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28-29 May. Jeremiah chapters 50-52
After prophesying the conquest of several countries by the Babylonians, Jeremiah now receives a prophecy against Babylon itself, that he would “do to her as she has done to others” (50:15). Covering the whole of chapters 50 and 51, it leaves no doubt that the Babylonians, although God had allowed them to punish Judah for its sins, would receive punishment themselves. And their punishment would be devastating. Whereas in Jerusalem it was the rulers and middle classes who bore the brunt of the Babylonians’ attack and were carried captive, in Babylon everyone would be destroyed – warriors, shepherds, farmers as well as governors and officials, old and young, male and female (51:21-23).
But what had Babylon done so terribly to deserve such punishment? Most of this prophecy is about the detail of what would happen to them rather than the reasons for it. Their sins are not described in detail, although we are told that they opposed the Lord (50:24), showed arrogance (50:31), listened to false prophets (50:36), and committed idolatry (51:17). Clearly they were no saints, but nor do they seem to have been different from any of the other cultures around them. In a time when monotheism was the exception not the rule, and when the dominant world view (both inside and outside Israel) was a tribal one, with unelected leaders expected to accumulate wealth and achieve military victories, they were just like other nations.
The prophesy against Babylon finishes with “The words of Jeremiah end here”. The final chapter, then, is a later editorial addition and explicitly so. It is in fact almost word-for-word a repeat of the last chapter of 2 Kings, and describes in factual prose not the fall of Babylon but that of Jerusalem. This is presumably to emphasise that the prophecies of the end of the exile were given by Jeremiah even before it had begun. It is not difficult for anyone with an eye on world events to predict what might happen in a year or two, but only someone genuinely receiving a prophetic word from God can accurately predict what will happen seventy years on.