The Yellow Brick Road of Disobedience.

At the end of ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. Then he summoned Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces who were with him, and all the people from the least to the greatest, and said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your plea for mercy before him: If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you. Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the Lord, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. I will grant you mercy, that he may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land. But if you say, ‘We will not remain in this land,’ disobeying the voice of the Lord your God and saying, ‘No, we will go to the land of Egypt, where we shall not see war or hear the sound of the trumpet or be hungry for bread, and we will dwell there,’ then hear the word of the Lord, O remnant of Judah. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: If you set your faces to enter Egypt and go to live there, then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt, and there you shall die. All the men who set their faces to go to Egypt to live there shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. They shall have no remnant or survivor from the disaster that I will bring upon them.

“For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: As my anger and my wrath were poured out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so my wrath will be poured out on you when you go to Egypt. You shall become an execration, a horror, a curse, and a taunt. You shall see this place no more. The Lord has said to you, O remnant of Judah, ‘Do not go to Egypt.’ Know for a certainty that I have warned you this day that you have gone astray at the cost of your lives. For you sent me to the Lord your God, saying, ‘Pray for us to the Lord our God, and whatever the Lord our God says, declare to us and we will do it.’ And I have this day declared it to you, but you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord your God in anything that he sent me to tell you. Now therefore know for a certainty that you shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence in the place where you desire to go to live.” Jeremiah 42:7-22 ESV

Johanan and the people had asked Jeremiah to seek the will of God concerning whether they should stay in Judah and face the wrath of King Nebuchadnezzar over the murder of the man he had appointed as governor, or should they hightail it to Egypt. They had assured the prophet that they would do whatever God told them to do. So, ten days later, Jeremiah came back with the new from God. And it is not what they had been expecting or desiring to hear. He let them know, in no uncertain terms, that God wanted them to stay right where they were, and God communicates His message with two if-then conditional statements. The first described what would happen if they obeyed His will and stayed in the land.

If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you.” – Jeremiah 42:10 ESV

Obedience would bring the blessing of God. Rather than punish them, He would protect them, even preventing the king of Babylon from seeking revenge against them. They would no longer have to fear Nebuchadnezzar. God Almighty would stand in the gap and act as a shield of protection for them. There was no need to run and seek shelter in Egypt, because they had God on their side. But God knew their hearts and so, He gave them the second scenario.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: If you set your faces to enter Egypt and go to live there, then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt, and there you shall die.” – Jeremiah 42:15-16 ESV

They had a choice to make. They could obey God and live, or they could disobey God and take their chances in Egypt. But if they chose option B, they would discover that Egypt would make a lousy savior. Their problems would follow them there, because there is no escape from the wrath of God. It was King David who wrote:

Where can I go to escape your spirit?
Where can I flee to escape your presence?
If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there.
If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be.
If I were to fly away on the wings of the dawn,
and settle down on the other side of the sea,
even there your hand would guide me,
your right hand would grab hold of me.
If I were to say, “Certainly the darkness will cover me,
and the light will turn to night all around me,”
even the darkness is not too dark for you to see,
and the night is as bright as day;
darkness and light are the same to you. – Psalm 139:7-12 NLT

Of course, David meant his words as a positive statement regarding God’s inescapable presence. He took comfort in the fact that there was no place where God was not present and His not all-pervasive. But for Johanan and the remnant of the people of Judah, they would find out that there was no escape from God judgment for disobedience. God had ordained the fall of Judah and He had chosen to use Nebuchadnezzar to do it. He had also told the people of Judah on numerous occasions, that it was His will that those who were left behind after the fall of Jerusalem were to stay in the land and remain under the submission of the Babylonians. What they didn’t realize was that God had a purpose behind His command. He intended the Babylonians to provide the remnant, in their weakened and vulnerable state, with protection from the mightiest nation on the planet. Their conquerors would become their defenders. But in order to enjoy that divinely ordained protection, the people of Judah would have to choose to remain under Babylonian rule. They would have to trust God and give up their desire to run from what they perceived as a threat on their lives.

But God knew what was going to happen, and He didn’t need His omniscience to come to that conclusion. He had seen this scenario played out time and time again with His people. He was well-acquainted with their hearts and their propensity to do things their own way. He even told them what they were probably thinking:

“We will not stay here; instead, we will go to Egypt where we will be free from war, the call to arms, and hunger.” – Jeremiah 42:13-14 NLT

Notice the rationale behind their decision. Freedom from war, the end of conscription of their young men for war, and no more hunger and starvation as a result of war. They viewed their escape to Egypt as a panacea for all their perceived problems. But the yellow brick path of disobedience never leads to the Emerald City. Choosing to disobey the will of God never ends well. It may seem appealing and, even logical, but it will always result in disappointment and disillusionment. Remember what happened to Jonah when he refused to do what God commanded him to do? He was to take God’s offer of repentance to the people living in the city of Ninevah. But rather than obey God, Jonah chose to get on a boat and head in the opposite direction. And how did that work out for him? He ended up in a storm, getting thrown overboard, swallowed by a large fish, and thrown up on the beach. On top of all that, he ended up doing God’s will anyway. And what is fascinating about the story of Jonah is that the fish was actually the means of Jonah’s salvation, not a punishment from God. God sent the fish to keep Jonah from drowning, and Jonah reflects his awareness of this fact in his own words:

“You threw me into the deep waters,
into the middle of the sea;
the ocean current engulfed me;
all the mighty waves you sent swept over me.
I thought I had been banished from your sight,
that I would never again see your holy temple!
Water engulfed me up to my neck;
the deep ocean surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
I went down to the very bottoms of the mountains;
the gates of the netherworld barred me in forever;
but you brought me up from the Pit, O Lord, my God.” – Jonah 2:3-6 NLT

As Jonah sank into the depths of the sea, he called out to God to save him, and God sent the fish to do just that. The fish was his means of escape. Yes, he had to remain three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, but his life was spared. And, as a result, he was able to heed God’s second call to go to Ninevah and, this time, he went.

Johanan and the people of Judah had their answer from God. Now, the question was what they were going to do with it. How would they respond? Jeremiah seemed to already know, because he flatly told them:

“You said, ‘Just tell us what the Lord our God says, and we will do it!’ And today I have told you exactly what he said, but you will not obey the Lord your God any better now than you have in the past. So you can be sure that you will die from war, famine, and disease in Egypt, where you insist on going.” – Jeremiah 42:20-22 NLT

They weren’t going to listen. They were not going to obey. They had already made up their minds and had the maps and provisions for their journey to Egypt pre-prepared. They probably had their bags packed. And it wouldn’t be long before they were on their way, following the yellow brick road of disillusionment and false hope. This should bring to mind a warning God gave to the people of Judah earlier in this very same book.

This is what the LORD says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls. But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’” – Jeremiah 6:16 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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Great Intentions, But…

Then all the commanders of the forces, and Johanan the son of Kareah and Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest, came near and said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Let our plea for mercy come before you, and pray to the Lord your God for us, for all this remnant—because we are left with but a few, as your eyes see us— that the Lord your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do.” Jeremiah the prophet said to them, “I have heard you. Behold, I will pray to the Lord your God according to your request, and whatever the Lord answers you I will tell you. I will keep nothing back from you.” Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to all the word with which the Lord your God sends you to us. Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God.” Jeremiah 42:1-6 ESV

There had been a lot decisions being made among the remnant of the people of Judah who had been left in the land after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor, refused to heed the warning of Johanan about an assassination plot on his life. And he did not seek the counsel of God or even of Jeremiah, God’s prophet. In fact, ever since Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah and left him in charge, Jeremiah is suspiciously nowhere to be seen. His name isn’t even mentioned in all of chapter 41. Yet, he had been placed under Gedaliah’s care.

Then there was the decision of Ishmael, a member of the family of King David, who decided to side with the King of Ammon and played a personal role in the assassination of Gedaliah. Once again, there is no indication that he sought the will of God in making this fateful decision. He and the King of Ammon had plans and they obviously felt no need to consult with God or seek His approval.

Then, there was Johanan’s decision to pursue Ishmael and take revenge for his murder of Gedaliah. Johanan was able to rescue the people who had been captured by Ishmael and free them, but Ishmael himself escaped. And there is every indication that Johanan had plans to seek asylum in Egypt in order to escape what he knew would be the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar for the death on Gedaliah.

Then Johanan son of Kareah and the other military leaders took all the people they had rescued in Gibeon—the soldiers, women, children, and court officials whom Ishmael had captured after he killed Gedaliah. They took them all to the village of Geruth-kimham near Bethlehem, where they prepared to leave for Egypt. They were afraid of what the Babylonians would do when they heard that Ishmael had killed Gedaliah, the governor appointed by the Babylonian king. – Jeremiah 41:16-18 NLT

But now, as chapter 42 opens, Johanan, the people and all the military leaders who had been able to escape during the fall of Jerusalem, approach Jeremiah and ask Him to pray on their behalf.

“Please pray to the Lord your God for us. As you can see, we are only a tiny remnant compared to what we were before. Pray that the Lord your God will show us what to do and where to go.” – Jeremiah 42:2-3 NLT

This request sounds extremely spiritual. They are asking the prophet of God to approach Yahweh on their behalf and seek to discover what His will might be for them. They know they are in a dangerous predicament. Even though it was Ishmael, in a plot with the king of Ammon, who murdered Gedaliah, the Babylonians are not going to launch a lengthy investigation to determine culpability and hand out punishment. They will see this as a rebellion against their authority and move to suppress it. The Babylonians were not known for their diplomacy or their patience with those who refused to submit to their rule. So, Johanan and his companions were legitimately concerned that the actions of Ishmael were going to bring down the wrath of King Nebuchadnezzar on their heads. And they come to Jeremiah indicating that they want to know what God would have them do.  Jeremiah agrees to their request and promises to seek the will of God, assuring them that he will tell them everything that God tells him, holding nothing back. And they respond:

“May the Lord your God be a faithful witness against us if we refuse to obey whatever he tells us to do! Whether we like it or not, we will obey the Lord our God to whom we are sending you with our plea. For if we obey him, everything will turn out well for us.” – Jeremiah 42:5-6 NLT

You can almost sense what is about to happen, can’t you? If you know anything about the history of the people of Israel, this entire passage should create a sense of déjà vu – a feeling that you have seen this before. Think back to the days when Moses presented to the people of Israel the laws and commands of God in the wilderness. When he had told them what God expected of them, they had responded: “We will do everything the Lord has commanded” (Exodus 24:3 NLT).

Fast-forward to the days when Joshua was leading the people in their conquering of the land of Canaan, promised to them by God. He told the people:

“So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone.” – Joshua 24:14 NLT

He warned them what God would do if they failed to remain faithful and obedient to God.

“You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you abandon the Lord and serve other gods, he will turn against you and destroy you, even though he has been so good to you.” – Joshua 24:19-20 NLT

But they still responded:

“No, we will serve the Lord!” – Joshua 24:21 NLT

“We will serve the Lord our God. We will obey him alone.” – Joshua 24:24 NLT

There are other occasions recorded in Scripture where the people of God made unwavering promises to remain faithful to God and do what He told them to do. There are examples of individuals who pledged to do what God commanded, but who failed to keep their word. It is an ongoing, repetitive scenario found throughout the Old Testament. So, it is easy to read verses 1-6 of Jeremiah 42 and have some serious doubts whether Johanan and the people are really going to keep their promise to do whatever God tells them. There is a track record established that indicates that, unless God tells them what they want to hear, they are going to do what they want to do. Their collective will is going to overshadow the will of God.

What jumps out at me is the manner in which the people of God have always had a tendency to pray to Him wanting nothing more than for Him to rubber stamp their plans. And we must include ourselves as guilty regarding this same offense. How many times do we go to God, desiring Him to give us His blessing on decisions we have already made? We seek His approval of our plans. We want Him to validate and approve of our agenda, not reveal to us His own.

Back in chapter 37 of Jeremiah, there is the story of King Zedekiah seeking out Jeremiah and asking him to pray to God on behalf of the people.

“Please pray to the Lord our God for us.” – Jeremiah 37:3 NLT

But that request is prefaced by the statement:

But neither King Zedekiah nor his attendants nor the people who were left in the land listened to what the Lord said through Jeremiah. – Jeremiah 37:2 NLT

The king and the people had not yet listened to one thing the prophet had said to them, in spite of the fact that he had been speaking on behalf of God. So, why would his request to have Jeremiah pray to God on their behalf indicate that he was suddenly ready to do whatever it was that God said? Asking to know God’s will is pointless if you have no intention of following it. Desiring to know what God would have you do means nothing if you have already determined your next step. When we discover that God’s will for us is not what we expected or desired, our natural inclination is to follow our own desires and implement our own plans. And the people of Judah had a long record of doing just that. So, it is easy to assume that what is going to happen in the next verses is going to follow the established pattern. Jeremiah will seek the will of God. He will share it with Johanan and the others. They they will do what they have already determined to do.

Warren Wiersbe writes: “Sometimes God’s people take this false approach in discerning the will of God. Instead of honestly seeking God’s will, they go from counselor to counselor, asking for advice and hoping they’ll find somebody who will agree with their hidden agenda.”

Sad, but true. And we will see how the people of God react to hearing the will of God. What will they do? Will they listen to what God has to say? Will they do what He tells them to do, even if it seems to make no sense and contradicts their own plans? Seeking the will of God has no inherent value if you never intend to obey the will of God. Asking God to bless your plans and approve of your will is nothing more than asking God to do your bidding. It is treating God like a Genie in a bottle, granting you your three wishes and making your dreams come true. But that is not the God of the Bible.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Planning Without God Results in Godless Outcomes.

But when Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him heard of all the evil that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had done, they took all their men and went to fight against Ishmael the son of Nethaniah. They came upon him at the great pool that is in Gibeon. And when all the people who were with Ishmael saw Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him, they rejoiced. So all the people whom Ishmael had carried away captive from Mizpah turned around and came back, and went to Johanan the son of Kareah. But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men, and went to the Ammonites. Then Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him took from Mizpah all the rest of the people whom he had recovered from Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, after he had struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam—soldiers, women, children, and eunuchs, whom Johanan brought back from Gibeon. And they went and stayed at Geruth Chimham near Bethlehem, intending to go to Egypt because of the Chaldeans. For they were afraid of them, because Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land. Jeremiah 41:11-18 ESV

If you recall, at the close of chapter 40, there was an encounter between Gedaliah, the newly appointed governor of Judah and Johanan son of Kareah. Johanan and some other military leaders had come to warn Gedaliah of a plot on his life.

“Did you know that Baalis, king of Ammon, has sent Ishmael son of Nethaniah to assassinate you?” But Gedaliah refused to believe them. – Jeremiah 40:14 NLT

Johanan warned and Gedaliah ignored. And within days, Gedaliah was dead, murdered by Ishmael. But Johanan, rather than simply walk away with an I-told-you-so attitude, decides to avenge the death of Gedaliah and rescue all those Ishmael had taken captive. Johanan and his troops catch up to Ishmael at a watering spot near the town of Gibeon. We’re not told why Ishmael took this route, and it was not exactly a direct route to Ammon, where he was headed. But regardless of his motivation, Ishmael’s plans took him to Gibeon, where Johanah and his troops surprised them. Immediately, the people who had been taken captive by Ishmael turn on him and begin fighting alongside Johanan and his men. In the midst of all the chaos, Ishmael and eight of his men escape. But Johanan sets the captives free and takes them with him “to the village of Geruth-kimham near Bethlehem, where they prepared to leave for Egypt” (Jeremiah 41:17 NLT).

This last statement is significant. Johanan had already made plans for he and his troops to escape to Egypt. And now, he decides to have the recently rescued citizens of Mizpah join them. But where did he get this idea from? Why had he determined to make his way to Egypt? It would seem that he feared what King Nebuchadnezzar would do when he found out that the governor he had appointed over Judah had been murdered, along with some Babylonian soldiers. Johanan knew that the king of Babylon was not going to look kindly on this act of abject rebellion against his authority. So, rather than wait around to see what Nebuchadnezzar might do, Johanan decided to seek refuge from Egypt, a supposed ally of Judah. But notice what is missing. There is no indication that Johanan received a word from God to go to Egypt. This does not appear to be a divinely ordained plan. And any plan that lacks God’s blessing is ultimately doomed to failure.

This brings to mind another journey to Egypt made by Abraham and his wife, Sarah. There little trip was due to a famine in the land of Canaan. Abraham made the call to leave Canaan and journey to Egypt where they might find food and water. But again, there is no indication that God had given His blessing on this trip. And it ended up with Sarah nearly being guilty of have adultery with the the Pharaoh. It was only because God struck Pharaoh and his household with disease that this whole affair didn’t end up being a total disaster. Pharaoh discovered that Sarah was Abraham’s wife and angrily confronted Abraham for deceiving him. But rather than kill Abraham, he returns his wife to him and expels them from Egypt.

What about David? Do you recall the time he was attempting to escape from King Saul and decided to escape to Gath? This whole story has a what-were-you-thinking aspect to it. Gath was the hometown of Goliath, the great warrior who David had killed. And to top it all off, David had stopped at the city of Nob to get food and provisions. While there, he had taken the sword of Goliath that was stored there for safe keeping. This was the very same sword David had used to cut off the head of Goliath. So, David, the killer of the Philistine champion, shows up in Goliath’s hometown, wearing Goliath’s sword on his belt. And the Philistines can’t believe their eyes. The Philistine military commanders are highly suspicious.

But the officers of Achish were unhappy about his being there. “Isn’t this David, the king of the land?” they asked. “Isn’t he the one the people honor with dances, singing,

‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” – 1 Samuel 21:11 NLT

Waking up to his senses, David immediately realized the stupidity of his decision and came up with the desperate idea to feign insanity – literally.

David heard these comments and was very afraid of what King Achish of Gath might do to him. So he pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard. – 1 Samuel 21:12-13 NLT

It worked. They let David go. But his trip almost cost him his life. And his stop in Nob would end up resulting in the deaths of the priests who lived there. When King Saul caught wind that they had assisted David in his escape he had them slaughtered.

So Doeg the Edomite turned on them and killed them that day, eighty-five priests in all, still wearing their priestly garments. Then he went to Nob, the town of the priests, and killed the priests’ families—men and women, children and babies—and all the cattle, donkeys, sheep, and goats. – 1 Samuel 22:18-19 NLT

None of this had been God’s plan. He had never sanctioned this little trip to Gath with a side stop in Nob. And because it was out of His will, it ended up resulting in needless suffering and death.

So, here we have Johanan leading a group of people to Egypt. He has not received a direct word from God. He has not heard anything from the prophet of God. It appears that he made his decision based on nothing more than fear and human reason – the very same motivating factors behind Abraham’s trip to Egypt and David’s journey to Gath. Making plans apart from God’s will can be life-threatening; not just to us, but to all those around us. But we all have a nasty way of coming up with our own Egypts and Gaths. We find ourselves in trouble and then start looking for somewhere to run or hide. We look for a way out, a way of escape. But unless that way comes from the Lord, it will always end up creating problems, not solving them. Now, you might say that Abraham ended up leaving Egypt loaded with gifts from Pharaoh. The passage in Genesis clearly states:

So Abram’s wife was taken into the household of Pharaoh, and he did treat Abram well on account of her. Abram received sheep and cattle, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. – Genesis 12:15-16 NLT

And when Abraham left Egypt, it clearly tells us:

Pharaoh gave his men orders about Abram, and so they expelled him, along with his wife and all his possessions. – Genesis 12:20 NLT

Abraham left wealthier than he had arrived. And the very next chapter reinforces this idea.

So Abram went up from Egypt into the Negev. He took his wife and all his possessions with him, as well as Lot. (Now Abram was very wealthy in livestock, silver, and gold.)…

Now Lot, who was traveling with Abram, also had flocks, herds, and tents. But the land could not support them while they were living side by side. Because their possessions were so great, they were not able to live alongside one another. So there were quarrels between Abram’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen. – Genesis 13:1-2, 5-7 NLT

What appears to be good fortune as a result of his non-God-sanctioned trip to Egypt, turned out to be nothing but a headache over time. The “blessings” he got for heading to Egypt without God’s approval would prove to be curses. His abundance of flocks led to disunity between he and his nephew Lot. And when he gave Lot the first choice of land to occupy so they could part ways, Lot took the best land. Then, before long, Lot ended up moving to Sodom. And, eventually, Abraham would be forced to rescue Lot when he was captured along with the other citizens of Sodom. All because Abraham had gone to Egypt, lied to Pharaoh, and received an extravagant dowry from Pharaoh so he could have Sarah as his wife. Our best plans apart from God’s blessing and direction are futile and will prove fruitless. And Johanan’s plan would prove to be no less so.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Resisting God’s Will.

In the seventh month, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, son of Elishama, of the royal family, one of the chief officers of the king, came with ten men to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, at Mizpah. As they ate bread together there at Mizpah, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah and the ten men with him rose up and struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, with the sword, and killed him, whom the king of Babylon had appointed governor in the land. Ishmael also struck down all the Judeans who were with Gedaliah at Mizpah, and the Chaldean soldiers who happened to be there.

On the day after the murder of Gedaliah, before anyone knew of it, eighty men arrived from Shechem and Shiloh and Samaria, with their beards shaved and their clothes torn, and their bodies gashed, bringing grain offerings and incense to present at the temple of the Lord. And Ishmael the son of Nethaniah came out from Mizpah to meet them, weeping as he came. As he met them, he said to them, “Come in to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam.” When they came into the city, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah and the men with him slaughtered them and cast them into a cistern. But there were ten men among them who said to Ishmael, “Do not put us to death, for we have stores of wheat, barley, oil, and honey hidden in the fields.” So he refrained and did not put them to death with their companions.

Now the cistern into which Ishmael had thrown all the bodies of the men whom he had struck down along with Gedaliah was the large cistern that King Asa had made for defense against Baasha king of Israel; Ishmael the son of Nethaniah filled it with the slain. Then Ishmael took captive all the rest of the people who were in Mizpah, the king’s daughters and all the people who were left at Mizpah, whom Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, had committed to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam. Ishmael the son of Nethaniah took them captive and set out to cross over to the Ammonites. Jeremiah 41:1-10 ESV

To full comprehend what is going on in this passage, we have to take a look back at an earlier part of the book where God had Jeremiah deliver a message to King Zedekiah. This was the occasion when God had commanded Jeremiah to make a yoke of wood and leather, put it around his neck and then prophesy the following words to the king:

“I made the earth and the people and animals on it by my mighty power and great strength, and I give it to whomever I see fit. I have at this time placed all these nations of yours under the power of my servant, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. I have even made all the wild animals subject to him. All nations must serve him and his son and grandson until the time comes for his own nation to fall.” – Jeremiah27:5-7 NLT

The presence of Nebuchadnezzar and his troops in Judah was by the decree of God. This wasn’t a case of happenstance or even the result of decision made by Nebuchadnezzar himself. Yes, he obviously had to issue the orders to invade Judah, but it was under the sovereign will and by the decree of God Almighty.

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. – Proverbs 16:9 NLT

The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases. – Proverbs 21:1 NLT

What Ishmael failed to realize was that Gedaliah’s role as the governor of Judah was part of God’s foreordained plan. He mistakenly saw the fall of Jerusalem and the deportation of King Zedekiah to Babylon as an opportunity to seize the throne. As a member of King David’s family, he saw himself as a legitimate heir with every right to be king. But what he overlooked was that God had a plan for Judah and even the king of Babylon was being used by God to accomplish that plan. So, in essence, Gedaliah was God’s choice to rule over Judah after the fall of Jerusalem. And yet, Ishmael had other plans. He had no interest in what God might be trying to do. He saw an opportunity and he seized it – even if it meant committing murder and violating the will of God to do it.

It is important to note that Ishmael is clearly presented as a descendant of David. He is referred to in the passage as “Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, son of Elishama, of the royal family” (Jeremiah 41:1 ESV). Elishama’s name is found in the list of the sons born to David.

And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, and more sons and daughters were born to David. And these are the names of those who were born to him in Jerusalem: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, Ibhar, Elishua, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada, and Eliphelet. – 2 Samuel 5:13-15 ESV

Why that is important is because it provides a stark contrast between Ishmael and his ancestor, David. If you recall, after David had been anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel, hand-picked by God to replace King Saul, he ended up spending several years of his life running from Saul. God had arranged for David to be anointed, but His plan did not include David’s immediate ascension to the throne. Saul remained king. And he greatly feared David and did everything in his power to see that he be eliminated. And on two separate occasions, David had the opportunity to take Saul’s life, but he refused. On the first occasion, Saul happened to walk into a cave where David and his men were hiding. When David’s men encouraged him to take advantage of the opportunity to kill Saul and take his throne, David responded:

“May the Lord keep me far away from doing such a thing to my lord, who is the Lord’s chosen one, by extending my hand against him. After all, he is the Lord’s chosen one.” – 1 Samuel 24:6 ESV

On the second occasion, David and one of his men made their way into the camp of King Saul and his troops as they slept. They were able to make it unnoticed right to the place where the king slept. Abishai, David’s companion, offered to kill Saul on the spot, but David once again responded:

“Don’t kill him! Who can extend his hand against the Lord’s chosen one and remain guiltless?” – 1 Samuel 26:9 NLT

David was unwilling to take Saul’s life because he had not been given permission to do so. He recognized that, until God chose to remove Saul, he would remain the king of Israel, and as a result, David was obligated to honor him as such.

David went on to say, “As the Lord lives, the Lord himself will strike him down. Either his day will come and he will die, or he will go down into battle and be swept away. But may the Lord prevent me from extending my hand against the Lord’s chosen one! – 1 Samuel 26:10

Now, compare the actions of David with those of his descendant, Ishmael. Gedaliah had been appointed the governor of Judah by the king of Babylon. But the king of Babylon, according to God Himself, was under His direct orders. And yet, Ishmael didn’t seem to care. Unlike his ancestor, Ishmael had no problem raising his hand against the Lord’s anointed. With careful planning and premeditation, he murdered Gedaliah. Not only that, “Ishmael also killed all the Judeans and the Babylonian soldiers who were with Gedaliah at Mizpah” (Jeremiah 41:3 NLT).

We know that Ishmael was operating under the influence and direction of the King of Ammon. He was taking his cues from an enemy of Judah rather than seeking what the Lord would have him do. There is little doubt that Baalis, the Ammonite king, had no love for the Babylonians. In fact, on that occasion when Jeremiah had been commanded by God to make and wear the yoke, he was also commanded to deliver his message to the king of Ammon regarding God’s plan to use Nebuchadnezzar as His tool of punishment.

“Make a yoke out of leather straps and wooden crossbars and put it on your neck. Use it to send messages to the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon. Send them through the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to King Zedekiah of Judah. Charge them to give their masters a message from me.” – Jeremiah 27:2-4 NLT

But Baalis and Ishmael didn’t care what God had to say. They didn’t approve of God’s plan and weren’t willing to submit to God’s appointed leader. Perhaps Baalis believed that if he could stir up trouble in Judah by having the Babylonian-appointed governor murdered, it would force Nebuchadnezzar to concentrate all his efforts and resources in Judah and leave the land of Ammon alone. But whatever his motivation, he was clearly violating the will of God. And the murdering rampage of Ishmael would continue, filling a cistern with the bodies of the slain.

Don’t overlook the significance of Ismael’s choice to throw the bodies of the dead into a cistern. Normally designed to provide life-sustaining water for the people of the city, this cistern was re-purposed by Ishmael to hold the lifeless bodies of those he had slain. Their corpses would end up polluting the water, making the cistern a place of death rather than life. This should bring to mind a stinging indictment from God, delivered earlier in the book of Jeremiah.

“For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me–the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” – Jeremiah 2:13 NLT

Opposing God’s will brings death, not life. Refusing to submit to His divine plan for our lives will never result in an improved outcome. Ishmael would learn the hard way that God’s way is always the best way.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Tad Too Trusting.

When all the captains of the forces in the open country and their men heard that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah the son of Ahikam governor in the land and had committed to him men, women, and children, those of the poorest of the land who had not been taken into exile to Babylon, they went to Gedaliah at Mizpah—Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, Johanan the son of Kareah, Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth, the sons of Ephai the Netophathite, Jezaniah the son of the Maacathite, they and their men. Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, swore to them and their men, saying, “Do not be afraid to serve the Chaldeans. Dwell in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you. As for me, I will dwell at Mizpah, to represent you before the Chaldeans who will come to us. But as for you, gather wine and summer fruits and oil, and store them in your vessels, and dwell in your cities that you have taken.” Likewise, when all the Judeans who were in Moab and among the Ammonites and in Edom and in other lands heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant in Judah and had appointed Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, as governor over them, then all the Judeans returned from all the places to which they had been driven and came to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah at Mizpah. And they gathered wine and summer fruits in great abundance.

Now Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces in the open country came to Gedaliah at Mizpah and said to him, “Do you know that Baalis the king of the Ammonites has sent Ishmael the son of Nethaniah to take your life?” But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam would not believe them. Then Johanan the son of Kareah spoke secretly to Gedaliah at Mizpah, “Please let me go and strike down Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and no one will know it. Why should he take your life, so that all the Judeans who are gathered about you would be scattered, and the remnant of Judah would perish?” But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam said to Johanan the son of Kareah, “You shall not do this thing, for you are speaking falsely of Ishmael.” Jeremiah 40:7-16 ESV

The Babylonians came, conquered, and captured. Then they left a rag-tag remnant of Jewish people under the leadership of a guy named Gedaliah. The capital city of Jerusalem was in a shambles. The temple had been destroyed. All the gold, silver, and anything of value had been looted and hauled off as booty by the Babylonians. The entire territory surrounding Jerusalem had been equally devastated by the lingering presence of the Babylonians as they laid siege to the city and plundered their way around Judah.

Jeremiah had been placed under the care of Gedaliah by the royal representative of King Nebuchadnezzar. And Gedaliah had been given the responsibility to manage the remaining citizens of Judah, answering directly to the king of Babylon. As the governor over what was left of Judah, Gedaliah had a huge task ahead of him. It seems that the Babylonians never occupied Judah or attempted to colonize it. They took what they wanted and left. It was going to be up to Gedaliah to manage the chaos and confusion that remained. And it quickly becomes apparent that there were a lot of rebel or guerilla groups who had fled from the Babylonians and had managed to hide until they were gone. Now, they came out of the woodwork. Once they heard the Babylonians had left Judah, they made their way to see what Gedaliah was going to do. Would he provide leadership to this disparate groups and begin the process of restoring the former glory of the nation of Judah? When these various militias arrived, Gedaliah gave them some advice, and it was probably not what they wanted to hear.

Gedaliah vowed to them that the Babylonians meant them no harm. “Don’t be afraid to serve them. Live in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and all will go well for you,” he promised. “As for me, I will stay at Mizpah to represent you before the Babylonians who come to meet with us. Settle in the towns you have taken, and live off the land. Harvest the grapes and summer fruits and olives, and store them away.” – Jeremiah 40:9-10 NLT

What? Serve the Babylonians? Plant crops? Occupy the cities? Live off the land? What kind of leadership was this? And then when the common people, who had fled to the nearby lands of Moab, Ammon, and Edom heard the Gedaliah was the new governor, they made a beeline to see what he was going to do to rebuild their once-great land. At best, things were highly unstable. At worst, they were dangerously volatile. Any time a leadership vacuum exists, there will always be a variety of individuals who feel the need to fill the void with their own presence. Gedaliah may have been appointed governor by the king of Babylon, but that wasn’t going to ensure him a long-term, problem-free reign. Almost immediately, he finds out about a plot against his life.

Soon after this, Johanan son of Kareah and the other military leaders came to Gedaliah at Mizpah. They said to him, “Did you know that Baalis, king of Ammon, has sent Ishmael son of Nethaniah to assassinate you?” – Jeremiah 40:13-14 NLT

That didn’t take long. The king of Ammon decided to take advantage of all the instability in Judah and conspire with another Judean prince to have Gedaliah murdered. But Gedaliah is un-phased by the news. He refuses to believe it’s even true. So, Johanan scheduled a private meeting with Gedaliah and offered to take care of Ishmael himself. He would be happy to eliminate the threat in order to maintain some semblance of peace and calm in the nation. But, once again, Gedaliah refuses to believe that Ishmael was really out to kill him and chooses to do nothing.

What makes Gedaliah’s refusal to take this threat seriously is that Ishmael was a descendant of David and a legitimate contender for the throne of David. He had also been an official in the administration of King Zedekiah before his ignominious fall. So, there was probably some truth to the rumor regarding Ammon’s plans for Gedaliah’s assassination. What is conspicuously missing in this story is the name of Jeremiah. The prophet had been placed in the care of Gedaliah and, yet, Gedaliah never thinks to consult the man of God regarding this matter. He doesn’t ask Jeremiah to consult with God on his behalf. He simply refuses to believe that the rumors about Ishmael were true and does nothing. And his decision would be proved dead wrong.

At this point in the history of Judah, the only person Gedaliah should have trusted was the prophet of God, whose every word of prophecy had come true. Gedaliah should have sought out the man of God in order to get wisdom and direction from God. But he went with his gut. He trusted his instincts. He wanted to give Ishmael the benefit of the doubt and trust his fellow man. And he would learn an invaluable and costly lesson about human nature.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

He Lived Among the People.

Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon gave command concerning Jeremiah through Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, saying, “Take him, look after him well, and do him no harm, but deal with him as he tells you.” So Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, Nebushazban the Rab-saris, Nergal-sar-ezer the Rab-mag, and all the chief officers of the king of Babylon sent and took Jeremiah from the court of the guard. They entrusted him to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, that he should take him home. So he lived among the people.

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the guard: “Go, and say to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will fulfill my words against this city for harm and not for good, and they shall be accomplished before you on that day. But I will deliver you on that day, declares the Lord, and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid. For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me, declares the Lord.’”

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord after Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him go from Ramah, when he took him bound in chains along with all the captives of Jerusalem and Judah who were being exiled to Babylon. The captain of the guard took Jeremiah and said to him, “The Lord your God pronounced this disaster against this place. The Lord has brought it about, and has done as he said. Because you sinned against the Lord and did not obey his voice, this thing has come upon you. Now, behold, I release you today from the chains on your hands. If it seems good to you to come with me to Babylon, come, and I will look after you well, but if it seems wrong to you to come with me to Babylon, do not come. See, the whole land is before you; go wherever you think it good and right to go. If you remain, then return to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon appointed governor of the cities of Judah, and dwell with him among the people. Or go wherever you think it right to go.” So the captain of the guard gave him an allowance of food and a present, and let him go. Then Jeremiah went to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, at Mizpah, and lived with him among the people who were left in the land. Jeremiah 39:11-40:6 ESV

For nearly two decades, Jeremiah had lived as an outcast among his own people. He was greatly disliked by the people, hated by the king and his officials, and treated like a social pariah. He had been given the unenviable task of speaking as God’s prophet, delivering His call to repentance and warnings of pending judgment. Little, if anything, Jeremiah had to say to the people was well-received. They despised his constant calls to repent. He was a like corporate conscience, convicting the people of their rebellion against God and reminding them of their need to return to Him in humility. But that is not something they wanted to do. And being reminded of their sins day in and day out was not something they particularly enjoyed. Jeremiah got on their nerves. He caused them to feel guilty over all their guilty pleasures. They wished him nothing but ill will. They had even demanded that he be put to death. Even the king had given permission to have Jeremiah thrown in an empty cistern or well, where he would die a slow, agonizing death. But God had rescued Jeremiah and it had been Zedekiah, the king, who was forced to watch his sons killed right in front of him and then had his eyes gouged out.

But Jeremiah, the social outcast, was to enjoy a different outcome to this story. When the Babylonians finally invaded Jerusalem, ransacking, pillaging and taking thousands of its citizens captive, Jeremiah was treated with dignity and respect. The Babylonian officials released him from his confinement in the court of the guard, where King Zedekiah had left him. Jeremiah was placed in the custody of Gedaliah. This man is carefully described as “son of Ahikam and grandson of Shaphan” (Jeremiah 39:14 NLT). This designation is important, because Anikam was the official in the court of Jehoiakim the king, who had spoken up for Jeremiah after he had been accused of being a false prophet. He had played a major role in helping to spare Jeremiah’s life. And Shaphan, Gedaliah’s grandfather, was the official who had brought to the attention of King Josiah the discovery of the book of the law. This had led to Josiah instituting reforms in Judah, attempting to call the people back to the worship of Yahweh alone. This family would continue to play a significant part in Jeremiah’s life and God would reward them for their efforts on the prophet’s behalf, with Gedaliah eventually being made the governor of Judah by King Nebuchadnezzar.

God’s hand was on Jeremiah. He had been faithful to God, delivering the words given to him by God and standing up to the forces aligned against him. Now, God was going to reward Jeremiah for his efforts. When he found himself in chains along with the others who had been selected to be taken as captives to Babylon, Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, delivered a surprising message to Jeremiah.

“The Lord your God has brought this disaster on this land, just as he said he would. For these people have sinned against the Lord and disobeyed him. That is why it happened. But I am going to take off your chains and let you go. If you want to come with me to Babylon, you are welcome. I will see that you are well cared for. But if you don’t want to come, you may stay here. The whole land is before you—go wherever you like. If you decide to stay, then return to Gedaliah son of Ahikam and grandson of Shaphan. He has been appointed governor of Judah by the king of Babylon. Stay there with the people he rules. But it’s up to you; go wherever you like.” – Jeremiah 40:2-5 NLT

It’s important to keep in mind that this is a pagan from the court of the king of Babylon. He was not a worshiper of Yahweh and yet, he knew that the fall of Judah had been the work of God. He knew that it had been God who had brought disaster upon the people of Judah and he also knew why. Because they had disobeyed God. This pagan, who had his own gods he worshiped and revered, was well aware that the fall of Judah was because they had been unfaithful to their God. And recognizing Jeremiah as a prophet, he offered him a choice of either returning with him to Babylon or remaining in the land of Judah. Jeremiah was being offered a chance to escape the destruction and devastation of Judah and return to Babylon where Nebuzaradan promised to care for him, or he could remain in Judah under the care of Gedaliah. It was up to him. But before Jeremiah could make his decision, Nebuzaradan made it for him, encouraging him to remain in Judah. Then he “gave Jeremiah some food and money and let him go” (Jeremiah 40:5 NLT).

It is interesting to note that Jeremiah was treated with dignity and respect by the conquering armies of Babylon. And in the midst of this section of the story, we are given a glimpse into Jeremiah’s treatment of Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, who had rescued Jeremiah out of the cistern. While Jeremiah had still been confined to the court of the guard, God had given him a message concerning Ebed-melech.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: I will do to this city everything I have threatened. I will send disaster, not prosperity. You will see its destruction, but I will rescue you from those you fear so much. Because you trusted me, I will give you your life as a reward. I will rescue you and keep you safe. I, the Lord, have spoken!’” – Jeremiah 39:16-18 NLT

God was taking care of His own. He protected Gedaliah because of his family’s treatment of Jeremiah. He rewarded Ebed-melech for risking his life to plead for the release of Jeremiah. And He gave Jeremiah his freedom by speaking through a royal official of the Babylonian court. While Jerusalem smoldered and thousands of its citizens were being led away in chains, God was sparing a remnant. Jeremiah, Gedaliah, and Ebed-melech would join “the few who were still left in the land” (Jeremiah 40:6 NLT). They would remain behind, while the rest of their fellow citizens were deported to Babylon. Jeremiah would live among the people. Why? Because his job was not yet done. He still had work to do.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide.

In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem and besieged it. In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month, a breach was made in the city. Then all the officials of the king of Babylon came and sat in the middle gate: Nergal-sar-ezer of Samgar, Nebu-sar-sekim the Rab-saris, Nergal-sar-ezer the Rab-mag, with all the rest of the officers of the king of Babylon. When Zedekiah king of Judah and all the soldiers saw them, they fled, going out of the city at night by way of the king’s garden through the gate between the two walls; and they went toward the Arabah. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued them and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. And when they had taken him, they brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, at Riblah, in the land of Hamath; and he passed sentence on him. The king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah at Riblah before his eyes, and the king of Babylon slaughtered all the nobles of Judah. He put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains to take him to Babylon. The Chaldeans burned the king’s house and the house of the people, and broke down the walls of Jerusalem. Then Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, carried into exile to Babylon the rest of the people who were left in the city, those who had deserted to him, and the people who remained. Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, left in the land of Judah some of the poor people who owned nothing, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time. Jeremiah 39:1-10 ESV

Payday had come. All that Jeremiah had been prophesying about the last two decades came to fruition. God’s words became Zedekiah’s worst nightmare. The city of Jerusalem fell and all its citizens, officials and royal ruler, experienced the fate that God had in store for them.And Zedekiah, true to form, did what any leader lacking in moral fortitude would do, he tried to escape. As his royal capital and its citizens are being slaughtered or captured as slaves, Zedekiah and his troops attempt to escape under the cover of night through the palace gardens. But their little plan failed, because they were seen, followed and captured. Up until the very last minute, Zedekiah was doing everything in his power to get our from under God’s sovereign decree concerning his fate. God had told him that if he surrendered to the Babylonians, all would go well with him.

“If you surrender to the Babylonian officers, you and your family will live, and the city will not be burned down.” – Jeremiah 38:17 NLT

Zedekiah had been given a choice and a chance to make it. He had been fairly warned by God – on multiple occasions. He was clearly told what would happen if he refused to surrender.

But if you refuse to surrender, you will not escape! This city will be handed over to the Babylonians, and they will burn it to the ground.” – Jeremiah 38:18 NLT

So, what does King Zedekiah attempt to do? Escape. And in doing so, he directly violated the command of God – yet again. He should have considered the words of one of his esteemed predecessors, King David. It was he who had learned a valuable lesson regarding God’s sovereign power and omnipresence, and wrote:

I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me
    and the light around me to become night—
    but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
    Darkness and light are the same to you. – Psalm 139:7-12 NLT

Zedekiah could run, but he would find it impossible to run from God’s will concerning his life. The old adage,: “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day” sounds logical and reasonable, except when it violates the expressed will of God. Zedekiah was going to learn the hard way that attempting to escape God’s ordained will was more difficult than trying to escape the omnipresent Babylonians.

Zedekiah was captured, bound in chains and taken to the ancient city of Riblah, where King Nebuchadnezzar had some sort of headquarters established. It would seem that the victory over Jerusalem was so assured, the Nebuchadnezzar had not even been there for its eventual fall. So, Zedekiah, his family and royal officials were brought before the king of Babylon. And we’re told, “There the king of Babylon pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah” (Jeremiah 39:5 NLT). Judgment day had come for King Zedekiah. He would be judged by a pagan king, but Nebuchadnezzar was actually acting as a vassal for God. Earlier in the book of Jeremiah, God referred to Nebuchadnezzar as his servant.

Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. – Jeremiah 25:8-9 ESV

Later on, after the fall of Jerusalem, the remnant of the Jews left in Judah, will attempt to escape from the deplorable conditions in Judah by running to Egypt. This would be in direct violation of God’s commands. So, once again, God will warn them through His prophet, Jeremiah, that He will use His servant, Nebucadnezzar to punish them.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will set his throne above these stones that I have hidden, and he will spread his royal canopy over them. He shall come and strike the land of Egypt, giving over to the pestilence those who are doomed to the pestilence, to captivity those who are doomed to captivity, and to the sword those who are doomed to the sword. – Jeremiah 43:10-11 ESV

It seems that those who refuse to obey God’s commands are always the first to try and escape the consequences. As sinful human beings, the only thing more distasteful to us than obeying the will of God is having to suffer the consequences for failing to do so. We stubbornly hold on to the belief that we are free to do what we want. And, in a way, we are. But we are not free to escape the judgment that comes with disobedience to the will of God. Zedekiah could refuse to surrender, but he could not refuse to suffer the judgment of God for doing so. And that judgment would come at the hands of a pagan king, whose concept of judgment would be brutal and blunt. It is important to keep in mind that Zedekiah had been placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar. He owed his royal position and the power and wealth that came with it to this foreign king. He was a vassal, a servant to King Nebuchadnezzar. But from day one, Zedekiah had chosen to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar, refusing to submit to his sovereignty over him. And this was nothing more than a sign of Zedekiah’s refusal to submit to God. Nebuchadnezzar was a servant of God. And now, God’s servant was going to mete out God’s judgment.

The king of Babylon made Zedekiah watch as he slaughtered his sons at Riblah. The king of Babylon also slaughtered all the nobles of Judah. Then he gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him in bronze chains to lead him away to Babylon. – Jeremiah 39:6-7 NLT

All did not go well for Zedekiah, because Zedekiah did not serve God well. He had been rebellious, disobedient, impulsive, headstrong and, more than anything else, unbelieving. He had not trusted God that His way was best. He did not believe that God was serious and would do what He had promised. The author of the book of Hebrews provides us with some serious words of warning concerning the sin of unbelief.

That is why the Holy Spirit says,

“Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts
as Israel did when they rebelled,
    when they tested me in the wilderness.
There your ancestors tested and tried my patience,
    even though they saw my miracles for forty years.
So I was angry with them, and I said,
‘Their hearts always turn away from me.
    They refuse to do what I tell them.’
So in my anger I took an oath:
    ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”

Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. – Hebrews 3:7-12 NLT

Zedekiah had turned away from the living God. He had refused to believe His words or heed His warnings. And he would suffer a fate worse than death: Having to watch as his sons were slaughtered before his eyes and then having his eyes gouged out. And while all of this was going on in Riblah, the city of Jerusalem was being sacked and burned. Its citizens were rounded up and taken captive. The king’s palace and the temple of God were plundered and destroyed. The walls of the city were torn down. And the once mighty city of Jerusalem was left in a state of total devastation.

But Nebuzaradan allowed some of the poorest people to stay behind in the land of Judah, and he assigned them to care for the vineyards and fields. – Jeremiah 39:10 NLT

What a sad statement. It provides us with a stark reminder of just how devastating the fall of Judah had been. There was no one left in the nation but the poorest of the poor. Nebuchadnezzar left behind a skeleton population to maintain the fields and vineyards, but took all the rest as his captives to Babylon. The entire nation of Judah had spent decades trying to run from God, but now they knew that they couldn’t hide. They could not escape His presence or His judgment. Payday had come. The due date on their debt to God had finally arrived. And they would pay with their lives. But the saddest thing about this whole story is that if the people of Judah had chosen to run to God, instead of away from Him, they could have avoided all of this. If they had repented instead of rebelling, they would have experienced His blessing. And the apostle Paul reminds us:

These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. – 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

Stuck in the Mud.

But if you refuse to surrender, this is the vision which the Lord has shown to me: Behold, all the women left in the house of the king of Judah were being led out to the officials of the king of Babylon and were saying,

“‘Your trusted friends have deceived you
    and prevailed against you;
now that your feet are sunk in the mud,
    they turn away from you.’

All your wives and your sons shall be led out to the Chaldeans, and you yourself shall not escape from their hand, but shall be seized by the king of Babylon, and this city shall be burned with fire.”

Then Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “Let no one know of these words, and you shall not die. If the officials hear that I have spoken with you and come to you and say to you, ‘Tell us what you said to the king and what the king said to you; hide nothing from us and we will not put you to death,’ then you shall say to them, ‘I made a humble plea to the king that he would not send me back to the house of Jonathan to die there.’” Then all the officials came to Jeremiah and asked him, and he answered them as the king had instructed him. So they stopped speaking with him, for the conversation had not been overheard. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard until the day that Jerusalem was taken. Jeremiah 38:21-28 ESV

Jeremiah had been released from the cistern and been brought before the king. Zedekiah had planned to pose a question to Jeremiah, but before he could do so, the prophet had delivered the very same message that had gotten him thrown in the cistern to begin with.

“This is what the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you surrender to the Babylonian officers, you and your family will live, and the city will not be burned down. But if you refuse to surrender, you will not escape! This city will be handed over to the Babylonians, and they will burn it to the ground.’”  – Jeremiah 38:17-18 NLT

It wasn’t what the king wanted to hear. And he told Jeremiah that his greatest fear was that, if he surrendered to the Babylonians, they would turn him over to the people of Judah who had already surrendered. He feared revenge. But Jeremiah assured him that this would not happen.

“You won’t be handed over to them if you choose to obey the Lord. Your life will be spared, and all will go well for you. – Jeremiah 38:20 NLT

“All will go well with you.” That was the message the prophet gave to the king. But the condition was that Zedekiah had to surrender. He had to submit to God by surrendering to the king of Babylon. He had to humble himself and trust that God’s way was the best way. As bad as it may have appeared at face value, God’s command to give up was going to be the best way in the long run. And we know that, because we have recorded for us what happened to Zedekiah because he refused to do it God’s way.

When King Zedekiah and all the soldiers saw that the Babylonians had broken into the city, they fled. They waited for nightfall and then slipped through the gate between the two walls behind the king’s garden and headed toward the Jordan Valley.

But the Babylonian troops chased the king and caught him on the plains of Jericho. They took him to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who was at Riblah in the land of Hamath. There the king of Babylon pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. He made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons and all the nobles of Judah. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – Jeremiah 39:4-7 NLT

Zedekiah would choose to do it his way, rather than God’s, and he would suffer the consequences. Rather than thing going well for him, he would have to watch his sons killed right before his eyes, then suffer the agony of having his eyes gouged out. So, the last thing he would ever remember seeing was the murder of his sons. And what makes this story that much more sad and pathetic, is that Zedekiah had been given a chance. He had been warned by God and told exactly what to do. Jeremiah had shared a vision he had been given by God.

“But if you refuse to surrender, this is what the Lord has revealed to me: All the women left in your palace will be brought out and given to the officers of the Babylonian army. Then the women will taunt you, saying,

‘What fine friends you have!
    They have betrayed and misled you.
When your feet sank in the mud,
    they left you to your fate!’” – Jeremiah 38:21-22 NLT

Jeremiah tells Zedekiah that his wives and concubines will become the property of King Nebuchadnezzar, and they will curse Zedekiah for failing to protect them. And notice their words: “When your feet sank in the mud…” (Jeremiah 38:22). The tables will be turned. Zedekiah had given permission for Jeremiah to be thrown in the empty cistern, where his feet had sunk into the mud. This had been the attempt by men to stifle the word of God by killing the prophet of God. But now, God reveals to Zedekiah that it is he who will find himself sunk in the mud, and unable to escape. His aspirations for greatness will become mired and permanently stalled by God’s sovereign decree. Zedekiah will watch as his wives and children are led away and his capital is burned to the ground. Then, as the very next chapter records, he will be forced to witness the death of his sons, ending any hope of a future dynasty. Then his eyes will be gouged out.

After hearing these words from Jeremiah, the king commanded him to tell no one, on the threat of death. If the court officials should approach Jeremiah and ask what he and the king discussed, Zedekiah instructed him to say that he was begging not to be returned to the cistern. And when Jeremiah was eventually confronted by the court officials, he told them exactly what the king had instructed him to say. Jeremiah would remain a prisoner in the court of the guard until the bitter end. But he was free from the mud of the cistern. God had spared him from dying of starvation at the bottom of a well. And he would live to survive the devastation that was coming. But Zedekiah, the king, would live to regret the day that he refused to listen to the word of God. His stubborn refusal to do things his way, rather than God’s, was going to haunt him the rest of the days of his life.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

Life or Death.

When Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, a eunuch who was in the king’s house, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern—the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate—Ebed-melech went from the king’s house and said to the king, “My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they did to Jeremiah the prophet by casting him into the cistern, and he will die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city.” Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, “Take thirty men with you from here, and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies.” So Ebed-melech took the men with him and went to the house of the king, to a wardrobe in the storehouse, and took from there old rags and worn-out clothes, which he let down to Jeremiah in the cistern by ropes. Then Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, “Put the rags and clothes between your armpits and the ropes.” Jeremiah did so. Then they drew Jeremiah up with ropes and lifted him out of the cistern. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard.

King Zedekiah sent for Jeremiah the prophet and received him at the third entrance of the temple of the Lord. The king said to Jeremiah, “I will ask you a question; hide nothing from me.” Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “If I tell you, will you not surely put me to death? And if I give you counsel, you will not listen to me.” Then King Zedekiah swore secretly to Jeremiah, “As the Lord lives, who made our souls, I will not put you to death or deliver you into the hand of these men who seek your life.”

Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. But if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.” King Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Judeans who have deserted to the Chaldeans, lest I be handed over to them and they deal cruelly with me.” Jeremiah said, “You shall not be given to them. Obey now the voice of the Lord in what I say to you, and it shall be well with you, and your life shall be spared.” Jeremiah 38:7-20 ESV

Jeremiah is sunk in the mud at the bottom of an empty cistern. He had been placed there by a group of officials from Zedekiah’s court who had become fed up with his constant calls for the people of Judah to surrender to the Babylonians or die. What is interesting in this story is the pathetic lack of leadership on the part of Zedekiah. When his court officials had shown up demanding that he do something about Jeremiah, he had simply responded, ““Do as you like. I can’t stop you” (Jeremiah 38:5 NLT). Now, another one of his court officials appears before him, pleading that he spare the life of Jeremiah, who will surely die if the king doesn’t intervene. Once again, Zedekiah responds, “Take thirty of my men with you, and pull Jeremiah out of the cistern before he dies” (Jeremiah 38:9 NLT). It would seem that Zedekiah’s leadership abilities were directly effected by whoever was in his presence at the time. His decision to release Jeremiah was not because he had any kind of respect or love for the man. He simply didn’t know what to do. He was frustrated and scared. His capital was surrounded by Babylonian troops who had been laying siege to the city for years now. Yes, they had recently left in order to deal with the Egyptians, but they would be back. He knew this situation was far from over. And he also knew that Jeremiah was causing all kinds of trouble in the city because of his constant prophesying about the coming fall of Judah. Zedekiah was a man without a clue as to what to do. He just wanted it all to go away. He wanted Jeremiah to tell him some good news. So, once the prophet had been released, Zedekiah sent for him.

King Zedekiah sent for Jeremiah the prophet and received him at the third entrance of the temple of the Lord. – Jeremiah 38:14 ESV

The specific reference to “the third entrance of the temple” was probably intended to convey that this was a secret meeting. Zedekiah didn’t want his other court officials to know he had released Jeremiah or that he was having a meeting with him. But once Jeremiah arrived, Zedekiah stated his intent:

“I want to ask you something,” the king said. “And don’t try to hide the truth.” – Jeremiah 38:14 NLT

I find this statement from the king a bit interesting. Since when had Jeremiah ever NOT told the truth or attempted to hide anything from the king? He wasn’t in the habit of sugarcoating anything and he wasn’t the kind of man who tended to hide the truth. So, Jeremiah responded, “If I tell you the truth, you will kill me. And if I give you advice, you won’t listen to me anyway” (Jeremiah 38:15 NLT). Jeremiah knew the king well. He was well aware that what Zedekiah wanted to hear from him was not the truth, but a message that painted the future of Judah and his kingdom in a positive light. He wanted good news. And Zedekiah made a promise to Jeremiah that he wouldn’t kill him or turn him back over to the court officials. He just needed answers and, preferably, positive ones. Jeremiah anticipated what it was that Zedekiah was going to ask him, so before the king could pose his question, he said:

“This is what the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you surrender to the Babylonian officers, you and your family will live, and the city will not be burned down. But if you refuse to surrender, you will not escape! This city will be handed over to the Babylonians, and they will burn it to the ground.’” – Jeremiah 38:17-18 NLT

Same song, second verse. Actually, it was the first verse all over again. Jeremiah simply picked up where he had left off before he had been thrown in the cistern. His time in the mud at the bottom of the cistern had not changed his mind or convinced him to stop delivering the message God had given him. Yes, he was standing before the most powerful man in the kingdom, who had full authority to spare him or demand  his death, but Jeremiah answered to a great authority: God Almighty. So, he told Zedekiah what God had said, not what the king wanted to hear. He spoke the truth. Even if it meant he would have to die for doing so.

And Zedekiah expressed his greatest fear.

“But I am afraid to surrender,” the king said, “for the Babylonians may hand me over to the Judeans who have defected to them. And who knows what they will do to me!” – Jeremiah 38:19

He feared his own people more than he did the king of Babylon. He was afraid that those citizens of Jerusalem and Judah who had already surrendered to the Babylonians would hold him personally responsible for the fall of their nation. They would pour our their frustration and anger on him for the devastating state of affairs in Judah. And the thought of what they would do to him petrified Zedekiah. So, Jeremiah assured him that all would be well, if he would just do what God commanded and surrender to the Babylonians. God would protect him. Yes, he would lose his crown and his kingdom. But he would keep his life. All he had to do was obey God. The very same message Jeremiah had delivered to the common people of Jerusalem applied to the highest man in the land as well. No special favors. No special treatment. Just surrender. Simply submit to God’s will.

Obedience brings blessing. That doesn’t mean the blessing is always in the form of deliverance from life’s problems or release from the consequences of our sinful actions. God was offering the choice between life and death. That was the message He had delivered to the king and the people before:

“Tell all the people, ‘This is what the Lord says: Take your choice of life or death! Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die from war, famine, or disease, but those who go out and surrender to the Babylonians will live. Their reward will be life” – Jeremiah 21:8-9 NLT

Obedience would bring life. Yes, it would also entail captivity in Babylon, but that captivity would be marked by God’s protection because it would be within His will. But to choose to reject God’s will would result in death. All Zedekiah had to do was obey God and submit to His will. Which brings us back to Ebed-Melech, the Ethiopian. This man was a foreigner, a non-Jew, but he served in the court of the king. And according to the passage, he showed more faith than any of the other court officials or even the king himself. And in the very next chapter, God has Jeremiah give this man, whose name is never mentioned again in Scripture, a personal message of assurance.

Now the Lord had spoken to Jeremiah while he was still confined in the courtyard of the guardhouse, “Go and tell Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, ‘The Lord God of Israel who rules over all says, “I will carry out against this city what I promised. It will mean disaster and not good fortune for it. When that disaster happens, you will be there to see it. But I will rescue you when it happens. I, the Lord, affirm it! You will not be handed over to those whom you fear. I will certainly save you. You will not fall victim to violence. You will escape with your life because you trust in me. I, the Lord, affirm it!”’” – Jeremiah 39:15-18 NLT

Ebed-Melech would see the fall of Jerusalem. He would be an eye-witness observer of all that God had predicted. But rather than dying because he remained in the city – against God’s expressed will, Ebed-Melech would be spared. God would rescue him. God would protect him. While everyone else in the city died at the edge of the sword, Ebed-Melech would escape with his life. All because he had placed his trust in God. How? By speaking up for the prophet of God. In essence, Ebed-Melech had protected the truth of God by rescuing the prophet of God. He had taken a great risk by going against the wishes of his fellow officials. He had chosen to swim upstream, against the cultural current, and speak up for the God. And his faith was going to be rewarded.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

A Dirty Job.

Now Shephatiah the son of Mattan, Gedaliah the son of Pashhur, Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchiah heard the words that Jeremiah was saying to all the people: “Thus says the Lord: He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the Chaldeans shall live. He shall have his life as a prize of war, and live. Thus says the Lord: This city shall surely be given into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon and be taken.” Then the officials said to the king, “Let this man be put to death, for he is weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” King Zedekiah said, “Behold, he is in your hands, for the king can do nothing against you.” So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. And there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud. Jeremiah 38:1-6 ESV

No water. Only mud. Keep those four words in mind. Jeremiah has already been put in a dungeon for being accused of treason. After pleading with the king, Jeremiah is released to a comfortable internment in the court of the guard. But he obviously continued to speak up and let anyone who could hear understand that God was still offering two options: Stay in the city and die at the hands of the Babylonians or surrender and live. Remember, Jeremiah was initially arrested because they thought he was taking his own advice and trying to leave the city so he could surrender. But now, under armed guard, Jeremiah continued to spread his “treasonous” message. And the king’s officials don’t like what they are hearing, so they take the matter to King Zedekiah.

“Sir, this man must die! That kind of talk will undermine the morale of the few fighting men we have left, as well as that of all the people. This man is a traitor!” – Jeremiah 38:4 NLT

Off with his head! That’s essentially what these men were demanding. They wanted Jeremiah dead. And the king, exasperated by Jeremiah’s stubbornness, gives in to their demands.

King Zedekiah agreed. “All right,” he said. “Do as you like. I can’t stop you.” – Jeremiah 38:5 NLT

Well, he could have stopped them – if he wanted to, but he didn’t. He had lost patience. He was sick of hearing all of Jeremiah rhetoric about coming judgment and destruction. Zedekiah refused to believe that God was going to destroy the city of Jerusalem. He still held out hope that God would relent and change His mind. I am not quite sure why he held on to that overly optimistic outlook, but he did – to the bitter end.

So, Jeremiah is taken and lowered into an empty cistern. This is an interesting choice on the part of these men. Remember, the city has been under siege by the Babylonians for some time. They have been running low on food and water. The cistern, which normally would have been full of water, was empty. And this should remind us of something God had said two decades earlier and recorded in the second chapter of this same book:

“For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me—the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” – Jeremiah 2:13 NLT

The cistern into which Jeremiah was lowered was empty. There was no water. Why? Because God was punishing them for having abandoned Him – the fountain of living water. All across Jerusalem, the man-made cisterns were empty and incapable of sustaining life. Just like the false gods on whom they had placed their hope and wasted their worship, these cisterns were proving useless in time of need. No water. Only mud.

This cistern, that should have been full of water and fully capable of slacking the physical thirsts of the people, was empty. And the mud was an apt symbol of the peoples’ filthy moral standing before God. And it was into this dark, dank and death-inducing atmosphere that Jeremiah was placed. But that had been his circumstances from day one. Nothing had really changed. Judah was a lifeless, spiritually waterless place where the living water of God had dried up a long time ago. But God had promised Jeremiah:

“And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 1:8 NLT

They could place Jeremiah in an empty cistern, but it would do nothing to restore their good fortunes. Putting the prophet of God in the dark was not going to shed any light on their circumstances. Because they were the ones who were devoid of living water. They had turned their backs on God long ago, now He was getting ready to turn His back on them. They had already felt the effects of their rebellion against God. Back in chapter 14, God described the circumstances within the walls of Jerusalem.

Her nobles send their servants for water;
they come to the cisterns;
they find no water;
they return with their vessels empty;
they are ashamed and confounded
and cover their heads.
– Jeremiah 14:3 ESV

But as we will see in the following verses, God was going to come to Jeremiah’s rescue. Men had placed him in a cistern, but God would redeem him. He would be provided with a way out. But as far as the future of the people of Judah were concerned, their physical and spiritual thirst were going to remain and result in their physical and spiritual death. They would be the ones to suffer in the long run. Jeremiah was in a bad spot, sunk in the mud, and left to die. But God was on his side. He had been faithful. He had done what God had commanded him to do. And God was going to redeem and rescue him.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠