Throughout the prophecy of Jeremiah, the reader can follow at least two themes. First, God is sovereign over the nations of humankind and He alone has power over their leaders and success. Second, the exiles should thus trust His word despite any threat they may encounter.
In chs. 46-51, Jeremiah prophesied against the nations that Judah might have been tempted to turn to for help in light of the Babylonian threat. Despite Egypt’s self-confidence, Jeremiah said that the day of battle “belongs to the Lord, the GOD of Hosts, a day of vengeance to avenge Himself against His adversaries” (Jer 46:10). This word of God’s sovereignty was meant to both warn and comfort God’s people: warning them not to trust in Egypt’s military potential, and comforting them with the news that He would not abandon His own—even if they were under His discipline (Jer 46:27-28).
Judah was not to seek refuge in surrounding nations, such as the Philistines (ch. 47), Moabites (ch. 48), Ammonites, Edomites, or people of Damascus (ch. 49). Jeremiah reminded his audience of God’s sovereignty over all nations, including Babylon. Jeremiah prophesied that Babylon would one day be conquered and devoured. Thus, while Jeremiah had exhorted Judah to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king was never to be their ultimate trust—that position was reserved for the Lord alone. As a father disciplines his children, God had scattered His people among the nations (Jer 50:3, 17, 33), Jeremiah said. But God would give the Persians victory over the Babylonians (Jer 50:9-16, 21-32, 35-46; 51:1-4, 6-14, 20-33). Once Babylon was defeated, the exiles of Israel and Judah would be allowed to return and submit to an “everlasting covenant” (Jer 50:5) with the Lord in the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Jer 50:4-5, 19-20; 51:6, 10, 45-46). But first, Jerusalem would be destroyed (Jeremiah 52; 2 Kgs 25:8-21).
The prophets that wrote to the people of Israel and Judah understood themselves to be the contemporary spokespersons of the Lord. They interpreted the political, economic, and social landscape of their day in light of the law of Moses, urging their audience(s) to rely fully upon the Lord for their identity and needs. When the threats of the day seemed imminent, they wrote of the Lord’s jealousy to redeem the repentant. The prophets thus presented their messages as a bridge between what the Lord revealed to Moses and what the Lord would do for His people in the days to come. The prophets’ messages are best understood in light of the storyline of Scripture.
(1) Jeremiah prophesied that God would judge His people and save only a remnant (Jer 46:27-28). The Lord promised that though there would be judgment and dispersion amongst the nations, a future day would come when the descendants of Jacob would be gathered to the land of promise. In the meantime, Jeremiah urged his audience to be courageous—and wait on the Lord as He carried out His plan to discipline them and destroy the nations holding them captive.
(2) Jeremiah described the destruction of many nations and especially Babylon. While Jeremiah described what would happen to historical Babylon, in Revelation, John referred to Babylon metaphorically. John’s audience, like Jeremiah’s, was afraid of their opponents and wanted God to avenge the blood their opponents had shed (Rev 6:9-11). Like Jeremiah, John spoke of God’s sovereignty over Babylon. In Jer 50:8 and 51:6, 45, Jeremiah urged his audience to flee from Babylon and avoid the destruction due her. John wrote in Rev 18:4, “Then I heard another voice from heaven: ‘Come out of her, My people, so that you will not share in her sins, or receive her plagues.’” During the reign of King Zedekiah (2 Kgs 24:18ff), Jeremiah wrote on a scroll the destruction that would come upon Babylon (Jer 51:63-64). He pictured the Babylonian Empire sinking like a stone thrown into the Euphrates River. John used similar imagery when he described the destruction of Babylon, “Then a mighty angel picked up a stone like a large millstone and threw it into the sea, saying: ‘In this way, Babylon the great city will be thrown down violently and never be found again’” (Rev 18:21).