Jeremiah 51 Commentary

The overthrow of Babylon (51:1-33)

When a farmer, after reaping his harvest, winnows the wheat, he throws it into the air so that as the wind blows away the chaff, he can gather the grain for himself. Similarly, when God ‘winnows’ Babylon he will make a separation between the Babylonians and his own people. He will ‘blow away’ the former in judgment, but will preserve the latter for himself (51:1-5).

God had used Babylon to punish other nations, but now Babylon itself will suffer God’s wrath. It will be like a drunken man who falls and cannot rise, like a wounded man who cannot be healed. Meanwhile the nations that Babylon afflicted will be freed from their bondage and able to return to their homelands (6-9). God makes sure that in the end justice is done (10).

Jeremiah then pictures the army of Medes and Persians preparing for the final attack on Babylon. He warns the people of Babylon that their end is drawing near and soon enemy soldiers will swarm into their city (11-14). All Babylon’s gods will be powerless to save. Such gods are lifeless, worthless and useless. There is only one true God, and that God is he who made and controls the universe (15-18). This same God has chosen the Israelite nation, the descendants of Jacob, to be his people (19). He is the God who controls history, and therefore he may use any nation to punish another, according to his purposes (20- 23).

Babylon will be punished because of the way it has treated Judah (24). It appears to be as strong and unconquerable as a mountain, but God will smash it to pieces and leave it a barren waste (25-26). Again the prophet pictures the scene as nations join forces to fight against Babylon (27-29). Confusion is widespread as the attackers overrun Babylon’s strongholds, and messengers carry news to the king that his army is suffering heavy losses. It is being crushed like grain trampled on the threshing floor (30-33).

Response to Babylon’s overthrow (51:34-58)

Jeremiah recalls the desperate prayers of the people of Judah who often complained to God about Babylon’s unrestrained greed and cruelty. They cried to God that he would hold Babylon responsible for the violence they suffered, and now God is about to answer their prayers (34-35).

God will defend the cause of his people and punish Babylon by destroying it. The nation will be conquered and the city will be left a heap of ruins (36-37). The Babylonians, who like lions had attacked and killed the sheep, will now themselves be slaughtered like sheep (38-40). The proud and mighty city (also known as Sheshach), along with its god Bel, will be defeated and disgraced. Enemy soldiers will pour into the city like an overflowing sea, and Babylon’s power over captive nations will at last be broken (41-44).

The prophet gives a warning to the captive Jews in Babylon not to be hesitant or doubting because of the conflicting rumours they hear. They must be ready to flee at the first opportunity (45-46). Babylon is to fall because of its many sins, and in particular its sins against God’s people. The arrogant ruler will be disgraced, and nations everywhere will rejoice (47-49).

In view of what is about to happen, the Judean exiles must cease their monotonous complaint that they have been shamed and God’s temple dishonoured by Babylon’s armies. The time has come for them to start thinking seriously about returning to Jerusalem, for Babylon’s end is fast approaching (50-53).


Yahweh, the God of Israel, is the one who has determined Babylon’s destruction. He is the Lord Almighty, the only divine King. His work of judgment will bring destruction to the city and death to all the nation’s mighty men (54-57). Babylon’s huge walls will not withstand the attackers that God sends against his enemy (58).

Jeremiah’s message sent to Babylon (51:59-64)

When Jeremiah finished writing down his announcement of Babylon’s downfall, he sent it with Seraiah to be read to the exiles in Babylon. (Seraiah was the brother of Baruch and probably a court official; cf. v. 59 with 32:12.) On this occasion, Seraiah went with Zedekiah on a visit the king made to Babylon in the fourth year of his reign (59-62).

After reading the scroll to the exiles, Seraiah was to tie a stone to it and throw it into the Euphrates, the river on which Babylon was built. This was to symbolize that Babylon would sink, never to rise again (63-64).

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