50 This is the word the Lord spoke through Jeremiah the prophet concerning Babylon and the land of the Babylonians:
2 “Announce and proclaim among the nations,
lift up a banner and proclaim it;
keep nothing back, but say,
‘Babylon will be captured;
Bel will be put to shame,
Marduk filled with terror.
Her images will be put to shame
and her idols filled with terror.’
3 A nation from the north will attack her
and lay waste her land.
No one will live in it;
both people and animals will flee away.
4 “In those days, at that time,”
declares the Lord,
“the people of Israel and the people of Judah together
will go in tears to seek the Lord their God.
5 They will ask the way to Zion
and turn their faces toward it.
They will come and bind themselves to the Lord
in an everlasting covenant
that will not be forgotten.
6 “My people have been lost sheep;
their shepherds have led them astray
and caused them to roam on the mountains.
They wandered over mountain and hill
and forgot their own resting place.
7 Whoever found them devoured them;
their enemies said, ‘We are not guilty,
for they sinned against the Lord, their verdant pasture,
the Lord, the hope of their ancestors.’
8 “Flee out of Babylon;
leave the land of the Babylonians,
and be like the goats that lead the flock.
9 For I will stir up and bring against Babylon
an alliance of great nations from the land of the north.
They will take up their positions against her,
and from the north she will be captured.
Their arrows will be like skilled warriors
who do not return empty-handed.
10 So Babylonia will be plundered;
all who plunder her will have their fill,”
declares the Lord.
(Jeremiah 50:1-10 NIV)
Today we turn the corner and begin looking at the Lord’s judgments against Babylon in chapters 50 – 51. We have spent three chapters (46 – 49) looking at God’s judgments against eight other nations (Egypt, the Philistines, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar, Elam). The judgments against Babylon are fitting, as these eight nations all fell under Babylonian rule at some point.
In today’s passage, we see two primary themes: 1) Babylon’s defeat and 2) Israel’s release. It’s important to note that some translations use the word “Chaldeans” in place of the word “Babylonians” in verse 1. These are synonymous terms.
Today’s text does not give the exact timing of this passage, but most scholars think this word of the Lord came to Jeremiah during King Zedekiah’s reign, which included the fall of Jerusalem.
A short history lesson is in order here. After quite a bit of digging, here is what I was able to piece together:
- Nebuchadnezzar came to power and built the Babylonian kingdom to the heights of its glory, including the conquer of Jerusalem and the exile of most of its people.
- The fall of Babylon came in 539 BC when Cyrus the Great came and conquered the city by diverting the Euphrates River around the city and marching in where the river had fed the moat. Cyrus and his Persian army captured Babylon without incident during one of the Babylonians’ religious holidays. Incidentally, Cyrus was the king who liberated God’s people from Babylon and the surrounding countries and encouraged them to return to the Promised Land.
- Around fifty years after Cyrus conquered Babylon, Xerxes came and destroyed a large part of Babylon to quell a rebellion.
- Alexander the Great captured Babylon in 331 BC.
- The city continued in gradual decline until 275 BC, when it was abandoned. The new capital was built in Seleucia, on the Tigris River.
Did all God’s prophecies come true? Yes. Did these events happen in rapid-fire succession? No. Did God change His mind? No, but He might have softened his judgment a bit after Nebuchadnezzar repented and turned to the Lord (Daniel Chapter 4).
In verse 2, the Babylonian idols Bel and Marduk are mentioned. God refers to these deities as “images” and “idols”. In other translations, these two terms are translated “idols” and “disgusting images”. One commentator notes that the term “disgusting images” has been made nice for church reading – the real translation is closer to “balls of excrement”, as in “road apples” or horse manure. This same commentator uses the words “crude” and “indelicate” to describe the Lord’s choice of words. We might not think God would say something like that, but it actually (in my opinion) points out God’s righteousness and holiness compared to these man-made deities.
Verse 3 talks about the Babylonian invader coming from the north, the same direction as the Babylonians came to conquer Judah and Jerusalem. Sound familiar?
Verses 4 – 5 prophecy that Israel and Judah will return to the Promised Land. Verse 4 begins with “In those days…”, often referring to the coming Messiah, and also to the Lord rescuing His people in the shorter term. Verses 6 – 7 call God’s people “sheep”, and point out that the “shepherds” (the religious rulers, kings, and the country’s leadership) have led their people astray. Even though that may be true, the Babylonians will still be held accountable for their part.
Verses 8 – 10 are a call to flee Babylon, as the land and the city will be defeated.
So what are our faith lessons here? One big lesson is that God uses all things, people, and situations for His glory. This truth includes using the Babylonians as agents to judge His people as well as subjecting them to His judgment for their harsh treatment of His people.
Did you wrestle with the Lord calling the Babylonian gods “balls of excrement”? Do we too often put God in a box and expect Him to be “nice” and fit our model of what we think Christian living should be like? Instead, do we see God as wild and untamed and holy, righteously comparing false gods to disgusting, stinky horse poop? This was not something that God muttered under His breath. He told Jeremiah to “Announce and proclaim among the nations, lift up a banner and proclaim it; keep nothing back…”
May we proclaim God’s whole truth throughout the world, even the “indelicate” parts.