GOD CONTROLS THE ULTIMATE FATE OF THE POWERFUL NATION OF EGYPT
Jeremiah serves not only as a prophet to the nation of Judah, but as God’s messenger to declare His sovereignty over the affairs of all nations. Here we begin the final section of the Book of Jeremiah which contains specific oracles against the nations of Jeremiah’s day. We begin with an oracle against the powerful nation of Egypt. These messages have implications of warning of impending judgment for these pagan nations which trusted in worthless idols as well as words of assurance to God’s own people regarding the ultimate fulfillment of all of the covenant related promises. It would certainly be futile for the Jews to turn to Egypt for refuge and security. But God’s people also should not despair about the divine promises of their future restoration and blessing. God can use pagan kings as the instruments of His divine agenda. He is ultimately in control of the highest powers operating on the earth. “Some trust in horses and some in chariots. But we will remember the name of the Lord our God.”
GOD CONTROLS THE ULTIMATE FATE OF THE POWERFUL NATION OF EGYPT
(:1) PROLOGUE TO FINAL CHAPTERS = ORACLES TO THE NATIONS
“That which came as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the nations.”
MacArthur: Jeremiah had already proclaimed that all the nations at some time are to “drink the cup” of God’s wrath (25:15-26).
I. (:2-12) DEFEAT OF EGYPT AT CARCHEMISH – SHIFT IN BALANCE OF POWER
“To Egypt, concerning the army of Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt, which was by the Euphrates River at Carchemish, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah:”
Kidner: The name of Carchemish (2) introduces us to one of the decisive battles of world history, fought in 605 BC (the fourth year of Jehoiakim, 2). Seven years earlier, in 612, the great Assyrian empire had had its death blow in the destruction of its capital, Nineveh, leaving the powers of east and west to fight it out for the succession. On the route between Babylon and Egypt, Carchemish (in the north by the river Euphrates, 6b) made the natural confrontation point; and it was on his way there that Pharaoh Neco had slain King Josiah of Judah in 609 when Josiah tried to turn him back. For the next four years the Egyptian army was based on Carchemish, and Pharaoh dominated Syria and Palestine, setting up his puppet-kings while Babylon’s main force was preoccupied elsewhere. Then at last the Babylonian army fell upon the Egyptians in 605, routing them utterly
A. (:3-4) Final Preparations for Battle – Give it Your Best Shot
“Line up the shield and buckler, and draw near for the battle!
Harness the horses, and mount the steeds, and take your stand with helmets on!
Polish the spears, Put on the scale-armor!”
Thompson: The poetry is among the most vivid in all the OT and is certainly unsurpassed in the book of Jeremiah.
Longman: The form of verses 3-12 is that of an event-vision that anticipates a future event.
Mackay: The small shield, which is mentioned first, hence the order “buckler and shield” (NKJV), would have been held in the left hand, and carvings suggest it was round and used principally to protect the head. It probably consisted of leather stretched across a wooden frame, and was oiled to help parry blows (2 Sam. 1:21; Isa. 21:5). The larger shield would have been either oval or rectangular in shape and used to protect the whole body. When advancing into battle such shields would have been used to form a moving barrier capable of deflecting enemy missiles from the soldiers, most of whom did not wear body armour.
B. (:5-6) Futility of Fighting God
1. (:5) Devastating Panic
“Why have I seen it? They are terrified,
They are drawing back, and their mighty men are defeated
And have taken refuge in flight, without facing back;
‘Terror is on every side!’ declares the LORD.”
2. (:6) Debilitating Negation of Power
“Let not the swift man flee, nor the mighty man escape;
In the north beside the river Euphrates they have stumbled and fallen.”
Parunak: As a result of the terror that the Lord sends among the Egyptians and the hindrances he puts before their flight, we see the final outcome: the Egyptian army has fallen on the banks of the Euphrates.
C. (:7-8) False Bravado
1. (:7) Strength in Numbers
“Who is this that rises like the Nile,
Like the rivers whose waters surge about?
2. (:8) Arrogant Claims
Egypt rises like the Nile,
Even like the rivers whose waters surge about;
And He has said, ‘I will rise and cover that land;
I will surely destroy the city and its inhabitants.’”
Wiersbe: When the Egyptian army approached the battlefield, they looked like the Nile in flood season. The military leaders were sure of victory, and their mercenaries were eager to fight (v. 9), but the Lord had determined that Egypt would lose the battle.
D. (:9-10) Futility of Fighting God
1. (:9) Reinforcements Summoned
“Go up, you horses, and drive madly, you chariots,
That the mighty men may march forward:
Ethiopia and Put, that handle the shield,
And the Lydians, that handle and bend the bow.”
2. (:10) Vengeance Executed by God
“For that day belongs to the Lord GOD of hosts,
A day of vengeance, so as to avenge Himself on His foes;
And the sword will devour and be satiated
And drink its fill of their blood;
For there will be a slaughter for the Lord GOD of hosts,
In the land of the north by the river Euphrates.”
Mackay: Though the Egyptian army commanders urge on all the men under them, it will be to no avail. Neither the preparations of vv. 3-4 nor the reinforcements that are brought forward in v. 9 will deflect disaster.
E. (:11-12) Final Demise
1. (:11) No Healing Possible
“Go up to Gilead and obtain balm,
O virgin daughter of Egypt!
In vain have you multiplied remedies;
there is no healing for you.”
Mackay: The defeated Egyptians are taunted because there is nothing they can do to remedy their situation.
2. (:12) No Escape From Shame and Distress
“The nations have heard of your shame,
and the earth is full of your cry of distress;
For one warrior has stumbled over another,
and both of them have fallen down together.”
Feinberg: Somewhat in the manner of a taunt song, Jeremiah advises Egypt to seek a remedy for her wounds (v. 11). Her defeat dealt her an irrecoverable blow; she could not heal herself. Not only was Gilead noted for its healing balm (cf. 8:22), but Homer spoke of Egypt as full of physicians. From antiquity she was famous for her medical arts (cf. Pliny). It was from Egypt and India that the knowledge of medicine came to Europe (cf. Herod. 2.116). The defeat will be publicized among the nations (v. 12). In their rout, the warriors will get in each other’s way.
Parunak: Application: Judah had the benefit of this prophecy in the fourth year of J’kim. Yet they continued to seek the help and protection of Egypt against Neb; they would not accept that it was the Lord who had defeated Egypt, and who could protect them. So we need to see the hand of the Lord behind all that happens in the world, and look to him alone for protection and help.
Mackay: Egypt’s power has not brought her the victory she expected because she did not really identify who her foe was: not Babylon, but the Lord who is directing the affairs of the nations to suit his own purposes.
II. (:13-24) SUBSEQUENT CONQUEST OF EGYPT BY NEBUCHADNEZZAR
MacArthur: Babylon’s invasion of Egypt, 15 or 16 years before the destruction of Jerusalem, is here detailed (601 B.C.; cf. v. 13). Having spent 13 years in a siege of Tyre, Nebuchadnezzar was promised Egypt as a reward for humbling Tyre (cf. Eze 29:17-20).
A. (:13-14) Final Preparations for Battle
1. (:13) Introduction
“This is the message which the LORD spoke to Jeremiah the prophet about the coming of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to smite the land of Egypt:”
2. (:14) Take Your Stand
“Declare in Egypt and proclaim in Migdol,
Proclaim also in Memphis and Tahpanhes;
Say, ‘Take your stand and get yourself ready,
For the sword has devoured those around you.’”
Kidner: The place-names in verse 14 are of the frontier towns in the path of an invader from the north-east, together with Memphis the capital of Lower (i.e. northern) Egypt. But the call to make a stand there only emphasizes how frail is her defence, with evidently her boasted mercenaries of verse 9 (cf. v. 21) melting away to their own people and their homelands (16).
B. (:15-16) Futility of Fighting God
1. (:15) Struck Down
“Why have your mighty ones become prostrate?
They do not stand because the LORD has thrust them down.”
Mackay: Following the LXX, the NRSV and the REB take the reference in “warriors” to be to the bull-god, possibly using a plural of majesty. “Why has Apis fled? Why did your bull not stand?” Apis was the bull-god worshipped at Memphis, and revered as the son of, or an aspect, of, the god Ptah. Since images of deity were carried into battle, and the flight or capture of such an image would be interpreted as the defeat of those worshipping that particular god, it is possible that Nebuchadnezzar’s success is being portrayed as the vanquishing of a prominent Egyptian god. The bull has fled.
2. (:16) Retreating
“They have repeatedly stumbled;
Indeed, they have fallen one against another.
Then they said, ‘Get up! And let us go back
To our own people and our native land
Away from the sword of the oppressor.’”
C. (:17-18) Divine Decree
1. (:17) Impotence of Human Kings
“They cried there, ‘Pharaoh king of Egypt is but a big noise;
He has let the appointed time pass by!’”
2. (:18) Sovereignty of God Over All Nations
“‘As I live,’ declares the King
Whose name is the LORD of hosts,
‘Surely one shall come who looms up like Tabor among the mountains,
Or like Carmel by the sea.’”
Mackay: The true source of direction and authority does not lie with any Pharaoh – god though he claimed to be – but with the Lord of hosts, in whose control lie the forces of heaven and earth. He declares what is going to happen, that is, what he is going to bring about, and guarantees the accuracy and truthfulness of what he says with a solemn oath.
D. (:19-22) 4 Images of Defeat
1. (:19) Imagery of Burned and Uninhabitable Territory
“Make your baggage ready for exile,
O daughter dwelling in Egypt,
For Memphis will become a desolation;
It will even be burned down and bereft of inhabitants.”
2. (:20) Imagery of Stinging Horsefly Attacking Pretty Heifer
“Egypt is a pretty heifer,
But a horsefly is coming from the north—it is coming!”
3. (:21) Imagery of Slaughtered Calves
“Also her mercenaries in her midst
Are like fattened calves,
For even they too have turned back and have fled away together;
They did not stand their ground.
For the day of their calamity has come upon them,
The time of their punishment.”
4. (:22) Imagery of Frightened Serpents
“Its sound moves along like a serpent;
For they move on like an army
And come to her as woodcutters with axes.”
Mackay: The picture seems to be one of a serpent that has been disturbed in its lair in the undergrowth as foresters come to fell trees. It then slithers away in helpless retreat. The imagery would have been suggested by the extensive use of the coiled serpent as a symbol of divine power in Egypt, probably to represent Pharaoh’s ability to strike in deadly fashion against all that dared to oppose him. But now he is just a disturbed and frightened snake slithering away.
E. (:23-24) Final Demise
1. (:23) Devastation
“’They have cut down her forest,’ declares the LORD;
‘Surely it will no more be found,
Even though they are now more numerous than locusts
And are without number.’”
2. (:24) Shame and Bondage
“The daughter of Egypt has been put to shame,
Given over to the power of the people of the north.”
Thompson: The reference is possibly to her exposure as she was delivered into the hands of a people from the north. It was an exposure that Jeremiah had witnessed when Jerusalem fell and the girls and women became objects to satisfy the lust of the Babylonian troops.
III. (:25-28) FUTURE IMPLICATONS
A. (:25-26) Egypt’s Future
1. (:25) Divine Punishment
“The LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, says, ‘Behold, I am going to punish Amon of Thebes, and Pharaoh, and Egypt along with her gods and her kings, even Pharaoh and those who trust in him.’”
Ryken: God’s victory over the Egyptians was also a defeat of their so-called gods. The one true God has no rivals. This shows the folly of trusting the gods and generals of Egypt, as the Jews were tempted to do. There is only one God and Judge of all nations.
2. (:26a) Divine Agent
“’I shall give them over to the power of those who are seeking their lives, even into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and into the hand of his officers.”
3. (:26b) Divine Mercy
“’Afterwards, however, it will be inhabited as in the days of old,’ declares the LORD.”
B. (:27-28) Judah’s Future
1. (:27) Divine Rescue
“But as for you, O Jacob My servant, do not fear,
Nor be dismayed, O Israel!
For, see, I am going to save you from afar,
And your descendants from the land of their captivity;
And Jacob will return and be undisturbed
And secure, with no one making him tremble.”
Wiersbe: They shouldn’t have been there, but a band of Jews was in Egypt, and this invasion would affect them terribly. The remnant in Judah and the exiles in Babylon would hear of this victory and wonder whether anything on earth could stop Nebuchadnezzar. God had promised that the exiles would be released from Babylon in seventy years, but Babylon looked stronger than ever.
2. (:28a) Divine Retribution
“’O Jacob My servant, do not fear,’ declares the LORD,
‘For I am with you. For I will make a full end of all the nations Where I have driven you,’”
3. (:28b) Divine Remnant
“Yet I will not make a full end of you;
But I will correct you properly
And by no means leave you unpunished.”
Kidner: to remind an Israel now under a cloud that if there is a future for even Egypt after its ordeal (26b), how much more can God’s covenant people be certain of his fairness (in just measure, 28b), and of the grace that he delights in.
Mackay: They are again reminded that the overwhelming political realities of the day are under divine control and will not be permitted to frustrate what the Lord has in view for his people.