Jeremiah 44
Jeremiah 44 Kingcomments Bible Studies

Exhortation to Learn From the Past

The word comes again to Jeremiah (Jer 44:1). It is a word for all the Jews living in Egypt. They have spread from Tahpanhes, where they came collectively into Egypt (Jer 43:7), to other cities in Egypt mentioned here. Four places are mentioned, three in northern Egypt: Migdol, Tahpanhes, and Memphis, and one in southern Egypt: Pathros. The mention of these places shows how quickly the Jews spread throughout Egypt, from north to south.

In Jer 44:2-6 Jeremiah gives his listeners a history lesson that shows the human cause and the Divine response of the ruin that Jerusalem has become. We are further in time here than in the previous chapter. Also in Egypt, the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, speaks through Jeremiah to the Jews (Jer 44:2). He reminds them of the calamity He has brought upon Jerusalem and all the cities of Judah, which they have seen themselves. They have also experienced it firsthand that the cities have become a shambles and that no man lives there anymore.

The LORD also reminds them of the cause (Jer 44:3). The calamity has come upon them because of their wickedness, with which they have provoked Him to anger. That wickedness is specified. It is the wickedness of burning sacrifices to other gods with whom they never had any connection, neither they nor their fathers. Here is the root of all mischief: idolatry. Nor did they offer these sacrifices once in a while, but persevered with it.

Through His servants, the prophets, the LORD has seriously warned them of this over and over again (Jer 44:4). He has let His people know through them that these are horrible things that He hates. We hear here how intensely God’s feelings are grieved by this evil. Idolatry is a deep insult to Him. It is giving honor to something other than Him, which means giving honor to the devil and his demons who are behind the idol (1Cor 10:19-20). God hates idolatry.

However, they did not listen and did not repent. They did not stop these abominable practices (Jer 44:5). Therefore, the LORD has poured out His wrath and anger on them which has raged like a fire in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem (Jer 44:6). The result is that they are now a ruin and a desolation.

After this review, the LORD asks why they do this great evil (Jer 44:7). He puts it this way, that they do this great evil to themselves. They plunge themselves, man and woman, child and infant, into destruction, with no one left. The ruin is total. It is also a mystery today why people continue to live a certain way of life with bad, harmful habits, knowing that it is taking them to the abyss, that they are in the process of killing themselves. If Christ is not our life, the flesh, the world and the devil have complete power over us.

They do it to themselves, for the anger of the LORD comes upon them because they burn sacrifices to other gods also in Egypt (Jer 44:8). Once again the LORD says that by doing so they will cut off themselves. They will also become a curse and a reproach among all the nations of the earth and not a testimony to His Name, which is what He so much wanted them to be.

They are in the process of exterminating themselves as a nation, they want to commit national suicide. The German philosopher Hegel rightly said: “What experience and history teach is that people and governments have never learned anything from history.” So it is with these Jews in Egypt. How disheartening it must have been for Jeremiah. All his life he preached against this idolatry in Judah and now the Jews are committing the same sin in Egypt that caused the fall of Jerusalem.

Once again, the LORD reminds them of the past (Jer 44:9). He brings to their attention the evil deeds of their fathers, and also those of the kings of Judah. Then He points them to their own evil deeds and the evil deeds of their wives. Their wives openly practiced idolatry in Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. Despite all the calamity that has come upon them, to this day there is no repentance or even a trace of contrite (Jer 44:10). There is not even any fear of the newly announced judgments. How hardened a heart can be! A person hardens himself when he continues to oppose God and His Word and does not walk according to it.

Warning of Punishment

The punishments presented to them by the LORD in these verses are the result of their self-willed, wrong choice. When the punishments come, they can only blame themselves for it. Because they persist in their sins, the LORD will turn his face against them not for good, but for woe (Jer 44:11). Instead of building them up and protecting them, He will cut off all Judah.

It is about people who “set their mind” on going to Egypt to stay there as strangers (Jer 44:12). Those who set their mind on something are beyond correction. Therefore, the judgment on them must be that they will all perish in Egypt by the sword and famine, from small to great. Instead of being a blessing to their surroundings, their surroundings will curse and terrify them, because they bring a curse and a reproach upon their surroundings.

The Egyptians will see the Jews punished by the LORD, that it will be in the same way He punished them in Jerusalem (Jer 44:13). The LORD knows where His people are and strikes them where they are with the sword, famine and pestilence. No one will escape His judgment (Jer 44:14). They have fled with the thought of finding temporary safety in Egypt. It is only to stay there as a stranger, they believe. There is no intention of settling there permanently. No, they long, when the coast is clear again, to return to Judah and live there again.

But the LORD says: “None will return.” Yet we see then that even here the LORD will allow some to escape. He is maintaining a remnant according to the election of grace. Possibly this involves some who were taken to Egypt against their will.

Stubborn Persistence in Idolatry

After Jeremiah has spoken the words of judgment from the LORD, comes the reaction of the people (Jer 44:15). This is quite a large company, “a large assembly”. The Spirit of God introduces to us the people who respond. They are first “all the men who were aware that their wives were burning sacrifices to other gods”.

Such men do not behave as the head of their wives. It is written of Jacob that he does not know that Rachel has stolen the idols (Gen 31:32). These men simply allow their wives to do so. Such men are will-less straw men who bow to the will of their wives. In doing so, they throw overboard the will of God.

Then all the women, also as a group, are mentioned. The women’s movement is well represented. Those men and women form a large crowd. Then there is also “all the people”, the influenceable, compliant crowd.

The response is truly mind-boggling (Jer 44:16). They acknowledge that Jeremiah spoke the word to them in the Name of the LORD and in the same breath it follows that they will not listen to it. This is defiantly, willful sinning, punishable by death (Num 15:30-31). Jeremiah also denounced this sin earlier (Jer 7:17-18). It is falling away from the living God, with no possibility of repentance (cf. Heb 6:4-6; Heb 10:29).

It seems that the women are the spokesmen. They are not doing what “the mouth of the LORD” has spoken, but they will, they say, “certainly carry out every word that has proceeded from our mouths” (Jer 44:17). That means, they go on to say, that they will continue to burn sacrifices to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her.

They did the same in Judah and Jerusalem, just like their fathers, kings and princes. Then they had bread and things went well and they saw no evil. That changed when they stopped doing that (Jer 44:18). That must have happened under pressure from Josiah. Then there was a lack of everything and the sword and famine stroke them. By the way, their men know about it, but say nothing of it (Jer 44:19). So what will Jeremiah tell them?

This kind of ‘theological gymnastics’, as someone called it, is something we also encounter today. It is hidden in the view that ceasing to sin brings unhappiness. People who practice one sin or another with commitment and devotion become unhappy when they stop. From this they conclude that sin makes them happy. In such people, sin is so deeply ingrained that they are no longer open to the truth and believe the lie as truth.

The first argument for continuing with their idolatry is: we do as we have always done. The second argument is that it went well for them when they offered the queen of heaven and it went badly for them when they stopped doing so. There is no sense of the discipline of God as the real cause of their misery. The third argument is that they did not do it without their men. They shift the blame. They overlook the fact that each has his or her own responsibility, which is not inconsistent with the woman’s submission to the man.

This is how the LORD is pushed aside. It is even worse. All blessing is attributed to the idols and all plagues to the LORD.

Those who want to be faithful to Christ may find themselves in difficult circumstances. The devil will use that to point out to someone that when he did not know the Lord, he did not have all those problems. Those who do not live from a living relationship with the Lord Jesus will fall back into the hands of the devil in a time of need. We are told “that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Therefore, the fiery ordeal of tribulation should not surprise us (1Pet 4:12).

These women when they practiced idolatry, had plenty to eat and an easy life, they say. They attribute the lack of prosperity to the displeasure of the idols when they ceased to sacrifice to them. They believe the lie and have been blinded by the devil. They are responsible for this themselves.

Their husbands as heads of the family are even more responsible. They allow their wives to do so (cf. Num 30:3; 6-7; 12). The wife is given to help the man, but here the women take the initiative and the men follow submissively. It is like with the fall in sin, where Eve also takes the lead and Adam follows.

Judgment on Stubbornness

Then comes Jeremiah’s answer (Jer 44:20). Do they really think that the LORD did not think of their idolatry and that of their fathers, kings and princes and all the people outside the cities (Jer 44:21)? Wouldn’t thoughts have entered His heart about their abominable conduct? What foolishness to assume that. He has pointed it out time and time again. Also, they could have known it from His law. But His patience is not infinite. The time has come when He has been unable to endure their evil deeds, their abominations, any longer (Jer 44:22). Therefore, the land became a desolation, without an inhabitant.

Surely they can observe that today, can’t they? It is precisely this idolatry that they have practiced and continue to practice today, even outside the land, that has caused this calamity to come upon them (Jer 44:23). That judgment does not come from their idols, but from the living God. At length Jeremiah argues in which they have transgressed: burning sacrifices, sinning, not listening to the voice of the LORD, not walking according to His law, His ordinances and His testimonies. The proven charges are numerous.

Jeremiah continues his indictment of the people, also mentioning the women separately (Jer 44:24). They are to listen to the word of the LORD. He, the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, says that they have just pronounced their own judgment (Jer 44:25). He has heard correctly that they and their wives – the women are again mentioned separately and therefore emphatically – have said that they are determined to fulfill their vows that they made to the idols. All right, says the LORD, do it! This is consistent with the word of Hosea: “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone” (Hos 4:17). They no longer need to be warned because they don’t listen anyway. God gives them over to their actions.

They made a vow, the LORD also makes a vow, which He confirms with an oath (Jer 44:26). Let none of the Jews living in Egypt ever again think that He will listen to them if they take His Name in their mouth. It is over now. He is watching over them for harm and not for good (Jer 44:27). He has often done the latter, but they have now definitely turned their backs on Him. They will not obey. Judgment must come.

Only a few, “few in number”, will escape the sword and return to Judah (Jer 44:28). They will all know whether His word stands, the word of God, or theirs, the word of men. To deny it will be impossible, for they will experience it firsthand (Jer 44:29). The sign that His word is true, they will acknowledge by the punishments that come upon them.

They believe they are safe in Egypt because Zedekiah made a covenant with Pharaoh Hophra (Jer 44:30). But the LORD will give Pharaoh into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. Their security is a false security because in doing so they rely on the power of a man rather than the power of God. Those who go against God are not safe anywhere. The shelter will be taken away and so will those who sought shelter.

Jeremiah’s service in Egypt to the people who fled to Egypt is the last service we have of him in the midst of God’s people. Thankfully, it is not the end of God’s dealings with His people. He will fulfill all His plans to a remnant that He spares by grace.

© 2023 Author G. de Koning

All rights reserved. No part of the publications may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.

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