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.