When Jeremiah finished speaking to all the people all these words of the LORD their God, with which the LORD their God had sent him to them, 2 Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the other insolent men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie. The LORD our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to settle there’; 3 but Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you against us, to hand us over to the Chaldeans, in order that they may kill us or take us into exile in Babylon.” 4 So Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces and all the people did not obey the voice of the LORD, to stay in the land of Judah. 5 But Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces took all the remnant of Judah who had returned to settle in the land of Judah from all the nations to which they had been driven– 6 the men, the women, the children, the princesses, and everyone whom Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan; also the prophet Jeremiah and Baruch son of Neriah. 7 And they came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the LORD. And they arrived at Tahpanhes. 8 Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes: 9 Take some large stones in your hands, and bury them in the clay pavement that is at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes. Let the Judeans see you do it, 10 and say to them, Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I am going to send and take my servant King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, and he will set his throne above these stones that I have buried, and he will spread his royal canopy over them. 11 He shall come and ravage the land of Egypt, giving those who are destined for pestilence, to pestilence, and those who are destined for captivity, to captivity, and those who are destined for the sword, to the sword. 12 He shall kindle a fire in the temples of the gods of Egypt; and he shall burn them and carry them away captive; and he shall pick clean the land of Egypt, as a shepherd picks his cloak clean of vermin; and he shall depart from there safely. 13 He shall break the obelisks of Heliopolis, which is in the land of Egypt; and the temples of the gods of Egypt he shall burn with fire.
Everything in the book of Jeremiah seems to work against the hope that the people will hear and listen and be obedient. Every time Jeremiah has spoken before the listeners have not responded, and yet there was perhaps a small hope that this time, since the leaders and the people had sought him out that the response might be different. Yet, the response by Azariah and Johanan (and I find the fact that Azariah son of Hoshaiah is mentioned first intriguing since in the chapters that proceed Johanan is apparently the dominant leader and when Azariah is mentioned, which isn’t often, it is after Johanan) is not only negative but accusatory. First is the accusation that Jeremiah’s prophecy is a lie, that in Jeremiah’s persistence in telling the people what they do not want to hear that somehow the inconvenient truth is shouted down as the lie. Second, interestingly, is the accusation that Baruch son of Neriah is behind this believed subversion. Other than his role as the scribe of Jeremiah we know very little about Baruch, but in this interconnected and politically charged world it isn’t surprising that Baruch is probably more than a mere scribe and that he (like Gedeliah and his father and grandfather) probably represented the present opposition to the policy of the officials in Jerusalem that led to the cities overthrow by Babylon. Perhaps he, and probably others as well, had been public voices critical of the pro-Egyptian policies of the past and as the people look to flee for safety in Egypt, perhaps Baruch makes a convenient scapegoat. Now the remnant who escaped exile by hiding away in foreign lands is now entering into a self-chosen exile in the land of Egypt. The land is left deserted since the text gives the impression that everyone left is taken away by Johanan and the forces remaining. Interesting that we see that the princesses are also left in Jerusalem and they along with the rest of the people, including Jeremiah and Baruch are carried off into to Tahpanhes (also known as Daphanae by the Greeks).
Once in Egypt, the LORD again calls on Jeremiah to perform a visual representation of the coming judgment in the sight of the people. Taking large stones and burying them in the front of the entrance of the palace of the pharaoh at Tahpanhes (Tahpanhes is not the capitol but this is probably one of many palaces throughout the nation) symbolically marking a place where the feared king of Babylon will again set up his court in the front yard of his biggest challenger in the region. The prophecy points out again that Egypt will not bring safety, that captivity, sword and pestilence will not be avoided and that the Chaldeans are instruments of the LORD of hosts, and that the Egyptians are no more a threat to them than a rat or insect on a shepherd’s robe. This tragic part of the story is approaching its end and not only do the people bring judgment upon themselves, but also upon Egypt and her gods for being the place they have come to for security.