The Prophecy Against Babylon Continues
Chapter 51 begins with a reference to "Babylon...those who dwell in Leb Kamai" (verse 1). The King James Version renders Leb Kamai as "the midst of them that rise up against me." The Hebrew expression literally means "the heart of my enemy." Many argue that this is the first of two cryptograms in this chapter. The explanation is that a code is used wherein the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is expressed by the last, and so forth, so that Leb Kamai corresponds to Chasdim, the Hebrew word for Chaldeans. The other possible cryptogram in the chapter is Sheshach in verse 41, where, as mentioned in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary on Jeremiah 25:26 (the other place where this expression occurs), using the same letter substitution system would produce the word Babel. However, as in chapter 25, it is clear in both cases here in chapter 51 who is being described anyway—so it is not apparent why such a code would be needed. The word Sheshach, as explained in previous comments, has been interpreted variously by scholars, with perhaps the most likely meaning being, as noted before, "thy fine linen," which, again, would seem to tie in with the description of end-time Babylon in Revelation 18:16: "that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls."
Babylon is going to be punished. God is going to rescue Israel and Judah—again showing an end-time context. The Lord has not forsaken His people "though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel" (Jeremiah 51:5). God has always intended Israel to be a godly, model nation for the world. And He will not be thwarted from His purpose. Despite the failings of the Israelites, the omnipotent God will yet confront them and lead them to repentance. (This does not mean that all Israelites will ultimately respond in a right way to God—but undoubtedly the vast majority will.)
Verse 7 uses the imagery of Babylon as a cup of wine being poured out on the nations by God. This is a symbol of divine wrath taken from Jeremiah 25:15-29. The nations are made drunk (to reel and stagger) through suffering conquest. Also, we can see this as God giving the nations over to Babylon's spiritual wine, thus making them drunk with false religion (compare Revelation 17:2). Yet now God will break the cup of Babylon. "Babylon has suddenly fallen" (verse 8; compare Isaiah 21:9; Revelation 18:2).
Jeremiah 51:9 states: "We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed.... Let us go everyone to his own country." From the next verse we can see that it is God's people who are pictured speaking here. "The people of God that were captives among the Babylonians endeavoured, according to the instructions given them (Jeremiah 10:11), to convince them of the folly of their idolatry, but they could not do it; still [the Babylonians] doted as much as ever upon their graven images, and therefore the Israelites resolved to quit them and go to their own country" (Matthew Henry's Commentary, note on Jeremiah 51:9).
Verse 10 states, "The LORD has revealed our righteousness." This may just mean that, through punishing Babylon, God has shown the Israelites to be the ones in the right in the present circumstances. Babylon's treatment of them has been unjust. And the Israelites' abandonment of the Babylonians to suffer destruction is appropriate. However, the wording could also perhaps refer to the Israelites being reconciled to God through repentance—and God making this manifest through His deliverance of them.
Verses 11 and 28 identify the forces that would invade Babylon from the north as those of the Medes. And the Medes, as was noted in the previous highlights, did invade ancient Babylon in 539 B.C. under the Persian king Cyrus the Great. Verse 27 mentions other nations that are joined with the Medes in the invasion—Ararat, Minni and Ashkenaz. In the sixth century B.C. these peoples lived in northwestern Iran and contiguous areas. "The first are the Urartu of the Assyrian inscriptions, practically Armenia, north of Lake Van. The second are the Mannaeans of the Assyrian records, who lived south of Lake Urmia. The last, the Ashguzai of the Assyrian inscriptions, were nomads living east of Lake Urmia (cf. Genesis 10:3 [where Ashkenaz is listed as a nation descended from Noah's son Japheth, see verse 2])" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on Jeremiah 51:27-33).
While the ancient invasion was no doubt intended by the prophecy, we should also look beyond that. For given the clear latter-day context of much of this chapter and the previous one, it is evident that the modern descendants of these same peoples will play a part in the fall of end-time Babylon. As was pointed out in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary on a parallel prophecy concerning Babylon's downfall, Isaiah 21, while some of the Medes probably still live in their ancient homeland, many today may be found north of the Black Sea in what is now the Ukraine. Concerning the Urartians and Mannaeans, today's Armenians and neighboring peoples would seem to be indicated.
Ashkenaz is commonly identified with the Scythians—though it should be understood that various nomadic groups near the Caspian Sea were known as Scythians, including the Israelites who came out of Assyrian captivity (see our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy). The people of Ashkenaz appear to have ranged eastward, becoming scattered throughout East Asia. One source explains that many of those who live today in "south-east Asia, Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, southern China and a few of the population of Japan are descendants of Ashkenaz" ("The Origin of the Nations of South-East Asia," cgca.net/coglinks/origin/oon2.1/vol2_1p4.html). The book of Revelation describes a 200-million-man army from beyond the Euphrates River that will inflict great destruction on all mankind, including end-time Babylon, shortly before the return of Christ (see Revelation 9:13-19). Later, as referred to in the previous highlights, the Euphrates is "dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared" (Revelation 16:12). As mentioned, Cyrus dried up the Euphrates to enable Babylon's invasion in his day. Both events seem to be indicated by Jeremiah 50:38.
Babylon is said to "dwell by many waters" and to have a "sea" with "waves" (Jeremiah 51:13, 36, 42, 55). Recall from Isaiah 21:1 that Babylon was there referred to as the "Wilderness of the Sea." This was apparently a reference to the lakes and great marshes surrounding the Euphrates to the south of Babylon—the region bordering the Persian Gulf known as the Sealands. However, this could also be a reference to the later Babylon, Rome, which sat beside the Mediterranean, calling it Mare Nostrum ("Our Sea"), as the Roman Empire encompassed it. A similar situation may exist in the end time. The image is also quite likely a figurative one. The Romano-Babylonian Beast power is described as rising from the "sea" and as one that "sits on many waters" (see Daniel 7; 13; 17), these waters representing "peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues" (verse 15).
Jeremiah 51:15-19 contrasts the omnipotent God with powerless idols and the foolishness of worshiping them. The words here are taken from an earlier prophecy God gave Jeremiah in 10:12-16. Both sections end by describing God as the "Portion" of His people—their livelihood and reward.
Then notice the next section. God says, "You are My battle-ax and weapons of war..." (verse 20). And He goes on to show how He would use this battle-ax to do great damage (verses 20-23). But just whom is He talking to and about? Verse 24 answers, "And I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea for all the evil they have done in Zion in your sight." Clearly, Babylon is the one being broken and destroyed—and, surprisingly, the Jews are the ones being used to accomplish this (and probably all Israel since Jacob is the last people referenced just prior to this section—verse 19). This did not happen in ancient times. Israelite Scythian forces did help to bring down ancient Assyria and its capital of Nineveh, but there was no parallel with the fall of ancient Babylon.
However, we do have other indications that such a resurgence of Israel and Judah will happen in the end time. For instance, Zechariah 14:14 says that at the time of Christ's return, "Judah also will fight at Jerusalem." Isaiah 41:14-15 says: "Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel.... You shall thresh the mountains [kingdoms] and beat them small, and make the hills [smaller nations] like chaff." (Babylon is described in Jeremiah 51 as a mountain that will be threshed—verses 25, 33). Micah 4:13 says, "Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion...you shall beat in pieces many peoples." This last reference is likely dual, as it could also refer to spiritual Israel, the Church of God, glorified at Christ's return and executing God's judgment on the nations.
Yet we might wonder how physical Israel and Judah, enslaved and decimated peoples, could become resurgent prior to Christ's return. Realize that this does not mean restoration to greatness. That will not come until after Christ establishes His Kingdom on this earth. Rather, resurgence simply implies a slight regaining of strength—and probably in pockets rather than all Israel. As we saw from Hosea 6:1-2, the time of Jacob's trouble will apparently last about two and a half years, to be followed by the "day of the LORD's vengeance, the year of recompense for the cause of Zion" (Isaiah 34:8)—the final year prior to Christ's return. According to the book of Revelation, "the great day of His wrath" (Revelation 6:17), which follows the Great Tribulation (compare verses 9-11), will encompass the great calamities of the seven trumpets (see Revelation 8-9).
Consider then: The people of end-time Babylon will be preoccupied by the catastrophic events of that final year, which may direct their attention away from their slaves to some degree. This could allow many Israelites scattered throughout Europe and other places to escape and pockets of resistance to form (think of the French resistance of World War II). These pockets of resistance may secure weapons with which to fight. When forces from the East—apparently including the latter-day Medes—come to wreak havoc on Europe (Revelation 9:13-21), this would likely free up even more Israelites. And the Israelite resistance forces would then be able to help in the destruction of end-time Babylon. Perhaps they will, in particular, help destroy the Babylonian capital of the last days, probably Rome. (Again, such Israelite participation would parallel the fall not of ancient Babylon, but of ancient Nineveh—which still makes sense when we realize that end-time Babylon will be fused together with end-time Assyria in the same power bloc.) Whether or not events turn out exactly this way, we should be able to see that a somewhat resurgent Israel can well fit in the panorama of end-time events laid out in Bible prophecy. And indeed, we are told here in Jeremiah 51 that it will help to bring about the final Babylon's downfall.
Babylon stands guilty of great evil. The "slain of Israel" (verse 49) may refer also to "the blood of the saints...and of the martyrs of Jesus" (Revelation 17:6). For all she has done, swift punishment is coming. "Babylon is compared to lions' cubs (v. 38). She will be given a feast, followed not by the usual drunken sleep, but by a perpetual sleep of death (vv. 39-40)" (Expositor's, note on verses 34-44). We see this specifically applying to Babylon's leaders and prominent people in verse 57. It should be clarified that the statement "They shall sleep a perpetual sleep and not awake" does not mean they will never be resurrected, as they surely will be. Again, the point is simply that their "sleep" is death—long and ongoing. They will not awake from it as from typical slumber.
In part, this seems to be a reference to Belshazzar's drunken feast (Daniel 5), which facilitated the downfall of the city of Babylon that very night. Of course, as with the rest of the prophecy, a greater fulfillment will come at the end of this age, during the Day of the Lord.
"The broad walls of Babylon" (Jeremiah 51:58) refers to the literal massive walls of the ancient city of Babylon, as well as to the exalted confidence in the strength and security of "Babylon the great" of the last days. She will think she "will not see sorrow" (Revelation 18:7), but "her plagues will come in one day" (verse 8).
After reading the prophecy, Seraiah is to visually enact the symbolism of Babylon's fall by throwing the scroll, with a stone tied to it, into the Euphrates (Jeremiah 51:63). Babylon will sink to never rise again (verse 64; see also verse 42).
The section ends with the statement, "Thus far are the words of Jeremiah." The Good News Bible renders this, "The words of Jeremiah end here." This is because the next chapter of the book, Jeremiah 52, the last chapter, was evidently added by a later editor. However, we are not yet finished reading other parts of the book of Jeremiah.