Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
JEREMIAH CHAPTER 51
The previous long chapter about the destruction of Babylon is now followed by an even lengthier chapter continuing with the same theme.
V 1: "Behold I will raise up against Babylon and against those that dwell in Lev-qamay, a destroying wind." The commentators point out that LEV-QAMAY, which literally means "the heart of those that rise against Me", is made up of the letters corresponding to KASDIM (=Chaldeans) in the AT-BASH cipher (where TAV stands for ALEPH and SHIN for BEIT etc.)
V 5: "For Israel has not been widowed not Judah from his God." The coming destruction of Babylon is not a matter of chance. It is God's vengeance against her for destroying His Temple and exiling Judah . Thus the passage continues (v 10): "HaShem has brought forth our vindication."
V 11: "HaShem has raised up the spirit of the kings of Medea". Darius king of Medea conquered Babylon in 3389 (=371 B.C.E.). Jeremiah wrote down the present prophecy in the fourth year of Tzedekiah (see v 59), which was in the year 3327 (=433 B.C.E.). Thus Jeremiah prophesied the fall of Babylon at the hands of Medea 62 years before it occurred.
Vv 15-19 appear with very minor verbal differences in Jeremiah 10:12ff.
Vv 20ff: "You are My battering ram and weapons of war: with you I will smash (VENIPATZTI) the nations." In the words of Rashi (ad loc.): "Up until now I have preserved you to be a destroyer and to smash the peoples against whom I have decreed exile." The prophet emphasizes that Babylon 's power and glory were not due to her intrinsic greatness but were given to her by God purely in order to serve His ulterior purpose of punishing the nations. In vv 20-23 the word VENPATZTI, "I will smash," appears NINE TIMES.
Vv 34f: "Nevuchadrezzar king of Babylon has devoured me, he has crushed me." These are the words of Zion and Jerusalem . Although Judah had sinned and deserved God's punishment, Nebuchadnezzar's greed and cruelty were disproportionate, and God would justly punish him in order to avenge His people and His city. Cf. Psalms 137:8-9.
V 39: "When they are heated I will make feasts for them, and I will make them drunk." This is exactly what happened when Babylon fell in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar's grandson, Belshazzar, who made a great feast, became drunk, exhibited the captured vessels of the Holy Temple and was killed that very night, as described in Daniel ch 5.
V 45ff: "Go out from her midst, My people." During the period in which Jeremiah delivered the present prophecy, he was consistently urging the people of Judah to submit to Babylon and accept God's decree of exile. Yet at exactly the same time he was prophesying that 62 years later the Jews would leave Babylon .
V 56: "For HaShem is the God of recompense, He shall surely pay back." These words express the essential moral of the entire book of Jeremiah, most of which is made up of his warnings to Judah that God would punish them for their sins with destruction and exile. The inhabitants of Judea were in denial, but after all his warnings, Jeremiah was proved correct when events turned out exactly as he had prophesied and the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, killed or exiled its inhabitants and destroyed the Temple, as described in chapters 39ff. This was how God "paid back" Judah . Afterwards the turn of Babylon would come, because although she was merely an instrument in God's hand, she was far from being righteous and committed great evil in the way she carried out her mission, and God would "pay back" Babylon with her eventual destruction.
V 59: This verse implies that King Tzedekiah went in person to Babylon in the fourth year of his reign (seven years before the destruction of the Temple) in order to meet with Nebuchadnezzar, and this is the opinion of Midrash Seder Olam. However the opinion of Targum Yonasan is that Tzedekiah himself did not go to Babylon but sent Serayah as his emissary (see RaDaK). The purpose of the mission was to conciliate Babylon , yet at this very moment Jeremiah saw that Nebuchadnezzar would not be conciliated but would destroy Jerusalem , and that this very act would seal the fate of Babylon , which would be destroyed. Thus seven years before the destruction of the Temple Jeremiah instructed that the scroll of his prophecies of the coming destruction of Babylon should be tied to a heavy stone and cast into the River Euphrates as a sign that Babylon would eventually sink.
V 64: "Thus far the words of Jeremiah." This marks the end of the prophecies of Jeremiah: the remainder of the book is narrative.
The major part of this chapter (verses 1-27 and 31-34) appears almost word for word in the concluding section of the Book of Kings (II Kings ch 24 vv18-20 and ch 25 vv 1-21 & 25-30). The only differences of substance between the chapter here and the section in Kings are: (a) Kings 25:22-26 gives a brief account of the appointment of Gedaliah ben Ahikam and his assassination, which was described in detail in Jeremiah ch 40; (b) Our present chapter in Jeremiah vv 28-30 gives precise figures of the numbers of (male) members of the tribes of Judah who were exiled to Babylon in three successive waves of exile.
These three waves of exile were: (1) the exile of King Yechonyah (=Yeho-yachin), which took place "in the seventh year" after Nebuchadnezzar subdued his father, King Yeho-yakim - 3023 exiles (v 28); (2) "In Nebuchadnezzar's eighteenth year: this was the exile of Tzedekiah which took place with the destruction of the Temple - 832 exiles (v 29); (3) "In the twenty-third year of Nebuchadnezzar": Midrash Seder Olam (quoted by Rashi) explains that in this year Nebuchadnezzar conquered Tyre and swept away Judeans who had fled there and to the regions of Ammon and Moab - 745 exiles (see Rashi on vv 28-30).
This sober account of the destruction of Jerusalem, the plunder of the Temple vessels and the complete exile of all the surviving members of the tribe of Judah concludes the book of Jeremiah, showing the vindication of all of his prophesies about the coming calamity despite the fact that most of the people of his time refused to believe them and openly scoffed and persecuted him. Thus we see that the truth of prophecy does not depend on whether people accept it or not. "Many are the thoughts in the heart of a man, but it is the counsel of HaShem that will stand" (Proverbs 19:21).
Jeremiah prophesied calamity, but he also prophesied redemption and restoration. The fact that all his prophesies of calamity came about is our guarantee that those of restoration will also come about. His prophesy ends with the release of King Yeho-yachin from prison after the death of Nebuchadnezzar. King Yeho-yachin was given a position of honor in Babylon , and this in itself was a sign of hope. During his captivity Yeho-yachin repented, and although when he was a sinner he had been cursed that he would die childless, the decree was revoked and he had a child who fathered Zerubavel, who rebuilt the Holy Temple .
MAY HASHEM LET US WITNESS ALL OF JEREMIAH'S PROPHECIES OF REDEMPTION AND RESTORATION SPEEDILY IN OUR DAYS. AMEN.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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