Jeremiah 46

The Word Made Fresh

1This is the word of the LORD that came to the prophet Jeremiah concerning the nations:

2To Egypt:
The army of Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt was by the river Euphrates at Carchemish. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated them in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah.

3Prepare your armor and shields and march to the battle!
4Harness the horses! Mount the steeds!
Take your positions, helmets on!
Sharpen your lances! Put on your armor!
5I see them terrified – they have retreated,
their soldiers are beaten and have run away
without looking back, filled with terror.
This is what the LORD says:
6“The fastest among their soldiers cannot escape.
They have stumbled and fallen in the north
beside the river Euphrates.”

7Who is this, surging like the Nile?
8It is Egypt, rising like swollen rivers.
They said, “Let me rise and cover the earth!
Let me destroy the cities and the people!”
9Charge, horses! Be speedy, chariots!
Let the cavalry go forward
against Ethiopia and Put and their shields,
and against the Ludim and their bows.
10That day will be the day of the LORD God Almighty.
It will be a day of retribution and vindication
against the enemies of God.
The sword will devour until satisfied,
drinking its fill of their blood;
the LORD God Almighty is arranging a sacrifice
in the north lands beside the Euphrates.
11Go up to Gilead in search of balm,
you virgin daughters of Egypt.
You have applied many medicines in futility,
for there is no healing for you.
12All the nations have heard of your shame
and the earth is full of your tears.
Your soldiers have stumbled and fallen together.   

13These are the words the LORD spoke to Jeremiah concerning the approach of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who is coming to attack the land of Egypt:

14Make the proclamation in Egypt and in Migdal;
tell it in Memphis and Tahpanhes;
Tell them to take their stations and be prepared,
for the sword is coming to kill those around you.
15Why was your army swept away?
They could not stand their ground
because the LORD swept them away.
16Your army stumbled and fell
and said to each other, “Let’s return to our own people,
to the land of our birth and escape the destroying sword.”
17Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt he is but a braggart
  who missed his opportunity.

18“As I live,” says the King, the LORD Almighty,
“One is coming as tall as Tabor in the mountains
and as broad as Carmel by the sea.
19So, pack your belongings and prepare to go into exile,
you daughter of Egypt, so carefully sheltered.
Memphis will be laid waste, ruined and uninhabited.

20Egypt is a beautiful heifer
on whom has lighted a gadfly from the north.
21Even the mercenaries in her midst are like fattened cattle;
they, too, have turned and fled.
They could not stand
when the day of calamity came over them,
and they were punished.
22She sounds like a snake gliding away,
her enemies in force marching against her,
wielding axes as though coming to fell trees.
23They shall cut her forests down, says the LORD,
no matter how impenetrable,
because they are swarming like locusts that can’t be counted.
24Egypt shall be put to shame
and handed over to a people from the north.

25The LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says,
“Look! I am going to punish Amon of Thebes
and Pharaoh with Egypt and their gods and kings.
All who trust in Pharaoh will be punished.
26I will hand them over to their enemies –
to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and his officers.
Then once again Egypt will be settled as in days of old.”

27But have no fear, servant Jacob.
Don’t be dismayed, Israel,
for I am going to rescue you from far away.
I will restore your children from their land of captivity.
Jacob will return and live in peace
with no one to make them afraid.
28Don’t be afraid, my servant Jacob, says the LORD,
for I am with you, and I will bring an end to the nations
among whom you were banished,
but I will not bring an end to you.
I will, however, punish you fairly –
you will not go unpunished.


Chapters 32-45 were narrative accounts that repeated much of the record from 2 Kings and added a great deal of information about Jeremiah’s personal story. The rest of the book will largely return to the poetic oracle style that characterized most of the first 31 chapters and will be almost exclusively dedicated to descriptions of God’s judgment on all the nations with which Israel/Judah has had dealings. From a historical perspective, Israel, and then Judah, were caught up in the world-changing imperialism of the superpowers of that day – Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon.

1-6: The first oracle of judgment is on Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar defeated Pharaoh Neco in one of the premiere battles of all time, the battle of Carchemish. It brought to an end Egypt’s expansionism and catapulted Babylon into superpower status.

7-12: Until that battle Egypt had been progressively and aggressively taking over one area after another, expanding primarily into the Middle East. Jeremiah likens their growing expanse to the seasonal rising of the Nile – an excellent metaphor, for it puts in the reader’s mind that the Nile also receded in due season, and that, says Jeremiah, is what will happen to Egypt. Of course, Egypt’s diminution will be much more violent than the gradual lowering of the level of the Nile.

13-17: The oracle continues — Nebuchadnezzar won’t stop with the victory at Carchemish but will invade Egyptian territory. The places named, however, are all in the Nile delta region where the Judean refugees settled. It is obvious that Jeremiah intended this oracle primarily for the Judeans in Egypt whom he had begged to stay in Judah. One of the principal gods of Egypt was represented by a bull (some scholars think Aaron’s golden calf was a copy of it), and particularly in Memphis. “Your army” (verse 16) may be a reference to all the gods worshiped in Egypt.

18-19: The point he is making is that all these gods cannot stand up to Israel’s God who is sending Nebuchadnezzar as his instrument of justice.

20-24: Egypt is portrayed as a heifer bedeviled by a gadfly, Babylon. “She sounds like a snake gliding away” (verse 22) is a chilling metaphor for Egypt’s mercenary armies abandoning their employer and slinking back to wherever they came from.

25-26: Amon is Amon-Ra, the primary god in Egypt’s pantheon, whose temple was located at Thebes. That Egypt will be inhabited “as in the days of old” is a reference to God’s opposition to the presence of the Judean refugees in Tahpanhes, Memphis, etc.

27-28: But in spite of this sweeping description of God’s wrath overtaking Egypt, God will restore Israel as the dwelling place of the descendants of Jacob once their punishment is completed. The nations to which they are exiled, however — primarily Assyria and Babylonia — will cease to exist.


Jeremiah is giving an appalling description of a people who have turned their backs on God and have begun worshiping other “gods.” Woe to that nation that turns its back on the One who called them into being. America is a nation “under God,” but our faith as a people can be chiseled away as was the case with Israel in the time of Jeremiah.