As I was reading Jeremiah 51 today, I noticed something in the footnotes that I’ve never seen elsewhere in the Bible. Here’s the verse I read.

“How Sheshak will be captured, the boast of the whole earth seized! How desolate Babylon will be among the nations!” (emphasis added)

Jeremiah 51:41 (NIV)

Sheshak is another name for Babylon, but it’s more than that. It’s a cryptogram that uses the Atbash cipher. When the cipher is applied, the revealed word is “Babylon.” Since I usually read footnotes, this stood out because it was the second instance I had seen in today’s reading of a cipher being used. The other occurrence was this verse from Jeremiah 51.

This is what the Lord says: “See, I will stir up the spirit of a destroyer against Babylon and the people of Leb Kamai (emphasis added).”

Jeremiah 51:1 (NIV)

“Leb Kamai” decoded becomes “Babylonia.” Since I don’t recall ever seeing a cipher used in the Bible, I looked into why Jeremiah might have used a cryptographic code to “disguise” words that he uses elsewhere in the text with no disguise. Apparently, no one knows.

Some say that Sheshak refers to “shishaki,” one of the moon gods of the Babylonians. Others say it wasn’t in the original text since it’s not in the Septuagint and claim it was added later by someone wanting to protect Jeremiah from the wrath of the Babylonians. However, that theory doesn’t make sense. The message in Jeremiah 51, as evidenced by these verses, was sent to Babylon to be read aloud.

He said to Seraiah, “When you get to Babylon, see that you read all these words aloud. Then say, ‘Lord, you have said you will destroy this place, so that neither people nor animals will live in it; it will be desolate forever.'”

Jeremiah 51:61-62 (NIV)

In this message to the Jews in exile, Jeremiah directly names Babylon, so disguising two references to Babylon in code to protect him doesn’t make sense. Jeremiah also uses the word, “Babylon” 43 times in Jeremiah 51 to describe, well, Babylon. Another issue is that the term “Sheshak” was a common word to describe Babylon by the Jews and would have been known by those hearing it. Whatever the original reason, I thought it was something interesting to share.

I did, however, apply 2 Timothy 3:16 to these verses.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)

When I asked the Lord what he was telling me through these verses, he said to me that we might not always know why something was put into the Bible or what it means, but we can always trust that it served the intended purpose. In other words, “Trust me, and don’t worry about it.”

Thanks for stopping by!