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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 46

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


Beginning here and through Jeremiah 51, we have a collection of Jeremiah’s prophecies against various Gentile nations, “Arranged geographically, beginning with Egypt, and then moving to Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Syria, Elam, and Babylon.”(F1)

The Septuagint (LXX) has a different arrangement, but that cannot possibly raise any question about the arrangement here. The Septuagint (LXX) is notoriously undependable in many particulars, nor is the question of “which is the original?” a valid inquiry. Jeremiah wrote the prophecies here; and the arrangement of them was either that of Jeremiah himself, or that of his dependable secretary Baruch. The arbitrary, unscientific, and subjective changes found in the LXX, often cited in the works of Keil, require no particular attention.

Many critics debate the Jeremiahic authorship of these prophecies; but, “There is no substantive evidence”(F2) whatever to support a denial of Jeremiah’s authorship. As Keil expressed it, regarding some of the adverse arguments, “They can have weight only with those who a priori deny that the prophet could have made any prediction.”(F3) As we approach the end of the century, the death of the whole system of radical criticism of the Bible is inevitably approaching. As Thompson (writing in the eighth decade of this century) stated it, “Nineteenth and early twentieth century critical scholars were prepared to reject much of these final chapters of Jeremiah; but such a position is no longer possible.” (F4) Indeed it is not. This writer has encountered no argument whatever against the integrity and authenticity of this final section of Jeremiah that is worthy of any special attention whatever.

What went wrong with radical criticism? We do not question the sincerity of some of the critics, nor do we deny that they have, in certain instances, contributed to Biblical knowledge; but, in spite of this, the great corpus of radical criticism is totally worthless, not because of the critics’ lack of skill in following their rules of criticism, but because the rules and axioms which they have adopted are not merely unscientific but absolutely false. We shall not discuss this here.

See pages 264-272 in Vol. 11 of the New Testament Series for a study of the false rules of New Testament critics; and to those mentioned there, we must add the a priori denial of radical critics that predictive prophecy is even a possibility. Such a rule announces the outcome before the study even starts! Who could allow a referee of a sports contest to announce the score before the game started?

Nevertheless, that is the stock in trade used by radical critics, allowing one of them to describe the prophecy of Micah that the Messiah, “whose goings forth are known from of old, even from everlasting” would be born in Bethlehem, eight centuries before it happened (Micah 5:2), as a reference, “To the time when David was being called to the kingship.” (Note that a radical critic here applied this prophecy to an event that had already happened centuries earlier). See pp. 341-346, in Vol. 2, of the Minor Prophets Series for a full discussion of the critical rule regarding predictive prophecy, and for many specific reasons why it is impossible to believe such a rule.

The chapter division in this chapter are: (1) the two superscriptions (Jeremiah 46:1-2); (2) the advance of the magnificent Egyptian army (Jeremiah 46:3-4); (3) the route of that army (Jeremiah 46:5-12); (4) Babylon to punish Egypt (Jeremiah 46:13-17); (5) a leader like Tabor and Cannel (Jeremiah 46:18-19); (6) gliding away like a snake (Jeremiah 46:20-24); (7) No-Amon to be destroyed (Jeremiah 46:25-26); (8) prophecy for Israel (Jeremiah 46:27-28).

Verses 1-2

“The word of Jehovah which came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the nations. Of Egypt: concerning the army of Pharaoh-necho king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates in Carchemish, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon smote in the fourth year of the Jehoiachim the son of Josiah, king of Judah.”

There are two superscriptions here, the first pertaining to the subsequent chapters through Jeremiah 51, and the second pertaining to Egypt. We should have expected these prophecies against the Gentile nations, because in God’s call of Jeremiah, God placed him “over the nations” as the official prophet who would declare their fate (Jeremiah 1:10). Several of God’s prophets pronounced doom against the nations, as did Isaiah, Amos, and others.

“By the river Euphrates in Carchemish” The battle fought here about 605 B.C.(F5) was one of the decisive battles of history, for it spelled the end of Egyptian domination and heralded the arrival of Babylon as the new world power. It was fought at a strategic location several miles north of the Chebar’s junction with the Euphrates. The word “Carchemish” means “Fort of Chemosh,” the god of the Moabites (2 Kings 23:13).(F6)

“In the fourth year of Jehoiachim” A number of very significant names and dates cluster around this event.

Jeremiah was contemporary with the five final kings of Judah, from Josiah to the ruin of the nation, and with Nebuchadnezzar the greatest monarch of the neo-Chaldean empire, and with these four kings of Egypt: Psammetik I (664-609B.C.), Pharaoh-necho II (609-594 B.C.), Psammetik II (694-588 B.C.), and Pharaoh-Hophra (588-568 B.C.).(F7)

The king of Egypt in this battle of Carchemish was Pharaoh-necho who had killed Josiah at Megiddo in 609 B.C.; and, in a sense, the Jews would have considered this victory over Necho at Carchemish some four years later as a proper vengeance for the death of Josiah.

“The Babylonian Chronicle stated that Nebuchadnezzar marched against Egypt again in 601 B.C., with both sides suffering very heavy losses. This was probably the event that tempted Jehoiachim to revolt against Babylon (2 Kings 24:1)(F8)

Verses 3-4


“Prepare ye the buckler and shield, and draw near to battle. Harness the horses, and get up (mount) ye horsemen, and stand forth with your helmets; furbish the spears, and put on the coats of mail.”

These words with their sharp, staccato commandments and brilliant descriptive power remind us of the glorying words in the prophecy of Nahum re: the overthrow of Nineveh.

“The buckler and shield” The buckler was used by the lightly armed infantry, and the shield was handled by the heavier ranks of the soldiery who were generally the stronger of the two.(F9)

“Put on the coats of mail” Those who are familiar with the KJV cannot fall to be astounded at a switch like this, for the KJV renders this passage, “Put on the brigandines!” Well, it happened like this. The word “brigandines” actually means “coats of mail,” worn by soldiers, and in time came to mean “soldiers”; and the conduct of many soldiers throughout history gradually changed the meaning of “brigandines” to “rogues” or “scoundrels.” The current word “brigand” derives from it and means “a robber” or a “bandit,” especially, “one of a band of plundering outlaws or soldiers.” This connection also resulted in such a title as Brigadier General, meaning the commander of a brigade! This appears to this writer as an item of intense interest.

Verses 5-12


“Wherefore have I seen it? they are dismayed and turned backward; and their mighty ones are beaten down, and are fled apace, and look not back: terror is on every side, saith Jehovah. Let not the swift flee away, nor the mighty man escape; in the north by the river Euphrates they have stumbled and fallen. Who is this that riseth up like the Nile, whose waters toss themselves like the rivers: and he saith, I will rise up, I will cover the earth; I will destroy cities and the inhabitants thereof. Go up, ye horses; and rage ye chariots; and let the mighty men go forth: Cush and Put, that handle the shield; and the Ludim, that handle and bend the bow. For that day is a day of the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, a day of vengeance, that he may avenge himself of his adversaries: and the sword shall devour and be satiate, and shall drink its fill of their blood; for the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, hath a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates. Go up into Gilead, and take balm, O virgin daughter of Egypt: in vain dost thou use many medicines; there is no healing for thee. The nations have heard of thy shame, and the earth is full of thy cry; for the mighty man hath stumbled against the mighty, they are fallen both of them together.”

“Wherefore have I seen it?” These words are the dramatic introduction to a startling change in the scene, from that of the arrogant, advancing army of Egypt, to that of a hopelessly beaten and routed army.(F10)

“Terror is on every side, saith Jehovah” Here is the key that demands our understanding of this passage, not as a record of something that has already occurred, but as a divine promise of what is going to happen. Therefore, this prophecy must be dated before the battle of Carchemish.

What brought about the defeat of such a large and impressive force? “It was panic, supernaturally induced, that did it.”(F11) In this long paragraph, note the words “terror” (Jeremiah 46:5), “they have fled… look not back” (Jeremiah 46:5), “the mighty man hath stumbled against the mighty” (Jeremiah 46:12), etc.

These verses (Jeremiah 46:3-12) do not contain a triumphal song over a defeat that has already taken place, but a prophecy of a defeat about to take place.(F12)

“Cush… Put... Ludim, etc.” These places were the sources of the mercenary troops upon which the Pharaohs relied to build and replenish their armies. The Ethiopians, or Nubian Negroes, made up a large part of these. Such foreign mercenaries were never very reliable; and a later Pharaoh-Hophra lost his kingship because of a mutiny against him.

“A day of the Lord” It is not “the day of the Lord,” for there are no eschatological echoes in the place.

“A day of Jehovah of hosts, a day of vengeance” The Egyptians had quite recently slain the good King Josiah, and their defeat was a vengeance against that disaster for Israel. The possible reference here to Egypt’s slaying of Josiah (in 609 B.C.), if this alleged reference is correct, would indicate that the exact date of this prophecy would fall between 609 B.C. and 605 B.C., but well before the fall of Carchemish to Babylon.

“The Lord hath a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates.” Contrary to all that the proud Egyptian army anticipated, they were destined to be sacrificial victims in that day at Carchemish when the Lord would provide himself a sacrifice of their entire army!

Verses 13-17


“The word that Jehovah spake to Jeremiah the prophet, how that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon should come up and smite the land of Egypt. Declare ye in Egypt, and publish in Migdol, and publish in Memphis, and in Tahpanhes: say ye, Stand forth and prepare thee; for the sword hath devoured round about thee. Why are thy strong ones swept away? they stood not, because Jehovah did drive them. He made many to stumble, yea, they fell one upon another: and they said, Arise, and let us go again 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 hath let the appointed time pass by.”

“Why are thy strong ones swept away?” This statement seems to challenge Egypt to accept the reason for her terrible defeat at Carchemish, namely, the type of troops upon which the Pharaohs depended for their military operations, the mercenaries. Note that the soldiers of Pharaoh are here represented as saying, “let us return to the land of our nativity,” which was not Egypt at all, but the various places from which the mercenaries had been recruited.

“The punishment (invasion?) of Egypt promised here in Jeremiah 46:13 ff, came after their defeat at Carchemish, but the exact circumstances have not been determined. Some believe it refers to the Babylonian pursuit of the Egyptians after Carchemish (605 B.C.). A second view argues that it occurred in 601 B.C., when, according to the Babylonian Chronicle, Nebuchadnezzar and Necho fought inconclusively at the Egyptian border. A third option favors 568-567 B.C., when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt. It is possible that the statement was not made in connection with any particular historical event.”(F13)

We fully agree with the last sentence in the above quotation. Did not Nebuchadnezzar “punish” Egypt in all of those instances? Certainly.

“Pharaoh… is but a noise; he hath let the appointed time pass by” These critical words spoken against Pharaoh were probably by his mercenary soldiers. Whoever used such words, their meaning is variously given: “King Bombast” (the New English Bible), “Much-noise-but-he-lets-the-chance-slip-by,” (the Jerusalem Bible), “Loudmouth” (Harrison).(F14)

The meaning of such derogatory names was that: “Pharaoh was a mere empty sound, and that he had allowed the allotted years of prosperity, which, as Herodotus testified, he had enjoyed at the beginning of his reign, to pass by, and having misused them, nothing then remained but his min.”(F15)

Verses 18-19


“As I live, saith the King, whose name is Jehovah of hosts, surely like Tabor among the mountains, and like Carmel by the sea, so shall he come. O thou daughter that dwellest in Egypt, furnish thyself to go into captivity; for Memphis shall become a desolation, and shall be burnt up, without inhabitant.”

“He shall tower above” “This speaks of Nebuchadnezzar.”(F16) Mount Tabor, though not as high as Mount Hermon, was very prominent by reason of its dramatic elevation above the surrounding area. Carmel was that great coastal mountain that jutted out into the Mediterranean sea and was a noted landmark in Israel.

“Memphis shall become a desolation… without inhabitant” Here is predictive prophecy at its best. Even if the radical critics could prove that Jeremiah wrote after the event of some of the things he predicted (which, of course, they cannot do), what can they do with a word like this? Memphis indeed became a desolation. By the times of Alexander the Great it was no longer an important place; and to-day, it is known throughout the world as “the great cemetery.”(F17)

Verses 20-24


“Egypt is a very fair heifer, but destruction out of the north is come, it is come. Also, her hired men in the midst of her are like calves of the stall; for they also are turned back, they are fled away together, they did not stand, for the day of their calamity is come upon them, the time of their visitation. The sound thereof shall go like the serpent; for they shall march with an army, and come against her with axes, as hewers of wood. They shall cut down her forest, saith Jehovah, though it cannot be searched; because they are more than the locusts, and are innumerable. The daughter of Egypt shall be put to shame; she shall be delivered into the hand of the people of the north.”

“A very fair heifer” Memphis, prominently mentioned in this section, was the shrine of the Sacred Bull of Egypt; and the graves of the many successive animals which served as the living symbol of that God (Apis), each in a private tomb once decorated the ancient city. On this account, the identification of Egypt here as a “heifer” is thought to be sarcastic.

“Hired men… like calves of the stall” “Egypt’s mercenaries were but as fat calves in the hands of the butcher!”(F18) They probably ate well, looked good, and made a beautiful parade; but they were worthless as fighting men.

“The sound thereof shall go like the serpent” The serpent was sacred to one of the most prominent Egyptian gods; and this symbol of the whole nation is probably sarcastically referred to in this verse. The woodsmen are represented as clearing the forest, and the serpent slithers away to hide! It is as if one said of the USA, “The eagle is trapped and is flapping his wings in vain!”

“They shall cut down her forest… though it cannot be searched” The total loss of their forested land was an incredibly effective punishment that Nebuchadnezzar inflicted upon Egypt.

“The daughter of Egypt shall be put to shame” “This refers to the exposure of Egypt as she was delivered into the hands of Babylon, an exposure of which Jeremiah had been an eyewitness during the fall of Jerusalem to the same foe; and he had seen the women and girls become objects to satisfy the lust of the Babylonian troops. Jeremiah had previously warned Jerusalem in similar language (Jeremiah 6:12; Jeremiah 38:23, etc.).”(F19)

Verses 25-26


Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, saith, Behold, I will punish Amon of No, and Pharaoh, and Egypt with her gods, and with her kings, even Pharaoh, and them that trust in him: and I will deliver them into the hands of those that seek their lives, and into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and into the hands of his servants; and afterward it shall be inhabited, as in the days of old, saith Jehovah.”

Unlike the prophecy of Isaiah regarding Babylon, and of Nahum regarding Nineveh, Jeremiah here prophesied that the destruction of Egypt would not be perpetual. Twenty-six centuries afterward, the prophecies still stand as the prophets said, still fulfilled by history. Why? Because the prophecies are God’s words, not the words of men.

“Amon of No” “Amon was the chief god of Upper Egypt, and No (Thebes) was the capital and principal city of the area.”(F20)

Verses 27-28


“But fear not thou, O Jacob my servant, neither be dismayed, O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be quiet and at ease, and none shall make him afraid. Fear not thou, O Jacob my servant, saith Jehovah, for I am with thee: for I will make a full end of all the nations whither I have driven thee; but I will not make a full end of thee, but I will correct thee in measure, and will in no wise leave thee unpunished.”

These verses state emphatically that nothing whatever will be able to thwart the eternal purpose of God in providing redemption for all mankind through the posterity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Despite the fact of the Chosen people having lost their status as God’s wife, and the awful truth that the whole nation had become a degenerate, corrupt vine instead of the noble vine that God had planted, they will not be able to countermand or destroy God’s intention. They indeed failed, but God did not fail.

Furthermore, note the fact here that God promises continued punishment of Israel, as fulfilled repeatedly throughout the long centuries between the Old Testament and the New Testament. God’s marvelous achievement in bringing in at last through the precious Virgin of Nazareth, that Child who was cradled in the manger of Bethlehem, despite the absolute refusal of the Chosen People to fulfill their obligations in the project, must be ranked as the Greatest Miracle of All Time.

“These two verses are a repetition of Jeremiah 30:10-11, with those variations which Jeremiah always made when quoting himself.”(F21)

Keil noted that, “This promise of salvation for Israel, coming at the close of this prophecy of the judgment on Egypt, is similar to the promise of salvation to Israel inserted in the threat against Babylon (Jeremiah 50:4-7; Jeremiah 51:5-6; Jeremiah 51:10; Jeremiah 51:35-36; Jeremiah 51:45-46; Jeremiah 51:50); and this similarity furnishes proof in behalf of the genuineness of the verse.”(F22)

This chapter gives an extensive view of the turbulent times for mankind when one world-power, such as Egypt, was supplanted by another like Babylon. Human life was in all such situations considered a very cheap and expendable factor; and the sorrows of the human race appear to have been almost beyond the powers of our imagination fully to comprehend them. The tragic record of Adam’s race in rebellion against their true God is the only thing needed to explain and justify the need of an ultimate Judgment in which the rebellious portion of Adam’s posterity shall indeed be wiped off the face of earth (Zephaniah 1)!

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Jeremiah 46". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/jeremiah-46.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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