We saw last time that God does intervene in this world; in the natural world, in the political world and in our personal lives. The next few chapters of Jeremiah give some specific prophecies relating God’s intervention in nations around Judah at the time of Judah’s demise.
Nations were formed by God himself when mankind sought to ‘make a name for themselves’ as they attempted to construct a city with a tower that ‘reaches to the heavens,’ (see Genesis 11). Shortly after this event, God called Abraham and gave him a series of promises. One of which was that through Abraham’s seed all nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 18: 18 and 22:18). It seems that ultimately this will be realised when the Messiah is installed as Israel’s king in Jerusalem: ‘Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him (Zechariah 8: 22).’ In view of this it is not at all surprising that God has something to say to the nations. In the Old testament there are no fewer than 25 chapters devoted to major prophecies relating the ‘the nations.’ In these next 6 chapters of Jeremiah we will see specific prophecies relating to 9 nations. Since exiles from Judah (and Israel) ended up in many of the surrounding nations it seems that part of the reason for these messages was to give the exiles some understanding of the future of the nation in which they now lived. Since the obedient exiles had gone to Babylon, more is said of this nation than the others. It seems that the overall message is that God is working out a plan – he has not abandoned his people: as the nation of his choice, Israel will not be destroyed. But for at least some of the nations, in spite of their sin there was hope too.
As the prophecy is delivered, nation by nation, each is first named, then its sins are called out, punishment is announced and for some (but not all) a message of hope is given. First up is Egypt.
- Egyptian army defeated
Chapter 46 begins with these words: ‘This is the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the nations (verse 1).’ This is a timely reminder that we are dealing with God’s word. This is not to be treated lightly or as some insignificant part of the book: it is God’s word.
Egypt figures significantly in Israel’s history. It was the place of Israel’s slavery and of God’s miraculous rescue. In Jeremiah’s day it was the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco who in 609 BC had marched northwards to confront the Babylonian army. King Josiah challenged Neco’s army as they travelled north, it was in that battle that Josiah was killed. At the important Assyrian city of Carchemish, in an attempt to prevent Babylonian domination, the Egyptians were defeated. The victorious Babylon army headed south, took Jerusalem and was nearing Egypt. News of his father’s death (King Nabopolasser) however forced the Babylonian general Nebuchadnezzaer back to Babylon. These events are summarised in just a few words in verse 2. God’s message in chapter 46 was directed towards the defeated army of Pharaoh Neco.
The message is given in poetry form and seems to capture the frenzy of preparation of the Egyptian army by adopting a staccato-like language: ‘Prepare your shields, both large and small, and march out for battle! 4 Harness the horses, mount the steeds! Take your positions with helmets on! Polish your spears, put on your armour.’ Rather than victory, Jeremiah describes a retreating and terrified army (verses 5-6): ‘They flee in haste without looking back, and there is terror on every side,’ declares the Lord. 6 ‘The swift cannot flee nor the strong escape. In the north by the River Euphrates they stumble and fall.’ This is the defeat at Carchemish on the River Euphrates.
Like all preparations for war it had all looked so promising! The ancient Egyptians recognised three seasons in the year all conditioned by the Nile. There was Akhet – the inundation from June to September, followed by Peret, the growing season (October to February) and Shemu, the harvest season from March to May. Rains in the upper region in Ethiopia cause a surge in the flow of the Nile which results in flooding. The flow increases by about 15 fold from the minimum in April/May to the maximum in September. In many ways, Egypt is the Nile – all its prosperity is dependent on the river. Verse 7 asks of the Egyptian army, ‘who is this that rises like the Nile, like rivers of surging waters? 8 Egypt rises like the Nile, like rivers of surging waters.’ Pharaoh Neco, boastfully claims (like the Nile) ‘I will rise and cover the earth; I will destroy cities and their people (verse 8b).’ It seems that he was not the first and will not be the last man to attempt such a thing as world domination. It seems that the danger to mankind of a single sinful man ruling the entire world is simply to dangerous to permit: it is Satan’s ambition to have his man in this role, but this will not be permitted. Neco presumably felt confident as he headed northwards, his army equipped with chariots and staffed by mercenaries from Cush (Ethiopia), Put and Lydia (probably modern-day Libya). What Neco had not reckoned on was divine intervention! Verse 10: ‘But that day belongs to the Lord, the Lord Almighty – a day of vengeance, for vengeance on his foes. The sword will devour till it is satisfied, till it has quenched its thirst with blood. For the Lord, the Lord Almighty, will offer sacrifice in the land of the north by the River Euphrates.’ This is a lesson for us all. We cannot outrun God. We cannot escape his judgment. The general attitude of many people today is that they neither care nor think about the God of the universe. In many ways this is understandable – the education system and media are basically atheistic and are becoming increasingly anti-Christian. People are fed a constant diet of anti-Christian thinking and attitudes. I notice that there is an increasing intolerance to Christian beliefs accompanied by a remarkable tolerance to non-Christian beliefs. Habakkuk complained that the land was filled with injustice and wrongdoing. God reminded him that there would be a day when ‘the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).’ There is a day that does indeed belong to the Lord, a day when debates about the existence of God will be settled and when truth will be known, and wrongs will be righted. Before renewal however there must be judgment and cleansing. For Pharoah Neco, the day of his judgment had arrived and there would be no remedy for the disaster: ‘Go up to Gilead and get balm, Virgin Daughter Egypt. But you try many medicines in vain; there is no healing for you (verse 11).’
- Conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar
The Egyptians were defeated by the Babylonians at Carchemish in 605 BC, but as mentioned above, the death of Nabopolasser, necessitated his son’s return to Babylon before the Babylonian army reached Egypt. But Babylonian invasion would come later, probably sometime around 571-567 BC. This invasion was thus sometime in the future, the prophecy being likely to have been made in 605 BC. We often use the phrase ‘how the mighty have fallen.’ It’s a phrase used by king David of King Saul and his son Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:19). It could well now be used of mighty Egypt!
Jeremiah was to speak of the attack on Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. It was to be announced throughout Egypt: in Migdol, Memphis and Tahpanes. The people were to prepare for the ‘sword that devours those around you.’ What about the Egyptian warriors? They will be laid low, stumble repeatedly, fall over each other and run back to their homelands from the sword of the oppressor (verse 15-16). As they desert their positions, they will declare that ‘Pharaoh king of Egypt is only a loud noise; he has missed his opportunity (verse 17).’ Pharaoh is just a wind bag of no substance! Nebuchadnezzar is likened to mount Tabor and mount Carmel – known for their prominence in flat plains. Nebuchadnezzar will be a stand out conqueror!
Jeremiah next describes the Babylonian army with three distinct pictures. Firstly, Egypt is likened to a beautiful heifer which is faced with a gadfly! Like a horse fly the female gladfly insects bite, causing disease and distress. Sometimes small things cause great fear in large things! On holiday in Turkey this year we had a few visits from Asian Hornets. We didn’t hang about when they came! Likewise, the Egyptian army would turn and flee! The picture of the Babylonian army as a gadfly and its effect on the Egyptian heifer should not however be taken to infer that the Babylonian army was small! The invaders are next likened to axemen against a forest: ‘They will chop down her forest,’ declares the Lord, ‘dense though it be (verse 23).’ Trees can offer no resistance, the axe will cut through and the trees will fall! Finally, the Babylonians are described as being ‘more numerous than locusts.’ Nothing will stand in their way!
In this way, Egypt will be put to shame. One may legitimately ask why this fate should befall Egypt (and indeed the other nations in these last few chapters in Jeremiah). It seems that the common theme is that the people in these nations had either worshipped false gods or had ignored the God of the universe and with pride had placed their confidence in themselves and their invented gods. In the first part of the 21st century, the UK seems to be in a very similar position. Our institutions have a vague memory of Christianity, but that memory is being consciously and deliberately dismantled and ignored. There will for sure come a day when judgment will come to the nations who have been deceived (and are being deceived).
- A word of hope for Egypt
Despite the gloomy outlook for our nation and others, remarkably God has a plan to bring glory, honour and healing to the nations. There is hope! And this included Egypt. But first must come punishment: ‘25 The Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘I am about to bring punishment on Amon god of Thebes, on Pharaoh, on Egypt and her gods and her kings, and on those who rely on Pharaoh. 26 I will give them into the hands of those who want to kill them – Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and his officers.’
The problem in Egypt, was that the people were living in deception. They believed that if they trusted in these gods and their Pharaohs that all would be well. I can hear you say, ‘well at least we don’t have that sort of problem today in the UK!’ The trouble is that we do! Our nation has placed its faith in a deception too. The deception is that there is no God, and all that we see around us is erroneously believed to be a product of time and chance. The result of this false thinking is that we now worship the creation and as a result of this our public morality sinks to depths we could not have imagined a generation ago. We now effectively teach our children that they can take their moral lead from penguins (Christian institute)! We are not so dissimilar to the Egyptians!
God would use the Babylonians to bring his judgment and specifically King Nebuchadnezzar and his officers. Just as there is ultimate hope for the nations in general so there is hope for Egypt: ‘Later, however, Egypt will be inhabited as in times past, declares the Lord (verse 26b).’ Egypt would have a future after the judgment. Interestingly, of the nine nations mentioned in these last chapters of Jeremiah there is a message of hope for four of the nine. Perhaps, the sin of some of the nations was so great that they were beyond redemption, but there was hope for Egypt. The bible does not record how things worked out for the Egyptians, and extra-biblical sources are scant for this period, but it seems indeed that Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Egypt (likely in 568 BC) was of a temporary nature.
What about Israel. God’s choice nation? Israel were given particular and unconditional promises. Even if God were to destroy all the nations in which they were scattered, he would not completely destroy them! Their current conditions were difficult, they were rightly under God’s discipline, but ‘Jacob will again have security and peace (verse 27b).’ These words must have been a great comfort to Jeremiah as he presented this series of troubling prophecies. We can know that same comfort too: as the nations continue to turn their backs on God, and as turmoil seems to become increasingly prevalent, we know that God will not fail us or fail in his plan of rescue and healing.