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JEREMIAH'S FINAL PROPHECY
Other prophecies of Jeremiah appear in subsequent chapters; but this chapter is generally viewed as containing the final prophecy, chronologically, that came through this great sixth century B.C. servant of God. Right up to the very end, his life apparently continued to be an almost unending series of tragedies.
"The exact date of this chapter cannot be determined; but it came a long time after the events recorded in the preceding chapter."F1 This conclusion is drawn from the fact that the Jewish immigrants as seen in this chapter were living in various cities from one end of Egypt to the other, indicating the passage of considerable time.
Chapter divisions are: (1) Jeremiah warned the Jews that disobedience would bring upon them the same fate that befell Jerusalem (Jeremiah 44:1-7); (2) he declared that idolatry would destroy them (Jeremiah 44:8-10); (3) sword, famine and pestilence are threatened (Jeremiah 44:11-14); (4) the people declare that they will continue to worship the Queen of Heaven (Jeremiah 44:15-19); (5) Jeremiah refutes their false arguments (Jeremiah 44:20-23); (6) Jeremiah gave a sign that God would keep his word (Jeremiah 44:24-30).
DESTRUCTION -- THE PRICE OF DISOBEDIENCE
The scene of this paragraph was at Pathros, in the southern end of Egypt, where, apparently, the Jews had gathered from all over Egypt to attend a festival honoring the Queen of Heaven. The women seem to have been taking the leading part in it. Into that wicked company Jeremiah came, challenging them to repent and turn to God, citing Jerusalem and the cities of Judah in their state of devastation as their certain penalty if they continued in their wickedness.
Migdol... Tahpanhes... Memphis... Pathros
(Jeremiah 44:1). The first three are in Lower Egypt, near Cairo; Pathros signifies Upper Egypt, all the way to Aswan.F2
No man dwelleth therein
(Jeremiah 44:2). Jeremiah had prophesied that this desolation would overtake Jerusalem (Jeremiah 24:8-10); and that fact should have conditioned some of the people, at least, to believe the prophet; but it did not.
They hearkened not, nor inclined their ear to turn from their wickedness
(Jeremiah 44:5). Israel's refusal to `walk in' the law and the statutes of Yahweh is a central theme in Jeremiah.F3 In this very last message of the great prophet, how wonderful it is to see that not a syllable has disappeared from his prophecies. In spite of the rebellious hatred of his own people, Jeremiah has been true to God all the way. The message here at the end is what it always was, Repent or Perish. It is still the message of God, Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish! (Luke 13:5).
GOD'S HATRED OF IDOLATRY
The wickedness of their wives. of your wives ..
(Jeremiah 44:9). The mention of the wives of their kings as being leaders in wickedness brings to mind the hundreds of wives and concubines of Solomon who demanded and received the building of pagan temples for themselves in Israel; and it will be remembered that Jezebel the wife of Ahab brought with her from Sidon an entire institution of pagan priests of Baal.
My law.., and my statutes
(Jeremiah 44:10) We have often noted that the long shadow of the Pentateuch falls over every single subsequent word in the Holy Bible; and here we have specific reference to it.
Ye provoke me... burning incense to other gods
(Jeremiah 44:8). What is wrong with burning a little incense to some pagan god? However innocent and harmless it may sound to some ears, there are the most shameful implications in such actions, as we shall note further under Jer. 44:15.
SWORD, PESTILENCE AND FAMINE THREATENED
The thrust of this paragraph is the emphasis on the hopelessness of any of the Jewish sojourners in Egypt of having any part whatever in the future plans of God for the salvation of all mankind. All of the sacred promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were at this point to be severed completely from the Jewish remnant in Egypt, and would rest solely with the captives in Babylon.
The reasons for this are easy to see. The temptations to idolatry in Egypt would be stronger than Israel would resist. As for God's eternal purpose of human redemption, it was of no further concern to those selfish sensualists sojourning in Egypt. They still dreamed of going back to Judah, but they were in Egypt forever.
JUDAH'S NEW GOD, THE QUEEN OF HEAVEN
The capital letters for QUEEN OF HEAVEN in the above paragraph are a variation from our text. This is to emphasize the adoption of a new god by the Jewish sojourners in Egypt.
THE QUEEN OF HEAVEN
There was nothing either honorable or innocent in the worship of this ancient sex-goddess by God's people. Who was the Queen of Heaven? She is identified primarily with Ashteroth, Astarte, Ishtar, Venus, Aphrodite and other female goddesses of antiquity. She was worshipped as the goddess of fertility and was the female equivalent of Baal.
"The immoral rites of the worship of this deity entered Canaan from Babylon, long before God sent the children down into Canaan to extirpate it and replace it with the knowledge of the true God."F4
The type of sexual orgies that went along with such worship is clearly visible in Num. 25, in which event Israel demonstrated their preference for that kind of worship over that which God had commanded, a preference which they maintained down to the events of this chapter.
"The Israelites turned to the worship of the Queen of Heaven as Ashteroth soon after their arrival in Canaan; it was depraved in the extreme; it was rife in the times of Samuel (1 Samuel 7:3-4); after Saul's death, his armour was placed in the temple of Ashteroth at Beth-shan (1 Samuel 21:10); and Solomon gave it royal sanction (2 Kings 23:13)."F5 "In the times of Jeremiah, prior to the exile, the Chosen People had given themselves over to the worst and vilest forms of heathen worship in their worship of the Queen of Heaven."F6 Furthermore, it appears from the events in these last two chapters that it was Israel's desire to continue uninterruptedly their worship of this vile goddess that sparked their willingness to go back to Egypt.
All the women that stood by
(Jeremiah 44:15). This was probably an idolatrous festival (to the Queen of Heaven) in which the women were taking a leading part.F7 With regard to the part which the women played in such a festival, Num. 25 gives the daughters of Moab as examples! Cheyne agreed that, This special mention of the women suggests that the occasion of the gathering was a festival in honor of the Queen of Heaven.F8
Since we left off burning incense to the Queen of Heaven
(Jeremiah 44:18). This appears to be a reference to that period in the days of Josiah the king, whose widespread reforms had, for a season, suppressed the shameful paganism which had taken the land. They senselessly attributed the disasters to Judah to Josiah's reforms, claiming that idolatry had done more for them than had the Lord.F9 Not once did the people connect their disasters with their sins! Nothing is more blinding than infidelity; and the type of theological acrobat that can suppose sin to be a better benefactor than the righteousness of God is here revealed to have been a very ancient specimen, the prototype of many such theological gymnasts in our own day.
Like the harlot in Hosea, Israel "Did shamefully, and said, I will go after my lovers, that give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink" (Hosea 2:5); and she did not know that it was her God who gave all those things she desired.
As the women concluded this shocking reply to Jeremiah, that said, in effect, "And don't think for a minute that we do all this without our husbands consent!"
Did we (do all this). without our husbands ..
(Jeremiah 44:19)? Vows taken by women, in order to be valid, were required by the Law of Moses to be with their husband's consent (Numbers 30:7-16);F10 and it is certainly amazing that these women here seem to have been boasting that they had engaged in this shameful worship according to law. Indeed, indeed! This is the key to the error in their thinking that they could do all of those sinful things and yet keep on worshipping God! The result was a kind of syncretism, much like that which Jezebel attempted to set up between Christianity and paganism in Thyatira (Revelation 2:20-14).
Did we make cakes to worship her.?
(Jeremiah 44:19) The cakes were made in the form of a crescent, representing the moon,F11 believed to have been especially sacred to the Queen of Heaven.
This worship of the Queen of Heaven had all kinds of astrological connotations, similar to that of practically all of the mythological gods and goddesses of antiquity. They were severally identified with the sun, the moon, and the stars, and with certain planets in particular. When Stephen referred to the Israelites having worshipped "the host of heaven" (Acts 7:42), the reference was precisely to these ancient deities.
JEREMIAH REFUTES THEIR FALSE ARGUMENT
Did not Jehovah remember them.?
(Jeremiah 44:21). This is the equivalent of Jeremiah's asking, Do you think all of those people really got by with their shameless worship of the Queen of Heaven? If you do, take a look at their land as it is this very day!
This was the only refutation that the false arguments of the Queen's worshippers really needed, if they had only had the sense to appreciate it. Alas, it is true, as Hegel said in his Philosophy of History (1807), "What experience and history teach is this: people and governments never have learned anything from human history, or acted upon the principles deduced from it."F12 Just so it was with those Jews who went sojourning in Egypt; they became ensnared in the shameless idolatry of Egypt and lost their relationship with the Creator.
JEREMIAH'S SIGN THAT GOD WOULD KEEP HIS WORD
And with your hands have confirmed it
(Jeremiah 44:25). This suggests that Jeremiah might have been looking at the cakes then in the hands of the women who had come to worship the Queen of Heaven.
Establish then your vows, and perform your vows
(Jeremiah 44:25). This does not mean that Jeremiah approved of their false worship. It is the equivalent of his saying, Very well, go ahead with your vows, but be prepared to accept the consequences.
The burning of incense
(Jeremiah 44:24). This action, frequently spoken of throughout the chapter is not limited to any single action, but, It includes, besides, all the other elements of idolatrous worship.F13 This figure of speech, used throughout both the Old Testament and the New Testament is called synecdoche.
My name shall no more be named
(Jeremiah 44:26). This would be true because of two things. (1) The syncretistic worship of both God and the pagan deity would result in God's name being used less and less frequently until it disappeared altogether (the invariable result of syncretism), and (2) No Jews will be left alive in Egypt.F14
I will give Pharaoh-Hophra
etc. (Jeremiah 44:30). The sign which Jeremiah here promised was: (1) the capture of Pharaoh-Hophra by his deadly enemies, (2) his imprisonment, and (3) his death, three elements in God's punishment of Zedekiah.
"In the writings of Herodotus, Pharaoh-Hophra is called Apries; he was defeated by the people of Cyrene, and a mutiny followed, after which Amasis became Pharaoh; after treating Hophra kindly for some years, Amasis finally gave him over to his enemies, by whom he was strangled. Thus, the words of Jeremiah here were literally fulfilled."F15
It is not known if Jeremiah lived to see the fulfillment of God's word in this matter or not. We do know that at some time while in Egypt, Jeremiah was slain by those who hated him because of the sacred word of God which he faithfully delivered to the people.
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.