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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 46

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary



This SECTION commences in Jeremiah 46:1 with the words, ‘The word of YHWH which came to Jeremiah the prophet --’. This phrase follows the pattern that has gone before, and here indicates a new section. It is also a reminder that what was to happen would result from ‘the word of YHWH’ (dbr YHWH). Such a word was seen as powerfully effective in bringing about what was prophesied (compare Isaiah 55:10 ff). The English phrase ‘word of YHWH’ translates two alternative Hebrew phrases, ‘dbr YHWH’ and ‘neum YHWH’. While it should not be overpressed the former has more in mind the poweful, effective prophetic word that goes actively forth to accomplish its purpose (and became the forerunner of the idea of Jesus as the Word (Logos) while the latter has in mind the prophetic word in its ominiscience, as declaring what will be because God will do it. Where ‘word of YHWH’ occurs in the middle of a stream of prophecy it is usually neum YHWH.

In this case this ‘word of YHWH’ (dbr YHWH) is ‘against the Gentiles’. Thus it may well have in mind the whole of what is to follow in chapters 46-51 as Jeremiah prophesies concerning God’s dealings with the nations, revealing His overall sovereignty. The point was that what was being described would be brought about by the effective and powerful word of YHWH. When YHWH speaks it is done. The section is an expansion on the ideas found in Jeremiah 25:15-28.

It should be noted that these prophecies were not spoken to the nations, but to Judah/Israel. The words were an indication to them that YHWH was in control of world events, and a warning to them against trusting in any of these failing nations. They were no more secure than Judah was. And they were also an assurance to them that God had not overlooked what Judah had suffered at their hands, and would deal with them accordingly, although that is not the prominent idea. They are difficult to date but may well have mainly been spoken in the time of Josiah and Jehoiakim.

We can analyse this Section as follows:

A) ‘Against Egypt, against the army of Pharaoh-necho king of Egypt which was by the River Euphrates in Carchemish --’ - this was the army that had slain Josiah and had taken over the lands south of the Euphrates in the early days of Jehoiakim. Here it receives its judgment (Jeremiah 46:2-12).

B) ‘The word that YHWH spoke to Jeremiah the prophet how Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon would come and smite the land of Egypt --’ (Jeremiah 46:13-28).

C) ‘The word of YHWH that came to Jeremiah the prophet against the Philistines before Pharaoh smote Gaza, thus says YHWH --’(Jeremiah 47:1-7).

D) ‘Against Moab, thus says YHWH of Hosts, the God of Israel -’ (Jeremiah 48:1-47).

E) ‘Concerning the Ammonites, thus says YHWH --’ (Jeremiah 49:1-6).

F) ‘Concerning Edom, thus says YHWH of Hosts --’ Jeremiah 49:7-22).

G) ‘Concerning Damascus --’ (Jeremiah 49:23-27).

H) ‘Concerning Kedar and concerning the Kingdom of Hazor, which Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon will smite, thus says YHWH -- (Jeremiah 49:28-33).

I) ‘The word of YHWH which came to Jeremiah the prophet against Elam --’ (Jeremiah 49:34-39).

J) ‘The word that YHWH spoke against Babylon and against the land of the Chaldeans by Jeremiah the prophet --’ (Jeremiah 50:1 to Jeremiah 51:58).

K) ‘The word which Jeremiah the prophet commanded Seraiah, the son of Neriah, --’ when at Jeremiah’s request he took to Babylon, to which he was being transported along with King Zedekiah, Jeremiah’s scroll of his prophecies against Babylon and, having read them over Babylon, threw them in the River Euphrates as evidence that Babylon would one day sink in a similar way (Jeremiah 51:59-64).

Thus the order of the judgments on the nations is - Egypt (SW), Philistia (including Tyre and Sidon) (W), Moab (E), Ammon (E), Edom (SE), Damascus (N), Arabia (E), Elam (NE), Babylon (NE).

The concluding words of the Section, ‘thus far are the words of Jeremiah’ (Jeremiah 51:64 b) possibly refer to this section only, but are more probably intended to apply to the whole prophecy when it was brought together.

This section will then be followed by the final CONCLUSION in chapter 52, which closes the prophecy by outlining the taking of Jerusalem and the blinding and exile of Zedekiah, gives information about the different exiles that took place, and describes the restoration to honour of King Jehoachin by Evil-merodach (Arwel Marduk). Most of this is paralleled in 2 Kings 24:18 to 2 Kings 25:30. The purpose of the conclusion is to end the prophecy with an indication of hope, and especially of the commencement of the process by which the final son of David will take his throne. It emphasises that the Davidic house is still a part of the purposes of God.


It will be noted that, contrary to other prophets, in Jeremiah these prophecies concerning foreign nations come at the end of the book (that is, in the MT. In LXX they follow Jeremiah 25:13 where judgment on the nations is previously mentioned). In MT they are in effect a postscript bringing out that it is not only Israel/Judah who must suffer for their sins and idolatry, but all the nations. They were a confirmation that in the end it was not only Israel/Judah, but also ‘the whole world’ (of that day), who would be affected by YHWH’s judgment, indicating thereby that He is the sovereign LORD of all nations. But along with this there are also hints of future hope for many of them (Jeremiah 46:26; Jeremiah 48:47; Jeremiah 49:6; Jeremiah 49:39).

In Isaiah and Ezekiel, where there are similar large and specific collections of prophecies against foreign nations, such prophecies follow oracles proclaimed against Israel and/or Judah, and in Isaiah’s case prophecies concerning the Coming King, but they also precede many oracles speaking of Israel's restoration. Such oracles against foreign nations also appear in other prophets as well. Thus we may consider not only the collections in Isaiah 13-23, Ezekiel 25-32, but also those in Amos 1-2 and Zephaniah 2:2-15, all of which underline the fact that God’s concern is with all nations, something also brought out in the Book of Jonah. But the Book of Jeremiah uniquely places these prophecies against foreign nations at the end of the book, presumably in order to indicate that in all things God will have the last word, not only with His chosen nation, but with all nations. It is a salutary reminder that it is not only His own people who will be called to account. Indeed we should note that from the beginning Jeremiah was called on to prophesy against all the nations (Jeremiah 1:10). Thus here that promise is being fulfilled. It is also possible that in his view what happened to the nations would be a postscript to what was to happen to Israel/Judah. They also would not escape YHWH’s notice. It was not only God’s people who would be subject to judgment.

It will, however, be noted that among the prophecies directed against Babylon there are clear indications of God’s future restoration of a remnant from among His people (Jeremiah 50:4-5; Jeremiah 50:19-20; Jeremiah 50:33-34; Jeremiah 51:5; Jeremiah 51:10; Jeremiah 51:19; Jeremiah 51:50. Compare also Jeremiah 46:27-28). And on top of this hope is also promised for other nations (Jeremiah 46:26; Jeremiah 48:47; Jeremiah 49:6; Jeremiah 49:39). Thus even as it reaches its conclusion the prophecy of Jeremiah is a prophecy of hope, something again emphasised in the final ending (Jeremiah 52:31-34) which speaks of the initial restoration of the Davidic monarchy in preparation for what is to come. God has not forsaken either the house of David or His people in Babylon.

The prophecies appear partly to have geographical indications in mind, commencing with Egypt in the South West, and Philistia (and Tyre and Sidon - Jeremiah 47:4) in the West and North West, and moving on to the neighbouring nations in the east, Moab, Ammon and Edom. They then deal with Damascus in the north, the Arab nations in the remote east, and Elam in the far north, before finishing up with the prophecy against Babylon in the north. This fact that the prophets of Israel and Judah gave oracles about other nations reflects Yahweh's sovereignty over the whole earth, and demonstrates YHWH’s government and oversight over the whole world. It is noteworthy that apart from in the case of Babylon this oversight is not directly related to any activity by these nations against Israel/Judah (in contrast to Amos 1-2). What is remarkable is rather the matter of factness of the prophecies. Apart from in the case of Babylon there is no reference to their being vengeance for acts performed against Israel (contrast Amos 1-2). Rather they are simply a reminder that all nations will be called to account because of what they are, and that none can finally be relied on by Judah. The message is that only in YHWH is there future hope for any of them. By common scholarly consensus, these chapters contain some of the finest Hebrew poetry in the Old Testament.

We may ask ourselves, why should such prophecies be included in the word of God. What message do they have for us today? The answer is clear. They are a reminder that all nations and all men will be called on to give account of themselves to God, and that God does it on a just basis. They are a reminder that God is the sovereign Lord over all nations, and they are an indication that no nation, however powerful, will last forever unless specially preserved by God. They indicate further that He is the Lord of history, calling all to account. As we read through these chapters therefore, they should bring home to us the fact that God takes sin seriously, something which includes our own sins if they are not fully repented of. They indicate that if we treat God and His word lightly we should not be surprised if it inevitably results in unpleasant repercussions.

We may summarise some of the lessons learned from this section as follows:

1. God is sovereign over all nations. This idea is a commonplace to us precisely because of prophecies such as this. But it was not so obvious in Jeremiah’s day.

2. God will call all nations and people into account. None can assume that they will be overlooked.

3. God will judge all peoples in accordance with the moral principles revealed in His covenant. Such moral principles are universal (compareRomans 2:13-16; Romans 2:13-16).

4. These prophecies are an indication of how God works in history, using one nation to punish another, and then punishing that nation for its own sins at the hands of others, and so on. They indicate the tide of history, and that God is the Lord of history.

5. They reveal the powerful effectiveness of God’s ‘powerful word’ in reaching out to the nations (even though they did not at the time know it) and bringing about His purposes.

6. They bring out that even in the worst moments and in the worst of circumstances there is hope ahead for those who look to Him.

One important lesson comes out in respect to all this, and that is that it brings out how we are to see God’s activity in history. All that is described in Jeremiah’s prophecies resulted from the outworking of the activities of nations against each other as man revealed his inhumanity to man. None of those nations even dreamed that what was happening to them resulted from ‘the word of YHWH’, but Jeremiah assures us that it was so. And yet we can look back and see how it all developed ‘naturally’, and our historians can describe it without even bringing in God as a factor. So whilst the tide of history is seen by the prophets as being under the control of God, we must also recognise that it moves forward as a direct result of man’s activity. The judgments of history can be seen as being the result of the outworking of history as man reveals himself for what he is. Thus God is not to be seen as to blame for the cruelties revealed in that history. Those cruelties are simply the result of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’.

But what Scripture does unequivocally reveal is that in the last analysis behind all that happens is the hand of God. And if God is the sovereign Creator that is in fact inevitable, unless we assume that He simply withdraws from the situation. The point is that having created the world He continues to sustain it (Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-3). And that involves His influencing the way that history develops. But in all this God’s sovereignty and man’s freewill are seen as moving forward hand in hand. That is why some Scripture writers can describe God as being behind all that happens and can describe even the most horrific things as resulting from His activity. This is because they are seeing God as the ‘overall Cause’ of everything. But this is then ameliorated by other parts of Scripture which bring out a different aspect of things. A good example of this is found when the writer of Samuel describes David’s ‘numbering of Israel’ as resulting from God’s initiative, in contrast with the writer of Chronicles who points out that it really resulted from Satan’s initiative. This would not be seen as a contradiction. The point is that in 1 Chronicles 21:1 the Chronicler is looking at the detail of history, the flow of events, and the forces that directly lay behind it, whilst the writer in 2 Samuel 24:1 is in contrast seeing all from the angle of God’s sovereignty over all things. He sees the ‘flow of events’ as being all under God’s supervision and control. So in his view had God not specifically allowed Satan a free rein it could not have happened. Thus he rightly draws our attention to the fact that it was all within God’s purposes. But we would be wrong to assume from this that every detail resulted directly from God’s positive intention and initiative. Rather He used the activity of Satan in the fulfilment of His final purpose, that of dealing with David’s sin. In a freewill world it was inevitable that such things would happen, but they were not outside God’s overall control. On the other hand He was not ‘to blame’ for them, except in the sense that He created man’s free will and allowed it free rein even when He did not like the consequences. In the end it was man who was responsible for the evil of the situation.

Verse 1

General Heading.

‘The word of YHWH which came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the nations.’

Here we have an indication of what this final main section is all about. It deals with YHWH’s ‘powerful word’ (dbr YHWH) against all the nations which were affecting Judah/Israel at that time. It indicated that YHWH’s judgment would be active against such nations. It must be remembered that during the time of Jeremiah’s prophecies following Josiah’s death in 609 BC, Babylon was the dominant nation in the ancient Near Eastern world, and we therefore learn from these prophecies how their tentacles would embrace all the nations round about, bringing YHWH’s judgment on them. None would escape their attention. But the final important point is that in the end Babylon itself would succumb, overtaken by judgment from the north. In contrast God’s people would arise triumphantly from the ashes. Jeremiah’s message was thus that against all appearances it was to be recognised that God was still in control.

Oracles Concerning Egypt.

There are two oracles concerning Egypt. The first deals with the rout of the Egyptian armies at Carchemish as Nebuchadrezzar began to take over that part of the world (c 605 BC) after a lull following the final defeat of the Assyrians. At that stage, after a further rout at Hamath, Egypt were driven back to their own borders. The second deals with Nebuchadrezzar’s ‘invasion’ of Egypt in a punitive expedition which occurred decades later. Both are confirmed archaeologically, although the latter only in a fragmentary inscription.

In the second millennium BC Egypt had seen Palestine and beyond as its own special province and had mainly exercised control over it. But Egyptian power had waned and to a certain extent in the first part of the 1st millennium BC Palestine had been left to itself prior to its becoming subservient to Assyria. But at the time to which this prophecy refers Egypt under Pharaoh Necho had sought once again to exercise its authority outside its own borders and to extend its control over this and other territory, engaging in wars of belligerence, and it was his attempt to assist a weakened Assyria against the Babylonians that had resulted in his advance to the Euphrates and the death of Josiah, and the loss of Judean independence.

Verses 2-12

A). Oracle Concerning Nebuchadrezzar’s Defeat Of The Egyptian Army At Carchemish In 605 BC (Jeremiah 46:2-12 ).

The importance of this prophesy to a people reeling under the unexpected death of their good and godly king Josiah, and who now as a consequence found themselves under tribute to Egypt, with their king held hostage, is clear. It was an indication that God had taken note of affairs and would eventually punish Egypt accordingly.

Yet whilst it may well be that Jeremiah had seen this defeat as punishment of Egypt for their behaviour towards Judah/Israel, both in bringing about the death of Josiah and in its aftermath, it is noteworthy that he does not draw this out in the prophecy. Rather it is simply a poetically inspired statement of what happened to the Egyptians. As we know from earlier, in 609 BC the Egyptian army had moved up the Coastal Plain to the aid of an Assyria which was on its last legs against a Medo-Babylonian invasion, with a view to stemming the rising Babylonian power. It was in seeking to interfere in this that Josiah lost his life. Having defeated Josiah’s army the Egyptians then moved on, and although not arriving in time to succour the Assyrians, took possession of all the lands from their own borders right up to Carchemish in the north, meanwhile taking Josiah’s heir, Jehoahaz as a hostage to Egypt and replacing him with Jehoiakim. They were able to sustain this position for a time because Nebuchadrezzar’s attention, as commander-in-chief of his father’s armies was taken up elsewhere. But once those problems had been dealt with Nebuchadrezzar addressed the situation and totally humiliated the Egyptian army, first at Carchemish and then at Hamath, driving Egypt back to its own borders. Babylon then took over Egypt’s fleeting ‘empire’, including Judah.

Jeremiah 46:2

‘Of Egypt: Concerning the army of Pharaoh-neco king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates in Carchemish, which Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon smote in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah.’

The oracle is stated to be in respect of the defeat by Nebuchadrezzar of the Egyptian army of Pharaoh-Neco, which had its headquarters at Carchemish near the Euphrates. This was the very army which had slain Josiah. This took place in 605 BC. In consequences the new Egyptian ‘empire’ had lasted for only four years. It is noteworthy that in what follows there is no description of the battle. It is not history as such. The idea is rather in order to bring out that after their proud preparations, carried out in such expectancy, they were totally routed and humiliated. Man proposes, but God disposes.

Verses 3-4

Expectant Preparation For Battle (Jeremiah 46:3-4 ).

The prophecy commences with a vivid picture of preparation for battle, as the Egyptian army prepared to face the enemy. Some see in this the Babylonian preparations, but the whole context appears to have in mind the Egyptians (although note Jeremiah 46:6).

Jeremiah 46:3-4

‘Prepare you the buckler and shield,

And draw near to battle.

Harness the chariot horses,

And mount your horses,

And stand forth with your helmets,

Furbish the spears,

Put on the coats of mail.’

How proudly the Egyptian army would have prepared itself. They dressed both their large (rectangular or oval) and small (usually round) shields, they prepared to advance onto the battlefield, they harnessed their chariots and mounted their horses, they put on their leather helmets ready for battle, their infantrymen prepared their spears and donned their ‘coats of mail’ (possibly made up of metal strips attached to their jerkins). They were so sure of themselves as they stood forth and drew near to do battle with the Babylonians and their allies.

Verse 5

Utter Defeat (Jeremiah 46:5 ).

In deliberately stark contrast we are now given the picture of this once proud army fleeing in tatters. It is as though it was written by an onlooker behind the lines who had observed with awe the initial preparations and advance, and now saw the same army streaming back in desperate and terror-stricken flight.

Jeremiah 46:5

‘Why have I seen it? (or ‘What do I see concerning it?)

They are dismayed and are turned backward,

And their mighty ones are beaten down,

And are fled hastily,

And they look not back,

Terror is on every side,

the word of YHWH.’

‘What have I seen concerning it?’ The observer is astonished at what he sees. What could have caused this turnaround? For he now describes what follows the advance of the proud army. Its total humiliation. What follows is a picture of total defeat. The Egyptian army is no longer proud. They are filled with dismay and turn backwards, their mighty men are beaten down, all flee hastily not daring to look back, and all is terror. They are the remnants of an army fleeing in tatters. And all this in accordance with the prophetic word of YHWH (neum YHWH), which both prophesied it and brought it about.

Verse 6

The Command To Let None Escape (Jeremiah 46:6 ).

The Babylonians are commanded to ensure that their victory is complete and that due judgment is visited on the Egyptians. All is under God’s control.

Jeremiah 46:6

‘Do not let the swift flee away,

Nor the mighty man escape!

In the north by the river Euphrates,

Have they stumbled and fallen.’

The victorious army is seen as under YHWH’s direction. They are commanded to prevent the elite of the Egyptian army from escaping. They are to prevent the swift from fleeing way, and to prevent the mighty men from making their escape. The victory, and the judgment, must be complete. There must be no opportunity for them to reform and fight again. And so it was. For in the North, by the River Euphrates, the Egyptian army stumbled and fell.

A Description Of The Preceding Arrogance Of The Egyptian Army (46-7-8).

It was not what proud Egypt had expected. They had come up from Egypt with all confidence, a confidence seemingly justified by their establishment of their (brief) empire.

Jeremiah 46:7-8

‘Who is this who rises up like the Nile,

Whose waters toss themselves like the rivers?’

Egypt rises up like the Nile,

And his waters toss themselves like the rivers,

And he says, “I will rise up, I will cover the earth,

I will destroy cities and their inhabitants.”

This consequence was far from what the Egyptians had foreseen. They had seen themselves in terms of the all-conquering Nile. When the Nile flooded its banks everything gave way before it, and it formed rivers which swept all before them. Thus the Egyptian army saw themselves in a similar way. They too would cross their borders triumphantly, and all would give way before them. And their Pharaoh’s boast was that he and his army would cover the earth, and would destroy cities with their inhabitants. None would stand before them.

Verses 9-10

YHWH Challenges Them And Dares Them To Go Forth To What Is To Be His Day, A Day Of Vengeance And Sacrifice (Jeremiah 46:9-10 ).

But YHWH saw things differently. The Egyptian Army was composed largely of mercenaries, experienced warriors from many nations. They appeared invincible. But they are now called on to be aware that it is a day of YHWH’s judgment. Thus while they may go forth proudly, they are to recognise that His sword will drink of their blood, whilst they themselves are to become a sacrifice offered up to Him. Without being aware of it the Egyptians are offering themselves up to YHWH.

Jeremiah 46:9-10

Go up, you horses, and rage, you chariots,

And let the mighty men go forth,

Cush and Put, who handle the shield,

And the Ludim, who handle and bend the bow.

For that day is of the Lord,

YHWH of hosts,

A day of vengeance,

That he may avenge him of his adversaries.

And the sword will devour and be satiated

And will drink its fill of their blood,

For the Lord, YHWH of hosts, has a sacrifice,

In the north country by the river Euphrates.’

The army is efficient and well prepared, containing horsemen, and chariots, and mighty men. The North Africans from Sudan and Libya (see Genesis 10:6 for Cush and Put) are experienced in armed warfare, while the Ludim are expert bowmen. Ludim possibly refers to Lydians, although North Africans may be in mind (see Genesis 10:13). Certainly Egyptian mercenaries would include Greeks and Jews. But despite their expertise they have no hope, for it is the Day of YHWH’s vengeance, possibly for the death of Josiah, but equally possibly because they had pretensions against Palestine and were thus YHWH’s adversaries. Thus it is in the end His sword, as contained in the swords of their enemies, which will smite them, and they will become a sacrificial offering made to Him, offered in Gentile territory.

Jeremiah 46:11-12

‘Go up into Gilead, and take balm,

O virgin daughter of Egypt.

In vain do you use many medicines.

There is no healing for you.’

The nations have heard of your shame,

And the earth is full of your cry,

For the mighty man has stumbled against the mighty,

They are fallen both of them together.’

The prophecy ends with a warning that there is no cure for their ills. There is an irony in the fact that Egypt, in which the people of Judah/Israel had taken refuge, is itself seen as seeking to Israel for its healing. Gilead (east of Jordan) was famous for its healing balms (compare Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 51:8), but such would be their wounds that it would offer them no hope. Indeed news of their rout would go out among the nations, and their despairing cry would be heard by all men, for so devastating would be their situation that even their mighty men, their champions, would be falling over each other and finally collapsing together.

‘O Virgin Daughter Of Egypt.’ The idea of a virgin daughter may be of one well-protected and seemingly invulnerable. But it is being made clear that she is in fact vulnerable, in that she will be looking to Gilead for healing balms. We can compare the Virgin Daughter Israel/Judah (Jeremiah 14:17; Jeremiah 18:13; Jeremiah 31:4; Amos 5:2), and the Virgin Daughter of Babylon (Isaiah 47:1).

Verses 13-26

B). Oracle Concerning Nebuchadrezzar’s Later Penetration Into Egypt Which Will Not However Be Terminal (Jeremiah 46:13-26 ).

This prophecy here has in mind a much later excursion of Nebuchadrezzar against Egypt (568/7 BC), no doubt angered by Egypt’s constant interference in Palestine. It was not so much a full-scale invasion, as a massive punitive expedition, and it is confirmed by a fragmentary Babylonian inscription.

Nebuchadrezzar threatened the Egyptian border a number of times. He had advanced on Egypt after Carchemish (605/4 BC), but had had to return to Babylon on the death of his father so as to secure his own position. In 604 BC he advanced on Ashkelon (Jeremiah 47:7), something which must have caused tremors in Egypt. He had again advanced with a large army in 601 BC only to fight an indecisive battle on the Egyptian borders with heavy losses on both sides, something which demonstrated the renewed strength of the Egyptians. As a result of the heavy losses on both sides, Nebuchadrezzar withdrew to Babylon in order to regroup, and henceforth Egypt kept to its borders and was left alone (2 Kings 24:7). This situation altered when the Egyptian army advanced to provide assistance to Zedekiah in 587 BC, something from which it hastily turned back when it was faced with the Babylonian forces. Whether there was a battle we do not know, but it was certainly an indication of renewed Egyptian interest in Palestine, and of activities which were anti-Babylon. Thus Nebuchadrezzar’s final action against Egypt which is now described was probably in response to later renewed Egyptian activity. It is referred to by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 43:8-13.

Jeremiah 46:13

‘The word that YHWH spoke to Jeremiah the prophet, how that Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon would come and smite the land of Egypt.’

As previously noted the reference is to Nebuchadrezzar’s later foray on Egypt. The Jews felt safe in Egypt under the protecting hand of Pharaoh. It probably seemed incredible to them that anyone would invade Egypt. But it would happen in accordance with ‘the word of YHWH’.

Jeremiah 46:14

‘Declare you in Egypt, and publish in Migdol,

And publish in Memphis and in Tahpanhes,

Say you, “Stand forth, and prepare yourself,

For the sword has devoured round about you.”

The call goes out to the northern cities of Egypt which had received the Jewish refugees (see Jeremiah 44:1 - Noph = Memphis) to prepare for a coming invasion, and for much slaughter. The border defences would prove insufficient to hold back the Babylonians, and they were to experience Nebuchadrezzar’s punitive measures in full as all the areas around them were devastated.

For Migdol see Jeremiah 44:1. For Memphis and Tahpanhes see Jeremiah 2:16; Jeremiah 44:1. What Memphis and Tahpanhes had done to Judah would now rebound on themselves, and because Judah had chosen to settle among them they would have their part in it.

Jeremiah 46:15-17

‘Why are your strong ones swept away?

They stood not, because YHWH drove them.”

He made many to stumble,

Yes, they fell one upon another,

And they said, “Arise, and let us go again to our own people,

And to the land of our nativity, from the oppressing sword.

They cried there, “Pharaoh king of Egypt is but a noise,

He has let the appointed time pass by.”

Once again YHWH’s sovereignty over all nations, even the greatest, is emphasised. The Egyptian mercenaries would find themselves unable to resist the Babylonian invaders. Their most powerful forces would be swept away. And why would this be? It would be because YHWH was on the side of the Babylonians, and was thus forcing the Egyptian mercenaries to flee. The reason that they would not be able to stand would be because it would be YHWH Himself Who drove them onwards, and to such good effect that they would stumble on their way and would even fall over one another in their desire to escape. In consequence they would decide to cease being mercenaries and would return to the countries from which they had come, to their birthplace, to Cush, Put and Lud (Jeremiah 46:9), in order to escape ‘the oppressing sword’.

And as they fled they would mouth their disdain of the one whom they had served as mercenaries, declaring Pharaoh to be but a boaster, ‘a noise’, one who boasted about his own greatness and made claims and promises that he could not fulfil.

‘Why are your strong ones swept away?’ Literally, ‘why is your strong bull swept away?’ This may have in mind reference to the Egyptian bull-god Aphis, as the one to whom the armies of Egypt looked. Herodotus tells us of the slaughter of the sacred bull by Cambyses. But it may simply be seeing the Egyptian mercenary army as being like a strong bull. The two possibilities are not necessarily exclusive.

‘He has let the appointed time pass by.’ In other words, he has let slip his opportunity, he has failed to deliver at the right time, he has proved inept. Perhaps we are to see in this an indication that his failure was due to a missed opportunity at a time when, had he acted, the army of Babylon could have been defeated. Some see it as a reference to his failure to call on the gods of Egypt sufficiently at an appointed festival. But as the whole point behind this prophecy is that the gods of Egypt are nothings who cannot deliver Egypt and can be disregarded, it is unlikely. The point is that all is in the hands of YHWH. It is a reminder that our times are in His hands.

Jeremiah 46:18

“As I live,” the word of the King,

Whose name is YHWH of hosts,

“Surely like Tabor among the mountains,

And like Carmel by the sea, so shall he come.”

The Babylonians are also seen as being at YHWH’s disposal. All happens because YHWH is the living God, the Lord of ‘all the Hosts in the world’. YHWH is not just ‘a noise’ like Pharaoh (who was also acclaimed a god). He is the all-powerful living God. Thus all this happens because YHWH is ‘the living God’ and has determined that Nebuchadrezzar will stand out with such prominence that his coming will be unmistakable. Tabor was a prominent eminence in an otherwise flat plain at the east end of the Plain of Jezreel (rising 588 metres/1843 feet above sea level), whilst Carmel was a prominence on the coast of a similar kind (at its highest point 530 metres/1740 feet). Whilst they were by no means the highest mountains in the land they were distinctive and stood out because they were high prominences in what was otherwise flat plain, and not just one among a range of mountains.

Jeremiah 46:19

“O you daughter who dwells in Egypt,

Make preparations for yourself to go into captivity,

For Memphis will become a desolation,

And will be burnt up, without inhabitant.”

The coming devastation of Memphis is emphasised, and the people of Israel/Judah who have taken refuge there and feel totally secure because they ‘dwell in Egypt’ are warned that they have found no safe haven. They are even now to prepare themselves to go into captivity, into exile. Their flight to Egypt will have proved a failure. Memphis will provide no long term security. For reference to Memphis see Jeremiah 2:16; Jeremiah 44:1; Hosea 9:6; Isaiah 19:13; Ezekiel 30:13; Ezekiel 30:16.

The picture of a burning city bereft of inhabitants is a common one, indicating utter devastation. Here Memphis will be the subject of Nebuchadrezzar’s wrath. The city will be systematically burned and its surviving inhabitants will flee or be taken captive.

“O you daughter who dwells in Egypt.” Compare here Jeremiah 4:11; Jeremiah 8:11; Jeremiah 14:17. There is disdain at the thought of YHWH’s daughter being found seeking refuge in Egypt. Rather they should have sought refuge in YHWH and have obeyed His instructions. But they have rather chosen to look to another who can only fail them. Others, however, see ‘daughter’ as referring to the Egyptians. Compare Jeremiah 46:11 and Jeremiah 46:24

Jeremiah 46:20-21

“Egypt is a very fair heifer,

A fly out of the north is come, it is come.”

Also her mercenaries in the midst of her,

Are like calves of the stall,

For they also are turned back,

They are fled away together, they did not stand,

For the day of their calamity is come upon them,

The time of their visitation.”

In likening Egypt to a beautiful heifer Aphis the bull god may again have been in mind, although here a heifer because she has calves. She is seen as a heifer admired by all, contentedly pasturing, along with her calves (the mercenaries), secure in her loveliness. But then, out of the north, along comes the gadfly (the word means one which nips) buzzing around and biting her, causing her and her calves great distress. It is an apt picture of a punitive invasion. And the consequence is that both heifer and calves flee, maddened by the gadfly, unable to cope with what is coming. Compare here Isaiah 7:18. Note again the idea that it is because it is YHWH’s ‘time’. YHWH is in control of the nations. He controls the history of the world.

46. 22-24

“Their (the Egyptians) sound will go like the (hiss of the) serpent,

For they (the Babylonians) will march with a host,

And come against her with axes,

As hewers of wood.

They will cut down her forest, the word of YHWH,

Though it cannot be explored (i.e. it is dense),

Because they are more than the locusts,

And are innumerable.

The daughter of Egypt will be put to shame (violated),

She will be delivered into the hand of the people of the north.”

The idea behind this picture comes from the experience of woodmen called on to cut down a forest. As they advance to do so snakes will often rear their heads and hiss, but they can then do no more to stem the advance and they thus disappear into the undergrowth.

In the same way at the approach of the Babylonians to cut down their trees in order to make weapons of war, the Egyptians will hiss like the serpent, making a show of resistance before gliding away in flight. For the Babylonians will arrive in large numbers, axes in hand, and will cut down their forest refuge, even though it is so large and dense that it cannot be explored. And this in accordance with the prophetic word of YHWH. What had appeared to be impenetrable will simply be removed. And they will be able to do this because they are more innumerable than a swarm of locusts. All would have been familiar with swarms of locusts, arriving in huge numbers to eat up the land. And just as the locusts ate up the vegetation and trees, so would the Babylonian armies eat up the Egyptian forests in order to turn them into weapons of war.

The picture then changes to that of the people of Egypt as being like a violated woman, who is sexually exposed. Babylon will come and shamefully rape her. She will no longer be a virgin daughter (compare Jeremiah 46:11). She will have been shamefully abused.

Jeremiah 46:25-26

‘YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, says,

“Behold, I will punish Amon of No, and Pharaoh,

And Egypt, with her gods, and her kings,

Even Pharaoh, and those who trust in him,

And I will deliver them into the hand of those who seek their lives,

And into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon,

And into the hand of his servants,

And afterwards it will be inhabited,

As in the days of old,

The word of YHWH.’

The gods of Egypt, including Pharaoh, are included in the judgment. The great god Amon of Thebes (No) will be helpless to do anything, and will be punished along with Pharaoh and all the other gods and goddesses, and all who trust in them. Egypt will be delivered into the hands of their attackers, into the hands of Nebuchadrezzar and his chief officers. But it is not to be a final end. For Egypt will once more be restored, and inhabited as it was of yore. And this in accordance with the prophetic word of YHWH (neum YHWH). For such a future hope for Egypt see Isaiah 19:21-25; Ezekiel 29:13-16.

Verses 27-28

A Promise To Judah That She Too Will Be Restored (Jeremiah 46:27-28 ).

But in spite of these judgments there is future hope for Judah/Israel, for YHWH’s promise is that He will not leave them in their exile. As He had previously promised in Isaiah, they will be brought back to their land and dwell in safety (Isaiah 11:11 and often). It is not the people of Judah in Egypt who are specifically in mind, for they have been promised judgment with only a remnant escaping. It rather has in mind that God will not leave His exiled people worldwide to perish. This found its fulfilment with the restoration of exiles from Babylon and from all around the world after what we call The Exile, so that by the time of Jesus Palestine was well populated again. Note that both halves of the nation are in mind. It will be a restoration of ‘Israel’, as indeed Isaiah had made clear.

For these verses compare Jeremiah 30:10-11 in a context where they appear more apposite. But they are also incorporated here in view of the promise of Egypt’s restoration in Jeremiah 46:26. If Egypt was to be restored, how much more God’s people, for in all that God does it is His people who are finally in view. But it is important to note that it is only those who return who are to receive the promise. God’s promises require response.

Jeremiah 46:27

“But do not you be afraid, O Jacob my servant,

Nor be dismayed, O Israel,

For, lo, I will save you from afar,

And your seed from the land of their captivity,

And Jacob will return, and will be quiet and at ease,

And none will make him afraid.

In accordance with the teaching of Isaiah ‘believing’ Israel are still YHWH’s servant with a task to fulfil (e.g. Jeremiah 41:8-13; Jeremiah 43:5; Jeremiah 44:1-8). Thus they need not be dismayed whatever happens, for they will be brought back to the land from afar, delivered from their worldwide exile. And the promise is that they will be brought back to their own land and will dwell in safety. ‘quiet and at ease and unafraid’. This actually occurred after the Exile when Israelites returned from all parts of the world, and for a while Israel/Judah became an independent nation. Prominent among these were the returnees from Babylon, but they were not the only ones. It is simply that we know more about them because of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Jeremiah 46:28

“Do not you be afraid, O Jacob my servant,

The word of YHWH,

For I am with you,

For I will make a full end of all the nations where I have driven you,

But I will not make a full end of you,

But I will correct you in measure,

And will in no way leave you unpunished.

Note the continual stress on the fact that they need not be afraid. Their confidence is to be in God Who will make all things right. Whilst there will be a ‘full end’ for many of the nations among who they are exiled, He will not make a full end of them, even though it is necessary for them to be punished. As always it is those who ‘believe’ and respond to the divine activity who will benefit by the promise. They would be the ones who would make the effort to return.

Note the reference to ‘Jacob’ (Israel/Judah) as His servant, a typical Isaianic theme. The point is that ‘Jacob’ is His chosen people through whom He will carry forward His saving purposes, bringing salvation to the world.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 46". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/jeremiah-46.html. 2013.
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