Egypt’s Judgment and Israel’s Salvation

The LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, said: ‘Behold, I am bringing punishment upon Amon of Thebes, and Pharaoh and Egypt and her gods and her kings, upon Pharaoh and those who trust in him’” (v. 25).

- Jeremiah 46:13–28

Having dealt with God’s Word to Judah before the exile in Jeremiah 1–45, the prophet focuses mainly on the nations in chapters 46–52. Like the first section of his book, Jeremiah’s oracles in these final chapters are not arranged chronologically. They deal with the major nations surrounding Judah, beginning with Egypt in today’s passage.

Besides Judah, Egypt also challenged the Babylonians in the ancient Near East. In 609 B.C., they attempted to slow Babylon’s rise as the major power in the region by helping Assyria defend itself against the ascendant Babylonian empire. On his way to fight Babylon, Pharaoh Neco killed King Josiah at Megiddo (2 Kings 23:28–30). But the Egyptian army was eventually defeated in Syria at Carchemish and beaten back to its own land by General Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon, who later conquered Jerusalem (Jer. 46:1–12).

Jeremiah foresaw that Babylon was not done with Egypt yet and that Nebuchadnezzar would again fight the pharaoh’s army. This second encounter, however, would be the Lord’s judgment on Amon of Thebes, a chief deity of the Egyptian pantheon, and Egypt itself (vv. 13–26a). The Greek historian Herodotus tells us that Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt in 568 B.C., dramatically weakening but not fully subjugating the country. This fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy against the Judahite community there, since the Judahite insurgents who fled to Egypt after Jerusalem fell were still alive when Nebuchadnezzar arrived (42; 44:24–30).

Interestingly, an oracle of salvation for Egypt and the people of Israel immediately follow the prediction of Egypt’s suffering at the hands of Babylon (46:26b–28). This indicates that Nebuchadnezzar would hurt but not annihilate Egypt and the children of Jacob living there. History bears this out. Many descendants of the Jews whom God forbade to go to Egypt (chap. 42) finally settled in the Egyptian city of Elephantine, where they built a temple to Yahweh and engaged in corrupt worship, both of which the Mosaic law forbids (Deut. 12). These Jews suffered the attacks of Egyptian pogroms more than once, an additional fulfillment of God’s warning through Jeremiah that the sword would follow His people to Egypt (Jer. 42).

Faithful Jews lived in Egypt as well. Many Jews, some of whom may have been repentant descendants of the Jewish insurgents, moved to the city of Alexandria. They began the production of the Septuagint, the famous translation of the Old Testament into ancient Greek that was eventually used by the Apostles to reach the Roman Empire for Christ.

Coram Deo

Past faithlessness on our part or the part of our ancestors does not mean that God cannot use us today. When we repent and trust in Him, the Lord can use what is otherwise ugly to create something beautiful and pleasing to Him for His glory. This is good news indeed, for it reminds us of His never-changing faithfulness to His people in every generation. Let us be faithful to His call this day no matter what we have done in years past.

Passages for Further Study

Ezekiel 18:21–24
Luke 22:31–34

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