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III. PROPHECIES ABOUT THE NATIONS CHS. 46-51
In Jeremiah, prophecies concerning foreign nations come at the end of the book. In the other major prophets, Isaiah and Ezekiel, they come after oracles against Israel and or Judah, and before oracles dealing with Israel’s restoration. Oracles against foreign nations appear in every prophetical book except Daniel and Hosea. Collections of them appear in Amos 1-2, Isaiah 13-23, Ezekiel 25-32, and Zephaniah 2:2-15, as well as here. [Note: See Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, pp. 405-6, for a complete list of the oracles against foreign nations in the prophetical books.] The fact that the prophets of Israel and Judah gave oracles about other nations reflects Yahweh’s sovereignty over the whole world.
"The OAN [oracles against nations] had three main purposes: (1) to pronounce doom on a foreign nation, sometimes for mistreatment of Israel; (2) to serve as a salvation oracle or oracle of encouragement for Israel; (3) to warn Israel about depending on foreign alliances for their security . . .
"While in some OAN in the prophetic books foreign nations are condemned for their mistreatment of Israel and Judah, it is remarkable that, with the exception of the Babylon oracle . . ., none of the foreign nations in the OAN in Jeremiah is to be judged for such mistreatment. The oracles are not clearly nationalistically motivated, and thus it cannot be shown that they functioned primarily, if at all, as salvation oracles for Judah. In six of the oracles in Jeremiah 46-49, no reasons are given for judgment. The language about destruction is not strident; it gives no hint of xenophobic hatred. . . ." [Note: Thomas G. Smothers, Jeremiah 26-52, pp. 275, 277. Smothers wrote the commentary on chapters 46-51 in this volume, which appears in the bibliography under Keown, Scalise, and Smothers.]
By common scholarly consensus, these chapters contain some of the finest Hebrew poetry in the Old Testament. The canonical arrangement of these oracles reflects general movement from Egypt in the southwest to Babylon in the northeast. [Note: See the maps at the end of these notes for the locations of some places mentioned in these chapters.]
A. The oracle against Egypt ch. 46
This chapter on Egypt contains three separate prophecies that Jeremiah delivered about the fate of that nation. Their purpose seems to have been to discourage King Jehoiakim (609-598 B.C.) and the pro-Egyptian party in Judah from forming an alliance with Egypt.
This verse serves as a title for the whole section to follow (i.e., chs. 46-51; cf. Jeremiah 1:2; Jeremiah 14:1; Jeremiah 40:1; Jeremiah 47:1; Jeremiah 49:34), as well as for this prophecy.
1. Egypt’s defeat in Syria 46:1-12
The first prophecy announced Egypt’s defeat at Carchemish in 605 B.C.
This is a title verse for the subsection dealing with Nebuchadnezzar’s defeat of Pharaoh Neco at Carchemish (lit. fort of Chemosh, the god of the Moabites), in northern Syria, in 605 B.C. (Jeremiah 46:1-12). The title describes the defeat as past, but undoubtedly Jeremiah gave his prediction before the battle.
Egypt controlled Canaan and Aram (Syria) during most of the second millennium B.C., until about 1200, when internal weakness resulted in her losing her grip. Assyria, then Babylonia, then Persia took over control of this region in turn. But Egypt was still a force to be reckoned with, even after she lost the upper hand. One particularly strong Egyptian Pharaoh was Shishak (945-924 B.C.), who invaded Canaan (cf. 1 Kings 14:25-26). In 609 B.C., Pharaoh Neco II (ca. 610-594 B.C.) marched to Carchemish on the Euphrates River in northern Syria (modern Turkey). On the way, King Josiah opposed him, and Neco slew the Judean king (609 B.C., 2 Kings 23:29). Neco wanted to assist the Assyrians in defeating the young and threatening Neo-Babylonian Empire, but the Babylonians, led by Prince Nebuchadnezzar, won the battle in 605 B.C. This is the victory that gave Babylonia sovereignty in the ancient Near East.
In his oracle, Jeremiah summoned the Egyptian infantry and cavalry soldiers to prepare for battle.
He soon expressed shock, however, at seeing the Egyptians terrified and retreating. "Terror on every side" may have been a proverbial curse formula (cf. Jeremiah 6:25; Jeremiah 20:3; Jeremiah 20:10; Psalms 31:13). [Note: Thompson, p. 688.]
He warned the Babylonians not to allow any of the Egyptians to escape.
Jeremiah asked who this was who was trying to imitate the Nile River by overwhelming its enemy. Egyptian soldiers evidently thought of themselves as capable of rising in battle-like the Nile River rose during flooding. Pharaoh’s proud and unrealistic intent was to sweep the enemy away (cf. Isaiah 8:7-8).
The Egyptians and their allies-the Ethiopians, Libyans (or possibly residents of modern Somalia), and Lydians (cf. Isaiah 66:19; or North Africans, cf. Genesis 10:13; Nahum 3:9)-pressed the battle (cf. Ezekiel 30:5). Modern Somalia is east and south of Ethiopia. Libya was Egypt’s neighbor to the west, and the Lydian Kingdom was in Anatolia (modern western Turkey).
The outcome of the battle was up to sovereign Yahweh, the God of armies. He would use it to accomplish a slaughter according to His will. Part of His vengeance may have been over Neco’s killing of King Josiah. The "day" in view is the day God would judge the nation; it has no eschatological connotation.
The prophet counseled the wounded Egyptians to go to Gilead to obtain healing balm (cf. Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 46:11; Jeremiah 51:8; Genesis 37:25), but she would not recover from the wounds Yahweh had allowed her to sustain. It was ironic that Egypt could not heal herself, since she boasted the most advanced medical arts in antiquity. Comparing Egypt to a virgin stressed her vulnerable and pitiable condition (cf. Jeremiah 14:17; Jeremiah 18:13; Jeremiah 31:4; Jeremiah 31:21).
The nations had heard of Egypt’s defeat and her cry as she sought to save herself.
This is a title verse describing the prophecy about Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Egypt that follows.
2. Egypt’s defeat in Egypt 46:13-24
Shortly after the battle of Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon for his coronation. His father Nabopolassar had died in August of 605 B.C. Almost immediately, Nebuchadnezzar returned to Palestine with his army to subdue Canaan. From there he moved southwest against Egypt, about 568-567 B.C.
Warnings were to go out to the major cities of Egypt that the same army that had devoured nations around her was coming. The cities are the same as those mentioned in Jeremiah 43:7-9 and Jeremiah 44:1, where Judeans had fled for safety (cf. Jeremiah 2:16).
The Egyptian gods were unable to stand against the aggressor. The bulls of Egypt-symbols of the nation, its gods, and its leaders-were in humiliating retreat. The Lord had overthrown them repeatedly. The allies of Egypt would speak of going home.
"In this oracle it is deity against deity, bull against bull, king against king." [Note: Smothers, p. 293.]
The allies concluded that Pharaoh was nothing but talk, since he had failed to defend his nation in a timely fashion.
"Hophra was a big noise who seemed adept at missing the appointed time [cf. Jeremiah 37:5-6]." [Note: Thompson, p. 692.]
The true King, Yahweh of Hosts, promised that an enemy would come against Egypt, and it would be as imposing as a mountain. Mount Tabor, which stood 1,800 feet tall and towered over the Jezreel Valley below, and Mount Carmel, which rose 1,700 feet beside the Mediterranean Sea, were such mountains.
The Egyptians had better pack their bags, because the enemy would destroy Noph (Gr. Memphis), the capital of Lower Egypt, and burn it down. The Babylonians did this to Jerusalem, too.
The enemy from the north would attack Egypt and leave a wound, like a horsefly stinging a heifer. This may be an ironical poke at Egypt, since one of its deities was Apis, the sacred bull.
"A very beautiful heifer is the people when carefully and abundantly fed in their beautiful and fertile land (Hitzig)." [Note: Keil, 2:190.]
The mercenary soldiers that the Egyptians hired to help them would turn and run from the enemy like fat, pampered calves. They would die like sacrificial animals, because the Lord would punish them, too.
"The mercenaries mentioned were Ionians and Carians whom [Pharaoh] Psammeticus had hired, and had been retained by his successors." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 172.]
The enemy would advance against Egypt as relentlessly as an army of lumberjacks with axes, but Egypt would only be able to hiss like a snake at the foe. The snake was important in Egyptian religion and was a symbol of Pharaoh and the nation.
The innumerable enemy soldiers would cut down all the trees to use in their warfare against the Egyptians. Their coming would resemble an invasion of locusts.
Like a young girl taken captive against her will, Egypt would suffer shame when the power from the north conquered her.
The sovereign Yahweh, Israel’s God, announced that He would punish the gods, rulers, and people of Egypt. Amon was the chief deity of No (Gr. Thebes), the capital of Upper Egypt. Even though there is as yet no evidence that Nebuchadnezzar advanced this far in his conquest of Egypt, his invasion affected the whole nation.
3. Egypt’s defeat and Israel’s deliverance 46:25-28
The third prophecy against Egypt promised the humiliation of Egypt and the deliverance of Israel.
The Lord would hand Egypt over to Nebuchadnezzar, who would kill the people. The crisis would pass, however, and life would eventually return to normal (cf. Jeremiah 48:47; Jeremiah 49:6; Jeremiah 49:39; Isaiah 19:19-25; Psalms 87:4). This occurred later in Egypt’s history, and the promise probably anticipates millennial conditions (cf. Jeremiah 48:47; Jeremiah 49:39). [Note: See Dyer, "Jeremiah," p. 1193.]
The Israelites should take courage because the Lord promised to save them from afar, and to bring them back from the land of their captivity. Contrary Jacob would return to his land and enjoy undisturbed security. The Israelites would experience restoration as well as the Egyptians (Jeremiah 46:25-26; cf. Jeremiah 30:10-11; Isaiah 41:8-13). As in the preceding verse, eschatological blessings seem clearly to be in view.
The Lord’s servant Jacob should not fear because Yahweh would be with His people. He would punish the nations where He had sent them. He would not completely annihilate the Israelites, though, but would punish them severely. Israel would have a bright future as a nation.
"It is important to note that nowhere in these oracles is there the suggestion that Egypt faced disaster because of her mistreatment of Israel/Judah. There is no expression of hatred or vengeance against Egypt, although satire, irony, and the taunt are fully in evidence. Egypt is judged for pride and aggression as is typical in other oracles concerning the nations. In fact it is doubtful that these oracles were intended for Egyptian ears. Rather the purpose of the oracles was to lead the kings of Judah away from dependence on Egypt and toward the acceptance of vassalage to Babylon so that the nation might live." [Note: Smothers, p. 296.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 46". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
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