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Jeremiah 42:7-19

Ten days later the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. 8So he called together Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers who were with him and all the people from the least to the greatest. 9He said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your petition, says: 10‘If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down... 13“However, if you say, ‘We will not stay in this land,’ and so disobey the Lord your God, 14and if you say, ‘No, we will go and live in Egypt, where we will not see war or hear the trumpet or be hungry for bread,’ 15then hear the word of the Lord, you remnant of Judah. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you are determined to go to Egypt and you do go to settle there, 16then the sword you fear will overtake you there, and the famine you dread will follow you into Egypt, and there you will die. 17Indeed, all who are determined to go to Egypt to settle there will die by the sword, famine and plague; not one of them will survive or escape the disaster I will bring on them.’ 18This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘As my anger and wrath have been poured out on those who lived in Jerusalem, so will my wrath be poured out on you when you go to Egypt. You will be a curse b and an object of horror, a curse and an object of reproach; you will never see this place again.’

I never really understood why Jeremiah was so opposed to a Jewish settlement in Egypt. What's even more striking is that Jeremiah doesn't even bother explaining why God opposes such a settlement (as if it's self evident), he just warns them that if they will settle in Egypt then terrible things will happen to them. But why would god be so angry with them if they chose to settle there? Seems pretty harmless to me. It is true that in chapter 44 we find that the women burned incense for the queen of the heaven and pursued idolatrous practices, but there is no reason to assume that this is at all connected with life in Egypt as opposed to life in Judah, since as in their own words:

"We will certainly do everything we said we would: We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our ancestors, our kings and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. At that time we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. 18But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.”

So why did Jeremiah think that their idolatrous pursuits would worsen in Egypt than if they stayed in Judah, since as the text clearly states they were doing these abhorrent practices in the land of Judah already before they were exiled, so why insist that they stay there in the hope that they will stop their idolatrous practices?

What else could have prompted Jeremiah's opposition to Jews settling in Egypt? I do not believe Jeremiah was against it on grounds of Deut. 17. I believe historically the text has not been understood as a general ban to return to the land of Egypt, the ban in my opinion is purely a rabbinic invention. Furthermore, if that were the case Jeremiah would not have failed to mention this "biblical" prohibition, neither would he have waited ten days to receive the word of God, as this prohibition would have been well known to him. What else could have been the reason for the opposition? Was it politically motivated? Perhaps Jeremiah feared further disillusionment by the Jews by relying on the Egyptian empire for help as they had until then, since this had ultimately led to Jerusalem's destruction? Was Jeremiah trying to prevent another such episode? Or were there other religious grounds for opposing such a settlement?

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God's decreed word

God had decreed that they will be taken to Babylon and those who were repentant will survive by submitting to the Babylonian king and in later years will return back

Jeremiah 29:10 NASB

10 “For this is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.

God's integrity

So by escaping to Egypt they were thumbing their nose at God's judgement and subverting the Babylonian captivity of seventy years. God had also commanded them (Deuteronomy 17:16) never to return to Egypt which was coincidental a place were he had redeemed them from.

God's punishment

Jeremiah 44:28-29 NASB

28 Those who escape the sword will return from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah [ac]few in number. Then all the remnant of Judah who have gone to the land of Egypt to reside there will know whose word will stand, Mine or theirs. 29 And this will be the sign to you,’ declares the Lord, ‘that I am going to punish you in this place, so that you may know that My words will assuredly stand against you

So Jeremiah' strong opposition to Jews settling in Egypt was based on God's word and integrity that was at stake

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  • +1 good answer.
    – Tony Chan
    May 19 at 14:28

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