People have been pleasure cruising the Nile for over a century:
Sunshine, the swaying palms, day trips to ancient sites. Sounds lovely.
An Egyptian excursion was not so lovely for the prophet Jeremiah, though.
A Forced March in the Wrong Direction
Jeremiah was a prophet in Jerusalem at the time God used Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in judgment on the unfaithful nation of Israel, defeating it in battle and scattering its people throughout the Babylonian empire. A remnant remained in Judea and Jeremiah’s prophecy told them not to flee to Egypt but to stay and subject themselves to the rule of the Babylonian commanders, that God would bless them and restore their land to them eventually
The remaining Israelite leadership was having none of it.
Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are lying! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You must not go to Egypt to settle there.’ But Baruch son of Neriah [Jeremiah’s assistant] is inciting you against us to hand us over to the Babylonians, so they may kill us or carry us into exile to Babylon.”
So Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers and all the people disobeyed the Lord’s command to stay in the land of Judah. … And they took Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch son of Neriah along with them. So they entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord and went as far as Tahpanhes. (Jeremiah 43:2-7.)
Jeremiah knew the will of God. It was to stay out of Egypt. But he was forced to go. While other people might have been so discouraged as to give up their ministry, Jeremiah continued in his and told the Israelites living in the lower and upper Nile regions that Egypt would be no sanctuary:
In Tahpanhes the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I will send for my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon … . He will come and attack Egypt, bringing death to those destined for death, captivity to those destined for captivity, and the sword to those destined for the sword. He will set fire to the temples of the gods of Egypt; he will burn their temples and take their gods captive. As a shepherd picks his garment clean of lice, so he will pick Egypt clean and depart.” (Jeremiah 43:8-12.)
Jeremiah went on to warn the people against continuing to worship false gods, telling them to turn back to the Lord.
Then all the men who knew that their wives were burning incense to other gods, along with all the women who were present — a large assembly — and all the people living in Lower and Upper Egypt, said to Jeremiah, “We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord! We will certainly do everything we said we would … .” (Jeremiah 44:15-17.)
Jeremiah’s response showed he was not going to give up the ministry God gave him.
Then Jeremiah said to all the people, including the women, … “Go ahead then, do what you promised! Keep your vows! But hear the word of the Lord, all you Jews living in Egypt: ‘I swear by my great name,’ says the Lord, ‘that no one from Judah living anywhere in Egypt will ever again invoke my name or swear, “As surely as the Sovereign Lord lives.”‘” (Jeremiah 44:24-26.)
God gave the people what they said they wanted: complete separation from him. It reminds me of C. S. Lewis’ take on having a relationship with God:
Never fear. There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, emph. in original.)
Jeremiah consistently told God, “Thy will be done.” We hear nothing more of Jeremiah’s life in Egypt and some scholars assume he died there in an exile forced by his own people. Yet his ministry has lasted for thousands of years, living on in Scripture. His words inform us of God and his example informs us how to live in faithfulness to our God.
Thy will be done, Lord.
[This is the first of a two-part series from the latter part of Jeremiah’s ministry. Part two will appear on Wednesday: God Has Big Plans for Little People.]