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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Jeremiah 44

 

 

Verse 1

Superscription.

‘The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the Jews who dwelt in the land of Egypt, who dwelt at Migdol, and at Tahpanhes, and at Noph (Memphis), and in the country of Pathros, saying,

This is the opening superscription to this new prophecy, separating it from what has gone before. It informs us that what follows is YHWH’s word to all Jews who have taken refuge in Egypt. It covers the whole of chapter 44. The opening prophecy is directed at the remnant who have escaped from Judah as previously described, who settled at Tahpanhes, whilst the concluding prophecy is directed at all Jewish refugees throughout Egypt. Whether the latter include any or all of the former we are nowhere told, but there would certainly be many Jewish refugees in Egypt who had not come with those who had arrived with Jeremiah.

With regard to the central section it is difficult to know who quite is involved in the worship described there, whether those living in Pathros, or Jews from all over Egypt gathered in Pathros for a festival, but either way they are seen as typical of most of the Judeans in Egypt. As always there would be a few exceptions, such as Jeremiah and Baruch.

It is apparent from this word here that there were at this time colonies of Jews in different parts of Lower Egypt. Migdol (‘tower or fortress’) is mentioned in Exodus 14:2 and was on the Israelite route out of Egypt. It was therefore close to the borders. Noph is identical with Memphis (mentioned in Jeremiah 2:16; Isaiah 19:13; Ezekiel 30:13; Ezekiel 30:16). Tahpanhes was also a border city. The position of ‘the country of Pathros’ is uncertain. That it covers a large area comes out in its use elsewhere. It may thus have included a number of communities of ‘Jews’. The name means ‘the Southland’ and it may therefore indicate Upper Egypt, the long Nile valley extending north to south between Cairo and Aswan. It is attested in Assyrian inscriptions as Paturisi. In Isaiah 11:11 we find the description ‘from Mizraim (Egypt), from Pathros and from Cush’, and this would appear to confirm this conclusion as it would appear to indicate Lower Egypt, Upper Egypt and North Africa (Northern Sudan). Interestingly an inscription of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, also speaks of him as ‘king of Musur, Paturisi and Cush’, which parallels Isaiah’s description. For further mention of Pathros/Pathrusim see also Genesis 10:14; Ezekiel 29:14; Ezekiel 30:14. ‘The country of Pathros’ would therefore possibly include the Jewish military colony at Elephantine, on an island in the Nile not far from Syene (Aswan - Ezekiel 29:10; Ezekiel 30:6), that is if, as is probable, it existed at that time.


Verses 1-30

The Word Of YHWH Comes Against All His People Who Have Taken Refuge In Egypt In The Past Because Instead Of Learning Their Lesson From What Has Happened To Jerusalem They Have Turned To Other Gods, Something Which They Brazenly Boast About. Therefore Because Of This YHWH’s Judgment Will Come On Egypt And His People Will Be Caught Up In It And Will Suffer Accordingly (Jeremiah 44:1-30).

This is a new word of YHWH not directly connected with what has gone before, although clearly coming after the fall of Jerusalem. It was given in the time of Pharaoh Hophra (Jeremiah 44:30), and therefore prior to 570 BC. It commences with the words ‘the word that came to Jeremiah --’ and can be divided up into four sections:

1. YHWH’s word against His people warning of His coming judgment because they have not heeded what He has done against Jerusalem. The remnant who have escaped to Egypt will be destroyed (2-14).

2. The people’s defence to the charge and their response to Jeremiah’s words (15-19).

3. Jeremiah’s immediate reply reminding them that YHWH had seen what they and their fathers had done and had acted in judgment on them by desolating their land and making it a spectacle to the world (20-23).

4. A further word confirming YHWH’s judgment on all Jews living in Egypt because they have turned to other gods and are trusting in Pharaoh Hophra as their deliverer (24-39).

While not stated in the text we can make a contrast here between the refugees here in Egypt and the exiles over in Babylon. These in Egypt have become involved in the worship of other gods, incorporating YHWH into a syncretistic basically polytheistic religion, and refusing to listen to Jeremiah’s pleas, whilst many of those in Babylon will purify their faith, thanks in large measure to Ezekiel, and be ready to return to their land when the time is ripe.


Verses 2-14

1). YHWH’s Word Against His People Warning Of His Coming Judgment Because They Have Not Heeded What He Has Done Against Jerusalem. The Remnant Who Have Escaped To Egypt Will Be Destroyed (2-14).

These words were seemingly delivered in the land of Pathros, where Jeremiah was apparently visiting the Jewish settlers (Jeremiah 44:15). Whether in fact it was a gathering of Jews from all over Egypt for a special festival we are not told, although it is quite possible, for his words have very much in mind those who had arrived with him from Judah, which suggests that they were present. At this time YHWH makes clear to the Jews through Jeremiah that they have made a foolish choice in coming to Egypt, a choice based, it will become apparent, on their disillusionment with Him, although really resulting from hearts set on idolatry and lacking in trust. He points out that they are simply behaving as their fathers have always done and must therefore expect similar judgments to those which came on their fathers.

Jeremiah 44:2-3

‘Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel. You have seen all the evil that I have brought on Jerusalem, and on all the cities of Judah; and, behold, this day they are a desolation, and no man dwells in them, because of their wickedness which they have committed to provoke me to anger, in that they went to burn incense, and to serve other gods, which they did not know, neither they, nor you, nor your fathers.’

This verse sums up YHWH’s charge against Israel and is introduced under His full grand title, ‘YHWH of Hosts, the God of Israel’ which will be repeated three times for emphasis (see Jeremiah 44:7; Jeremiah 44:11). Jeremiah wants them to recognise the greatness of their God. The verse points out that it was because His people had burned incense to and worshipped other gods not previously known to them or their fathers, that He had brought down His judgments on Jerusalem and on all the cities of Judah, making them a desolation, and uninhabited, because of their wickedness in doing so. He had indeed borne long with them and had given them ample opportunity to repent, but they had simply seen this as giving them licence to continue in their false ways. Thus all that had come upon them was because of their polytheism, and thereby their rejection of Him as their only God, thus breaching the first two stipulations in the covenant (the first two commandments), and thereby rejecting the whole.

Jeremiah 44:4

‘In spite of the fact that I sent to you all my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, “Oh, do not this abominable thing which I hate.”

YHWH stresses the efforts that He had made in seeking to guide them onto the right path. He had sent to them ‘all His servants the prophets’. And He had acted with the great determination in order to do it in that He had ‘risen up early’ to do it, something which reflects the importance He had placed on what He was about to do. The language is typically Jeremaic (Jeremiah 7:25; Jeremiah 26:5; Jeremiah 29:19; Jeremiah 35:15). It emphasises the great concern and effort that He had exerted in order to help them, commencing right from the beginning (‘early’), and continuingly revealed in the ongoing nature of his activity (‘all the prophets’), having in mind all the true prophets, both well known and little known, who had prophesied since the time of Moses. And all had brought one message to them, ‘Do not do this abominable thing (worship other gods) which I hate,’ a breaking of the first and second commandments (words of the covenant).

‘My servants the prophets.’ A phrase found seven times in Jeremiah, twice in 2 Kings, once in Ezekiel and once in Zechariah. It reflects the fact that the prophets were peculiarly YHWH’s servants, acting as His mouthpiece. But ‘Allmy servants the prophets’ is found only here and in Jeremiah 7:25; Jeremiah 35:15, and is thus strictly Jeremaic, whilst the phrase as connected with ‘rising up early’ is found only in Jeremiah 7:25; Jeremiah 26:5; Jeremiah 29:19; Jeremiah 35:15 and here.

Jeremiah 44:5

‘But they did not listen, nor did they incline their ear to turn from their wickedness, to burn no incense to other gods.’

Yet in spite of all God’s efforts His people had refused to listen. They had refused to hear His constant pleas that they turn from their wickedness in burning incense to other gods, and had blatantly continued to do so. And with their worship had gone their morals.

Jeremiah 44:6

‘For which reason my wrath and my anger was poured forth, and was kindled in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; and they are wasted and desolate, as it is this day.’

This indeed was why Jerusalem and Judah were in the condition that they were at that time, wholly in ruins, and why His anger had been poured forth on them, and had been kindled ‘in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem’. This was why their cities were wasted and desolate. It was because they had followed and worshipped other gods, gods of nature, who demanded nothing of them morally and were seen as largely controlled by their ritual activities.

Jeremiah 44:7-8

‘Therefore now thus says YHWH, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: “For what reason do you commit this great evil against your own souls, to cut off from you man and woman, infant and suckling, out of the midst of Judah, to leave you none remaining, in that you provoke me to anger with the works of your hands, burning incense to other gods in the land of Egypt, where you are gone to sojourn, that you may be cut off, and that you may be a curse and a reproach among all the nations of the earth?” ’

And now these people were doing the very same thing. They were burning incense to other gods in the land of Egypt, something which was a great evil against their own souls, and could only result in them also being cut off. They were acting just like their fathers had done. The impression given is that these were gods of Egypt to which they had turned in hopes of improving their situation. They were therefore on their way to suffering the Levitical and Deuteronomic curses outlined in Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28, which would result in them being cut off and becoming a curse and a reproach among all the peoples of the world.

Jeremiah 44:9

“Have you forgotten the wickedness of your fathers, and the wickedness of the kings of Judah, and the wickedness of their wives, and your own wickedness, and the wickedness of your wives which they committed in the land of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem?”

He calls on them to consider the past. Have they forgotten how their fathers and their fathers’ wives had behaved, and how the kings of Judah had behaved? Have they forgotten how they themselves had behaved, and their wives? It was because of their wickedness practised openly in the land of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem that all God’s judgments had come upon them (Jeremiah 7:18). That was why they were in the position that they were at this very day.

Jeremiah 44:10

“They are not humbled even to this day, nor have they feared, nor walked in my law, nor in my statutes, that I set before you and before your fathers.”

Note the change of person as YHWH comments on them to Jeremiah. They have taken such little notice of their past that even at this very time they were not humbled, nor did they fear, or walk in His Law, or in His statutes, which He had set before both them and their fathers. All His judgments have failed to move them. For in spite of their apparent change of heart revealed when they had called on Jeremiah to discover YHWH’s word for them (Jeremiah 42:2-6), they have subsequently ignored that word and gone their own way.

Jeremiah 44:11

‘Therefore thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, “Behold, I will set my face against you for evil, even to cut off all Judah.” ’

YHWH now turns back to addressing the people. Therefore let them be sure of this, He YHWH of Hosts, the God of Israel would ‘set His face’ against them with a miserable end in view, the cutting off of all Judah. Their God Who had once delivered them from Egypt and its gods, but Who had acted so powerfully in the past against them and their fathers because of their evil ways, would now act equally powerfully against them at this time.

Jeremiah 44:12

“And I will take the remnant of Judah, who have set their faces to go into the land of Egypt to sojourn there, and they will all be consumed. In the land of Egypt will they fall. They will be consumed by the sword and by the famine. They will die, from the least even to the greatest, by the sword and by the famine, and they will be an execration, and an astonishment, and a curse, and a reproach.”

For He would take all the remnant of Judah who had ‘set their faces’ to go to live in the land of Egypt and ensure that they were consumed by famine and sword, the very two enemies that they had been seeking to avoid by coming to Egypt. ‘Here at least’, they had thought, ‘we need fear neither famine nor sword’. But let them be sure of this. From the least to the greatest of them they would die by that very sword and by famine, and become an execration and an astonishment in the eyes of all people. They would become a curse and a reproach. For this language compare Jeremiah 42:18; Jeremiah 18:16; Leviticus 26:25-26; Leviticus 26:32; Leviticus 26:36-38; Deuteronomy 28:37. Note the play on the fact that YHWH had set His face against them because they had set their face towards Egypt.

Jeremiah 44:13

“For I will punish those who dwell in the land of Egypt, as I have punished Jerusalem, by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence,”

For in committing the same sins as those in Jerusalem by turning to other gods, the gods of Egypt, they were deserving of the same punishment. They equally therefore would suffer sword, famine and contagious disease, as indeed Jeremiah had previously prophesied (compare Jeremiah 42:17).

Jeremiah 44:14

“So that none of the remnant of Judah, who are gone into the land of Egypt to sojourn there, will escape or be left, to return into the land of Judah, to which they have a desire to return to dwell there, for none shall return save such as shall escape.”

And His purpose was that none of the remnant who had escaped from Judah and had gone into the land of Egypt to settle there, would escape the coming judgments, or would survive in order to be able to return to the land of Judah in spite of their desire to do so, that is apart from a few refugees.

‘Save such as shall escape.’ The idea is that judgment will be so severe that only a very few will somehow survive by the skin of their teeth.

So the same judgments that had come on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah because of their disobedience, were now to be visited on these rebels because of their disobedience. It should be noted that this was not simply because they had sought refuge in Egypt, but because that seeking of refuge had been a renunciation of the God of Jeremiah, and because the consequences of their doing was now being revealed in their continuing disobedience, something revealed by the way in which they had quickly and eagerly turned to the gods of the land of Egypt. It was their motives which had been wrong from the start as YHWH well knew, and it had brought them to this.


Verses 15-19

2). The People’s Defence To The Charge And Their Response To Jeremiah’s Words (15-19).

The people’s defence is now blatantly stated, and confirms all that Jeremiah has said. As far as they were concerned their ways had prospered when they had worshipped ‘meleketh hashamayim’ (the queen of heaven or the handiwork of heaven) and other gods. Since being turned to the sole worship of YHWH by Josiah things had only gone wrong (they overlooked the years of prosperity and independence under Josiah and the fact that after he had died public worship went back to its syncretism). As far as they were concerned it was that that had brought on them famine and sword. It should be noted that this was not a total rejection of YHWH, He was after all the God of Israel, but it was a claim that He was only one among others, and that in their view the help of more than one God was needed. But it was a very weak argument, ignoring the facts and only convincing to themselves because they wanted to be convinced.

Reference to meleketh hashamayim is found only here and in Jeremiah 7:18. It is often equated with malkath hashamayim (‘the queen of Heaven’, the moon) but may rather signify ‘the heavenly handiwork (mele’keth hashamayim)’ i.e. the stars. These were worshipped in different guises all over the Ancient Near East. Either way false gods were being worshipped alongside YHWH, something later confirmed by the Elephantine papyri where YHWH was being worshipped alongside Anath-bethel and Ishum-bethel, Anath being the mother goddess, thus being very similar to the false worship here and in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 7:18).

Jeremiah 44:15

‘Then all the men who knew that their wives burned incense to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly, even all the people who dwelt in the land of Egypt, in Pathros, answered Jeremiah, saying,’

Jeremiah now found himself faced by a large group of people whose spokespersons were both the men whose wives were involved in the false worship, and the wives themselves. Indeed it would appear that the women were the chief spokespersons (Jeremiah 44:19), although clearly what was said by a number of people is being summarised in what appears to us to be one speech. We must view the words realistically. Clearly all the Jewish men and women in Pathros could not have spoken all at once (although it might have seemed like that to Jeremiah at the time), nor was it likely that literally every Jew throughout the land of Egypt was present. . The point is rather that all the Jewish men and women who had gathered there in Pathros, possibly for ceremonies connected with the moon/star god/goddess, spoke to Jeremiah through their spokespersons, whether official or unofficial, and gathered behind them in support. The word for ‘All’ rather therefore signifies ‘a large number, a great proportion’ as so often in Scripture.

Jeremiah 44:16

“As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of YHWH, we will not listen to you.”

Their disobedience to the word of YHWH as communicated through Jeremiah is once more blatantly stated (compare Jeremiah 43:2 and contrast Jeremiah 42:5). They openly declare that they will not listen to Jeremiah’s words spoken in the name of YHWH. It is a deliberate rejection of YHWH’s true prophet, and therefore of YHWH Himself as He really is. They were rejecting ‘the word of YHWH’.

Jeremiah 44:17

“But we will certainly perform every word that is gone forth out of our mouth, to burn incense to the Queen of Heaven (or ‘to the heavenly handiwork’), and to pour out drink-offerings to her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil.”

Rather, they insisted that what they would do was obey themselves and their inclinations. They would fulfil all the vows that they had made to the moon/star god by burning incense and pouring out drink offerings before her, just as they had previously done in the streets of Jerusalem and in the cities of Judah (Jeremiah 7:18), along with their fathers, kings and princes (who, they should have noted, were now either dead or in exile). In other words they were looking back to what they saw as ‘the good times’ and giving the credit for them to the moon/star god/goddess whom they had been unofficially worshipping at the time, completely overlooking what had occurred since. They were blaming all the bad things on YHWH.

We have here in summary the typical attitude of the natural man towards religion. What he is concerned about is what he can get out of it. His question is, ‘does it work?’ In other words does it make him prosperous and make his life easy. It was Satan’s view expressed about Job, ‘does Job fear God for nothing?’ (Job 1:9). In contrast the spiritual man asks, ‘is it making me more pure, more righteous, more true? Am I more God-like as a result?’ That last was a question that this people never even considered, for had they done so they would have known the answer.

Jeremiah 44:18

“But since we left off burning incense to the Queen of Heaven, and pouring out drink-offerings to her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine.”

For, the women claimed, it was only since they had been forced to leave off burning incense and offering drink-offerings to the moon/star god/goddess that they had found themselves in want, and had experienced the sword and famine. This was, of course, an exaggeration, for after the death of Josiah all the kings who followed him had ‘done evil in the sight of YHWH’, thus allowing the burgeoning of idolatry. It was therefore rather a vague memory of a time in the past when King Josiah had caused all such things to cease as far as worship in Jerusalem and other major cities was concerned (it had still gone on secretly in the high places). And they conveniently saw everything that followed as resulting from that.

Jeremiah 44:19

“And when we burned incense to the Queen of Heaven, and poured out drink-offerings to her, did we make her cakes to worship her, and pour out drink-offerings unto her, without our husbands?”

And the women assured Jeremiah that they were not alone in thinking like this. Their husbands had been equally involved. They had been fully aware of what their wives were doing, and had even connived in it. This would in fact have been necessary for no woman in Judah could make a binding vow unless her husband was in agreement with it (Numbers 30:3-16). Furthermore this worship was not something that they could have kept secret from their husbands. Indeed, as Jeremiah 7:18 so vividly portrays, ‘the children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead the dough to make cakes for the moon/star god/goddess and to pour out drink-offerings to other gods’. They were all involved together.

So, if this was a gathering of all the Judeans in Egypt who had gathered together from all over Egypt, it is clear that they stood firm together in their determination not to listen to Jeremiah, but to pursue their own course of syncretistic polytheism. They themselves were claiming that they were making the same choice as their fathers had before them. Once again Jeremiah could have looked everywhere and would have found no one willing to do the will of YHWH (compare Jeremiah 5:1-5). It is manifest that they had failed to learn the lesson of history.


Verses 20-23

3). Jeremiah’s Makes An Immediate Reply By Reminding Them That YHWH Had Seen What They And Their Fathers Had Done And Had Acted In Judgment On Them For That Reason By Desolating Their Land And Making It A Spectacle To The World (20-23).

Jeremiah’s reply was to point out that it was the very fact that they had offered worship to other gods that had in the past been the cause of all their problems. It was that that had brought all God’s warnings of judgment on them from the prophets. It was precisely what God had had in mind when He had cause their cities to be destroyed and had made them a spectacle to the world.

Jeremiah 44:20

‘Then Jeremiah said to all the people, to the men, and to the women, even to all the people who had given him that answer, saying,’

Note that Jeremiah’s reply is to ‘the men and the women’ who had been involved in the people’s response to him. All were involved and therefore all were guilty.

Jeremiah 44:21

“The incense that you burned in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, you and your fathers, your kings and your princes, and the people of the land, did not YHWH remember them, and did it not come into his mind?”

He points out that it was the very incense burned in their cities to false gods that YHWH had remembered and had brought to mind. That was the very reason why He was angry with them, and was why judgment had come on them. And what was more they had all been involved, they themselves, their fathers, their rulers and all the people of the land.

Jeremiah 44:22

“So that YHWH could not longer bear, because of the evil of your doings, and because of the abominations which you have committed, therefore is your land become a desolation, and an astonishment, and a curse, without inhabitant, as it is this day.”

Note that it was not just their false worship that YHWH could ‘no longer bear’, but also the evil practises that arose from it and went with it. The ‘abominations’ were their false worship (the word ‘abomination’ usually has idolatry in mind). But ‘the evil of their doings’ had in mind the actions and behaviour that went along with their false worship, sexual misbehaviour, violence and excess. And it was because of all these thing that their land had been desolated to such an extent that it had astonished all their neighbours around them. That was why their land had become a curse, subjected to the curses described in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. It had been left ‘without inhabitant’.

Jeremiah 44:23

“Because you have burned incense, and because you have sinned against YHWH, and have not obeyed the voice of YHWH, nor walked in his law, nor in his statutes, nor in his testimonies, therefore this evil is happened to you, as it is this day.”

Here Jeremiah analyses everything that has resulted in their judgment. This evil had happened to them precisely because they had:

· Burned incense (to false gods) (compare Jeremiah 7:18; Exodus 20:3-6).

· Sinned against YHWH (compare Jeremiah 3:25; Jeremiah 8:14; Jeremiah 40:3; Jeremiah 50:7; Jeremiah 50:14).

· Not obeyed the voice of YHWH (contrast Jeremiah 42:5-6. Compare Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 27:10. The idea of obeying or not obeying the voice of YHWH occurs 18 times in Jeremiah, e.g. Jeremiah 3:13; Jeremiah 3:25, etc. out of 61 times in the Old Testament).

· Not walked in His law, nor His statutes, nor His testimonies (contrast Jeremiah 42:3. Compare Exodus 16:4; Exodus 18:20; 1 Kings 2:3).

In other words It had happened to them because they had rejected YHWH’s commands and had breached His covenant with them continually, living in deliberate disobedience and flagrantly refusing to walk in His ways, and cocking a snook at Him by their worship of other gods. Now at last His patience had come to an end. And these people especially had no grounds for complaint, for they had actually promised YHWH that they would do whatever He told them (Jeremiah 42:3-6), and had then refused.


Verses 24-30

4). A Further Word Confirming YHWH’s Judgment On All Jews Living In Egypt Because They Have Turned To Other Gods And Are Trusting In Pharaoh Hophra As Their Deliverer (24-39).

We have here the last prophetic words of Jeremiah of which we are aware, and they are as severe an indictment of the Judeans in Egypt as any that he gave against Jerusalem and Judah. Indeed the judgment he pronounces is so severe that the consequence will be that none will be left in Egypt to say ‘as the Lord YHWH lives’. It is a picture of the almost complete annihilation of the Jews at that time present in Egypt. Furthermore, in case they are looking to the Pharaoh of Egypt to help them, he warns them that far from being able to protect them, the great Pharaoh Hophra on whom they are relying will himself prove as helpless as their own King Zedekiah had been. Indeed it is his demise that will be a sign to them that all that YHWH has said concerning them will come about.

Jeremiah 44:24

‘Moreover Jeremiah said to all the people, and to all the women, “Hear the word of YHWH, all Judah who are in the land of Egypt,”

Once again we have the stress on the fact that this is ‘the word of YHWH’. That does not simply mean that YHWH has said it. It stresses that YHWH will bring it about. YHWH’s word always goes forth to bring about what He has said. Compare Isaiah 55:10-11. Note that the words are spoken to ‘all Judah who are in the land of Egypt’, in other words all those in Egypt who saw themselves as Jews.

Jeremiah 44:25

“Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, You and your wives have both spoken with your mouths, and with your hands have fulfilled it, saying, ‘We will surely perform our vows which we have vowed, to burn incense to the Queen of Heaven, and to pour out drink-offerings to her.’ Establish then your vows, and perform your vows.”

Jeremiah points out concerning their idolatry that they have both declared it openly with their mouths and by their actions have actually brought it about. And it applies both to them and their wives. None were innocent. They had said that they would assuredly fulfil the vows that they had made to burn incense to ‘meleketh hashamayim’, and that is what they had done. And they had also offered drink offerings to her. Note the stress on the vows that they had made. They had entered into specific covenant with her, ignoring their covenant with YHWH. As we have seen earlier reference to meleketh hashamayim is found only in this passage and in Jeremiah 7:18. It is often equated with malkath hashamayim (‘the queen of Heaven’, the moon) but it may rather signify ‘the heavenly handiwork (mele’keth hashamayim)’ i.e. the stars. These were worshipped in different guises all over the Ancient Near East. Either way false gods were being worshipped alongside YHWH, something later confirmed by the Elephantine papyri where YHWH was being worshipped alongside Anath-bethel and Ishum-bethel, Anath being the mother goddess, thus being very similar to the false worship here and in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 7:18).

“Establish then your vows, and perform your vows.” The command is full of significant sarcasm. It contains a veiled warning of what will happen if they do so. It is a warning that they are heading straight into trouble. In other words God is saying, ‘OK, do what you intend, but recognise at the same time how awful the consequences will be for you’. Note the emphasis both on their making their covenant with the false goddess (‘establish your vows’) and their carrying it into practise (‘perform your vows’), when they should have been doing both to YHWH.

Jeremiah 44:26

“Therefore hear you the word of YHWH, all Judah who dwell in the land of Egypt: Behold, I have sworn by my great name, says YHWH, that my name will no more be named in the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, ‘As the Lord YHWH lives.’ ”

Of course by their behaviour they were rejecting the Name of YHWH, for they were doing precisely what He had forbidden. Well they were making their vows, and now let them take note of the fact that He is making His vow. For He has sworn by His great Name, the Name that by their actions they have blasphemed, that His Name will be taken from among them. They will no more name His Name, nor will they say, ‘as the Lord YHWH lives’. And this will be because they are dead.

The point behind this is that to name the Name of YHWH puts men under special obligation to observe His covenant. Whilst they would no doubt have argued that they still held to the covenant and worshipped YHWH among other gods, YHWH was pointing out the impossibility of sustaining that position. To follow His covenant would necessarily have resulted in a rejecting of all other gods. Thus by their very compromise they were bringing on themselves YHWH’s judgment because of their hypocrisy. For YHWH would not allow such hypocrisy to continue where it involved His holy Name. They were either His or they were not. By His very nature they could not be ‘partly His’. The very point of saying that ‘the Lord YHWH lives’ was in order to bring out that He is the living God. It should therefore have made them recognise that He would brook no compromise, and therefore that as the living God He would act in judgment against them.

Jeremiah 44:27

“Behold, I watch over them for evil, and not for good, and all the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt will be consumed by the sword and by the famine, until there be an end of them.”

So, yes, He would continue to watch over them. But it would be for evil and not for good. He would bring on them what by their actions and words they were bringing on themselves. He would demonstrate that He was the living God. For He would arrange for all the Jews in Egypt (with a few exceptions) to be consumed either by war or by starvation, something that would go on until a complete end had been made of them. Both of these were the constant fear of men in ancient times. And they would occur because YHWH was no longer protecting them. He would leave them to the consequences of history.

Jeremiah 44:28

“And those who escape the sword will return out of the land of Egypt into the land of Judah, few in number, and all the remnant of Judah, who are gone into the land of Egypt to sojourn there, will know whose word will stand, mine, or theirs.”

But even in this there was a saving purpose. For the aim was that the remnant who did escape would in the future be able to bear witness to the truth of what YHWH had said and done, and would be able to verify the fact that His word stood firm. So we note again that there will be a remnant who will escape in order to carry God’s promises forward. God does not leave Himself without a witness. We can compare YHWH’s words to Elijah about the ‘seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal’,

Jeremiah 44:29

“And this will be the sign to you, the word of YHWH, that I will punish you in this place, that you may know that my words will surely stand against you for evil.”

YHWH then gives them a sign in terms of a future occurrence. His very declaration of the certainty of what is to happen in the future is to be seen as a sign. We can compare Exodus 3:12 and Isaiah 7:14 in both of which God gave signs in terms of what would happen in the future. Thus here YHWH’s words of what would happen were themselves to be seen as the sign. And it was a sign of the certainty of their future punishment and a guarantee that His words would bring about evil on them. His very words, which had in the past done Israel so much good, would now ‘stand against them for evil’.

Jeremiah 44:30

“Thus says YHWH, Behold, I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies, and into the hand of those who seek his life, as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, who was his enemy, and sought his life.”

For the sign that He was giving was the guarantee of the downfall of the king of Egypt in whom they were trusting. The great Pharaoh must have seemed to them like a mighty bulwark. He was the guarantee of their security in Egypt. But let them now note the fact that YHWH was guaranteeing his sure end. On the word of YHWH Pharaoh Hofra would be given into the hands of those who sought his life. Thus He would prove not to be so invincible after all. And YHWH’s very declaration of the fact was a sign both that it would happen, and that Judah in Egypt were similarly doomed. Whilst in normal circumstances what someone says will happen cannot be seen as a sign, it was different in the case of YHWH. For His very saying it was a guarantee that it would happen.

Pharaoh Hofra (or Apries) ruled over Egypt from 589-570 BC. It was he who promised aid to King Zedekiah against the Babylonians but who, in spite of attempting to provide such aid, was unable to deliver on his promises, his army being thwarted and turned back by the Babylonians (Jeremiah 37:5). Whether an actual battle took place we do not know. In 570 BC part of his army rebelled against him as a result of a disastrous campaign in Libya and for three years he had to be satisfied with ruling Egypt jointly alongside Pharaoh Amosis (Amahsis). At the end of the three years he was overthrown by Amosis and executed, and thus ‘given into the hands of his enemies who sought his life’. It was during the latter’s reign (in 568/7 BC) that Nebuchadrezzar invaded Egypt, probably on a reprisal raid. This is confirmed in a fragmentary Babylonian text. Egypt did, however, retain its independence and Amosis and Nebuchadrezzar would later establish a treaty relationship.

Reference to what happened to Zedekiah at the hands of Nebuchadrezzar is intended to bring out that it was YHWH who brought about the end of both Hophra and Zedekiah. The destinies of both were under His control. It may also indicate that Hophra had similarly offended YHWH, and was therefore dealt with in a similar way. But we are given no detail. There is no suggestion that Hophra himself directly suffered at the hands of Nebuchadrezzar. The emphasis is on the fact that he would not die peacefully. It is interesting that Hophra had once declared, ‘not even a god can remove me from my throne’.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 44:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/jeremiah-44.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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