Bible Commentary: Jeremiah 46:13-47:7 and Related

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Jeremiah 46:13-47:7 and Related

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Jehoiakim's Rebellion

A historical context for this section is helpful. Biblical historian Eugene Merrill writes: "As the author of Kings indicates, Jehoiakim remained a loyal subject to the Babylonians for...three years (605-602 [B.C.]). He then rebelled for some unexpressed reason.... Nebuchadnezzar had undertaken several western campaigns against Judah's neighbors. It may have been his preoccupation with these states...that gave Jehoiakim the courage to break his alliance with Nebuchadnezzar" (Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel, 1987, p. 451).

One source "associates Jehoiakim's rebellion with the Babylonian conflict with Egypt in the winter of 601/600 B.C., which is attested to by a letter written in Aramaic from the town of Saqqarah" (p. 451, footnote). Another source "points out that the campaign against Jehoiakim is not mentioned in the Babylonian records...because Nebuchadnezzar's main objective was Egypt and not Judah" (p. 451, footnote). The reference here is to Nebuchadnezzar's fourth year, when "he engaged Neco II in a great battle near the border of Egypt, a contest which evidently ended in a draw. Perhaps the Babylonian was not altogether unsuccessful, however, for he may have brought Judah back under his control in the course of this campaign" (p. 451).

This seems likely, especially given what Scripture says right after describing the Babylonian response to Jehoiakim's rebellion: "And the king of Egypt did not come out of his land anymore..." (2 Kings 24:7). This makes it appear that the king of Egypt coming out of his land had something to do with Jehoiakim's rebellion. Jeremiah 47, in the current reading, mentions an Egyptian pharaoh of Jeremiah's time attacking Gaza, the southernmost of the major Philistine cities, right near the border with Egypt. We have no parallel record of this event in secular history, which makes the dating of it difficult. But it would seem to tie into these events, and certainly occurred before 2 Kings 24:7.

Perhaps Necho attacked Gaza sometime in 602 B.C., which would have been an incursion into Babylonian territory—Nebuchadnezzar having subdued the Philistines in 604. This may well have prompted Jehoiakim to rebel against Babylon, declaring Judah's reaffiliation with Egypt. "Retribution was swift and sure (2 Kings 24:1-2). Nebuchadnezzar sent troops from Babylonia and from some of his western vassal states such as Aram, Moab, and Ammon, and forced Jehoiakim to submit. The chronicler says that Nebuchadnezzar went as far as to bind Jehoiakim with shackles in order to take him as a prisoner of war to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:6). Apparently he relented [as Jehoiakim remained as king for a few more years] but as punishment stripped the temple of many of its sacred articles [as he had before] and took them to his own pagan temples in Babylon. Thereafter until his death in 598 Jehoiakim remained in subservience to the Babylonian overlord" (p. 451). After dealing with Jehoiakim, Nebuchadnezzar apparently continued on to his engagement with Necho, in which the pharaoh was pushed back into Egypt.

While Jehoiakim's death is recorded, none of the details regarding it are given. We do know from Jeremiah's prophecies that this wicked ruler was to die without lamentation from the people, being cast out and buried as a donkey (see Jeremiah 22:18-19; Jeremiah 36:30). His lineage would not continue to rule, as his son's reign would last but a few months.

Prophecies Against Egypt and Philistia

Before the Egyptian attack on Gaza, Jeremiah prophesied against Egypt (Jeremiah 46:13-26). While Babylon is the one coming against Egypt (verse 26), God is the one bringing the punishment (see verses 15, 18, 25). The prophecy concludes with "an effective contrast, a sound of an incredible weakness where the roar as of a lion is necessary: the snake, Egyptian symbol of royalty, creeping back into its hole. The hiss of enmity is ineffective, as the Babylonians come on as an army of woodcutters levelling Egypt as a forest appointed for timber felling" (New Bible Commentary, note on Jeremiah 46:22-24). This prophecy speaks of far more than what Nebuchadnezzar did in his campaign against Egypt of 601. Rather, it looks a number of years forward, beyond even the fall of Judah in 586 B.C., to the time when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt "in 568 and laid waste a great part of the Nile valley" (Merrill, p. 475). In fact, Egypt was made part of the Babylonian Empire. And Jeremiah foresaw it all, at least 34 years in advance. For more prophecies against Egypt, see Ezekiel 29-32.

Egypt's desolation, we are told, would not last forever (Jeremiah 46:26). Furthermore, hope is then given to Israel (verses 27-28). Even though Israel was being rightly punished, it too would not suffer forever. Speaking to Jacob and Israel rather than Judah, this is a prophecy to all 12 tribes, which will be brought back to the Promised Land after Christ's return. Perhaps this prophecy is placed here because both Israel and Judah had pinned their hopes on Egypt, which provided them no help. Indeed, trusting in such allies rather than God is part of the reason they are being punished. The end-time context of this prophecy's fulfillment may indicate some duality in the prophecy against Egypt—that part of it may be for the end time as well, when Egypt will again fall to a northern invader (see Daniel 11:40-43).

Egypt may seem an insignificant nation to the casual observer of world affairs, but it is a leading nation among the Muslim nations of North Africa and the Middle East. Additionally, radical Muslim terrorist cells thrive there (one of which assassinated Anwar Sadat in 1981). The Bible indicates that Egypt will figure prominently in the international politics of the end time.

In Jeremiah 47, we see God's judgment on Philistia. The Philistines were quite often an enemy of Israel. Their close proximity made them a dangerous thorn in Israel's side, somewhat like the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are to the nation of Israel today.

The Philistines (Jeremiah 47:1) and Caphtorim (verse 4) were closely related (Genesis 10:4) and probably intermingled. Of the original Philistine pentapolis—Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron (see Joshua 13:3, NIV)—only Gaza and Ashkelon are mentioned in Jeremiah 47. Among all the biblical prophecies of the Philistines, mention is made of four of these cities. "It is noteworthy that Gath is not mentioned in these prophecies, from which it may be inferred that Gath ceased to be of any major significance after the time of Uzziah" ("Philistines," The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1986, p. 843).

In verse 2 we read of a flood of waters from the north. Generally, as we have repeatedly seen, invasions from Mesopotamia followed a route that brought them into Canaan and Philistia from the north. "Waters sometimes signify multitudes of people and nations (Rev. 17:15), sometimes great and threatening calamities (Ps. 69:1); here they signify both" (Matthew Henry's Commentary, note on verse 2).

Nebuchadnezzar attacked Ashkelon in 604 B.C., as earlier mentioned. But the prophecy in Jeremiah 47 appears to have been delivered after that time. Indeed, there is a hint of that in the fact that a "remnant" of Ashkelon is here mentioned (verse 5). The Philistines, which have already been attacked, are going to be hit again. Notice the specific reason here: "To cut off from Tyre and Sidon every helper who remains" (verse 4). This provides us with the time of the destruction mentioned. "Within a year of the conquest of Jerusalem [in 586 B.C.] Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to the island portion of Tyre, having already brought Sidon, Arvad, and the mainland portion of Tyre under his control [shortly before]. The siege lasted for thirteen years" (Merrill, p. 475). So this prophecy refers to the overrunning of Philistia by Nebuchadnezzar's armies around the time of the fall of Judah. As with Egypt, though Babylon is the agent of destruction, God is the one who brings it (verses 6-7).

But the prophecy may have another fulfillment that is yet future. Almost certainly a small percentage of today's Palestinians, especially those in the Gaza Strip, are descendants of the Philistines. Interestingly, "the Greek name [for the land of Israel], Palestine, was derived from the name Philistia" ("Philistines," Unger's Bible Dictionary, 1970, p. 859). The next three nations mentioned in the book of Jeremiah—Moab, Ammon and Edom in chapters 48-49—are also represented in today's Palestinian population in both Israel and Jordan. So it may be that Jeremiah 47-49 refers, at least in part, to end-time calamity to come upon the Palestinians—again from out of the north.

Other prophecies of the Philistines may be found in Isaiah 14:29-31, Ezekiel 25:15-17, Amos 1:6-8, Zephaniah 2:4-7 and Zechariah 9:5-7.