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

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≠≠