Jeremiah 49 Commentary

A message concerning Ammon (49:1-6)

Like its brother nation Moab, Ammon was a distant relative of the nation Judah. (Ammon and Moab were descended from Lot; Judah was descended from Lot’s uncle, Abraham; cf. Gen 12:5; 19:36-38).

Ammon and Moab occupied part of the tableland region east of the Jordan River, which meant they were the immediate neighbours of Israel and Judah to the east.

About a century before the time of Jeremiah, Assyria had conquered the northern kingdom Israel and carried the people into captivity (2 Kings 15:29; 17:6). Ammon apparently then took the opportunity to seize the territory of Gad, one of Israel’s border tribes. But Ammon forgot that Israel was still God’s people. Jeremiah tells Ammon that it will be conquered and its capital, Rabbah, destroyed. Israel will then repossess its own territory (49:1-2). (Molech, or Milcom, was Ammon’s national god.)

Ammon was proud of the wealth it had built up and thought it was secure against attack. Jeremiah tells the Ammonites that economic prosperity will not save them when the enemy invades. They will be taken into captivity (3-5), though later a remnant will return to the homeland (6).

A message concerning Edom (49:7-22)

The Edomites, the descendants of Esau, prided themselves that they were cleverer than peoples of surrounding nations. They were confident that their country was safe against attack because its rugged mountains provided it with a good defence system. The prophet tells them that neither their wisdom nor their defences will save them from the destruction that God has determined for them (7-8).

A vineyard worker picks the grapes that are ripe but leaves the rest; a house burglar steals only what he wants and leaves the remaining goods in the house; but the enemy’s attack on Edom will aim at total destruction. Even those who hide in caves in the mountains will not escape (9-10). However, God will take care of all those who become orphans or widows as a result of the battle (11).

If people less deserving of God’s wrath must suffer his punishment, how much heavier will be the punishment of the wicked Edomites. God assures them that the prosperous towns in which they pride themselves will be left in ruins and become places of horror (12-13).

The Edomites think that the fortifications they have set up throughout their rocky hill country have made them secure against attack. They think they are unconquerable, but they deceive themselves.

Jeremiah warns them that no matter how high up the mountains they go, or how strong they make their defences, nothing will save them from the coming judgment (14-16).

Edom’s overthrow will be complete. Like the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah it will be left a desolation (17-18). As a lion comes from the jungle and destroys a flock of sheep, so will the enemy come and destroy Edom. No one will be able to withstand the army that God chooses to carry out his


judgment (19-20). The Edomite soldiers will be powerless against their attackers. Their wailing will be heard to the borders of their land and beyond (21-22).

A message concerning Damascus (49:23-27)

Damascus was the capital of the country that in ancient times was known as Aram and later became known as Syria. The city had been conquered by Assyria in 732 BC (2 Kings 16:9), but when Jeremiah began his ministry it was still occupied, having become a provincial centre within the Assyrian Empire. Jeremiah now foresees that it is about to suffer the horrors of war and defeat again, because Babylon is about to conquer Assyria.

This prophecy must have been given early in Jeremiah’s career, for his ministry began in 627 BC, and Babylon’s conquest of Assyria occurred only fifteen years later, in 612 BC. Jeremiah sees the Syrians filled with fear and a sense of helplessness as they hear that Babylon’s armies are approaching (23-24).

Again Damascus is to become the scene of slaughter and destruction, as the Babylonian army ruthlessly takes over the city (25-27).

A message concerning Kedar (49:28-33)

Even the wandering tribes of the desert will suffer from the Babylonian invasions. The particular tribe that Jeremiah mentions is Kedar, which occupied a region known as Hazor. The people of Kedar lived in tents, kept flocks of sheep, and were shrewd traders (Ps 120:5; Isa 60:7; Ezek 27:21). Jeremiah announces that their settlements will be wrecked, their animals will be taken, and they themselves will flee in terror (28-30).

At the same time the calamity is a judgment of God upon these desert tribes. Their practice was to raid towns that the Babylonians attacked, and then return to their desert settlements where they themselves were out of the path of the Babylonian forces. Now their safety will come to an end, and their plunder will be lost (31-33)

A message concerning Elam (49:34-39)

The message concerning the ancient kingdom of Elam came at the beginning of Zedekiah’s reign. At that time Zedekiah was trying to form an alliance with other nations west of Babylon, with the aim of resisting the spread of Babylon’s power (34; cf. 27:1-3,12).

Jeremiah’s message here shows that Zedekiah was wasting his time. Babylon’s power will spread so widely that even countries to its east, such as Elam, will be overthrown (35-38). But Elam’s overthrow will not be permanent (39). History records that Elam later became part of Persia, which in turn conquered Babylon (Ezra 1:2).

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