JEREMIAH CHAPTER 44
Jeremiah representeth to the people in Egypt the former sins and punishment of Judah, Jeremiah 44:1-10. He prophesieth their destruction in Egypt, Jeremiah 44:11-14. Their obstinacy, Jeremiah 44:15-19; threatened, Jeremiah 44:20-28. For a sign, the destruction of Egypt is foretold Jeremiah 44:29,30.
The patience and goodness of God to this remnant of his ancient people is very remarkable; he leaveth them not even in their rebellion, but sendeth Jeremiah, whom he had before sent to prevent their going into this idolatrous country, to try if in Egypt they would be brought to a better mind. It should seem that the generality of the Jews that went into Egypt had planted themselves at these four places. Of Migdol we read Exodus 14:2 Numbers 33:7; from which places we may learn it was a city or town upon the borders of the Red Sea. We shall read of it again Jeremiah 46:14. It was a place which might have minded them better of their obligations and duty to God, for upon their removal from thence God divided the Red Sea for their forefathers. Noph was another city in Egypt, of which we read Isaiah 19:13 Jeremiah 2:16 46:14 Ezekiel 30:13,16. The Greeks and Latins call it Memphis; it is thought to be that city which is now called Cairo.
Pathros was a region or province, some think it derived its name from Pathrusim the son of Mizraim, Genesis 10:14. It is the same (as some think) which is since called Thebais.
He referreth to the late destruction of it by the king of Babylon; this remnant of the people was a brand plucked out of that fire, and their eyes had been witnesses to the desolations that God had wrought.
As they were eye-witnesses to the effect, so it was nothing but their unbelief made them strangers to the cause; for God by his prophets had told them that the great moving cause was their paying a Divine homage to idols; the sin of which is aggravated from this, that they were as much strangers to the idols, as to the people with whom they joined in the worship of them, neither they nor any of their fathers having had any experimental knowledge of what they had done or could do for such as adored them.
These two verses contain another aggravation of this people’s sin, viz. that they did this against light, and admonitions to the contrary. God had by his prophets let them know that this was an abominable thing, a thing which he hated, and that not with an ordinary degree of hatred; yet they would not hear, so as to yield obedience to God, but went on in their idolatries.
For these very reasons, their idolatry and contempt of my word by my prophets, the very sins you are now committing, I have given Judah and Jerusalem into the hand of the king of Babylon, and it is (as you at this day see it) waste and desolate.
What prudence can guide you to do such actions as these, by which you cannot hurt God, but yourselves only? You are now but a few of many; what love have you for your country, in taking courses which will certainly tend to the utter extirpation of those few, so as there shall be neither man, nor woman, nor child, nor suckling remaining of all the Jews?
Idols are usually thus defamed, and indeed nothing can argue a greater stupidity than for any to pay a homage (confessedly due to the Supreme Being) to what is the work of men’s hands, and therefore must be made by one superior to that order of beings in which idols are. But how doth the prophet say that they worshipped the works of men’s hands? for it is apparent, from Jeremiah 44:17, that they paid this homage to the queen of heaven, which is not the work of men’s hands.
Solut. It was before images, which are but the works of men’s hands. And this certainly was the idolatry of the generality of the heathens, they worshipped an unknown Divine Being before a creature, either as representing it, or rather putting them in mind of it.
That ye might be a curse and a reproach among all the nations of the earth; the term that doth not denote the idolater’s end of intention, for none ever did any act intentionally to ruin themselves, it only signifies the end of their work, that their utter ruin would be the certain consequent of their work.
God accounteth men and women to have forgotten that, the sight and reflection upon which hath made no such impression upon them, as to produce a practice suitable to those notices, according to the conduct of a reasonable soul, which teacheth every man, having notice of a great evil brought upon a man by such or such practices, to avoid running into the like danger. It was the aggravation of this people’s sins, that they were committed in the holy land, and in a city which God had more favoured than any other place: to have done these things in any place had been guilt enough, but more to do it
in the land of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem.
They are not humbled even unto this day, neither have they feared: neither they nor you are humbled; for the prophet’s passing from the second person to the third, and by and by from the third person again to the second, lets us know that he intendeth what he spake as well of them to whom he spake, as of them concerning whom he speaks.
Nor walked in my law, nor in my statutes; from whence we also learn that reformation and obedience are the first-fruits of contrition, or true humiliation. God accounteth those not humbled, but hardened, who are not reformed, and become obedient to his will, let their pretended attrition, contrition, or humiliation be in outward appearance what it will.
Therefore thus saith the lord of hosts, the God of Israel: these names are frequently given to God in threatening prophecies, partly to let this people know that God is able to make good his word, and to bring the threatened evils upon them; and partly to let them know that the dealing thus with them would not make him quit his relation to Israel, but he was and still would approve himself the God of those who were his true Israel.
Behold, I will set my face against you for evil, and to cut off all Judah; the meaning is, My full design against you is to bring evil upon you; this is expressed under the notion of setting his face, and, Amos 9:4, setting his eyes against them.
This is no more than the prophet had told these very persons before they went unto Egypt, Jeremiah 42:16,17; here he doubleth his words for the confirmation of the truth of them to them now that they were there.
There is a great variety in the reading of the words, Jeremiah 44:14; some reading besides such as have a desire to return; others, although they have a desire to return; others, for they have a desire to return. The words seem to hint that these Jews went into the land of Egypt, not with a design to live there always, but to stay for a while till the heat of the Chaldeans in inquiring after the blood of Gedaliah should be over, then thinking to return into their own country; which one would think were true, considering it not only as their native soil, but also a place where was now room enough, and they might live in much greater plenty than they could in Egypt. The only difficulty is in the last words, compared with what in the same verse went before; it is said in the beginning of the verse that none of them should escape, and in the close,
none shall return but such as shall escape. But reason will guide us to interpret the first none in a restrained sense, i.e. none of those who have been the authors of this counsel and rebellion against God, and who went into Egypt willingly; for none can think that God involved Jeremiah and Baruch who were in Egypt (at least the first of them) in the same punishment with which he punished the rebellious Jews. Or none of those who in Egypt have burnt incense to idols, and defiled themselves with the idolatry of Egypt; but there shall some escape, such as have been forced into Egypt against their wills; and such as, being so forced, when they came here did not fall in with the idolatry of the Egyptians, (for we may gather from the next verse that all of them did not,) these men shall again return into the land of Judah. This to me seemeth the fairest and most probable sense of the words.
The burning of incense was a religious rite, which God had appointed the Jews as a piece of Divine homage to be paid to him alone, and by an ordinary figure is put for worship; so as burning incense to other gods is the same with worshipping other gods. It should seem that all the Jews had not been thus far guilty, and those that did it were mostly women, or at least they were the leaders in this idolatry; and one would think the phrase implieth that those who were thus culpable did it with some privacy, so as all their husbands did not know of it; but those that did were as bad as their wives, conniving at them, and justifying them in their idolatry, and joining with them in the following peremptory answer to and contempt of the prophet.
We read, Jeremiah 43:5, Johanan and the rest only denied that God had spoken such things, and told Jeremiah he had spoken falsely; but now these women and men rise higher, they acknowledge Jeremiah had spoken to them in the name of the Lord, but tell him in plain and direct terms they would not obey it. And indeed this is in the hearts of all sinners that are ruled by their lusts; though they will sometimes pretend that what they hear is not the will of God, but spoken out of malice and prejudice, yet they are pre-resolved they will not do it, let their understandings be never so well informed.
Here is the root of all sinners’ disobedience, their resolution to please and humour themselves, not knowing how in any thing to deny themselves; hence it is that denying ourselves is by Christ made the first law or condition of his disciples. By the
queen of heaven some here understand the sun, which notion is favoured from the words being of the feminine gender, which signifieth the sun in Hebrew; others reading it not the queen, but the
frame of heaven, by it understanding the sun, moon, and stars.
Drink-offerings were a Divine homage which God had commanded to be paid to him, Leviticus 23:13 Numbers 6:17. Their arguments for it were,
1. Custom and antiquity, they and their fathers had used to do it.
2. The example of their kings and princes.
3. The plenty and prosperity they had while they did so, as if their idolatry had been the cause of it.
Their last argument is drawn from the evils that had befallen them since they had left worshipping the sun, moon, and stars; thus strangely making their omission of that the cause of their sufferings, their former doing of which was indeed the true cause. They had lost their husbands in the siege and in battles, and had suffered famine and hunger; and all because they had burnt incense to other gods: they interpret these providences as a punishment of them for not doing it as they had formerly used to do. So bad interpreters are those of God’s providences, who indulge their lusts in opposition to God’s law.
There is in these verses nothing of difficulty, nor any new phrases to be opened. That which is observable is, that though the prophet was but one against many, yet he feareth not their faces: the substance of what he saith is this, that they interpreted God’s voice in his providences toward their country directly contrary to the true sense of it. They concluded that their omission of late to burn incense to the sun, moon, and stars was the cause why it was so ill with them; as if these were animate beings, and the Supreme Being, whereas they were but creatures. Or as if it were the will of the Supreme Being to be adored and worshipped in them, or before statues and images represented by them, whereas the will of God was directly contrary: and as he in the second commandment had forbidden any such worship, because he was a jealous God; so he had for the breach of that commandment, by their burning incense to these creatures, burned up their houses and temple, and brought their nation into that misery into which they were come: from whence may be observed how ill an argument for any religious worship antiquity is, unless we by it mean what is most ancient; as also that prescription in that which is false in the worship of God justifieth none. Nor is it a good conclusion that those who lived nearest to the primitive institution are most likely to have done best, as having the best means to know what is truly primitive. Idolatry was as old as Laban, and the worst of idolatry (offering children to Molech) was older than the Levitical law, if not as old as Serug. In matters of worship the word of God is a sufficient rule, we need not plead antiquity, nor the practice of our fathers. Error is not capable of being justified by tradition or prescription.
That is, all you men and women that belong to Judah, and are now come to inhabit in the land of Egypt.
have spoken are in the Hebrew of the feminine gender, which giveth good reason to some interpreters to conclude the women were first and principal in this idolatry, and the men’s guilt lay in conniving at them, and suffering themselves to be seduced by them. Ye, saith the prophet, have spoken it, and ye have been as big as your words, and for a cover you pretend the religion of a yew, as if a vow could be a bond of iniquity, and it were possible by a vow to oblige yourselves to a forsaking of the true God, and a committing of idolatry. The latter words seem ironical, so as to have this sense, You are resolved upon it, and there is no moving you from your resolution; God hath resolved too.
Seeing you are so fixed and peremptory, God is as resolved as you are; and as you think you must be religious to your wicked vows, so be assured God will be as religious to his oath; because he can swear by no greater, he hath sworn by himself, Hebrews 6:13,17, (for so name signifieth here,) There shall not any be left of the Jews that are in Egypt, to swear,
The Lord God liveth (for it should seem that the Jews yet retained something of the religion of their country, and sware by the name of the living God, according to the precept, Deuteronomy 6:13 10:20). God threateneth there should be none of them left alive to do it; he would not have his holy name polluted by those mouths that had been used to bless idols.
God here either sets out himself as one who would be industrious and solicitous to bring evil upon them, as men who are so in any business watch opportunities to do it; or else he derides their vain confidence as to his protection of them, and care for them: saith God, I will watch over them, but not to build and to plant, as Jeremiah 31:28, but, as it is in the former part of that verse, to pluck up, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict. For so it follows,
they shall be consumed by the sword and by the famine.
This justifieth the restrained interpretation of none of the remnant, Jeremiah 44:14; for here it is plainly said that some should escape and return; but for the rest, they should there perish, and by that it would appear whether God’s word or theirs should stand, and have its accomplishment; they promising themselves security, God threatening them with utter ruin and destruction.
Signs are usually antecedent to the thing signified, but the word is taken in a larger notion in this place, for that which should attend the thing signified by it, as Exodus 3:12; besides, though their destruction and the destruction of Pharaoh-hophra were things immediately following one another, yet the latter was in order before the other.
Pharaoh was a name common to all the Egyptian kings, as may be learned from Genesis 12:15 41:1 Exodus 1:8,11; but they had besides that name another peculiar to them. Whether this Hophra was Vaphres or Apries is not much material; nor is there any certainty when this prophecy was fulfilled; whether
Pharaoh-hophra were (as Herodotus saith) slain by Amasis, one of his subjects who rebelled against him and slew him, (as the aforementioned author tells us,) or Nebuchadnezzar, who Josephus saith came about five years after he had taken Jerusalem, and overran Egypt, and slew this Pharaoh-hophra, whose overthrow was a certain sign of the Jews’ destruction, it being not like that the king of Babylon should spare these Jews who had fled to this king of Egypt for shelter; considering also that the Jews had slain Gedaliah his deputy governor in Judea.
How God delivered Zedekiah into the hand of the king of Babylon, we read Jer 39. Here now ends the story of these Jews that had fled into Egypt.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Jeremiah 44". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26