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The flight to Egypt; Jeremiah's prediction of Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of Egypt.
All the proud men. It would seem as if the "proud men" were distinguished from others. Jeremiah had called the whole people together (Jeremiah 42:8); but a few domineering men assumed to represent the rest.
Baruch the son of Neriah setteth thee on. A singular supposition—Jeremiah leaving the initiative to his secretary! It may be conjectured that Baruch had somehow made himself specially unpopular; he may have been a more practical man (comp. Jeremiah 45:5) than Jeremiah.
All the remnant of Judah, that were returned from all nations. The specification is peculiar, as it seems to leave out of sight the most important part of the gathering at Mizpah, via. the "men, and women, and children, and those of the poor of the land" (Jeremiah 40:7)—the very persons who are mentioned just afterwards. Possibly there is some confusion in the text. "All nations" doubtless means especially Moab, Ammon, and Edom.
Tahpanhea. An Egyptian frontier city (see Ezekiel 30:18 and note on Jeremiah 2:16), where the fugitives had to wait till the views of the Egyptian government respecting them were made known. The supposed site of the Pelusiac Daphnae has not yet been explored; a single inscribed fragment would reveal the Egyptian name, and probably ratify the identity of Daphnae with the Tahpanhes of the prophets.
Take great stones, etc. A strange symbolic act of Jeremiah's is here described. "We must not suppose, arguing from our Western and precise notions, that he would be at all necessarily interfered with. In fact, he would have a twofold security, as a prophet of God to those who acknowledged him as such, and in the opinion of others as insane, and, according to Eastern ideas, thus especially under Divine promptings in his acts" (Streane). He is directed to take great stones and embed them in the mortar (not "clay") in the brick pavement at the entry of the palace. When the events predicted came to pass, these stones would testify that Jeremiah had predicted them. The word rendered "brick pavement" is of doubtful meaning. In Nahum 3:14 it signifies "brick kiln."
And will set his throne, etc.; viz. for the victorious king to hold judgment (comp. Jeremiah 1:15, Jeremiah 1:16; Jeremiah 49:38). He shall spread his royal pavilion; rather, his tapestry (the root means "brilliance"); i.e. the bright coloured covering of the throne.
He shall smite the land of Egypt. On the invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar, wrongly controverted by some, see note on Jeremiah 46:13. Such as are for death. Such as are destined for death (i.e. pestilence, as Jeremiah 15:2; Jeremiah 18:21). The words, "and deliver," prefixed in the Authorized Version, are unnecessary; "land" is equivalent to "population."
Burn them; viz. the temples. Egypt was full of gorgeous and imposing temples, which could not, however, always be burned, nor were the conquerors of Egypt anxious to display hostility to Egyptian religion. Carry them away captives; viz. the idol gods (comp. Jeremiah 48:7, "Chemosh shall no forth into captivity:" and Isaiah 46:2, "Their soul [or, 'personality'] hath gone into captivity"). The prophet speaks from the point of view of a believer in the idol gods. He shall array himself with the land of Egypt, etc. (For "array himself with" and "putteth on,"read wrap himself in and wrappeth himself in.) Ewald well explains this figure. "As easily as the shepherd in the open field wraps himself in the cool night in his mantle, will he be able to grasp Egypt with his hand and fling it round him like an easily managed garment, in order then to leave the land as an absolute conqueror, clothed in this attire of booty, in peace, without an enemy."
The images of Beth-shemesh; rather, the pillars of Beth-shemesh; i.e. the obelisks of the temple of Ra, the sun god, from Which Heliopolis derived its sacred name "Pe-Ra" "the abode of Ra." It was the custom to place obelisks in pairs at the entrance of their temples. Only one of those of Heliopolis is still standing, though that, indeed, is the oldest in Egypt, for it was "set up at least four thousand years ago". That is in the land of Egypt. To distinguish it from the Beth-shemesh in Palestine. But we may also render "which are," etc.; comp. "the gods of Egypt" in the second verse half. The Septuagint reads, "which are in On."
Moral causes of unbelief.
The causes of unbelief may be either intellectual or moral. It is not just to assume that they are of the latter character. There is an honest doubt, and many a brave soul has been forced to fight its way over a wild desert of difficulties before seeing the light of Divine revelation. Nevertheless, it is necessary for our own warning and in controversy with others to remember that there are moral causes for unbelief, and that in some cases these may be much more operative than any purely intellectual consideration. Azariah and his friends have discovered no good ground for doubting the Divine authority of Jeremiah's message. They have seen nothing to detract from the claims of the prophet and nothing to contradict what he says. Yet they reject his message and charge him with falsehood. The palpable explanation of their conduct may serve to explain the ground of much unbelief in our own day. In the main this consists in two things.
I. THE UNPOPULARITY OF THE DOCTRINE. Jeremiah had run counter to the determination of the leaders of the people. Instead of modifying their conduct in obedience to the Divine message, they preferred to reject the message and deny its authority. This was most irrational, Yet it is a sample of the commonest conduct. People test their creed by their will instead of their reason and conscience and its own evidences. They say they do not like certain ideas, as though truth were a matter of taste. But truth is the statement of facts, and facts are not altered by sentiments. In the present instance the question was as to God's will. Was it not possible from the first that this might contradict the opinions of the people? Otherwise what was the use of the prayer for direction, that these very men had asked Jeremiah to offer, and the reply to which was his unpopular message? If God's will and truth always agreed with our private notions, what would be the good of revelation and commandment? It is in the conflict of the two that the chief value of the Divine message is to be found.
II. THE PRIDE OF MAN. We are expressly told that they were "proud men" who rejected the prophet's message. The rest of the people seem to have been willing to acquiesce in it. There is nothing so blinding as pride. Your proud man is an inevitable bigot. By undue assurance of knowledge he closes the avenues of fresh knowledge and limits his own possession of it. Thus pride cuts away the ground beneath its own feet.
The credulity of unbelief.
I. UNBELIEF INVOLVES CREDULITY. Johanan and his companions here bring before us a striking instance of the credulity of unbelief. Refusing to admit that Jeremiah was divinely inspired, they asserted that he was instigated by Baruch the scribe. Now, we have seen Baruch acting solely as the amanuensis and spokesman of the prophet—indeed, effacing himself with genuine humility and wisdom to serve the prophet the more faithfully; could this man be the inspirer of his master's most decided utterances? The idea is preposterous. It is an evidence of gross credulity—the credulity that believes in one's own inventions, though they are infinitely less reasonable than the opposite ideas they are set up to oppose. All unbelief is belief—it is belief in the negation of a proposition, and it requires as much evidence as the proposition it denies. It also has its consequences in reason which should be followed out remorselessly. Defenders of the faith have been too apologetic. They would often have been wiser if they had turned the flank of opponents and exposed the weakness of their position. It might often be shown that, in accepting this position, the opponents were standing on less firm ground than that which they dispute. For something must be true. If we came down to absolute nihilism, and discovered that nothing existed, even that discovery would be a truth. The absolute rejection of one proposition involves the acceptance of its opposite. But this opposite may be beset with heavier difficulties or favoured with weaker evidences than those which accompany the rejected proposition. If so, to accept the opposite proposition is really a mark of greater credulity than to admit that which presented the first claims.
II. THE CREDULITY OF UNBELIEF MAY BE ILLUSTRATED IN THE CONTROVERSIES OF THE AGE. Consider it in relation to the main topics of these controversies, viz.:
1. The being of God. If there be no God, then the world must be eternal or self-created—conclusions which may be shown to leave more difficulties than the hypothesis of a Creator—and all the best thoughts of the highest orders of minds must be misconceptions—a strange result for those who would regard the mind of man as the highest existence in the universe.
2. The immortality of the soul. Difficulties beset the theory of immortaIity. But what greater difficulties they have to face who, first believing in God (and we now have a right to start from that position), hold that the deepest appetite of man is destined never to be satisfied, that his highest aspirations are directed to an impossibility, and that his greatest powers are doomed to be blighted before they have grown to their full development? What credulity is required to make us believe that a good God could create a Tantalus!
3. The inspiration of the Bible. if the Bible be not inspired of God, the first literature of the world, containing by far its deepest, wisest, purest thoughts, and exercising unbounded influence for good, is founded on a delusion or a lie; for the writers of the Bible plainly claim to be inspired.
4. The Divine origin of Christianity. Christianity is the greatest fact in history; it revolutionized the decaying life of the old world, and gave a fresh upward movement to humanity; it is now the leading factor in the highest life of the foremost races of mankind; and it claims to be Divine. It seems to some of us that to say this claim is false, and thus to force upon us the inevitable alternative that its founders were deluded, and that it is a mere growth of human thought and effort, requires a faith which is so irrational as to be justly characterized as credulity.
Jeremiah planting stones at the entrance of Pharaoh's palace was prophesying by act. The stones were mute prophecies interpreted by the verbal prophecies which in turn they were to confirm in the future. These prophetic stones have their lessons for us.
I. DIVINE PURPOSES ARE FIRM AND PERMANENT. They are like the great stones. Words are but air waves; to the incredulous the strongest words may be mere sound and fury, signifying nothing; they melt as they fall. But in the stone we have weight, massiveness, persistence, something that cannot be blown aside with a breath, which will not fade with time, which may be handled, and which remains after it is forgotten, and can be exhumed after being buried. Such is a Divine purpose—thus solid and thus enduring.
II. DIVINE PURPOSES MAY BE HIDDEN UNTIL THE TIME FOR THE EXECUTION OF THEM. Jeremiah hides the stones. There are prophecies which have been uttered once, and the method of executing them kept secret from us until they are fulfilled. But many Divine purposes are never known till they are accomplished.
III. EARTHLY THRONES ABE SET UP ON FOUNDATIONS OF DIVINE APPOINTMENT. Jeremiah lays the foundation of a throne (verse 10), and he does this as a servant of God executing his will. All earthly power rests ultimately upon a Divine sanction. Yet this fact does not diminish the human responsibility of those who exercise it. The prophet planted the stones; he did not erect the throne. Nebuchadnezzar would be responsible for the throne he set up, the way he established it, and the use he made of it.
IV. GOD EMPLOYS HUMAN INSTRUMENTS IN THE EXECUTION OF HIS JUDGMENTS. Nebuchadnezzar is God's servant. There is a Divine economy in this. If evil cannot be stayed without the withdrawal of those liberties that God sees it to be right to leave intact, the harm of it may be mitigated by making it self-counteractive, the wickedness of one hindering or punishing that of another.
V. FLIGHT FROM THE JUDGMENT OF GOD IS IMPOSSIBLE. The Babylonian yoke was a Divine chastisement upon the Jews. They were urged by inspired prophets to submit to it as appointed by God. Some refused and fled to Egypt. But in Egypt they were neither out of the reach of God nor beyond the power of his instrument Nebuchadnezzar. There is no escape from God but by fleeing to God, no deliverance from the doom of sin but in submission to him against whom we have sinned.
VI. COMPANIONS IN GUILT WILL BE COMPANIONS IN DOOM. The Jews who fled to Egypt were to share the punishment of that nation. The Egyptians who harboured the Jews were to bring upon themselves the fate that followed the refugees.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
The stones of Tahpanhes.
Great uncertainty as to the fulfilment of this prophetic parable. Are we bound to assume that it was actually carried out? It is possible, according to some critics (but see Exposition on Jeremiah 46:13), that the accomplishment of the prediction, as of many others, was only contingent. It is very vivid and definite, but that is quite consistent with the intermediate occurrence of circumstances in the spiritual state of the Jewish sojourners that enabled God to cancel it. Just as at this time their disposition may have been alarmingly idolatrous and worldly, so at a later stage it may have changed.
I. WHAT THE PARABLE MAY HAVE SUGGESTED.
1. The contingent certainty of Divine judgment. The action may have represented, not only the sequence of events, but that of principles. If, then, the events did not occur, it would still remain true that, in the kingdom of God. such a dependence of principles is eternal; sin is ever nigh to cursing. So much is this the case, that it may be said to contain the elements of its own punishment, like the stones hidden in the clay.
(1) The stones are hidden in the clay with which, although heterogeneous, they stand in a divinely appointed relation.
(2) The interpretation given by the prophet further strengthened this impression in the minds of the spectators. It was the same power, viz. the Chaldean, which had already scourged Judah, that was to follow the remnant into distant Egypt. The continuity of the judgment with those which preceded it is thus forcibly set forth. Nebuchadnezzar, if or when he came, could not be mistaken for other than a divinely ordained instrument of vengeance. The advantage of such an understanding of the prophecy is obvious—it ceases to have a particular and transitory significance, and becomes at once necessary and universal. We need that lesson graven upon our hearts today: "The soul that sinneth it shall die;" "He that soweth to the flesh," etc.
2. That dependence upon any earthly power is utterly vain. Egypt is dreamt of as a refuge from their woes. Its power, typified by the clay of the kiln or brick field, only overlies the power of God, typified by the Stones. They would be in his hands still, although they knew it not. Through the clay of worldly dependence they must needs fall upon the stones of Divine judgment. Man cannot flee from his Maker. There is no earthly security from the consequences of sin. If the remnant of Judah, pursuing its tendency towards worldly mindedness and idolatry to the hitter end, should persist in putting its trust in the Egyptian power, to whose religion and life it was in such imminent danger of assimilating itself, woe to it! Through Pharaoh even will they be confronted with Nebuchadnezzar yet again. God is the only true Helper and Saviour, and in the practice of holiness and the precepts of true religion is security alone to be found. What assurance company can shield the sinner from the consequences of his misdeeds? And if God be for any man, who can he against him?
II. WHAT THE PARABLE MAY HAVE EFFECTED. It has been conjectured (by Naegelsbach and others) that the symbolic action of Jeremiah and its interpretation so forcibly appealed to the imagination and conscience of the Jews as to change their hearts. That some such consequence as this was intended seems very probable. If it resulted as they suppose, then the judgment was averted which depended upon their misconduct and worldliness. "God repented him of the evil." This is one of the great aims of such teaching—so to affect the heart through the imagination as to subdue its evil tendencies and lead it to the pursuit of righteousness and truth. The crowded Jewish colony of Alexandria may then be taken, not as a refutation of the words of Jeremiah, but as a proof that these words produced their legitimate impression, and brought about a deep and lasting reformation. The lesson of all which is that the relation between sin and its punishment, and the futility of earthly securities and screens from Divine vengeance, cannot be too forcibly represented. God will bless the faithful preaching of his Word, and is infinitely more willing to have mercy than to prove his predictions by allowing men to harden their hearts.—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Hearts set to do evil.
Such were the hearts of these Jews. They show concerning such—
I. THAT AFFLICTION WALL NOT ALTER THEM. It is not always true that affliction will make the heart better. It serves this blessed end with some—cf. "Before I was afflicted I went," etc.—but not with all. Did not in this case, but though "often reproved," they only "hardened their neck."
II. PRAYERS AND PROFESSION OF RELIGION DO NOT CONTROL THEM. They can go together. Alas! that it should be so; but they will not rule. They are but so many cobwebs, which the heart set to do evil will break through as easily as a man breaks through the gossamer filaments which stretch across the path on which he is walking.
III. PRETEXTS AND PRETENCES ARE ALWAYS READY TO EXCUSE THEM. "Thou speakest falsely," they said to God's prophet. "Baruch … hath set thee on." So, so pitifully, they try to justify themselves.
IV. GOD DOES NOT INTERFERE TO PREVENT THEM. We often wish be would, depriving us of our liberty when it would only do us ill. But his method is to let us go our own ways, and if, as is so wretchedly often the case, they be evil ways, then, when we are filled with the fruit of them, we may come to a better mind, and so more firmly choose the good which we should have chosen at the first. How much happier a man forever that younger son would have been if he had never previously left his father's home for that far country!
V. TERRIBLE JUDGMENTS ARE SURE TO FOLLOW THEM. They did in this case; they always do sooner or later. For the will must bend to God.
VI. GOD'S FAITHFUL SERVANTS WILL NOT BE DISMAYED BY THEM. See how bold as a lion is the prophet of God; how fearlessly he denounces his people's sin. Oh, for fidelity such as that in all the prophets of the Lord!—C.
Building on the sand.
The Jews trusted in the strength of Pharaoh. They had done this before, but to no purpose. The prophets of God always protested against such trust (cf. Isaiah 31:1-9.). Here, in spite of all warning, they are resolving upon such reliance again. But they were building on sand. The destruction came; the very destruction they thought, by their acting as they had done, they had certainly escaped. Thus do and shall be done by all who are like them. Such are—
I. They that think to establish themselves by wicked ways.
II. Those that rely upon men and not on God.
III. Those that trust to uncertain riches.
IV. Those that think saying "Lord, Lord," whilst living ungodly lives, will save them.—C.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The view of a prophet's complete work.
I. A PROPHET IS ONE WHO HAS TO SPEAK THE WORDS OF JEHOVAH. Not his own words, not the words of other men. This applies to the substance of the message; for it is plain that each prophet has his own style. The chief thing to be remembered is that a prophet never goes forth on his own impulse. Men in their zeal for right may go out to protest against wrong and fight against it, but this does not make them prophets. The prophet's strength and claim and responsibility lie in this, that he can ever preface his announcements by "Thus saith the Lord." And all preachers and teachers will approach the prophet's position just in proportion to the extent in which they can fill their addresses with Divine declarations. The essential elements of prophecy can never be out of place.
II. HE HAS TO SPEAK ALL THE WORDS OF JEHOVAH. The prophet is not to be an eclectic, picking out some of God's words as suitable and others as unsuitable. God's omniscience can alone judge what is suitable. If to him it seems suitable a word should be spoken, then it is suitable. God speaks not to apparent needs, but to real ones. God, always saying something for the present, makes his weightiest words to bear upon the future. The responsibility of the prophet is simply that of being a brave and faithful messenger.
III. HE IS SENT TO SPEAK THESE WORDS. He does not merely take up words of Jehovah which he thinks suitable for the emergency. This is his work to act as a special messenger from Heaven. Others have to expound the Word already spoken, already written; but the prophet hears a voice directly from the excellent glory, "Go and make known my will to men." And in all prophecy there is evidence, to one who will look for it, that the prophet is a sent man.
IV. HE HAS TO SPEAK WORDS TO THOSE ON WHOM GOD HAS A CLAIM. Jehovah is not only the God of Jeremiah, he is the God of all the people. This was an historical fact of which they could not get rid. It was the glory, security, and blessing of the people, if only they could see it. And is not Jehovah also our God?—God coming for a while more closely in contact with one nation, that ultimately he may be in contact with all. If we admit the claim of Jesus, we admit the claim of Jehovah also. He speaks through ancient prophets to us, because the essentials of their message have to do with the permanent life of men.
V. HE SPEAKS TO ALL THE PEOPLE. In this particular instance the request came from all the people, so the message was correspondingly to all. Prophets, of course, had often messages for particular men, but even these messages are so founded upon general principles as to become worthy the attention of all. Prophecy concerns man as man; it meets the young with dawning consciousness, and grasps the old till their latest hour.
VI. THE PROPHET MUST TAKE CARE TO MAKE AN END OF HIS PROPHECY. He does not simply cease speaking; he has to make people feel he has said all he has to say, and that the time has come for them to have their say, or rather for them to enter with promptitude and devotion upon corresponding deeds. They may not hear all they would like to know, and thus it must be made clear they have been told all that it is good for them to know. With God all things are for edifying, not to inform curiosity or comply with every actual desire.—Y.
The visitation upon Egypt.
Here again is one of the symbolic acts which the prophets were commanded at times to perform. So the hiding of the girdle by Euphrates (Jeremiah 13:1-27), the commanded celibacy of the prophet (Jeremiah 16:1-21.), the dashing of the potter s bottle to pieces (Jeremiah 19:1-15.). But while these symbolic acts are described in terms which make them perfectly clear, the hiding of the great stones mentioned here needs more full explanation than we can reach to get the significance it. Still, this much of the drift of the action we perceive that Jehovah will make quite manliest, that Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of Egypt is one divinely ordained and sustained. Not, of course, that Egypt is to suffer simply because these men have gone there; its idolatries are the deepest ground of its calamities. But the delusion of the men of Judah must be looked at in the light of the sufferings of Egypt. In all this experience of death and captivity and slaughter, of temple burning and image breaking; in all this entire appropriation of Egypt by the Babylonian king, these men of Judah must not expect to escape. There is no second land of Goshen for them—a place of immunity and peace. If only they had stayed where they thought there would be no safety, then they would have been safe; and going where they made sure of safety, they found the worst of ruin. It reads as if Egypt was to come under Babylon more even than Jerusalem had done.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 43". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany