Daring sinners may speak many a bold word and many a big word, but, after all, God will have the last word; for he will be justified when he speaks, and all flesh, even the proudest, shall be silent before him. Prophets may be run down, but God cannot; nay, here the prophet would not.
I. Jeremiah has something to say to them from himself, which he could say without a spirit of prophecy, and that was to rectify their mistake (a wilful mistake it was) concerning the calamities they had been under and the true intent and meaning of them. They said that these miseries came upon them because they had now left off burning incense to the queen of heaven. “No,” says he, “it was because you had formerly done it, not because you had now left it off.” When they gave him that answer, he immediately replied (Jer. 44:20) that the incense which they and their fathers had burnt to other gods did indeed go unpunished a great while, for God was long-suffering towards them, and during the day of his patience it was perhaps, as they said, well with them, and they saw no evil; but at length they grew so provoking that the Lord could no longer bear (Jer. 44:22), but began a controversy with them, whereupon some of them did a little reform; their sins left them, for so it might be said, rather than that they left their sins. But their old guilt being still upon the score, and their corrupt inclinations still the same, God remembered against them the idolatries of their fathers, their kings, and their princes, in the streets of Jerusalem, which they, instead of being ashamed of, gloried in as a justification of them in their idolatries; they all came into his mind (Jer. 44:21), all the abominations which they had committed (Jer. 44:22) and all their disobedience to the voice of the Lord (Jer. 44:23), all were brought to account; and therefore, to punish them for these, is their land a desolation and a curse, as at this day (Jer. 44:22); therefore, not for their late reformation, but for their old transgressions, has all this evil happened to them, as at this day, Jer. 44:23. Note, The right understanding of the cause of our troubles, one would think, should go far towards the cure of our sins. Whatever evil comes upon us, it is because we have sinned against the Lord, and should therefore stand in awe and sin not.
II. Jeremiah has something to say to them, to the women particularly, from the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, They have given their answer; now let them hear God’s reply, Jer. 44:24. Judah, that dwells in the land of Egypt, has God speaking to them, even there; that is their privilege. Let them observe what he says; that is their duty, Jer. 44:26. Now God, in his reply, tells them plainly,
1. That, since they were fully determined to persist in their idolatry, he was fully determined to proceed in his controversy with them; if they would go on to provoke him, he would go on to punish them, and see which would get the better at last. God repeats what they had said (Jer. 44:25): “You and your wives are agreed in this obstinacy; you have spoken with your mouths and fulfilled with your hands; you have said it, and you stand to it, have said it and go on to do accordingly, We will surely perform our vows that we have vowed, to burn incense to the queen of heaven,” as if, though it were a sin, yet their having vowed to do it were sufficient to justify them in the doing of it; whereas no man can by his vow make that lawful to himself, much less duty, which God has already made sin. “Well” (says God), “you will accomplish, you will perform, your wicked vows: now hear what is my vow, what I have sworn by my great name;” and, if the Lord hath sworn, he will not repent, since they have sworn and will not repent. With the froward he will show himself froward, Ps. 18:26. (1.) He had sworn that what little remains of religion there were among them should be lost, Jer. 44:26. Though they joined with the Egyptians in their idolatries, yet they continued upon many occasions to make mention of the name of Jehovah, particularly in their solemn oaths; they said, Jehovah liveth, he is the living God, so they owned him to be, though they worshipped dead idols; they swear, The Lord liveth (Jer. 5:2), but I fear they retained this form of swearing more in honour of their nation than of their God. But God declares that his name shall no more be thus named by any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt; that is, there shall be no Jews remaining to use this dialect of their country, or, if there be, they shall have forgotten it and shall learn to swear, as the Egyptians do, by the life of Pharaoh, not of Jehovah. Note, Those are very miserable whom God has so far left to themselves that they have quite forgotten their religion and lost all the remains of their good education. Or this may intimate that God would take it as an affront to him and would resent it accordingly, if they did make mention of his name and profess any relation to him. (2.) He hath sworn that what little remnant of people there was there should all be consumed (Jer. 44:27): I will watch over them for evil; no opportunity shall be let slip to bring some judgment upon them, until there be an end of them and they be rooted out. Note, To those whom God finds impenitent sinners he will be found an implacable Judge. And, when it comes to this, they shall know (Jer. 44:28) whose word shall stand, mind or theirs. They said that they should recover themselves when they returned to worship the queen of heaven; God said they should ruin themselves; and now the event will show which was in the right. The contest between God and sinners is whose word shall stand, whose will shall be done, and who shall get the better. Sinners say that they shall have peace though they go on; God says they shall have no peace. But when God judges he will overcome; God’s word shall stand, and not the sinner’s.
2. He tells them that a very few of them should escape the sword, and in process of time return into the land of Judah, a small number (Jer. 44:28), next to none, in comparison with the great numbers that should return out of the land of the Chaldeans. This seems designed to upbraid those who boasted of their numbers that concurred in sin; there were none to speak of that did not join in idolatry: “Well,” says God, “and there shall be as few that shall escape the sword and famine.”
3. He gives them a sign that all these threatenings shall be accomplished in their season, that they shall be consumed here in Egypt and shall quite perish: Pharaoh-hophra, the present king of Egypt, shall be delivered into the hand of his enemies that seek his life—of his own rebellious subjects (so some) under Amasis, who usurped his throne—of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (so others), who invaded his kingdom; the former is related by Herodotus, the latter by Josephus. It is likely that this Pharaoh had tempted the Jews to idolatry by promises of his favour; however, they depended upon him for his protection, and it would be more than a presage of their ruin, it would be a step towards it, if he were gone. They expected more from him than from Zedekiah king of Judah; he was a more potent and politic prince. “But,” says God, “I will give him into the hand of his enemies, as I gave Zedekiah.” Note, Those creature-comforts and confidences that we promise ourselves most from may fail us as soon as those that we promise ourselves least from, for they are all what God makes them, not what we fancy them.
The sacred history records not the accomplishment of this prophecy, but its silence is sufficient; we hear no more of these Jews in Egypt, and therefore conclude them, according to this prediction, lost there; for no word of God shall fall to the ground.