54 “The sound of a cry comes from Babylon,
the sound of great destruction
from the land of the Babylonians.
55 The Lord will destroy Babylon;
he will silence her noisy din.
Waves of enemies will rage like great waters;
the roar of their voices will resound.
56 A destroyer will come against Babylon;
her warriors will be captured,
and their bows will be broken.
For the Lord is a God of retribution;
he will repay in full.
57 I will make her officials and wise men drunk,
her governors, officers and warriors as well;
they will sleep forever and not awake,”
declares the King, whose name is the Lord Almighty.
58 This is what the Lord Almighty says:
“Babylon’s thick wall will be leveled
and her high gates set on fire;
the peoples exhaust themselves for nothing,
the nations’ labor is only fuel for the flames.”
(Jeremiah 51:54-58 NIV)
As we continue in chapter 51, the Lord proceeds with the dual themes of Babylon’s defeat and the redemption of His people. Today’s text concludes this section of the Lord’s response to His people complaining about their harsh treatment under the Babylonians.
Verses 54 – 55 are an audio prelude to the visual word-picture the Lord paints for us. We first hear the Babylonians’ cries for help as the enemy approaches. Next are the sounds of destruction, followed by silence (v. 54). Finally, we listen to the roar of the enemy’s assault all around us in the distance – the sound of war (v. 55). The roar of the enemy is not singular – it continually comes in waves, like the ocean (see also 51:42).
Verse 56 provides the visual imagery to go with the audio of verses 54 – 55. This verse is a summary of what the Lord had already spoken in detail (see 50:11-16). And what is the reason for Babylon’s destruction? The Lord is a God of retribution – He will repay Babylon in full for her wickedness and harsh treatment of His people.
In verse 57, the Lord repeats the word picture from 51:39. In verse 39, the people were drunk, went to sleep, and did not awake (they died). In verse 57, the government officials, wise men, governors, officers, and warriors were the ones that got drunk, went to sleep, and never awakened (they slept the sleep of death).
The drunkenness mentioned in verses 39 and 57 was from drinking from the cup of God’s wrath which the Lord had forced each nation (including Judah) to drink from. Remember how the Lord told Jeremiah to require each nation to take a drink (see 25:15-29)? The outcome of Babylon taking a drink from the Lord’s cup of wrath is captured in verses 39 and 57.
Verse 58 lists the final results of Babylon’s destruction: her massive walls are leveled, and her gates are burned with fire. Her seemingly impregnable defenses have been removed – the city is no longer a safe haven for its occupants.
The second part of verse 58 is a familiar phrase also appearing in Habakkuk 2:13 – all the years of hard labor by the Babylonian people and their slaves were merely fuel for the Lord’s fire of judgment against Babylon.
The Apostle Paul also used a building analogy for the Corinthian church. Paul told the Corinthians that he had laid the foundation of Jesus Christ, and it was up to them to build carefully on that foundation. Paul warned the Corinthians that whatever they made would be tested by fire. Any wood, hay, or straw used in the construction would be burned up, and nothing would remain (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
So what are you and I building? Will our efforts for the Lord go up in smoke, or will they stand the fiery test of God’s righteousness? Remember that our motives (the “why” we do what we do) are equally important to what we do. If we do good things but for the wrong reasons (for our glory, and not for God’s), then those good things will burn and be for naught. The praise of others is a poor second to the blessings of the Lord.
May Habakkuk’s words in verse 14 become our purpose, or “why” we do what we do:
13 Has not the Lord Almighty determined
that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire,
that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?
14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
(Habakkuk 2:13-14 NIV, emphasis mine)
May God’s glory be as pervasive and all-encompassing in our hearts today as the waters in the sea.