Jeremiah 51: Oracle Against Babylon – Part II

stone sinking water rockHebrew-English Text

I. Summary

Yahweh promises to destroy the people, idols, and walls of Babylon. Jeremiah tells Seraiah to read the scroll in Babylon and sink it in the Euphrates river.

II. Photo

Jeremiah tells Seraiah to throw the scroll in the Euphrates as a harbinger of things to come: “And when you finish reading this scroll, tie a stone to it and hurl it into the Euphrates and say, ‘Thus shall Babylon sink and never rise again!'” (vv. 63-64)

III. Select Verses

8-9: Suddenly Babylon has fallen and is shattered; Howl over her! Get balm for her wounds: Perhaps she can be healed. We tried to cure Babylon But she was incurable. Let us leave her and go, Each to his own land; For her punishment reaches to heaven, It is as high as the sky.

20-23: You are My war club, [My] weapons of battle; With you I clubbed nations, With you I destroyed kingdoms; With you I clubbed horse and rider, With you I clubbed chariot and driver, With you I clubbed man and woman, With you I clubbed graybeard and boy, With you I clubbed youth and maiden; With you I clubbed shepherd and flock, With you I clubbed plowman and team, With you I clubbed governors and prefects.

30: The warriors of Babylon stop fighting, They sit in the strongholds, Their might is dried up, They become women. Her dwellings are set afire, Her bars are broken.

34-35: “Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon Devoured me and discomfited me; He swallowed me like a dragon, He filled his belly with my dainties, And set me down like an empty dish; Then he rinsed me out.  Let the violence done me and my kindred Be upon Babylon,” Says the inhabitant of Zion; “And let my blood be upon the inhabitants of Chaldea,” Says Jerusalem.

44: And I will deal with Bel in Babylon, And make him disgorge what he has swallowed, And nations shall no more gaze on him with joy. Even the wall of Babylon shall fall.

59-64: The instructions that the prophet Jeremiah gave to Seraiah son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, when the latter went with King Zedekiah of Judah to Babylonia, in the fourth year of [Zedekiah’s] reign. Seraiah was quartermaster. Jeremiah wrote down in one scroll all the disaster that would come upon Babylon, all these things that are written concerning Babylon. And Jeremiah said to Seraiah, “When you get to Babylon, see that you read out all these words. And say, ‘O LORD, You Yourself have declared concerning this place that it shall be cut off, without inhabitant, man or beast; that it shall be a desolation for all time.’ And when you finish reading this scroll, tie a stone to it and hurl it into the Euphrates. And say, ‘Thus shall Babylon sink and never rise again, because of the disaster that I will bring upon it. And [nations] shall have wearied themselves [for fire].’” Thus far the words of Jeremiah.

IV. Outline

1-58. Yahweh will destroy Babylon
    1-2. Destruction for Babylon
    3-4. Call to battle
    5. Guilt in Israel and Judah
    6. Call to flee Babylon
    7. Babylon made the nations drunk
    8-9. Babylon cannot be healed
    10. Call to praise
    11. Rationale for punishment: Babylon destroyed the temple in Jerusalem
    12. Call to battle
    13-14. Yahweh will bring Babylon's end
    15-16. Hymnic praise: creation and weather
    17-19. Men create idols, but Yahweh creates all things
    20-23. With Yahweh all enemies can be defeated
    24. Rationale for punishment: Babylon destroyed Zion
    25. Yahweh will destroy the mountain of death
    26. Babylon will never be rebuilt
    27-28. Battle call for the nations
    29. Babylon will be a waste
    30. Babylon's warriors will be defeated
    31-32. Messages of Babylon's defeat
    33. Babylon will be threshed like the grain of a threshing floor
    34-35. Rationale for violence: Babylon swallowed Yahweh in Zion
    36-43. Death and destruction for Babylon
    44. Bel [Marduk] will be dealt with; the walls of Babylon will fall
    45. Call for Israel to flee
    46. Rumors of violent monarchs
    47-48. Destruction for Babylon and its idols
    49. Babylon and the dead Israelites
    50. Call for Israel to flee Babylon
    51. Recounting Babylon's destruction of Jerusalem
    52. Destruction for Babylon's idols
    53. Nations sent by Yahweh against Babylon
    54-56. An outcry of Yahweh and his destruction 
    57. Death for the leaders of Babylon
    58. Babylon's walls will fall
59-62. Jeremiah tells Seraiah to read the scroll of Babylon's destruction in Babylon itself
63-64. Symbolic act: Jeremiah tells Seraiah to sink the scroll in the Euphrates with a stone

V. Comment

There are two enigmatic words in this chapter that may be explained by a scribal practice that is generally known from the post-biblical period, namely Atbash (אתב״ש). Atbash, which stands for aleph-tav, bet-shin, is the writing of words with their reciprocal letter according to the standard order of the Hebrew alphabet. Hence, an aleph is written as a tav, a bet as a shin, a gimel as a resh, and so on. It is a kind of secret code, though it is easy to decipher once one knows the pattern. In the opening verse of this chapter Yahweh says:

See, I am rousing a destructive wind Against Babylon and the inhabitants of Leb-kamai.

“Leb-kamai” (לב קמי) is only mentioned here in the Bible and, according to Atbash, means “Babylonians” (כשדים). Hence, Yahweh will kill the inhabitants of Babylon. Similarly, in verse 41 Yahweh proclaims:

How has Sheshach been captured, The praise of the whole earth been taken! How has Babylon become A horror to the nations!

“Sheshach” (ששך) only appears here and in Jeremiah 25:26. According to Atbash it means “Babylon” (בבל). While there may be other explanations for Leb-kamai and Sheshach, the most plausible is that the original authors or later scribes were employing the scribal code of Atbash.

VI. Works Used

(see “Commentaries” page)

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