Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The Word of God Concerning the Flight to Egypt
At the halting-place near Bethlehem the captains and the people whom they led deem it necessary to inquire through Jeremiah as to the will of God regarding their intention; they betake themselves to the prophet with the request that he would address God in prayer for them regarding this matter, and they promise that they will, in any case, comply with the message that he may receive from God (Jer 42:1-6). Whereupon, after ten days, the word of the Lord came to the prophet, vv. 7-22, to the effect that, if they remained in the country, the Lord would take pity on them and protect them from the Chaldeans, and establish them; but, should they go to Egypt, against the will of the Lord, then the evil which they feared would follow them thither, so that they would perish by the sword, hunger, and pestilence.
"And there drew near all the captains, namely, Johanan the son of Kareah, and Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people, from little to great, Jer 42:2. And said to Jeremiah the prophet, Let our supplication come before thee, and pray for us to Jahveh thy God, for all this remnant (for we are left a few out of many, as thine eyes see us); Jer 42:3. That Jahveh thy God may tell us the way in which we should go, and the thing that we should do." Of the captains, two, viz., Johanan and Jezaniah, are mentioned as the leaders of the people and the directors of the whole undertaking, who also, Jer 42:1., insolently accuse the prophet of falsehood, and carry out the proposed march to Egypt. Jezaniah is in Jer 40:8 called the Maachathite; here he is named in connection with his father, "the son of Hoshaiah;" while in Jer 43:2, in conjunction with Johanan the son of Kareah, Azariah the son of Hoshaiah is mentioned, which name the lxx also have in Jer 42:1 of this chapter. Hitzig, Ewald, etc., are consequently of the opinion that יזניה in our verse has been written by mistake for עזריה. But more probable is the supposition that the error is in the עזריה of Jer 43:2, inasmuch as there is no reason to doubt the identity of Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah with the Jezaniah descended from Maacha (Jer 40:8); and the assumption that יזניה is incorrect in two passages (Jer 42:1 and Jer 40:8) is highly improbable. They go to the prophet Jeremiah, whom they had taken with them from Mizpah, where he was living among the people, with the rest of the inhabitants of the place (Jer 41:16). תּפּל־נא as in Jer 37:20; see on Jer 36:7. The request made to the prophet that he would intercede for them with the Lord, which they further urge on the ground that the number left out of the whole people is small, while there is implied in this the wish that God may not let this small remnant also perish; - this request Nהgelsbach considers a piece of hypocrisy, and the form of asking the prophet "a mere farce," since it is quite plain from Jer 43:1-6 that the desire to go to Egypt was already deeply rooted in their minds, and from this they would not allow themselves to be moved, even by the earnest warning of the prophet. But to hypocrites, who were playing a mere farce with the prophet, the Lord would have probably replied in a different way from what we find in Jer 42:8-22. As the Searcher of hearts, He certainly would have laid bare their hypocrisy. And however unequivocally the whole address implies the existence of disobedience to the voice of God, it yet contains nothing which can justify the assumption that it was only in hypocrisy that they wished to learn the will of God. We must therefore assume that their request addressed to the prophet was made in earnest, although they expected that the Lord's reply would be given in terms favourable to their intention. They wished to obtain from God information as to which way they should go, and what they should do, - not as to whether they should remain in the country or go to Egypt. "The way that we should go" is, of course, not to be understood literally, as if they merely wished to be told the road by which they would most safely reach Egypt; neither, on the other hand, are the words to be understood in a merely figurative sense, of the mode of procedure they ought to pursue; but they are to be understood of the road they ought to take in order to avoid the vengeance of the Chaldeans which they dreaded, - in the sense, whither they ought to go, in order to preserve their lives from the danger which threatened them.
Jeremiah replies: "I have heard (i.e., acceded to your request); behold, I will pray to Jahveh your God, according to your words; and it shall come to pass that whatever Jahveh answers you I will tell you, I will not keep anything from you." Jer 42:5. They said further: "Let Jahveh be a true and faithful witness against us, if we do not just according to all the word which Jahveh thy God shall send thee (to declare) unto us. Jer 42:6. Whether it be good or bad, we shall obey the voice of Jahveh our God, to whom we send thee, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of Jahveh our God." עד, Pro 14:25, and נאמן, Isa 8:2; Psa 89:38. Both predicates occupy emphatic positions. God is to be a faithful witness, not in regard to the truth of what they say, but as regards the fulfilment of their promise, so that, if they would not obey His word, He might come forward to punish them. ישׁלחך is construed with a double accusative: to send away a person with something, i.e., to give him a commission. After "whether it be good or evil," there is no need for supplying "in our eyes" (בּעינינוּ), as Hitzig and Graf allege: "whether it please us or not;" the subject is הדּבר: "we will obey the word, whether it be good or evil," i.e., whether it announce good or evil to come (cf. Ecc 12:14). The Kethib אנוּ occurs only in this passage in the Old Testament; the Qeri accordingly substitutes אנחנוּ: the former, however, is taken from the vulgar tongue, and should not be altered here. כּי נשׁמע does not mean "because we obey," but "when we obey." The hearing is the condition, not the cause of the prosperity.
The word of the Lord. - At the end of ten days, the reply that had been asked for came from the Lord. Hitzig and Graf think that Jeremiah had lingered ten days with the answer, in order to obtain strong and clear conviction, "matured through his own meditation, probably also in part confirmed by the arrival of further news." This opinion is characterized by Ngelsbach as "in harmony with modern science, but unhistorical;" it should rather be called unscriptural, as resting on a denial of divine inspiration. The reason why the Lord did not make known His will to the prophet for ten days was a disciplinary one. By waiting, those who asked would get time for bethinking themselves, and for quietly considering the situation of affairs, so that they might be able, calmly and collectedly, to receive and obey the answer of God, which was far from satisfying the fears and wishes of their heart. Jer 42:8. Jeremiah called the captains and all the people together, and announced to them as follows: Jer 42:9. "Thus saith Jahveh, the God of Israel, to whom ye have sent me, that I might bring your supplication before Him: Jer 42:10. If ye will indeed abide in this land, then will I build you up and not pull down; and I will plant you, but not root out; for I repent of the evil that I have done to you. Jer 42:11. Be not afraid of the king of Babylon, whom ye fear, be not afraid of him, saith Jahveh; for I am with you to save you and to deliver you out of his hand. Jer 42:12. And I will get pity for you, so that he shall take pity on you, and bring you back to your land. Jer 42:13. But if ye say, We will not remain in this land, so that ye will not obey the voice of Jahveh your God, Jer 42:14. Saying, Nay, but we will go to the land of Egypt, that we may not see war nor hear the wound of a trumpet, and we shall not hunger after bread, and we will dwell there. - Jer 42:15. Now therefore hear the word of Jahveh, ye remnant of Judah: Thus saith Jahveh of hosts, the God of Israel, If ye do indeed set your face to go to Egypt, and go to sojourn there, Jer 42:16. Then shall the sword, of which ye are afraid, overtake you there, in the land of Egypt, and hunger, which ye dread, shall there follow hard after you, in Egypt, and there shall ye die. Jer 42:17. And all the men who have set their face to go to Egypt, to sojourn there, shall die by the sword, and through hunger, and from the plague; nor shall they have any one left or escaped from the evil which I will bring on them. Jer 42:18. For thus saith Jahveh of hosts, the God of Israel: As mine anger and my wrath were poured out upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so shall my wrath be poured out upon you when ye go to Egypt, and ye shall become an execration, and an astonishment, and a curse, and a reproach, and ye shall not see this place again. - Jer 42:19. Jahveh hath spoken to you, O remnant of Judah. Go not to Egypt: ye shall know for certain that I have warned you to-day. Jer 42:20. For ye err at the risk of your souls when ye sent me to Jahveh your God, saying, Pray for us to Jahveh our God, and according to all that Jahveh our God shall say to us, so tell us, and we will do it. Jer 42:21. Now I have told you to-day, and ye have not obeyed the voice of Jahveh your God, nor in anything for which He hath sent me unto you. Jer 42:22. Now, therefore, ye must surely know that ye shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence in the place whither ye have been pleased to go to sojourn."
The Lord's reply extends as far as Jer 42:18; the last four verses (19-22) form an epilogue, a further address by the prophet, in which he once more specially impresses God's resolution on the minds of the people. The answer of God consists (1) in the promise that, if they will remain in the land, the Lord is willing to build them up, and protect them from the wrath of the king of Babylon (Jer 42:9-12); and (2) the threat that, if they will go to Egypt against the advice and will of the Lord, they shall certainly perish there by the sword, famine, and pestilence (Jer 42:13-18). On the expression הפּיל תּהנּה, see on Jer 36:7. שׁוב (Jer 42:10) can only be inf. abs. of ישׁב, for ישׁוב ; if we view it as coming from שׁוּב morf , we get no suitable meaning, for the thought si revertendo illuc manseritis in hc terr (C. B. Michaelis) could not be expressed by שׁוב תּשׁבוּ. Certainly there is no other instance of such a form as שׁוב being used for ישׁוב; in a verb like ישׁב, however, which drops the י in the inf. constr., a like omission in the inf. abs. is quite conceivable, while the supposition of some injury having been done to the text (Olshausen, Gram. 89) is less probable. On the expression, "I will build you," etc., cf. Jer 24:6; Jer 31:4; Jer 33:7. "I repent of the evil" is an anthropopathic expression for the cancelling of a penal sentence: cf. Joe 2:14, etc. - In Jer 42:11, the repetition of the words "do not fear him" produces special emphasis.
"I shall give you compassion," i.e., obtain it for you, so that the king of Babylon will show pity on you; cf. Gen 43:14; Kg1 8:50. J. D. Michaelis, Hitzig, Ewald, and Graf, following the lxx, Vulgate, and Syriac, would change והשׁיב into הושׁיב (make you dwell); but there is no necessity for this, since השׁיב makes good enough sense, provided we refer it, not to the return of those who had been exiled to Babylon, but, as the connection requires, to the departure from Mizpah, after the half near Bethlehem, in the intended flight to Egypt; we must, besides, view this departure as a complete forsaking of their country, and the leaders in this emigration as being fugitives who had fled before the Chaldeans, and had returned only a short time before, for the purpose of settling down again in the country.
The threatening if, in spite of warning and against God's will, they should still persist in going to Egypt. The protasis of the conditional sentence begun in Jer 42:13, "If ye say," etc., extends onwards through Jer 42:14; the apodosis is introduced co-ordinately with the commencement of Jer 42:15, "Now therefore," etc. קול שׁופר, "the sound of war-trumpet," as in Jer 4:19. On "hungering after bread," cf. Amo 8:11. הלחם (with the article) is the bread necessary for life. "The remnant of Judah" is to be understood of those who still remained in the land, as is shown by Jer 42:2; see also Jer 42:19, Jer 43:5; Jer 44:12, Jer 44:14. The warning given in Jer 42:16 contains the idea that the very evil which they feared would come on them in Judah will befall them in Egypt. There they shall perish by sword, famine, and plague, since Nebuchadnezzar will conquer Egypt; cf. Jer 43:8-13.
ויהיוּ, used instead of the impersonal והיה, is referred to the following subject by a rather unusual kind of attraction; cf. Ewald, 345, b. All the men who set their faces, i.e., intend, to go to Egypt shall perish; not a single one shall escape the evil; for the same judgment of wrath which has befallen Jerusalem shall also come on those who flee to Egypt; cf. Jer 7:20. On the expression "ye shall become a curse," etc., cf. Jer 24:9; Jer 25:18; Jer 29:18.
Taking for granted that the leaders of the people will not obey, Jeremiah appends to the word of the Lord an earnest address, in which several points are specially insisted on, viz., that the Lord had spoken to them, that He had forbidden them to go to Egypt, and that he (the prophet), by proclaiming the word of the Lord, had warned them (העיד בּ, to testify, bear witness against a person, i.e., warn him of something, cf. Jer 11:7). Thus he discloses to them the dangerous mistake they are in, when they first desire some expression of the mind of the Lord regarding their intentions, and, in the hope that He will accede to their request, promise unconditional obedience to whatever He may direct, but afterwards, when they have received a message from the Lord, will not obey it, because it is contrary to what they wish. The Kethib התעתים has been incorrectly written for התעיים, the Hiphil from תּעה, to err; here, as in Pro 10:17, it means to make a mistake. בּנפשׁותיכם, not, "you mislead your own selves," decepistis animas vestras (Vulg.), nor "in your souls," - meaning, in your thoughts and intentions (Ngelsbach), - but "at the risk of your souls," your life; cf. Jer 17:21. וּלכל אשׁר (Jer 42:21), "and that in regard to all that for which Jahveh has sent me to you," points back to their promise, Jer 42:5, that they would do "according to all the word." By employing the perfect in Jer 42:20, Jer 42:21, the thing is represented as quite certain, as if it had already taken place. Jer 42:22 concludes the warning with a renewed threat of the destruction which shall befall them for their disobedience.