8 In Tahpanhes the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 9 “While the Jews are watching, take some large stones with you and bury them in clay in the brick pavement at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes. 10 Then say to them, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I will send for my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and I will set his throne over these stones I have buried here; he will spread his royal canopy above them. 11 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.12 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. 13 There in the temple of the sun in Egypt he will demolish the sacred pillars and will burn down the temples of the gods of Egypt.’”
(Jeremiah 43:8-13 NIV)
True to their word, Azariah and Johanan forced all the people under their watch to leave Judah and go to Egypt, including Jeremiah and Baruch. In today’s passage, the Lord speaks to Jeremiah when they are in Egypt.
The Lord uses another object lesson to make His point with His people. This object lesson is for the Judeans living in Egypt, not for the Egyptians. The Lord tells Jeremiah to carry out this object lesson while the Jews are watching. As the Jews observe Jeremiah digging up the ground and planting the large rocks, they are likely wondering what crazy things he is up to now. The action comes first, then the explanation.
The Lord tells Jeremiah to bury large stones at the entrance to Pharoah’s palace in Tahpanhes. This palace was not the Pharoah’s permanent residence; it was more like a hospitality house just inside the Egyptian border where the Pharoah could greet foreign dignitaries when they arrived. Remember that hospitality was paramount in ancient cultures, and having a “greeting center” where prominent guests could stop and rest was part of showing honor and caring for their needs.
Once Jeremiah planted the stones, he delivered the Lord’s explanation. The stones marked the spot where Nebuchadnezzar would set up his temporary throne when he conquered Egypt. The Lord’s message was clear – the Jews could not run from the Lord and His judgment, even in Egypt. Death, captivity, and the sword would follow them and overtake some. Peace and prosperity were not achievable in Egypt; fear and foreboding would continue to plague those that disobeyed the Lord.
The Lord calls out the ancient practice of invaders going into a foreign land and destroying the temples and places of worship and carrying off their religious artifacts. This burning of the temples was the way that the invaders showed that they were superior to the deities of their conquered subjects. If the invading country had any religious practices or deities, this destruction of their places of worship also showed that their gods were greater than the gods of those being conquered.
In the case of the Egyptians, the specific mention of the “temple of the sun” (v. 13) refers to the Egyptian god Ra, their sun deity. The temple of the sun was located in Heliopolis, just outside Cairo. The “sacred pillars” mentioned in v. 13 were stone monuments placed outside the temple in honor of the deity supposedly residing inside.
So why such a big deal about these pillars? Why were they called out? These pillars were tall (60 to 100 feet high), four-sided narrow, tapering monuments with a pyramid shape at the top. These obelisks were formed from a single piece of rock and often weighed in the hundreds of tons. They were cut in a quarry and then moved to their residing place via sheer human effort. The excavating, movement, and installation of these monuments in that ancient culture was an incredible engineering achievement.
May we remember that we cannot run from God; wherever we are, He is there (Psalm 139).
May remember that the Lord is ultimately in control, including those that do not honor or serve Him (“my servant Nebuchadnezzar”, v. 10, Proverbs 21:1).
May we remember that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). Any path that does not lead us to Christ leads to disappointment, destruction, and death.
May we confess our fears and failures to the One who can and will make all things new. May we transfer our trust and dependence on ourselves and others to Christ, depending alone on Him, through His love and grace, to see us through.