The Fall of Babylon

Though you rejoice, though you exult, O plunderers of my heritage, though you frolic like a heifer in the pasture, and neigh like stallions, your mother shall be utterly shamed, and she who bore you shall be disgraced” (vv. 11–12).

- Jeremiah 50:1–20

Some opponents of Reformed theology accuse Reformed Christians of believing that God forces people to do things that they do not want to do. Nothing could be further from the truth, for the best Reformed writers on the subject, including such men as John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards, have always insisted that the Lord never forces us to act against what we most desire in any situation. While it is true that God will sovereignly intervene to change our desires—most notably in regeneration—He always allows us to choose according to our strongest desire at the moment.

Remembering this principal is helpful for understanding passages such as Jeremiah 50:1–20. These verses record Jeremiah’s prophecy that Babylon would be conquered by an enemy “from the north country” for plundering Judah, and in the aftermath, Israel and Judah would be restored to Canaan (vv. 9, 17–20). This seems strange at first because the prophet elsewhere refers to Babylon as the servant of God commissioned to execute divine vengeance on Jerusalem (25:8–9). Yet this is no contradiction given what we have said about the Lord working through the desires of men. Nebuchadnezzar and his empire wanted to conquer Jerusalem but not for the right reasons. They captured Jerusalem to advance Babylon’s glory and demonstrate its power over its client state (2 Kings 24:18–25:21; Hab. 1:15–17). Nebuchadnezzar and his armies had no desire to be the agents of God’s justice against Judah, but the Lord gave Babylon what it wanted anyway, namely, Jerusalem. Yet as Babylon’s intent was not holy, the empire was the servant of the Creator purely in a formal sense and not because it loved and wanted to show its loyalty to God. Even though God rightly used Babylon to punish Judah for its sin, He could also rightly pronounce judgment on His instrument of justice because Babylon’s heart was set on evil as it acted against Judah.

The great nation from the north raised up against Babylon was the Persian Empire under the command of Cyrus, who defeated Babylon in 539 B.C. and sent the captive Jews home (2 Chron. 36:22–23). Although the home of this great power was actually east of Babylon, it used a northern approach when it came against the Babylonians. The Jews who read this prophecy found further hope that the prediction of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 would come to pass (Jer. 50:4–5), and they were prepared in advance to flee Babylon and escape the carnage when they saw the Persians approaching. God thereby preserved His people.

Coram Deo

Much of Jeremiah is concerned with God’s use of Babylon to judge His people. In that judgment, we can see evidence of an occasion when the wicked prospered. Yet we also see that the prosperity was not evidence that the Lord was pleased with Babylon. This is an important principle for us to remember when we see others succeeding even though they are wicked. Their success, however real it may appear, is only temporary—just as Babylon’s was.

Passages for Further Study

Ezra 1:1–4
Jeremiah 12
Matthew 5:11–12
2 Timothy 3:12

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