 1. "Judah was by the right of kindred the heir, not Ammon; but Ammon joined with Nebuchadnezzar against Judah and Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:2) and exulted over its fall (Psalms 83:4-7-8; Zephaniah 2:8-9)" (Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary, note on Jeremiah 49:1).

So Ammon, like Moab in the previous chapter, will suffer destruction as punishment. While ancient invasion under Nebuchadnezzar may have been intended in part by the prophecy, it is clear that the primary fulfillment, as with the prophecy of the previous chapter, will occur during the Day of the Lord. Notice verse 2: "the days are coming...desolate...then Israel shall take possession of his inheritance" (not only the land originally given to Israel, but the land inhabited by the Ammonites). This certainly did not occur in the days of Nebuchadnezzar for Judah was then taken into captivity—and Israel, the northern 10 tribes, remained scattered. This prophecy will not be fulfilled until all the tribes of Israel are led back to the Promised Land (request or download our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy to learn more).

Heshbon in verse 3 "was at one time possessed by the Ammonites, but later lost to the Moabites" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 3). Today, as part of the Kingdom of Jordan, the area of Heshbon is under the dominion of Amman, the Jordanian capital. "Ai is not the Israelite city of the same name" (note on verse 3). "Since the word Ai means 'ruin' in Hebrew, the reference may be to Rabbah" (The HarperCollins Study Bible, 1993, note on verse 3).

Rather than the Ammonites boasting of "valleys," verse 4 may be translated: "Why do you boast in your strength? Your strength is ebbing" (NRSV; see explanation in The New Bible Commentary, note on verse 4). And their vaunted "treasures" may simply be their "resources for resisting the foe" (JFB, note on verse 4). Certainly their trust is misplaced. God calls Ammon a "backsliding daughter" (verse 4), as the nation had departed from the faith of its forefather Lot, who worshiped the true God.

Despite the terrible destruction the Ammonites will suffer, God will not make a complete end of them. Rather, as with the Moabites, He will ultimately "bring back the captives of the people of Ammon" (verse 6; compare Jeremiah 48:47).

Other prophecies concerning Ammon may be found in Amos 1:13-15, Zephaniah 2:8-11, Ezekiel 21:28-32, Ezekiel 25:1-7 and verse 10.

Prophecy Against Edom

Verses 7-22 of Jeremiah 49 are directed "against Edom," the descendants of Jacob's brother Esau who dwelt in the mountainous area south of Moab and Judah (see Genesis 25:30; 36:8). Sections of this passage are clearly adapted from the prophecy of Obadiah—which you may wish to reread at this point. Edom, the perennial enemy of Israel, will at last suffer judgment.

Commentaries generally explain that this prophecy of Edom in Jeremiah 49 (along with the prophecies against Moab, Ammon and Damascus) was fulfilled when Nebuchadnezzar's armies invaded Judah and its neighbors around 586 B.C. Yet while Edom and other tribal nations were invaded and subjugated then, the main fulfillment of the prophecy will be "in that day" (verse 22)—language that consistently refers to the future Day of the Lord. Like Obadiah, this chapter concerns ultimate national punishment on Edom. God calls it "the calamity of Esau...the time that I will punish him" (Jeremiah 49:8). And that time is clearly revealed elsewhere, God declaring: "For My sword...shall come down on Edom, and on the people of My curse, for judgment.... For the LORD has a sacrifice in Bozrah [the capital of Edom], and a great slaughter in the land of Edom.... For it is the day of the LORD's vengeance, the year of recompense for the cause of Zion" (Isaiah 34:5-8; compare Isaiah 63:1, Isaiah 63:4). Thus, the time frame is the year that ends with the return of Jesus Christ.

God is going to repay the people of Edom for the evil way they have historically treated Israel (see Obadiah 10). Today, as mentioned in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary on Obadiah, Edomites continue to dwell in various parts of the Middle East, including Jordan and Turkey. It is likely that many of today's Palestinians are Edomites in whole or in part. Furthermore, there is apparently a growing Edomite presence in many nations of Europe due to Muslim immigration from the Middle East and North Africa while Turkey is actively seeking membership in the European Union, which ultimately may help to explain some similarities between prophecies against end-time Edom and end-time Babylon.

Teman (Jeremiah 49:7) was a principal descendant of Esau (see Genesis 36:9-11) and is believed to be "the name of a town in Edom, sometimes used as the name of the northern half of the nation of Edom; here it probably stands for the whole nation" (Word in Life Bible, 1998, note on Jeremiah 49:7). The "wisdom" (or cunning, as the Hebrew could also be translated) for which Teman (or Edom) is known will quickly evaporate (verse 7; compare Obadiah 8).

The inhabitants of Dedan will be put to flight (Jeremiah 49:8)—Dedan being "the name of a town in northwest Arabia, also used of the northwest region of Arabia along the Red Sea" (note on verse 8).

Verse 9 is adapted from Obadiah 5. Those gathering grapes or even thieves would take their fill. But God would go way beyond this. Edom would be utterly laid bare, completely plundered of everything and everyone (Jeremiah 49:10; Obadiah 6).

There is some confusion as to whether anyone will even be left alive of Edom. Many Bible versions have God telling Esau in verse 11 that He will preserve the children and widows. Yet Obadiah 18 says, "The house of Edom shall be stubble...and no survivor shall remain of the house of Esau." If Jeremiah 49:11 means that children and widows will survive, then Obadiah 18 would only be referring to the men being killed. But the verse doesn't appear to read that way. Furthermore, while God promises to return the captives of Moab and Ammon (Jeremiah 48:47; Jeremiah 49:6), no such provision is made for Edom. And other versions, it should be considered, translate Jeremiah 49:11 differently. In the Revised English Bible, God is shown asking, "Am I to keep alive your fatherless children? Are your widows to depend on me?" The implicit answer in this rendering is no. And, for another possibility, notice the end of verse 10 and verse 11 in the Jerusalem Bible: "His race is destroyed: it is no more! Of his neighbors, not one will say, 'Leave your orphans, I will keep them alive, your widows can rely on me.'"

Verse 12 concerns the cup of divine wrath, imagery that is also used in Jeremiah 25:15-29. Going to this other passage, we can see more clearly what God means in Jeremiah 49:12. He is declaring that if His own people Israel and Judah, and His holy city Jerusalem in particular, had to drink from the cup of wrath—that is, suffer divine judgment—then Edom, who was even guiltier, would certainly have to (compare Jeremiah 25:28-29).

Verses 14-16 of Jeremiah 49 are adapted from Obadiah 1-4. Note Jeremiah 49:16: "O you who dwell in the clefts of the rock, who hold the height of the hill," with a "nest as high as the eagle." The "clefts of the rock" may refer to Petra, mentioned in the highlights of the previous reading, and perhaps other rock fortresses. High above Petra and on other mountains of Edom were high places for worship, lookouts and refuge. "Some of the mountain peaks of Edom reach over six thousand feet; Jerusalem [by comparison] is about 2,300 feet above sea level" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Obadiah 3). Yet the Edomites would be brought down—not just physically, but figuratively from their exalted prideful arrogance (Obadiah 4; Jeremiah 49:16).

Indeed, Edom will be devastated—"all its cities shall be perpetual wastes.... as in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring cities" (verses 13, 18). The same is prophesied elsewhere of Moab and Ammon (Zephaniah 2:9). Interestingly, the territory of Ammon, Moab and Edom—modern Jordan—is believed to be where these ancient cities were located.

The translation of Jeremiah 49:19 is uncertain, as there is widespread disagreement among commentaries and Bible versions as to exactly what is meant. The prophecy against Babylon in the next chapter contains almost the exact same statement (Jeremiah 50:44), again perhaps demonstrating some kind of tie between end-time Edom and end-time Babylon. In both prophecies, it is not clear who is doing what and who is speaking. Look again at the New King James rendering in chapter 49. Contrast that with the Moffatt Translation, which has God saying, "Like shepherds when the lion leaves the jungle of Jordan for the pasture, I will chase them [the Edomites in this case] away suddenly, and seize their rarest rams. Who can match me? Who dare challenge me? What shepherd can face me?" On the other hand, the Ferrar Fenton Translation presents this as a boast of, in this instance, Edom: "See he [Edom] was like a lion coming up from the swelling of Jordan to the permanent meadows: 'I will be sly with them,' he says, 'I will assail from behind them—what hero can defend them? For who is equal to me, and who expects me? And what shepherd can stand before me?'"

Whatever the case, God is going to bring ruin on Edom: "The young of the flock will be dragged off, and their pasture will be aghast at their fate" (verse 20, REB). A great earthquake will accompany Edom's fall (verse 21), parallel with other prophecies of Christ's return (compare Isaiah 24:17-21; Zechariah 14:4-5; Revelation 16:18-20). The "He" who comes up "like the eagle" to "spread His wings over Bozrah" (Jeremiah 49:22) is the returning Jesus Christ coming to strike—just as in Jeremiah 48:40, as explained in the comments on our previous reading.

Of course, as was noted in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary on Obadiah, even if Edom is totally wiped out at Christ's second coming, as appears likely, the Edomites will be raised to physical life and opportunity for salvation in the second resurrection, 1,000 years later (see Revelation 20:5, 11-12; Matthew 11:20-24; Matthew 12:41-42). All of God's actions, we must keep in mind, work toward the ultimate good of all mankind. Even His punishment of the Edomites will work toward their eventual repentance, whenever that may be.

Besides Obadiah, other prophecies concerning Edom may be found in Amos 1:11-12, Isaiah 21:11-12, Isaiah 34:1-17, Isaiah 63:1-6, Ezekiel 25:12-14 and Ezekiel 35:1-15.

Prophecies Against Damascus and Arabia 

Jeremiah 49:23-33 is directed "against Damascus," the metropolitan capital of Syria representing the nation as a whole. Syria, north of the land of Israel, was usually a hostile neighbor to ancient Israel and Judah, and today remains a hostile neighbor to the modern Jewish state of Israel.

The Assyrians had destroyed the Aramaean kingdom of Damascus around the same time the northern kingdom of Israel fell—and the Syrians were taken captive to the north. But the resettled city survived—and it is the city, along with the territory under its control, that Jeremiah addresses.

Hamath and Arpad "were major towns located west and north of the capital of Damascus" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verses 23-25). They are still under the rule of Damascus, which remains the capital of Syria.

"Trouble on the sea," which "cannot be quiet," may refer to an invasion of Syria's Mediterranean coast from the sea. This did not happen in Nebuchadnezzar's invasion, which came from the east. It may even be a direct end-time reference: "And there will be...on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectations of those things which are coming on the earth" (Luke 21:25-26). Yet some read Jeremiah 49:23 as simply meaning that those on the seacoast—or "at the sea" (Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary, note on verse 23)—are, like those in other listed parts of Syria, experiencing unrest over the prospect of imminent invasion. In any case, the once-mighty Syria will be paralyzed with fear and anguish (verse 24).

Damascus, formerly "the city of praise" (verse 25), will be destroyed "in that day" (verse 26)—referring, we may reasonably conclude, to the Day of the Lord. This is even more clearly seen in verse 27. It is adapted from Amos 1:4, which appears to be part of an end-time prophecy (see the Beyond Today Bible Commentary on Amos 1 and 2). "Ben-Hadad," it should be recalled, was a title used by a number of Syrian rulers.

Besides Amos 1:3-5, other prophecies of Syria are found in Isaiah 17:1-3 and Zechariah 9:1-4.

The message of Jeremiah 49:28-33 is "against Kedar [son of Ishmael, father of the Arabs] and against the kingdoms of Hazor...[who are] men of the East" (verse 28). These are people who dwell in tents, shepherd flocks and ride camels. Hazor here is not the more famous city of this name in northern Israel. Meaning "Enclosure," this name was given to a number of towns (e.g., see Joshua 15:21-25). The JFB Commentary explains that the Hazor of Jeremiah 49 was "not the city in Palestine, but a district in Arabia Petraea. 'Kingdoms' refer to the several combinations of clans, each under its own sheikh" (note on verse 28). The same commentary note says "the Kedarenes led a wandering predatory life in Arabia Petraea, as the Bedouin Arabs." As was mentioned in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary on Isaiah 21:13-17, the entry on "Kedar" in Smith's Bible Dictionary states, "The tribe seems to have been one of the most conspicuous of all the Ishmaelite tribes, and hence the rabbis call the Arabians universally by this name."

In verses 28 and 30 of Jeremiah 49, specific mention is made of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon as the instrument of punishment. This is a major reason many Bible scholars and commentators think that attacks by Nebuchadnezzar fulfilled all the prophecies from Jeremiah 47:1-49:33—prophecies against the Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Syrians and Arabians. However, as has been explained, most of the prophecies in this section have not yet been ultimately fulfilled. In that context, it may even be that while the prophecy against the Arabians definitely applied to Nebuchadnezzar's invasion, as that is clearly stated, it may also be dual. That is, Nebuchadnezzar's invasion may be presented here as a forerunner of latter-day events to be ultimately fulfilled, as with the other prophecies, in the direct intervention of Jesus Christ during the Day of the Lord.

Interestingly, the concept of a modern day "Nebuchadnezzar" is still very much alive in the minds of Muslims. Saddam Hussein portrayed himself as such a leader. Before him, the Shah of Iran attempted to reestablish the ancient Persian Empire through modern military might. While neither man fulfilled his personal vision, this kind of thinking should remind us that while ancient biblical prophecies may seem anachronistic and in no way pertinent to our time, they contain much that is still quite relevant in the present-day Middle East.

The Arabian sheiks are described as wealthy and secure (Jeremiah 49:31)—yet without gates or bars (probably referring to the fact that the waterless desert provides a barrier of protection). Yet God will bring "fear on every side" (see verse 29)—a common theme in Jeremiah's prophecies (see Jeremiah 6:25; Jeremiah 20:3 margin, Jeremiah 20:10; Jeremiah 5; Jeremiah 49:5)—and then actual "calamity from all its sides" (Jeremiah 49:32).

What do all the ethnic groups addressed in Jeremiah 47:1-49:33 have in common? Historically they have usually been aggressively anti-Israel, often fighting the Israelites to destroy them and steal the land God gave His people—and the same is true today. Furthermore, in their fervor for the Islamic faith, they oppose the religion of the Bible and its adherents—often violently. God will eventually take action against the enemies of Israel (i.e., of the physical descendants of Israel and of spiritual Israel, the Church), and against all those who oppose His Word.

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