Martial Law in Babylon Prophesied
In this article the reader will be challenged to find the meaning of a Hebrew word and then to decipher the hidden message in the end-time prophecy in Jeremiah 51 concerning martial law in the land of “Babylon”.
In the present author’s view, there is a verse in the prophecy of Jeremiah 51 that has been overlooked by the commentators and thus its meaning has not been completely understood. The reason for this is the way this verse in Jer 51, that is of a real challenge in the Hebrew text, is translated by probably all translators (the JPS translators included).
In order to correctly understand this verse, the present author has made a unorthodox approach to the translation. But firstly, the reader needs to know that when he or she reads a translation, he or she reads the opinion of the translator(s); likewise, when he or she reads a dictionary, he or she reads the opinion of the author(s) of the dictionary. The present author does not make any exception to the rule, but it is the responsibility of the reader to discern the matter as the good Bereans did when they checked against the [Hebrew] Scripture the words of the apostle (Act 17:10-11).
Secondly, the reader should know that unlike all other languages a Hebrew word can have only one meaning, but different applications. What it means is that in order to understand correctly a Hebrew word, we need first to find its literal meaning, and this meaning may not be found in the dictionaries but in the context of the Hebrew text. Once we find the true meaning of a word in the context where the word is used with its literal meaning, then we can return to the examined text and see how this meaning is applied.
And the present author’s approach is to find the literal meaning of a Hebrew word wherever it is used in the textual context and then he returns in the text in question to explain its meaning.
In other words, textual criticism is important in studying the Hebrew Scripture.
Below is the text from the Book of Jeremiah Chapter 51.
The unorthodox approach of studying the text in question is that instead of translating the key word, the present author will challenge the reader by taking that particular English word out of the text and replacing it with the original Hebrew word (in bold) in the text.
Then, he will ask the reader to figure out the meaning of the Hebrew word in question according to the immediate context in Jeremiah 51. And once this goal is achieved, the present author will ask the reader to translate this particular Hebrew word in English.
The passage subject to out textual criticism is in Jer 51:45-48 and reads thus:
Come out of her midst, My people! And let everyone deliver his being from the burning displeasure of Yehovah.
And let not your heart faint and you fear in the שְׁמוּעָה shemuah that shall be heard (שָׁמַע shema) in the land. For the שְׁמוּעָה shemuah shall come in one year and after that in another year the שְׁמוּעָה shemuah, and violence (חָמָס chamas) in the land, and ruler against ruler.
Therefore see, the days are coming that I shall bring punishment on the carved images of Babylon, and all her land shall be put to shame, and all her slain fall in her midst. And the heavens and the earth and all that is in them shall shout for joy over Babylon, for the ravagers shall come to her from the north, declares Yehovah. (Jer 51:45-48)
We should notice that the repetition of the Hebrew word הַשְּׁמוּעָה hashemuah in verse 46 expresses the correlative relation in the text—one hashemuah and another hashemuah will follow in a year. The phrase וְחָמָס בָּאָרֶץ and violence in the land is to be taken as dependent grammatically on וּבָא and shall come, so therefore we read thus: “and when the act of violence is committed in the land (of Babylon), one ruler rises up upon/against the other.”
Thus understood, these words presuppose not a full scale war, but disturbance or commotion of some kind, through which Babylon will go. It is important to keep this in mind, as we will advance in the analysis of these three verses.
Now, let us see how this Hebrew word שְׁמוּעָה shemuah is used in other passages in the Scripture. The purpose of this, as stated above, is to find its literal meaning. We find this literal meaning in Eze 7:25-26, as we read thus:
Horror comes; and they shall seek peace, and there shall be none. Calamity shall come upon calamity and שְׁמוּעָה shemuah shall be upon שְׁמוּעָה shemuah … (Eze 7:25-26)
Notice, how the phrase Calamity shall come upon calamity couples with שְׁמוּעָה shemuah shall be upon שְׁמוּעָה shemuah. And also, how the same word שְׁמוּעָה shemuah, couples with another text in Jeremiah: a great shaking out of the land below:
See, it has come, the voice of שְׁמוּעָה shemuah, and a great shaking out of the land of the north, to make the cities of Yehudah a waste, a habitation of jackals. (Jer 10:22)
Also notice that the same word in question שְׁמוּעָה shemuah is called “evil” in Jer 49:23. We read:
Of Damascus. Hamath is ashamed, and Arpad; for they have heard evil שְׁמוּעָה shemuah, they are melted away; there is trouble in the sea; it cannot be quiet. (Jer 49:23)
With that being said, we come to the point to ask the question: What does the Hebrew word שְׁמוּעָה shemuah means and how is it used in the context of these prophecies?
Or, we can ask the same question in a different way: What is this that can be heard, feared, and associated with violence that causes rulers to fight against rulers in the land of Babylon?
What is this שְׁמוּעָה shemuah that is called evil and that can cause calamities and a great shaking out of the land of the north?
The word שְׁמוּעָה shemuah is often translated in the traditional translations as “report”, “rumor”, “news” and “tidings” and these are not necessarily wrong translations. On the contrary, the word שְׁמוּעָה shemuah comes from the root שָׁמַע shama, which does mean “to hear” but more properly “to listen up” or “to listen attentively”, as seen in Due 6:4.
Listen up, Israel! Yehovah our Elohim, Yehovah is one!
As the Hebrew word שָׁמַע shama is often translated as to hear, listen up, it also can mean [by extension] to obey. While these are correct translations of שָׁמַע shama, שְׁמוּעָה shemuah as we saw from the above occurrences may have a deeper or more complex meaning than what one can expect, and we will seek more insight in the matter in order to understand the prophetic message in Jer 51:45-48.
Further analysis of how שָׁמַע shama is used throughout the Scripture (which brings us closer to its literal meaning) reveals that it can be translated as “to understand”, as it is found in such verses as Jer 5:15, Gen 42:23, and 1Ki_3:9, but also “to proclaim”, as found in 1Ki 15:22, Est 1:20, and Isa 62:11 and “to declare”: in Isa 41:22.
But probably the most unusual application of שָׁמַע shama is found in 1Sa 15:4, where it is used in the sense of “gathering troops”. Actually, this is the only place where שָׁמַע shama is found with this application, and this should make us pay a close attention to its distinct meaning that can also be its literal application, namely: “to summon troops”.
With that being said, we may come to the conclusion that “to summon troops” can be the key to unlock the meaning of Jer 51:46. We read 1Sa 15:4 thus:
And Shaul summoned (שָׁמַע shama) the people, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand footmen, and ten thousand men of Judah. (1Sa 15:4)
The immediate context of 1Sa 15 is the gathering of men for a battle. With this close reading of the verse above שָׁמַע shama can hardly be translated as hear, obey, etc., but only as “to summon troops” in a sense of a military preparation. Otherwise, it would make no sense to think that King Shaul “heard” or “obeyed” his soldiers, if we follow the traditional rendering of this word.
Therefore, we can conclude that שָׁמַע shama can have the application of gathering troops for war, as the king’s voice was heard (shama) by the troops and they assembled for war.
Further more, a derivative of שָׁמַע shama is the word שָׁמֵם shameym which means to stun (or intransitively grow numb), that is, to devastate or to make amazed, to desolate, to be destitute, to destroy.
Bear in mind this Hebrew word, because it will be very helpful in understanding Jer 51:46, when we return back to the prophecy, as the feminine passive participle of שָׁמֵם shameym is the word in question שְׁמוּעָה shemuah in our verse.
Therefore, שְׁמוּעָה shemuah, is something that is related to the idea of “heard”, “understood”, “proclaimed”, “obeyed”, “declared”, and “summoned” for war. But also, shemuah is violent and evil that causes calamities and a great shaking out of fear. Again, what is shemuah?
The present author’s understanding is that there is only one thing that can check all these attributes of שְׁמוּעָה shemuah and this is (in the context of Jeremiah 50 and 51) a state of emergency or martial law, since:
- only a state of emergency or martial law can be declared and heard in the news;
- only in a state of emergency or martial law troops can be mobilized and civilians held in obedience;
- only in a state of emergency or martial law there is violence, calamities, and a great commotion of the society and and shaking of the civil liberties.
If we translate שְׁמוּעָה shemuah, as it is commonly translated in Jer 51, as “report” or “rumor” that will occur in two consecutive years in the land of Babylon, it would make a little sense since reports and rumors are common things today and take place every day all over the world. Why would reports or rumors be so significant to be even mentioned in the end time prophecy?
But if translated as “state of emergency” or “martial law” or even “military coup”, it changes the whole perspective of how we read the prophecy. It changes the appearance of שְׁמוּעָה shemuah relative to the dire situation “Babylon” will fall into, according to the prophecy.
So, if this interpretation of the present author is correct, we read again the prophecy concerning this “Babylon”.
And let not your heart faint and you fear in the martial law that shall be heard in the land. For the martial law shall come in one year and after that in another year the martial law, and violence in the land, and ruler against ruler.
Here, shemuah can be also translated as “state of emergency” without changing the plain reading to the text.
In other words, only in a state of emergency, martial law, or even in a military coup the news of it will be heard (understand as “broadcasted”) throughout the land of “Babylon”.
Only in a state of emergency, martial law, or a military coup will cause violence and rulers (governors) will fight against rulers or states against states, all depends on which side of martial law or military coup they will line up.
Thus translated, the interpretation that comes out of it should not be a surprise to anyone considering the political environment in this mystery “Babylon”.
It is interesting to notice also that in Jer 51:46 the word translated as “violence” is the Hebrew/Semitic word חָמָס chamas, exactly like the name of the terrorist organization sworn for the destruction of Israel.
We may also recall the words of Yeshua the Messiah in Matthew 24 concerning the last days, which line up perfectly with His Father’s prophecy in Jeremiah 50 and 51:
As for you, when you hear of wars and a company of hosts*, beware lest you become foolish because all of this will occur, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and reign against reign. And there will great tumults, grievous famine, and earthquakes in places. (Mat 24:6-7, Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, translated from an ancient Hebrew manuscript by George Howard, Mercer University Press, 1995); *KJV reads “rumors of wars”.
Beware of the prophecy in Jeremiah 50 and 51, as Yeshua the Messiah is warning us: when you hear and see military forces on the streets of “Babylon”, the end is near.
Stay tuned as updates may come.
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.