Jeremiah 46 – A Word of Judgment Against Egypt
A. The defeat at Carchemish.
1. (1-2) Introduction to the prophecy.
The word of the LORD which came to Jeremiah the prophet against the nations. Against Egypt. Concerning the army of Pharaoh Necho, king of Egypt, which was by the River Euphrates in Carchemish, and which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah:
a. The word of the LORD which came to Jeremiah the prophet against the nations: This begins a section that will continue through Jeremiah 51, where Jeremiah pronounces judgment against the nations surrounding Judah.
i. “In LXX these chapters come after the title in Jeremiah 25:13a and conclude with 25:15-38 (= LXX chapter 32). This suggests that the block of oracles circulated for a time as an independent unit which was woven into the whole book in different ways.” (Thompson)
b. Jeremiah the prophet against the nations: It is an important reminder that though the Book of Jeremiah deals mostly with the judgment God would bring against Judah, God did not neglect or ignore the Gentile nations. He would also righteously judge them.
i. “God knows who he is. He is not a regional supervisor. He is not a tribal deity. He is the God of all nations. His sovereignty is not limited to a single culture, nation, or ethnic group.” (Ryken)
c. Against Egypt: Jeremiah 46 describes the judgment that would come upon Egypt, especially at the Battle of Carchemish when the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians. When Jeremiah gave this prophecy, the battle was yet future.
i. “Jeremiah commences with Egypt because Palestine had long been a sphere of Egyptian political influence.” (Harrison)
ii. “Jeremiah beginneth fitly with the Egyptians, who besides the old enmity, had lately slain good King Josiah, with whom died all the prosperity of the Jewish people.” (Trapp)
iii. “Carchemish is not at the junction of the rivers Chebar and Euphrates but further up the Euphrates. The only great city in the region, it was the key to Syria on the east and commanded the passage of the Euphrates.” (Feinberg)
iv. “It was on his way there [Carchemish] that Pharaoh Neco had slain King Josiah of Judah in 609 when Josiah tried to turn him back.” (Kidner) Pharaoh kept his army in Carchemish four years, dominating the area and waiting for the inevitable confrontation with rising Babylon. When it came, the Egyptians were routed.
d. In the fourth year of Jehoiakim: This was 605 BC when the Egyptians were overwhelmed at Carchemish (Jeremiah 46:2ff.) in modern Turkey, near the Syrian border. The Babylonian armies chased the fleeing Egyptians south and came to Jerusalem.
2. (3-5) Soldiers called to battle and quickly routed.
“Order the buckler and shield,
And draw near to battle!
Harness the horses,
And mount up, you horsemen!
Stand forth with your helmets,
Polish the spears,
Put on the armor!
Why have I seen them dismayed and turned back?
Their mighty ones are beaten down;
They have speedily fled,
And did not look back,
For fear was all around,” says the LORD.
a. Draw near to the battle: In his prophecy, Jeremiah puts the listener and reader right at the scene of battle. The armor is prepared (order the buckler and shield), and the mounted soldiers ready themselves (harness the horses).
i. Thompson noted of this section, Jeremiah 46:3-12, “The poetry is among the most vivid in all the OT and is certainly unsurpassed in the book of Jeremiah.” (Thompson)
ii. “The small shield (magen) was generally circular in shape, while the large one (sinad) was either oval or rectangular, being designed to protect the entire body.” (Harrison)
iii. “An army as well accoutered as the one described here would naturally be victorious. But events take an unexpected turn.” (Feinberg)
b. Why have I seen them dismayed and turned back: The sense is that the battle is over as soon as it begins. As soon as shields and spears and horses are made ready, their mighty ones are beaten down, they have speedily fled.
i. “What! such a numerous, formidable, and well-appointed army panic-struck? So that they have turned back-fled apace, and looked not round; while their mighty ones-their generals and commanders, striving to rally them, are beaten down.” (Clarke)
ii. “Jeremiah ironically depicts the well-equipped and boastful, highly-skilled forces of Egypt and contrasts them with the sequel of an overwhelming defeat and a shameful flight.” (Cundall)
c. Did not look back, for fear was all around: Jeremiah described a full retreat of the Egyptian army before the Babylonians.
3. (6-8) The voice of the victorious Babylonian army.
“Do not let the swift flee away,
Nor the mighty man escape;
They will stumble and fall
Toward the north, by the River Euphrates.
“Who is this coming up like a flood,
Whose waters move like the rivers?
Egypt rises up like a flood,
And its waters move like the rivers;
And he says, ‘I will go up and cover the earth,
I will destroy the city and its inhabitants.’”
a. Do not let the swift flee away: In his prophetic vision, Jeremiah could see the captains of the Babylonian army calling out orders, commanding all their soldiers to pursue and utterly defeat the retreating Egyptians.
b. By the River Euphrates: The Battle of Carchemish was fought near the Euphrates, in the area that is the border between modern Turkey and Syria.
c. Egypt rises up like a flood: When a great river like the Euphrates floods, it brings incredible destruction. Egypt came to battle like an army that would crush its opponent saying, I will destroy the city and its inhabitants.
i. Rises up like a flood, and its waters move like the rivers: “The rivers allude to the Nile and its irrigation canals, hence the plural form. The onrushing Egyptians seem like the Nile when it is inundating the surrounding countryside.” (Harrison)
3. (9-10) Proud Egypt destroyed.
Come up, O horses, and rage, O chariots!
And let the mighty men come forth:
The Ethiopians and the Libyans who handle the shield,
And the Lydians who handle and bend the bow.
For this is the day of the Lord GOD of hosts,
A day of vengeance,
That He may avenge Himself on His adversaries.
The sword shall devour;
It shall be satiated and made drunk with their blood;
For the Lord GOD of hosts has a sacrifice
In the north country by the River Euphrates.
a. Come up, O horses, and rage, O chariots: God called the proud Egyptian army to this battle, bringing them for the purpose of judging them.
b. The Ethiopians and the Libyans who handle the shield: Like many armies, the ancient Egyptian army that came to Carchemish had many foreign soldiers, both slaves and mercenaries.
c. This is the day of the Lord GOD of hosts, a day of vengeance: God called the arrogant Egyptian army to come to Carchemish so He could show that He was the God of hosts, that it was His day of vengeance.
i. The phrase the day of the LORD in Jeremiah 46:10 is a good example of the principle that this phrase does not necessarily refer to one single day, but to any time or season when God’s might is manifest, especially in judgment against His arrogant opposition, a day when He may avenge Himself on His adversaries.
ii. “An army as well accoutered as the one described here would naturally be victorious. But events take an unexpected turn.” (Feinberg)
d. For the Lord GOD of hosts has a sacrifice in the north country by the River Euphrates: The defeated Egyptian army would please God as a sacrifice pleased Him, bearing the judgment of sin.
i. “The prophet represents this as a mighty sacrifice, where innumerable victims were slain.” (Clarke)
4. (11-12) Egypt not to be cured from their affliction.
“Go up to Gilead and take balm,
O virgin, the daughter of Egypt;
In vain you will use many medicines;
You shall not be cured.
The nations have heard of your shame,
And your cry has filled the land;
For the mighty man has stumbled against the mighty;
They both have fallen together.”
a. Go up to Gilead and take balm: When the Egyptian army suffered such a great defeat at Carchemish, they retreated south towards Egypt but through the Promised Land, including Gilead. They would not be brought back to strength there; in vain you shall use many medicines; you shall not be cured.
i. “The reference to many medicines is a sarcastic comment on Egypt’s inability to heal the wounds of defeat, her final humiliation being that others have now heard this news.” (Harrison)
ii. “The association of balm with Gilead may be linked to the fact that caravans from the east bearing supplies of balm passed through Gilead.” (Thompson)
b. The nations have heard of your shame: The defeat of Egypt at Carchemish was famous because it marked the beginning of Babylon as a true superpower in the region and the decline of Egypt.
B. The invasion of Egypt.
1. (13-17) Egypt helpless to defend against Babylon’s armies.
The word that the LORD spoke to Jeremiah the prophet, how Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon would come and strike the land of Egypt.
“Declare in Egypt, and proclaim in Migdol;
Proclaim in Noph and in Tahpanhes;
Say, ‘Stand fast and prepare yourselves,
For the sword devours all around you.’
Why are your valiant men swept away?
They did not stand
Because the LORD drove them away.
He made many fall;
Yes, one fell upon another.
And they said, ‘Arise!
Let us go back to our own people
And to the land of our nativity
From the oppressing sword.’
They cried there,
‘Pharaoh, king of Egypt, is but a noise.
He has passed by the appointed time!’”
a. How Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon would come and strike the land of Egypt: Many years after his victory at Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar again sent his army, this time all the way to Egypt itself.
i. “The place-names in verse 14 are of the frontier towns in the path of an invader from the north-east.” (Kidner)
b. Stand fast and prepare yourselves, for the sword devours all around you: The people of Egypt could do their best to prepare for this coming Babylonian invasion, but it would be of no help. Their valiant men would still be swept away.
c. Because the LORD drove them away: It wasn’t only the power of the Babylonian army at work. God was also determined to drive away the defenders of Egypt to bring a vast judgment upon proud Egypt.
d. Pharaoh, king of Egypt, is but a noise: With the Babylonian invasion of Egypt, all could see that Pharaoh was no longer a ruler of great power and authority.
i. “In verse 16 the speech of the soldiers is overheard, as the mercenary troops decide to return to their own countries. They call Pharaoh ‘a noise’ (i.e., a braggart), blaming him for ruining his chances for victory.” (Feinberg)
ii. Pharaoh, king of Egypt, is but a noise: “NEB has King Bombast, while RSV reads Noisy one. However, ‘Loudmouth’ seems to reflect the scorn of MT better, since it depicts the pharaoh as a braggart who has missed his opportunity.” (Harrison)
iii. “Above all there is the devastating summing-up of Pharaoh in verse 17 as Noisy one who lets the hour go by.” (Kidner)
2. (18-26) The certainty of this judgment upon Egypt.
“As I live,” says the King,
Whose name is the LORD of hosts,
“Surely as Tabor is among the mountains
And as Carmel by the sea, so he shall come.
O you daughter dwelling in Egypt,
Prepare yourself to go into captivity!
For Noph shall be waste and desolate, without inhabitant.
“Egypt is a very pretty heifer,
But destruction comes, it comes from the north.
Also her mercenaries are in her midst like fat bulls,
For they also are turned back,
They have fled away together.
They did not stand,
For the day of their calamity had come upon them,
The time of their punishment.
Her noise shall go like a serpent,
For they shall march with an army
And come against her with axes,
Like those who chop wood.
“They shall cut down her forest,” says the LORD,
“Though it cannot be searched,
Because they are innumerable,
And more numerous than grasshoppers.
The daughter of Egypt shall be ashamed;
She shall be delivered into the hand
Of the people of the north.”
The LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, says: “Behold, I will bring punishment on Amon of No, and Pharaoh and Egypt, with their gods and their kings—Pharaoh and those who trust in him. And I will deliver them into the hand of those who seek their lives, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and the hand of his servants. Afterward it shall be inhabited as in the days of old,” says the LORD.
a. “As I live,” says the King: In the strongest terms, God declared that this would happen. It was so certain that the people of Egypt could be told, prepare yourself to go into captivity.
i. “Both Tabor and Carmel were conspicuous in relation to the neighboring terrain. Nebuchadnezzar towers in an analogous fashion over other monarchs, even pharaoh must yield to his power and majesty.” (Harrison)
ii. “Both seemed to Jeremiah to depict Nebuchadnezzar, who towered over Egypt in his might like lofty mountains towering over a plain.” (Thompson)
b. Egypt is a very pretty heifer: Egypt proudly thought of herself as strong, great, and beautiful. God said they were strong and pretty like a young steer, but really just ripe for sacrifice. They would be cut down like a forest.
i. “The mercenaries (lit. ‘hired ones’) in her midst were evidently well cared for (fatted calves) but useless in the hour of danger, Jeremiah may have had another agricultural picture in mind, that of calves fattened for killing.” (Thompson)
ii. Her noise shall go like a serpent: “The reference to Egypt gliding away like a snake is a sarcastic comment on the humbling of one of the most vaunted national deities, and one which was prominent in the royal insignia. ” (Harrison)
c. Because they are innumerable: Egypt would be ashamed and delivered into the hand of the people of the north (the Babylonians). When this massive army came against them, God would bring punishment on the cities and rulers of Egypt.
i. Afterward it shall be inhabited as in the days of old: “The text suggests that Yahweh was punishing rather than destroying Egypt, so that later she could continue as in the past. This promise of restoration is repeated for other nations (Jeremiah 48:47; 49:6, 39).” (Thompson)
3. (27-28) Comfort to the people of God.
“But do not fear, O My servant Jacob,
And do not be dismayed, O Israel!
For behold, I will save you from afar,
And your offspring from the land of their captivity;
Jacob shall return, have rest and be at ease;
No one shall make him afraid.
Do not fear, O Jacob My servant,” says the LORD,
“For I am with you;
For I will make a complete end of all the nations
To which I have driven you,
But I will not make a complete end of you.
I will rightly correct you,
For I will not leave you wholly unpunished.”
a. Do not fear, O My servant Jacob: After the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and Judah, the small remnant remaining in the land was afraid of the continued Babylonian presence and they felt they would be safer in Egypt (Jeremiah 42-43). God wanted them not to fear or be dismayed and trust Him in the land.
i. “In the midst of wrath God remembers mercy. Though Judah shall be destroyed, Jerusalem taken, the temple burnt to the ground, and the people carried into captivity, yet the nation shall not be destroyed. A seed shall be preserved, out of which the nation shall revive.” (Clarke)
b. I will save you from afar, and your offspring from the land of captivity: God also promised to end the captivity of His people in Babylon, allowing them to return to their land. It would be fulfilled; Jacob shall return, and have rest.
c. I am with you; for I will make a complete end of all the nations to which I have driven you: God sent His people to exile in judgment of their great sin against Him. He would also not forget His righteous judgment against the surrounding nations.
i. “If Egypt’s woes were but temporary, those of Israel would be even more so.” (Feinberg)
d. But I will not make a complete end of you: God’s judgment against the nations would be different than the correction of His people. Pagan kingdoms and empires may pass into history, but God would never make a complete end of Israel, His covenant people.
i. “If He has taken us to be his and to give us his best – then, though we suffer chastisement, we shall not be overwhelmed by it: though we are corrected, diminished, and brought low, God will not make a full end of us: though we are pruned, we shall not be cut down to the ground. We may even look out with a quiet mind on the irretrievable disasters which overtake the ungodly.” (Meyer)
e. I will rightly correct you: Even God’s judgment upon His people was evidence of His great love and care for them. Like a faithful Father, He would correct them and not leave them wholly unpunished.