Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentJEREMIAH 44
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 word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the Jews that dwelt in the land of Egypt, that dwelt at Migdol, and at Tahpanhes, and at Memphis, and in the country of Pathros, saying, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel: Ye have seen all the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, and upon all the cities of Judah; and, behold, this day they are a desolation, and no man dwelleth therein, because of their wickedness which they have committed to provoke me to anger, in that they went to burn incense, [and] to serve other gods, that they knew not, neither they, nor ye, nor your fathers. Howbeit I sent unto you all my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate. But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear to turn from their wickedness, to burn no incense unto other gods. Wherefore my wrath and mine anger was poured forth, and was kindled in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; and they are wasted and desolate, as it is this day. Therefore now thus saith Jehovah, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: Wherefore commit ye [this] great evil against your own souls, to cut off from you man and woman, infant and suckling, out of the midst of Judah, to leave you none remaining;
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
in that ye provoke me unto anger with the works of your hands, burning incense unto other gods in the land of Egypt, whither ye are gone to sojourn; that ye may be cut off, and that ye may be a curse and a reproach among all the nations of the earth? Have ye forgotten the wickedness of your fathers, and the wickedness of the kings of Judah, and the wickedness of their wives, and your own wickedness, and the wickedness of your wives which they committed in the land of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem? They are not humbled even unto this day, neither have they feared, nor walked in my law, nor in my statutes, that I set before you and before your fathers.
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
Therefore thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will set my face against you for evil, even to cut off all Judah. And I will take the remnant of Judah, that have set their faces to go into the land of Egypt to sojourn there, and they shall all be consumed; in the land of Egypt shall they fall; they shall be consumed by the sword and by the famine; they shall die, from the least even unto the greatest, by the sword and by the famine; and they shall be an execration, [and] an astonishment, and a curse, and a reproach. For I will punish them that dwell in the land of Egypt, as I have punished Jerusalem, by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence; so that none of the remnant of Judah, that are gone into the land of Egypt to sojourn there, shall escape or be left, to return into the land of Judah, to which they have a desire to return to dwell there: for none shall return save such as shall escape.
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
Then all the men who knew that their wives burned incense unto other gods, and all the women that stood by, a great assembly, even all the people that dwelt in the land of Egypt, in Pathros, answered Jeremiah, saying, As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of Jehovah, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly perform every word that is gone forth out of our mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink-offerings unto her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem; for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. But since we left off burning incense to the queen of heaven, and pouring out drink-offerings unto her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine. And when we burned incense to the queen of heaven, and poured out drink-offerings unto her, did we make her cakes to worship her, and pour out drink-offerings unto her, without our husbands?
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
Then Jeremiah said unto all the people, to the men, and to the women, even to all the people that had given him that answer, saying, The incense that ye burned in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, ye and your fathers, your kings and your princes, and the people of the land, did not Jehovah remember them, and came it not into his mind? so that Jehovah could not longer bear, because of the evil of your doings, and because of the abominations which ye have committed; therefore is your land become a desolation, and an astonishment, and a curse, without inhabitant, as it is this day. Because ye have burned incense, and because ye have sinned against Jehovah, and have not obeyed the voice of Jehovah, nor walked in his law, nor in his statutes, nor in his testimonies; therefore this evil is happened unto you, as it is this day.
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
Moreover Jeremiah said unto all the people, and to all the women, Hear the word of Jehovah, all Judah that are in the land of Egypt: Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, Ye and your wives have both spoken with your mouths, and with your hands have fulfilled it, saying, We will surely perform our vows that we have vowed, to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink-offerings unto her: establish then your vows, and perform your vows. Therefore hear ye the word of Jehovah, all Judah that dwell in the land of Egypt: Behold, I have sworn by my great name, saith Jehovah, that my name shall no more be named in the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, As the Lord Jehovah liveth. Behold, I watch over them for evil, and not for good; and all the men of Judah that are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by the famine, until there be an end of them. And they that escape the sword shall return out of the land of Egypt into the land of Judah, few in number; and all the remnant of Judah, that are gone into the land of Egypt to sojourn there, shall know whose word shall stand, mine, or theirs. And this shall be the sign unto you, saith Jehovah, that I will punish you in this place, that ye may know that my words shall surely stand against you for evil: Thus saith Jehovah, Behold, I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies, and into the hand of them that seek his life; as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, who was his enemy, and sought his life.
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.
Footnotes for Jeremiah 44
1: C. F. Keil in Keil-Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, p. 156.
2: The New Bible Commentary Revised (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 1970), p. 652.
3: J. A. Thompson, The Bible and Archeology (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972) p. 677.
4: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, p. 271.
5: NBD, p. 96.
6: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, p. 2514.
7: JRD, p. 477.
8: T. K. Cheyne, Jeremiah in PC, p. 186.
9: Charles L. Feinberg, Jeremiah in Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 6 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), p. 643.
10: Anthony L. Ash, Jeremiah and Lamentations (Abilene, Texas: A.C.U. Press, 1987), p. 284.
11: B. p. 252.
12: Charles L. Feinberg, Jeremiah in Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 6 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), p. 640.
13: C. F. Keil in Keil-Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, p. 163.
14: T. K. Cheyne, Jeremiah in PC, p. 186.
15: Scribner's Bible Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), p. 528.