Trouble in Egypt
“None of the remnant of Judah who have come to live in the land of Egypt shall escape or survive or return to the land of Judah, to which they desired to return to dwell there. For they shall not return, except some fugitives” (v. 14).- Jeremiah 44
Although Johanan the son of Kareah and the rest of the Jewish insurgents left behind in Judah after Jerusalem fell came to Jeremiah asking for a word from the Lord (Jer. 42:1–3), the people listened only to what they wanted to hear. Despite claiming that they would listen to whatever God said, the people rebelled as soon as the Lord said He did not want them to go to Egypt (42:4–43:2). They even accused Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch of setting the prophet against them (v. 3). Why they made this charge is unclear, but maybe the people thought Baruch, as a younger man, could easily confuse Jeremiah, who was quite elderly at that point. However, Baruch was nothing but a loyal servant of the Lord and His prophet.
In any case, Johanan and the others went to Egypt, forcing Jeremiah and Baruch to go with them (vv. 4–7). Though they rejected his counsel regarding the move to Egypt, perhaps they believed Jeremiah heard from the Lord at least occasionally, and they wanted to make sure they covered all their bases when it came to hearing from God. However, their sin indicates that they had no real desire to obey the truth. They thought they would escape Babylon’s sword in Egypt, but Jeremiah told the people that the sword would find them. Babylon would wreak devastation on Pharaoh’s land as it had on Judah (vv. 8–13).
Given the people’s sin in fleeing to Egypt, we are not surprised to find that the Jews soon got caught up in the paganism of their new home country. We read of this idolatry in Jeremiah 44. Chronologically, this chapter represents the last oracle Jeremiah spoke during his lifetime to be recorded in Scripture. The people had learned nothing from the destruction of Jerusalem but continued in the same idolatry that led to the exile. They were trying to serve the one true God and worship “the queen of heaven”—the goddess Astarte—at the same time (vv. 15–23). Confronted with their sin, the people refused to repent (vv. 24–30). This did not bode well for the repentance required for the true restoration of Israel, and the prophet Daniel tells us that such repentance still had not manifested itself decades later (Lev. 26:40–42; Dan. 9:1–19).
Due to their obstinacy, God would prevent Egypt from providing the shelter that the Judahites sought therein. Barely a remnant of that generation would survive to return to Judah (Jer. 44:11–14). The people sinned in going to Egypt but the Lord kept speaking to them anyway, and they would be judged for not obeying Him.
Matthew Henry comments on today’s passage: “God can find his people, with the visits of his grace, wherever they are; and, when his ministers are bound, yet the word of the Lord is not bound. The spirit of prophecy was not confined to the land of Israel.” The Lord acted in grace to continue speaking to his sinful people in Egypt, just as He continues to speak to us in Scripture when we have sinned. Yet that must not make us complacent, for we too will be disciplined if we do not heed His voice.
Passages for Further Study