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.