For the Love of God, Volume 2/August 18
From Gospel Translations
1 Samuel 10; Romans 8; Jeremiah 47; Psalms 23—24
THOUGH A SHORT CHAPTER, JEREMIAH 47 is full of interest. It begins with a prophecy regarding the destruction of the Philistine city-states along the coast, and ends with one of the most thought-provoking bits of anguish in the latter part of this book.
First, the prophecy (47:1-5). Its precise timing is a trifle obscure: it came to Jeremiah “before Pharaoh attacked Gaza” (47:1). This may have taken place when Pharaoh Neco of Egypt marched north to attack Haran in 609 B.C. Gaza, one of the Philistine city-states, was on the route. But although this shows the prophecy came to Jeremiah before the days of Egyptian ascendancy were past, it did not concern Egyptian aggression, but Babylonian: the waters that “overflow the land and everything in it” rise “in the north” (47:2)—the direction from which the Babylonian might would come. The word picture of the subsequent destruction is not pretty. Panic will be so acute, Jeremiah insists, that fathers will abandon their children (47:3). Verse 4 may be improperly translated. The Hebrew is literally “to cut off Tyre and Sidon,” and the expression may mean that any help from these Phoenician cities is prevented from reaching the Philistine cities farther down the coast. In any case it is the Lord who destroys the Philistines, whatever the agency (47:4). Gaza and Ashkelon (47:5) were two of their principal cities. “Caphtor” (47:4) is the ancient name for Crete, from which the original Philistines came—so to say that the Lord is about to destroy “the remnant from the coasts of Caphtor” is a poetic way of saying that the Lord is about to destroy the Philistines.
Second, the final thought-provoking anguish (47:6-7). In colorful imagery, Jeremiah pictures the Philistines (according to the NIV) addressing the sword of the Lord: “‘Ah, sword of the LORD,’ you cry, ‘how long till you rest? Return to your scabbard; cease and be still’” (47:6). This supposes that the Philistines recognize that it is Israel’s God, the Lord himself, who has brought judgment on them at the hands of the Babylonians. Although it is possible to understand the Hebrew that way, strictly speaking the words “you cry” are not found in the text: they have to be inferred. But if they are simply omitted, then it is Jeremiah himself who is addressing the sword of the Lord. The Philistines may be pagans, and they may often have oppressed Israel, but now they are about to get pounded—and by the Babylonians, Judah’s premier enemy. So Jeremiah intercedes for the Philistines. But the final verse shows that he understands perfectly well that he cannot command God’s sword. The Lord himself has commanded it, the God of just judgment, and it will do its work. So also on the last day.