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Jeremiah 51:6-25

Context

51:6 Get out of Babylonia quickly, you foreign people. 1 

Flee to save your lives.

Do not let yourselves be killed because of her sins.

For it is time for the Lord to wreak his revenge.

He will pay Babylonia 2  back for what she has done. 3 

51:7 Babylonia had been a gold cup in the Lord’s hand.

She had made the whole world drunk.

The nations had drunk from the wine of her wrath. 4 

So they have all gone mad. 5 

51:8 But suddenly Babylonia will fall and be destroyed. 6 

Cry out in mourning over it!

Get medicine for her wounds!

Perhaps she can be healed!

51:9 Foreigners living there will say, 7 

‘We tried to heal her, but she could not be healed.

Let’s leave Babylonia 8  and each go back to his own country.

For judgment on her will be vast in its proportions.

It will be like it is piled up to heaven, stacked up into the clouds.’ 9 

51:10 The exiles from Judah will say, 10 

‘The Lord has brought about a great deliverance for us! 11 

Come on, let’s go and proclaim in Zion

what the Lord our God has done!’

51:11 “Sharpen 12  your arrows!

Fill your quivers! 13 

The Lord will arouse a spirit of hostility in 14  the kings of Media. 15 

For he intends to destroy Babylonia.

For that is how the Lord will get his revenge –

how he will get his revenge for the Babylonians’ destruction of his temple. 16 

51:12 Give the signal to attack Babylon’s wall! 17 

Bring more guards! 18 

Post them all around the city! 19 

Put men in ambush! 20 

For the Lord will do what he has planned.

He will do what he said he would do to the people of Babylon. 21 

51:13 “You who live along the rivers of Babylon, 22 

the time of your end has come.

You who are rich in plundered treasure,

it is time for your lives to be cut off. 23 

51:14 The Lord who rules over all 24  has solemnly sworn, 25 

‘I will fill your land with enemy soldiers.

They will swarm over it like locusts. 26 

They will raise up shouts of victory over it.’

51:15 He is the one who 27  by his power made the earth.

He is the one who by his wisdom fixed the world in place,

by his understanding he spread out the heavens.

51:16 When his voice thunders, the waters in the heavens roar.

He makes the clouds rise from the far-off horizons.

He makes the lightning flash out in the midst of the rain.

He unleashes the wind from the places where he stores it.

51:17 All idolaters will prove to be stupid and ignorant.

Every goldsmith will be disgraced by the idol he made.

For the image he forges is merely a sham.

There is no breath in any of those idols.

51:18 They are worthless, objects to be ridiculed.

When the time comes to punish them, they will be destroyed.

51:19 The Lord, who is the portion of the descendants of Jacob, is not like them.

For he is the one who created everything,

including the people of Israel whom he claims as his own. 28 

He is known as the Lord who rules over all. 29 

51:20 “Babylon, 30  you are my war club, 31 

my weapon for battle.

I used you to smash nations. 32 

I used you to destroy kingdoms.

51:21 I used you to smash horses and their riders. 33 

I used you to smash chariots and their drivers.

51:22 I used you to smash men and women.

I used you to smash old men and young men.

I used you to smash young men and young women.

51:23 I used you to smash shepherds and their flocks.

I used you to smash farmers and their teams of oxen.

I used you to smash governors and leaders.” 34 

51:24 “But I will repay Babylon

and all who live in Babylonia

for all the wicked things they did in Zion

right before the eyes of you Judeans,” 35 

says the Lord. 36 

51:25 The Lord says, 37  “Beware! I am opposed to you, Babylon! 38 

You are like a destructive mountain that destroys all the earth.

I will unleash my power against you; 39 

I will roll you off the cliffs and make you like a burned-out mountain. 40 

1 tn The words “you foreign people” are not in the text and many think the referent is the exiles of Judah. While this is clearly the case in v. 45 the referent seems broader here where the context speaks of every man going to his own country (v. 9).

2 tn Heb “her.”

3 tn Heb “paying to her a recompense [i.e., a payment in kind].”

4 tn The words “of her wrath” are not in the Hebrew text but are supplied in the translation to help those readers who are not familiar with the figure of the “cup of the Lord’s wrath.”

sn The figure of the cup of the Lord’s wrath invoked in Jer 25:15-29 is invoked again here and Babylon is identified as the agent through which the wrath of the Lord is visited on the other nations. See the study note on 25:15 for explanation and further references.

5 tn Heb “upon the grounds of such conditions the nations have gone mad.”

6 tn The verbs in this verse and the following are all in the Hebrew perfect tense, a tense that often refers to a past action or a past action with present results. However, as the translator’s notes have indicated, the prophets use this tense to view the actions as if they were as good as done (the Hebrew prophetic perfect). The stance here is ideal, viewed as already accomplished.

7 tn The words “Foreigners living there will say” are not in the text but are implicit from the third line. These words are generally assumed by the commentaries and are explicitly added in TEV and NCV which are attempting to clarify the text for the average reader.

8 tn Heb “Leave/abandon her.” However, it is smoother in the English translation to make this verb equivalent to the cohortative that follows.

9 tn This is an admittedly very paraphrastic translation that tries to make the figurative nuance of the Hebrew original understandable for the average reader. The Hebrew text reads: “For her judgment [or punishment (cf. BDB 1078 s.v. מִשְׁפָּט 1.f) = ‘execution of judgment’] touches the heavens, and is lifted up as far as the clouds.” The figure of hyperbole or exaggeration is being used here to indicate the vastness of Babylon’s punishment which is the reason to escape (vv. 6, 9c). For this figure see Deut 1:28 in comparison with Num 13:28 and see also Deut 9:1. In both of the passages in Deut it refers to an exaggeration about the height of the walls of fortified cities. The figure also may be a play on Gen 11:4 where the nations gather in Babylon to build a tower that reaches to the skies. The present translation has interpreted the perfects here as prophetic because it has not happened yet or they would not be encouraging one another to leave and escape. For the idea here compare 50:16.

10 tn The words “The exiles from Judah will say” are not in the text but are implicit from the words that follow. They are supplied in the translation to clearly identify for the reader the referent of “us.”

11 tn There is some difference of opinion as to the best way to render the Hebrew expression here. Literally it means “brought forth our righteousnesses.” BDB 842 s.v. צְדָקָה 7.b interprets this of the “righteous acts” of the people of Judah and compares the usage in Isa 64:6; Ezek 3:20; 18:24; 33:13. However, Judah’s acts of righteousness (or more simply, their righteousness) was scarcely revealed in their deliverance. Most of the English versions and commentaries refer to “vindication” i.e., that the Lord has exonerated or proven Israel’s claims to be true. However, that would require more explanation than the idea of “deliverance” which is a perfectly legitimate usage of the term (cf. BDB 842 s.v. צְדָקָה 6.a and compare the usage in Isa 46:13; 51:6, 8; 56:1). The present translation interprets the plural form here as a plural of intensity or amplification (GKC 397-98 §124.e) and the suffix as a genitive of advantage (IBHS 147 §9.5.2e). This interpretation is also reflected in REB and God’s Word.

12 sn The imperatives here and in v. 12 are directed to the soldiers in the armies of the kings from the north (here identified as the kings of Media [see also 50:3, 9; 51:27-28]). They have often been addressed in this prophecy as though they were a present force (see 50:14-16; 50:21 [and the study note there]; 50:26, 29; 51:3) though the passage as a whole is prophetic of the future. This gives some idea of the ideal stance that the prophets adopted when they spoke of the future as though already past (the use of the Hebrew prophetic perfect which has been referred to often in the translator’s notes).

13 tn The meaning of this word is debated. The most thorough discussion of this word including etymology and usage in the OT and Qumran is in HALOT 1409-10 s.v. שֶׁלֶט, where the rendering “quiver” is accepted for all the uses of this word in the OT. For a more readily accessible discussion for English readers see W. L. Holladay, Jeremiah (Hermeneia), 2:422-23. The meaning “quiver” fits better with the verb “fill” than the meaning “shield” which is adopted in BDB 1020 s.v. שֶׁלֶט. “Quiver” is the meaning adopted also in NRSV, REB, NAB, and NJPS.

14 tn Heb “The Lord has stirred up the spirit of…” The verb is rendered here as a prophetic perfect. The rendering “arouse a spirit of hostility” is an attempt to render some meaning to the phrase and not simply ignore the word “spirit” as many of the modern English versions do. For a fuller discussion including cross references see the translator’s note on v. 1.

15 sn Media was a country in what is now northwestern Iran. At the time this prophecy was probably written they were the dominating force in the northern region, the most likely enemy to Babylon. By the time Babylon fell in 538 b.c. the Medes had been conquered and incorporated in the Persian empire by Cyrus. However, several times in the Bible this entity is known under the combined entity of Media and Persia (Esth 1:3, 4, 18, 19; 10:2; Dan 5:28; 6:8, 12, 15; 8:20). Dan 5:31 credits the capture of Babylon to Darius the Mede, which may have been another name for Cyrus or the name by which Daniel refers to a Median general named Gobryas.

16 tn Heb “For it is the vengeance of the Lord, vengeance for his temple.” As in the parallel passage in 50:28, the genitival construction has been expanded in the translation to clarify for the English reader what the commentaries in general agree is involved.

sn Verse 11c-f appears to be a parenthetical or editorial comment by Jeremiah to give some background for the attack which is summoned in vv. 11-12.

17 tn Heb “Raise a banner against the walls of Babylon.”

18 tn Heb “Strengthen the watch.”

19 tn Heb “Station the guards.”

20 tn Heb “Prepare ambushes.”

sn The commands are here addressed to the kings of the Medes to fully blockade the city by posting watchmen and setting men in ambush to prevent people from escaping from the city (cf. 2 Kgs 25:4).

21 tn Heb “For the Lord has both planned and done what he said concerning the people living in Babylon,” i.e., “he has carried out what he planned.” Here is an obvious case where the perfects are to be interpreted as prophetic; the commands imply that the attack is still future.

22 sn Babylon was situated on the Euphrates River and was surrounded by canals (also called “rivers”).

23 tn Heb “You who live upon [or beside] many waters, rich in treasures, your end has come, the cubit of your cutting off.” The sentence has been restructured and paraphrased to provide clarity for the average reader. The meaning of the last phrase is debated. For a discussion of the two options see W. L. Holladay, Jeremiah (Hermeneia), 2:423. Most modern commentaries and English versions see an allusion to the figure in Isa 38:12 where the reference is to the end of life compared to a tapestry which is suddenly cut off from the loom. Hence, NRSV renders the last line as “the thread of your life is cut” and TEV renders “its thread of life is cut.” That idea is accepted also in HALOT 141 s.v. בצע Qal.1.

24 tn Heb “Yahweh of armies.” For an explanation of this rendering see the study note on 2:19.

25 tn Heb “has sworn by himself.” See the study note on 22:5 for background.

26 tn Heb “I will fill you with men like locusts.” The “you” refers to Babylon (Babylon is both the city and the land it ruled, Babylonia) which has been alluded to in the preceding verses under descriptive titles. The words “your land” have been used because of the way the preceding verse has been rendered, alluding to people rather than to the land or city. The allusion of “men” is, of course, to enemy soldiers and they are here compared to locusts both for their quantity and their destructiveness (see Joel 1:4). For the use of the particles כִּי אִם (kiim) to introduce an oath see BDB 475 s.v. כִּי אִם 2.c and compare usage in 2 Kgs 5:20; one would normally expect אִם לֹא (cf. BDB 50 s.v. אִם 1.b[2]).

27 tn The participle here is intended to be connected with “Lord who rules over all” in the preceding verse. The passage is functioning to underline the Lord’s power to carry out what he has sworn in contrast to the impotence of their idols who will be put to shame and be dismayed (50:2).

28 tn Heb “For he is the former of all [things] and the tribe of his inheritance.” This is the major exception to the verbatim repetition of 10:12-16 in 51:15-19. The word “Israel” appears before “the tribe of his inheritance” in 10:16. It is also found in a number of Hebrew mss, in the Lucianic recension of the LXX (the Greek version), the Aramaic Targums, and the Latin Vulgate. Most English versions and many commentaries assume it here. However, it is easier to explain why the word is added in a few of the versions and some Hebrew than to explain why it was left out. It is probable that the word is not original here because the addressees are different and the function of this hymnic piece is slightly different (see the study note on the next line for details). Here it makes good sense to understand that the Lord is being called the creator of the special tribe of people he claims as his own property (see the study note on the first line of 10:16).

29 sn With the major exception discussed in the translator’s note on the preceding line vv. 15-19 are a verbatim repetition of 10:12-16 with a few minor variations in spelling. There the passage was at the end of a section in which the Lord was addressing the Judeans and trying to convince them that the worship of idols was vain – the idols were impotent but he is all powerful. Here the passage follows a solemn oath by the Lord who rules over all and is apparently directed to the Babylonians, emphasizing the power of the Lord to carry out his oath.

30 tn Or “Media.” The referent is not identified in the text; the text merely says “you are my war club.” Commentators in general identify the referent as Babylon because Babylon has been referred to as a hammer in 50:23 and Babylon is referred to in v. 25 as a “destroying mountain” (compare v. 20d). However, S. R. Driver, Jeremiah, 317, n. c maintains that v. 24 speaks against this. It does seem a little inconsistent to render the vav consecutive perfect at the beginning of v. 24 as future while rendering those in vv. 20b-23 as customary past. However, change in person from second masculine singular (vv. 20b-23) to the second masculine plural in “before your very eyes” and its position at the end of the verse after “which they did in Zion” argue that a change in address occurs there. Driver has to ignore the change in person and take “before your eyes” with the verb “repay” at the beginning to maintain the kind of consistency he seeks. The vav (ו) consecutive imperfect can be used for either the customary past (GKC 335-36 §112.dd with cross reference back to GKC 331-32 §112.e) or the future (GKC 334 §112.x). Hence the present translation has followed the majority of commentaries (and English versions like TEV, NCV, CEV, NIrV) in understanding the referent as Babylon and v. 24 being a transition to vv. 25-26 (cf., e.g., J. Bright, Jeremiah [AB], 356-57, and J. A. Thompson, Jeremiah [NICOT], 756-57). If the referent is understood as Media then the verbs in vv. 20-23 should all be translated as futures. See also the translator’s note on v. 24.

31 tn This Hebrew word (מַפֵּץ, mappets) only occurs here in the Hebrew Bible, but its meaning is assured from the use of the verbs that follow which are from the same root (נָפַץ, nafats) and there is a cognate noun מַפָּץ (mappats) that occurs in Ezek 9:2 in the sense of weapon of “smashing.”

32 tn Heb “I smash nations with you.” This same structure is repeated throughout the series in vv. 20c-23.

33 tn Heb “horse and its rider.” However, the terms are meant as generic or collective singulars (cf. GKC 395 §123.b) and are thus translated by the plural. The same thing is true of all the terms in vv. 21-23b. The terms in vv. 20c-d, 23c are plural.

34 tn These two words are Akkadian loan words into Hebrew which often occur in this pairing (cf. Ezek 23:6, 12, 23; Jer 51:23, 28, 57). BDB 688 s.v. סָגָן (sagan) gives “prefect, ruler” as the basic definition for the second term but neither works very well in a modern translation because “prefect” would be unknown to most readers and “ruler” would suggest someone along the lines of a king, which these officials were not. The present translation has chosen “leaders” by default, assuming there is no other term that would be any more appropriate in light of the defects noted in “prefect” and “ruler.”

35 tn Or “Media, you are my war club…I will use you to smash…leaders. So before your very eyes I will repay…for all the wicked things they did in Zion.” For explanation see the translator’s note on v. 20. The position of the phrase “before your eyes” at the end of the verse after “which they did in Zion” and the change in person from second masculine singular in vv. 20b-23 (“I used you to smite”) to second masculine plural in “before your eyes” argue that a change in referent/addressee occurs in this verse. To maintain that the referent in vv. 20-23 is Media/Cyrus requires that this position and change in person be ignored; “before your eyes” then is attached to “I will repay.” The present translation follows J. A. Thompson (Jeremiah [NICOT], 757) and F. B. Huey (Jeremiah, Lamentations [NAC], 423) in seeing the referent as the Judeans who had witnessed the destruction of Zion/Jerusalem. The word “Judean” has been supplied for the sake of identifying the referent for the modern reader.

36 tn Heb “Oracle of the Lord.”

37 tn Heb “Oracle of the Lord.”

38 tn The word “Babylon” is not in the text but is universally understood as the referent. It is supplied in the translation here to clarify the referent for the sake of the average reader.

39 tn Heb “I will reach out my hand against you.” See the translator’s note on 6:12 for explanation.

40 tn Heb “I am against you, oh destroying mountain that destroys all the earth. I will reach out my hand against you and roll you down from the cliffs and make you a mountain of burning.” The interpretation adopted here follows the lines suggested by S. R. Driver, Jeremiah, 318, n. c and reflected also in BDB 977 s.v. שְׂרֵפָה. Babylon is addressed as a destructive mountain because it is being compared to a volcano. The Lord, however, will make it a “burned-out mountain,” i.e., an extinct volcano which is barren and desolate. This interpretation seems to this translator to fit the details of the text more consistently than alternative ones which separate the concept of “destroying/destructive” from “mountain” and explain the figure of the mountain to refer to the dominating political position of Babylon and the reference to a “mountain of burning” to be a “burned [or burned over] mountain.” The use of similes in place of metaphors makes it easier for the modern reader to understand the figures and also more easily incorporates the dissonant figure of “rolling you down from the cliffs” which involves the figure of personification.

sn The figure here involves comparing Babylon to a destructive volcano which the Lord makes burned-out, i.e., he will destroy her power to destroy. The figure of personification is also involved because the Lord is said to roll her off the cliffs; that would not be applicable to a mountain.



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