Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the Jews which dwell in the land of Egypt, which dwell at Migdol, and at Tahpanhes, and at Noph, and in the country of Pathros, saying,XLIV.
(1) At Migdol, and at Tahpanhes . . .—We find from Jeremiah 44:15 that the discourse that follows was delivered at a large gathering of the Jews at Pathros. The number of places named (the three appear in the same combination in Jeremiah 46:14) indicates the extent of the emigration. Migdol (here, as elsewhere, meaning a “tower” or “fortress”) is named in Exodus 14:2 as on the route of the Israelites before they crossed the Red Sea, between Pi-hahiroth and Baal-zephon, and again in Ezekiel 29:10; Ezekiel 30:6. It appears in the Itinerary of Antoninus, under the name Magdolo, as twelve miles south of Pelusium. The latter is thought by Lepsius to be different from the former, and to answer to the Stratopeda or “camp” which Herodotus mentions as having been founded by Psammetichus I. as a settlement for his Ionian or Carian mercenaries (Smith’s Dict. of the Bible, Art. Migdol). Noph was identical with Memphis, and appears in Isaiah 19:13; Jeremiah 2:16; Ezekiel 30:13; Ezekiel 30:16 : and as Moph in the Hebrew of Hosea 9:6. The position of Pathros is less certain, but it may be inferred from the mention of the other cities with it that it was in Lower Egypt, and possibly, from Jeremiah 44:15, that it was the name of the region in which it was situated. So in Isaiah 11:11, it appears in conjunction with Mizraim (= Egypt) and Cush (= Ethiopia), both of which are names of regions and not of cities. By Brugsch (Egypt, I. 242) it has been identified with Upper Egypt, the region of the Thebaid. There is no certain note of the interval between the arrival of the Jews in Egypt and the delivery of the discourse, but it would appear that there had been time for the Jews to disperse and settle in the three or four cities here named, and to adopt the worship of the Egyptians. It is, however, implied throughout that the prophet is speaking to the emigrants themselves, and not to their descendants (Jeremiah 44:17; Jeremiah 44:21).
Thus saith the LORD 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,(2) Ye have seen . . .—The prophet begins, naturally enough, with an appeal to the personal experience of his hearers. Was not that enough to show them that the source of all their evils had been their falling away from the faith or worship of their fathers?
Howbeit I sent unto you all my servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, saying, Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate.(4) Rising early and sending them . . .—The prophet uses the same anthropomorphic language as of old (Jeremiah 7:25; Jeremiah 25:4; Jeremiah 26:5; Jeremiah 29:19). The term “abominable thing,” or “abomination,” though common in many of the books of the Old Testament, as in the Proverbs, where it is applied to moral enormities (e.g., Proverbs 3:32; Proverbs 6:16), is specially characteristic, as applied to idolatry, of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 27:15; Deuteronomy 32:16), Jeremiah (here and Jeremiah 7:10; Jeremiah 8:12; Jeremiah 32:35), and Ezek. (Ezekiel 5:11, and some forty other passages).
In that ye provoke me unto wrath with the works of your hands, burning incense unto other gods in the land of Egypt, whither ye be gone to dwell, that ye might cut yourselves off, and that ye might be a curse and a reproach among all the nations of the earth?(8) Burning incense unto other gods in the land of Egypt.—The words imply that the exiles were not only carrying on the old idolatrous practices with which they had been familiar in their own lands, but had adopted those of the Egyptians. This was the evil which the prophet had all along dreaded, and which had made him from the first, like his predecessor, Isaiah (Isaiah 30:2; Isaiah 31:1), hostile to every plan of an alliance with Egypt.
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 have committed in the land of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem?(9) The wickedness of their wives.—As in the first introduction of idolatry under Solomon (1Kings 11:4) so in the reigns of his successors, as in the case of Asa (1Kings 15:13) and Ahaziah (2Chronicles 22:2), the queens for the time being, often of alien birth, seem to have been the chief patrons of foreign and idolatrous worship, and their example was naturally followed by the wives of the nobles and other citizens.
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:(13) I will punish them that dwell in the land of Egypt.—The words point, like those of Jeremiah 43:11, to a punishment which should fall on the whole of Egypt, and from which the Jews who dwelt in it should find no exemption.
So that none of the remnant of Judah, which are gone into the land of Egypt to sojourn there, shall escape or remain, that they should return into the land of Judah, to the which they have a desire to return to dwell there: for none shall return but such as shall escape.(14) To the which they have a desire to return.—Literally, unto which they lift up their souls to return. The words are significant as showing that the exiles still cherished the hope of getting back to the land of their fathers.
None shall return but such as shall escape.—The words seem at first a truism, but they imply that the escape would be difficult. The formula seems to have been not uncommon (Ezekiel 7:16). In Jeremiah 44:28 we have the fact more definitely stated: there should be, as in previous chastisements, a remnant, and a remnant only (Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 6:13). By some critics the limiting clause has been looked on as an interpolation, inserted to bring the verse into agreement with Jeremiah 44:28.
Then all the men which knew that their wives had burned incense unto other gods, and all the women that stood by, a great multitude, even all the people that dwelt in the land of Egypt, in Pathros, answered Jeremiah, saying,(15) All the men which knew that their wives had burned incense.—The fact thus mentioned incidentally shows that the prophet’s words in Jeremiah 44:9 had not missed their mark. As of old—as, we may add, in the Rome of the Empire (Juvenal, Sat. vi. 526–534)—the women practised a cultus in which their husbands acquiesced, even though they did not join in it.
But since we left off to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine.(18) To burn incense to the queen of heaven.—This form of worship, characterised specially by its offerings of crescent-shaped cakes, would seem to have been the dominant fashion of the idolatry of the time. (See Note on Jeremiah 7:18.) The men who felt themselves condemned by the prophet’s words vindicate their line of action. They had practised this worship of old, and would practise it still, and they set their experience of the prosperity of those past days against the prophet’s picture of the evil that had followed. Might they not argue, as the Romans did in the calamities that fell on the Empire (Tertull. Apol. c. 40; August. De Civ. Dei, I. c. 36), that they suffered because they had left off the worship under the influence of a different teaching?
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 men?(19) Without our men.—Better, as in the margin, without our husbands. We have here, it is obvious, the very words of the women who were stung by what they looked on as Jeremiah’s intimation that the chief guilt lay on them. They disclaim any special responsibility. Their husbands had joined in the worship, or had, at least, sanctioned it.
Then Jeremiah said unto all the people, to the men, and to the women, and to all the people which had given him that answer, saying,(20-23) Then Jeremiah said . . .—The prophet makes an effective rejoinder to the assertion that the prosperity of past years had coincided with the idolatrous worship which he condemned. That prosperity had not been lasting, and though the long-suffering of God had borne with them, the judgments had at last come. The tenor of his argument was that which Augustine adopts in his treatise De Civitate Dei. See Note on Jeremiah 44:16.
Moreover Jeremiah said unto all the people, and to all the women, Hear the word of the LORD, all Judah that are in the land of Egypt:(24-28) Hear the word of the Lord . . .—The appeal to the experience of the past is followed by a prediction of the future, addressed to the wives as well as to the husbands. The new sin would lead to a new punishment. A tone of irony is perceptible in the words, “Ye will surely accomplish your vows.” That, at all events, was a promise they were likely to keep, however faithless they might have shown themselves in keeping their vows to the God of their fathers. But the Lord of Israel meets that vow by another. By that “great name” (Genesis 22:16) of the Lord God (Jehovah Adonai), which they had slighted and profaned, He declares that it shall be profaned no more by the Egyptian exiles, not because they, of their own accord, would cease to use it, but because none of them should be left there. The small remnant that survived the sword and the famine should return to Judah as a witness of the judgment that had fallen on them, and of the truth of the prophet’s warning. The words of Jehovah should stand, while those of men should fail.
Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I will give Pharaohhophra 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, his enemy, and that sought his life.(30) Behold, I will give Pharaoh-hophra . . .—The fate of the Egyptian king is announced, coming, as it did, before that of the fugitives, as a “sign” that the prediction of their doom also would in due course be accomplished. The king thus named—the Apries of Herod. II., 161, 163, 169—was the son of Psammis, and reigned for twenty-five years. He attacked Sidon by land and Tyre by sea, presumably before Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Phœnicia, and then sent his armies against Cyrene. The issue of that campaign was disastrous, and his subjects revolted. His general, Amasis, who was sent to pacify the rebels, put himself at their head. Apries was deposed, kept in honourable imprisonment at Sais for a time, and afterwards strangled. His reign extended from B.C. 594 to 569. Jeremiah probably delivered his prediction circ. B.C. 580, and it is the last recorded event in his life. A late Christian tradition, resting probably on a Jewish one, states that then, or shortly afterwards, the Egyptian Jews, irritated by his reproaches, rose up against him and stoned him to death. (Tertull. Adv. Gnost, c. 8; Hieron. Adv. Jovin, ii. 37.) In Hebrews 11:37 (“they were stoned “) we may probably find a reference to his fate as one of the “noble army of martyrs.”