I. Here is a word spoken against Babylon by him whose works all agree with his word and none of whose words fall to the ground. The king of Babylon had been very kind of Jeremiah, and yet he must foretel the ruin of that kingdom; for God’s prophets must not be governed by favour or affection. Whoever are our friends, if, notwithstanding, they are God’s enemies, we dare not speak peace to them. 1. The destruction of Babylon is here spoken of as a thing done, Jer. 50:2. let it be published to the nations as a piece of news, true news, and great news, and news they are all concerned in; let them hang out the flag, as is usual on days of triumph, to give notice of it; let all the world take notice of it: Babylon is taken. Let God have the honour of it, let his people have the comfort of it, and therefore do not conceal it. Take care that it be known, that the Lord may be known by those judgments which he executes, Ps. 9:16. 2. It is spoken of as a thing done thoroughly. For, (1.) The very idols of Babylon, which the people would protect with all possible care, and from which they expected protection, shall be destroyed. Bel and Merodach were their two principal deities; they shall be confounded, and the images of them broken to pieces. (2.) The country shall be laid waste (Jer. 50:3) out of the north, from Media, which lay north of Babylon, and from Assyria, through which Cyrus made his descent upon Babylon; thence the nation shall come that shall make her land desolate. Their land was north of the countries that they destroyed, who were therefore threatened with evil from the north (Omne malum ab aquilone—Every evil comes from the north); but God will find out nations yet further north to come upon them. The pomp and power of old Rome were brought down by northern nations, the Goths and Vandals.
II. Here is a word spoken for the people of God, and for their comfort, both the children of Israel and of Judah; for many there were of the ten tribes that associated with those of the two tribes in their return out of Babylon. Now here,
1. It is promised that they shall return to their God first and then to their own land; and the promise of their conversion and reformation is that which makes way for all the other promises, Jer. 50:4, 5. (1.) They shall lament after the Lord (as the whole house of Israel did in Samuel’s time, 1 Sam. 7:2); they shall go weeping. These tears flow not from the sorrow of the world as those when they went into captivity, but from godly sorrow; they are tears of repentance for sin, tears of joy for the goodness of God, in the dawning of the day of their deliverance, which, for aught that appears, does more towards the bringing of them to mourn for sin than all the calamities of their captivity; that prevails to lead them to repentance when the other did not prevail to drive them to it. Note, It is a good sign that God is coming towards a people in ways of mercy when they begin to be tenderly affected under his hand. (2.) They shall enquire after the Lord; they shall not sink under their sorrows, but bestir themselves to find out comfort where it is to be had: They shall go weeping to seek the Lord their God. Those that seek the Lord must seek him sorrowing, as Christ’s parents sought him, Luke 2:48. And those that sorrow must seek the Lord, and then their sorrow shall soon be turned into joy, for he will be found of those that so seek him. They shall seek the Lord as their God, and shall now have no more to do with idols. When they shall hear that the idols of Babylon are confounded and broken it will be seasonable for them to enquire after their own God and to return to him who lives for ever. Therefore men are deceived in false gods, that they may depend on the true God only. (3.) They shall think of returning to their own country again; they shall think of it not only as a mercy, but as a duty, because there only is the holy hill of Zion, on which once stood the house of the Lord their God (Jer. 50:5): They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward. Zion was the city of their solemnities; they often thought of it in the depth of their captivity (Ps. 137:1); but, now that the ruin of Babylon gave them some hopes of a release, they talk of nothing else but of going back to Zion. Their hearts were upon it before, and now they set their faces thitherward. They long to be there; they set out for Zion, and resolve not to take up short of it. The journey is long and they know not the road, but they will ask the way, for they will press forward till they come to Zion; and, as they are determined not to turn back, so they are in care not to miss the way. This represents the return of poor souls to God. Heaven is the Zion they aim at as their end; on this they have set their hearts; towards this they have set their faces, and therefore they ask the way thither. They do not ask the way to heaven and set their faces towards the world; nor set their faces towards heaven and go on at a venture without asking the way. But in all true converts there are both a sincere desire to attain the end and a constant care to keep in the way; and a blessed sight it is to see people thus asking the way to heaven with their faces thitherward. (4.) They shall renew their covenant to walk with God more closely for the future: Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant. They had broken covenant with God, had in effect separated themselves from him, but now they resolve to join themselves to him again, by engaging themselves afresh to be his. Thus, when backsliders return, they must do their first works, must renew the covenant they first made; and it must be a perpetual covenant, that must never be broken; and, in order to that, must never be forgotten; for a due remembrance of it will be the means of a due observance of it.
2. Their present case is lamented as very sad, and as having been long so: “My people” (for he owns them as his now that they are returning to him) “have been lost sheep (Jer. 50:6); they have gone from mountain to hill, have been hurried from place to place, and could find no pasture; they have forgotten their resting-place in their own country and cannot find their way to it.” And that which aggravated their misery was, (1.) That they were led astray by their own shepherds, their own princes and priests; they turned them from their duty, and so provoked God to turn them out of their own land. It is bad with a people when their leaders cause them to err, when those that should direct them, and when those that should secure and advance their interests are the betrayers of them. (2.) That in their wanderings they lay exposed to the beasts of prey, who thought they were entitled to them, as waifs and strays that had no owner (Jer. 50:7); it is with them as with wandering sheep, all that found them have devoured them and made a prey of them; and when they did them the greatest injuries they laughed at them, telling them it was what their own prophets had many a time told them they deserved; that was far from justifying those who did them wrong, yet they bantered them with this excuse, We offend not, because they have sinned against the Lord; but they could not pretend that they had sinned against them. And see what notion they had of the Lord they had sinned against, not as the only true and living God, but only as the habitation of justice and the hope of their fathers; they had put a contempt upon the temple and upon the tradition of their ancestors, and therefore deserved to suffer these hard things. And yet it was indeed an aggravation of their sin, and justified God, though it did not justify their adversaries in what was done to them, that they had forsaken the habitation of justice and him that was the hope of their fathers.
3. They are called upon to hasten away, as soon as ever the door of liberty was opened to them (Jer. 50:8): “Remove, not only out of the borders, but out of the midst of Babylon; though you be ever so well seated there, think not to settle there, but hasten to Zion, and be as the he-goats before the flocks; strive which shall be foremost, which shall lead in so good a work:” a he-goat is comely in going (Prov. 30:31) because he goes first. It is a graceful thing to be forward in a good work and to set others a good example.