After Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, he appointed Gedaliah governor of Judah and left some soldiers to provide support for the new administration. However, evil men assassinated Gedaliah and killed the soldiers. Afraid, the people who lived in Judah decided to escape to Egypt to avoid any retribution from Nebuchadnezzar. First they went to Tahpanhes (Jeremiah chapters 43-44), which was the closest major city of Egypt to Judah.
According to Wikipedia, it was later known as Daphnae and is now called Tell Defenneh. At that time, it was located beside a lake on a branch of the Nile delta. The site is now situated on the Suez Canal. The meaning of the name “Tahpanhes” is uncertain.
The people of Israel had a long association with Egypt throughout the Old Testament. We will look more at that in another article. For today, we will concentrate on Tahpanhes.
Most of the information in the Bible about Tahpanhes comes from Jeremiah.
One of the first messages God told Jeremiah to proclaim to the people of Jerusalem criticised Judah’s attempts to garner support from the failing superpowers of the day (Egypt and Assyria) instead of turning to God. (This took place around 40 years before the destruction by Nebuchadnezzar.) In fact, in Jeremiah 2:16, God describes the results of approaching Egypt as “the men of Memphis and Tahpanhes have shaved the crown of your head.” Judah was like a shaved captive, subject to Egypt – but still not safe.
When the refugees from Judah went to Egypt, they went first to Tahpanhes, and God spoke to Jeremiah there. Jeremiah 43:9 tell us that Pharaoh had a palace in the city. This can help us to understand the earlier description of “the men of Tahpanhes and Memphis” (in Jeremiah 2:16) as referring to the rulers of Egypt.
In seeking help from Egypt instead of from God, Judah had chosen to serve Egypt instead of God.
God warned them that Nebuchadnezzar would attack Egypt and the refugees from Judah would not find safety there.
After arriving in Tahpanhes, it appears that some of the refugees from Judah stayed in the city while others moved on into other parts of Egypt, so that when Jeremiah was given a message concerning all the Judeans who lived in the land of Egypt, this included those in Migdol, Tahpanhes, Memphis, and the land of Pathros. All of these places are located along the Nile or its delta, including the land of Pathros, which is probably the region bordering a 600km stretch of the Nile from Memphis upstream to Thebes.
In this prophecy, Jeremiah condemns the people for worshipping the gods of Egypt. Sometimes our refusal to see things we don’t want to see is breathtaking! God reminds them that they had worshipped many other gods in Judah and that he had promised the destruction of the kingdom of Judah as a direct result. God had fulfilled that promise, and yet they still had not learned the lesson. When the people moved to Egypt, they kept ignoring God and started worshipping the gods of Egypt! In this prophecy God says that all those who had abandoned Judah for Egypt would die by sword and famine in Egypt.
The targets of this prophecy justify their behaviour by arguing that everything had been going well when they worshipped other gods in Judah. They claimed that things had only gone wrong when they tried to please Yahweh. However, an investigation of the records in Kings, Chronicles and the prophets will look in vain for any evidence that the people ever genuinely tried to worship Yahweh during the reigns of the last four kings who followed Josiah. The best that can be found is a couple of aborted attempts to buy time: once they freed their slaves but enslaved them again soon afterwards; and once the king Jehoiakim declared a fast in the middle of winter, but rather spoiled the appearance of humility when he then cut to pieces and burned a scroll prepared for the occasion by Jeremiah and Baruch at God’s command.
The people never genuinely tried to reform, yet these false starts were all they could remember when it suited them. It reminds me very much of current arguments against God. People typically blame him for wars, hatred and evil perpetrated by people in the name of religion. People do not want to hear about God, so they justify their refusal to listen by blaming God for the actions of other people, past or present, who likewise have refused to listen.
There are a couple of other mentions of Tahpanhes in the Old Testament, one in Jeremiah and one in Ezekiel.
Jeremiah 46:13 introduces the prophecy by saying that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon was coming to strike the land of Egypt:
“Declare in Egypt, and proclaim in Migdol; proclaim in Memphis and Tahpanhes; Say, ‘Stand ready and be prepared, for the sword shall devour around you.’ ”
In Ezekiel, we find a different spelling of Tahpanhes, but it seems to refer to the same place:
“At Tehaphnehes the day shall be dark, when I break there the yoke bars of Egypt, and her proud might shall come to an end in her; she shall be covered by a cloud, and her daughters shall go into captivity. Thus I will execute judgements on Egypt. Then they will know that I am the Lord.”
The prophecy was a solemn promise that Egypt’s power – symbolised by yoke bars – would end because of an attack by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
Egypt has never been a superpower since that time.
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