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Jeremiah 51:41

41. How is Sheshach taken! and how is the praise of the whole earth surprised! how is Babylon become an astonishment among the nations!

41. Quomodo capta est Sesak, et comprehensa laus totius terrae? quomodo facta est Babylon in vastitatem (vel, in stuporem) inter curtetas gentes?


Here the wonder expressed by the Prophet tended to confirm what he had said, for he thus dissipated those things which usually disturbed the minds of the godly, so as not to give full credit to his predictions. There is indeed no doubt but that the godly thought of many things when they heard Jeremiah thus speaking of the destruction of Babylon. It ever occurred to them, “How can this be?” Hence Jeremiah anticipated such thoughts, and assumed himself the character of one filled with wonder — How is Shesbach taken? as though he had said, “Though the whole world should be astonished at the destruction of Babylon, yet what I predict is certain; and thus shall they find who now admit not the truth of what I say, as well as posterity.”

But he calls Babylon here Sheshach, as in Jeremiah 25. Some think it to be there the proper name of a man, and others regard it as the name of a celebrated city in Chaldea. But we see that what they assert is groundless; for this passage puts an end to all controversy, for in the first clause he mentions Sheshach, and in the second, Babylon. That passage also in Jeremiah 25 cannot refer to anything else except to Babylon; for the Prophet said,

“Drink shall all nations of God’s cup of fury,
and after them the king of Sheshach,”

that is, when God has chastised all nations, at length the king of Babylon shall have his turn. But in this place the Prophet clearly shows that Sheshach can be nothing else than Babylon. The name is indeed formed by inverting the alphabet. Nor is this a new notion; for they had this retrograding alphabet in the time of Jerome. They put ת, tau, the last letter, in the place of א, aleph, the first; then ש, shin, for ב, beth, thus we see how they formed Shesbach. The ש, shin, is found twice in the word, the last letter but one being put for ב, beth, the first, letter but one; and then כ, caph, is put in the place of ל, lamed, according to the order of the retrograde alphabet. There is no good reason for what some say, that the Prophet spoke thus obscurely for the sake of the Jews, because the prophecy was disliked, and might have created dangers to them; for why did he mention Sheshach and then Babylon in the same verse?

Many understand this passage enigmatically; but there is no doubt but that that alphabet was then, as we have stated, in common use, as we have Ziphras, as they call it, at this day. In the meantime, though the Prophet was not timid, and encouraged his own people to confidence, it yet pleased God that this prophecy should in a manner be hidden, but not that it should be without evidence of its certainty, for we shall see in the last verse but one of this chapter that he commanded the volume to be thrown into the Euphrates, until the event itself manifested the power of God, which for a long time remained as it were buried, until the time of visitation which of which he had spoken.

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