The word that Jeremiah the prophet commanded Seraiah the son of Neriah, son of Mahseiah, when he went with Zedekiah king of Judah to Babylon, in the fourth year of his reign. Seraiah was the quartermaster. Jeremiah wrote in a book all the disaster that should come upon Babylon, all these words that are written concerning Babylon. And Jeremiah said to Seraiah: “When you come to Babylon, see that you read all these words, and say, ‘O Lord, you have said concerning this place that you will cut it off, so that nothing shall dwell in it, neither man nor beast, and it shall be desolate forever.’ When you finish reading this book, tie a stone to it and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates, and say, ‘Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the disaster that I am bringing upon her, and they shall become exhausted.’”
Thus far are the words of Jeremiah. – Jeremiah 51:59-64 ESV
In 593 B.C., King Zedekiah of Judah, who had been placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, was summoned by the Babylonian king to make a trip the royal capital. The prophet, Jeremiah, found out about this trip, because his scribe, Baruch, had a brother who was on the payroll for the king. In fact, he was the king’s quartermaster, which probably meant that he took care of all the housing needs of the king when he traveled. So, Jeremiah became aware of the king’s travel plans and provided Seraiah, the brother of Baruch, with a scroll containing all the oracles of God against the nation of Babylon. It is important to recognize that this story takes place long before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. It was at that time, Zedekiah the king was captured by the Babylonians and brutally repayed for his rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar.
They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Kings 25:6-7 NLT
But seven years earlier, Nebuchadnezzar had summoned Zedekiah to Babylon for what was likely a conference of all the vassal kings who reigned over their respective nations at the whim of the Babylonian king. So, when Zedekiah and his retinue made the lengthy trip to Babylon, Seraiah carried something extra in his luggage: A scroll containing God’s very detailed description of Babylon’s coming fall. And Seraiah had very clear instructions from the prophet what he was to do when he arrived in the capital city of Babylon. He was to read the scroll out loud, then pronounce the words, “Lord, you have said that you will destroy Babylon so that neither people nor animals will remain here. She will lie empty and abandoned forever” (Jeremiah 51:62 NLT). At that point, he was to tie a stone to the scroll and toss it into the Euphrates River.
All of this sounds a bit odd to us. It comes across as a tad too theatrical and unnecessary. Was it really that important, in the grand scheme of things, that Seraiah carry a scroll all the way to Babylon, read its dire pronouncements out loud and then toss it into a river? Well, it seems that God had deemed it so. This was likely not Jeremiah’s idea. And it was not the first set of strange instructions God had given His prophet. By this time, Jeremiah had grown accustomed to God’s somewhat strange penchant for dramatic displays. God does not provide Jeremiah with any reasons for this bizarre bit of dramatic activity. And it unlikely that what Seraiah had been asked to do was in way necessary for God to accomplish His divine plans for Babylon’s eventual fall. The reading of the contents of the scroll and its submersion in the waters of the Euphrates were not meant to act as some kind of magical charm or curse against Babylon. They were purely symbolic statements of God’s power and His sovereignty over the nations. God was using Zedekiah, the rebellious king of Judah, to carry a divine decree against the enemies of Judah. It is unlikely that Zedekiah knew anything about the scroll hidden in Seraiah’s luggage. Had he known, he would have taken action against his employee and destroyed the scroll. And it also unlikely that Seraiah read the scroll in the hearing of Zedekiah and the rest of the royal retinue, let alone in the hearing of the people of Judah. The would have resulted in a death sentence on Seraiah. And it was not necessary. It was not important that anyone heard the words the Seraiah read. This would be a symbolic gesture, where God arranged for His words against Babylon to be carried right through the gates of the great city and thrown into the very waters of the great river that flowed through the land.
It is interesting to note that, in the book of Revelations, written hundreds of years later, the apostle John records the following vision concerning Babylon, given to Him by God.
Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a huge millstone. He threw it into the ocean and shouted,
“Just like this, the great city Babylon
will be thrown down with violence
and will never be found again.” – Revelation 18:21 NLT
Seraiah would tie a simple stone to a scroll and throw it in the waters of the Euphrates. But God would turn eventually reenact that scene, with the stone being transformed into a bolder. His Word, written on the scroll, would have a powerful impact on the nation of Babylon. When Seraiah had completed his task, he probably stood back and watched the scroll sink into the water, and then walked away, unimpressed. Nothing had happened. There was not change in the circumstances of his day. He would go back to the king and eventually make the return trip to Judah along with the rest of his coworkers. But God had spoken. His Word had been proclaimed, in Judah and all the way to the streets of Babylon.
There was destruction coming to the land of Babylon. God had made that perfectly clear. And while the Babylon of Jeremiah’s day would not be fully and completely destroyed when the Persians defeated them, that does not disqualify the prophecies contained in the book of Jeremiah. There seems to be an indication that Babylon carries a symbolic meaning. Whether or not the actual city of Babylon will one day be rebuilt and the nation of Babyon restored is not clear. And it is probably not necessary for the oracles declared in Jeremiah’s book to be fulfilled. Chapters 17 and 18 of the Book of Revelation describe the future fall of Babylon, but this does not have to mean a literal nation of Babylon. It may simply refer to a reincarnation of the spirit of Babylon in the form of another nation or alliances of nations. Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian Empire were accused by God of pride, idolatry and rebellion against God and His people. And that spirit is alive and well. We have seen more than a few examples of nations who set themselves up against God and the people of God. We have plenty of examples in our current cultural context of nations that practice all kinds of idolatry and who refuse to acknowledge God as the one true God. This tendency on the part of men and the governments they establish will only increase over time. And the day is coming when there will arise either a literal or figurative Babylon, a mighty nation that will stand in opposition to God and all that He represents. But that nation, like the one in Jeremiah’s day, will fall. The pride of man, exhibited in the governments and nations established by men, will prove defenseless before the sovereignty of God Almighty. As God so clearly states at the end of this chapter:
“In this same way Babylon and her people will sink, never again to rise, because of the disasters I will bring upon her.” – Jeremiah 51:64 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.