Jeremiah 46:1-28 (26:2-28, LXX)

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“Jeremiah the prophet” received a “word” or message from YHWH “concerning the [foreign] nations.” (46:1 [26:1, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

The “fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah,” is commonly considered to have been the year 605 BCE. It was then that Nebuchadnezzar the crown prince and son of Babylonian King Nabopolassar defeated the Egyptian military force under the command of Pharaoh Neco (Nechoh, Necho [Nechao (LXX)]) at Carchemish. This battle is mentioned in an extant Babyloian cuneiform inscription (BM 21946). According to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities, X, vi, 1), Neco lost many “ten thousands” of his warriors in the conflict. Carchemish, a city on the west bank of the upper Euphrates River, occupied a strategic position on the main trade route from Nineveh to Haran and then, after crossing the Euphrates, onward to the Orontes Valley in Lebanon. (46:2 [26:2, LXX])

The imperatives were for the Egyptian military to prepare for the encounter with the Chaldean warriors under the command of Nebuchadnezzar. “Ready buckler and shield, and advance for battle.” The Hebrew word for “buckler” (magén) refers to a small round shield that probably was used primarily to protect the face in hand-to-hand fighting. To protect the whole body, the much larger “shield” (tsinnáh) was used. The warriors were to position themselves for battle with their defensive weaponry — bucklers and shields. The Septuagint says, “Take up weapons and shields.” (46:3 [26:3, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

Other preparations for the warriors to make included harnessing horses (saddling horses [LXX]), mounting horses, stationing themselves with their protective helmets, polishing spears or lances, and putting on coats of mail (“breastplates” [LXX]) for protection. Coats of mail were cloaks made from thick cloth or leather, commonly with metal scales attached. (46:4 [26:4, LXX])

Based on the concluding words (“declaration of YHWH” [“says the Lord” (LXX)]), YHWH is the one who represents himself as seeing the Egyptian warriors in disarray. The warriors are dismayed or stricken with terror. They are turning backward or retreating. The mighty men are crushed or beaten down. In haste, they have fled and do not look back. All around them or at every side, there is terror. (46:5 [26:5, LXX]; see the Notes section.) The implication is that, though the swift warrior may try to flee, he would not succeed, and the mighty man would not escape. “Up north by the bank [literally, at the hand of] the River Euphrates,” the Egyptian warriors “have stumbled [have become weak (LXX)] and fallen,” either perishing or being captured. (46:6 [26:6, LXX])

The question about who rises “like the [Nile] River and like rivers” the “waters” of which “toss” or “surge” relates to Pharaoh Neco and his military aims. Neco desired to expand his control over other areas like the annual flood waters of the Nile. (46:7 [26:7, LXX]) Mizraim [Egypt (LXX)], under the rule of Pharaoh Neco, rose like the tossing or surging waters of rivers. In the person of Neco, Egypt is represented as boasting, “I will rise. I will cover the earth [or land]. I will destroy the city” (a collective singular meaning “cities”) and those residing in it (or them). (46:8 [26:8, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

The imperative is directed to the horses and “chariot” (a collective singular denoting “chariots”). “Rise” (or charge into battle), “horses,” and “rage” (or go like mad) chariots. The Septuagint says, “Mount on the horses; prepare the chariots.” Other warriors with the Egyptians were those of Cush (“Ethiopians” [LXX]), Put (“Libyans” [LXX]), and Lud. The mighty men of Put and the Ludim warriors may have been from northern Africa. The Seputagint, however, refers to the “Ludim” as “Lydians,” a people who resided in southwestern Asia Minor. The warriors were directed to “go forth,” advancing into battle. Those of Cush and Put handled the “buckler” (magén), a small round shield. (See verse 3 for additional comments.) The “bow” was the weapon of the Ludim. Treading the bow refers to stringing it. The foot would be placed in the middle of the bow to bend it, and then the unattached string would be tied to the opposite side of the bow. To Cush and Put and to the Ludim, the directive was, “Go forth.” The Septuagint says, “Go forth, warriors of the Ethiopians and Libyans armed with weapons; and Lydians, rise up, bend [or stretch] the bow.” (46:9 [26:9, LXX])

The defeat of the warriors under the command of Pharaoh Neco at Carchemish by the Euphrates is identified as an expression of YHWH’s punitive judgment. It is referred to as the “day” that belongs to the “Lord, YHWH of hosts [the God with hosts of angels in his service]” (the “Lord, our God” [LXX]), a “day of vengeance to avenge himself on his enemies.” The “sword” of warfare (the “sword of the Lord” [LXX]) is personified and portrayed as devouring and sating itself, having its fill from the blood of YHWH’s foes. With the slaughter taking place “in the land of the north by the Euphrates River” and directed against his enemies, it is designated as a “sacrifice for the Lord, YHWH of hosts” (“the Lord Sabaoth” [a transliteration of the Hebrew word for “hosts” (LXX)]). (46:10 [26:10, LXX])

Gilead, a region east of the Jordan River, anciently was known for the healing properties of its balsam. This balsam is thought to have been the resinous substance obtained from a shrublike evergreen tree. Physicians often used balsam to promote the healing of wounds. The “virgin daughter of Egypt” is told to “go up to Gilead” to get balsam, but this directive is ironic, for there would be no healing for the wound of the military defeat. According to the Septuagint rendering, “Galaad” (Gilead) is instructed to procure the resin for the “virgin daughter of Egypt.” Though Egypt is portrayed as having used many medicines for healing, this proved to be in vain. There was nothing to make Egypt whole again. In the past, Egypt was like a “virgin” by reason of not having suffered humiliating defeat. (46:11 [26:11, LXX])

The people of other nations would hear about the disgrace that had come upon Egypt, with the outcry or wailing over the disastrous military outcome filling the “earth” or extending far beyond the scene of the defeat. Warrior stumbled over warrior, apparently in a desperate attempt to flee from the enemy. Both the one who stumbled and the warrior over whom the other mighty man stumbled ended up falling together. (46:12 [26:12, LXX])

“Jeremiah the prophet” received another message from YHWH. This word related to the “coming of Nebuchadrezzar [Nebuchadnezzar] the king of Babylon to strike down the land of Mizraim [Egypt (LXX)].” In his Antiquities (X, ix, 7), Josephus wrote, “In the fifth year after the destruction of Jerusalem, which was the twenty-third of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, he made an expedition against Celesyria; and when he had possessed himself of it, he made war against the Ammonites and Moabites; and when he had brought all those nations under subjection, he fell upon Egypt, in order to overthrow it.” Also a fragmentary Babylonian text (ANET, 1974 edition, page 308) that is dated to the thirty-seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign refers to a military campaign against Egypt. (46:13 [26:13, LXX])

Apparently messengers were the ones directed to make a proclamation in “Mizraim” (Egypt [LXX]) and in Migdol (Magdolos [LXX], possibly a site not far from Pelusium [Tel el Farame]), Noph (Memphis [LXX], a capital of ancient Egypt that is linked to a site on the west side of the Nile and to the south of modern Cairo) and Tahpanhes, a city in the Delta region of Egypt, for the people there to be in a state of readiness to face calamity. “Take your stand and be prepared, for a sword will devour round about you.” Victims of war would be all around any survivors. (46:14 [26:14, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

The rhetorical question has been variously understood to refer to the fate of Egyptian warriors or to that of the Apis bull that was venerated in Memphis as the incarnation of a god (Ptah). “Why have your warriors fallen? They cannot stand, for the LORD has knocked them down.” (NLT) “Why are your stalwarts swept away? They did not stand firm, for the LORD thrust them down.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Why has Apis fled? Your champion did not stand, because the LORD thrust him down.” (NAB, revised edition) “Why does Apis flee? Why does your bull-god not stand fast? Because the LORD has thrust him out.” (REB) The application to Apis has the support of the Septuagint. “Why did Apis flee? Your choice bull calf did not remain, for the Lord disabled him.” (46:15 [26:15, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

Based on previous verse, YHWH may be understood as having multiplied “stumbling” in the case of the Egyptian warriors and the mercenaries. In view of his use of the Babylonian military, YHWH is the one to whom the many cases of stumbling are attributed. Again and again among the Egyptian fighting men and the mercenaries, one “man fell upon another.” The mercenaries and foreigners residing in Egypt then said to one another, “Arise and let us return to our people and to the land of our birth, because of the sword of the oppressing one,” the victorious Nebuchadnezzar and his troops. (46:16 [26:16, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

It appears that the mercenaries and foreigners who lived in Egypt called the “name of Pharaoh, king of Egypt,” by an unflattering epithet — a “crash [or big noise] who lets the hour [or festival] go by.” This epithet has been variously rendered, including, “Braggart-missed-his-chance” (NAB, revised edition), “Noisy Braggart Who Missed His Chance” (GNT), “King Bombast, the man who missed his opportunity” (REB), “Talks Big-Does-Nothing.” (CEV) In the Septuagint, the Hebrew words are transliterated, “Saon-esbi-emoed.” (46:17 [26:17, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

The solemn declaration of YHWH is introduced with the words, “As I live, says the King, whose name is YHWH of hosts” (the God with hosts of angels in his service). In the Septuagint, the rendering is, “I live, says the Lord God.” Mount Tabor rises impressively from the Valley of Jezreel to a height of more than 1,840 feet (over 560 meters). At its highest point, Carmel rises about 1,790 feet (c. 545 meters) above sea level. The one who was to come into the land of Egypt would be as impressive as “Tabor among the hills” and “Carmel by the sea” (the Mediterranean Sea), eminences that towered over the surrounding land. This one may refer to Nebuchadnezzar with his military force. Translators have variously rendered the Hebrew text. “As Mount Tabor towers above the mountains and Mount Carmel stands high above the sea, so will be the strength of the one who attacks you.” (TEV) “One will come, … one mighty as Tabor among the hills, as Carmel by the sea.” (REB) “One is coming against Egypt who is as tall as Mount Tabor, or as Mount Carmel by the sea!” (NLT) “Those enemies who attack will tower over you like Mount Tabor among the hills or Mount Carmel by the sea.” (CEV) “As surely as Tabor is among the mountains and Carmel is by the sea, so shall this come to pass.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) (46:18 [26:18, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

The Egyptian survivors of the conflict with Nebuchadnezzar and his troops would not be able to remain in the land. Therefore, the “daughter of Egypt,” was told to prepare “baggage for exile.” The items would include essentials that could fit in a bag and not be too heavy to carry for a long distance. Regarding her circumstances, the “daughter of Egypt” is referred to as “sitting.” This could mean that people of Egypt were settled securely in their land. That security would end. Noph (Memphis [LXX]), an ancient capital of Egypt, would become a “waste” or a place occasioning horror on account of what would happen to the city. It would be burned and come to be a place without an inhabitant. (46:19 [26:19, LXX])

Mizraim (Egypt [LXX]) is likened to a “beautiful heifer” that would be subjected to an attack “from the north.” The Hebrew word qérets designates the agency (King Nebuchadnezzar and his military force) that would come against the heifer. This word appears to apply to a biting or stinging insect. It has been rendered “gadfly” (NIV, REB), “horsefly” (NAB, revised edition; NLT), and “stinging fly” (TEV). The word in the Septuagint is apóspasma, which term designates a “shred,” “fragment,” “broken branch,” or something that is broken off. (46:20 [26:20, LXX])

The mercenaries in the midst of Egypt are referred to as “calves of a stall” or fattened calves,” suggesting that these warriors were helpless and ready to be slaughtered. Instead of warring valiantly, they “turned” or gave way and fled. “They did not stand,” failing to hold their ground. In their case, the “day of their calamity” came upon them, the “time of their visitation [punishment (LXX)]” or of their being given attention in a manner that proved to be ruinous to them. (46:21 [26:21, LXX])

There is an apparent wordplay — the going (yelek) like a serpent and the coming (yelekhu) of the attacking force with axes. Either the “voice” or the “sound” of Egypt is “like [that] of a serpent” as it “goes” or slithers away. The Septuagint refers to the “voice” or the “sound” as being like that of a “hissing snake” and explains this as being “because they will go in sand.” One way to understand the Hebrew text is to view the warriors and people of Egypt as trying to make an escape from the military force under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar. In their helpless state, their voice is reduced to a low mournful sound or to sighing or moaning comparable to the hissing of a snake in flight or the sound it makes as it slithers away in the vegetation to escape danger. Modern translations have variously rendered the text, often incorporating part of the Septuagint rendering. “Egypt is hissing like a fleeing snake, for the enemy has come in force. They attack her with axes, like fellers of trees.” (REB) “Her voice is like a snake! Yes, they come in force; they attack her with axes, like those who fell trees.” (NAB, revised edition) “Egypt runs away, hissing like a snake, as the enemy’s army approaches. They attack her with axes, like men cutting down trees and destroying a thick forest.” (TEV) “She shall rustle away like a snake as they come marching in force; they shall come against her with axes, like hewers of wood.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “The enemy army will go forward like a swarm of locusts. Your troops will feel helpless, like a snake in a forest when men with axes start chopping down trees. It can only hiss and try to escape.” (CEV) (46:22 [26:22, LXX])

The cutting down of Egypt’s forest may be understood to refer to the devastation of the land — its trees, vegetation, crops, cities, and dwellings. According to the “declaration of YHWH,” this would happen despite the fact that the country had appeared secure like an impenetrable forest. Egypt would be overwhelmed by a huge force of warriors that is described as more “numerous than locusts” (a collective singular in Hebrew) and “without number.” (46:23 [26:23, LXX])

The military defeat would disgrace and humiliate the “daughter of Egypt.” She would be given “into the hand of a people from the north.” Nebuchadnezzar and his troops would be coming into Egypt from the north and, therefore, are designated as “people from the north,” even though Babylonia was located far to the east of Egypt. (46:24 [26:24, LXX])

“YHWH of hosts [the God with hosts of angels in his service], the God of Israel” declared, “Look, I am visiting [directing attention for punitive judgment on] Amon of No and Pharaoh and Mizraim [Egypt] and her gods and her kings, and Pharaoh and those trusting in him.” No, also known as Thebes, was a one-time capital of ancient Egypt and the chief center for the veneration of the god Amon. The city was located on both banks of the upper Nile. In Egyptian texts, it was referred to as the “City of Amon.” A successful military campaign against Egypt would also have constituted a judgment on the gods, as they would not have been of any assistance to Pharaoh and those who trusted in him, primarily his Egyptian subjects and others who had taken up permanent residence in the land. The “kings” may have been the rulers of Egypt who would be affected by military invasions. Another possibility is that, in this context, the word “kings” designates high officials. (46:25 [26:25, LXX]; see the Notes section.)

YHWH purposed to give Pharaoh and all those who trusted in him, the Egyptian deities, and the land of Egypt into the “hand” or power of “Nebuchadrezzar [Nebuchadnezzar] the king of Babylon and into the hand of his servants [men in royal service].” The means for doing so would be Babylonian military triumph. The time would come, however, when the fortunes of Egypt would change, and people would reside securely in the country as they did in “days of old.” (46:26; see the Notes section.)

“Jacob” and “Israel” are parallel designations, for the name of Jacob was changed to Israel after he wrestled with an angel. Here Jacob and Israel refer to the Israelites, the people who descended from him. They were not to give in to fear or be terrified on account of distressing developments, including exile. YHWH recognized the people as his “servant” and assured them that he would save them from “far away” (or the distant locations to which they had been scattered) and their “seed” or offspring would be delivered “from the land of their captivity.” The descendants of Jacob would be able to return to their own land and enjoy living there without disturbance, be at ease or secure, and not be subjected to military aggression that would give rise to trembling with fear. According to the Septuagint, Jacob would have “quiet and sleep. ”(46:27 [26:27, LXX])

The reason Jacob (or the people descended from him) should not be afraid was YHWH’s assurance to him as his servant, “I am with you,” acting as his protector and helper. He would make an end to the “nations” to which the descendants of Jacob had been dispersed, but the descendants of Jacob would not come to their finish. On account of their disobedience, YHWH would discipline them in just measure or to the degree that would accomplish his purpose respecting them and cause them to abandon their wayward course. He would not leave them unpunished. (46:28 [26:28, LXX])

Notes

In the Septuagint, there is no corresponding wording for verse 1 of the Hebrew text.

In verses 3 through 12, the vivid poetic description of the preparations for battle and the subsequent defeat of the Egyptian warriors under the command of Pharaoh Neco (Nechoh, Necho) may have served as an implied warning against looking to Egypt for military assistance.

Verse 5 of chapter 26 in the Septuagint does not make any mention of seeing. It raises the question as to why the warriors are terrified and retreat. According to another interpretation of the Hebrew text, Jeremiah raises the question, “Why have I seen it?” This question is then followed by the words of YHWH that portray the defeat of the Egyptian military force. A number of modern translations that are more interpretive in their renderings do not allow for understanding the Hebrew text in this way. “‘But what do I see?’ asks the LORD.” (TEV) “But now, what sight is this? They are broken and routed, their warriors defeated; they are in headlong flight without a backward look. Terror let loose! This is the word of the LORD.” (REB) “I can see the battle now — you are defeated and running away, never once looking back. Terror is all around.” (CEV)

The Septuagint, in verse 8 of chapter 26, contains an abbreviated text. “Waters of Egypt will rise like a river, and it said, I will rise and cover [or flood] the land and destroy those residing in it.” This rendering is either representing Egypt or the flood water as making the boast.

In verse 14 of chapter 26, the Septuagint does not include Tahpanhes (Taphnas). The concluding phrase is, “for a sword has devoured your yew.” The rendering “your yew” possibly came about when the translator read the Hebrew expression for “round about you” as “your thicket.”

One of the problems in the Hebrew text of verse 15 is that there is a change from plural to singular. The words may be translated, “Why do your mighty ones lie prostrate? He does not stand, for YHWH has pushed him down.” If the term for “mighty ones” is regarded as a plural of excellence, it could relate to what the Egyptians considered as a mighty one, a deity, or the representation or incarnation of a mighty one or a god. The singular phrase that follows would then fit.

In verse 16 of chapter 26, the Septuagint refers to the Egyptian military force as a “multitude” that “was weak and fell.” Instead of the expression that may literally be rendered “sword of the oppressing one” or the oppressor, the Septuagint says “Greek sword.” This rendering apparently arose because the translator read the participial form of the Hebrew word for “oppress” (yanáh) as a form of yawán (Greece)

In the Septuagint (26:17), the Pharaoh is identified as Nechao (Nechoh, Necho, Neco).

The Septuagint (26:18) contains a transliteration for “Tabor” (Itabyrion). According to another interpretation of verse 18, YHWH is like lofty Tabor and Carmel and comes to execute judgment upon Egypt through the agency of Nebuchadnezzar and his troops.

The Septuagint translator appears not to have recognized “Amon” as the name of an Egyptian god. In verse 25 of chapter 26, the wording of the Septuagint is, “Look, I am avenging Amon, her son [Egypt’s son], on Pharaoh and on those trusting in him.”

The wording of verse 26 is not included in the Septuagint.