I Did It My Way.

When Jeremiah finished speaking to all the people all these words of the Lord their God, with which the Lord their God had sent him to them, Azariah the son of Hoshaiah and Johanan the son of Kareah and all the insolent men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there,’ but Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may kill us or take us into exile in Babylon.” So Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces and all the people did not obey the voice of the Lord, to remain in the land of Judah. But Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces took all the remnant of Judah who had returned to live in the land of Judah from all the nations to which they had been driven—the men, the women, the children, the princesses, and every person whom Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan; also Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch the son of Neriah. And they came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the Lord. And they arrived at Tahpanhes. Jeremiah 43:1-7 ESV

Everyone has a right to their own opinion. But when the God who created the universe speaks, it would seem that His opinion should carry a bit more weight. And in the case of the people of Judah, you would think that they would learned to listen to what He had to say. Up until this point, every single prophecy Jeremiah had verbalized on behalf of God had come to pass, down to the last detail. So, when Jeremiah had returned to Johanan and the others with God’s word concerning whether they should escape to Egypt or remain in the land, he gave them God’s clear-cut, non-negotiable answer. And they refused to accept it. They accused Jeremiah of lying. They insinuated that it was all part of a plot instigated by Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe. Reading this passage as somewhat objective, third-party observers, it is difficult to understand how these people could be so stubborn or so stupid. How could they refuse to accept the words that Jeremiah spoke as having come from God? What possible reason could he have to lie to them? And how in the world did they arrive at the conclusion that Baruch was somehow to blame?

It seems rather clear that Johanan and his companions in crime had never intended to do anything but run away to Egypt. They were looking for God’s blessing on their plan, not insight into what He would have them do. When they didn’t get the answer they were looking for from God, they accused Jeremiah of lying and Baruch of plotting. Their minds had been made up a long time ago. Staying in the land had never been a viable option for them. And I think they knew in their hearts all along that God was going to tell them to do just that.

It would appear that there were other factors going on here. Their decision to go to Egypt was impacted and influenced by some personal factors that carried significant weight for Joahana and Azariah. They must have believed that this move to Egypt was going to have a particularly positive influence on them personally. Perhaps they believed that the Pharoah, who had not love affair with Babylon, would welcome them with open arms and reward them for bringing additional forces to use in his campaign against King Nebuchadnezzar. After all, Azariah was a guerilla leader who had troops under his command. Johanan may have been planning to auction off all the people he was taking with him once he got to Egypt. There had to be other factors involved in their decision-making process. And, inevitably, when anyone rebels against God’s revealed will, it is motivated by selfishness and pride. Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptations of the serpent and ate the fruit of the tree denied to them by God, because they desired to be like God. Absalom, the son of King David, staged a successful coup against his own father, because he desired to be king – even though it was not the will of God. He had been driven by pride, anger, and a lust for power. And he had been willing to depose the prophet-anointed, God-appointed king of Israel to get what he wanted.

In the book of Isaiah, there is recorded a word from God spoken against the king of Babylon. But it is also believed to be a prophetic statement regarding the original fall of Satan after he had rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven.

“How you are fallen from heaven,
    O shining star, son of the morning!
You have been thrown down to the earth,
    you who destroyed the nations of the world.
For you said to yourself,
    ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars.
I will preside on the mountain of the gods
    far away in the north.
I will climb to the highest heavens
    and be like the Most High.’” – Isaiah 14:12-14

The desire to play god had always been a problem for mankind, ever since the fall. The innate and inbred desire for autonomy and control has always plagued us. And we are perfectly content to listen to God as long as what He says complements our own decision-making. But should God tell us to do something we find distasteful or in direct opposition to our own will, we simply reject it as untrue or flat out refuse to obey. Pride is a powerful force. Autonomy is a seductive mistress, with the ability to dull our senses and cause us to turn away from the sovereign and holy will of God.

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about this matter and provides ample warning regarding the need for wisdom and the fear of the Lord.

Wisdom will save you from evil people,
    from those whose words are twisted.
These men turn from the right way
    to walk down dark paths.
They take pleasure in doing wrong,
    and they enjoy the twisted ways of evil.
Their actions are crooked,
    and their ways are wrong.

Wisdom will save you from the immoral woman,
    from the seductive words of the promiscuous woman.
She has abandoned her husband
    and ignores the covenant she made before God.
Entering her house leads to death;
    it is the road to the grave.
The man who visits her is doomed.
    He will never reach the paths of life.

So follow the steps of the good,
    and stay on the paths of the righteous.
For only the godly will live in the land,
    and those with integrity will remain in it.
But the wicked will be removed from the land,
    and the treacherous will be uprooted. – Proverbs 2:12-22 NLT

Notice all the references to paths, steps, the right way and the wrong way. Johanan and his companions have been given the right way – the godly, righteous way. Jeremiah had told them exactly what God would have them do. But they were going to walk down the wrong path, the dark path. And in doing so, they would step out from under God’s gracious provision and protection. They would reject His wisdom and turn to their own sin-dominated wills for direction. And this section of chapter 43 ends with the sobering and prescient-filled statement:

The people refused to obey the voice of the Lord and went to Egypt, going as far as the city of Tahpanhes. – Jeremiah 43:7 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

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