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Jeremiah 51:20-23

20. Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms;

20. Malleus tu mihi, vasa (vel, instrumenta) proelii, (aut, bellica,) et conteram (vel, contrivi) per to gentes, et perdam (vel, perdidi, malo in proeterito tempore accipere utrunque verbum, rationem postea dicam) per to regna;

21. And with thee will I break in pieces the horse and his rider; and with thee will I break in pieces the chariot and his rider;

21. Et contrivi per to equum et ascensorem ejus, et contrivi per to currum et ascensorem ejus;

22. With thee also will I break in pieces man and woman; and with thee will I break in pieces old and young; and with thee will I break in pieces the young man and the maid;

22. Et contrivi per to virum et mulierem, et contrivi per to senem et puerum, et contrivi per to adolescentem et virginem;

23. I will also break in pieces with thee the shepherd and his flock; and with thee will I break in pieces the husbandman and his yoke of oxen; and with thee will I break in pieces captains and rulers.

23. Et contrivi per to pastorem et gregem ejus, et contrivi per to agricolam et jugum ejus, et contrivi per to duces et principes.

 

The Prophet here obviates the doubts of many; for as he had spoken of the destruction of Babylon, it might have been readily objected, that the monarchy which was fortified by so many defenses, and which had subjugated all the neighboring nations, was impregnable. Hence the Prophet here shows that the power and wealth of Babylon were no hindrances that God should not destroy it whenever he pleased; for it is an argument derived from what is contrary. We have before seen that God roots up what he has planted, (Jeremiah 45:4;) and then we have seen the metaphor of the potter and his vessels. When the Prophet went down to the potter, he saw a vessel formed and then broken at the will and pleasure of the potter (Jeremiah 18:2-4.) So also now God shows that the destruction was as it were in his hand, because the Chaldeans had not raised themselves to eminence through their own power, but he had raised them, and employed them for his own purpose. In short, he compares the Babylonians in this passage to a formed vessel, and he makes himself the potter:

“I am he who has raised Babylon to so great a height; it therefore belongs to me to pull it down whensoever it pleases me.”

We now understand the design of this passage, though the Prophet employs different words.

He says that Babylon was a hammer and weapons of war to break in pieces the nations. The verb נפף, nuphets, means to break in pieces, and carelessly to scatter here and there, and also violently to scatter. He says then, “I have by thee scattered the nations, and by thee have destroyed kingdoms.” But as the Chaldeans had enjoyed so many victories and had subjugated so many nations, he adds, I have by thee broken in pieces the horse and his ride,; the chariot and its rider; and then, I have broken in pieces men and women, old men and children, the young men and the maidens, the shepherds and also their flocks He enumerates here almost all kinds of men. He then mentions husbandmen and yokes of oxen, or of horses; and lastly, he mentions captains and rulers 8787     Many render this passage in the future tense, according to all the Versions and the Targ., and consider Cyrus to be intended by the “hammer;” but they render בך, by, or with thee, contrary to the Targ. and the Versions, which is rendered in thee, i.e., Babylon; and for thee in the Syr. And this seems to be the view most consistent with the whole passage, especially Jeremiah 51:24. Babylon was the “hammer” which God had employed, “Jeremiah 50:23) but he would hereafter employ, as it were, a hammer, or a scatterer, in Babylon itself, —
   20. A scatterer (or a hammer) art thou to me, A weapon of war; But I will scatter in thee nations, And destroy in thee kingdoms;

   21. And I will scatter in thee the horse and its rider, And I will scatter in thee the chariot and its rider;

   22. And I will scatter in thee the husband and the wife, And I will scatter in thee the old and the child, And I will scatter in thee the young man and the maid;

   23. And I will scatter in thee the shepard and his flock, And I will scatter in thee the plougman and his team, And I will scatter in thee the governors and princes.

   The comes, naturally, a summary of the whole, —

   24. And I will render to Babylon And to all the inhabitants of Chaldea, All the evil which they have done in Sion, Before your eyes, saith Jehova.

   The in the two following verse Babylon is still addressed.

   “Scatter” is according to the Sept., the Syr., and the Targ.; “dash against one another” is the Vulg. — Ed.
All these things are said by way of concession; but yet the Prophet reminds us that no difficulty would prevent God to destroy Babylon, because Babylon in itself was nothing. According to this sense, then, it is called a hammer. In short, the Prophet takes away the false opinion which might have otherwise disturbed weak minds, as though Babylon was wholly invincible. He shows at the same time that God executed his judgments on all nations by means of Babylon. Thus the faithful might have been confirmed; for otherwise they must have necessarily been cast down when they regarded the formidable power of Babylon; but when they heard that it was only a hammer, and that they would not have been broken in pieces by the Babylonians had they not been armed from above, or rather had they not been driven on by a celestial power, it then appeared that the calamity which the Jews had suffered was nothing more than a punishment inflicted by God’s hand. When, therefore, they heard this, it was no small consolation; it kept them from succumbing under their miseries, and from being swallowed up with sorrow and despair. But it now follows, —


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