34 “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has devoured us,
he has thrown us into confusion,
he has made us an empty jar.
Like a serpent he has swallowed us
and filled his stomach with our delicacies,
and then has spewed us out.
35 May the violence done to our flesh be on Babylon,”
say the inhabitants of Zion.
“May our blood be on those who live in Babylonia,”
36 Therefore this is what the Lord says:
“See, I will defend your cause
and avenge you;
I will dry up her sea
and make her springs dry.
37 Babylon will be a heap of ruins,
a haunt of jackals,
an object of horror and scorn,
a place where no one lives.
38 Her people all roar like young lions,
they growl like lion cubs.
39 But while they are aroused,
I will set out a feast for them
and make them drunk,
so that they shout with laughter—
then sleep forever and not awake,”
declares the Lord.
40 “I will bring them down
like lambs to the slaughter,
like rams and goats.
41 “How ” will be captured,
the boast of the whole earth seized!
How desolate Babylon will be
among the nations!
42 The sea will rise over Babylon;
its roaring waves will cover her.
43 Her towns will be desolate,
a dry and desert land,
a land where no one lives,
through which no one travels.
44 I will punish Bel in Babylon
and make him spew out what he has swallowed.
The nations will no longer stream to him.
And the wall of Babylon will fall.
(Jeremiah 51:34-44 NIV)
As we continue in chapter 51, the Lord proceeds with the dual themes of Babylon’s defeat and God’s people redeemed. Today’s text is God’s peoples’ complaint against Babylon, and the first part of the Lord’s response. The Lord’s reply continues on through verse 58; we will tackle the first section of the Lord’s response today.
In verses 34 – 35, God’s people complain bitterly about their captor Babylon. The complaint comes from both Israel (the combined nation) and Jerusalem (its capital city). The imagery used in verse 34 of a “serpent” is very similar to “sea monster” used to describe the creature that swallowed Jonah. For their pain, suffering, and loss at the hands of the Babylonians, God’s people call out for Divine retribution.
Verses 36 -58 are the Lord’s reply to His people’s pleas for help. As mentioned before, we will deal with verses 36 – 44 today.
In verses 36 – 37, the Lord vows to dry up the Babylonians’ water source, leaving the city dry, desolate, and deserted.
Verses 38 – 39 depict the ravenous appetite of Babylon as that of a roaring lion or a growling cub. The Lord will provide the feast, but the lions and cubs will get drunk, go to sleep, and never wake up.
Verse 40 shows how the Lord turns the tables against the Babylonians. For many years they have been the lions (v. 38), the predators of all the nations around them. Now, Babylon will become the sheep, the prey (v. 40).
Verse 41 uses the Atbash code for Babylon (“Sheshak”), as it was used in 25:26. The Lord again shows how the “boast of the whole earth” will be captured and become the horror of the nations. Babylon will experience the pain and fallen stature, just as they have inflicted this pain on other nations.
Verse 42 uses a symbolic description of Babylon’s captors taking over Babylon like the sea taking over dry land. The vastness of the sea (Babylon’s conquerors) cannot be stopped by anyone or anything. As a result, the Babylonian towns will become desolate and deserted.
Verse 44 takes note of Babylon’s chief god, Bel. Whatever Bel has swallowed (consumed), the Lord will force her to regurgitate as described in verse 34. Again, this is imagery and wording similar to the account of Jonah being swallowed by a “sea monster” and later vomited onto dry ground.
May we remember that the Lord heard the cries of His people when they were in Egypt and rescued them from their oppressors. Now the Lord hears the cries of His people again and chooses to rescue them and restore them to the Promised Land.
May we remember that nothing is too hard for the Lord. The Lord loves to come to our rescue when we call for His help.