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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 44

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


The continuing hardness of God’s people ch. 44

This chapter records an incident late in Jeremiah’s ministry, though how much later than chapter 43 is unknown. Many commentators suppose it dates from about 580 B.C., because it would have taken some time for the Judean refugees to spread throughout Egypt, as this chapter pictures them. This chapter contains the prophet’s last known words. The prophecies in the succeeding chapters date from earlier times.

Jeremiah announced Yahweh’s judgment on the idolatrous Jews in Egypt (Jeremiah 44:1-14). Israel’s future lay with the Jews in exile in Babylon, not with those who had fled to Egypt for safety, or with the small remnant left in Canaan.

Verse 1

The Jewish refugees did not all stay in Tahpanhes. Some of them moved on and took up residence in the Egyptian towns of Migdol (probably about 25 miles east-northeast of Tahpanhes; cf. Exodus 14:2; Numbers 33:7; Ezekiel 29:10; Ezekiel 30:6), Noph (Gr. Memphis, the chief city of lower or northern Egypt, about 13 miles south of Cairo on the western bank of the Nile), and in the territory of Pathros (lit. land of the south, i.e., upper or southern Egypt; cf. Jeremiah 44:15). Other Jews had migrated to Egypt earlier to escape the Babylonians. The Lord gave Jeremiah another message for all of them.

A sizable Jewish community existed at Elephantine, in the Pathros region, during the fifth century B.C. Archaeologists have discovered important documents there that provide helpful information about their society. Their cult consisted of a mixture of Israelite and Canaanite religious elements. [Note: See Leon J. Wood, A Survey of Israel’s History, pp. 409-11; and A. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C.]

Verses 2-3

Yahweh reminded His chosen people that He had brought calamity on Jerusalem and Judah, and that the land lay in ruins. He had done this because of their wicked, idolatrous practices.

Verses 4-6

This destruction had come after the Lord had sent His servants-the prophets-repeatedly, to warn the people that He hated what they were doing. Yet they did not listen and repent; they continued sacrificing to pagan gods. Their failure to repent was the cause of the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem.

Verses 7-8

The Lord asked why, then, His people continued to practice idolatry in Egypt. They were doing there exactly what they had done in Judah, and that had resulted in Yahweh’s judgment of them. If they continued to practice idolatry, the Lord would cut them off completely and would make them an object of ridicule.

Verses 9-10

He asked if they had forgotten the wickedness of all the people in Judah: their ancestors, the kings and their wives, and themselves and their wives. They had failed to feel contrite or to repent even to the present day. [Note: The same Hebrew word translated "contrite" here, dukke’u, has been rendered "bruised" in Isaiah 53:5.] They had not feared Yahweh or obeyed His covenant. They were arrogant, stubborn, and hard-hearted.

"It was Hegel, in the introduction to his Philosophy of History (1807), who rightly said: ’What experience and history teach is this-that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.’ So with these Jews in Egypt!" [Note: Feinberg, "Jeremiah," pp. 640-41.]

Verses 11-12

Yahweh, Israel’s God, announced that He would oppose His people with unyielding judgment and cut off the entire Jewish community that had fled to Egypt. All these Jews would die by war or by famine, and would become illustrations for the other nations of what it means to be cursed. There would be no difference between the fate of the powerful and the poor among those whom God judged.

Verses 13-14

The Lord would punish His people in Egypt, as He had punished them in Judah, with: warfare, starvation, and disease. All but a few refugees-of the remnant who had fled to Egypt to live there temporarily and then return to Judah-would die in Egypt. They would not return to the Promised Land. Thus this judgment had as its focus those who fled to Egypt for temporary asylum, not all the Jews who had moved there earlier and had made it their permanent home.

The Jews then responded to Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jeremiah 44:15-19). We do not know how Jeremiah communicated his message to all the Jews throughout Egypt. He may have done so at a nationwide gathering, or he may have sent his prophecy to their settlements by messengers.

Verses 15-16

The Jews to whom this message was sent replied that they were not going to listen to Jeremiah. The wives of many of the Jewish men were burning sacrifices to pagan deities, with their husbands’ knowledge, along with other women.

Verses 17-18

They intended to continue to worship the Queen of Heaven, a Near Eastern fertility goddess, as they had done in Judah (cf. Jeremiah 7:18; 2 Kings 17:16), because back then they had plenty of food and life had been pleasant for them. [Note: See Keown, pp. 266-68, for a study of the Queen of Heaven.] Worship of this deity involved offering cakes made in the shape of the goddess or the moon, or stamped with her image (Jeremiah 44:19; cf. Jeremiah 7:18). After the Judeans had stopped making burnt offerings and drink offerings to her, they had experienced shortages, and many of them had died in war and famine. Their response challenged Yahweh’s ultimate sovereignty.

During the long and relatively peaceful reign of evil King Manasseh (697-642 B.C.), pagan cults of many kinds flourished in Judah. When Josiah (640-609 B.C.) assumed the throne after wicked King Amon’s brief reign (642-640 B.C.), he began to expel the cults, and encouraged Yahweh worship. Then a series of bad things began to happen in Judah. Pharaoh Neco killed Josiah, the Egyptians occupied Judah, and the Egyptians carried King Jehoahaz away as a prisoner. Then Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah several times, deported King Jehoiakim, destroyed Jerusalem, and took many Judeans captive, including King Zedekiah. Most recently, Ishmael had assassinated the new Judean governor, Gedaliah. It is understandable that some of the people now concluded that returning to Yahweh, in Josiah’s day, had been a step backward for Judah. They failed to see that these calamities were punishments from Yahweh for forsaking Him, and concluded that they were punishments from the idols for forsaking them.

"On a more doctrinaire plane, the secularist will blame Christianity, not the lack of it, for many of society’s ills, ascribing our frustrations and tensions to the biblical restraints and moral absolutes; seeking freedom, as did Jeremiah’s critics, not in God but from God." [Note: Kidner, p. 133. ]

Similarly, some people in our day point to "Christianity" as the cause of the bad conditions that existed in the Middle Ages, since the Roman Catholic church dominated life then. Actually, those bad conditions resulted from a combination of causes.

Verse 19

The women had carried on these idolatrous worship practices with their husbands’ full knowledge and approval (cf. Jeremiah 7:17-19). This was not just a women’s sin. The women seem to have meant that since their husbands approved of their actions (cf. Numbers 30:7-15), why should Jeremiah object? As in Solomon’s household, the women seem to have been very aggressive in pursuing idolatry, and their husbands followed their lead (cf. 1 Kings 11:1-8).

Jeremiah then replied to the people (Jeremiah 44:20-30).

Verses 20-23

The prophet reminded the people that Yahweh had devastated their homeland because of their idolatry. What they and their forefathers had done had not escaped His notice. It was a direct result of their accumulated sins. Covenant unfaithfulness had resulted in their present calamity.

Verses 24-27

Jeremiah proclaimed a further message from Yahweh to them. If they continued to practice idolatry, they would all die. They would not be able to invoke the Lord’s name as their highest authority, as they had done ever since they had become a nation, because they would be dead. Again, the focus of this judgment was particularly the remnant that had recently fled from Judah and planned to return as soon as possible (cf. Jeremiah 44:14).

Verse 28

Only a few of the Judean remnant living in Egypt would survive (cf. Jeremiah 44:14). The Lord’s people then would know whose word was true. They had said that if they worshipped the Queen of Heaven, they would prosper, but He had said they would perish.

Many Jews continued to live in Egypt for hundreds of years after these events. [Note: See J. P. Lange, ed., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, vol. 6: The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah Theologically and Homiletically Expounded, by E. W. Eduard Naegelsback, p. 356, for a brief history of Jewish life in Egypt until the time of Christ.] This may indicate that many of the Jews repented at Jeremiah’s preaching and that God spared them, but this is unlikely. Probably the Lord slew the Jews who had fled to Egypt with Johanan.

Verses 29-30

The Lord promised His people a sign to confirm that what He had said would happen-would happen. Pharaoh Hophra (Gr. Apries, ca. 589-570 B.C.) would experience a fate that would be the same as that of King Zedekiah. This was the Pharaoh who had promised support to Zedekiah but was turned back by Nebuchadnezzar in 588 B.C. when his army advanced into Judah (cf. Jeremiah 37:5). As Zedekiah had fallen to his enemy, so would Hophra. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Hophra became the target of a coup d’état and Amasis, one of his generals, took his place. Hophra was later assassinated when Amasis handed him over to Egyptians who strangled him. [Note: Herodotus, History, 2:161-63; 4:159.] Josephus, however, wrote that Nebuchadnezzar slew him and reigned in his place. [Note: Josephus, 10:9:7.] Possibly, Nebuchadnezzar was the influential power behind Amasis’ revolt and was, therefore, ultimately responsible for Hophra’s death.

"In one of the strongest examples of direct defiance against Yahweh by Israel/Judah portrayed in the Hebrew Bible, Jeremiah 44 underscores the inevitable judgment that will fall upon the Judean survivors in Egypt. The concluding passage in Jeremiah 37-44 seals forever the fate of the Judean community that sought safety in Egypt." [Note: Keown, p. 269.]

This chapter also serves as a final, strong warning against the practice of idolatry, which the preceding chapters of this book emphasized repeatedly.

Scripture gives no information about Jeremiah’s personal history after this, his last prophecy. There is ancient tradition that he died in Egypt, but other traditions about the later events in his life are fanciful and make it very dangerous to speculate further. [Note: See Feinberg, "Jeremiah," pp. 644-45, for some of these traditions.] Like the Book of Acts, Jeremiah does not record the death of its main character.

". . . though in a sense one’s earthly ministry comes to a close, its fruits continue in time and eternity." [Note: Jensen, p. 110.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 44". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/jeremiah-44.html. 2012.
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