The working of God’s providence,
affirmed throughout Scripture,
is seen in all its mystery,
because it is accomplished through the freely chosen actions
of the human participants in the drama.
— Joyce G. Baldwin
There’s nothing too new and exciting in these 19 verses. In fact, many scholars believe that they were parachuted in at a later date:
- There is no date notice at the start of the passage.
- The language is too simplistic.
- The list of Egyptian cities is haphazard.
- The Septuagint (Greek) and Masoretic (Hebrew) texts disagree with each other in a number of places.
This oracle just doesn’t seem to have the same ‘umph’ as his other messages.
Still, these 19 verses are included in the canon of scripture. Regardless of who spoke, penned, or edited them, God saw fit to preserve these words in the Bible.
Since the themes are familiar and the language is plain, let’s take some time to examine what this message of judgment would have meant to the players in the drama.
. . .
Egypt obviously bears the brunt of this condemnation. This oracle, along with the other six surrounding it, announces Egypt’s utter destruction by Babylon—Yahweh’s hand. Listen to what will happen:
A sword shall come upon Egypt,
and anguish shall be in Ethiopia,
when the slain fall in Egypt,
and its wealth is carried away,
and its foundations are torn down.
(v. 4, NRSV)
War and death would come to Egypt, but the judgment doesn’t stop there. Egypt is utterly dependent on the Nile river for its wealth. Apart from the Nile, Egypt would be a desert. This makes the following threat so ominous: “I will dry up the channels” (v. 12, NRSV).
Just like when Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt through a series of plagues, the Egyptian gods will be powerless to stop Yahweh: “I will destroy the idols / and put an end to the images in Memphis” (v. 13, NRSV).
. . .
Babylon is in a curious position. She is a wicked nation with no fear of Yahweh whatsoever. Still, she was rewarded with the plunder of Egypt because Yahweh chose to use her. The irony runs deep!
Thus says the Lord GOD:
I will put an end to the hordes of Egypt,
by the hand of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon.
He and his people with him, the most terrible of the nations
shall be brought in to destroy the land;
and they shall draw their swords against Egypt,
and fill the land with the slain.
(v. 11, NRSV)
Would Babylon ever realize that it was only because of Yahweh’s determination to punish the sins of Israel that Nebuchadrezzar was allowed to prosper militarily? How would God’s name be made famous through the prosperity of a wicked nation?
. . .
This turn of events (a tragedy for Egypt and a curious victory for Babylon) was hope for Israel.
Remember, many of the Israelites were sitting on the banks of a foreign river, shell-shocked by the tragedy that had befallen them. Their God—Yahweh—was apparently defeated when Nebuchadrezzar sacked their Temple.
But now things had changed. Yahweh may have thrust his own children into exile, but that same God was still working on their behalf. After the exile was hope for a return. God’s destruction of Egypt was a sign that he was still working to defeat Israel’s enemies.
. . .
Sovereign Lord, guide us as we live out your drama, and help us to be content in our roles. In Jesus’ name, Amen.