Jeremiah 46: Judgment for Egypt and Hope for Jacob

Jeremiah 46:1-26 Words for Egypt


The word of the LORD that came to the prophet Jeremiah concerning the nations.  2 Concerning Egypt, about the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates at Carchemish and which King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah:
 The word of the LORD that came to the prophet Jeremiah concerning the nations.
 3 Prepare buckler and shield, and advance for battle!
 4 Harness the horses; mount the steeds!
Take your stations with your helmets,
whet your lances, put on your coats of mail!
 5 Why do I see them terrified? They have fallen back;
their warriors are beaten down, and have fled in haste.
They do not look back– terror is all around! says the LORD.
                6 The swift cannot flee away, nor can the warrior escape;
in the north by the river Euphrates they have stumbled and fallen.
                7 Who is this, rising like the Nile, like rivers whose waters surge?
 8 Egypt rises like the Nile, like rivers whose waters surge.
It said, Let me rise, let me cover the earth,
let me destroy cities and their inhabitants.
                9 Advance, O horses, and dash madly, O chariots!
Let the warriors go forth:
Ethiopia and Put who carry the shield,
the Ludim, who draw the bow.
                10 That day is the day of the Lord GOD of hosts,
a day of retribution, to gain vindication from his foes.
The sword shall devour and be sated, and drink its fill of their blood.
For the Lord GOD of hosts holds a sacrifice in the land of the north by the river Euphrates.
                11 Go up to Gilead, and take balm, O virgin daughter Egypt!
In vain you have used many medicines; there is no healing for you.
                12 The nations have heard of your shame, and the earth is full of your cry;
for warrior has stumbled against warrior; both have fallen together.
 13 The word that the LORD spoke to the prophet Jeremiah about the coming of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon to attack the land of Egypt:
14 Declare in Egypt, and proclaim in Migdol; proclaim in Memphis and Tahpanhes;
Say, “Take your stations and be ready, for the sword shall devour those around you.”
                15 Why has Apis fled? Why did your bull not stand?—
because the LORD thrust him down.
                16 Your multitude stumbled and fell, and one said to another,
“Come, let us go back to our own people and to the land of our birth,
because of the destroying sword.”
                17 Give Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the name
“Braggart who missed his chance.”
                18 As I live, says the King, whose name is the LORD of hosts,
one is coming like Tabor among the mountains, and like Carmel by the sea.
                19 Pack your bags for exile, sheltered daughter Egypt!
For Memphis shall become a waste, a ruin, without inhabitant.
                20 A beautiful heifer is Egypt– a gadfly from the north lights upon her.
                21 Even her mercenaries in her midst are like fatted calves;
they too have turned and fled together, they did not stand;
for the day of their calamity has come upon them, the time of their punishment.
                22 She makes a sound like a snake gliding away;
for her enemies march in force,
and come against her with axes, like those who fell trees.
                23 They shall cut down her forest, says the LORD, though it is impenetrable,
because they are more numerous than locusts; they are without number.
 24 Daughter Egypt shall be put to shame;
she shall be handed over to a people from the north.
                25 The LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, said: See, I am bringing punishment upon Amon of Thebes, and Pharaoh, and Egypt and her gods and her kings, upon Pharaoh and those who trust in him. 26 I will hand them over to those who seek their life, to King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon and his officers. Afterward Egypt shall be inhabited as in the days of old, says the LORD.

 

For the first forty five chapters of Jeremiah the focus has been almost exclusively centered on narrating the events of the end of the first temple period of Judah, from the final attempt at reform under Josiah, to the multiple defeats of Judah at the hand of Babylon, the eventual destruction of the city and exile of much of the population and then finally the chaos among the small remnant that eventually flees to Egypt. Yet from the beginning Jeremiah was called as a prophet to the nations (see Jeremiah 1: 5, 10). The events that have happened in Judah are not isolated from the nations that surround them, they are caught up in the tide of the politics and intrigue of empires and that if the LORD of hosts, literally the LORD of armies, which is one of Jeremiah’s favorite constructs using the name of the LORD, is involved in the movement of the forces of the Chaldeans as the Babylonian empire ascends, then the LORD must also be involved in the disposition of all the events going on in the surround region. To pull on the broader narratives of the Hebrew people about God as the creator and God in the Exodus, the LORD is not a regional god, who only has purview over the terrain of Israel or only has power on Israel’s soil (this type of belief for example is why Naaman asks Elisha for two barrels of oil so that Naaman can worship the LORD on Israel’s soil, see 2 Kings 5: 17) and so like Isaiah, Ezekiel and Amos, Jeremiah now announces God’s words to the nations.

The judgment on Egypt here in these words is focused on the military power of Egypt. Egypt, in contrast to the relatively tiny kingdom of Judah, was one of the ‘super-powers’ of the day and they were heavily involved in projecting their influence through their economic and military might. Judah often found itself making alliances with either Egyptian, Assyrian, or Babylonian might in the previous generation precisely because they were not militarily a threat to any of these empires. Egypt, once viewed as the oppressor of Israel, the place from which they emerged from slavery to become the chosen people, now has become the benefactor, the ally. Egypt’s judgment, in comparison to many of the oracles spoken against Judah and Israel as a whole, are relatively calm. There is little mention of destruction taking place within the Egyptian homeland and what destruction is mentioned is precisely in the areas where the Judean refugees settled (Migdol, Memphis and Tahpanhes) and it causes the causes the refugees there to desire to return back to their own home.

T.E. Lawrence and L. Wooley at Carchemish (1913)

T.E. Lawrence and L. Wooley at Carchemish (1913)

It is military defeat and humiliation that receives the lion share of this oracle. The pride of Egypt is shattered as its military is defeated, first probably referring to the Battle of Carchemish (605 BCE) which has numerous connections with the story of Jeremiah. As Babylon rose to power and continued to drive the Assyrian empire further and further into submission conquering their capitol at Ninevah in 612 BCE and then Harran in 610 BCE the Assyrians moved their capitol to Carchemish. In 609 BCE Pharaoh Neco II marched his forces to aid his ally, Assyria, in resisting the advance of the Babylonian armies. As Pharaoh’s army advance out of Egypt the armies of Judah, led by King Josiah, resisted the advance of Egypt and King Josiah was killed in the battle. When the Egyptian and Assyrian armies met the Babylonian armies of Nebuchadnezzar II the combined Egyptian and Assyrian forces were soundly defeated and this marked the eclipse of the Assyrian empire and the decline of influence of Egypt in the Middle East. As we have seen throughout the journey in Jeremiah there continues to be battles for influence within Judah and the surrounding region’s area, and Jehoiachim embraces a pro-Egyptian policy that leads into conflict with Babylon and then in the time of Zedekiah’s appointed reign there are still internal and external forces encouraging a pro-Egyptian/anti-Babylonian stance.

Map of the Assyrian Empire

Map of the Assyrian Empire

Egypt would have several other confrontations with the Babylonian forces between 604 and 568 BCE, and while Egypt never lost its independence to Babylon it continued to lose its dominance over the region. The imagery of Egypt’s military falling back in disarray, including its proud mercenaries from Ethiopia (Cush), Put, and Ludim which at one time seemed invincible are not merely the result of the military prowess of the Chaldean (Babylonian) forces but in Jeremiah’s eye a sign of the LORD of host at work in the events of the nations. Egypt’s military defeat is tied to the Egyptian gods being put to shame, to her beauty being lost and her impenetrable forests being cut away. Yet, the word of judgment is not final. For Egypt there is also the promise that it shall be inhabited as in days of old. The LORD cares not only for Judah but also for Egypt and the judgment will pass and prosperity return.

Jeremiah 46: 27-28 Words of Comfort for the Exiles

 27 But as for you, have no fear, my servant Jacob,
and do not be dismayed, O Israel; for I am going to save you from far away,
and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and no one shall make him afraid.
 28 As for you, have no fear, my servant Jacob, says the LORD, for I am with you.
I will make an end of all the nations among which I have banished you,
but I will not make an end of you!
I will chastise you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished.

 

Here again at the beginning of the judgment of the nations there is the reassurance to Israel that there is a future for them as well. Much like the words of hope beginning in Jeremiah 30, the judgment that is coming on the nations is a part of God’s work to return the people of Israel home and to shelter them. After so much judgment on the God’s people, after so much death and pain, after so much disappointment and desolation the time of judgment is passed and the people have a hope for the future.

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