“Though you rejoice, though you exult,
O plunderers of my heritage,
though you frolic like a heifer in the pasture,
and neigh like stallions,
your mother shall be utterly shamed,
and she who bore you shall be disgraced.
Behold, she shall be the last of the nations,
a wilderness, a dry land, and a desert.
Because of the wrath of the Lord she shall not be inhabited
but shall be an utter desolation;
everyone who passes by Babylon shall be appalled,
and hiss because of all her wounds.
Set yourselves in array against Babylon all around,
all you who bend the bow;
shoot at her, spare no arrows,
for she has sinned against the Lord.
Raise a shout against her all around;
she has surrendered;
her bulwarks have fallen;
her walls are thrown down.
For this is the vengeance of the Lord:
take vengeance on her;
do to her as she has done.
Cut off from Babylon the sower,
and the one who handles the sickle in time of harvest;
because of the sword of the oppressor,
every one shall turn to his own people,
and every one shall flee to his own land.
“Israel is a hunted sheep driven away by lions. First the king of Assyria devoured him, and now at last Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has gnawed his bones. Therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing punishment on the king of Babylon and his land, as I punished the king of Assyria. I will restore Israel to his pasture, and he shall feed on Carmel and in Bashan, and his desire shall be satisfied on the hills of Ephraim and in Gilead. In those days and in that time, declares the Lord, iniquity shall be sought in Israel, and there shall be none, and sin in Judah, and none shall be found, for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant.” – Jeremiah 50:11-20 ESV
What an incredible juxtaposition is found in these verses: The mighty nation of Babylon and its reputation for world domination and the lowly nation of Judah, defeated, demoralized and destined to live out its pitiful existence in captivity. But these verses also remind us of something very important: the unmistakable role of God in human affairs. He is the one who is ultimately in charge of all things. This planet was His creation, and human beings were the apex of that creation. He had and still has a plan for the world and all it contains, including mankind. He is not some distant deity who wound up the clock of creation and is now standing back in disinterest as the final hours of human existence wind down to some kind of cataclysmic end. No, with these oracles, God is making it quite clear that everything is in His hands, including the fate of mankind. There is not detail that escapes His notice. There is no outcome He has not already foreordained or foreknown. There are no surprises to God. Nothing catches Him off guard or unawares. He is not shocked. He never has to ask, “How did that happen?”
And as God proclaims His future plans for the nations, He does so, looking far into the distance, far beyond the rule and reign of King Nebuchadnezzar and the current generation of God’s people living in captivity. His frame of reference encompasses all time, allowing Him to see and reveal what He has planned all the way up to the end, at the very brink of eternity. The statements found in these verses have the now/not yet aspect common to much of biblical prophecy. They will be partially fulfilled in the not-too-distant future. Babylon will fall to the Persians. The people of Judah will return to the land. But God is also speaking about events that have not yet happened. But they will. And they reveal that God, while actively involved in the here-and-now, has His attention focused on what is to come. He knows how the story ends. Everything is building to the divine crescendo He has planned for His creation. The days of our lives are acts within a much larger play. They are not the play itself. The fall of Judah was significant and necessary, but it was not the end of the story. It was simply yet another scene in the divine drama of God’s redemption of mankind and His creation. The Babylonians had played their part, and interestingly enough, they will return to the stage later in the drama. But in the days of Jeremiah, the nation of Babylon had rejoiced and celebrated over their defeat of Judah.
“You rejoice and are glad,
you who plundered my chosen people.
You frisk about like a calf in a meadow
and neigh like a stallion.” – Jeremiah 50:11 NLT
They had thoroughly enjoyed their run of good luck and world dominance. But God had plans for them.
“But your homeland will be overwhelmed
with shame and disgrace.
You will become the least of nations—
a wilderness, a dry and desolate land.” – Jeremiah 50:12 NLT
Why was God going to bring this disaster on the land of Babylon? He tells us just a few verses later.
“For she has sinned against the Lord.” – Jeremiah 50:14 NLT
Like every other nation on earth, they were enemies of God, living in open rebellion to Him, resisting His will and failing to recognize Him as God. The apostle Paul describes their problem in very blunt terms.
But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:18-23 NLT
The Babylonians were worthy of God’s wrath long before they attacked the people of Judah. They, like every other people group on the planet, were in a long-standing feud with God over who was in charge and who would rule and reign over the earth. And the name, “Babylon” will remain a symbol of man’s rebellion against God throughout the ages. Mighty Babylon will show up again in the end times, as a representation of man’s ongoing and last-ditch attempt to overthrow God. The land of Babylon has a long-standing and less-than-ideal relationship with God. It was there that man first attempted to resist the will of God in a corporate or communal fashion.
At one time all the people of the world spoke the same language and used the same words. As the people migrated to the east, they found a plain in the land of Babylonia and settled there.
They began saying to each other, “Let’s make bricks and harden them with fire.” (In this region bricks were used instead of stone, and tar was used for mortar.) Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.” – Genesis 11:1-4 NLT
When Noah and his sons had stepped out of the ark, after God had brought the great flood upon the earth, God had told them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1 NLT). But then we see the descendants of Noah deciding to disobey God’s command and settle down in the land of Babylon. Not only that, they determine to build a great city and a tower that will reach to the sky. Their desire is for fame. They want to be in control. They don’t want to do things God’s way. And so, God stepped in.
But the Lord came down to look at the city and the tower the people were building. “Look!” he said. “The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them! Come, let’s go down and confuse the people with different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other.”
In that way, the Lord scattered them all over the world, and they stopped building the city. That is why the city was called Babel, because that is where the Lord confused the people with different languages. In this way he scattered them all over the world. – Genesis 11:5-9 NLT
Obviously, later generations of mankind made their way back to Babylon. And it would become a lasting symbol of man’s rebellion and pride. And the day is coming when the once-mighty Babylon will be rebuilt. Once again, man will attempt to do what God has forbidden, and God will be forced to destroy that city yet again. That is what this oracle really deals with.
But as for Judah, their fate will be radically different. They will be restored by God. And it doesn’t take a theologian to understand that this prophecy concerning Judah has yet to be fulfilled. Just look closely at what God says:
“And I will bring Israel home again to its own land,
to feed in the fields of Carmel and Bashan,
and to be satisfied once more
in the hill country of Ephraim and Gilead.
In those days,” says the Lord,
“no sin will be found in Israel or in Judah,
for I will forgive the remnant I preserve.” – Jeremiah 50:19-20 NLT
No sin will be found in Israel or in Judah. This is obviously speaking of a future time. It has not yet happened. But it will happen. It is all part of God’s perfect plan for His creation and for mankind. God is not done yet. His will shall be accomplished and the desire of the people of Israel shall be satisfied. They will be restored to the land and to a right relationship with God Almighty, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God will remove their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh. They will sin no more. They will no longer have a desire to rebel against God. They will find His laws appealing and not oppressive. They will worship Him gladly. And it is all due to the sovereign will of God. He has a plan. He has a outcome in mind. And it will happen just as He has planned.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.