The first verse is the title of that part of this book, which relates to the neighbouring nations, and follows here. It is the word of the Lord which came to Jeremiah against the Gentiles; for God is King and Judge of nations, knows and will call to an account those who know him not nor take any notice of him. Both Isaiah and Ezekiel prophesied against these nations that Jeremiah here has a separate saying to, and with reference to the same events. In the Old Testament we have the word of the Lord against the Gentiles; in the New Testament we have the word of the Lord for the Gentiles, that those who were afar off are made nigh.
He begins with Egypt, because they were of old Israel’s oppressors and of late their deceivers, when they put confidence in them. In these verses he foretells the overthrow of the army of Pharaoh-necho, by Nebuchadnezzar, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, which was so complete a victory to the king of Babylon that thereby he recovered from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates, all that pertained to the king of Egypt, and so weakened him that he came not again any more out of his land (as we find, 2 Kgs. 24:7), and so made him pay dearly for his expedition against the king of Assyria four years before, in which he slew Josiah, 2 Kgs. 23:29. This is the event that is here foretold in lofty expressions of triumph over Egypt thus foiled, which Jeremiah would speak of with a particular pleasure, because the death of Josiah, which he had lamented, was now avenged on Pharaoh-necho. Now here,
I. The Egyptians are upbraided with the mighty preparations they made for this expedition, in which the prophet calls to them to do their utmost, for so they would: “Come then, order the buckler, let the weapons of war be got ready,” Jer. 46:3. Egypt was famous for horses—let them be harnessed and the cavalry well mounted: Get up, you horsemen, and stand forth, etc., Jer. 46:4. See what preparations the children of men make, with abundance of care and trouble and at a vast expense, to kill one another, as if they did not die fast enough of themselves. He compares their marching out upon this expedition to the rising of their river Nile (Jer. 46:7, 8): Egypt now rises up like a flood, scorning to keep within its own banks and threatening to overflow all the neighbouring lands. It is a very formidable army that the Egyptians bring into the field upon this occasion. The prophet summons them (Jer. 46:9): Come up, you horses; rage, you chariots. He challenges them to bring all their confederate troops together, the Ethiopians, that descended from the same stock with the Egyptians (Gen. 10), and were their neighbours and allies, the Libyans and Lydians, both seated in Africa, to the west of Egypt, and from them the Egyptians fetched their auxiliary forces. Let them strengthen themselves with all the art and interest they have, yet it shall be all in vain; they shall be shamefully defeated notwithstanding, for God will fight against them, and against him there is no wisdom nor counsel, Prov. 21:30, 31. It concerns those that go forth to war not only to order the buckler, and harness the horses, but to repent of their sins, and pray to God for his presence with them, and that they may have it to keep themselves from every wicked thing.
II. They are upbraided with the great expectations they had from this expedition, which were quite contrary to what God intended in bringing them together. They knew their own thoughts, and God knew them, and sat in heaven and laughed at them,; but they knew not the thoughts of the Lord, for he gathers them as sheaves into the floor, Mic. 4:11, 12. Egypt saith (Jer. 46:8): I will go up; I will cover the earth, and none shall hinder me; I will destroy the city, whatever city it is that stands in my way. Like Pharaoh of old, I will pursue, I will overtake. The Egyptians say that they shall have a day of it, but God saith that it shall be his day: The is the day of the Lord God of hosts (Jer. 46:10), the day in which he will be exalted in the overthrow of the Egyptians. They meant one thing, but God meant another; they designed it for the advancement of their dignity and the enlargement of their dominion, but God designed it for the great abasement and weakening of their kingdom. It is a day of vengeance for Josiah’s death; it is a day of sacrifice to divine justice, to which multitudes of the sinners of Egypt shall fall as victims. Note, When men think to magnify themselves by pushing on unrighteous enterprises, let them expect that God will glorify himself by blasting them and cutting them off.
III. They are upbraided with their cowardice and inglorious flight when they come to an engagement (Jer. 46:5, 6): “Wherefore have I seen them, notwithstanding all these mighty and vast preparations and all these expressions of bravery and resolution, when the Chaldean army faces them, dismayed, turned back, quite disheartened, and no spirit left in them.” 1. They make a shameful retreat. Even their mighty ones, who, one would think, should have stood their ground, flee a flight, flee by consent, make the best of their way, flee in confusion and with the utmost precipitation; they have neither time nor heart to look back, but fear is round about them, for they apprehend it so. And yet, 2. They cannot make their escape. They have the shame of flying, and yet not the satisfaction of saving themselves by flight; they might as well have stood their ground and died upon the spot; for even the swift shall not flee away. The lightness of their heels shall fail them when it comes to the trial, as well as the stoutness of their hearts; the mighty shall not escape, nay, they are beaten down and broken to pieces. They shall stumble in their flight, and fall towards the north, towards their enemy’s country; for such confusion were they in when they took to their feet that instead of making homeward, as men usually do in that case, they made forward. Note, The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong. Valiant men are not always victorious.
IV. They are upbraided with their utter inability ever to recover this blow, which should be fatal to their nation, Jer. 46:11, 12. The damsel, the daughter of Egypt, that lived in great pomp and state, is sorely wounded by this defeat. Let her now seek for balm in Gilead and physicians there; let her use all the medicines her wise men can prescribe for the healing of this hurt, and the repairing of the loss sustained by this defeat; but all in vain; no cure shall be to them; they shall never be able to bring such a powerful army as this into the field again. “The nations that rang of thy glory and strength have now heard of thy shame, how shamefully thou wast routed and how thou are weakened by it.” It needs not be spread by the triumphs of the conquerors, the shrieks and outcries of the conquered will proclaim it: Thy cry hath filled the country about. For, when they fled several ways, one mighty man stumbled upon another and dashed against another, such confusion were they in, so that both together became a pray to the pursuers, an easy prey. A thousand such dreadful accidents there should be, which should fill the country with the cry of those that were overcome. Let not the mighty man therefore glory in his might, for the time may come when it will stand him in no stead.