Jeremiah 49 Bible Commentary

Matthew Henry Bible Commentary (complete)

(Read all of Jeremiah 49)
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The cup of trembling still goes round, and the nations must all drink of it, according to the instructions given to Jeremiah, ch. 25:15. This chapter puts it into the hands, I. Of the Ammonites (v. 1-6). II. Of the Edomites (v. 7-22). III. Of the Syrians (v. 23-27). IV. Of the Kedarenes, and the kingdoms of Hazor (v. 28-33). V. Of the Elamites (v. 34-39). When Israel was scarcely saved where shall all these appear?

Verses 1-6

The Ammonites were next, both in kindred and neighbourhood, to the Moabites, and therefore are next set to the bar. Their country joined to that of the two tribes and a half, on the other side Jordan, and was but a bad neighbour; however, being a neighbour, they shall have a share in these circular predictions. 1. An action is here brought, in God's name, against the Ammonites, for an illegal encroachment upon the rightful possessions of the tribe of Gad, that lay next them, v. 1. A writ of enquiry is brought to discover what title they had to those territories, which, upon the carrying away of the Gileadites, by the king of Assyria (2 Ki. 15:29, 1 Chr. 5:26), were left almost dispeopled, at least unguarded, and an easy prey to the next invader. "What! Does it escheat ob defectum sanguinis—for what of an heir? Hath Israel no sons? Hath he no heir? Are there no Gadites left, to whom the right of inheritance belongs? Or, if there were not, are there no Israelites, none left of Judah, that are nearer akin to them than you are?" Why then does their king, as if he were entitled to the forfeited estates, or Milcom, their idol, as if he had the right to dispose of it to his worshippers, inherit Gad, and his people dwell in the cities which fell by lot to that tribe of God's people. Nay, there were sons and heirs of their own body, en ventre de sa merein their mother's womb, and the Ammonites, to prevent their claim, most barbarously murdered them (Amos 1:13): They ripped up the women with child of Gilead, that they might enlarge their border, that, having seized it, none might rise up hereafter to recover it from them. Thus they magnified themselves against their border and boasted it was their own, Zep. 2:8. Note, Though among men might often prevails against right, yet that might shall be controlled by the Almighty, who sits in the throne, judging right; and those will find themselves mistaken who think every thing their own which they can lay their hands on, or which none yet appears to lay claim to. As there is justice owing to owners, so also to their heirs, when they are dead, whom it is a great sin to defraud, though they either know not their right or know not how to come at it. This shall be reckoned for particularly, when injuries of this kind are done to God's people. 2. Judgment is here given against them for this violence. (1.) Terrors shall come upon them: God will cause an alarm of war to be heard, even in Rabbah, their capital city and a very strong one, v. 2. The Lord God of hosts, who has all armies at his command, will bring a fear upon them from all that be about them, v. 5. Note, God has many ways to terrify those who have been a terror to his people. (2.) Their cities shall be laid in ruins: Rabbah, the mother-city, shall be a desolate heap, and her daughters, the other cities that have a dependence upon her, and receive law from her as daughters, shall be burnt with fire; so that the inhabitants shall be forced to quit them, and they shall cry, and gird themselves with sackcloth, as having lost all they had, and not knowing whither to betake themselves. (3.) Their country, which they were so proud of, shall be wasted (v. 4): Wherefore gloriest thou in the valleys, and trustest in thy treasures, O backsliding daughter? They are charged with backsliding or turning away from God and from his worship, for they were the posterity of righteous Lot. It is true, they had never been so in covenant with God as Israel was; yet all idolaters may be called backsliders, for the worship of the true God was prior to that of false gods. They were untoward and refractory (so some read it); and, when they had forsaken their God, they gloried in their valleys, particularly one that was called the flowing valley, because it flowed with all good things. These they had violently taken away from Israel, and gloried in it when they had done so. They gloried in the strength of their valleys, so surrounded with mountains that they were inaccessible, gloried in the products of them, gloried in the treasures they got together out of them, saying, Who shall come unto me? While they bathed themselves in the pleasures of their country, they flattered themselves with a conceit that they should never be disturbed in the enjoyment of them: To-morrow shall be as this day; therefore they set God and his judgments at defiance; they are proud, voluptuous, and secure; but wherefore dost thou do so: Note, Those who backslide and turn away from God have little reason either to take complacency or to put confidence in any worldly enjoyments whatsoever, Hos. 9:1. (4.) Their people, from the least to the greatest, shall be forced out of the country. Some shall flee to seek for shelter, others shall be carried into captivity, so that their land shall be quite evacuated: Their king and his princes, nay, and Milcom, their god, and his priests, shall go into captivity (v. 3), and every man shall be driven out right forth, shall take the next way, and make the best of it in his flight (v. 5), forgetting the valleys, the flowing valleys, which now fail them. And, to complete their misery, none shall gather up him that wanders, none shall open their doors to them, as Jael to Sisera, to entertain them; and those that flee shall be so much in care to secure themselves that they shall not take notice of others, no, not of those that are nearest to them, that wander, and are at a loss which way to go, as ch. 47:3. (5.) Then the country of the Ammonites shall fall into the hands of the remaining Israelites (v. 2): Then shall Israel be heir to those that were his heirs, shall possess himself of their land who had possessed themselves of his, by way of reprisal. Note, The equity of divine Providence is to be acknowledged when the losses of the injured are recompensed out of the unjust gains of the injurious. Though the enemies of God's Israel may make a prey of them for a while, the tables will shortly be turned. 3. Yet there is a prospect given them of mercy hereafter (v. 6), as before to Moab. The day will come when the captivity of the children of Ammon will be brought again; for so it is in human affairs: the wheel goes round.

Verses 7-22

The Edomites come next to receive their doom from God, by the mouth of Jeremiah: they also were old enemies to the Israel of God; but their day will come to be reckoned with, and it is now at hand, and is foretold, not only for warning to them, but for comfort to the Israel of God, whose afflictions were very much aggravated by their triumphs over them and joy in their calamity, Ps. 137:7. Many of the expressions used in this prophecy concerning Edom are borrowed from the prophecy of Obadiah, which is concerning Edom; for, all the prophets being inspired by one and the same Spirit, there must needs be a wonderful harmony and agreement in their predictions. Now here it is foretold,

I. That the country of Edom should be all wasted and made desolate, that the calamity of Esau should be brought upon him, the calamity he has deserved, and God has long designed him, for his old sins, v. 8. The time is at hand when God will visit him, and call him to an account, and then they shall flee from the sword, turn back from the battle, and dwell deep in some close caverns, where they shall hide themselves. All they have shall be carried off by the conqueror; whereas grape-gatherers will leave some gleanings, and even thieves know when they have enough and will destroy no further, those that destroy them shall never be satiated, (v. 9, 10); they shall make Esau quite bare, shall strip the Edomites of all they have, shall find out ways and means to come at their most hidden treasure, shall discover even the secret places where they thought to secure their wealth, and rifle them, so that they shall none of them save their wealth, no, nor save themselves nor their children, that might be concealed in a little room: He shall not be able to hide himself, and his seed too is spoiled. His brethren the Moabites, and his neighbours the Philistines, whom he might have expected succours from, or at least shelter with, are spoiled as well as he and disabled to do him any service. And he is not, or there is not he, there is none to him, none left him, that may say what follows (v. 11), Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive. When they are flying, or dying, there shall be none left, no relation, no friend, no, not so much as any parish officers to take care of their wives and children that they leave behind. Edom is not, he is cut off and gone; nor is there any to say, Leave me thy orphans. If the master of a family be cut off, or forced away, it is some comfort if he have a friend to leave his family with, whom he can confide in; but they shall have none such, for they shall all be involved in the same calamity. The Chaldee makes these to be the words of God to his people, distinguishing them from the Edomites in this calamity; and they read it, "But you, O house of Israel! you shall not leave your orphans; I will secure them, and let your widows rest on my word. Whatever becomes of the widows and fatherless of the Edomites, I will take care of yours." Note, it is an unspeakable comfort to the people of God, when they are dying, that they may leave their surviving relations with God, may, in faith, commit them to him and encourage them to trust in him; and, though they cannot promise themselves great things in the world for them, yet they may hope that he will preserve them alive, always, provided that they trust in him. Let the Edomites, for their part, count upon no other than to be made a desolation and a reproach; for the decree has gone forth; God hath sworn it by himself (v. 13), that their cities shall be wasted, nay, they shall be perpetual wastes, they shall be made mean and despicable; they had made a mighty figure, but God will make them small among the heathen; and those that despised God's people shall themselves be despised among men (v. 15, Obad. 2), nay, they shall be made monstrous, and even a prodigy (v. 17): Edom shall be such a desolation that every one who goes by shall be astonished; nay, worse yet, they shall be made a terror; Edom shall be made like Sodom and Gomorrah, none shall care for coming near the ruins of it, no man shall abide there (v. 18), such a frightful place shall it be made.

II. That the instruments of this destruction should be very resolute and formidable. They have their commission from God; he summons them into this service (v. 14): I have heard a rumour, or report, from the Lord, heard it by the prophecy of Obadiah, heard it by a whisper to myself, that an ambassador, or herald, or messenger, is sent to the Gentiles, who are to lay Edom waste, saying, Gather you together, muster all the forces you can, and come against her; for (v. 20) this is the counsel that he hath taken against Edom. The matter is settled, the decree has gone forth, and there is no resisting it. God has determined that Edom shall be laid waste, and then he that is to be employed in wasting it shall come swiftly and strongly. Nebuchadnezzar is he or whom it is here foretold, 1. That he shall come up like a lion, with fierceness and fury, like a lion enraged by the swelling of Jordan overflowing his banks, which forces him out of his covert by the water-side into the higher grounds, v. 19. He shall come roaring, come to devour all that come in his way. He shall come against the habitation of the strong, the forts and castles; and I will cause him to come suddenly into the land (so the next words might well be read), so as to find them unprovided with necessaries for a defence; for I will look out a chosen man to appoint over her, to do this execution, a man fit for the purpose, one chosen out of the people; for when God has work to do he will find out the fittest instruments to be employed in doing it: "Who is like me for choosing the instruments, and spiriting them for the work? And who will appoint me the time? Who will challenge me, and fix a time and place to meet me? Who will join issue with me in battle? And, when I send a lion into the flock, who is that shepherd that can, or dare, stand before me, or against me, to oppose that lion, and think to rescue any of the flock?" Note, When God has work to do of any kind he will soon find those that are able to engage in it, and all the world cannot find those that are able to engage against it. Nay, if God will have Edom destroyed, and their peopled dislodged, there needs not a lion, a fierce lion to do it: Even the least of the flock shall draw them out (v. 20); the meanest servant in Nebuchadnezzar's retinue, the weakest of all that follow his camp, shall draw them out for the slaughter, shall force them to flee, or to surrender, and make their habitations desolate with them. God can bring to pass the greatest works by instruments least likely. When the Chaldean army comes against the Edomites all hands shall be employed and the poorest soldier in it shall have a pluck at them. 2. Nebuchadnezzar shall come, not only like a lion, the king of beasts, but like an eagle, the king of birds (v. 22): He shall fly as the eagle upon his prey, so swiftly, so strongly, shall clap his wings upon Bozrah, to secure it for himself (as before, ch 48:40), and immediately the hearts of the mighty men shall fail them, for they shall see he is an enemy that it is in vain to struggle with.

III. That the Edomites' confidences should all fail them in the day of their distress. 1. They trusted to their wisdom, but that shall stand them in no stead. This is the first thing fastened upon in this prophecy against Edom, v. 7. That nation used to be famous for wisdom, and their statesmen were thought to excel in politics; and yet now they shall take such wrong measures in all their counsels, and be so baffled in all their designs, that people shall ask, with wonder, What is the matter with the Edomites? Is wisdom no more in Teman? Have the wise men of the east country (1 Ki. 4:30) become fools? Are those at their wits' end that were thought to have the monopoly of prudence? Has counsel perished from the understanding men? It is so, when God is designing the ruin of a people; for whom he will destroy he infatuates. See Job 12:20. Has their wisdom vanished? Is it tired? (so some); is it worn out? (so others); has it become useless? so others. Yes, it will do them no service when God comes forth to contend with them. 2. They trusted to their strength, but neither shall that avail them, v. 16. They had been a terror to all their neighbours; every body feared them and truckled to them, and this made them proud and conceited of themselves and their own strength, and very secure; because no neighbouring nation durst meddle with them, they thought no nation in the world durst. Their country was much of it mountainous, having many passes which they thought themselves able to make good against any invader; but this terribleness of theirs deceived them, and so did their imaginary inaccessibleness; they did not prove so strong as they were formidable, nor so safe as they were secure. High as they are, God will bring them down; for, as there is no wisdom, so there is no might against the Lord, See these expressions, Obad. 3, 4, 8.

IV. That their destruction should be inevitable and very remarkable. 1. God hath determined it (v. 12); he hath said it; nay (v. 13), he hath sworn it, that the Edomites shall not go unpunished, but that they shall drink the cup of trembling, which is put into the hands of all their neighbours; even those whose judgment, or doom, was not to drink of the cup, who had not so well deserved it as they had done, nations that had not been such enemies to Israel as they had been, or Israel itself, that was God's peculiar people, and among whom there were many, very many, who kept his ordinances, upon which account they might have expected an exemption; and yet they had been made to drink of the bitter cup; and shall the Edomites think to pass it? No; they shall surely drink of it. Note, When God punishes the less guilty it is folly for the more guilty to promise themselves impunity; and when judgment begins at God's house it will reach the strangers. 2. All the world shall take notice of it (v. 21): The earth is moved, and all the nations are put into a concern, at the noise of their fall; the news of it shall make them tremble. The noise of the outcry is heard to the Red Sea, which flowed upon the coasts of Edom. So loud shall be the shouts of the conquerors and the shrieks of the conquered, and such a mighty noise shall the news of this destruction of Idumea make in the nations, that is shall be heard among the ships that lie in the Red Sea to take in lading (1 Ki. 9:26), and then they shall carry the news of it to the remotest shore. Note, The fall of those who have affected to make a noise with their pomp and power will make so much the greater noise.

Verses 23-27

The kingdom of Syria lay north of Canaan, as that of Edom lay south, and thither we must now remove and take a view of the approaching fate of that kingdom, which had been often vexatious to the Israel of God. Damascus was the metropolis of that kingdom, and the ruin of the whole is supposed in the ruin of that: yet Hamath and Arpad, two other considerable cities, are names (v. 23), and the palaces of Ben-hadad, which he built, are particularly marked for ruin, v. 27; see also Amos 1:4. Some think Ben-hadad (the son of Hadad, either their idol, or one of their ancient kings, whence the rest descended) was a common name of the kings of Syria, as Pharaoh of the kings of Egypt. Now observe concerning the judgment of Damascus, 1. It begins with a terrible fright and faint-heartedness. They hear evil tidings, that the king of Babylon, with all his force, is coming against them, and they are confounded; they know not what measures to take for their own safety, their souls are melted, they are faint-hearted, they have no spirit left them, they are like the troubled sea, that cannot be quiet (Isa. 57:20), or like men in a storm at sea (Ps. 17:26); or the sorrow that begins in the city shall go to the sea-coast, v. 23. See how easily God can dispirit those nations that have been most celebrated for valour. Damascus now waxes feeble (v. 24), a city that thought she could look the most formidable enemy in the face now turns herself to flee, and owns it is to no more purpose to think of contending with her fate than for a woman in labour to contend with her pains, which she cannot escape, but must yield to. It was a city of praise (v. 25), not praise to God, but to herself, a city much commended and admired by all strangers that visited it. It was a city of joy, where there was an affluence and confluence of all the delights of the sons of men, and abundance of mirth in the enjoyment of them. We read it (though there is no necessity for this) the city of my joy, which the prophet himself had sometimes visited with pleasure. Or it may be the speech of the king lamenting the ruin of the city of his joy. But now it is all overwhelmed with fear and grief. Note, Those deceive themselves who place their happiness in carnal joys; for God in his providence can soon cast a damp upon them and put an end to them. He can soon make a city of praise to be a reproach and a city of joy to be a terror to itself. 2. It ends with a terrible fall and fire. (1.) The inhabitants are slain (v. 26): The young men, who should fight the enemy and defend the city, shall fall by the sword in her streets; and all the men of war, mighty men, expert in war, and engaged in the service of their country, shall be cut off. (2.) The city is laid in ashes (v. 27): The fire is kindled by the besiegers in the wall, but it shall devour all before it, the palaces of Ben-hadad particularly, where so much mischief had formerly been hatched against God's Israel, for which it is now thus visited.

Verses 28-33

These verses foretell the desolation that Nebuchadnezzar and his forces should make among the people of Kedar (who descended from Kedar the son of Ishmael, and inhabited a part of Arabia the Stony), and of the kingdoms, the petty principalities, of Hazor, that joined to them, who perhaps were originally Canaanites, of the kingdom of Hazor, in the north of Canaan, which had Jabin for its king, but, being driven thence, settled in the deserts of Arabia and associated themselves with the Kedarenes. Concerning this people we may here observe,

I. What was their present state and posture? They dwelt in tents and had no walls, but curtains (v. 20), no fortified cities; they had neither gates nor bars, v. 31. They were shepherds, and had no treasures, but stock upon land, no money, but flocks and camels. They had no soldiers among them, for they were in no fear of invaders, no merchants, for they dwelt alone, v. 31. Those of other nations neither came among them nor traded with them; but they lived within themselves, content with the products and pleasures of their own country. This was their manner of living, very different from that of the nations that were round about them. And, 1. They were very rich; though they had not trade, no treasures, yet they are here said to be a wealthy nation (v. 31), because they had a sufficiency to answer all the occasions of human life and they were content with it. Note, Those are truly rich who have enough to supply their necessities, and know when they have enough. We need not go to the treasures of kings and provinces, or to the cash of merchants, to look for wealthy people; they may be found among shepherds that dwell in tents. 2. They were very easy: They dwelt without care. Their wealth was such as nobody envied them, or, if any did, they might come peaceably and enjoy the like; and therefore they feared nobody. Note, Those that live innocently and honestly may live very securely, though they have neither gates nor bars.

II. The design of the king of Babylon against them and the descent he make upon them: He has taken counsel against you and has conceived a purpose against you, v. 30. That proud man resolves it shall never be said that he, who had conquered so many strong cities, will leave those unconquered that dwell in tents. It was strange that that eagle should stoop to catch these flies, that so great a prince should play at such small game; but all is fish that comes to the ambitious covetous man's net. Note, It will not always secure men from suffering wrong to be able to say that they have done no wrong; not to have given offence will not be a defence against such men as Nebuchadnezzar. Yet, how unrighteous soever he was in doing it, God was righteous in directing it. These people had lived inoffensively among their neighbours, as many do, who yet, like them, are guilty before God; and it was to punish them for their offences against him that God said (v. 28): Arise, go up to Kedar, and spoil the men of the east. They will do it to gratify their own covetousness and ambition, but God orders it for the correcting of an unthankful people, and for warning to a careless world to expect trouble when they seem to be most safe. God says to the Chaldeans (v. 31): "Arise, get up to the wealthy nation that dwells without care; go and give them an alarm, that none may imagine their mountain stands so strong that it cannot be moved."

III. The great amazement that this put them into, and the great desolation hereby made among them: They shall cry unto them; those on the borders shall send the alarm into all parts of the country, which shall be put into the utmost confusion by it; they shall cry, "Fear is on every side—We are surrounded by the enemy." the very terror of which shall drive them all to their feet and they shall none of them have any heart to make resistance. The enemy shall proclaim fear upon them, or against them, on every side. They need not strike a stroke; they shall shout them out of their tents, v. 29. Upon the first alarm, they shall flee, get far off, and dwell deep (v. 30), as the Edomites, v. 8. And it will be found that this fear on every side is not groundless, for their calamity shall be brought from all sides thereof, v. 32. No marvel there are fears on every side when there are foes on every side. The issue will be, 1. What they have will be a prey to the Chaldeans; they shall take to themselves their curtains and vessels; though they are but plain and coarse, and they have better of their own, yet they shall take them for spite, and spoil for spoiling sake. They shall carry away their tents and their flocks, v. 29. Their camels shall be a booty to those that came for nothing else, v. 32. 2. It is not said that any of them shall be slain, for they attempt not to make any resistance and their tents and flocks are accepted as a ransom for their lives; but they shall be dislodged and dispersed; though now they dwell in the utmost corners, out of the way, and therefore they think out of the reach, of danger (by this character those people were distinguished, ch. 9:26, 25, 23), yet they shall be scattered thence into all winds, into all parts of the world. Note, Privacy and obscurity are not always a protection and security. Many that affect to be strangers to the world may yet by unthought-of providences be forced into it; and those that live most retired may have the same lot with those that thrust themselves forth and lie most exposed. 3. Their country shall lie uninhabited; for, lying remote and out of all high roads, and having neither cities nor lands inviting to strangers, none shall care to succeed them, so that Hazor shall be a desolation for ever, v. 33. If busy men be displaced, many strive to get into their placed, because they lived great; but here are easy quiet men displaced, and no man cared to abide where they did, because they lived meanly.

Verses 34-39

This prophecy is dated in the beginning of Zedekiah's reign; it is probable that the other prophecies against the Gentiles, going before, were at the same time. The Elamites were the Persians, descended from Elam the son of Shem (Gen. 10:22); yet some think it was only that part of Persia which lay nearest to the Jews which was called Elymais, and adjoined to Media-Elam, which, say they, had acted against God's Israel, bore the quiver in an expedition against them (Isa. 22:6), and therefore must be reckoned with among the rest. It is here foretold, in general, that God will bring evil upon them, even his fierce anger, and that is evil enough, it has all evil in it, v. 37. In particular, 1. Their forces shall be disabled, and rendered incapable of doing them any service. The Elamites were famous archers, but, Behold, I will break the bow of Elam (v. 35), will ruin their artillery, and then the chief of their might is gone. God often orders it so that that which we most trust to first fails us, and that which was the chief of our might proves the least of our help. 2. Their people shall be dispersed. There shall come enemies against them from all parts of the world, and they shall all carry some of them away captive into their respective countries; while others shall flee, some one way and some another, to shift for themselves, so that there shall be no nation whither the outcasts of Elam shall not come, v. 36. The four winds shall be brought upon them; the storm shall come sometimes from one point and sometimes from another, to toss and hurry them several ways. We know not from what point the wind of trouble may blow; but, if God encompass us with his favour, we are safe, and may be easy, which way soever the storm comes. Fear shall drive them into other countries; they shall be dismayed before their enemies; but, as if that were not enough, I will send the sword after them, v. 37. Note, God can make his judgments follow those that think by flight to escape them and to get out of the reach of them. Evil pursues sinners. 3. Their princes shall be destroyed and the government quite changed (v. 38): I will set my throne in Elam. The throne of Nebuchadnezzar shall be set there, or the throne of Cyrus, who began his conquests with Elymais. Or it may be meant of the throne on which God sits for judgment; he will make them know that he reigns, that he judges in the earth, that kings and princes are accountable to him, and that high as they are he is above them. The king of Elam was famous of old, Gen. 14:1. Chedorlaomer was king of Elam, and a mighty man he was in his day; the nations about him served him; his successors, we may suppose, made a great figure; but the king of Elam is no more to God than another man. When God sets his throne in Elam he will destroy thence the king and the princes that are, and set up whom he pleases. 4. Yet the destruction of Elam shall not be perpetual (v. 39): In the latter days I will bring again the captivity of Elam. When Cyrus had destroyed Babylon, brought the empire into the hands of the Persians, the Elamites no doubt returned in triumph out of all the countries whither they were scattered, and settled again in their own country. But this promise was to have its full and principal accomplishment in the days of the Messiah, when we find Elamites particularly among those who, when the Holy Ghost was given, heard spoken in their own tongues the wonderful works of God (Acts 2:9, 11), and that is the most desirable return of the captivity. If the Son make you free, then you shall be free indeed.