This is the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the nations: Concerning Egypt: This is the message against the army of Pharaoh Necho king of Egypt, which was defeated at Carchemish on the Euphrates River by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah: “Prepare your shields, both large and small, and march out for battle! Harness the horses, mount the steeds! Take your positions with helmets on! Polish your spears, put on your armor! What do I see? They are terrified, they are retreating, their warriors are defeated. They flee in haste without looking back, and there is terror on every side,” declares the Lord . “The swift cannot flee nor the strong escape. In the north by the River Euphrates they stumble and fall. “Who is this that rises like the Nile, like rivers of surging waters? Egypt rises like the Nile, like rivers of surging waters. She says, ‘I will rise and cover the earth; I will destroy cities and their people.’ Charge, you horses! Drive furiously, you charioteers! March on, you warriors—men of Cush and Put who carry shields, men of Lydia who draw the bow. But that day belongs to the Lord, the Lord Almighty— a day of vengeance, for vengeance on his foes. The sword will devour till it is satisfied, till it has quenched its thirst with blood. For the Lord, the Lord Almighty, will offer sacrifice in the land of the north by the River Euphrates. – Jeremiah 46:1-10
This passage reads like a Cecil B. DeMille script — great battles, winners and losers, swords and shields. Jeremiah is sharing a prophesy about the nation of Egypt and those from Judah who have put in their lot with the Egyptians. Apparently Pharaoh Necho is king of Egypt and he lost a battle near Carchemish, which is near the northern border between Syria and Turkey near the Euphrates River. It seems Egypt was pretty far from their “home on the Nile” when they lost this battle.
From what I have learned about this time in the history of the region the area of Judah and Jerusalem are between at least two great powers, Egypt and Babylon and they are fighting and scrumming over this “middle ground” and the people of Judah and Jerusalem are caught in the middle — some submitting to exile as God instructed, others fleeing to Egypt, and still others dying at the hands of their own people. I am not sure what it is about this particular piece of real estate, but it seems to have been a festering cancer of conflict for a very long time.
This central theme of this passage seems to be a resurgence of Egypt from the south to overtake the Babylonians who have captured Judah and Jerusalem “Egypt rises like the Nile, like rivers of surging waters.” They are coming on like an unstoppable flood. Back in Isaiah 66:5-13 God uses similar language, “like a flooding stream” to refer to the spread of the nation of Israel, and perhaps in a broader sense, God’s kingdom. In the case of Egypt God is using them to cleanse and wash away some of the corruption that had overtaken the City of David.
Flooding on rivers would seem like a very dirty and destructive thing, but they actually have a cleansing effect on a river system. They can remove vegetation and purge waste products that have quilt up along a river system so that new life can grow. During a flood rivers seem to be out of control and dangerous, but without the release of these pent up floods the rivers would be far less dynamic and healthy.
My sense is that the “flood” that the Egyptians are bringing to Judah and Jerusalem is a necessary cleansing of people and practices that God cannot tolerate. He is removing the brambles of bravado and Baal worship so that new life and new growth is possible. In end this passage makes it clear that “the flood” is under God’s ultimate control, “But that day belongs to the Lord, the Lord Almighty”.
The take home for me from this passage is that God may sometimes use extreme measures, destructive life floods, to get our attention and clean out some of the debris and garbage that we have allowed to accumulate in our lives. During these times of rushing waters our lives may look very chaotic and messy. I do not think God is punishing us any more that a river is being punished by the very floods that keep it clean and healthy, although I admit it might feel God’s punishment. God is merely using the only means possible to strip us down to the soul and remove the built up brambles of bravado so that new growth can occur. I am reminded of one of my favorite songs by Casting Crowns called “Praise You in this storm”. Part of the chorus of the song goes like this:
And I’ll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm
Prayer: God help us to see Your hand in painful life-floods not as slap of rebuke but as means to make way for new growth.