The Word Made Fresh
1When Jeremiah had said all these words to the people from the LORD their God, 2Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the other insolent men replied to Jeremiah, “You are a liar. The LORD our God did not send you to tell us not to go settle in Egypt. 3Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you against us in order to hand us over to the Babylonians so that they will kill us or take us to Babylon in exile.” 4So, Johanan son of Kareah and the other commanders of the soldiers and the people did not obey the LORD’s command to stay in Judah. 5Instead, they took those who remained of the Judeans who had returned from all the nations to which they had been exiled, 6including men, women, children, plus the girls of the royal family and everyone else whom Nebuzaradan, the Babylonian captain of the guard, had left with Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan. They also took the prophet Jeremiah and Baruch son of Neriah. 7They went to Egypt, refusing to obey the word of the LORD, and arrived at Tahpanhes.
8Then the LORD said to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes, “9Gather some large stones with your hands and bury them in the clay pavement at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes. Let the Judeans see you do it, 10and tell them that the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says, ‘I am going to send for my servant, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and he will place his throne on these stones that have been buried, and spread his royal tent over them. 11He will come and devastate the land of Egypt and bring devastation on those destined to be devastated, and captivity to those destined for captivity, and the sword to those destined for the sword. 12He will burn the temples of the gods of Egypt and carry what’s left of them away. He will pick Egypt clean just as a shepherd picks his cloak clean of vermin. Then he will leave Egypt without any harm to himself. 13He will break the pillars of the Egyptians in Heliopolis and burn down the temples of the gods of Egypt.
1-7: Johanan and the others, who have suffered a lot more than anybody I have ever met, smell a rat. Baruch, who has helped Jeremiah in the past (see chapter 36), had been some sort of official in Jerusalem and these folks from the hinterlands simply don’t trust him (like some folks in America don’t trust anybody from Washington, D.C.). They suspect that Baruch is prompting Jeremiah to say such things because he plans to turn them in so that they will be taken into exile. They head for Tahpanhes and take Jeremiah and Baruch with them.
8-13: Here they are in Tahpanhes, located in the Nile Delta region about where the Suez Canal passes now. Tahpanhes at the time was a fairly important border town with a large Greek population in which an Egyptian garrison of mercenary soldiers was stationed for national defense purposes. Archeological evidence of a palace has been found, perhaps confirming the report that Pharaoh kept a palace there – as well as in many other Egyptian cities.
Jeremiah is God’s prophet and when God speaks to him, he cannot hold it in (see 20:9) but must proclaim it. And so, when God tells him to bury some stones in the pavement outside the palace, he does so in full view of the Judean refugees, then repeats the word of the LORD that disaster will overtake them in Egypt.
Nebuchadnezzar did invade Egypt in 568-567 B.C., but no records have yet been uncovered that would provide details of the invasion and the extent of Babylonian influence in Egypt.
The Israelites remaining after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem came to Jeremiah for direction from God; but then refused to do what God said they should do. It may be a rare occurrence, but most of us have at one time or another sensed that God was nudging us in a particular direction that we didn’t want to follow. The Judean leaders had already decided they wanted to leave Judea and go to Egypt. They selfishly thought that God would go along with what they wanted. Our lesson here is that we should never assume that what we want is what God wants, and we should be faithful and bold enough to follow God’s guidance.