The motif of evil coming forth from the north is repeated many times throughout Jeremiah. Already in the first chapter Jeremiah prophesizes that evil will come from the north. Then again in 4:6; 6:1 this motif is repeated. In 46:20 again Jeremiah speaks of an invader that is to come from the north. Traditionally it has been understood as referring to the Chaldeans which are geographically north in relation to Israel (although this is doubtful). However I found one place in Jeremiah where this explanation doesn't work. Chapter 47 speaks about Gaza's downfall through an Egyptian Pharaoh, this is what verse 2 states:

This is what the Lord says:

“See how the waters are rising in the north; they will become an overflowing torrent. They will overflow the land and everything in it, the towns and those who live in them. The people will cry out; all who dwell in the land will wail

The problem is that Gaza is geographically north of Egypt, so essentially Pharaoh would be coming up from the south to invade Gaza. So why is Jeremiah speaking of waters rising from the north? This led me to a thought that in Jeremiah evil is somehow associated with the north independent of the geographical location it's coming from, they're more like poetically linked to each other. For example, we find that in ancient mythologies the north wind has some connotations of darkness and stormy weather, perhaps Jeremiah then is using this motif in such a way, evil is mythologically linked to the north. I'd appreciate any other suggestions as to why Jeremiah links Pharaoh with the north.

2 Answers 2


Yes, it is about the direction, not the location, and this is an aspect of Hebrew culture not specific to Jeremiah.

There are several reasons why evil comes from the north:

  1. Astrologically. The constellation Draco, the serpent, winds around the North star (the North star changes over time, but whatever north star there is (currently Polaris) Draco wraps around it, and the previous North Star, Thuban, was part of Draco). Thus Draco is known as the great serpent of the North. This was also how this constellation was viewed in Babylon (where it was also a serpent, Tiammat, the Goddess of Chaos) and in ancient Egypt (the foreleg of set, the god of chaos), as well as throughout Mesopotamia, so it would have been well known. Astrology was very important in the ancient world and there are many astrological references in the Bible.


  1. Militarily The city of Jerusalem had natural defenses on all sides except for the North. On the west side was the valley of Hinnon and on the East side was the valley of Jehosaphat and they met (merged) on the south. But the city did not have a natural valley towards the the North. Thus whenever the city was invaded, the direction of the invaders always came from the North.

Jerusalem topography

Jerusalem topography

  1. Left vs right. In Hebrew culture, the natural direction to face is east. Maps are oriented facing East. When you face east, the North side is on your left, which is the unlucky side or the side of evil, the side of good or lucky side being the right side. Thus the North is always associated with left (evil) and South with the right (good).
  • Is this actually a biblical answer?
    – Dottard
    Aug 8, 2021 at 7:44
  • The Tent and Temple had the Holy of Holies to the east, and the table bearing the showbread to its left, to the north.
    – Lucian
    Aug 8, 2021 at 10:31
  • Robert thanks for your detailed answer! I must note that your second point although it works for most of the references in Jeremiah it does not work for 47:2 where the invaded land is not Jerusalem but Gaza (the crux of my question). However point 1 and 3 work well and explain the connection between north and evil exactly as I suspected.
    – bach
    Aug 8, 2021 at 14:16
  • @Lucian, no the Holy of Holies was to the West of the holy place, which had the bread of presence on its north side and menora on the south side, but nothing was to the "north" or "south" of the most holy place, as it filled up the north-south axis of the temple. The entire temple was a rectangle oriented on an east-west axis, with entrance always in the east (as per the garden of eden).
    – Robert
    Aug 8, 2021 at 18:50
  • @Dottard This is biblical background information, useful for interpreting references in the Bible that deal with cardinal directions.
    – Robert
    Aug 8, 2021 at 23:06

By my count, the word "north" צָפוֹן (tsaphon) occurs 25 times in the Book of Jeremiah. It is used by Jeremiah as a synonym for Babylon - see appendix below.

The same principle holds true for Ezekiel and Zechariah (Eze 26:7, Zech 2:6, 7, 6:8-10). A traveler going to Babylon from Jerusalem always had to travel (initially) north. Hence Babylon became the land of the north.

However, "north" does not mean "evil" or "bad". Indeed, in most of its occurrances, north is simply one of the four directions of the compass, eg, Gen 13;14, 28:14, Ex 26:20, 35, 27:11, 36, 25, 38:11, 40:22, Lev 1;11, Josh 18:12, etc.

In fact, in some places, "north" appears to be the most favored position when God dwells, such as, Ps 48:2, Isa 14:13.

APPENDIX - "North" in the book of Jeremiah always denotes the looming destruction from Babylon:

  • 1:13-15 - military threat from the north is a prophecy about the impending doom from Babylon that God would permit because of Israel's sinfulness.
  • 3:12, 18 - another allusion to Babylon coming from the north as punishment for Israel's unfaithfulness
  • 4:6 - yet another prophecy about the coming invasion by Babylon
  • 6:1, 22 - more promises of Babylon coming from the north
  • 10:22 - the towns of Judah will be captured by a commotion from the north (Babylon)
  • 13:20 - more about the northern invasion from Babylon
  • 15:12 - breaking the iron threat of Babylon from the north
  • 16:15 - here the north refers to the land of Babylon where the Jews were about to be banished
  • 23:8 - the north refers to the land of Babylon where the Jews were about to be banished
  • 25:9 - this confirms the link between the king of Babylon as Nebuchadnezzar as the king of the north
  • 25:26 - here north refers to the coming threat for a large number of surrounding nations including Egypt, Moab, Ammon, Arabia, Tyre and Sidon, etc, will face the wrath of the king of the north, Babylon. That is, Babylon will conquer all these places, which eventually occurred.
  • 31:8 - coming threat from the north, Babylon
  • 46:6, 10 - the route to Babylon from Jerusalem was initially north (from Jerusalem) until one reached the Euphrates river and then one followed it to Babylon. That is, people knew they had been conquered when they reached the river Euphrates in the north.
  • 46:20 - Egypt would suffer the same fete - capture by a king from the north, Babylon
  • 47:2 - the threat of Babylonian invasion would be like an overwhelming flood
  • 50:3 - Babylon will attack as the nation from the north
  • 50:9 - Babylon is again confirmed as the kingdom of the north
  • 50:41 - the looming threat is from the nation of the north, Babylon
  • 51:48 - destruction is coming from the north, is, Babylon.
  • "47:2 - the threat of Babylonian invasion would be like an overwhelming flood". Not only did you not address the question, your comment here is just plain incorrect. 47:2 is clearly a reference to Egypt, not Babylon. Babylon is not even mentioned in the entire chapter!
    – bach
    Aug 8, 2021 at 14:18
  • @Bach - that is not the way I see it - Egypt was south for a start and the threat came from the north - Babylon would punish Egypt (as stated in other places) for its bad behavior. A similar message was delivered about Kedar and Hazor, Damascus, Ammon, Moab, as well as the Philistines.
    – Dottard
    Aug 8, 2021 at 21:28
  • But this oracle is clearly against philistine, and the oracle is introduced by the statement "before Pharaoh attacked Gaza". It doesnt take a genius to put one and one together, this oracle is clearly referring to Pharaoh's invasion of Gaza. See K&D intro to this chapter biblehub.com/commentaries/kad/jeremiah/47.htm
    – bach
    Aug 9, 2021 at 0:03
  • @Bach - agreed - but the prophecy about the Philistines was not carried out by Egypt - it was ultimately implemented by Babylon who completely subjugated them - Egypt did not.
    – Dottard
    Aug 9, 2021 at 0:18
  • Baffled why this is -1. +1 to undo.
    – Robert
    Aug 11, 2021 at 16:30

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