Jeremiah 44 – A Word to God’s People in Egypt, Delivered and Rejected
A. The word to God’s people in Egypt.
1. (1-6) God speaks to His people regarding their past sins.
The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the Jews who dwell in the land of Egypt, who dwell at Migdol, at Tahpanhes, at Noph, and in the country of Pathros, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘You have seen all the calamity that I have brought on Jerusalem and on all the cities of Judah; and behold, this day they are a desolation, and no one 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 whom they did not know, they nor you nor your fathers. However I have sent to you all My servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, saying, “Oh, do not do this abominable thing that I hate!” But they did not listen or incline their ear to turn from their wickedness, to burn no incense to other gods. So My fury and My anger were poured out and kindled in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; and they are wasted and desolate, as it is this day.’”
a. The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the Jews who dwell in the land of Egypt: Jeremiah 42 described how the captains of those remaining Jews in the land led all they could to Egypt, even against their will and God’s command. Jeremiah was among these brought by force to Egypt and he spoke this word to the Jews in Egypt.
i. This was the word of the LORD, but it was “No word of comfort – how could it be, as long as they lived in open rebellion against the Lord? – but all of reproof and threatening. For what reason? They were obdurate and obstinate.” (Trapp)
b. The LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: God began this word to these displaced Jews by declaring two names. He remained the LORD of hosts, the God of powerful armies. He remained the God of Israel, even though at that time Israel did not even exist as its own kingdom. These things that did not appear to be were nevertheless real before God and in His plan.
c. You have seen all the calamity that I have brought upon Jerusalem and on all the cities of Judah: God reminded His people, now in Egypt, why judgment came upon Judah. It came from God Himself, because of their wickedness which they have committed to provoke Me to anger, especially their wickedness in idolatry.
i. “In spite of all that had happened in fulfillment of Jeremiah’s warnings of judgment in the fall of Jerusalem, the refugees from Mizpah had learned nothing. Idolatry persisted.” (Thompson)
d. They did not listen or incline their ear to turn from their wickedness: God sent His prophets to instruct and warn His people, but they did not listen. Their sin (especially idolatry) was bad enough; their refusal to be corrected was fatal. Therefore, they are wasted and desolate from God’s judgment.
i. Oh, do not do this abominable thing that I hate: “The wrath of God on the impenitent is as unwelcome to him as it is inevitable.” (Kidner)
ii. “‘Oh!’ says someone, ‘sin is a sweet thing.’ No, no; it is an abominable thing. ‘It is a delightful thing,’ says another. No, it is an abominable thing. ‘Oh, but it is a fashionable thing; you can see it in courts of kings, and princes, and the great men of the earth love it.’ Even though they do, it is an abominable thing. Though it should crawl up to a monarch’s throne, and spread its slime over crown jewels it would still be an abominable thing.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “Beware of bringing pain into the heart of infinite Love; but ask that some of God’s hate for sin may be yours.” (Meyer)
2. (7-10) God speaks to His people of their present sin.
“Now therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Why do you commit this great evil against yourselves, to cut off from you man and woman, child and infant, out of Judah, leaving none to remain, in that you provoke Me to wrath with the works of your hands, burning incense to other gods in the land of Egypt where you have gone to dwell, that you may cut yourselves off and be a curse and a reproach among all the nations of the earth? Have you forgotten the wickedness of your fathers, the wickedness of the kings of Judah, the wickedness of their wives, your own wickedness, and the wickedness of your wives, which they committed in the land of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? They have not been humbled, to this day, nor have they feared; they have not walked in My law or in My statutes that I set before you and your fathers.’”
a. Why do you commit this great evil against yourselves: There is a sense of wonder in these words from God, as if God could not believe that His people would be so foolish as to reject His word and rebel against His command with the devastation of recent judgment so near in their memory.
i. “This is a most pithy and piercing sermon all along, not unlike that preached by Stephen, for the which he was stoned, [Acts 7:54; Acts 7:57-58] and likely enough that this was Jeremiah’s last sermon also.” (Trapp)
b. Why do you commit this great evil against yourselves: There is also a sense of wonder in the self-destructive nature of their sin. It was true that they sinned against God, but they also terribly sinned against themselves.
c. To cut off from you man and woman, child and infant, out of Judah, leaving none to remain: It was bad enough that Nebuchadnezzar took almost all the people of God out of the land of Judah in the exile to Babylon. In some ways it was worse that the remaining people of God were all removed from the promised land, either by choice or by force going to Egypt.
d. Burning incense to other gods in the land of Egypt: Those who went to Egypt quickly began to worship the gods of Egypt. The same heart of idolatry that led them to sin in Judah with the Canaanite idols now led them to go after the Egyptian idols. This reveals one of the reasons God commanded them not to go to Egypt, but to trust His protection and provision in Judah.
e. That you may cut yourselves off and be a curse and a reproach among all the nations of the earth: God promised that He would bless and restore the exiles that went to Babylon. He promised only judgment for those who went by choice to Egypt, promising they would become a curse and a reproach.
f. Have you forgotten the wickedness: The answer to the question was obvious; they had forgotten the wickedness of their fathers, their kings, their wives, and especially their own wickedness. They would suffer greatly for forgetting all this.
i. “They that will not take example, are worthily made examples.” (Trapp)
ii. They have not been humbled: “The remnant showed that they were neither repentant nor contrite (dukkeu, ‘bruised’; cf. Isaiah 53:5).” (Feinberg)
3. (11-14) The promise of judgment upon those who went to Egypt.
“Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will set My face against you for catastrophe and for cutting off all Judah. And I will take the remnant of Judah who have set their faces to go into the land of Egypt to dwell there, and they shall all be consumed and fall in the land of Egypt. They shall be consumed by the sword and by famine. They shall die, from the least to the greatest, by the sword and by famine; and they shall be an oath, an astonishment, a curse and a reproach! For I will punish those who dwell in the land of Egypt, as I have punished Jerusalem, by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, so that none of the remnant of Judah who have gone into the land of Egypt to dwell there shall escape or survive, lest they return to the land of Judah, to which they desire to return and dwell. For none shall return except those who escape.’”
a. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: God again introduced Himself with titles of authority, power, and ownership.
b. I will set My face against you for catastrophe and for cutting off all Judah: Just as God before promised that He would be against Judah and not for them against the invading Babylonians, so He would be against those who by choice exiled themselves to Egypt.
i. “If the people had made up their minds to go to Egypt, and also to continue their idolatry, Yahweh had made up his mind to visit them with judgment.” (Thompson)
c. They shall die, from the least to the greatest, by the sword and by famine: God promised the judgment of an untimely death to those who chose Egypt over trusting God in the Promised Land.
i. Lest they return to the land of Egypt: “He makes it clear that he is not referring to any permanent Jewish settlers in Egypt (cf. Jeremiah 44:14) but only to the remnant who had sought refuge there in the hope of returning to the land of Judah at the earliest opportunity. Only casual fugitives will survive. For the remnant the picture is one of unrelieved gloom.” (Feinberg)
ii. “Egypt was not in itself forbidden territory; it would become an important centre of learning for the later Dispersion, and would shelter the holy family. The sin of Jeremiah’s contemporaries was not geographical; it was a vote of no confidence in God.” (Kidner)
d. For none shall return except those who escape: God promised that there would be very few who managed to escape the judgment of death coming upon those who chose to find their security in Egypt rather than in the LORD.
i. Except those who escape: “Even in punishing the disobedient remnant, God will still allow a few survivors to trickle back to Judea, thereby maintaining the connection between the people and the land.” (Harrison)
B. The reaction of God’s people in Egypt.
1. (15-16) The general response.
Then all the men who knew that their wives had burned incense to other gods, with all the women who stood by, a great multitude, and all the people who dwelt in the land of Egypt, in Pathros, answered Jeremiah, saying: “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we will not listen to you!”
a. A great multitude: Jeremiah delivered this word from God to a large audience, making up most or all of those who had come to Pathros, Egypt from Judah by choice or force. The group included men who knew that their wives had burned incense to other gods.
i. “The inclusive language – ‘all the men,’ ‘all the women,’ ‘all the people’ – is a literary generalization used for emphasis and should not be taken literally.” (Feinberg)
b. We will not listen to you: The people knew that Jeremiah spoke to them in the name of the LORD, yet they did not care. They rejected the prophet and they rejected his word and they rejected the God who gave him that word. Their honesty was remarkable, but their sin was great.
i. Once again, it was Jeremiah’s sad lot to have his message – Yahweh’s message – rejected. “It would appear that, so far as his outward lot was concerned, the Prophet Jeremiah spent a life of more unrelieved sadness than has perhaps fallen to the lot of any other, with the exception of the Divine Lord. This was so apparent to the Jewish commentators on the prophecies of Isaiah that they applied to him the words of the fifty-third chapter.” (Meyer, cited in Ryken) Ryken adds: “Jeremiah was not the Suffering Servant, but he was a suffering servant to the very end.”
2. (17-18) The response of the men.
“But we will certainly do whatever has gone out of our own mouth, to burn incense to the queen of heaven and 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 we had plenty of food, were well-off, and saw no trouble. But since we stopped burning incense to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine.”
a. We will certainly do whatever has gone out of our own mouth: The men were straightforward and honest. They promised to do whatever they wanted to do. They would not let God’s command or God’s judgment get in the way of what they wanted to say and do.
b. To burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her: They spoke of the days before the fall of Jerusalem and the conquest of Judah, when they worshipped the Babylonian idol the queen of heaven with various rituals. They did this, their fathers did this, and their kings and princes did this, all over Judah and Jerusalem.
i. “The reference is probably to the Assyro-Babylonian Ishtar. …Ishtar (Canaanite Athtart) was the goddess of war and love. She represented the female principle of fertility. …Ashtoreth is the Hebrew of which Astarte is the Greek. This ancient goddess was called Ishtar in Akkadian, Inanna in Sumerian, and Athtart in Ugaritic. Her counterpart in the NT is Artemis (cf. Acts 19, in Latin, Diana). The worship of this goddess was widespread in the ancient Near East.” (Feinberg)
ii. For the Babylonians, the queen of heaven was a maternal deity connected with the moon, with family, and fertility. It is strange and shocking that Roman Catholics give Mary, the mother of Jesus, this same title and direct to her improper prayer and veneration – sometimes even worship. We have no Biblical permission or encouragement to have any connection with the queen of heaven. Some observe that modern people worship the queen of heaven under other names: Mother Nature, Feminism, or Glamor.
iii. As we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes: “Antiquity is here pleaded, and authority, and plenty and peace. These are now the Popish pleas, and the pillars of that rotten religion. It is the old religion, say they, and hath potent princes for her patrons, and is practised in Rome, the mother Church, and hath plenty and peace where it is professed, and where they have nothing but mass and matins. These are their arguments, but very poor ones.” (Trapp)
c. For then we had plenty of food, were well-off, and saw no trouble: They remembered the days when they all worshipped the queen of heaven as the good old days. They claimed that when they stopped doing all those things, they lacked everything and were consumed by the sword and by famine.
i. “This is a most revealing glimpse of spiritual perversity – for in blaming all their troubles on the reformation instead of on the evils it had tried to root out, these people were turning the truth exactly upside down.” (Kidner)
ii. “Because Baal worship was eradicated during Josiah’s reformation (2 Kings 23:4-20), the rebellious remnant blamed all their misfortunes on this action.” (Harrison)
iii. “The people, by contrast, claimed that things went badly only when they failed to propitiate the Queen of Heaven. Perhaps they had in mind the long and relatively peaceful reign of Manasseh during which the non-Yahwistic cults of all kinds were freely allowed.” (Thompson)
iv. “In short, the remnant claimed that idolatry had done more for them than the Lord whom Jeremiah represented.” (Feinberg)
v. With a clear mind and even the slightest understanding of spiritual things, their analysis was crazy. “Things were great when we rejected and disobeyed God, until the judgment God promised came.” Sin is often good until the wages of sin are paid – death (Romans 6:23).
vi. “At the instinctive level, the fallen mind is always ready to assume that God is the adversary, whom we (like these characters) may blame for our past and distrust for our future.” (Kidner)
3. (19) The response of the women.
The women also said, “And when we burned incense to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, did we make cakes for her, to worship her, and pour out drink offerings to her without our husbands’ permission?”
a. When we burned incense to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her: The women admitted that they played an important part in the worship of the Babylonian queen of heaven and other idols.
b. Without our husbands’ permission: They tried to make their husbands responsible for their sin, in the sense that they could have stopped them if they wanted to. In the first sin, the man blamed his wife for his sin. Here, the women of Judah in Egypt return the favor.
i. “Their husbands well knew that they were making special crescent cakes (kawwan) which were stamped with the image of the goddess.” (Thompson)
ii. Numbers 30:3-12 indicates that a woman’s vows were only binding if her husband approved them. “Since their husbands approved, why then should Jeremiah complain about the women’s actions?” (Feinberg)
iii. This reminds us that they still sinned, even though their husbands commanded them or permitted them to do it. The women were supposed to submit to their husbands, but not in an absolute sense. If their God-given authority told them to sin, they were to obey God rather than man.
C. Jeremiah answers the people.
1. (20-23) Jeremiah tells them why destruction and judgment came.
Then Jeremiah spoke to all the people—the men, the women, and all the people who had given him that answer—saying: “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 the LORD remember them, and did it not come into His mind? So the LORD could no longer bear it, because of the evil of your doings and because of the abominations which you committed. Therefore your land is a desolation, an astonishment, a curse, and without an inhabitant, as it is this day. Because you have burned incense and because you have sinned against the LORD, and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD or walked in His law, in His statutes or in His testimonies, therefore this calamity has happened to you, as at this day.”
a. Did not the LORD remember them: Jeremiah tried to reason with the people. They had completely left God out of their thinking. They felt that if they ignored God, then He somehow did not matter. Yet the LORD did matter, remaining the God of Israel if they rejected Him or not. He saw and remembered their sins and idolatry.
b. So the LORD could no longer bear it: God was very patient with His disobedient people, but they chose to take His patience to mean He didn’t care. He did care, and brought judgment against them: therefore this calamity has happened to you.
i. “Disaster would not have occurred had Israel obeyed the covenantal stipulations, here described as law, statutes, and testimonies.” (Harrison)
ii. “His abused mercy turned into fury.” (Trapp)
2. (24-29) Jeremiah tells them of the adversity and judgment to come.
Moreover Jeremiah said to all the people and to all the women, “Hear the word of the LORD, all Judah who are in the land of Egypt! Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, saying: ‘You and your wives have spoken with your mouths and fulfilled with your hands, saying, “We will surely keep our vows that we have made, to burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her.” You will surely keep your vows and perform your vows!’ Therefore hear the word of the LORD, all Judah who dwell in the land of Egypt: ‘Behold, I have sworn by My great name,’ says the LORD, ‘that My name shall no more be named in the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, “The Lord GOD lives.” Behold, I will watch over them for adversity and not for good. And all the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, until there is an end to them. Yet a small number who escape the sword shall return from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah; and all the remnant of Judah, who have gone to the land of Egypt to dwell there, shall know whose words will stand, Mine or theirs. And this shall be a sign to you,’ says the LORD, ‘that I will punish you in this place, that you may know that My words will surely stand against you for adversity.’”
a. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Once again, God spoke to His people with the titles of power, authority, and ownership.
i. Chronologically speaking, this was probably Jeremiah’s last recorded prophecy. He ended as he started: faithful to God, trusting in God’s faithfulness. “He had seen his nation decline from a relatively strong independent state to the point of near extinction, and little fruit seemed to have been borne by his ministry. Yet, in these final words, his utter faith in an omnipotent God, and his perception of fundamental truths, are as clear as ever.” (Cundall)
b. We will surely keep our vows that we have made: Jeremiah quoted the people in their promise to continue worshipping the queen of heaven and other idols. It was a declaration that God heard their defiance clearly.
i. You will surely keep your vows and perform your vows: “In a powerful expression of irony and revulsion, Jeremiah tells the remnant to proceed with fulfilling their godless vows. He may have been pointing to their incense and libations and to the very cakes they were carrying.” (Feinberg)
c. My name shall no more be named in the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt: God solemnly declared that He rejected those who rejected Him and chose to go to Egypt, those who trusted idols more than Him. He would not allow them to speak His name.
d. I will watch over them for adversity and not for good: God had commanded them to stay in the land of Judah and trust Him that He would watch over them, to protect and provide for them. In rejecting God and His promise, they would still have God watch over them, but it would be for adversity and not for good. This was a terrifying promise, knowing that God is the best friend but the worst enemy anyone could have.
i. It’s possible that the Jewish community in Egypt heard Jeremiah’s warnings and repented. By the time of the New Testament, there was a large and strong Jewish community in Egypt. Perhaps they eventually responded in repentance and were spared this judgment.
e. A small number who escape the sword shall return from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah: God promised that if they persisted in these sins, only a remnant would escape the judgment they would face in Egypt. The rest would be consumed by the sword and by famine. This would prove true God’s terrible promise to watch over them for adversity.
i. “For the apostates in Egypt the future held nothing; but for their compatriots in Babylon who were accepting their punishment there was the hope of freedom.” (Kidner)
ii. “A possible footnote to their story has come to light in the Elephantine papyri, a fifth-century BC collection of letters and documents belonging to a military colony of Jews settled on an island of the Nile at the southern frontier of Egypt. A reference to a temple of theirs which had survived a threat of destruction as far back as 525 BC implies that their colony must have been well established at that date – bringing its origin back, if so, to Jeremiah’s time or before. Whether its founders were the men of our chapter or another group, it is interesting to note that their cult is revealed as an unblushing mixture of Israelite and Canaanite religion, such as Jeremiah’s opponents would have thoroughly appreciated.” (Kidner)
3. (30) Jeremiah tells them of the judgment to come upon Pharaoh and Egypt.
“Thus says the LORD: ‘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 Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, his enemy who sought his life.’”
a. I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies: God promised that Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon would come against Egypt (Jeremiah 43:10-13). Here, Jeremiah gave a more specific prophecy of that assured event.
i. “Hophra was actually overthrown by Amasis, one of his officers, who revolted against him and then shared rule with him (Herodotus 2:161-163, 169). Amasis rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar in 570 BC and was defeated in 568 BC So sixteen years after the fall of Jerusalem, Hophra was dethroned and strangled by some of his subjects. Again Jeremiah was vindicated.” (Feinberg)
b. As I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar: Just as it had happened to Zedekiah, so it would happen to Pharaoh. God’s judgments would be proven true.
i. “Jeremiah did not specify that Hophra would fall into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar but merely into the hands of his enemies; just as Zedekiah lost his life so would Pharaoh Hophra. ” (Thompson)
ii. Chronologically speaking, these were the last prophetic words of Jeremiah recorded. “Scripture is silent on what happened to Jeremiah after the events of this chapter, though tradition has been overly active. There are many legends concerning his death. One states that he was killed at Daphne. Another claims he carried away the tabernacle, hiding it in the mountains where Moses died (2 Maccabees 2:4-8). Yet another indicates he was alive with Enoch and Elijah, expected to return as a forerunner of the Messiah.” (Feinberg)