This chapter, the first of a series, consists of two prophecies united, though it is probable enough that the latter was intended to supplement the former, for Jeremiah 46:2-12 are clearly incomplete (from the point of view of this group of prophecies) without a distinct and unmistakable prediction of the conquest of Egypt. The earlier prophecy is, in fact, not itself a prediction, but a triumphal ode, analogous to such as we find in the Becks of Isaiah and Ezekiel. It falls into three stanzas:
(1) verses 3-6;
In the first two the great event is described with poetical imagery; in the third, its cause is declared, and the irremediable completeness of its effects. The point of time assumed is immediately before the battle of Carehemish. The Egyptian army has taken up its position by the Euphrates, and Jeremiah, from his prophetic watch tower, recognizes the importance of the step. He knows that a collision of the two great powers is inevitable, and that the fortunes of his world will be decided by the result. It is, in short, a "day of Jehovah" which he sees before him. As a prophet, he cannot doubt what the issue will be. He falls into a lyrically descriptive mood, and portrays the picture which unrolls itself before his imagination.
Against the Gentiles; rather, concerning the nations (as distinguished from Israel). This heading relates to all the seven prophecies in Jeremiah 46-49:33.
Against Egypt, against the army; rather, concerning Egypt, concerning the army. Pharaoh-necho. Necho II; a member of the twenty-sixth Egyptian dynasty, sou of Psametik I. (Psammetichus), who had for a time revived the declining power of Egypt. Herodotus (2.158) credits him with being the first to construct a canal to the Red Sea, which seems an exaggeration (see Sir Gardner Wilkinson's note ap. Rawlinson), also (4.42) with having caused the circumnavigation of Africa, after which the Phoenician seamen brought back the startling news that they had had the sun upon their right hand. This energetic monarch noticed the decline of Assyria, and, at the battle of Megiddo (Herodotus, 2.159, wrongly says Magdolus or Migdol), reattached Judah to the Egyptian empire. Four years later, at the battle of Carchemish, he himself sustained a crushing defeat at the hands of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (2 Chronicles 35:20). Carehemish. This was the great emporium of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine. Its true site was discovered by Mr. George Smith, in his last fatal journey, to be at Jerabis or Jirbas, on the right bank of the Euphrates. It was anciently a city of the Kheta (equivalent to Khittim, "Hittites"), but passed to the Assyrians, under Sargon, under whom it attained the highest commercial prosperity, especially after the overthrow of Tyre by Sennacherib. The "mana," or mina, "of Gargamis" is constantly referred to as a standard weight in the commercial cuneiform inscriptions. In the fourth year, etc. Marcus Niebuhr wishes to put a stop before these words, so as to make them a definition of the date of the prophecy. He thinks the date of the battle of Carchemish was the third and not the fourth year of Jehoiakim. This view, however, is very uncertain (see Keil), and it is exegetieally very unnatural to detach the closing words of Jeremiah 46:2 from those which precede. The obvious inference, moreover, from the prophecy (Jeremiah 46:2-12) is that it was written at or about the time of the battle; a special date for the prophecy did not require to be given. Should Niebuhr's chronological combinations, however, turn out to be correct, the mistake would probably not be that of Jeremiah, nor of his scribe, but of his editor, who may easily have fallen into error in the mere minutiae of chronology.
Order ye, etc. The leaders of the Egyptians are heard summoning their men to make ready their armour, and set themselves in array (comp. Jeremiah 46:9). The buckler (Hebrew, magen) is the small shield; the shield (Hebrew, cinnah) is the large one (scutum), which covered the whole body.
Harness the horses; viz. to the war chariots, for which Egypt was famous (comp. Exodus 14:6, Exodus 14:9; 1 Kings 10:28, 1 Kings 10:29 : Isaiah 31:1). Get up, ye horsemen. An equally possible rendering, and one which better suits the parallelism, is, "mount the chargers." Put on the brigandines. "Brigandine" is an archaic word (Hakluyt's 'Voyages'), meaning the armour of a "brigand "or member of a "brigade," or "troop" (comp. Italian, brigata). The Hebrew word means "coats of mail."
That so well equipped an army should flee seems incredible. Hence the astonished question, Wherefore have I seen, etc.? literally, Why do I see (that) they (are) dismayed, turning back? And look not back. With the object of rallying the scattered forces. For fear was round about. It is a pity that the Authorized Version has not kept one uniform rendering for this favourite expression of Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 6:25 (see note) it is translated, "fear is on every side" (Hebrew, magor missabib).
Let not the swift flee away. A strong way of expressing that even the swiftest cannot expect to flee, just as, in Isaiah 2:9, "forgive them not" means "thou canst not forgive them." Nothing seems to have struck the Jews so much as the unparalleled swiftness of the Chaldean warriors (Hebrews 1:6, Hebrews 1:8; Jeremiah 4:13). They shall stumble; literally, they have stumbled; it is most probably the prophetic perfect ("they shall certainly fall"), though Ewald denies this, and consequently maintains that the prophecy was written after the battle of Carchemish. Toward the north; i.e. "in the northern region," or, more loosely, "in the north" (comp. Isaiah 2:10). Carchemish was, of course, far to the north of Jerusalem.
Who is this, etc.? "Once more surprise at the [same] phenomenon recurs, and in a stronger form; a monstrous, devastating river appears to roll itself wildly along, overwhelming all countries: who is it? It is Egypt, which is now threatening to overrun the earth and to lay everything waste, whose various nationalities are advancing fully equipped" (Ewald). As a flood; rather, as the Nile (y'or, a word of Egyptian affinities, and only once used of another river than the Nile, Daniel 12:5, Daniel 12:6, Daniel 12:7). The naturalness of the figure in this context needs no exhibiting. It reminds us of Isaiah 8:7, Isaiah 8:8, where the Assyrian army is compared to the Euphrates. Are moved as the rivers; rather, toss themselves as the rivers. By the "rivers" the prophet means the branches of the Nile, which are described by the same word in Isaiah 19:8; Exodus 7:19.
Egypt riseth up, etc. The answer to the question in Jeremiah 46:7. The city. The article is not expressed; and there can be no doubt that the word is used collectively of cities in general (comp. Jeremiah 47:2).
A call to the army, particularizing its two grand divisions, viz. the warriors in chariots, and the light and heavy armed infantry. M. Pierret, of the Egyptian Museum at the Louvre, writes thus: "The army was composed
The contrast. And yet that day is (the day) of the Lord, Jehovah Sabdoth (the rendering of the Authorized Version, For this is the day, etc; is clearly a mistake). The "day of Jehovah" is an expression so familiar to us that we are in danger of losing a part of its sublime meaning. It is, in brief, "that crisis in the history of the world when Jehovah will interpose to rectify the evils of the present, bringing joy and glory to the humble believer, and misery and shame to the proud and disobedient …. This great crisis is called a day, in antithesis to the ages of the Divine long suffering: it is Jehovah's day, because, without a special Divine interposition, there would be no issue out of the perplexities and miseries of human life." We may say, with equal truth, that there are many "days of the Lord," and that there is only one. Every great revolution is a fresh stage in the great judgment day; "die Weltgesehichte ist das Weltgericht" (Schiller). The loci classici for the expression in the prophets are Amos 5:18, Amos 5:20; Zephaniah 1:7, Zephaniah 1:14; Joel 2:1, Joel 2:11; Isaiah 2:12; Isaiah 13:6, Isaiah 13:9 (in Isaiah 2:12, the phraseology closely resembles that of our passage—"for there is a day unto Jehovah Sabaoth;" Jehovah, that is, hath it in readiness in the supersensible world, where there is no time, and where all God's purposes have an ideal, but no less real existence. We might, in fact, render our passage, "but that day (is the day that belongeth) unto the Lord," etc.). The Lord here, as generally elsewhere, is that expressive form which intimates the universal lordship of the God who has revealed himself to Israel. The sword. A comparison with Isaiah 34:6 suggests that it is "the sword of the Lord" which is meant—a symbolic phrase for the Divine vengeance, which meets us again in Jeremiah 12:12; Jeremiah 47:6; Deuteronomy 32:41, Deuteronomy 32:42; 7:20 (comp. Joshua 5:13); Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 31:8; Isaiah 34:5, Isaiah 34:6; Isaiah 66:16; Zechariah 13:7. If Jehovah can be spoken of as having an Arm, a Hand, and a Bow, why not also as having a sword? Both expressions represent the self-revealing side of the Divine nature, and are not merely poetical ornaments, but correspond to awful objective realities. Divine vengeance exists, and must exercise itself on all who oppose the Divine will. Hath a sacrifice. The same figurative expression occurs in Isaiah 34:6, and, developed at considerable length, in Ezekiel 39:17-20, where the slaughtered foes are described as fatted beasts, rams, lambs, he-goats, bullocks—animals employed in the Jewish sacrifices. This, then, is the purpose for which this immense host "rolls up from Africa"—it is that it may fall by the Euphrates, at once as a proof of God's justice, and as a warning to transgressors.
Go up into Gilead (see on Jeremiah 8:22). In vain shalt thou use, etc.; rather, in vain hast thou used, etc.; a much more vigorous, pictorial expression. Thou shalt not be cured. The literal rendering is more forcible, there is no plaster for thee; i.e. no bandage will avail to heal the wound (comp. Jeremiah 30:13).
Hath filled the land; rather, the earth, corresponding to "the nations."
The word, etc. This verse is the heading of a new prophecy, which, however, for the reason already mentioned (see introduction to this chapter), is not to be regarded as entirely independent of the preceding prophecy, but rather as a supplement (just as Isaiah 18:1-7, though not in strict sequence to Isaiah 17:12-14, is yet a supplement to it). The heading does not expressly state when the prophecy was written, but from the mention of Nebuchadnezzar, both in the heading and in the prophecy itself, we may assume a date subsequent to the battle of Carchemish, for the earlier prophecies contain no reference to that redoubtable name. An important question now arises—When did Nebuchadnezzar invade and conquer Egypt? and what would be the consequences of admitting that a Babylonian subjugation of that country is historically not proven? There can be no doubt that Jeremiah did hold out such a prospect; for he not only says so here, but also in Jeremiah 43:8-13 and Jeremiah 44:30. In the latter prophecy it is not Necho, but Hophra, in whose reign the blow is to fall. But no monumental evidence has as yet been found [see, however, postscript to this note] of anything approaching to an invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar; nor do the accounts of Herodotus (2.159, etc.) at all supply the deficiency (on this, however, see further at end of note). It is true that Josephus quotes passages from Berosus, the Babylonian historian, to the effect that Nabopolassar had set a Chaldean governor over Egypt, but that this governor had revolted, and that Nabopolassar's son, Nebuchadnezzar, crushed the rebellion and incorporated Egypt into his empire. But these events happened, according to the quotation from Berosus, partly before, partly immediately after, the death of Nabopolassar, and was consequently earlier than the prophecy in this chapter. Another fact of importance must be mentioned in this connection, viz. that Ezekiel repeats the announcement of the Babylonian conquest of Egypt, of which he speaks as if it were to happen at the close of the thirteen years of Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Tyre (Ezekiel 29:17-21). Thus there is a gradual increase in the definiteness of the announcement. Looking at our chapter by itself, we might suppose that the conquest was to take place soon after the decisive battle at Carchemish. After the murder of Gedaliah, when Jeremiah had removed to Egypt, we find him foretelling the sore punishment of Egypt in greater detail, and the name of Hophra (instead of Necho) is introduced as that of the deposed king. Finally, Ezekiel (as we have seen) specifies a definite time. Now, it is true that our knowledge of this period is somewhat incomplete. We have not the direct historical proof that could be wished as to the result of Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Tyre, though it would be fastidious to scruple at the evidence which satisfied so cool a judgment as that of George Grote. The great historian denies, however, that Tyre at this time suffered such a terrific desolation as is suggested by a literal interpretation of Ezekiel 26:1-21; and continues in these remarkable terms: "Still less can it be believed that that king conquered Egypt and Libya, as Megasthenes, and even Berosus so far as Egypt is concerned, would have us believe—the argument of Latchet, 'Ad Herodot.,' 2.168, is anything but satisfactory. The defeat of the Egyptian king at Carchemish, and the stripping him of his foreign possessions in Judaea and Syria, have been exaggerated into a conquest of Egypt itself". Supposing Mr. Grote's view of the facts of the siege of Tyre to be correct, it is clear that the prophet's reproduction of the Divine revelation made to him was defective; that it presents traces of a stronger human element than we are accustomed to admit. Tyre had to suffer a fall; but the fall was not as yet to be so complete a one as Ezekiel, reasoning upon his revelation, supposed. It is equally possible that Jeremiah and Ezekiel, reasoning upon the revelation of the inevitable fall of Egypt, mistook the time when, in its fulness, the Divine judg. ment was to take place. The case may, perhaps, turn out to be analogous to that of an apparently but not really unfulfilled prophecy in Isaiah 43:3. A literal interpretation of that passage would give the conquest of Egypt to Cyrus; as a matter of fact, we know that it was Cambyses, and not Cyrus, who fulfilled the prophecy. It would not be surprising if we should have to admit that it was Cambyses, and not any earlier monarch, who fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah. Certain great principles of God's moral government had to be affirmed; it was of no moment whatever whether Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, or Cambyses was the instrument of their affirmation. A parallel from Isaiah may again be adduced. The shameful captivity of Egypt, and perhaps Ethiopia, which Isaiah foresaw in the time of Sargon (Isaiah 20:3), was not realized in fact until Esar-haddon despoiled Tithakah, King of Egypt and Ethiopia, of the whole of Upper Egypt. There are cases in which a literal fulfilment of prophecy may be abandoned without detriment to Divine revelation, and this seems to be one of them. And yet we must always remember that even the letter of the prophecy may some day turn out to be more nearly in harmony with facts than we have supposed, our knowledge of this period being in several respects so very imperfect. It has been acutely pointed out that the oracle given to Necho (Herod; 2.158), "that he was labouring for the barbarian," seems to imply a current expectation of an invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar, and that the gradual conquest by that king of one neighbouring country after another suggests that the invasion of Egypt was at any rate the object at which he aimed. The silence of Herodotus as to a Chaldean invasion is, perhaps, not very important. He does not mention Necho's defeat by Nebuchadnezzar at Carchemish, nor does he ever refer to the victories over Egypt of any King of Assyria.
POSTSCRIPT.—The above note is left precisely as it was written, February, 1881, in ignorance of Wiedemann's then recent discovery of a contemporary hieroglyphic inscription which, as the report of the German Oriental Society expresses it, "ratifies the hitherto universally doubted fact of an invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar." The hieroglyphic narrative is supplemented and confirmed by two cuneiform records, and the combined results are as follows. In the thirty-seventh year of his reign, Hophra or Apries being King of Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar undertook an expedition against Egypt, and penetrated as far as the island of Elephantine, and damaged the temple of Chnum, which stood there. His army could not, however, pass the cataracts. At Syene the Egyptian troops, under Neshor, met and repelled the invaders. Two years later, however, the Babylonians came again, were victorious over the Egyptian host under Amasis, and compelled the whole land to pay tribute. Thus we have a remarkable confirmation of Ezekiel's prophecy that Egypt should be "waste and desolate from Migdol unto Syene, even unto the border of Ethiopia" (Ezekiel 29:10). It should be mentioned that the Babylonians are not described in the hieroglyphics by their proper name, but as "the Syrians (?), the peoples of the north, the Asiatics;" it is from a terra-cotta cuneiform tablet that we learn that, in Nebuchadnezzar's thirty-seventh year, a war arose between him and the King of Egypt, which ended with the payment of tribute to the former. The value of prophecy does not, happily, depend on the minuteness of its correspondence with history, and the evidential value of the argument from such a correspondence is but secondary. Still, as long as such a correspondence can be proved, even in part, by facts such as Wiedemann has discovered, the apologist is perfectly justified in using it in confirmation of the authority of Scripture.
The second prophecy falls into two parts—verses 14-19 and 20-26 respectively.
The cities of Egypt are called upon to prepare to meet the foe. But it is in vain; for all that is great and mighty in the land—Apis, the mercenary soldiers, and the Pharaoh—bows down before that terrible one who is comparable only to the most imposing objects in the inanimate world. Pharaoh's time is over; and Egypt must go into captivity.
Declare ye; viz. the approach of the foe (comp. Jeremiah 4:5). The news is to be told in the frontier towns Migdol and Tahpanhes, and in the northern capital Noph or Memphis (see on Jeremiah 2:16; Jeremiah 44:1). The sword shall devour, etc.; rather, the sword hath devoured those round about thee. The neighbouring nations (the same phrase occurs in Jeremiah 48:17, Jeremiah 48:39) have one after another succumbed; no ally is left there.
Why are thy valiant men, etc.? The literal rendering of the received text is, Why is thy strong ones (plural) swept sway (or, cast down)? He stood not, because Jehovah thrust him! It is true that the first half of the verse might, consistently with grammar, be rendered, "Why are thy strong ones swept away?" But the following singulars prove that the subject of the verb in the first verse half must itself be a singular. We must, therefore, follow the reading of the Septuagint, Vulgate, Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, and many of the extant Hebrew manuscripts, and change the plural "strong ones" into the singular "strong one." The word so rendered is elsewhere in Jeremiah one used (in the plural) of strong horses (Jeremiah 8:16; Jeremiah 47:3; Jeremiah 1:11); but there is no necessity to bind ourselves to this acceptation. Other possible meanings are
It is a tenable view that "thy strong one" is to be understood distributively as equivalent to "every strong one of thine." But it is certainly more plausible to regard the phrase as a synonym for Apis, the sacred bull in which the supreme god Osiris was believed by the Egyptians to be incarnate. This was a superstition (strange, no doubt, but not so ignoble as some have thought) as deeply ingrained in the Egyptian mind as any in their complicated religion. "In fact, they believed that the supreme God was with them when they possessed a bull bearing certain hieratic marks, the signs of the incarnation of the divinity" (Pierret). His death was the signal for a mourning as general as for a Pharaoh, and the funeral ceremonies (accounts of which are given in the inscriptions) were equally splendid. M. Mariette has discovered, in the neighbourhood of Memphis, a necropolis in which the Apis bulls were successively interred from the eighteenth dynasty to the close of the period of the Ptolemies. For the Apis to be "swept away" like ordinary plunder, or "cast down" in the slaughtering trough (comp. Isaiah 34:7), was indeed a token that the glory of Egypt had departed. It is a singular coincidence that the very word here employed by Jeremiah for "bull" (abbir) was adopted (like many other words) into the Egyptian language—it received the slightly modified form aber. The Septuagint, it should be added, is in favour of the general view of the verse thus obtained, and the authority of the Egyptian-Jewish version in a prophecy relative to Egypt is not slight. Its rendering of the first half is, "Why hath Apis, thy chosen calf, fled?" But the probability is that it read the Hebrew differently, "Why hath Khaph (= Apis), thy chosen one, fled?" This merely involves grouping some letters otherwise, and reading one word a little differently.
To fall; rather, to stumble. The fugitives are in such a wild confusion that they stumble over each other. The parallel passage in the earlier prophecy (Jeremiah 46:12) suggests that the Egyptian warriors are here referred to, the most trustworthy portion of which, since the time of Psammetichus, was composed of mercenaries, the native troops having lost that military ardour for which they had been anciently renowned (see Herod; 2.152, and Sir Gardner Wilkinson's note ap. Rawlinson). Being devoid of patriotic feeling, it was natural that these hired soldiers should hasten from the doomed country, exclaiming, as the prophet puts it, Arise, and let us go again to our own people. Greeks were probably among the speakers, at any rate, Ionians and Carians formed the mercenary troops of Psammetiehus, according to Herodotus (2.152).
They did cry there, etc.; rather, they cry there, viz. the following words. But why should attention be called to the place where the cry is made? and why should the mercenaries (the subject of the preceding verb, and therefore presumably of this verb) have their exclamation recorded? Alter the vowel points (which merely represent an early but not infallible exegetical tradition), and all becomes clear. We then get a renewal of the summons in Jeremiah 46:14 to make a proclamation respecting the war. The persons addressed are, not foreigners, but the children of the soil, and the summons runs thus: "Call ye the name of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, Desolation." No longer "Pharaoh," honoured by titles indicating that he, like Apis, is a Divine incarnation (neb, i.e. lord, and nuter, i.e. god), but Shaon, the Hebrew for Desolation, is the fittest name for the fallen monarch. The custom of changing names with a symbolic meaning is no strange one to readers of the prophecies. We have met with it in this very book (see Jeremiah 20:3); and Isaiah contains a parallel as exact as could be desired, in the famous passage in which the prophetic name (itself symbolic) of Egypt (Rahab, i.e. boisterousness, arrogance) is changed into "Rahabhem-shebheth" (i.e. "Rahab! they are utter indolence"). In behalf of this view we may claim the authority of a tradition still older than that preserved in the vowel points, for the Septuagint (followed substantially by the Peshito and the Vulgate) has, καλέσατε τὸ ὄνομα φαραὼ νεχαὼ βασιλέως αἰγύπτου σαών. He hath passed the time appointed. A difficult clause, and variously interpreted. One thing is clear, that "passed" cannot be correct, as the verb is in the Hifil or causative conjugation. We must, at any rate, render, "He hath let the time appointed pass by." This is, in fact, the simplest and most natural explanation. There was a time within which repentance might have averted the judgment of God; but this "accepted time" has been foolishly let slip.
The threat implied in Jeremiah 46:17 is set forth more fully; he who speaks is a very different "king" from the fallen Pharaoh. As Tabor is among the mountains. The sense is deformed by the insertion of "is." The King of Babylon is compared to "Tabor among the mountains and Carmel by the sea." Mount Tabor is a most prominent object, owing to the wide extent of the plain of Esdraelon, in which it is situated; and a similar remark applies to Mount Carmel. The view of Tabor differs considerably according to the point from which it is taken; but "its true figure is an elongated oval" (Thomson). Carmel, so called from the rich orchards and vineyards with which it was anciently adorned, is not lofty (being only about six hundred feet above the sea), but the form in which it breaks off towards the sea has a beauty of its own. It is now deprived of its rich forest and garden culture, but is still described as "a glorious mountain."
O thou daughter dwelling in Egypt; literally, O inhabitress-daughter of Egypt. The phrase is exactly parallel to "virgin daughter of Zion." The "daughter of Egypt" means the population of Egypt, the land being regarded as the mother of its people. Furnish thyself to go into captivity. The rendering of the margin is, however, more exact. The "vessels of captivity [or, 'exile']" are a pilgrim's staff and wallet, with the provisions and utensils necessary for a journey (so in Ezekiel 12:4).
A figurative description of the dark future of Egypt.
Like a very fair heifer. (The insertion of "like" weakens the passage.) The well nourished heifer reminds of the prosperity of the fruitful Nile valley. But destruction cometh; it cometh out of the north; rather, a gadfly from the north hath come upon her (not, "hath come, hath come," as the received text has—a very slight change in one letter is required, supported by the versions). The figure is precisely analogous to that of the "bee in the land of Assyria" (Isaiah 7:18). St. Chrysostom renders "a gadfly" (see Field, 'Origen's Hexapla,' 2.708); and so virtually Aquila and Symmachus.
Also her hired men are in the midst of her, etc.; rather, also her hirelings in the midst of her are like, etc. These seem to be distinguished from the mercenaries mentioned in Jeremiah 46:9, the Ethiopians, Libyans, and Arabs, who were never adopted into the midst of the Egyptian people. On the other hand, the description will exactly apply to the Caftans and Ionians in the service of Psammetichus and Apries, who were "for many years" settled "a little below the city of Bubastis, on the Pelusiac mouth of the Nile." In this fertile country, itself comparable to "a very fair heifer" (Jeremiah 46:20), these pampered and privileged mercenaries became "like calves of the stall." They did not stand, etc.; rather, they have not stood (firm), for the day of their destruction is come upon them.
The voice thereof shall go like a serpent; rather, her voice is like (the sound of) a serpent gliding away. Egypt (like Jerusalem, in Isaiah 29:4) is imagined as a maiden (comp. Jeremiah 46:19) seated on the ground, and faintly sighing; and her feeble voice is likened to the rustling sound of a serpent in motion. Come against her with axes. A sudden change of figure. Egypt, or, more strictly, Egypt's grandeur—its rich and complex national life, its splendid cities, its powerful army, all combined in one, is now compared to a forest (comp. Jeremiah 21:14; Jeremiah 22:6, Jeremiah 22:7; Isaiah 2:13; Isaiah 10:18, Isaiah 10:19, Isaiah 10:33, Isaiah 10:34). It seems far fetched to suppose, with Graf and Dr. Payne Smith, that the comparison of the Chaldean warriors to wood cutters arose from their being armed with axes. It is probably true that the Israelites did not use the battle axe, but the axe is merely an accident of the description. It is the forest which suggests the mention of the axe, not the axe that of the forest, and forests were familiar enough to the Israelites.
They shall cut down; better, they cut down. The prophet is describing a picture which passes before his inner eye. Though it cannot be searched; rather, for it cannot be searched out. The subject of the verb is uncertain. De Dieu's explanation is, "Because the forest is so dense, so intricate, it is necessary to clear a path by cutting down the trees." But this does not seem to suit the context. Surely no other reason was required for the destruction of the "forest" than the will of the wood cutters. "Searching out" occurs in Job (Job 5:9; Job 9:10; Job 36:26; comp. also 1 Kings 7:47) in connection with numbering, and the second half of the verse expressly describes the foe as innumerable. The singular alternates with the plural, as in Isaiah 5:28, a host being regarded sometimes as a whole, and sometimes as an aggregate of individuals. Than the grasshoppers; rather, the locust. The name is one of nine which we find given to the various species of locusts in the Old Testament, and means "multitudinous."
Shall be confounded; rather, is brought to shame; the next verb too should rather be in the past tense.
The multitude of No; rather, Amen of No. Amon-Ra, or rather Amen-Ra, was the name adopted at Thebes (Homer's Thebes "of the hundred gateways," 'Iliad,' 9.383, called here "No," and in Nahum 3:8 "No [of] Anion") from the time of the eleventh dynasty, for the sun god Ra. Amen (Amen) signifies "hidden," for it is the mysterious, invisible deity who manifests himself in bodily form in the sun. From this name comes the classic designation, Jupiter-Ammon. Their gods … their kings; rather, her gods … her kings (viz. Egypt's). The "kings" are probably the high officials of the state, not a few of whom were either by birth or marriage members of the royal family. Even Pharaoh, and all them that trust in him. With a suggestive allusion to the many in Judah who "trusted" in that "broken reed" (Isaiah 36:6).
Afterward it shall be inhabited, etc. After all these gloomy vaticinations, Jeremiah (as elsewhere in this group of prophecies; see Jeremiah 48:47; Jeremiah 49:6, Jeremiah 49:39) opens up a brighter prospect. "In the days of old," patriarchal and unmilitary, the fertile valley of the Nile offered a peaceful and a happy home to its teeming inhabitants; those times shall yet come again. To understand this, we must assume that during its period of depression Egypt has been but sparsely peopled, owing to the large numbers of its inhabitants carried away captive. Another explanation, "afterwards Egypt shall stay at home [i.e, 'be quiet']," though equally justifiable item the point of view of the lexicon (comp. 5:17; Psalms 55:7), seems less natural. Possibly Ezekiel 29:13-16 is a development of our passage; it contains a promise of future remission of punishment, though a promise qualified in such a way as to be akin to a threat. The words, "And it shall no more be the confidence of the house of Israel" (Ezekiel 29:16), seem like a comment on Jeremiah's threat to "Pharaoh, and them that trust in him," in the preceding verse.
Jeremiah 46:27, Jeremiah 46:28
A word of comfort to Israel, obviously not written at the same time as the preceding prophecy. The prophet is suddenly transported in imagination into the period of the Babylonian exile. Egypt and its fortunes are far away; the troubles of Israel entirely absorb his attention. After thinking sadly of the reverses of his people, he bursts out with an encouraging exhortation not to fear, though, humanly speaking, there was everything to fear. Did Jeremiah write these verses here? There is strong reason to doubt it; for they occur, with insignificant variations, in Jeremiah 30:10, Jeremiah 30:11, where they cohere far better with the context than here.
The judgment of Egypt.
This is twofold, first in the defeat at Carchemish (Jeremiah 46:1-12), and then in a complete overthrow of the kingdom (Jeremiah 46:13-26), which Jeremiah seems to have anticipated immediately after, just as the early Christians connected the destruction of Jerusalem with the expected end of the world. Though this anticipation was not chronologically correct, the essence of the prophecy was ultimately fulfilled. The kingdom of the Pharaohs has passed away.
I. EGYPT WAS A HEATHEN COUNTRY. The two prophecies about Egypt occur first in a series of predictions concerning the Gentile nations. God is the God of the Gentile as well as the Jew, of the heathen as well as the Christian, of the godless as well as the godly. In him all men live and move and have their being; from him they receive every blessing of life; to him they will have to give account of their deeds. Therefore God notes the conduct of heathen nations, and chastises them when needful; so he does with individual men who renounce his authority over them or are brought up in ignorance of it. The heathen will be judged by their heathenish light, and not by the high standards of Christian principles; but there is enough in that light to allow of a genuine judgment and a just sentence (Romans 2:14, Romans 2:15). The 'Book of the Dead' contains a high and noble system of morality. With this in his possession, the Egyptian was without excuse in his vice and cruelty.
II. EGYPT WAS AN ANCIENT NATION. Her history dates back long before the time of Abraham. But she found no immunity in age. If judgment is long delayed, it will come in God's appointed time. The mere continuance of peaceful circumstances hitherto is not the slightest ground for crediting them with a special charm to ward off the sentence of Divine justice. The hoary sinner will not be spared out of regard to his years. Age is not venerable in itself. It is only odious when it is the ripening and rotting of a long life of sin.
III. EGYPT WAS A LAND OF WEALTH AND SPLENDOUR, (For this point, see homily on verse 20.)
IV. EGYPT WAS A HOME OF SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHY. There philosophy arose, and the knowledge of nature was first systematically pursued. There strange mystic religions had their birth. If knowledge could save a people, Egypt of all lands should be safe. But though knowledge is power, there are foes against which it is impotent, The science of the encyclopaedists was no protection against the horrors of the French Revolution. Modern science cannot find an antidote to sin, nor can modern inventiveness devise any armour that shall resist the piercing darts of Divine justice. Our religious simulation will not redeem our souls.
V. EGYPT WAS THE ALLY OF ISRAEL. The alliance of the Church is no safeguard when the Church herself is erring. Companionship in sin with men who have been accounted Christians will do nothing to lighten the weight of guilt. They will have to suffer for their share in the wickedness, and if their previous reputation cannot shield them, it can have no protection to extend to others.
VI. EGYPT MADE A BRAVE RESISTANCE. Jeremiah describes the battle array in stirring words. The army was imposing. Yet was defeated. It is vain to resist the decree of Divine judgment. He who fights against this is striking at Heaven. The blow can only recoil on his own head.
VII. EGYPT WAS TO BE INHABITED AGAIN. God mingles mercy with judgment. He has pity on the heathen. He seeks the ultimate recovery of those whom he first punishes. In later years Egypt became the home and centre of the most brilliant Christian life and thought.
I. WHAT DISEASES ARE NATURALLY INCURABLE?
1. Sin. No man can root out his own evil nature. The wicked man, left to himself, will never grow into righteousness. Sin does not burn out; it continually finds fresh fuel and kindles a greater fire.
2. The judgment of sin. This cannot be resisted, for it comes from the hand of the Almighty. It cannot be bought off by compensating merits, for the most we can do is not to deserve more punishment in the future by new sin. When we have done our best we are "unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do."
II. HOW GOD CURES THE NATURALLY INCURABLE DISEASE. Christ is the good Physician, the great Healer. Where medicine fails miracle triumphs. She who "had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse" was made whole by a touch of the hem of the Saviour's garment. The cure may be impossible with man, but with God all things are possible.
1. The cure for sin. This is in the new birth which makes the Christian a "new creation" in Christ Jeans, and the constant aid of the Spirit of God to cleanse and purify the soul.
2. The cure for the judgment of sin. This is in the free pardon offered to the penitent who trust to Christ, and it is secured through his mediation, his one sacrifice for sin, and his perpetual intercession for sinners.
The heifer and the gadfly.
"Egypt is a very fair heifer, but a gadfly cometh."
I. WORLDLY ADVANTAGES ARE NO SAFEGUARDS AGAINST TROUBLE. The heifer is very fair, yet the gadfly attacks her. Egypt, rich in her fertile Nile valley, the granary of the East; splendid with vast and gorgeous temples, whose ruins are now the wonder of the world; in the forefront of speculation and science; hoary with antiquity, and proud of her aeons of history even in Jeremiah's age—twenty-five dynasties had already passed away;—this great Egypt is to suffer humiliation at the band of the upstart Babylon. Her very magnificence attracts the greedy invader. Wealth and rank may ward off some distresses, but they will invite others which never condescend to attack the poor and obscure.
II. WORLDLY ADVANTAGES AFFORD LITTLE CONSOLATION IN TROUBLE. If the heifer is very fair, her beauty is no antidote to the pain she feels when the probe of the gadfly is in her back. Egypt may have every advantage of wealth and science, and yet she finds no comfort in these things when her life blood is flowing beneath the sword of the rude invader. The death of her firstborn is as heavy a blow to the queen as to the meanest slave in the land. The rich man feels his gout at least as acutely as the poor man. Mental distress, anxiety, and care are not to be bought off with money.
III. A SMALL OCCASION MAY PRODUCE GREAT TROUBLE. The gadfly is but half an inch long. Yet it can so irritate the heifer that she will rush madly about, with head thrust forward and tail stuck out, in the vain hope of escaping from her tormentor. Many a man has just one cause of trouble, looking to others quite insignificant, yet which is to him the fly spoiling the most precious ointment. How much of the distress of life comes from the fret and worry of little things! It is a comfort that we are not only invited to cast our burden upon the Lord, but to cast all our "care upon him, for he careth for us."
IV. WE MAY BE UNABLE TO PREVENT THE ATTACK OF THE SMALLEST OCCASION OF TROUBLE. The horns, which would be good weapons for attacking a large animal, are useless against the gadfly. Many troubles come like this fly. We cannot touch them; they are swift to attack, and once they are upon us no defence is possible. In our own strength we cannot throw off the smallest sin. Perhaps we are strong to resist great temptations, and fall victims to miserable little failings. The devil is not always a roaring lion; sometimes he is more like a gadfly. We can drive off the lion; we cannot resist the gadfly. Lying, theft, murder, etc; may be kept out, and yet our souls may lose all peace and Divine communion by yielding to hasty temper, discontent, cowardice, etc. But Christ comes as the Saviour from all evil and all sin, including those meaner sins which may ruin our spiritual life even when greater sins are avoided,
Jeremiah 46:27, Jeremiah 46:28
(See homily on Jeremiah 30:10, Jeremiah 30:11.)
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
The judgment of the nations.
I. UTTERED BY THE PROPHET OF THE THEOCRACY.
1. Because they are related to the theocracy. Even in antagonism; but sometimes in conscious or undesigned cooperation. The future of the kingdom of God is not, therefore, to evolve itself independently of these, but in close connection with them. It is this, and this alone, which gives them their importance. They are associated with the destinies of God's people. What mysterious necessity is it that ever blends God's kingdom with the main stream of history? It is the dominant influence even when it seems to be temporarily overthrown.
2. The kingdom of God is to be fulfilled in the whole earth. Not only in Israel is it to come, but in the "uttermost parts of the earth." The kingdoms of this world are to "become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ" (Revelation 11:15). For this reason their history, too, is sacred, and is to be read in the light of revelation if it is to be understood. The true history of every nation and individual is determined by relation to the truth of God.
3. For the instruction and comfort of God's people. It is manifest that Divine providence can be explained worthily only upon such a scale. And the subjects of the Divine kingdom have to be taught the real character and destiny of the powers into relation with which they are brought. God is seen as ruling, not only in a little corner, but in the whole earth.
II. UTTERED TOGETHER AT ONE TIME. There is a question as to which order ought to be observed in mentioning them.
1. But the selection is made upon an evident principle, viz. that of (nearly) contemporaneous relation to Israel. And whatever their relations amongst themselves or toward Israel at any given time, in general they are opposed to the kingdom of God, and represent the influences with which it has to do in its progress amongst men. They are "the world powers" as opposed to the "powers of the world to come."
2. It is part of the scheme of Divine revelation to arraign from time to time the spirit of this world in its varying forms and phases. The world's life and history thus cease to be complex and involved, and are seen to resolve themselves into the principles of good and evil, darkness and light. The turmoil and movement are really those of a great duel—that of the kingdom of God against the kingdom of this world.
III. UTTERED FINALLY AND ABSOLUTELY. It is destruction that is predicted, and as real historic powers we do not hear of them again. There is something very grand and solemn in this arraying and dismissal of the nations. Their political influence, military power, or commercial supremacy avails not against this imperative Word of the Most High. What is it but an anticipation of the judgment of the earth by the Son of man (Matthew 25:31)? Has not our Saviour already ground for his claim, "I have overcome the world"? The gospel of the kingdom of God is, therefore, no little thing done in a comer, but the economy of a world, and the law of life and death throughout all ages.—M.
Jeremiah 46:27, Jeremiah 46:28
(Vide on Jeremiah 30:10, Jeremiah 30:11.)—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Judgment going on from the house of God.
The former chapters have shown judgment beginning at the house of God. This and the following chapters show that judgment going on.
I. JUDGMENT BEGINS AT THE HOUSE OF GOD. This whole life here is more or less a time of trial. God never suffers his Church to be long at ease. But there are especial times of trial, as in persecutions, bereavements, uprisings of the power of sin. And sometimes, as in the former chapters is told, God sends his actual judgments and chastisements upon his people. Now, concerning this, note:
1. It is just that judgment should begin at, etc. For God has a right to the reverence and obedience of his own people. If a father be not obeyed in his own house, where else should he be? More of light, privilege, and grace are given to his Church, and more of ill follows from their sin; and hence no wonder that judgment begins, etc.
2. And it is fit and suitable. Who cares for the household as the father? I hear a child in the streets use profane or foul language, and I am shocked that any child should use language like that. But if it were my child, with what horror and indignation should I be filled! All the father's affection clusters round and centres in his home, and hence he will spare no pains nor refuse any methods—even judgments when they are needed, as once and again they are—whereby the highest well being of his children may be secured.
3. And it is merciful likewise. It was not judgment, but mercy also, that "drove out the man" from Paradise. Some discipline sterner than Paradise afforded was needed now for the subdual of that evil nature which had become dominant in man. And that nature must be subdued and the better nature formed in us, or the high and holy purpose of God cannot be fulfilled in us.
II. BUT IT DOES NOT STOP THERE. To show this is the purport of this and the following chapters.
1. And how true this is generally! There is the sorrow of the world as well as that of the believer; and who would not rather have that of the believer than that of the world?
2. And how much greater is the sorrow of the world! "If they do these things in the green tree, what," etc.? said our Saviour. "If the righteous scarcely "be multiplied be saved, where," etc.? said St. Peter. And that "their sorrows shall" is inevitable. For they have no inward spring of consolation beneath them. There is so much more to be done in order to rescue them from their ways. The processes of agriculture are sometimes severe; but what are they compared to the stern work needed for bringing the land into cultivation. The police of a well ordered town cause some burden to the inhabitants; but what is that to martial law? They touch the all of the world, only the lesser good of the believer. And they stay so much longer time. There was no such restoration for the Gentile people told of here as there was and especially will be for the Jewish race. The Church of Christ has often been judged, but she has ever been restored, and will be yet more. But during her history, Rome, Venice, and political states within Christendom have risen, decayed, and disappeared.
3. How admonitory all this is!
In this verse and in others we have the vain vauntings of Egypt. Thus far the judgments of God have been declared against his people. Now, having begun at the house of God, judgment goes on to the Gentile nations, one after another of whom are told of in the chapters that succeed this, and ending with the judgment on Babylon. Egypt and Babylon were the two great empires between which unhappy Judaea was "like a nut between the forceps," so that when these two drew together it went ill with the little kingdom that lay between. Now, in these chapters Egypt takes the lead and Babylon closes, the lesser nations occupying the central position. The invasion and conquest of Egypt is the subject of this forty-sixth chapter from the thirteenth verse. Its decisive defeat at Carchemish is told of in the previous portion. It was in anticipation of that disastrous battle that Egypt, persuading herself that it would issue so differently, is heard uttering the proud beastings of this eighth verse. At first it seemed as if these boastings were not vain, for at Megiddo, where King Josiah was slain, the Egyptian army did obtain a victory; but, three years after, when they had pushed on to the banks of the Euphrates, Nebuchadnezzar fell upon them there and completely vanquished them. Crestfallen and crushed, they had to make their weary way back to their own land; and shortly after we read (2 Kings 24:7), "the King of Egypt came not again any more out of his land: for the King of Babylon had taken from the river of Egypt unto the river Euphrates all that pertained to the King of Egypt." That was what came of all their vauntings, and the history is a noticeable one on many grounds. Now, it recalls to our mind the wise exhortation, "Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off" (1 Kings 20:11). Let us note—
I. SOME MANIFESTATIONS OF THIS SPIRIT OF over confidence. The Bible is full of facts which illustrate this spirit. Pharaoh, in the days of Moses, asking, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey him?' Goliath of Gath striding down the valley in furious pride to meet the stripling David. He swore by all his gods he would give those young limbs as a prey for the vultures to feed upon. Rabshakeh, again, general of the host Of the King of Assyria, terrifying and dismaying the devout Hezekiah with his fearful threatenings. And we know how the distress lasted until Hezekiah took the letter of the haughty heathen and laid it before the Lord. Then, serene and strong, his spirit rose up, and he was able to make fit answer. And we know how Jehovah avenged Judah, her king, and her people upon the vast multitude of their foes who in battle array lay around them. For—
"Like the leaves of the forest when autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strewn;
For the angel of death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed.
"And the tents were all silent, the banners alone;
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Had melted like snow in the glance of the Lord."
And we think, too, of Haman in his rage at Mordecai, vowing vengeance, and surely reckoning on wreaking it to the full. And Samson, imagining that nothing could deprive him of his great strength, so confident that at any moment he could break through every barrier, but at length enticed, betrayed, overcome, and ruined. And, passing to the region of spiritual things, we think of Israel pledging themselves, as they stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, to perfect obedience. Of that rich "fool" of whom our Lord tells, and who made so sure of many years to enjoy his "much goods" laid up in store. And of the many who were candidates for discipleship, avowing themselves ready to follow him everywhere. And of Peter, boasting that, though all men should forsake the Lord, yet would not he. And Judas, who trembled not to take the office of apostleship though so incapable of sustaining it. And in common life how often we see this same spirit! Our Afghan disasters in 1879 were largely awing to it. But in spiritual life there is the same peril. There may not be the uttered words of vain vaunting, but the spirit may be there notwithstanding. For how little there is of the trembling, the watchful, the prayerful spirit lest we should be overcome! How far too much tampering with temptation! How few "pass the time of their sojourning here in fear" lest they should "seem to come short" of eternal life! How many are like the foolish virgins, who, all careless as to the unsupplied condition of their oil vessels, nevertheless contentedly lay down to sleep! How many are at ease in Zion, allowing themselves in a carnal security which too often is but the herald of a fearful awakening!
II. INQUIRE—WHAT LEADS TO THIS SPIRIT? Some are of a boastful disposition. These Egyptians evidently were. He concerning whom the cautionary words already quoted were used, "Let not him that girdeth on his harness," etc; was another such habitual boaster. And this is human nature. Our pride dies hard, but is puffed up with wonderful ease. Then:
2. False estimates have a great deal to do with it. Underestimating our adversaries', over estimating our own, resources and strength. Hence Benhadad, who thought such scorn of Israel, on the very eve of battle was, we are told, drinking himself drunk in his tent. Hence many are found dallying with danger, fluttering, mothlike, round the flame by which they are sure soon to perish miserably. The jocular way in which the devil is so generally spoken of proves that we do but little believe in him; for what men seriously believe they never joke about. And this false estimate is rendered more credible to us if we have obtained aught of success heretofore. Egypt had at Megiddo; Benhadad had. Hence their estimates.
3. Perversion of God's truth. We encourage ourselves in this spirit of over confidence by dwelling too exclusively on promises of protection to the neglect of those which command all watchfulness and prayer. Men will read parts of the Bible only—those which please them most; and without doubt many have dwelt so much on the promises of God's upholding grace and his perfecting that which he begins, that they have laid ide their armour—that indispensable armour of God. But any reading of God's Word which leads us thus practically to disobey his command is thereby proved to be a wrong reading. For, just as the chemist's litmus paper, plunged into a solution containing acid, at once reveals by its turning red the presence of that acid, however invisible and imperceptible it may have been before, so any interpretation of the Scriptures which leads to false security, premature and presumptuous confidence, which makes us red with this sad sin, proves that that interpretation contains the acid of falsehood. It is a sure test. God help us to heed it as we should.
III. NOTE WHAT MISCHIEF IT WORKS. These are seen strewn over every pathway along which this spirit hath been; like the bleached bones in the desert show the track of the caravan.
IV. Consider, therefore, SOME SAFEGUARDS AGAINST IT. God himself at times undertakes its cure. He did so with Peter. He let him go his way and fall, and in that crash the spirit of boastfulness was forever crushed. But we shall be aided by remembering the words of Christ and his apostles and of all his most faithful servant§. They all warn against this spirit, and urge the spirit of watchfulness and prayer. Remember, too, that better men than ourselves have fallen. The very fact that armour is provided shows that we need it. And note that there are chinks in your armour; and that some armour is of very worthless sort.
CONCLUSION. Whilst bidding you boast not, with equal emphasis we say, "Despond not." "The gist of all this is, confide in God, but distrust yourselves. Have done with every glorying except glorying in the Lord There is nothing like full assurance for excellence, and nothing like presumption for worthlessness. Never mistake the one for the other. You cannot trust God too much nor yourself too little. I read a book one day called 'Self-Made Men,' and in its own sphere it was excellent; but spiritually I should not like to be a self-made man. I should think he would be an awful specimen of humanity. At any rate, a self-made Christian is one of a sort the devil very soon takes, as I have seen a child so take a bran doll and shake it all out. He likes to shake out self-made Christians till there is nothing left of them. But God-made men,—these are they that do exploits; and God-made Christians, who fall back upon the eternal strength at all times and confide there,—these are the men to hold on their way and to wax stronger and stronger" (Spurgeon).—C.
The terror of sacrifice without its blessing.
The ancient sacrifices had much about them that was very repulsive. The slaughtering and dismemberment of the vast herds of animals that were year by year brought to the altar must have involved in it very much that was of a revolting nature. No doubt their sensitiveness to such scenes of blood was far less than ours; but at the best it must have been a most painful spectacle. Hence scoffers have called it the religion of the shambles. But the salvation and blessing that came through the sacrifices divested them of all that was painful or repulsive to the offerer. But there may be all that is terrible about sacrifice—agony, blood, death, carnage—without any corresponding blessing. Such is the meaning here. Slaughter, but no salvation. The same word for "sacrifice" is used as in those which were offered according to the Law on the altar in the temple. And so in the parallel passages in Isaiah 34:6 and Ezekiel 39:17, which should be compared with this, and which are alluded to by St. John in the Revelation. In all these there is the terror of sacrifice, but none of its blessing. And there is that which corresponds to this now. Even Christ's sacrifice may be a terror and not a salvation. It is so to:
1. Those who refuse it.
2. Those who apostatize from it, who count the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, trampling underfoot the Son of God (Hebrews 10:1-39.).
3. Those who make it the minister of sin. Who "turn the grace of God into lasciviousness." There is, then a twofold aspect, of the Lord's sacrifice. Either it must be that by it we rise or fall. "This child is set for the fall and rising again." The gospel is "a savour of life unto life, or," etc. Christ is a Rock on which we may build, or which, falling on the impenitent, crushes him to powder. Which for ourselves?—C.
The real cause of the decline of empires.
"Because the Lord did drive them." If we read ordinary histories, the overthrow of any monarchy is traced to such an invasion or to the loss of such a battle, or to some other ordinary and well known cause. And no doubt it is true that, through and by these things, the said results have been brought about. But there is ever a moral cause which lies behind, and it is to that must be traced up the series of events which have followed. The history of most ancient empires, in their origin, progress, decline, and fall, has been very much the same. A hardy, temperate, courageous people, driven by necessity or attracted by the hope of gain, fall upon some decrepit power, destroy it, and on its ruins build their own fortunes. For a while the same courage and virtue which enabled them to gain possession of their prize are manifested in consolidating their power and in building up their rule. But after the lapse of years, they have gained secure foothold and are able to live less on their guard against enemies. Wealth and luxury increase and exert their enervating power. In this soil the vices, whatever they may be, to which as a people they are predisposed, grow rapidly and affect the national habit and character. Then their decay has begun. It hastens rapidly on until, in their turn, this once victorious people are vanquished, overthrown by a nation more bold and righteous and therefore more powerful than themselves. This law can be readily traced in the histories of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and in more modern instances as well. Were there no moral causes at work in the overthrow of the French empire under Napoleon I.? In all cases it will be seen that,, in one form or another, God's love of righteousness has been outraged, and vengeance has speedily, or surely if not speedily, come. What was the Reformation but the revolt of men's consciences against the abominable sins of the Catholic Church? But how came that Church—once so fair, so beautiful, so glorious—to have sunk so low as to become hateful in men's eyes? It was this same enervating influence of wealth, power, and other forms of earthly prosperity which sapped her spiritual strength until she became utterly unworthy of men's confidence, and she was punished, and is so to this day, by the loss of well nigh all Northern Europe, the noblest half of her ancient domain. Therefore learn—
I. WHAT ARE NOT A COUNTRY'S SAFEGUARDS, THOUGH OFTEN THOUGHT TO BE. Not commerce, or Tyre would not have fallen. Not art, or Greece would never have perished. Not strong political organization, or Rome would have continued. Not religious profession, or Jerusalem and Catholic Rome would not have suffered the disasters that befell them. Not ancient renown, or Egypt would have stood fast. All these things have been relied on, and especially vast armies, but they have one and all been tested and have proved ropes of sand, battlements taken away because they are not the Lord's. Therefore note—
II. WHAT IS A COUNTRY'S SAFEGUARD? There is but one answer, and that is righteousness. It, and it alone, exalteth a nation. The form of government, whether monarchical or republican, matters not, whether political power be in the hands of the many or the few, but the character of the people—their possession or not possession of the "fear of the Lord." Whilst Israel possessed this she was impregnable. "A thousand fell at her side, and," etc.
III. WHAT, THEREFORE, IS TRUE PATRIOTISM? Not alone adding to the material wealth or the intellectual force of the nation, not alone philanthropy or political energy,—none of these things are to be held in light esteem; but the truest patriotism, and it is one which all can exhibit, is the cultivation of godly character, that fear of God which lies at the basis of all moral excellence whatsoever. Yes, not for our own salvation's sake alone, but for our country's sake, even as for Christ's sake, let us seek to resemble him, breathe his Spirit, manifest his character, copy his example, and spread abroad those true principles of national well being which, by his life and death, he taught us.—C.
Punishment not destruction but purification and preservation.
In Jeremiah 46:28, in Jeremiah 48:21, and in Jeremiah 49:6, Jeremiah 49:39, we have similar assurances that "afterwards," when God's judgments have done their work, the chastised and afflicted nations shall be restored. Such promise is here made to Egypt. It is repeated in Ezekiel 29:8-14. And from this reiterated word concerning, not one people only, but so many, we gather the intent and purpose of God in regard to all his punishments which he sends upon men—that they are not for men's destruction, but for their purification and preservation, Note—
I. SOME OF THE BASES OF THIS BELIEF.
1. Such Scriptures as these now referred to.
2. The salutary results that have followed so much of human suffering. That suffering has shamed indolence, roused energy, stimulated invention, and the results have been safeguards to life and health and general well being, which would never have been thought of or sought after if suffering had not goaded men on. Hence we conclude that such results were intended and ever are by like causes.
3. The fact that God created man. It is incredible that he should create beings whose destiny is an eternity of sin and suffering. If it had been really better for any men that they had never been born, as in this case it undoubtedly would, and as for far less and altogether inadequate reasons we sometimes say it would concerning ourselves or others, then they never would have been born. Our Lord's word concerning Judas is not to be literally pressed. It was a proverbial expression used concerning especially unhappy or ungodly men.
4. The very name of "Saviour." Christ either is or is not the Saviour of the world. If he be not, but only fain would be, then the name of "Saviour" cannot be truly his. We do not give the names of "deliverer," "saviour," "benefactor," to those who only desire to be such but are not such. We are forced to believe—and with what thankfulness we would do so!—that he who is called "the Lamb of God" does not merely in wish, but in fact, "take away the sins of the world."
5. The value of the great sacrifice. If it do not reconcile the world unto God, as St. Paul affirms it does, then it is less precious than men have thought. But it is inconceivable that such a sacrifice should fail to accomplish that for which it was especially designed.
6. The express declaration that the Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the devil. But are not sin and suffering his work? If, then, they be eternal, how can they have been destroyed?
7. The necessity involved in the first and great command, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," etc. Now, it is not in the power of the human heart to love any being that it does not conceive as lovable or worthy of love. But a God who created men, knowing that they would eternally sin and suffer, is not lovable by the human heart. What do we say of men who do deeds which they know can only issue in misery and wrong? But is that righteous in God which we should denounce in men? Abhorrendum sit.
1. Not that there is no such thing as God's punishment for sin.
2. Nor that that punishment is but a little thing. Ah, no! "It is a fearful thing" for an impenitent unbelieving man "to fall into the hands of the living God." He is a consuming fire to such, and the fire will burn on until all the dross and evil be burnt out. Wellington said, "There is only one thing worse than a great victory, and that is a great defeat." He knew at what cost victory is won. And so there may be only one thing worse than some men's salvation, and that is that they should be eternally lost.
3. But that we should learn to "love and dread" God. Love him for his gracious purpose towards men, but dread lest we should compel him by our rejection of his gospel to lead us by sterner ways. For he will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.—C.
Correction, but in measure.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Why the valiant are swept away.
I. THEY ARE SWEPT AWAY. Notice the host described in previous verses of the chapter—horsemen and chariots and archers; the Ethiopian, the Libyan, the Lydian; an imposing host, whose magnificence could not but strike the eye. It was meant that they should produce a feeling of being irresistible. And thus in due time, when they were scattered and broken up, there came a complete contrast. The magnificence, the order, the force, were all somehow utterly vanished. The present overthrow became all the more noticeable because of the magnitude of what had been overthrown. And so God will ever make plain the sweeping away of all his foes. Their defeat is not left a doubtful thing. It may be very difficult to account for, but it cannot be questioned.
II. THE NEED FOR ASKING WHY THEY ARE SWEPT AWAY.
1. Because of their magnificent appearance. They look strong, and according to a certain standard they are strong. This Egyptian army had been gathered together to do a certain work. It was known that they had to meet no common, and easily conquered foe. Therefore there were strong men on strong horses, with powerful weapons and well defended. Yet after all this preparation there came, not merely defeat, but what is called a sweeping away. Assuredly this wants explaining.
2. Because of past victories. We cannot suppose they were an untried host. If they had won battles and campaigns before, why did they lose this? And why were they so utterly and lastingly defeated?
3. Because there is no obvious explanation. It is not to be looked for in the strength of their human opponents. It is not to be found in some difference between what they were in the hour of confusion and what they had been in previous hours of victory. There is no ground to say they were less brave, less disciplined, worse commanded. The reason for this sweeping away, whatever it be, passes ordinary human search.
III. THE SUFFICIENT REASON IS FOUND IN THE ACTION OF JEHOVAH. Jehovah drove them. All forces that find expression in matter are completely at God's disposal. He can paralyze the mightiest army in a moment. The mighty man is not to glory in his might (Jeremiah 9:23). True it is that God lets the strong man do generally all his strength permits him to do. The success military men look for is on the side of the strongest battalions. But then all strength of this sort fails against spiritual strength. Not all the armies of Rome and not all the wild beasts of the amphitheatre could persuade a single true Christian to forsake Christ. The strength of this world achieves great things in its own field, but directly it goes beyond and trieste interfere with conscience and spiritual aspirations, its weakness is made manifest.—
Jeremiah 46:27, Jeremiah 46:28
God's care of his own.
I. THE NEED OF THE FULLEST POSSIBLE ASSURANCE. Jehovah, who has visited Israel with many and great sufferings, will also visit other peoples. Egypt is spoken of in this chapter; and Philistia, Moab Ammon, and Babylon in following chapters. Hence the need of Divine words such as would keep the believing element in Israel calm and confident through all these disturbances, and so it ever is meant to be with the true Israel of God. God is ready with comforting words amid the necessary turmoil of external conditions.
II. THE SOLID GROUNDS OF THIS ASSURANCE. They lie in Jehovah's continued connection with Israel, and his purposes for its safety, peace, and prosperity. We have no assurance in ourselves or our circumstances, but the moment we can feel that we are in God's hands, that he has plans with respect to us, and a future preparing for us, then assurance is possible. God never tells man to take courage and put away fear without giving good reason for the exhortation, and showing that fear is rather the unreasonable feeling to allow. The moment we can take in the full force of that wonderful word, "I am with thee," then we are freed from alarms and from dependence on the shifting phenomena of this present life.
III. THE DIFFERENCE GOD WILL MAKE BETWEEN ISRAEL AND OTHER NATIONS. A full end is to be made of them. And a full end has been made of them. Here, of course, the distinction must be borne in mind between nations and the individuals composing them. A nation is but a certain arrangement of human beings, and this arrangement may be productive of such wrong feelings and such danger to the world as to make it fitting that the nation should cease. But the people composing the nation remain, and their descendants pass into new and better combinations. So with regard to Israel; the people who are to return and be in rest and without fear, the people who are not to be made a full end of, are those of whom literal Israel is but the type. There are really but two nations in the world—those who believe in God and in his Son, and show their faith by their works; and those who trust in themselves, in their power and their purposes. Of all these latter God must make a full end, if in no other way by bringing them to see their folly, so that they may turn to the ways of faith.
IV. JEHOVAH'S CHASTISEMENT OF HIS OWN EVEN WHILE HE PROTECTS THEM. There is a purpose in all suffering, a real need for it. Men seem to be mixed up indiscriminately, and suffering looks as if it often fell irrespective of character, but this is only a seeming. The suffering of Israel, though it may look the same outwardly, is really as different as possible from the suffering of Egypt. There is a fire which ends in the destruction of what passes through it. It must be so, for the thing is destructible and shows its nature when the fire tries it. The same fire attacking indestructible things only separates destructible accretions from them, and consumes these accretions away. God's intention is that the believer may be able to say, "I cannot be destroyed in this furnace of trials; I cannot go to pieces as others do. But still I must remain in is for a while; I must submit to God's wise ordinances so that at last I may return to my true rest and fear no more forever."—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 46". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany