Read: Jeremiah 40-44
This is an interesting narrative that follows the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem, the ups and downs of those left behind and the consistent word from Jeremiah. In a day that is marked by leaders ignoring the Word through Jeremiah, Gedaliah appears. He is relatively unknown, well, at least by yours truly, but appears here and honors God by accepting the words of Jeremiah. As you might expect, it doesn’t go well for him or those that followed. A book within the book, I hope you take time to enjoy the story.
Nebuchadnezzar’s commander of the guard found Jeremiah and provided him with two options: 1) go with him into exile or 2) find his way among the remnant.
However, before Jeremiah turned to go, Nebuzaradan added, “Go back to Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon has appointed over the towns of Judah, and live with him among the people, or go anywhere else you please.” Jeremiah 40:5
Jeremiah obviously chose the latter, but the commander was concerned, so he pointed him to Gedaliah. Apparently, Jeremiah’s reputation was well known among the invading warriors. Interesting.
Gedaliah was appointed governor over the land and put in charge of the men, women and children who were the poorest in the land and who had not been carried into exile to Babylon (Jeremiah 40:7). He took the words of Jeremiah to heart and established his role to carry out the prophecy:
“Do not be afraid to serve the Babylonians,” he said. “Settle down in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it will go well with you. I myself will stay at Mizpah to represent you before the Babylonians who come to us, but you are to harvest the wine, summer fruit and olive oil, and put them in your storage jars, and live in the towns you have taken over.” Jeremiah 40:9-10
This, of course, could be seen as a sympathizer with the overlords, one who was seeking power among the outcasts, but I rather think of Gedaliah like Oskar Schindler of WWII and his attempt to work with the occupiers in order to affect freedom for many. Maybe I’m reading too much into this short narrative, but there you have it.
Of course, anyone in power during this time would be suspect, but Gedaliah chose not to listen to Johanan’s warning about Ishmael, perhaps because his solution was simply to kill Ishmael before he assassinated Gedaliah. I wonder if Johanan would have had more success if he simply revealed the plot rather than resorting to such a lethal solution. I think Gedaliah had seen enough bloodshed to last a lifetime and would rather die as a pacifist than continue killing.
But Gedaliah son of Ahikam said to Johanan son of Kareah, “Don’t do such a thing! What you are saying about Ishmael is not true.” Jeremiah 40:16
Sadly, in the seventh month, Ishmael carried out his worst and killed Gedaliah and all the men with him at Mizpah (Jeremiah 41:1-3). It gets worse. Ishmael feigned distress and lured another 80 into a trap, killing all but 10 of them and tossing their bodies into a cistern (Jeremiah 41:4-9). The 10 who escaped death begged for their release by revealing a hidden stash of barley, olive oil and honey, hidden in a field. Ishmael enslaved the people of Mizpah.
Ishmael’s offense was known to the people and they tried to capture him, but he escaped so Johanan took charge to lead to people into the safety of Egypt. He found Jeremiah and asked for his prayers for protection:
Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.” Jeremiah 42:5-6
Patiently, Jeremiah waited to hear from the Lord. Ten days later he received the Word and clearly told Johanan he and the remnant should not flee to Egypt. Sadly, Johanan and his company ignored Jeremiah’s advice:
“You are lying! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You must not go to Egypt to settle there.’ 3 But Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you against us to hand us over to the Babylonians, so they may kill us or carry us into exile to Babylon.” Jeremiah 43:2-3
Johanan led those left under Gedaliah’s command to Egypt in disobedience to the Lord’s Word through Jeremiah.
I will punish those who live in Egypt with the sword, famine and plague, as I punished Jerusalem. None of the remnant of Judah who have gone to live in Egypt will escape or survive to return to the land of Judah, to which they long to return and live; none will return except a few fugitives.” Jeremiah 44:13-14
Except for a few fugitives…sad. The message of Jeremiah continues to be one that is not heeded by the people. They certainly heard what he said, they just ignored his advice and actively went against the wisdom he attempted to provide.
Lord, I pray that we would hear your voice clearly and do what you say rather than listen to those who seem to know what is right.