Jeremiah 46: Oracles Against Egypt; Promise to Israel

balm medicine tins jars cansHebrew-English Text

I. Summary

Jeremiah poetically relates how the Egyptian army will be defeated and how the land of Egypt will be conquered by Nebuchadnezzar. Although Yahweh will punish Israel, he will restore them to their land and never wipe them out.

II. Photo

Egypt will not recover from its loss: “Go up to Gilead and get balm, fair maiden Egypt. In vain do you seek many remedies, there is no healing for you” (v. 11).

III. Select Verses

1: The word of the LORD to the prophet Jeremiah concerning the nations.

2: Concerning Egypt, about the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, which was at the river Euphrates near Carchemish, and which was defeated by King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah.

6: The swift cannot get away, The warrior cannot escape. In the north, by the river Euphrates, They stagger and fall.

11: Go up to Gilead and get balm, Fair Maiden Egypt. In vain do you seek many remedies, There is no healing for you.

13-16a: The word which the LORD spoke to the prophet Jeremiah about the coming of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon to attack the land of Egypt. Declare in Egypt, proclaim in Migdol, Proclaim in Noph and Tahpanhes! Say: Take your posts and stand ready, For the sword has devoured all around you!  Why are your stalwarts swept away? They did not stand firm, For the LORD thrust them down; He made many stumble, They fell over one another.

19: Equip yourself for exile, Fair Egypt, you who dwell secure! For Noph shall become a waste, Desolate, without inhabitants.

25-26: The LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel, has said: I will inflict punishment on Amon of No and on Pharaoh — on Egypt, her gods, and her kings — on Pharaoh and all who rely on him.  I will deliver them into the hands of those who seek to kill them, into the hands of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon and into the hands of his subjects. But afterward she shall be inhabited again as in former days, declares the LORD.

27-28: But you, Have no fear, My servant Jacob, Be not dismayed, O Israel! I will deliver you from far away, Your folk from their land of captivity; And Jacob again shall have calm And quiet, with none to trouble him.  But you, have no fear, My servant Jacob — declares the LORD — ¶ For I am with you. I will make an end of all the nations Among which I have banished you, But I will not make an end of you! I will not leave you unpunished, But I will chastise you in measure.

IV. Outline

1. Introduction: Oracles about the nations

2-12. Oracle for Egypt and Pharaoh Neco’s defeated army by the Euphrates

    2. Introduction

    3-9. Song of defeat

    10. Yahweh will sacrifice Egypt

    11-12. There is no healing for Egypt’s loss

13-26. Oracle about Nebuchadnezzar’s attack on Egypt itself

    13. Introduction

    14-17. The soldiers will stumble

    18-19. Yahweh declares exile for Egypt

    20-21. Egypt is like a calf (to be slaughtered)

    22-23a. Egypt is like a forest cut down

    23b-24. Egypt will be given to the Babylonians

    25-26a. Punishment for the gods and the Pharaoh

    26b. Egypt will be restored as before

27-28. Yahweh will punish Israel but they will be returned home

V. Comment

Thre are two oracles about Egypt in Jeremiah 46 and they each concern historical events. The first is introduced in verse 2:

  • Concerning Egypt, about the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, which was at the river Euphrates near Carchemish, and which was defeated by King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah.

Gerald Lynwood Keown, Pamela J Scalise, and Thomas G Smothers shed light on the history of this event (Jeremiah 26-52, pp. 285-286): “The historical context of the first oracle concerning Egypt (46:2–12) is the battle at Carchemish in 605, as indicated by 46:2. This crucial battle settled the question of what nation would inherit international supremacy from the Assyrians. In 609 the Egyptian army marched to the aid of the remnant of the Assyrian army at Haran, but Babylon shattered the Assyrians and pushed Neco’s army beyond the Euphrates, leaving Egypt temporarily in command of Syria-Palestine. In 605 Egypt was encamped at Carchemish, and it was there that Nebuchadrezzar decisively defeated Neco. A second battle was fought near Hamath, and the rout of the Egyptian forces was complete. These campaigns of 605 effectively ended Egyptian control of Syria-Palestine.”

They also explain that this oracle is more about Jeremiah’s audience, the people of Judah, than the Egyptians themselves: “Although the oracle in 46:3–12 functioned on one level as a taunt against Egypt, its real purpose seems to have been to deter Jehoiakim and the pro-Egyptian party in Judah from rejecting Babylonian overlordship in favor of an alliance with Egypt, in light of the Egyptian debacle at Carchemish. 46:25–26, a prose addition to the first two oracles, suggests the key to understanding the purpose of the oracles: the LORD would bring punishment upon Amon of Thebes, upon Pharaoh, and upon “all those who trust in him” (v 25) (cf Ezek 29:6–8, 16). According to Jeremiah, safety for Judah lay in submission to Babylon, and, indeed, in his view the LORD was using Babylon to achieve divine purposes. In this way Jeremiah incorporated international events into the domain of Judah’s religious and political affairs. However, Jeremiah was not successful in his attempt to dissuade Jehoiakim from revolt against Babylon (2 Kgs 24:1).”

The second oracle is introduced in verse 13:

  •  The word which the LORD spoke to the prophet Jeremiah about the coming of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon to attack the land of Egypt.

As Keown, Scalise, and Smothers write, we are less sure about the exact year of this event (Jeremiah 26-52, pp. 287): “Neither the redactional introduction (v 13) nor the internal data permit one to determine the historical context for the second oracle concerning Egypt (46:13–24). The introduction mentions that Jeremiah delivered the oracle in the context of an attack against Egypt by Nebuchadrezzar. Four dates come into view as possibilities: 604, 601, 588, and 568.”

VI. Works Used

(see “Commentaries” page)

Gerald Lynwood Keown, Pamela J Scalise, and Thomas G Smothers. Jeremiah 26-52. Waco: Word Books, 1995.

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