The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the nations.
About Egypt. Concerning the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates at Carchemish and which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah:
“Prepare buckler and shield,
and advance for battle!
Harness the horses;
mount, O horsemen!
Take your stations with your helmets,
polish your spears,
put on your armor!
Why have I seen it?
They are dismayed
and have turned backward.
Their warriors are beaten down
and have fled in haste;
they look not back—
terror on every side!
declares the Lord.
“The swift cannot flee away,
nor the warrior escape;
in the north by the river Euphrates
they have stumbled and fallen.
“Who is this, rising like the Nile,
like rivers whose waters surge?
Egypt rises like the Nile,
like rivers whose waters surge.
He said, ‘I will rise, I will cover the earth,
I will destroy cities and their inhabitants.’
Advance, O horses,
and rage, O chariots!
Let the warriors go out:
men of Cush and Put who handle the shield,
men of Lud, skilled in handling the bow.
That day is the day of the Lord God of hosts,
a day of vengeance,
to avenge himself on his foes.
The sword shall devour and be sated
and drink its fill of their blood.
For the Lord God of hosts holds a sacrifice
in the north country by the river Euphrates.
Go up to Gilead, and take balm,
O virgin daughter of Egypt!
In vain you have used many medicines;
there is no healing for you.
The nations have heard of your shame,
and the earth is full of your cry;
for warrior has stumbled against warrior;
they have both fallen together.” – Jeremiah 46:1-12 ESV
At this point in the book, as it comes to a close, the attention of God shifts to the other nations who have played significant parts in the stories of Israel and Judah. God will speak oracles concerning each of these nations, providing a glimpse into what their fates will be. In doing so, God reveals His sovereign will over all the nations and peoples of the world, not just the Jews. His divine will and sovereign plan encompasses the entire earth and all who live on it. And God will begin His revelation concerning His plans for the nations by focusing His attention on Egypt. This should not be surprising, considering the fact that a portion of the people of Judah had fled to Egypt for safety, and they had taken God’s prophet along with them.
Egypt had been a significant power in the region of Canaan for centuries. There was a time when they controlled significant portions of Canaan and Syria, but they had lost these regions in subsequent battles with the Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians. In this oracle, provided by God to Jeremiah, we are given God’s pronouncement of Egypt’s defeat by the Babylonians. It all began in 609 B.C. when Pharaoh Neco and his troops marched to Carchemesh which was located on the Euphrates River in Northern Syria. King Josiah of Judah attempted to stop Neco, but was killed in battle. In the fourth year (605 B.C.) of the reign of Jehoiakim, Josiah’s son, Prince Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians defeated Neco’s forces, providing the Babylonians with complete control of the region. In this passage, God predicts this event. And while, Jeremiah writes in the past tense, he actually penned these words long before the events took place.
In the opening verses, Jeremiah warns the Egyptians to prepare themselves for battle. They are to arm themselves for war, making sure they include their chariots and war horses. But in the very next verses, Jeremiah paints a picture of the Egyptian forces running way in terror. Even the bravest warriors are attempting to escape, as fast as they can, not bothering to look back. “They are terrorized at every turn” (Jeremiah 46:5 NLT). But they can’t escape. There is nowhere to run. The Egyptian’s took great pride in their army because of its invincible power. They boastfully compared its might to that of the Nile when it overflowed its banks during flooding.
It is the Egyptian army,
overflowing all the land,
boasting that it will cover the earth like a flood,
destroying cities and their people. – Jeremiah 46:8 NLT
God issues a challenge to the Egyptians and all their allies.
Charge, you horses and chariots;
attack, you mighty warriors of Egypt!
Come, all you allies from Ethiopia, Libya, and Lydia
who are skilled with the shield and bow! – Jeremiah 46:9 NLT
But God warns them that things are not going to turn out quite like they expected. This would be a day of defeat for them, because they were running headlong into the sovereign will of God, the Lord God of hosts. This would prove to be a day of vengeance, when God would bring His judgment on the nation of Egypt. There is no reason given for Egypt’s fall. Perhaps it was due to Pharaoh Neco’s murder of King Josiah. But God is not required to provide us with a rationale or justification for His actions. He is the God of the universe. His ways are not our ways. “His judgments are true and just” (Revelation 19:2 NLT).
The battle will end in defeat. The Egyptians will fall to the swords of the Babylonians. And God describes this event as a sacrificial offering. The blood of the Egyptians will be spilled as payment for their many sins and for their arrogance and pride, believing themselves to be unbeatable in battle. God is clearly showing that He alone is God. Pharaoh is not divine. His troops are not invincible. It would not be because of the superior nature of the Babylonian forces that Egypt would fall that day, but because of the sovereign will and almighty power of God.
God recommends that Egypt go to Gilead and take advantage of their healing balms. But they would find no medicine strong enough to restore their health. Egypt, long renowned for its healing arts, would be incapable of recovering from the devastation God was bringing upon them. There was no ointment that could heal the wounds inflicted by a vengeful God. There were not enough allies to prevent defeat at the hands of a sovereign God, the Lord of heaven’s armies. These mighty nations that had risen to power and whose kings believed they had the right to rule over all the world, would find that the scope of their power was limited and their dreams of world domination were controlled by a power outside of themselves.
It is likely that these oracles from God were intended to remind the people of Judah that their God was in control. While they had suffered defeat at the hands of the Babylonians, God wanted them to understand that all the events surrounding their circumstances were part of His divine plan. He was in control of all that was taking place in the world at that time. They were never to have placed their hopes in foreign nations. They were to trust in God alone. But Judah and Israel had made a habit out of trusting in anything and everything but God. They had repeatedly turned to alliances with foreign nations and to the worship of false gods as their sources of comfort and security. But God was reminding them that He alone could be trusted. He alone could provide true safety and security. He alone was powerful enough to rely upon in times of need.
It is interesting to look back in the history of Judah and recall the time when Sennacherib, the king of the Assyrians was invading Judah. He sent an emissary to King Hezekiah, with a word of warning.
“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!” – Isaiah 36:4-6 NLT
Even then, Judah was prone to place its trust in Egypt. And Sennacherib warned Hezekiah against putting the fate of his people in the hands of an unreliable “reed” like Egypt. But Sennacherib went on to warn Hezekiah not to put his trust in God either.
“But perhaps you will say to me, ‘We are trusting in the Lord our God!’ But isn’t he the one who was insulted by Hezekiah? Didn’t Hezekiah tear down his shrines and altars and make everyone in Judah and Jerusalem worship only at the altar here in Jerusalem?” – Isaiah 36:7 NLT
Ah, the pride of man. It is inescapable and unavoidable. Time and time again, all throughout history, we see it raise its ugly head, as mere men set themselves up as the masters of their fate and the self-proclaimed kings of the world. But they fail to recognize that God alone is King. He alone rules and reigns. It is His will alone that matters. And these oracles from God concerning the fates of the nations surrounding Judah were designed to let the people of God know that He was still in control. In the midst of their dire circumstances, they could rest in the fact that their God was still on His throne.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.