Jeremiah – Chapter 51

Until Here, Jeremiah Speaks of Babylon(ia)

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

G-d said that he would arouse the antagonism of Persia and Media against Babylonia and “Lev Kamai.” (“Lev Kamai” is “Kasdim” – Chaldea – in At-Bash, the cipher in which the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is exchanged with the last letter, the second with the next-to-last, etc. Why refer to Kasdim as “Lev Kamai?” Aside from the At-Bash, it means, “the heart of my enemies.”) G-d will send invaders to disperse the Babylonians and empty the land. G-d will send the archers and their armor will not protect them; they will fall in the streets.

Israel has not been forsaken by G-d; the Chaldeans will be held responsible for what they have done. Foreigners visiting Babylonia are encouraged to flee, rather than be caught up in her punishment. Babylonia is compared to a cup in G-d’s hand from which the nations of the world all drank. Now, G-d has dropped that cup and it shatters. Leave them and return to your own lands! G-d has recalled the merits of the Forefathers and the Jews have been redeemed, so they will praise him in Jerusalem.

Get the arrows ready because G-d is preparing Persia and Media against Babylonia, who destroyed His Temple. The conquerors will raise their flag over Babylon and position guards around the city, to fulfill that which G-d has decreed. The end has come for that wealthy nation, because of their acts of violence. G-d swears by Himself to bring swarms of enemy soldiers against them like locusts.

With His strength and His wisdom, G-d made the Heavens and the Earth. He made the water cycle, the lightning and the wind. People are foolish and insignificant creatures, who easily go astray from their Maker. They turn to idols and will perish for it. Israel worships G-d, Who created everything.

G-d says that Babylonia was his weapon, which was used to strike the nations of the world, but now they must be paid for their own evil deeds. G-d opposes Babylonia; He stretches out His hand to topple them. Signal the troops of the various nations against them! The Earth itself felt weak because of G-d’s plans for Babylonia. The mighty Babylonian warriors stopped fighting and sequestered themselves in fortresses. The messengers pass one another as they all come to tell the king of Babylon news of the city’s conquest. G-d says that Babylonia is like grain being threshed and it’s almost harvest time!

Israel laments how Nebuchadnezzar has crushed them and emptied out the land – now it will happen to his country! G-d says that He will take up Israel’s cause in this matter, emptying Babylonia of their riches, until the land has become a home for jackals, rather than people. G-d will make their festivals during hot weather; they will become drunk and fall asleep, never to awaken. (Rashi refers us to events in Daniel chapter 5 for the fulfillment of this prophecy, when Belshazzar drinks wine and is slain.) The Babylonians will be lambs to the slaughter; a huge army will overwhelm them, like the waves of the sea. G-d will destroy their idol Bel and release the nations that were taken in its name.

Israel should flee from Babylonia to avoid G-d’s wrath there. The land will be full of rumors and constantly-changing monarchs. The idols of Babylonia will fall and the land will be conquered by the Persians and Medes. What Babylonia did to Israel will be done to them. G-d tells the exiles from Israel to remember G-d and to focus on Jerusalem. They have been disgraced by what invaders did to the Temple, but G-d will enact justice on them and their idols. Even if Babylonia erects mighty fortresses that reach the sky, G-d will still send Darius and Cyrus to destroy them. A cry comes from Babylonia because of the destruction G-d brings upon them. The walls of Babylon will be toppled and their gates will be burned; the people will strive unsuccessfully to save themselves.

Jeremiah gave instructions to Seraya, brother of Baruch, when he was exiled with Tzidkiyahu. Jeremiah wrote down the prophecy of evil to befall Babylonia in one scroll and told Seraya to read it when he got to Babylonia. When he finished reading it, Seraya was to tie a stone to it and toss it in the Euphrates saying, “Babylonia will sink and not rise because of what G-d will do them.”

The chapter ends, “Until here are the words of Jeremiah,” but there’s still one chapter left in the Book! What are we to make of that? There are several explanations offered, but we’ll share just one, from the Radak: chapter 52 is strictly narrative. When it says that through chapter 51 are the words of Jeremiah, it means the prophetic words. After the conclusion of telling the fate of Babylonia, Jeremiah had no further prophecies.

Astute readers will note that in these synopses, we typically speak of “Babylonia,” but in this chapter we mention “Babylon” a few times. Babylonia was the name of the nation; Babylon was the capital city.

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