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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Jeremiah 46

Verse 1


(1) The word of the Lord . . .—We come here upon something like the traces of a plan in the arrangement of Jeremiah’s prophecies. Those that were concerned exclusively with the outside nations of the heathen were collected together, and attached as an appendix to those which were addressed directly to his own people. Most of those that follow were connected historically with , and may be regarded as the development of what is there given in outline, and belong accordingly to the reign of Jehoiakim (circ. B.C. 607).

Verse 2

(2) Against Egypt, against the army of Pharaoh-necho.—The king of Egypt thus named was the last of its great native sovereigns. He was the sixth king of the twenty-sixth dynasty of Manetho, and succeeded his father Psammetichus in B.C. 610, and reigned for sixteen years. Herodotus (ii. 158, 159) relates as his chief achievements that he anticipated the Suez Canal by endeavouring to connect the Nile with the Red Sea, but was stopped by an oracle, and sent a fleet of Phœnician ships to circumnavigate Africa. One hundred and twenty thousand lives were said to have been sacrificed in the former enterprise. On desisting from it, he turned his attention to other plans of conquest, defeated the Syrians at Magdolus, near Pelusium, and took Cadytis, a great city of Syria, which Herodotus describes as not much less than Sardis. By some writers this has been identified with the capture of Jerusalem in 2 Chronicles 36:3, the name Cadytis being looked on as equivalent to Kadusha (=the holy city),and so anticipating the modern Arabic name of El-Khuds. Herodotus, however (iii. 5), describes it as being near the coast, and this has led to its being identified with Gaza, or Kedesh-Naphtali, or a Hittite city—Ketesh—on the Orontes, near which the great commercial and. military road turned off for Damascus and the Euphrates. In any case, it was in the course of this invasion, directed against the Babylonian Empire, then ruled by Nabopolassar, the father of Nebuchadnezzar, that he defeated and slew Josiah at Megiddo (2 Chronicles 35:20-24), deposed Jehoahaz, and appointed Jehoiakim (2 Chronicles 36:4). By some writers, accordingly (R. S. Poole, in Smith’s Dict. Bible, Art. Pharaoh-necho), Megiddo is identified with the Magdolus of Herodotus. His army advanced, and took the city of Carchemish, by some (Hitzig) identified with Circesium, an island formed by the confluence of the Chaboras and the Euphrates; by others (Rawlinson) with a Hittite city, now Jerablus, a corruption of the Greek Hierapolis, much higher up the Euphrates. (See Note on Isaiah 10:9). After the capture Necho appears to have returned to Egypt. Three years later (B.C. 606) Carchemish was taken by Nebuchadnezzar with the almost total defeat of Necho’s army, he himself having returned to Egypt, and it is this defeat of which Jeremiah now proceeds to speak as in a song of anticipated triumph at the downfall of the Egyptian oppressor.

Verse 5

(5) Wherefore have I seen them dismayed . . .?—The prophet speaks as seeing already in his mind’s eye the confusion of the defeated army, with no way to escape, driven back on the Euphrates. In the “fear round about” (Magor-missabib) we have one of his characteristic formulæ (Jeremiah 6:25; Jeremiah 20:3; Jeremiah 20:10; Jeremiah 49:29).

Verses 7-8

(7, 8) Who is this that cometh up as a flood? . . .—The Hebrew word for “flood” is used as a proper name almost exclusively ( being the only exception) for the Nile (e.g., Genesis 41:1-3; Exodus 2:3; Exodus 4:9; Amos 8:8; Amos 9:5), and thus the very form of the question points to the answer that follows. The prophet goes back, as an English poet might have done after the destruction of the Spanish Armada, to the time when all the strength of Egypt had been poured forth in the exultation of anticipated victory, as the great river of Egypt poured its waters. The word for “rivers,” though more general, has a like allusive reference, being used in Exodus 7:19; Exodus 8:5 and Ezekiel 32:2; Ezekiel 32:14 for the arms or canals of the Nile.

Verse 9

(9) The Ethiopians and the Libyans.—In the Hebrew, Cush and Put. The verse describes the prominent elements in the composition of the Egyptian army. The “chariots and horses” had long been proverbial (; 2 Chronicles 1:16; Exodus 15:19). The Cushites were the Ethiopians of the Upper Valley of the Nile, sometimes, as under Zerah (2 Chronicles 14:9) and Tirhakah (2 Kings 19:9), asserting their independence, but at this time subject to Necho. The name Phut meets us, with Cush and Mizraim, in the list of the sons of Ham in Genesis 10:6; and presumably, therefore, belongs to an African people. Wherever it is mentioned by the prophets it is as an ally or tributary of Egypt (Nahum 3:9; Ezekiel 27:10; Ezekiel 30:5; Ezekiel 38:5). The LXX. version renders it by Libyan, and is followed by the Vulgate and the English. In Nahum 3:9, however, Phut is distinguished from the Libyans (= Lubim); and the LXX. has but one word for both. The word PET is found on Egyptian inscriptions, both as meaning a “bow”and as the name of a people, and this may correspond to the Put of the Hebrew text. The Lydians, or Ludim, are named in the list of Hamite nations as descended from Mizraim (Genesis 10:13); the name is joined with Phut in Ezekiel 27:10, with Cush and Phut in Ezekiel 30:4-5. This would seem to point to an African rather than an Asiatic people like the Lydians. On the other hand, we learn from Herodotus (ii. 153) that, some thirty or forty years before the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Psammetichus I. had settled a large colony of Ionian and Carian emigrants on both banks of the Nile, between Bubastis and the Pelusiac mouth of that river, and that Amasis afterwards formed them into a bodyguard at Memphis. It is obvious that the fame of the monarchy which had its capital at Sardis might easily lead to these Greeks being classed as Lydians, and that thus the name (without entering into its earlier ethnological significance) would acquire a new prominence at the time when the prophets wrote in connexion with Egypt.

Verse 10

(10) This is the day of the Lord God of hosts.—The prophet contemplates the issue of all these great preparations, and sees that they will end in a disastrous overthrow, the righteous retribution for long years of cruelty and outrage. In doing so he falls back upon the language of earlier prophets (Isaiah 34:8; Zephaniah 1:7), in part also upon that of Deuteronomy 32:42. There is to be a “great sacrifice,” and the army of Egypt is the destined victim; and the banks of the Euphrates (i.e., Carchemish) are to be as the altar.

Verse 11

(11) Go up into Gilead, and take balm . . .—The words have the tone of a triumphant irony. The “balm of Gilead” was looked on as a cure for all wounds (Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 51:8), but the wounds which Egypt received at Carchemish would be found incurable. It proved, in fact, to be a blow from which the old Egyptian monarchy never recovered. In the “virgin, the daughter of Egypt”—virgin, as being till then, as it boasted, unconquered (Isaiah 23:12)—we have a like touch of sarcasm. The report of the defeat and the utter rout and confused flight that followed (Jeremiah 46:12) would spread far and wide among the nations.

Verse 13

(13) The word that the Lord spake . . .—The opening words clearly point to this as a distinct prophecy from the preceding, pointing to subsequent events, and it was probably delivered much later, possibly in connexion with Jeremiah 43:10, and placed where it is as belonging to the series of predictions which had Egypt as their subject.

Verse 14

(14) Declare ye in Egypt.—The general proclamation is afterwards defined by the names of the cities which were the more immediate objects of Nebuchadrezzar’s attack. For the three cities named see Note on Jeremiah 44:1.

Verse 15

(15) Why are thy valiant men swept away?—Better, Why is thy strong bull dragged away! The Hebrew verbs are in the singular, and the adjective is given in the same number both in the LXX. and Vulgate. The former gives the rendering “Why did Apis flee from thee, and thy chosen calf abode not” as if referring to the bull Apis as the representative of Osiris, the chief deity of Egypt; and this version receives some support from the use of the Hebrew words for “oxen,” “bulls,” “beasts,” in Isaiah 34:7 and Psalms 22:12; Psalms 68:30, and from the fact that the same word is used in Isaiah 1:24; Isaiah 49:26 as a Divine name “the mighty one of Israel.” So understood, the prophet’s words contemplate the triumph of the God of Israel over the theriomorphic deity of Egypt. We may find a literal fulfilment of the words in the slaughter of the sacred bull by Cambyses (Herod. iii. 29).

Verse 16

(16) Arise, and let us go again to our own people.—The case contemplated is that of the settlers in Egypt, the Lydians, Ionians, and Carians (see Note on Jeremiah 46:9) whom Psammetichus had encouraged, or the fugitives from Judæa of Jeremiah 43:5-7. These should find that it was no longer a safe home for them. The “oppressing sword” is beyond question the right rendering, but it is curious that both the LXX. and Vulgate have taken the adjective in different senses: the former giving “from the Greek sword,” as if the word for oppressing (Ionah) meant Ionian; and the latter, the apparently strange version, a facie gladii columbœ (“from before the sword of the dove”). See, however, as giving a possible explanation of the words as referring to the dove as a symbol of the Chaldæan power, the Note on Jeremiah 25:38.

Verse 17

(17) They did cry there . . .—Better, There they cry . . . The difficulty of the verse has led to very various renderings. The meaning of the English version is that the exiles returning to their own land would say that Pharaoh with all his haughty boasts was but an empty noise, that he had passed the limit of God’s long-suffering, and that the day of retribution had come. A slight change in the Hebrew words, however, gives, They have called the name of Pharaoh king of Egypt, A Noise; he hath passed (or lost) the appointed season—i.e., the time allowed by the long-suffering of God. This is supported by some of the ancient versions, and may be accepted as the best rendering. The LXX. and Vulg. agree in taking the opening words as an imperative, “Call ye the name of Pharaoh . . . ;” but the former, as if despairing of the meaning, simply reproduces the Hebrew words that follow in Greek letters, while the latter translates, Tumultum adduxit tempus (“Time, the appointed time, has brought the noise”—i.e., of war and destruction), as if it were, like Magor-missabib, a new nomen et omen given to the Egyptian king. Luther, giving another meaning to the words translated “appointed time,” renders “Pharaoh king of Egypt lies prostrate, he has left his tent.” Ewald, following the line of the Vulgate, renders the name by which Pharaoh is spoken of as “tumult, which a sign or ‘moment’ disperses,” the “tumult” being his boastful clamour, the “sign” the token of Jehovah’s will. Hitzig agrees more closely with the English version in the latter clause, and it may be accepted as having on the whole most in its favour.

Verse 18

(18) Surely as Tabor is among the mountains . . .—Nebuchadnezzar in his high-towering greatness is compared to two of the most conspicuous mountains of Palestine, Tabor rising in solitary greatness 1,350 feet above the plain, Carmel 1,805 feet above the sea. So, in Jeremiah 22:6, the king of Judah is compared to “Gilead and the head of Lebanon.”

Verse 19

(19) O thou daughter dwelling in Egypt.—As in Jeremiah 46:11, the daughter is Egypt itself personified. She is to prepare herself (literally, with the instruments of captivity), as with “bag and baggage” for a long journey. (Comp. Ezekiel 12:3.) Noph (= Memphis) is to be left as a depopulated city.

Verse 20

(20) Egypt is like a very fair heifer.—The similitude points, like the “strong one” of Jeremiah 46:15, to the Apis worship of Egypt. The nation is like its god. The figure is continued in the words that follow. There comes from the north (from the land of the Chaldees, as in Jeremiah 1:1), not “destruction,” but a gadfly that shall sting the heifer into the madness of agony. So, in Isaiah 7:18, the “fly” of Egypt and the “bee” of Assyria are invited to work evil on Judah. The words find a striking parallel in the Greek legend of Io (probably to be identified with the Egyptian Isis) transformed into a heifer, and her gadfly tormentor, this also connected with the Apis or Mnevis deities of Egypt (Æschyl. Prom. v. 569). The word for “destruction” is not found elsewhere, but the etymology suggests the idea of “pinching” or “stinging,” and the meaning “gadfly” is accepted by many recent scholars.

Verse 21

(21) Her hired men are in the midst of her like fatted bullocks.—Literally, bullocks of the stall. The prophet harps, as it were, on the same image. The mercenaries—Ionians, Carians, and others—in the army of Pharaoh-Hophra, who had their camp at Bubastis (Herod. ii. 152, 163), should be like a drove of terrified cattle, fed to the full, driven to the slaughter-house.

Verse 22

(22) The voice thereof shall go like a serpent.—Better, her voice—i.e., the voice of Egypt. In early prophecies Egypt had been compared to a “dragon” or “serpent” (Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 51:9; Psalms 74:13). Here the serpent is represented as hissing in its rage and terror in the forest against which the enemies are advancing. The sign then gives way to the thing signified, and the latter clause of the verse brings before us the hosts of the Chaldæan allies, barbarous tribes like the Scythians, Massagetæ, and Sacæ, armed with axes instead of swords or spears (Herod. i. 275, iv. 5). They come, but it is to cut down the trees of the forest, i.e., the symbols of the power of Egypt, and there is no power to resist them (Isaiah 10:33). The forest is so dense that the trees cannot be counted, but the fellers of the trees are as numerous, and the forest is destined to destruction at the hands of “the people of the north.”

Verse 25

(25) The multitude of No.—More accurately, I will punish Amon No. The first word is the Egyptian Ammon or Hammon, but is probably used also, with a natural paronomasia on the name of the city, in its Hebrew sense of “multitude.” “No” here, and as No Amon in Nahum 3:8, stands for Thebes, the capital of Upper Egypt. The name appears in the form NIA in Assyrian inscriptions. Compare also Ezekiel 30:14-16.

Verse 26

(26) Afterward it shall be inhabited, as in the days . . .—As in the earlier utterance of Isaiah () and the contemporary prophecies of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 29:11-16) there is a gleam of hope at the end of the vision of judgment. Egypt was to revive, though not again to take its place among the conquerors and tyrants of the world. (Comp. Jeremiah 48:47; Jeremiah 49:39.)

Verses 27-28

(27, 28) Fear not thou, O my servant Jacob . . .—The words that follow are found also in , and have been commented on there, and were either inserted here by the prophet himself, or by some later editor of his writings, as an appropriate conclusion, contrasting the care of Jehovah for His people with the sentence upon the power in which they were trusting for protection. Why should they insist, as in Jeremiah 43:7, on placing themselves in a position which would involve them in the destruction which the prophet thus foretells? The words, it may be noticed, are a manifest echo of the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 41:13; Isaiah 43:5). Such a consolation was, we may well believe, needed by the people when they saw the armies of Nebuchadnezzar laying waste the country in whose protection they had trusted, and where they had hoped to find a home. Better things, they are told, were in store for them, even a return to the land of their fathers.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 46". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.