14 Is Israel a servant, a slave by birth?
Why then has he become plunder?
15 Lions have roared;
they have growled at him.
They have laid waste his land;
his towns are burned and deserted.
16 Also, the men of Memphis and Tahpanhes
have cracked your skull.
17 Have you not brought this on yourselves
by forsaking the Lord your God
when he led you in the way?
18 Now why go to Egypt
to drink water from the Nile?
And why go to Assyria
to drink water from the Euphrates?
19 Your wickedness will punish you;
your backsliding will rebuke you.
Consider then and realize
how evil and bitter it is for you
when you forsake the Lord your God
and have no awe of me,”
declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty.
(Jeremiah 2:14-19 NIV)
From yesterday’s passage, we see the Bridegroom (the Lord) fighting for His marriage, bewildered as to why His Bride (His people Israel) would want to leave Him (vv. 4-8). Starting in verse 9, we see them in the courtroom, the Bridegroom arguing to restore their marriage, not get a divorce.
In today’s passage, the courtroom argument continues. The first question (v. 14a) goes back to God’s calling of His people. Did God call His people to be slaves, either by choice or by birth? The answer is both an implied and exclaimed “No!”. God led His people out of slavery when they left Egypt. God provided a land and freedom for His people, where they could be a sovereign state with Him as their God.
Verse 14b asks the hard question, “What has happened? Why is it that you now find yourselves enslaved again?” In great courtroom dramatic fashion, the Lord answers the question. Imagine the Lord’s oral arguments: “What has happened? Let me tell you what has taken place…”
The Lord then describes two historical events, both presented by indirect reference. Verse 15 refers to Assyria’s invasion. The “roaring lion” is associated with Assyria and its many invasions of Israel (the northern kingdom of God’s people) that left the land devastated (v. 15). The references to Memphis and Tahpanhes (v. 16), two towns in Egypt, refer to the short time when Egypt overtook Judah (the southern kingdom of God’s people). Remember that the world was at war during this entire time period, with many changes of power in the ancient Middle East. These two vignettes were snapshots of the time when the Assyrians and Egyptians held God’s land and people in captivity. The Babylonians would later sweep through the region and hold all regional power for a while.
God’s people, His bride, the ones on trial here, would heartily agree with God about the invasions and subsequent enslavement by Assyria and Egypt. The reason they would agree is that they could then play the “victim” card. God’s people would then argue, “Lord, why didn’t You protect us and provide for us? It’s Your fault that we are now in slavery again.”
In verse 17, the Lord goes directly to the root cause of their enslavement, the argument presented as a question: “Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the Lord your God when he led you in the way?” The Lord snatches away their “victim” card, burns it in front of them, and holds them accountable for their actions. The Lord had not left His bride; she had left Him.
Verse 18 addresses the unholy alliances that Israel and Judah had made with their captors. Drinking the waters of the Nile and the Euphrates referred to agreements that the people made with Egypt and Assyria in their vain attempt to protect themselves. In other words, they sold their soul to their captors in order to preserve some shred of pride and dignity. In our day and age, we might say that someone “drank the koolaid” or “folded up like a cheap suitcase”, meaning that they caved in and did not stand up for what they knew to be right. Their faith was not in God; they placed their faith in their own reasoning and in the hands of their cruel captors rather than their Bridegroom.
In verse 19 , the Lord tells His people that they have brought their punishment upon themselves – they are the victims of their own doing. The bride had turned traitor, and she was now suffering the punishment of a traitor at the hands of the Assyrians and the Egyptians. The bride feared her captors more than she feared her Husband, the Lord.
The Lord reminds His people of His power by the name He calls Himself at the end of verse 19. The NIV translates this name as “the Lord Almighty”. Other translations use the phrase “the Lord of Hosts”. The best use of this name of God is when David confronts Goliath:
Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”
(1 Samuel 17:45 ESV)
When young David stood alone against Goliath, he knew he did not go alone. He had the power and presence of the God of the universe backing him up. “The Lord of Hosts” meant that God Himself, with all of the forces of the universe that He has at His disposal, was standing with David. This included Israel’s army, all the forces of nature, angel armies, and every other natural and supernatural force over which God is sovereign. All of a sudden, Goliath looked really small compared to God.
The implication is that the people of Israel and Judah were worried about Assyria and Egypt, and caved in to make agreements with them. By comparison, Assyria and Egypt were nothing compared to the Lord of Hosts. The bride had chosen poorly, and now was suffering the consequences of her choices.
What unholy alliances and agreements do we make in our day? What are we depending on rather than the Lord?
What are our “Assyria” and “Egypt” victim cards that we present as arguments?
May we look anew with respect and awe to the Lord of Hosts and run to Him for our protection and provision.
May we renounce any unholy alliances that we have made with people or with things that we put ahead of or in place of our God Almighty. Nothing is too difficult for Him.