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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Jeremiah 44

 

 

Verses 1-30

CHAPTER XV

THE QUEEN OF HEAVEN

Jeremiah 44:1-30

"Since we left off burning incense and offering libations to the Queen of Heaven,

we have been in want of everything, and have been consumed by the sword and the famine."- Jeremiah 44:18

THE Jewish exiles in Egypt still retained a semblance of national life, and were bound together by old religious ties. Accordingly we read that they came together from their different settlements-from Migdol and Tahpanhes on the northeastern frontier, from Noph or Memphis on the Nile south of the site of Cairo, and from Pathros or Upper Egypt-to a "great assembly, no doubt a religious festival. The list of cities shows how widely the Jews were scattered throughout Egypt."

Nothing is said as to where and when this "great assembly" met; but for Jeremiah, such a gathering at all times and anywhere, in Egypt as at Jerusalem, became an opportunity for fulfilling his Divine commission. He once again confronted his fellow countrymen with the familiar threats and exhortations. A new climate had not created in them either clean hearts or a right spirit.

Recent history had added force to his warnings. He begins therefore by appealing to the direful consequences which had come upon the Holy Land, through the sins of its inhabitants:-

"Ye have seen all the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem and upon all the cities of Judah.

Behold, this day they are an uninhabited waste,

Because of their wickedness which they wrought to provoke Me to anger,

By going to burn incense and to serve other gods whom neither they nor their fathers knew."

The Israelites had enjoyed for centuries intimate personal relations with Jehovah, and knew Him by this ancient and close fellowship and by all His dealings with them. They had no such knowledge of the gods of surrounding nations. They were like foolish children who prefer the enticing blandishments of a stranger to the affection and discipline of their home. Such children do not intend to forsake their home or to break the bonds of filial affection, and yet the new friendship may wean their hearts from their father. So these exiles still considered themselves worshippers of Jehovah, and yet their superstition led them to disobey and dishonour Him.

Before its ruin Judah had sinned against light and leading:-

"Howbeit I sent unto you all My servants the prophets,

Rising up early and sending them, saying,

Oh do not this abominable thing that I hate.

But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ears, so as to turn from their evil,

That they should not burn incense to other gods.

Wherefore My fury and my anger was poured forth."

Political and social questions, the controversies with the prophets who contradicted Jeremiah in the name of Jehovah, have fallen into the background; the poor pretence of loyalty to Jehovah which permitted His worshippers to degrade Him to the level of Baal and Moloch is ignored as worthless: and Jeremiah, like Ezekiel, finds the root of the people’s sin in their desertion of Jehovah. Their real religion was revealed by their heathenish superstitions. Every religious life is woven of many diverse strands; if the web as a whole is rotten, the Great Taskmaster can take no account of a few threads that have a form and profession of soundness. Our Lord declared that He would utterly ignore and repudiate men upon whose lips His name was a too familiar word, who had preached and cast out devils and done many mighty works in that Holy Name. These were men who had worked iniquity, who had combined promising externals with the worship of "other gods," Mammon or Belial or some other of those evil powers, who place

"Within His sanctuary itself their shrines,

Abominations; and with cursed things His holy rites and solemn feasts profane;

And with their darkness dare affront His light."

This profuse blending of idolatry with a profession of zeal for Jehovah had provoked the Divine wrath against Judah: and yet the exiles had not profited by their terrible experience of the consequences of sin; they still burnt incense unto other gods. Therefore Jeremiah remonstrates with them afresh, and sets before their eyes the utter ruin which will punish persistent sin. This discourse repeats and enlarges the threats uttered at Bethlehem. The penalties then denounced on disobedience are now attributed to idolatry. We have here yet another example of the tacit understanding attaching to all the prophet’s predictions. The most positive declarations of doom are often warnings and not final sentences. Jehovah does not turn a deaf ear to the penitent, and the doom is executed not because He exacts the uttermost farthing, but because the culprit perseveres in his uttermost wrong. Lack of faith and loyalty at Bethlehem and idolatry in Egypt were both symptoms of the same deep-rooted disease.

On this occasion there was no rival prophet to beard Jeremiah and relieve his hearers from their fears and scruples. Probably indeed no professed prophet of Jehovah would have cared to defend the worship of other gods. But, as at Bethlehem, the people themselves ventured to defy their aged mentor. They seem to have been provoked to such hardihood by a stimulus which often prompts timorous men to bold words. Their wives were specially devoted to the superstitious burning of incense, and these women were present in large numbers. Probably, like Lady Macbeth, they had already in private

"Poured their spirits in their husbands’ ears,

And chastised, with the valour of their tongues,

All that impeded."

those husbands from speaking their minds to Jeremiah. In their presence, the men dared not shirk an obvious duty, for fear of more domestic chastisement. The prophet’s reproaches would be less intolerable than such inflictions. Moreover the fair devotees did not hesitate to mingle their own shrill voices in the wordy strife.

These idolatrous Jews-male and female-carried things with a very high hand indeed:-

"We will not obey thee in that which thou hast spoken to us in the name of Jehovah. We are determined to perform all the vows we have made to burr incense and offer libations to the Queen of Heaven, exactly as we have said and as we and our fathers and kings and princes did in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem."

Moreover they were quite prepared to meet Jeremiah on his own ground and argue with him according to his own principles and methods. He had appealed to the ruin of Judah as a proof of Jehovah’s condemnation of their idolatry and of His power to punish: they argued that these misfortunes were a Divine spretae injuria formae, the vengeance of the Queen of Heaven, whose worship they had neglected. When they duly honoured her, -

"Then had we plenty of victuals, and were prosperous and saw no evil; but since we left off burning incense and offering libations to the Queen of Heaven, we have been in want of everything, and have been consumed by the sword and the famine."

Moreover the women had a special plea of their own:-

"When we burned incense and offered libations to the Queen of Heaven, did we not make cakes to symbolise her and offer libations to her with our husbands’ permission?"

A wife’s vows were not valid without her husband’s sanction, and the women avail themselves of this principle to shift the responsibility for their superstition on the men’s shoulders. Possibly too the unfortunate Benedicts were not displaying sufficient zeal in the good cause, and these words were intended to goad them into greater energy. Doubtless they cannot be entirely exonerated of blame for tolerating their wives’ sins, probably they were guilty of participation as well as connivance. Nothing, however, but the utmost determination and moral courage would have curbed the exuberant religiosity of these devout ladies. The prompt suggestion that, if they had done wrong, their husbands are to blame for letting them have their own way, is an instance of the meanness which results from the worship of "other gods."

But these defiant speeches raise a more important question. There is an essential difference between regarding a national catastrophe as a Divine judgment and the crude superstition to which an eclipse expresses the resentment of an angry god. But both involve the same practical uncertainty. The sufferers or the spectators ask what god wrought these marvels and what sins they are intended to punish, and to these questions neither catastrophe nor eclipse gives any certain answer.

Doubtless the altars of the Queen of Heaven had been destroyed by Josiah in his crusade against heathen cults; but her outraged majesty had been speedily avenged by the defeat and death of the iconoclast, and since then the history of Judah had been one long series of disasters. Jeremiah declared that these were the just retribution inflicted by Jehovah because Judah had been disloyal to Him; in the reign of Manasseh their sin had reached its climax:-

"I will cause them to be tossed to and fro among all the nations of the earth, because of Manasseh ben Hezekiah, king of Judah, for that which he did in Jerusalem." [Jeremiah 15:4]

His audience were equally positive that the national ruin was the vengeance of the Queen of Heaven. Josiah had destroyed her altars, and now the worshippers of Istar had retaliated by razing the Temple to the ground. A Jew, with the vague impression that Istar was as real as Jehovah, might find it difficult to decide between these conflicting theories.

To us, as to Jeremiah, it seems sheer nonsense to speak of the vengeance of the Queen of Heaven, not because of what we deduce from the circumstances of the fall of Jerusalem, but because we do not believe in any such deity. But the fallacy is repeated when, in somewhat similar fashion, Protestants find proof of the superiority of their faith in the contrast between England and Catholic Spain, while Romanists draw the opposite conclusion from a comparison of Holland and Belgium. In all such cases the assured truth of the disputant’s doctrine, which is set forth as the result of his argument, is in reality the premiss upon which his reasoning rests. Faith is not deduced from, but dictates an interpretation of history. In an individual the material penalties of sin may arouse a sleeping conscience, but they cannot create a moral sense: apart from a moral sense the discipline of rewards and punishments would be futile:-

"Were no inner eye in us to tell,

Instructed by no inner sense,

The light of heaven from the dark of hell,

That light would want its evidence."

Jeremiah, therefore, is quite consistent in refraining from argument and replying to his opponents by reiterating his former statements that sin against Jehovah had ruined Judah and would yet ruin the exiles. He spoke on the authority of the "inner sense," itself instructed by Revelation. But, after the manner of the prophets, he gave them a sign-Pharaoh Hophra should be delivered into the hand of his enemies as Zedekiah had been. Such an event would indeed be an unmistakable sign of imminent calamity to the fugitives who had sought the protection of the Egyptian king against Nebuchadnezzar.

We have reserved for separate treatment the question suggested by the referents to the Queen of Heaven. This divine name only occurs again in the Old Testament in Jeremiah 7:18, and we are startled, at first sight, to discover that a cult about which all other historians and prophets have been entirely silent is described in these passages as an ancient and national worship. It is even possible that the "great assembly" was a festival in her honour. We have again to remind ourselves that the Old Testament is an account of the progress of Revelation and not a history of Israel. Probably the true explanation is that given by Kuenen. The prophets do not, as a rule, speak of the details of false worship; they use the generic "Baal" and the collective "other gods." Even in this chapter Jeremiah begins by speaking of "other gods," and only uses the term "Queen of Heaven" when he quotes the reply made to him by the Jews. Similarly when Ezekiel goes into detail concerning idolatry [Ezekiel 8:1-18] he mentions cults and ritual which do not occur elsewhere in the Old Testament. The prophets were little inclined to discriminate between different forms of idolatry, just as the average churchman is quite indifferent to the distinctions of the various Nonconformist bodies, which are to him simply "dissenters." One might read many volumes of Anglican sermons and even some English Church History without meeting with the term Unitarian. It is easy to find modern parallels-Christian and heathen-to the name of this goddess. The Virgin Mary is honoured with the title Regina Caeli, and at Mukden, the Sacred City of China, there is a temple to the Queen of Heaven. But it is not easy to identify the ancient deity who bore this name. The Jews are accused elsewhere of worshipping "the sun and the moon and all the host of heaven," and one or other of these heavenly bodies-mostly either the moon or the planet Venus-has been supposed to have been the Queen of Heaven.

Neither do the symbolic cakes help us. Such emblems are found in the ritual of many ancient cults: at Athens cakes shaped like a full moon were offered to the moon goddess Artemis; a similar usage seems to have prevailed in the worship of the Arabian goddess Al-Uzza, whose star was Venus, and also in connection with the worship of the sun.

Moreover we do not find the title "Queen of Heaven" as an ordinary and well-established name of any neighbouring divinity. "Queen" is a natural title for any goddess, and was actually given to many ancient deities. Schrader finds our goddess in the Atarsamain (AtharAstarte) who is mentioned in the Assyrian descriptions as worshipped by a North Arabian tribe of Kedarenes. Possibly too the Assyrian Istar is called Queen of Heaven.

Istar, however, is connected with the moon as well as with the planet Venus. For the present, therefore we must be content to leave the matter an open question, but any day some new discovery may solve the problem. Meanwhile it is interesting to notice how little religious ideas and practices are affected by differences in profession. St. Isaac the Great, of Antioch, who died about A.D. 460, tells us that the Christian ladies of Syria-whom he speaks of very ungallantly as "fools"-used to worship the planet Venus from the roofs of their houses, in the hope that she would bestow upon them some portion of her own brightness and beauty. This experience naturally led St. Isaac to interpret the Queen of Heaven as the luminary which his countrywomen venerated.

The episode of the "great assembly" closes the history of Jeremiah’s life. We leave him (as we so often met with him before) hurling ineffective denunciations at a recalcitrant audience. Vagrant fancy, holding this to be a lame and impotent conclusion, has woven romantic stories to continue and complete the narrative. There are traditions that he was stoned to death at Tahpanhes, and that his bones were removed to Alexandria by Alexander the Great; that he and Baruch returned to Judea or went to Babylon and died in peace; that he returned to Jerusalem and lived there three hundred years, -and other such legends. As has been said concerning the Apocryphal Gospels, these narratives serve as a foil to the history they are meant to supplement: they remind us of the sequels of great novels written by inferior pens, or of attempts made by clumsy mechanics to convert a bust by some inspired sculptor into a full-length statue.

For this story of Jeremiah’s life is not a torso. Sacred biography constantly disappoints our curiosity as to the last days of holy men. We are scarcely ever told how prophets and apostles died. It is curious too that the great exceptions-Elijah in his chariot of fire and Elisha dying quietly in his bed-occur before the period of written prophecy. The deaths of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, Peter, Paul, and John, are passed over in the Sacred Record, and when we seek to follow them beyond its pages, we are taught afresh the unique wisdom of inspiration. If we may understand Deuteronomy 34:1-12 to imply that no eye was permitted to behold Moses in the hour of death, we have in this incident a type of the reticence of Scripture on such matters. Moreover a moment’s reflection reminds us that the inspired method is in accordance with the better instincts of our nature. A death in opening manhood, or the death of a soldier in battle or of a martyr at the stake, rivets our attention; but when men die in a good old age, we dwell less on their declining years than on the achievements of their prime. We all remember the martyrdoms of Huss and Latimer, but how many of those in whose mouths Calvin and Luther ave familiar as household words know how those great Reformers died?

There comes a time when we may apply to the aged saint the words of Browning’s "Death in the Desert":-

"So is myself withdrawn into my depths,

The soul retreated from the perished brain

Whence it was wont to feel and use the world

Through these dull members, done with long ago."

And the poet’s comparison of his soul to

"A stick once fire from end to end

Now, ashes save the tip that holds a spark"

Love craves to watch to the last, because the spark may

"Run back, spread itself

A little where the fire was

And we would not lose

The last of what might happen on his face."

Such privileges may be granted to a few chosen disciples, probably they were in this case granted to Baruch; but they are mostly withheld from the world, lest blind irreverence should see in the aged saint nothing but

"Second childishness, and mere oblivion;

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."


Verse 30

13

CHAPTER XVII

EGYPT

Jeremiah 43:8-13, Jeremiah 44:30, Jeremiah 46:1-28

"I will visit Amon of No, and Pharaoh, and Egypt, with their gods and their kings: even Pharaoh and all them that trust in him." Jeremiah 46:25

THE kings of Egypt with whom Jeremiah was contemporary-Psammetichus II, Pharaoh Necho, and Pharaoh Hophra-belonged to the twenty-sixth dynasty. When growing distress at home compelled Assyria to loose her hold on her distant dependencies, Egypt still retained something of her former vigorous elasticity. In the rebound from subjection under the heavy hand of Sennacherib, she resumed her ancient forms of life and government. She regained her unity and independence, and posed afresh as an equal rival with Chaldea for the supremacy of Western Asia. At home there was a renascence of art and literature, and, as of old, the wealth and devotion of powerful monarchs restored the ancient temples and erected new shrines of their own.

But this revival was no new growth springing up with a fresh and original life from the seeds of the past; it cannot rank with the European Renascence of the fifteenth century. It is rather to be compared with the reorganisations by which Diocletian and Constantine prolonged the decline of the Roman Empire, the rally of a strong constitution in the grip of mortal disease. These latter-day Pharaohs failed ignominiously in their attempts to recover the Syrian dominion of the Thothmes and Rameses; and, like the Roman Empire in its last centuries, the Egypt of the twenty-sixth dynasty surrendered itself to Greek influence and hired foreign mercenaries to fight its battles. The new art and literature were tainted by pedantic archaism. According to Brugsch, "Even to the newly created dignities and titles, the return to ancient times had become the general watchword. The stone door posts of this age reveal the old Memphian style of art, mirrored in its modern reflection after the lapse of four thousand years." Similarly Meyer tells us that apparently the Egyptian state was reconstituted on the basis of a religious revival, somewhat in the fashion of the establishment of Deuteronomy by Josiah.

Inscriptions after the time of Psammetichus are written in archaic Egyptian of a very ancient past; it is often difficult to determine at first sight whether inscriptions belong to the earliest or latest period of Egyptian history.

The superstition that sought safety in an exact reproduction of a remote antiquity could not, however, resist the fascination of Eastern demonology. According to Brugsch, (2:293) in the age called the Egyptian Renascence the old Egyptian theology was adulterated with Graeco-Asiatic elements - demons and genii of whom the older faith and its purer doctrine had scarcely an idea; exorcisms became a special science, and are favourite themes for the inscriptions of this period. Thus, amid many differences, there are also to be found striking resemblances between the religious movements of the period in Egypt and amongst the Jews, and corresponding difficulties in determining the dates of Egyptian inscriptions and of sections of the Old Testament.

This enthusiasm for ancient custom and tradition was not likely to commend the Egypt of Jeremiah’s age to any student of Hebrew history. He would be reminded that the dealings of the Pharaohs with Israel had almost always been to its hurt; he would remember the Oppression and the Exodus-how, in the time of Solomon, friendly intercourse with Egypt taught that monarch lessons in magnificent tyranny, how Shishak plundered the Temple, how Isaiah had denounced the Egyptian alliance as a continual snare to Judah. A Jewish prophet would be prompt to discern the omens of coming ruin in the midst of renewed prosperity on the Nile.

Accordingly at the first great crisis of the new international system; in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, either just before or just after the battle of Carchemish-it matters little which-Jeremiah takes up his prophecy against Egypt. First of all, with an ostensible friendliness which only masks his bitter sarcasm, he invites the Egyptians to take the field:-

"Prepare buckler and shield, and draw near to battle.

Harness the horses to the chariots, mount the chargers,

Stand forth armed cap-a-pie for battle;

Furbish the spears, put on the coats of mail."

This great host with its splendid equipment must surely conquer. The prophet professes to await its triumphant return; but he sees instead a breathless mob of panic-stricken fugitives, and pours upon them the torrent of his irony:-

"How is it that I behold this?

These heroes are dismayed and have turned their backs;

Their warriors have been beaten down;

They flee apace, and do not look behind them:

Terror on every side-is the utterance of Jehovah."

Then irony passes into explicit malediction:-

"Let not the swift flee away, nor the warrior escape;

Away northward, they stumble and fall by the river Euphrates."

Then, in a new strophe, Jeremiah again recurs in imagination to the proud march of the countless hosts of Egypt:

"Who is this that riseth up like the Nile,

Whose waters toss themselves like the rivers?

Egypt riseth up like the Nile,

His waters toss themselves like the rivers.

And he saith, I will go up and cover the land"

(like the Nile in flood);

"I will destroy the cities and their inhabitants"

(and, above all other cities, Babylon).

Again the prophet urges them on with ironical encouragement:-

"Go up, ye horses; rage, ye chariots;

Ethiopians and Libyans that handle the shield,

Lydians that handle and bend the bow"

(the tributaries and mercenaries of Egypt).

Then, as before, he speaks plainly of coming disaster:

"That day is a day of vengeance for the Lord Jehovah Sabaoth, whereon He will avenge Him of His adversaries"

(a day of vengeance upon Pharaoh Necho for Megiddo and Josiah).

"The sword shall devour and be sated, and drink its fill of their blood:

For the Lord Jehovah Sabaoth hath a sacrifice in the northern land, by the river Euphrates."

In a final strophe, the prophet turns to the land left bereaved and defenceless by the defeat at Carchemish:-

"Go up to Gilead and get thee balm, O virgin daughter of Egypt:

In vain dost thou multiply medicines; thou canst not be healed.

The nations have heard of thy shame, the earth is full of thy cry:

For warrior stumbles against warrior; they fall both together."

Nevertheless the end was not yet. Egypt was wounded to death, but she was to linger on for many a long year to be a snare to Judah and to vex the righteous soul of Jeremiah. The reed was broken, but it still retained an appearance of soundness, which more than once tempted the Jewish princes to lean upon it and find their hands pierced for their pains. Hence, as we have seen already, Jeremiah repeatedly found occasion to reiterate the doom of Egypt, of Necho’s successor, Pharaoh Hophra, and of the Jewish refugees who had sought safety under his protection. In the concluding part of chapter 46, a prophecy of uncertain date sets forth the ruin of Egypt with rather more literary finish than in the parallel passages.

This word of Jehovah was to be proclaimed in Egypt, and especially in the frontier cities, which would have to bear the first brunt of invasion:-

"Declare in Egypt, proclaim in Migdol, proclaim in Noph and Tahpanhes:

Say ye, Take thy stand and be ready, for the sword hath devoured round about thee.

Why hath Apis fled and thy calf not stood?

Because Jehovah overthrew it."

Memphis was devoted to the worship of Apis, incarnate in the sacred bull; but now Apis must succumb to the mightier divinity of Jehovah, and his sacred city become a prey to the invaders.

"He maketh many to stumble; they fall one against another.

Then they say, Arise, and let us return to our own people

And to our native land, before the oppressing sword."

We must remember that the Egyptian armies were largely composed of foreign mercenaries. In the hour of disaster and defeat these hirelings would desert their employers and go home.

"Give unto Pharaoh king of Egypt the name. Crash; he hath let the appointed time pass by."

The form of this enigmatic sentence is probably due to a play upon Egyptian names and titles. When the allusions are forgotten, such paronomasia naturally results in hopeless obscurity. The "appointed time" has been explained as the period during which Jehovah gave Pharaoh the opportunity of repentance, or as that within which he might have submitted to Nebuchadnezzar on favourable terms.

"As I live, is the utterance of the King, whose name is Jehovah Sabaoth,

One shall come like Tabor among the mountains and like Carmel by the sea."

It was not necessary to name this terrible invader; it could be no other than Nebuchadnezzar.

"Get thee gear for captivity, O daughter of Egypt, that dwellest in thine own land:

For Noph shall become a desolation, and shall be burnt up and left without inhabitants.

Egypt is a very fair heifer, but destruction is come upon her from the north."

This tempest shattered the Greek phalanx in which Pharaoh trusted:-

"Even her mercenaries in the midst of her are like calves of the stall;

Even they have turned and fled together, they have not stood:

For their day of calamity hath come upon them, their day of reckoning."

We do not look for chronological sequence in such a poem, so that this picture of the flight and destruction of the mercenaries is not necessarily later in time than their overthrow and contemplated desertion in Jeremiah 46:15. The prophet is depicting a scene of bewildered confusion; the disasters that fell thick upon Egypt crowd into Giesebrecht, his vision without order or even coherence. Now he turns again to Egypt herself:-

"Her voice goeth forth like the (low hissing of) the serpent;

For they come upon her with a mighty army, and with axes like woodcutters."

A like fate is predicted in Isaiah 29:4 for "Ariel, the city where David dwelt":-

"Thou shalt be brought low and speak from the ground;

Thou shalt speak with a low voice out of the dust;

Thy voice shall come from the ground, like that of a familiar spirit,

And thou shalt speak in a whisper from the dust."

Thus too Egypt would seek to writhe herself from under the heel of the invader: hissing out the while her impotent fury, she would seek to glide away into some safe refuge amongst the underwood. Her dominions, stretching far up the Nile, were surely vast enough to afford her shelter somewhere: but no! the "woodcutters" are too many and too mighty for her:-

"They cut down her forest-it is the utterance of Jehovah for it is impenetrable;

For they are more than the locusts, and are innumerable."

The whole of Egypt is overrun and subjugated; no district holds out against the invader, and remains unsubjugated to form the nucleus of a new and independent empire.

"The daughter of Egypt is put to shame; she is delivered into the hand of the northern people."

Her gods share her fate; Apis had succumbed at Memphis, but Egypt had countless other stately shrines whose denizens must own the overmastering might of Jehovah:-

"Thus saith Jehovah Sabaoth, the God of Israel:

Behold, I will visit Amon of No,

And Pharaoh, and Egypt, and all her gods and kings,

Even Pharaoh and all who trust in him."

Amon of No, or Thebes, known to the Greeks as Ammon and called by his own worshippers Amen, or "the hidden one," is apparently mentioned with Apis as sharing the primacy of the Egyptian divine hierarchy. On the fall of the twentieth dynasty, the high priest of the Theban Amen became king of Egypt, and centuries afterwards Alexander the Great made a special pilgrimage to the temple in the oasis of Ammon and was much gratified at being there hailed son of the deity.

Probably the prophecy originally ended with this general threat of "visitation" of Egypt and its human and divine rulers. An editor, however, has added, from parallel passages, the more definite but sufficiently obvious statement that Nebuchadnezzar and his servants were to be the instruments of the Divine visitation.

A further addition is in striking contrast to the sweeping statements of Jeremiah:-

"Afterward it shall be inhabited, as in the days of old."

Similarly, Ezekiel foretold a restoration for Egypt:-

"At the end of forty years, I will gather the Egyptians, and will cause them to returnto their native land: and they shall be there a base kingdom: it shall be the basest of the kingdoms." [Ezekiel 29:13-15]

And elsewhere we read yet more gracious promises to Egypt:-

"Israel shall be a third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the land: whom Jehovah Sabaoth shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel Mine inheritance." [Isaiah 19:25]

Probably few would claim to discover in history any literal fulfilment of this last prophecy. Perhaps it might have been appropriated for the Christian Church in the days of Clement and Origen. We may take Egypt and Assyria as types of heathendom, which shall one day receive the blessings of the Lord’s people and of the work of His hands. Of political revivals and restorations Egypt has had her share. But less interest attaches to these general prophecies than to more definite and detailed predictions; and there is much curiosity as to any evidence which monuments and other profane witnesses may furnish as to a conquest of Egypt and capture of Pharaoh Hophra by Nebuchadnezzar.

According to Herodotus, Apries (Hophra) was defeated and imprisoned by his successor Amasis, afterwards delivered up by him to the people of Egypt, who forthwith strangled their former king. This event would be an exact fulfilment of the words, "I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies, and into the hand of them that seek his life," [Jeremiah 44:30] if it were not evident from parallel passages [Jeremiah 46:25] that the Book of Jeremiah intends Nebuchadnezzar to be the enemy into whose hands Pharaoh is to be delivered. But Herodotus is entirely silent as to the relations of Egypt and Babylon during this period; for instance, he mentions the victory of Pharaoh Necho at Megiddo-which he miscalls Magdolium-but not his defeat at Carehemish. Hence his silence as to Chaldean conquests in Egypt has little weight. Even the historian’s explicit statement as to the death of Apries might be reconciled with his defeat and capture by Nebuchadnezzar, if we knew all the facts. At present, however, the inscriptions do little to fill the gap left by the Greek historian; there are, however, references which seem to establish two invasions of Egypt by the Chaldean king, one of which fell in the reign of Pharaoh Hophra. But the spiritual lessons of this and the following prophecies concerning the nations are not dependent on the spade of the excavator or the skill of the decipherers of hieroglyphics and cuneiform script; whatever their relation may be to the details of subsequent historical events, they remain as monuments of the inspired insight of the prophet into the character and destiny alike of great empires and petty states. They assert the Divine government of the nations, and the subordination of all history to the coming of the Kingdom of God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Jeremiah 44:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/jeremiah-44.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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