Jeremiah 46-51 are oracles against foreign nations. An oracle is a particular kind of prophecy – it is a statement of divine warfare usually denouncing a foreign nation (as with these chapters).
Jeremiah’s oracles are against Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus (Syria), Kedar and Hazor, Elam, and Babylon. This order makes much sense given the narrative we just read spoke of the judgment of Egypt and that the judgment of Babylon is to be 70 years later.
The title of this section of the book is: “The word of YHWH that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the nations” (Jeremiah 46:1).
The subtitle for Egypt: “About Egypt.”
And the first part is: “Concerning the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates at Carchemish and which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah:” (Jeremiah 46:2).
The second part concerns “the word that YHWH spoke to Jeremiah the prophet about the coming of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to strike the land of Egypt” (Jeremiah 46:13).
This structure emphasizes that just as Jeremiah correctly prophesied the defeat of Pharaoh Neco at Carchemish so he has correctly prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would come and strike the land of Egypt itself. Recall that a large group had gone back to Egypt where they thought that they would be safe and had forcibly taken Jeremiah and Baruch there.
The other prose section of the chapter is Jeremiah 46:25-26 where it says, “YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, said, ‘Behold, I am bringing punishment upon Amon of Thebes, and Pharaoh and Egypt and her gods and her kings, upon Pharaoh and those who trust in him [Pharaoh is like a god whom people believe in]. I will deliver them into the hand of those who seek their life, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and his officers. Afterward Egypt shall be inhabited as in the days of old, declares YHWH.”
This is followed by two “fear not” declarations: “But fear not, O Jacob my servant, nor be dismayed, O Israel, for behold, I will save you from far away, and your offspring from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and none shall make him afraid.” “Fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares YHWH, for I am with you. I will make a full end of all the nations to which I have driven you, but of you I will not make a full end. I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished” (Jer 46:27-28).
Now back to some of the content – observe how it is a declaration of war against Egypt and a call to arms for the host of YHWH.
“Prepare buckler and shield, And advance for battle! Harness the horses; Mount, O horsemen! Take your stations with your helmets, Polish your spears, Put on your armor!” (Jeremiah 46:3-4).
“That day is the day of the Lord YHWH of hosts, A day of vengeance, To avenge Himself on His foes. The sword shall devour and be sated And drink its fill of their blood. For YHWH God of hosts holds a sacrifice In the north country by the river Euphrates” (Jer 46:10).
Note that the vision of this judgment of Egypt is described like the final Judgment Day – and their slaughter is described in worship terms (sacrifice).
The content of the second part consists more of telling the people to get ready to go into exile.
The oracle even appeals to Egypt’s identification with the snake: “She makes a sound like a serpent gliding away; For her enemies march in force And come against her with axes Like those who fell trees” (Jer 46:22). And the host of YHWH that will accomplish this is described in plague terms: “They shall cut down her forest, declares YHWH, Though it is impenetrable, Because they are more numerous than locusts; They are without number” (Jer 46:23).
Remember that the really radical thing to the people of Israel is that the host of YHWH is not Israel but a foreign nation (Babylon). Israel was to be numbered like the stars and sand.
The subtitle for the next oracle is “The word of YHWH that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the Philistines, before Pharaoh struck down Gaza” (Jer 47:1).
This time the troops from the north are not a biting fly coming for a beautiful heifer (Jer 46:20) but instead described as flood waters. The poetic oracles use imagery appropriate for the nation in question. Egyptians worship a god that looks like a cow, the Philistines live along the Mediterranean coast.
Again it is described as a judgment day: “Because of the day that is coming to destroy all the Philistines, To cut off from Tyre and Sidon every helper that remains” (Jer 47:4a).
The next oracle has a simple subtitle: “Concerning Moab” (Jer 48:1).
The poem is introduced with the longer title for God that is a common one in Jeremiah: “Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel.” This long title for God is also used in Jer 7:3, 7:21, 9:15, 16:9, 19:3, 19:15, 25:27, 27:4, 27:21, 28:2, 28:14, 29:4, 29:8, 29:21, 29:25, 31:23, 32:14, 32:15, 35:13, 35:18, 35:19, 39:16, 42:15, 42:18, 43:10, 44:2, 44:11, 44:25, 46:25, 50:18, 51:33.
This oracle begins with a “Woe” (Jer 48:1) and has a curse: “Cursed is he who does the work of YHWH with slackness, and cursed is he who keeps back his sword from bloodshed” (Jer 48:10).
It has a few prose sections including one that says “the days are coming” (Jer 48:12).
This oracle is much longer than the previous one and even includes a concluding formulaic statement: “Thus far is the judgment on Moab” (Jer 48:47b).
The oracle is not simply against the people of Moab but her god (named Chemosh). “Chemosh shall go into exile with his priests and his officials” (Jer 48:7). “Then Moab shall be ashamed of Chemosh, as the house of Israel was ashamed of Bethel, their confidence” (Jer 48:13). “I will bring to an end in Moab, declares YHWH, him who offers sacrifice in the high place and makes offerings to his god” (Jer 48:35). The oracle ends in an interesting way, even before the formulaic conclusion, with a woe and then a statement of restoration from exile. Note that the people of Moab are called the people of Chemosh.
“Woe to you, O Moab! The people of Chemosh are undone, For your sons have been taken captive, And your daughters into captivity. Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab In the latter days, declares YHWH” (Jer 48:46-47a).
The next oracle begins in a similar way: “Concerning the Ammonites” (Jer 49:1a).
The god of the Ammonites was named Milcolm. And so the next oracle calls the Ammonites the people of Milcolm (cf. Jer 49:1).
The oracle also says, “the days are coming” (Jer 49:2).
It also says, “Milcolm shall go into exile, with his priests and his officials” (Jer 49:3c).
And the oracle ends in a similar way: “But afterward I will restore the fortunes of the Ammonites, declares YHWH” (Jer 49:6). Again, “restore the fortunes” is return from exile language.
Note the absence of the foreign god with their restoration (i.e. Jeremiah never says that Chemosh or Milcolm would return from exile).
The oracle against Edom begins just like that for Moab: “Concerning Edom” (Jeremiah 49:7).
Jeremiah describes how YHWH summons the nations to war against Edom saying, “I have heard a message from YHWH, And an envoy has been sent among the nations: ‘Gather yourselves together and come against her, And rise up for battle!’” (Jer 49:14). Edom will become like Sodom and Gomorrah.
The next oracle is “Concerning Damascus” (Jer 46:23). Damascus is the name of the capital city of Syria, this is the only oracle in this section directed simply at one city instead of at a nation. This one is very brief as are the next two oracles.
It also uses the phrase “in that day” (Jer 46:26) and the emphasis is on how the city hears bad news and melts in fear and is seized by panic. Judgment day for Damascus is a fire.
Kedar and Hazor
The next oracle is directed against two kingdoms: Kedar and Hazor. Kedar is an Ishmaelite tribe and Hazor was a Canaanite.
The subtitle: “Concerning Kedar and the kingdoms of Hazor that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon struck down” (Jer 49:28a).
It begins, “Thus says YHWH: Rise up, advance against Kedar! Destroy the people of the east!” (Jer 49:28b).
Like Edom, these nations would never see restoration. “Hazor shall become a haunt of jackals, An everlasting waste; No man shall dwell there; No man shall sojourn in her” (Jer 49:33).
The last short oracle concerns Elam. It is subtitled, “The word of YHWH that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning Elam, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah” (Jer 49:34).
Elam were Semites (descendants of Shem).
The oracle ends, “But in the latter days I will restore the fortunes of Elam, declares YHWH” (Jer 49:39).
The subtitle for the last nation addressed by these oracles is: “The word that YHWH spoke concerning Babylon, concerning the land of the Chaldeans, by Jeremiah the prophet:” (Jer 50:1).
This too is a judgment of her gods: “Babylon is taken, Bel is put to shame, Merodach is dismayed. Her images are put to shame, Her idols are dismayed” (Jer 50:2, cf. 51:44, 47). For Babylon too it is a nation “out of the north” that will come against her.
It also speaks of the end times, “In those days and in that time,” (Jer 50:4). And like Edom, people will be appalled and hiss because of what will happen to Babylon.
God even says that He is punishing Babylon for what they did to Israel just as He had already done to Assyria.
There is a judgment fire to consume Babylon like Damascus: “and I will kindle a fire in his cities, and it will devour all that is around him” (Jer 50:32).
And like Edom the place will be like Sodom and Gomorrah (uninhabited and uninhabitable for all generations). It will have hyenas and ostriches (50:39) and jackals (51:37) living in Babylon but no people. These are unclean animals (cf. ‘haunt of jackals’ in Hazor). This is final judgment language (the same imagery is used in Revelation). “None shall dwell in it; both man and [cattle] shall flee away” (Jer 50:3, cf. Jer 50:40).
Cyrus the Persian is the one who would lead the forces that toppled Babylon in history. He was one of the Medes. As Jeremiah saw, “YHWH has stirred up the spirit of the kings of the Medes, because his purpose concerning Babylon is to destroy it, for that is the vengeance of YHWH, the vengeance for His temple” (Jer 51:11b, cf. 51:28).
The forces that would topple Babylon are described in plague terms, the same plague as mentioned with Egypt: “as many as locusts” (Jer 51:14, cf. 51:27).BabylonThere is yet another diatribe against the folly of idolatry:
“Every man is stupid and without knowledge; Every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols, For his images are false, And there is no breath in them. They are worthless, a work of delusion; At the time of their punishment they shall perish” (Jer 51:17-18).
Compared with the wisdom of true Israel: “Not like these is He who is the portion of Jacob, For He is the one who formed all things, And Israel is the tribe of His inheritance; YHWH of hosts is His name” (Jer 51:19).
The destruction of Babylon is also described in sacrificial worship terms: “I will bring them down like lambs to the slaughter, like rams and male goats” (Jer 51:40).
And there is judgment flood language too:“The sea has come up on Babylon;She is covered with its tumultuous waves”(Jer 51:42). Again it is judgment, as we have said, not only on the nation but on their gods, “I will execute judgment upon her images” (Jer 51:52).
Jer 51:41 says, “How Sheshach is taken, the praise of the whole earth is seized! How Babylon has become a horror among the nations!” (cf. Jer 25:26).
Sheshach is a code name for Babylon. (This is a simple substitution code called ‘atbash writing where using the 22 characters of the Hebrew alphabet the first letter is represented by the last letter of the alphabet, the second by the second to last, and etc.)
For Edom:“Though you make your nest as high as the eagle’s, I will bring you down from there,Declares YHWH”(Jer 49:16b).
For Babylon:“Though Babylon should mount up to heaven,And though she should fortify her strong height,Yet destroyers would come from me against her,Declares YHWH” (Jer 51:53).
The Babylon oracle is somewhat repetitive. One theme worth noting, borrowed from Isaiah, is this:
“Flee from the midst of Babylon and go out from the land of the Chaldeans” (Jer 50:8).
“Flee from the midst of Babylon;Let every one save his life!” (Jer 51:6).
“Go out of the midst of her, my people!Let every one save his life from the fierce anger of YHWH!” (Jer 51:45).
The oracle ends and then there is a short historical narrative concerning it, which begins, “The word that Jeremiah the prophet commanded Seraiah the son of Neriah, son of Mahseiah, when he went with Zedekiah king of Judah to Babylon, in the fourth year of his reign. Seraiah was the quartermaster” (Jer 51:59).
Seraiah was the brother of Baruch the scribe. Baruch was the son of Neriah, son of Mahseiah.
The text says that Jeremiah wrote in a book “all these words that are written concerning Babylon” and sent the book with Seraiah. Seraiah was to read “all these words” and say, “O YHWH, you have said concerning this place that you will cut it off, so that nothing shall dwell in it, neither man nor beast, and it shall be desolate forever” (Jer 51:62). Then he was to tie a stone to the book and throw it into the Euphrates River as a prophetic sign that Babylon would sink and rise no more.
Thus ends the oracles against foreign nations. And thus ends the words of Jeremiah. The text says,“Thus far are the words of Jeremiah” (Jer 51:64b).