These prophecies against Egypt might be snoozers at first glance. It turns out that Jeremiah 46 is a very interesting little window into the history of one of the greatest civilizations ever. What happened to the grandeur of Egypt? What happened to the regional dominance, to the economic influence? Does God care about the rise and fall of great civilizations? Does He play a part in their ascent and destruction?
Jeremiah was the prophet of gloom and doom for Jerusalem, but his authority extended beyond Jewish borders. Prophetic keys include the right and responsibility to warn the righteous and the wicked, Jew and Gentile, member and non-member. The Lord reveals the fate of Egypt to the Hebrew prophet, and the news isn’t good. Verse 1-12 were likely given prior to the battle referenced as these verses read more like a history than a prophecy. Likely, this section was given as part of the prophecies that were destroyed in the fire (Jer. 36:23-31) in the 5th year of Jehoiakim. When ink hit the scroll in the rewriting of Jeremiah’s burned manuscript, the destruction of the Egyptian army at Carchemish was old news. The next section, i.e. verses 13-26, were still to play out, and therefore read more like a foretelling type of prophecy. But this isn’t apocalyptic stuff; the fulfillment would come in the prophet’s day and Jeremiah would be a personal witness (Jer. 42-44).
Jeremiah 46:1-2 Pharaoh-necho king of Egypt
“Necho II… was a king of the Twenty-sixth dynasty of Egypt (c. 610 BC – c. 595 BC). Necho undertook a number of construction projects across his kingdom. In his reign, according to the Greek historian Herodotus (4.42), Necho II sent out an expedition of Phoenicians, which in three years sailed from the Red Sea around Africa to the mouth of the Nile…
“Necho played a significant role in the histories of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the Kingdom of Judah. Necho II is most likely the pharaoh mentioned in several books of the Bible. The second campaign's aim of Necho's campaigns was Asiatic conquest, to contain the Westward advance of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, and cut off its trade route across the Euphrates. However, the Egyptians were defeated by the unexpected attack of the Babylonians and were eventually expelled from Syria.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Necho_II)
Jeremiah 46:2 by the river Euphrates in Carchemish, which Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon smote in the fourth year of Jehoiakim
“The Babylonian king was planning on reasserting his power in Syria. In 609 BC, King Nabopolassar (Nebuchadnezzar’s father) captured Kumukh, which cut off the Egyptian army, then based at Carchemish. Necho responded the following year by retaking Kumukh after a four-month siege, and executed the Babylonian garrison. Nabopolassar gathered another army, which camped at Qurumati on the Euphrates. However, Nabopolassar's poor health forced him to return to Babylon in 605 BC. In response, in 606 BC the Egyptians attacked the leaderless Babylonians (probably then led by the crown prince Nebuchadrezzar) who fled their position.
“At this point, the aged Nabopolassar, passed command of the army to his son Nebuchadnezzar II, who led them to a decisive victory over the Egyptians at Carchemish, and pursued the fleeing survivors to Hamath. Necho's dream of restoring the Egyptian Empire in the Middle East as had occurred under the New Kingdom was destroyed as Nebuchadnezzar conquered Egyptian territory from the Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt (Jeremiah 46:2; 2 Kings 23:29) down to Judea. Although Nebuchadnezzar spent many years in his new conquests on continuous pacification campaigns, Necho was unable to recover any significant part of his lost territories. For example, when Ashkalon rose in revolt, despite repeated pleas the Egyptians sent no help, and were barely able to repel a Babylonian attack on their eastern border in 601 BC.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Necho_II)
Jeremiah 46:5-6 their mighty ones are beaten down, and are fled apace, and look not back
Necho II was beaten terribly by Nebuchadnezzar at Carchemish in 605 BC. Pharaoh had filled his armies mostly with mercenaries from surrounding countries. Certainly, Necho had delusions of grandeur that were thoroughly smashed by the Babylonians. The slaughter continued from Carchemish to Hamath—a distance of 288 kilometers. The Lord describes the humiliation and fear of the retreating armies.
Now in the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim, one whose name was Nebuchadnezzar took the government over the Babylonians, who at the same time went up with a great army to the city Carchemish, which was at Euphrates, upon a resolution he had taken to fight with Neco, king of Egypt, under whom all Syria then was. And when Neco understood the intention of the king of Babylon, and that this expedition was made against him, he did not despise his attempt, but made haste with a great band of men to Euphrates to defend himself from Neubchadnezzar; and when they had joined battle, he was beaten, and lost many ten thousands [of his soldiers] in the battle. So the king of Babylon passed over Euphrates, and took all Syria as far as Pelusiaum, excepting Judea. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, 6:1)
Jeremiah 46:8 Egypt riseth up like a flood… and he saith, I will go up, and will cover the earth
Necho wanted to reestablish the prominence and importance of Ancient Egyptian splendor. In spite of the Egyptian suspicion of the safety of seafaring, he instituted a navy, hired an army of mercenaries, and started an ambitious project to create a canal not unlike today’s Suez canal. His ego was apparently a perfect match for his huge ambitions. Initially, he was successful in taking Syrian lands. King Josiah was killed by his armies during this initial period (2 Chron. 35:20-24), but his pride and hubris offended the Lord. Either Necho or one of his successors boasted of having created the Nile river, “the river is mine, and I have made it” (Ezek. 29:9) to which the Lord took exception.
The Lord’s analogy uses the great image of the life giving Nile. What was Egypt without the Nile? If the Nile is the source of all life, then whoever made the river must be the source of all life. For centuries, Pharaohs had willingly accepted the role of demi-gods. Necho had imagined that he would rise up and cover the earth—meaning that his kingdom would engulf surrounding lands like a flood. So “Egypt riseth up like a flood,” but God’s response is, “I will destroy the city and the inhabitants thereof.”
Jeremiah 46:9-10 the Ethiopians and the Libyans… and the Lydians
In order to build his military strength, Necho established a navy with Greek sailors and reinforced his army with mercenaries from Ethiopia, Libya, and Lydia (modern day Turkey). Surely, the mercenary money from Necho wasn’t worth the bloodletting that God had in store.
Jeremiah 46:11 Go up into Gilead, and take balm… in vain shalt thou use many medicines
With respect to Jerusalem and Egypt, Gilead was up north on the east side of the Jordan River. If Necho was heading that direction for battle, he might as well grab some of that famous “balm of Gilead” medicine (Jer 8:22)! However, the Lord warns, nothing is going to work. You can buy as much as medicine as you want, you can put all the balm in Gilead on the wound, but “thou shalt not be cured.”
Jeremiah 46:13-26 how Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon should come and smite the land of Egypt
This is a new prophecy—a new battle—a new event. The Carchemish battle of 605 BC was in Syria not Egypt. Now Jeremiah says the Egyptians need to fear the long reach of the Babylonian wrath—more accurately, the long reach of God’s wrath. Nebuchadnezzar shall attack Egypt in Egypt. Babylon would make two more military excursions against the Egyptians.
Babylonian military excursions against Egypt
- Battle at Carchemish 605 BC
- Battle at the borders of Egypt 601 BC
- Attack on Egypt proper 582 BC
This last attack is the event spoken of in Jeremiah 46:13-26. It is also the subject of four chapters of Ezekiel, i.e. Ezek. 29-32, and Jeremiah 43-44. External histories of Egypt are rather quiet on the subject. If Necho and his successors were trying to reestablish themselves as Pharaohs in grand style and as great conquerors, then the loss to Babylon was rather humiliating. Egyptian historians don’t talk about it.
God signified to the prophet that the king of Babylon was about making an expedition against the Egyptians, and commanded him to foretell to the people that Egypt should be taken, and the king of Babylon should slay some of them, and should take others captive, and bring them to Babylon; which things came to pass accordingly; for on the fifth year after the destruction of Jerusalem, which was the twenty-third of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, he made an expedition against Coelesyria; and when he had possessed himself of it, he made war against the Ammonites and Moabites; and when he had brought all those nations under subjection, he fell upon Egypt, in order to overthrow it; and he slew the king that then reigned, and set up another; and he took those Jews that were there captives, and led them away to Babylon; and such was the end of the nations of the Hebrews. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, 9:7)
Jeremiah 46:14 Declare ye in Egypt… and in Tahpanhes… for the sword shall devour round about thee
After Jerusalem had been conquered and the temple destroyed (587 BC), the remnant Jews were afraid to stay in Judea and wanted to flee to Egypt for safety. Jeremiah told them that was a bad idea, but again, they didn’t believe him. They fled to the Egyptian city of Tahpanhes and took Jeremiah and Baruch with them, “So they came into the land of Egypt: for they obeyed not the voice of the Lord: thus came they even to Tahpanhes” (Jer. 43:7).
Then came the word of the Lord unto Jeremiah in Tahpanhes, saying,
Take great stones in thine hand, and hide them in the clay in the brickkiln, which is at the entry of Pharaoh’s house in Tahpanhes, in the sight of the men of Judah;
And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will set his throne upon these stones that I have hid; and he shall spread his royal pavilion over them.
And when he cometh, he shall smite the land of Egypt, and deliver such as are for death to death; and such as are for captivity to captivity; and such as are for the sword to the sword. (Jer. 43:8-11)
Jeremiah 46:17 Pharaoh king of Egypt is but a noise; he hath passed the time appointed.
The glory days of Egypt are over! Pharaoh will be humiliated!
Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself…
And the land of Egypt shall be desolate and waste; and they shall know that I am the Lord: because he hath said, The river is mine, and I have made it.
Behold, therefore I am against thee, and against thy rivers, and I will make the land of Egypt utterly waste and desolate, from the tower of Syene even unto the border of Ethiopia. (Ezek. 29:3, 9-10)
Jeremiah 46:19 O thou daughter dwelling in Egypt, furnish thyself to go into captivity
In the days of Jehoiakim, Nebuchadnezzar exported some of the best and brightest of Jerusalem. In a second deportation, his successor Jehoiachin saw Babylon take 10,832 captive. (Josephus, X, 7:1) When the city was finally taken in 587 BC, a huge remnant was taken to Babylon. The leftovers were safe if they stayed in Judea. They were safe if they followed the counsel of Jeremiah. So this story is tragic. After multiple exportations of Jews to Babylon, this remaining band is all that is left. “O thou daughter” refers to the Jews, “the daughter of Israel” (Lam. 2:10). To have escaped Babylonian captivity was lucky. To be taken captive at the very last when they thought they were safe in Egypt is an awful fate. Hence Josephus laments, “such was the end of the nation of the Hebrews.”
Jeremiah 46:25 I will punish the multitude of No, and Pharaoh, and Egypt, with their gods, and their kings
And I will kindle a fire in the houses of the gods of Egypt; and he shall burn them, and carry them away captives: and he shall array himself with the land of Egypt, as a shepherd putteth on his garment; and he shall go forth from thence in peace.
He shall break also the images of Beth-shemesh, that is in the land of Egypt; and the houses of the gods of the Egyptians shall he burn with fire. (Jer. 43:12-13)
Jeremiah 46:27-28 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
When Josephus recorded the captivity of this last band of Jews—the renegade group who sought safety in Egypt—he declared, “such was the end of the nation of the Hebrews”—a fatalistic but accurate comment (Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, 9:7). Yet the Lord often softens the blow of bad news with a message of redemption. Though Josephus says this was the end, the Lord promises that it would not last forever. From about 520 BC to 72 AD, the Jewish nation rallied but never as an independent nation-state with their own king as in the olden days. Then again, another scattering would take place at the hands of the Romans. In all, it would be over 2500 years from the time Nebuchadnezzar took the Egypt-hiding Jews captive before Israel would be established again as a nation (1948).
The Lord’s attitude was, “It grieveth me that I should lose this tree… behold, saith the Lord of the vineyard, I take away many of these young and tender branches, and I will graft them whithersoever I will (the 10 tribes, the Nephites, and the Mulekites); and it mattereth not that if it so be that the root of this tree will perish, I may preserve the fruit thereof unto myself.” (Jacob 5:7-8) In the end the Lord will save the nation and enjoy the fruit thereof, “Behold for this last time have we nourished my vineyard; and thou beholdest that I have done according to my will; and I have preserved the natural fruit, that it is good, even like it was in the beginning.” (Jacob 5:75)
Bruce R. McConkie
Hosea records his views in these words: "For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim." Their heaven-directed government and their God-given religion shall cease. They shall be subject to the powers that be and shall serve other gods than the Lord. Such is the state of most of them at this time. But, "Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days." (Hosea 3:4-5.) They shall respond to the call of the elders of the restoration, who themselves are of Israel, and who send forth the message to their fellows to worship that God who made heaven and earth and the sea and the fountains of waters and, worshipping him, to return thereby to the kingdom of the great King. (The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982], 608)