Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Sequel of the prophecies of Jeremiah against Babylon. The dreadful, sudden, and final ruin that shall fall upon the Chaldeans, who have compelled the nations to receive their idolatrous rites, (see an instance in the third chapter of Daniel), set forth by a variety of beautiful figures; with a command to the people of God, (who have made continual intercession for the conversion of their heathen rulers), to flee from the impending vengeance, Jer 51:1-14. Jehovah, Israel's God, whose infinite power, wisdom and understanding are every where visible in the works of creation, elegantly contrasted with the utterly contemptible objects of the Chaldean worship, Jer 51:15-19. Because of their great oppression of God's people, the Babylonians shall be visited with cruel enemies from the north, whose innumerable hosts shall fill the land, and utterly extirpate the original inhabitants, vv. 20-44. One of the figures by which this formidable invasion is represented is awfully sublime. "The Sea is come up upon Babylon; she is covered with the multitude of the waves thereof." And the account of the sudden desolation produced by this great armament of a multitude of nations, (which the prophet, dropping the figure, immediately subjoins), is deeply afflictive. "Her cities are a desolation, a dry land, and a wilderness; a land wherein no man dwelleth, neither doth any son of man pass thereby." The people of God a third time admonished to escape from Babylon, lest they be overtaken with her plagues, Jer 51:45, Jer 51:46. Other figures setting forth in a variety of lights the awful judgments with which the Chaldeans shall be visited on account of their very gross idolatries, Jer 51:47-58. The significant emblem with which the chapter concludes, of Seraiah, after having read the book of the Prophet Jeremiah against Babylon, binding a stone to it, and casting it into the river Euphrates, thereby prefiguring the very sudden downfall of the Chaldean city and empire, Jer 51:59-64, is beautifully improved by the writer of the Apocalypse, Rev 18:21, in speaking of Babylon the Great, of which the other was a most expressive type; and to which many of the passages interspersed throughout the Old Testament Scriptures relative to Babylon must be ultimately referred, if we would give an interpretation in every respect equal to the terrible import of the language in which these prophecies are conceived.
Thus saith the Lord - This chapter is a continuation of the preceding prophecy.
A destroying wind - Such as the pestilential winds in the east; and here the emblem of a destroying army, carrying all before them, and wasting with fire and sword.
And will send - fanners - When the corn is trodden out with the feet of cattle, or crushed out with a heavy wheel armed with iron, with a shovel they throw it up against the wind, that the chaff and broken straw may be separated from it. This is the image used by the prophet; these people shall be trodden, crushed, and fanned by their enemies.
For Israel hath not been forsaken - God still continued his prophets among them; he had never cast them wholly off. Even in the midst of wrath - highly deserved and inflicted punishment, he has remembered mercy; and is now about to crown what he has done by restoring them to their own land. I conceive אשם asham, which we translate sin, as rather signifying punishment, which meaning it often has.
Made all the earth drunken - The cup of God's wrath is the plenitude of punishment, that he inflicts on transgressors. It is represented as intoxicating and making them mad.
Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed - These appear to be the words of some of the spectators of Babylon's misery.
We would have healed Babylon - Had it been in our power, we would have saved her; but we could not turn away the judgment of God.
The Lord hath brought forth our righteousness - This is the answer of the Jews. God has vindicated our cause.
Make bright the arrows - This is the prophet's address to Babylon.
The Lord hath raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes - Of Cyaxares king of Media, called Darius the Mede in Scripture; and of Cyrus king of Persia, presumptive heir of the throne of Cyaxares, his uncle. Cambyses, his father, sent him, Cyrus, with 30, 000 men to assist his uncle Cyaxares, against Neriglissar king of Babylon, and by these was Babylon overthrown.
Set up the standard - A call to the enemies of Babylon to invest the city and press the siege.
O thou that dwellest upon many waters - Thou who hast an abundant supply of waters. It was built on the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates; the latter running through the city. But the many waters may mean the many nations which belonged to the Babylonish empire; nations and people are frequently so called in Scripture.
I will fill thee with men - By means of these very waters through the channel of thy boasted river, thou shalt be filled with men, suddenly appearing as an army of locusts; and, without being expected, shall lift up a terrific cry, as soon as they have risen from the channel of the river.
He hath made the earth by his power - The omnipotence of God is particularly manifested in the works of creation.
He hath established the world by his wisdom - The omniscience of God is particularly seen in the government of תבל tebel, the inhabited surface of the globe. What a profusion of wisdom and skill is apparent in that wondrous system of providence by which he governs and provides for every living thing.
And hath stretched out the heaven by his understanding - Deep thought, comprehensive design, and consummate skill are especially seen in the formation, magnitudes, distances, revolutions, and various affections of the heavenly bodies.
When he uttereth his voice - Sends thunder.
There is a multitude of waters - For the electric spark, by decomposing atmospheric air, converts the hydrogen and oxygen gases, of which it is composed, into water; which falls down in the form of rain.
Causeth the vapours to ascend - He is the Author of that power of evaporation by which the water is rarified, and, being lighter than the air, ascends in form of vapor, forms clouds, and is ready to be sent down again to water the earth by the action of his lightnings, as before. And by those same lightnings, and the agency of heat in general, currents of air are formed, moving in various directions, which we call winds.
Every man is brutish by his knowledge - He is brutish for want of real knowledge; and he is brutish when he acknowledges that an idol is any thing in the world. These verses, from fifteen to nineteen, are transcribed from Jer 10:12-16.
Thou art my battle axe - I believe Nebuchadnezzar is meant, who is called, Jer 50:23, the hammer of the whole earth. Others think the words are spoken of Cyrus. All the verbs are in the past tense: "With thee have I broken in pieces," etc., etc.
And I will render - The ו vau should be translated but, of which it has here the full power: "But I will render unto Babylon."
O destroying mountain - An epithet which he applies to the Babylonish government; it is like a burning mountain, which, by vomiting continual streams of burning lava inundates and destroys all towns, villages fields, etc., in its vicinity.
And roll thee down from the rocks - I will tumble thee from the rocky base on which thou restest. The combustible matter in thy bowels being exhausted, thou shalt appear as an extinguished crater; and the stony mutter which thou castest out shall not be of sufficient substance to make a foundation stone for solidity, or a corner stone for beauty, Jer 51:26. Under this beautiful and most expressive metaphor, the prophet shows the nature of the Babylonish government; setting the nations on fire, deluging and destroying them by its troops, till at last, exhausted, it tumbles down, is extinguished, and leaves nothing as a basis to erect a new form of government on; but is altogether useless, like the cooled lava, which is, properly speaking, fit for no human purpose.
Set ye up a standard - Another summons to the Medes and Persians to attack Babylon.
Ararat, Minni - The Greater and Lesser Armenia.
And Ashchenaz - A part of Phrygia, near the Hellespont. So Bochart, Phaleg, lib. 1 c. 3, lib. 3 c. 9. Concerning Ashchenaz Homer seems to speak, Il. 2:370, 371: -
Φορκυς αυ Φρυγας ηγε, και Ασκανιος θεοειδης,
Τηλ' εξ Ασκανιης.
"Ascanius, godlike youth, and Phorcys led
The Phrygians from Ascania's distant land."
Calmet thinks that the Ascantes, who dwelt in the vicinity of the Tanais, are meant.
And the land shall tremble - It is represented here as trembling under the numerous armies that are passing over it, and the prancing of their horses.
The mighty men - have forborne to fight - They were panic-struck when they found the Medes and Persians within their walls, and at once saw that resistance was useless.
One post shall run to meet another - As the city was taken by surprise, in the manner already related, so now messengers, one after another, were dispatched to give the king information of what was done; viz., that the city was taken at one end. Herodotus tells us that the extreme parts of the city were taken, before those of the center knew any thing of the invasion. Herodot. lib. 1 c. 191.
That the passages are stopped - Either the bridges or slips for boats, by which the inhabitants passed from one side to the other, and may mean the principal gates or passes in the city, which the victorious army would immediately seize, that they might prevent all communication between the inhabitants.
The reeds they have burned with fire - What this means I cannot tell, unless it refer to something done after the taking of the city. Setting fire to the reeds in the marshy ground, in order the better to clear the places, and give a freer passage to the water, that it may neither stagnate nor turn the solid ground into a marsh. Dr. Blayney thinks it refers to the firing of the houses, in order to throw the inhabitants into the greater confusion; but no historian makes any mention of burning the city, except what is said Jer 51:30, "They have burned her dwelling places;" and this may be a poetical expression. That they burnt nothing before they took the city must be evident from the circumstance of their taking the city by surprise, in the night time, with the greatest secrecy. Still there might have been some gates, barricadoes, or wooden works, serving for barracks or such like, which obstructed some of the great passages, which, when they had entered, they were obliged to burn, in order to get themselves a ready passage through the city. This is the more likely because this burning of reeds is connected with the stopping of the passages, burning the dwelling places, and breaking the bars.
The daughter of Babylon is like a threshing floor - The threshing wheel is gone over her; she is trodden under foot.
Nebuchadrezzar - hath devoured me - These are the words of Judea; he has taken away all my riches.
He hath cast me out - He shall vomit all up; i.e., they shall be regained.
The violence done to me - be upon Babylon, - and my blood upon the inhabitants of Chaldea - Zion begins to speak, Jer 51:34, and ends with this verse. The answer of Jehovah begins with the next verse. Though the Chaldeans have been the instrument of God to punish the Jews, yet in return they, being themselves exceedingly wicked, shall suffer for all the carnage they have made, and for all the blood they have shed.
I will dry up her sea - Exhaust all her treasures.
Without an inhabitant - See Jer 50:39.
In their heat I will make their feasts - It was on the night of a feast day, while their hearts were heated with wine and revelry, that Babylon was taken; see Dan 5:1-3. This feast was held in honor of the goddess Sheshach, (or perhaps of Bel), who is mentioned, Jer 51:41, as being taken with her worshippers. As it was in the night the city was taken, many had retired to rest, and never awoke; slain in their beds, they slept a perpetual sleep.
How is Sheshach taken! - Perhaps the city is here called by the name of its idol.
The praise of the whole earth - One of the seven wonders of the world; superexcellent for the height, breadth, and compass of its walls, its hanging gardens, the temple of Belus, etc., etc.
The sea is come up - A multitude of foes have inundated the city.
I will punish Bel in Babylon - Bel or Belus was their supreme deity.
That which he hath swallowed up - The sacred vessels of the temple of Jerusalem, which were taken thence by Nebuchadnezzar, and dedicated to him in his temple at Babylon.
The wall of Babylon shall fall - It shall cease to be a defense; and shall moulder away until, in process of time, it shall not be discernible.
My people, go ye out - A warning to all the Jews in Babylon to leave the city, and escape for their lives.
A rumor shall - come one year - A year before the capture of the city there shall be a rumor of war, - and in that year Belshazzar was defeated by Cyrus. In the following year the city was taken.
The heaven and the earth - shall sing for Babylon - Its fall shall be a subject of universal rejoicing.
Ye that have escaped the sword - The Jews.
Let Jerusalem come into your mind - Pray for its restoration; and embrace the first opportunity offered of returning thither.
Strangers are come into the sanctuaries - The lamentation of the pious Jews for the profanation of the temple by the Chaldeans.
Though Babylon should mount up to heaven - Though it were fortified even to the skies, it shall fall by the enemies that I will send against it.
The great voice - Its pride and insufferable boasting.
The Lord God of recompenses - The fall of Babylon is an act of Divine justice; whatever it suffers, it is in consequence of its crimes.
I will make drunk her princes - See on Jer 51:39 (note).
The broad walls of Babylon - Herodotus, who saw these walls, says, "The city was a regular square, each side of which was one hand red and twenty stadia, the circumference four hundred and eighty stadia. It was surrounded by a wall fifty cubits broad, and two hundred cubits high; and each side had twenty-five brazen gates." - Herod. lib. 1 c. 178. Had not Cyrus resorted to stratagem, humanly speaking, he could not have taken this city. For the destruction of this wall and its very vestiges, see on Isa 13:19 (note).
The word which Jeremiah - On account of the message sent by Jeremiah to the Jewish captives in Babylon.
Wrote in a book - Whether this book contained any more than is recorded in this place we do not know; probably it contained no more than what is found in Jer 51:62-64. A book, ספר sepher, signifies, in Hebrew, any writing, great or small.
Thus shall Babylon sink, etc. - This is the emblem of its overthrow and irretrievable ruin. See Rev 18:21, where we find that this is an emblem of the total ruin of mystical Babylon.
Herodotus relates a similar action of the Phocaeans, who, having resolved to leave their country, and never return to it again, μυδρον σιδηρεον κατεπονωσαν, και ωμοσαν μη πριν ες Φωκαιην ἡξειν, πριν η τον μυδρον τουτον αναφηναι· "threw a mass of iron into the sea, and swore that they would never return to Phocaea till that iron mass should rise and swim on the top." The story is this: The Phocaeans, being besieged by Harpagus, general of the Persians, demanded one day's truce to deliberate on the propositions he had made to them relative to their surrendering their city; and begged that in the mean while he would take off his army from the walls. Harpagus having consented, they carried their wives, children, and their most valuable effects, aboard their ships; then, throwing a mass of iron into the sea, bound themselves by an oath never to return till that iron should rise to the top and swim. See Herodotus, lib. 1 c. 165.
Horace refers to this in his epode Ad Populum Romanum, Epode 16 ver. 25: -
Sed juremus in haec: simul imis saxa renarint
Vadis levata, ne redire sit nefas.
"As the Phocaeans oft for freedom bled,
At length with imprecated curses fled."
Thus far are the words of Jeremiah - It appears that the following chapter is not the work of this prophet: it is not his style. The author of it writes Jehoiachin; Jeremiah writes him always Jeconiah, or Coniah. It is merely historical, and is very similar to 2 Kings 24:18-25:30. The author, whoever he was, relates the capture of Jerusalem, the fate of Zedekiah, the pillage and burning of the city and the temple. He mentions also certain persons of distinction who were slain by the Chaldeans. He mentions the number of the captives that were carried to Babylon at three different times; and concludes with the deliverance of King Jehoiachin from prison in Babylon, in which he had been for thirty-seven years. It is very likely that the whole chapter has been compiled from some chronicle of that time, or it was designed as a preface to the Book of the Lamentations; and would stand with great propriety before it, as it contains the facts on which that inimitable poem is built. Were it allowable, I would remove it to that place.