Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The march of the people to Egypt. - When Jeremiah had thus ended all the words which the Lord had announced to him for the people, then came forward Azariah (probably an error for Jezaniah, see on Jer 42:1) the son of Hoshaiah, Johanan the son of Kareah, and the rest of the insolent men, and said to Jeremiah, "Thou dost utter falsehood; Jahveh our God hath not sent thee unto us, saying, Ye must not go to Egypt to sojourn there; Jer 43:3. But Baruch the son of Neriah inciteth thee against us, in order to give us into the hand of the Chaldeans, to kill us, and to take us captive to Babylon." אמרים is not the predicate to כּל־האנשׁים, but forms a resumption of ויּאמר, with which it thus serves to connect its object, Jeremiah, and from which it would otherwise be pretty far removed. Azariah (or, more correctly, Jezaniah) occupies the last place in the enumeration of the captains, Jer 40:8, and in Jer 42:1 is also named after Johanan, who is the only one specially mentioned, in what follows, as the leader on the march. From this we may safely conclude that Jezaniah was the chief speaker and the leader of the opposition against the prophet. To avoid any reference to the promise they had made to obey the will of God, they declare that Jeremiah's prophecy is an untruth, which had been suggested to him, not by God, but by his attendant Baruch, with the view of delivering up the people to the Chaldeans.
Thereupon Johanan and the other captains took "all the remnant of Judah, that had returned from all the nations whither they had been driven, to dwell in the land of Judah-the men and women and children, the king's daughters, and all the souls whom Nebuzaradan, chief of the body-guard, had committed to Gedaliah...and Jeremiah the prophet, and Baruch the son of Neriah, - and went to the land of Egypt - for they did not hearken to the voice of Jahveh - and came to Tahpanhes." In this enumeration of those who were conducted to Egypt, Hitzig, Graf, and others distinguish two classes: (1) the men, women, children, etc., who had been in Mizpah with Gedaliah, and had been led to Gibeon, after the murder of the latter, by Ishmael, but had afterwards been brought to Bethlehem by Johanan and the other captains (Jer 43:6, cf. Jer 40:7; Jer 41:10, Jer 41:16); (2) those who had returned from the foreign countries whither they had fled, but who had hitherto lived in the country, scattered here and there, and who must have joined the company led by Johanan to Bethlehem during the ten days of halt at that resting-place (Jer 43:5, cf. Jer 40:11-12). There is no foundation, however, for this distinction. Neither in the present chapter is there anything mentioned of those who had been dispersed through the land joining those who had marched to Bethlehem; nor are the Jews who had returned from Moab, Ammon, Edom, and other countries to their own home distinguished, in Jer 40 and 41, as a different class from those who had been with Gedaliah in Mizpah; but on the other hand, according to Jer 40:12, these returned Jews also came to Gedaliah at Mizpah, and gathered grapes and fruit. Besides, in these verses the distinction can only be made after the insertion into the text of the conjunction ו before את־הגּברים. To "all the remnant of Judah who had returned from the nations" belong the men, women, children, etc., whom Nebuzaradan had committed to the care of Gedaliah. The enumeration in Jer 43:6 gives only one specification of the "whole remnant of Judah," as in Jer 41:16. "And all the souls;" as if it were said, "and whoever else was still left alive;" cf. Jos 10:28. Tahpanhes was a frontier town of Egypt on the Pelusian branch of the Nile, and named Δάφναι by the Greeks; see on Jer 2:16. Here, on the borders of Egypt, a halt was made, for the purpose of coming to further resolutions regarding their residence in that country. Here, too, Jeremiah received a revelation from God regarding the fate now impending on Egypt.
Prediction regarding Egypt. - Jer 43:8. "And the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes, saying, Jer 43:9. Take in thine hand large stones, and hide them in the clay in the brick-kiln, which is at the entrance to the house of Pharaoh in Taphanhes, in the eyes of the Jews; Jer 43:10. And say to them: Thus saith Jahveh of hosts, the God of Israel, Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadrezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and will place his throne over these stones which I have hidden, and he shall stretch his tapestry over them. Jer 43:11. And he shall come and smite the land of Egypt, (he who is) for death, to death, - (he who is) for captivity, to captivity, - (he who is) for the sword, to the sword. Jer 43:12. And I will kindle fire in the houses of the gods of Egypt, and he shall burn them and carry them away; and he shall wrap the land of Egypt round him as the shepherd wraps his cloak round him, and thence depart in peace. Jer 43:13. And he shall destroy the pillars of Beth-shemesh, which is in the land of Egypt, and the houses of the gods of the Egyptians shall he burn with fire."
This prophecy is introduced by a symbolical action, on which it is based. But in spite of the fact that the object of the action is stated in the address which follows, the action itself is not quite plain from the occurrence of בּמּלבּן, whose usual meaning, "brick-kiln" (cf. Nah 3:14), does not seem suitable here. Eichhorn and Hitzig think it absurd that there should be found before the door of a royal habitation a brick-kiln on which a king was to place his throne. From the Arabic malbin, which also signifies a rectangular figure like tile or brick, and is used of the projecting entablature of doors, - from the employment, also, in the Talmud of the word מלבּן to signify a quadrangular tablet in the form of a tile, - Hitzig would claim for the word the meaning of a stone floor, and accordingly renders, "and insert them with mortar into the stone flooring." But the entablatures over doors, or quadrangular figures like bricks, are nothing like a stone flooring or pavement before a palace. Besides, in the way of attaching to the word the signification of a "brick-kiln," - a meaning which is well established, - or even of a brickwork, the difficulties are not so great as to compel us to accept interpretations that have no foundation. We do not need to think of a brick-kiln or brickwork as being always before the palace; as Neumann has observed, it may have indeed ben there, although only for a short time, during the erecting of some part of the palace; nor need it have been just at the palace gateway, but a considerable distance away from it, and on the opposite side. Alongside of it there was lying mortar, an indispensable building material. טמן, "to hide," perhaps means here not merely to embed, but to embed in such a way that the stones could not very readily be perceived. Jeremiah was to press down the big stones, not into the brick-kiln, but into the mortar which was lying at (near) the brick-kiln, - to put them, too, before the eyes of the Jews, inasmuch as the meaning of this act had a primary reference to the fate of the Jews in Egypt. The object of the action is thus stated in what follows: Jahveh shall bring the king of Babylon and set his throne on these stones, so that he shall spread out his beautiful tapestry over them. שׁפרוּר (Qeri שׁפריר), an intensive form of שׁפר, שׁפרה, "splendour, beauty," signifies a glittering ornament, - here, the decoration of the throne, the gorgeous tapestry with which the seat of the throne was covered. The stones must thus form the basis for the throne, which the king of Babylon will set up in front of the palace of the king of Egypt at Tahpanhes. But the symbolical meaning of this action is not thereby exhausted. Not merely is the laying of the stones significant, but also the place where they are laid, - at the entrance, or opposite Pharaoh's palace. This palace was built of tiles or bricks: this is indicated by the brick-kiln and the mortar. The throne of the king of Babylon, on the contrary, is set up on large stones. The materials of which the palace and the throne are formed, shadow forth the strength and stability of the kingdom. Pharaoh's dominion is like crumbling clay, the material of bricks; the throne which Nebuchadnezzar shall set up opposite the clay-building of the Pharaohs rests on large stones, - his rule will be powerful and permanent. According to Jeremiah's further development of the symbol in Jer 43:11., Nebuchadnezzar will come to Egypt (the Kethib באה is to be read בּאה, "he came down," to Egypt, בּוא being construed with the accus.), and will smite the land together with its inhabitants, so that every man will receive his appointed lot, viz., death by pestilence, imprisonment, and the sword, i.e., death in battle. On the mode of representation here, cf. Jer 15:2.
He shall burn the temples of the gods of Egypt, and carry away the idols. The first person הצּתּי, for which lxx, Syriac, and Vulgate have the third, must not be meddled with; it corresponds to שׂמתּי in Jer 43:10. What Nebuchadnezzar does as Jahveh's servant (עבדּי, Jer 43:10) is done by God. The suffixes in שׂרפם and שׁבּם are assigned in such a way that the one is to be referred to the temples, the other to the idols; see on Jer 48:7. - ועטה has been variously interpreted. עטה with the accus. מעיל or שׂלמה means the envelope one's self with a garment, put on a garment, wrap the cloak round; cf. Sa1 28:14; Psa 109:19; Isa 59:17, etc. This is the meaning of the verb here, as is shown by the clause expressing the comparison. The point of likeness is the easiness of the action. Ewald has very well explained the meaning of the whole: "As easily as any shepherd in the open field wraps himself in his cloak, so will he take the whole of Egypt in his hand, and be able to throw it round him like a light garment, that he may then, thus dressed as it were with booty, leave the land in peace, without a foe, - a complete victor." Other explanations of the word are far-fetched, and lexically untenable.
In conclusion, mention is further made of the destruction of the famous temple of the Sun at Heliopolis, to show the fulfilment of the prophecy that all Egypt would fall under the power of Nebuchadnezzar. בּית שׁמשׁ, "House of the Sun," is the Hebrew rendering of the Egyptian Pe-râ, i.e., House of the Sun, the sacred name of the city vulgarly called On; see on Gen 41:45. It lay north-east from Cairo, near the modern village of Matarieh, and thus pretty far inland; it was renowned for its magnificent temple, dedicated to Râ, the Sun-god. At the entrance to this building stood several larger and smaller obelisks, of which the two larger, added to the two older ones by Pheron the son of Sesostris, were about 150 feet high. One of these the Emperor Augustus caused to be brought to Rome; the other was thrown down in the year 1160; while one of the more ancient but smaller obelisks still stands in its original position, raising its head in the midst of a beautiful garden over a mass of dense foliage. These obelisks are signified by מצּבות. The additional clause, "which is in the land of Egypt," does not belong to Beth-shemesh, as if it were appended for the purpose of distinguishing the city so named from Beth-shemesh in the land of Judah; the words are rather connected with מצּבות, and correspond with אלהי מצרים in the parallel member of the verse. The obelisks of the most famous temple of the Egyptian Sun-god are well known as the most splendid representatives of the glory of the Egyptian idolatry: the destruction of these monuments indicates the ruin of all the sanctuaries of the ancient kingdom of the Pharaohs. The last clause is a kind of re-echo from Jer 43:12; ישׂרף is strengthened by the addition of בּאשׁ for the purpose of giving a sonorous ending to the whole. - The king of Egypt is not named in the prophecy, but according to Jer 44:30 it is Pharaoh-Hophra, who is to be given into the power of Nebuchadnezzar.
When we inquire as to the fulfilment of this prediction, we find M. Duncker, in his Gesch. des Alterthums, i. 841, giving a reply in these words: "Nebuchadnezzar did not fulfil these expectations (of Jeremiah, Jer 43:8-13; Jer 44:30, and of Ezekiel, Jer 29:32). He contented himself with having repelled the renewed attack of Egypt. The establishment of his dominion in Syria did not depend on his conquering Egypt; but Syria must obey him, throughout its whole extent. The capture of Jerusalem followed the siege of the island-town of Tyre (b.c. 586), the last city that had maintained its independence. The army of the Chaldean slay thirteen years before Tyre without being able to bring the king Ethbaal (Ithobal) under subjection. At last, in the year 573, a treaty was concluded, in which the Tyrians recognised the supremacy of the king of Babylon." That Tyre was brought into subjection is inferred by Duncker (in a note, p. 682), first, from the generally accepted statement of Berosus, that the whole of Phoenicia was subdued by Nebuchadnezzar (Josephus' Ant. x. 11. 1, and contra Ap. i. 19); secondly, from Josephus' statement (contra Ap. i. 21), that the kings Merbal and Hiram had been brought by the Tyrians from Babylon; and lastly, from the fact that, with the close of the siege, the reign of Ithobal ends and that of Baal begins. "It would thus appear that Ithobal was removed, and his family carried to Babylon." These facts, which are also acknowledged by Duncker, sufficiently show (what we have already pointed out in Ezekiel) that the siege of Tyre ended with the taking of this island-city. For, unless the besieged city had been taken by storm, or at least compelled to surrender, the king would not have let himself be dethroned and carried to Babylon. - But whence has Duncker derived the information that Nebuchadnezzar had no concern with the subjugation of Egypt, but merely with the establishment of his authority in Syria? Although Nebuchadnezzar began the siege of the island-city of Tyre soon after the destruction of Jerusalem, and required thirteen years to reduce it, yet it does not by any means follow from this that he had only to do with the strengthening of his authority in Syria, and no connection with the subjugation of Egypt; all that we can safely infer is, that he thought he could not attempt the conquest of Egypt with any certain prospect of success until he had subdued the whole of Syria. Besides, so long as such an one as Pharaoh-Hophra occupied the throne of Egypt, - who had not only sent an army to Zedekiah king of Judah to raise the siege of Jerusalem, but also (according to Herodotus, ii. 161, who draws from Egyptian sources) led an army to Sidon and fought a naval battle with the Tyrians; who (as Diod. Sic. i. 68 relates, also following Egyptian tradition) set out for Cyprus with abundant war-material and a strong army and fleet, and took Sidon by storm, while the rest of the towns submitted through fear; who, moreover, had defeated the Phoenicians and Cyprians in a naval engagement, and had returned to Egypt with immense spoil; - how could Nebuchadnezzar possibly think that his rule in Syria was firmly established? Such statements as those now referred to even Duncker does not venture to reject. We must, however, view them with a regard to the usual exaggerations by which the Egyptians were accustomed to extol the deeds of their Pharaohs; but after making all due allowance, we are led to this, that, after the fall of Tyre, Hophra sought to prevent the island of Cyprus as well as Tyre from becoming a dependency of Nebuchadnezzar. Could Nebuchadnezzar leave unmolested such an enemy as this, who, on the first suitable opportunity, would attempt to wrest the whole of Syria from him? So short-sighted a policy we could not attribute to such a conqueror as Nebuchadnezzar. Much more considerate is the judgment previously expressed regarding this by Vitringa, on Isa 19: "Etiamsi omnis historia hic sileret, non est probabile, Nebucadnezarem magnum dominatorem gentium, post Palaestinam et Phoeniciam subactam, non tentasse Aegyptum, et si tentaverit, tentasse frustra; et qu parte Aegyptum occupavit, eam non vastasse et desolasse."
It is also to be borne in mind that the conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar, which is denied by Hitzig and Graf as well as Duncker, as it formerly was by Volney, is vouched for by the trustworthy testimony of Berosus (in Josephus, contra Ap. i. 19), who says that Nebuchadnezzar took Egypt (κρατῆσαι Αἰγύπτου, ̓Αραβίας, κ.τ.λ.); the denial, too, rests on a mere inference from the account given by Herodotus from the traditions of the priests regarding the reign of Apris (Hophra). If the witness of Berosus regarding the conquest of Syria and Phoenicia be trustworthy, why should his testimony concerning Egypt be unreliable? The account of Josephus (Ant. x. 9. 7), that Nebuchadnezzar, in the fifth year after the capture of Jerusalem, and the twenty-third year of his reign, invaded Egypt, killed the king (Hophra), put another in his place, and led captive to Babylon the Jews that had fled to Egypt, - this account will not admit of being brought forward (as has often been attempted, and anew, of late, by Mrc. von Niebuhr, Assur und Babel, S. 215) as sufficient testimony for a successful campaign carried on by Nebuchadnezzar against Egypt during the siege of Tyre. The difficulty in the way of proving that such a campaign actually took place is not so much that the death of Hophra in battle with Nebuchadnezzar, or his execution afterwards, contradicts all authenticated history, as that the particular statements of Josephus regarding this campaign, both as to the date and the carrying away to Babylon of the Jews that had fled to Egypt, are simply conclusions drawn from a combination of Jer 43:8-13 and Jer 44:30 with Jer 52:20; besides, the execution of King Hophra by Nebuchadnezzar is foretold neither by Jeremiah nor by Ezekiel. Ezekiel, in Jer 29-32, merely predicts the decline of the Egyptian influence, the breaking of the arm of Pharaoh, i.e., of his military power, and his fall into Sheol; but he does it in so ideal a manner, that even the words of Jer 30:13, "there shall be no more a prince out of the land of Egypt," - i.e., Egypt shall lose all her princes, just as her idols have been destroyed, - even these words cannot well be applied to the execution of Pharaoh-Hophra. But Jeremiah, in Jer 43:1-13 and in Jer 46:13., predicts merely the downfall of the pride and power of Pharaoh, and the conquest, devastation, and spoiling of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar. And even in the words of Jer 44:30, "I (Jahveh) will deliver Pharaoh-Hophra into the hand of his enemies, and of those who seek his life, just as I delivered Zedekiah the king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar his enemy, and of those who sought after his life," there is nothing definitely stated regarding Hophra's being executed by Nebuchadnezzar, or killed in battle with him. Such a reference cannot be made out from the words, even though we lay no emphasis on the plural "his enemies," in contrast with the expression "Nebuchadnezzar his enemy," and, according to Jer 46:26, understand Nebuchadnezzar and his servants as being included under the "enemies;" for certainly Zedekiah was not killed by Nebuchadnezzar, but merely taken prisoner and carried to Babylon. Besides, there was no need of special proof that the prophecies of Jeremiah regarding Egypt declare much more important matters than merely an expedition of Chaldean soldiers to Egypt, as well as the plunder of some cities and the carrying away of the Jews who resided there; and that, in Jer 44, what the Jews who went to Egypt against the will of God are threatened with, is not transportation to Babylon, but destruction in Egypt by sword, hunger, and pestilence, until only a few individuals shall escape, and these shall return to Judah (Jer 44:14, Jer 44:27-28).
But if we compare with the prophecy of Jeremiah in Jer 43:8-13, and in Jer 46:13-26, that of Ezekiel in Jer 29:17-21, which was uttered or composed in the twenty-seventh year of the captivity of Jehoiachin, i.e., in the year 573, it becomes abundantly evident that Nebuchadnezzar cannot have invaded and conquered Egypt before that year, and not till after the fall of Tyre, which immediately ensued. And that this was actually the case, is put beyond doubt by the statement of Herodotus, ii. 161ff., regarding Apris, that he lost his throne and his life in consequence of being defeated in battle with the Cyrenians. What Herodotus assigns as the cause of the fall of Apris, is insufficient to account for the unhappy end of this king. Herodotus himself states, ii. 169, that the Egyptians were filled with the most intense hatred against Apris; the monuments also bear witness to this fact. This bitter feeling must have had a deeper source than merely the unsuccessful issue of a war with Cyrene; it receives its explanation only when we find that Apris, by his attempts against Nebuchadnezzar, had deserved and brought on the subjugation of Egypt by the king of Babylon; cf. Hvernick on Ezekiel, p. 500. By sending an auxiliary army to Judah, for the purpose of driving back the Chaldeans, and by forming an expedition to Cyprus and the cities of Phoenicia, which was evidently directed against the establishment of the Chaldean power in Phoenicia, Apris had so provoked the king of Babylon, that the latter, immediately after the subjugation of Tyre, entered on the campaign against Egypt, which he invaded, subdued, and spoiled, without, however, killing the king; him he preferred allowing to rule on, but as his vassal, and under the promise that he would recognise his authority and pay tribute, just as had been done with King Jehoiakim when Jerusalem was first taken. If all this actually took place (which we may well assume), Apris might probably have begun another war against Cyrene, after the Chaldeans had departed, in the hope of procuring some small compensation to the Egyptians for the defeat they had suffered from the Chaldeans, by subduing that province in the west; in this war the king might have lost his life, as Herodotus relates, through want of success in his attempt. In this say, the account of Herodotus regarding the death of Apris quite agrees with the conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar. But that Herodotus makes no mention of the conquest of Egypt, is sufficiently accounted for when we remember that he derived his information from the stories of the priests, who carefully omitted all mention of a struggle between Egypt and the power of Chaldea, since this had ended in the humiliation of Egypt; hence also mention was made only of the victories and mighty deeds of Necho II, while his defeat at Carchemish was passed over in silence.