Jeremiah 41 Commentary

Jeremiah 41.

We’re in the second chapter of what I’ve labeled a “fiasco.” That fiasco started in Jeremiah 40. Gedaliah was appointed governor of Judah by Babylon. Then all the Jews who were scattered from the war started returning to Gedaliah. Things seemed to be going well. It almost seemed like maybe God was beginning to restore and bless his rebellious people – even before the promised 70-year exile was over!

But all of that will change in this chapter. Because here, we’ll see any hope for peace dashed.

KJV Jeremiah 41:1 ¶ Now it came to pass in the seventh month,

Now, let’s pause briefly and get the timeframe of this story in view.

The year we’re talking about would have been somewhere between 586 and 581 BC.

Jeremiah 39:2 tells us that the wall of Jerusalem was breached in the fourth month. Then the palace was burned and the wall of Jerusalem was broken down in the fifth month, according to Jeremiah 52:12.

And now, here we are in the seventh month. I think we can assume that this is the same year in which those previous things happened.

Between the fifth month (early August) and the seventh month (October) the Jews would have had time to gather in their summer fruit and oil like their new Governor Gedaliah ordered them to do in Jeremiah 40.

OK, now that we’ve established where we are in the timeline of events, let’s see what actually happened.

that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah the son of Elishama, [of the seed royal, and the princes of the king/who was a member of the royal family and had been one of Zedekiah’s chief officers], even ten men with him, came unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam to Mizpah; and there they did eat bread together in Mizpah.

Well, that sounds pleasant. Doesn’t it?

Here these folks are, sharing a meal together. Ishmael, who’s the son of Nethaniah who is the son of Elishama is there. And we don’t know anything about Ishmael’s father Nethaniah. But it seems that his more distant ancestor – Elishama – is mentioned several times in the Old Testament as a man born to David in Jerusalem. Elishama’s name appears in 2Sa 5:16; 1Ch 3:6,8; 14:7.

So, Ishmael – a descendant of David – comes to dine with his new Governor. And with Ishmael is this posse of ten men.

You wonder about the backstory to this gathering. Why did they get together?

Gedaliah had been warned about Ishmael in Jeremiah 40 by Johanan. Johanan told Gedaliah that Ishmael had been commissioned by a foreign king to kill Gedaliah. This warning was issued to Gedaliah twice. And both times, he rejected that message as false.

I suppose that Gedaliah is still believing the best about Ishmael. He’s willfully and blissfully ignorant as to the danger he’s in.

Perhaps this meeting was conducted under the pretense of Ishmael reporting to the Governor what was happening in the territory of Judah. Maybe Gedaliah was wanting to try to endear himself to Ishmael.

But again, Gedaliah exudes a level of naivety. OK, he was just warned about this guy by Johanan – not once, but twice. So, even if Gedaliah didn’t believe the report from Johanan, would it be wise to at least not let the ten men come along? It’s clear from later in this story that Gedaliah had several Babylonian soldiers with him. But with ten men, Ishmael would be able to overcome Gedaliah and his men.

That is, if Ishmael is as violent and malevolent as Johanan’s supposedly-false report. And yet, the report was true, as we see played out in verse 2.

2 Then arose Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and the ten men that were with him, and smote Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan with the sword, and slew him, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land.

Note the last phrase of that verse. This story is going to make the point several times that the king of Babylon appointed Gedaliah as governor over Judah. And this hearkens back to God’s command that had been in effect for a decade at least by this point. That command was “submit yourself to Babylon, my representative on earth.”

And we’ve seen nothing but rebellion in every area from both the people of Judah and their king especially. They especially didn’t want to obey Babylon. And yet, God commanded that they do so. And here after God had to bring extraordinary punishment on his people and on the king’s household, now we have Ishmael – a Davidic descendant – again rebelling against God’s appointed leadership of Babylon.

Rebellion after rebellion after rebellion. That’s what we see in this section that started in Jeremiah 36 and ends in Jeremiah 45. Rebellion heaped on top of rebellion. These people need help. These people need a righteous Davidic king. And equally as important, they need a new heart. That’s the message we heard in the Book of Encouragement in Jeremiah 30-34.

And yet, that encouragement was all future. At this point in Israel’s history, it’s just more rebellion. And it gets even worse.

So, Gedaliah is dead. He signed his own death certificate when he failed to investigate Johanan’s claims against Ishmael. His insistence on keeping a positive mental attitude resulted in a negative physical condition – that is, death.

This assassination of Gedaliah had serious consequences. In fact, it was such a tragedy that it became the subject of a fast in post-exilic Judah. Zechariah 7:5 mentions a fast on the seventh month that the Jews would practice after this time recorded here in Jeremiah 41. Apparently, this was a fast commemorating the assassination of Gedaliah in this timeframe of 586-581 BC.

Well, Ishmael’s murderous tendencies continue in verse 3.

3 Ishmael also slew all the Jews that were with him, even with Gedaliah, at Mizpah, and the Chaldeans [that were found there/who happened to be there], and the men of war [i.e., the Chaldeans were “men of war” or “soldiers”].

Now, this isn’t saying that all the Jews in Mizpah were killed by Ishmael. We know from later in this chapter that Ishmael kidnaps a number of Jews and takes them elsewhere. But what verse 3 is telling us is that Ishmael killed the Jews who were with Gedaliah at this meal. He killed Gedaliah, the Jews who were eating with them, and the Babylonian soldiers who were there at the meal.

And Ishmael’s murderous escapades continue.

4 ¶ And it came to pass the second day after he had slain Gedaliah, and no man knew it,

5 That there came certain from Shechem, from Shiloh, and from Samaria, even [fourscore/eighty] men, having their beards shaven, and their clothes [rent/torn], and having [cut/gashed] themselves [i.e., to show they were mourning…], with offerings [i.e., of grain as opposed to animal] and incense in their hand, to bring them to the [house/temple] of the LORD.

Verse 5 can be a little confusing at first. Who are these people and what is the significance of them coming?

Well, each of these three cities were located in what was previously Northern Israel. They were outside of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Israel was deported in 722 BC. After that point, there were some Israelites and some from Judah that lived in these cities. According to 2 Ch 30:11 and 34:9 these people cooperated with the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah. They apparently were following the Jewish religious calendar.

And if they were following the Old Testament religious calendar and were coming to Jerusalem in the 7th month of the year, then they were probably on their way to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles/Booths/Temporary Shelters, which was held on the 15th day of the 7th month according to Leviticus 23:34.

Now, the passage says that they were coming to make offerings to the Lord in the Temple. It’s not clear to me whether the Temple was still standing at this point or if it was burned down. But whatever the case, these men were under the assumption it was still standing. If it was actually burned down, then maybe news never reached them.

And I think what the reader is asked to take away from these considerations is this. Look what could have been. In Jeremiah 40 you had Israel reeling from God punishing them through Babylon. But then they were given a Governor who seemed like a good guy. He wanted them to enjoy good things in the land and not be concerned about Babylon.

Jews who had been hiding in fear started coming back to this Governor. And now here in Jeremiah 41 you have even Jews from Northern Israel coming. This is almost like what God had promised concerning his restoring Israel and Judah to their land. Wow – could it be happening now?!

Well, no, it couldn’t be happening at this point. For two reasons. First, God explicitly said that the Jews would be restored to their land after 70 years. 70 years had not passed by this point, so no, this was not the time of restoration.

The second reason that this was not God’s promised restoration of the Jews to their land is because…well, a son of David is on the loose killing people and scattering the Jews from their land as we continue reading about in verse 6.

6 And Ishmael the son of Nethaniah went forth from Mizpah to meet them [these genuine pilgrims…], weeping [faking their religious devotion…] all along as he went: and it came to pass, as he met them, he said unto them,

Come to [meet] Gedaliah the son of Ahikam.

7 And it was so, when they came into the midst of the city, that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah slew them, and cast them into the midst of [the pit/a cistern], he, and the men that were with him.

This wicked descendant of David is murdering his fellow-Jews who are humble and observing God’s law to travel to Jerusalem in the 7th month. This is outrageous.

I fear that after all the destruction and judgement from God and all the wickedness we’ve seen from the Jews in this book, we might tend to become desensitized to the sheer evil that Ishmael is.

Don’t miss it. This guy is really, really bad. And he’s a testimony to the utter corruption of Judah – that even a royal descendant is behaving so ungodly.

And not only is Ishmael murderous, but he’s also greedy as we see next in verse 8.

8 But ten men were found among them [the 80…] that said unto Ishmael,

Slay us not: for we have [treasures/stores] [i.e., hidden] in the field, of wheat, and of barley, and of oil, and of honey.

So he forbare, and slew them not [among/with] their [brethren/companions].

OK, so Ishmael is a murderer. And his blood-letting is made all the more odious because he’s not doing it for any sort of noble reason. In fact, it seems like he has no reason at all for doing what he’s doing in killing all these people. In fact, it turns out here that if you give him money, he’ll let you go. So in other words, to Ishmael, a man’s life is only about as valuable as a bit of food.

Ishmael’s lack of respect for the dignity of human life and his opportunistic greed should make us sick. We are all free to hate this man. He’s one of these men in the Bible that is characterized as a total villain. There is no nuance to his character that might make us feel sorry for him. His presence is a curse and his departure will be a cause for rejoicing.

Now, one more detail is noted that highlights the fact that this point in Judah’s history was not the time of restoration of the two kingdoms to be united as one. We see that in verse 9.

9 ¶ Now the pit wherein Ishmael had cast all the dead bodies of the men, whom he had slain because of Gedaliah, was it which Asa the king had made for [fear of/defense against] Baasha king of Israel:

and Ishmael the son of Nethaniah filled it with them that were slain.

Apparently, centuries before this point the king of southern Judah made a well as part of a defense against Northern Israel. This is where Ishmael threw the dead bodies of those men from Northern Israel.

I think this detail is included here to demonstrate the fact that the enmity that was present hundreds of years ago between Asa and Baasha – Southern Judah and Northern Israel – had not been overcome. But God foretold through Jeremiah in this very book that one day the rupture between these two factions of God’s people would be healed. And yet, that wouldn’t be happening any time soon. It would have to wait for at least 70 years.

So, now in verse 10 we start to see Ishmael’s main plan behind all his senseless acts of violence. He’s going to carry the people away to the neighboring country of Ammon.

10 Then Ishmael carried away captive all the [residue/rest] of the people that were in Mizpah, even the king’s daughters,

and all the people that remained in Mizpah, whom Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had committed to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam:

and Ishmael the son of Nethaniah carried them away captive, and departed to go over to the Ammonites.

Now, at the first reading of Ishmael’s violent episode, you might wonder if there was some ulterior motive to his madness.

For example, maybe someone in his position would have been so violent because he was a nationalist at heart and wanted to free his fellow-Jews from Babylonian oppression.

Or maybe he killed those visiting Northern Israelites because he was so pro-Judah in his sentiments. He was against immigration and wanted to have only pure Judeans in Judah – or something like that.

At least having some sort of reason for doing what he was doing would indicate that the man had some tendencies that we could perhaps admire, though at the same time recognize that he was wrong.

And yet, none of that seems to be the motivating factor for Ishmael. All that motivates him is violence and greed. And now that he’s spent his violent tendencies, he’s going to go collect on his greed by bringing these people back to Ammon. No doubt, Ishmael would be rewarded by Baalis the king of Ammon.

And this is just like Johanan warned would happen in Jeremiah 40. If only Gedaliah had listened to him.

And while we’re considering Johanan’s ignored warning to Gedaliah, at this point in the story, you do kind of wonder about Johanan. Where is he? Was he taken with the other captives? Was he killed by Ishmael with the other soldiers?

What we discover in verse 11 is that he’s still alive and well. And he’s ready to save the Jews from their new violent oppressor.

11 ¶ But when Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the [captains of the forces/army officers] that were with him, heard of all the [evil/atrocities] that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had done,

12 Then they took all the men, and went to fight with Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and found him by the [great/large] [waters/pool] that are in Gibeon.

What is so puzzling here is where Johanan finds Ishmael. Mizpah is where they started. Gibeon is south-west of Mizpah. Ammon is north-east of Mizpah. So, Ishmael is wanting to go north-east ultimately, but he actually goes south-west.

Why?

It could be that the Babylonians were stationed north of Mizpah – maybe between Mizpah and Ammon. And so maybe Ishmael wanted to go south around the Dead Sea and then back up north to get to Ammon.

Otherwise, I really can’t even guess as to why Ishmael went the direct opposite way of where he should have been headed if he wanted to get to Ammon from Mizpah.

It could be that this is just one more thing that is meant to make us really hate this man. He can’t even get his directions right.

So, finally the villain meets someone strong enough to resist him. And there’s great rejoicing – verse 13.

13 Now it came to pass, that when all the people which were with Ishmael saw Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the [captains of the forces/army officers] that were with him, then they [were glad/rejoiced].

14 So all the people that Ishmael had carried away captive from Mizpah [cast about/turned around] and [returned/came back], and went unto Johanan the son of Kareah.

That’s rather anti-climactic. I was expecting a battle. But we don’t get it. The people simply turn around and go back to Johanan.

It almost gives me the impression that Ishmael didn’t really care whether he had the people or not. He just wanted to kill Gedaliah and collect the bounty from Baalis the King of Ammon.

And we have support for that kind of thinking when we see Ishmael just run away in verse 15.

15 But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men, and went to the Ammonites.

And by the way, earlier this chapter we saw Ishmael with 10 men. He has only 8 now. The other two must have deserted or maybe were killed in all the fighting. Or maybe 2 of those men surrendered and were among the captives who came back to Johanan. Maybe they were sick of Ishmael’s evil and wanted to get away from him.

Well, anyway, the good guys have come! Johanan has come to liberate the captives. What a relief.

And this relief seems to continue in verse 16.

16 Then took Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces that were with him, [here’s whom they took…] all the remnant of the people whom he had recovered from Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, from Mizpah, after that he had slain Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, [here’s whom Johanan recovered and took…] even mighty men of war, and the women, and the children, and the eunuchs, whom he had brought again from Gibeon:

Well, this sounds alright so far. Johanan and his army is taking the people from Gibeon. But, where is he taking them? Verse 17.

17 And they departed, and [dwelt/stopped] in [the habitation of/Geruth] Chimham, which is [by/near] Bethlehem,

OK, so they’re near Bethlehem… Are they going back to Jerusalem or Mizpah, though? Nope…

to go to enter into Egypt,

Well, why’s that?

18 Because of the Chaldeans: for they were afraid of them, because Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had slain Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon made governor in the land.

So, Johanan is worried that Babylon will retaliate for the violence of Ishmael. And so, he’d rather flee to Egypt – Babylon’s enemy at the time – and perhaps find some safety there, so far away from Babylon.

But God’s people need to recognize over and over again that it’s not pragmatism that wins the day. It’s not “what works” that matters, but rather “what does God want?” that is the question to be answered.

So, for Johanan, the question is whether God wants them to go to Egypt. Maybe God would rather have them stay in Mizpah and would protect them there. And if God doesn’t want them to travel to Egypt, will Johanan show himself to be a true hero and listen to God’s command? Or will he and the Jews do their own thing – like they’ve been doing throughout this entire book?

That’s what we’ll discover next time, Lord-willing.

Jeremiah 40 Commentary

We’re in Jeremiah 40 today. This chapter is the start of a new story that runs to the end of Jeremiah 43. When we went through the entire book of Jeremiah in two messages I called this section the Gedaliah/Johanan Fiasco. This chapter serves as the introduction to that fiasco.

Let’s start with the first verse of the fortieth chapter of Jeremiah.

KJV Jeremiah 40:1 ¶ The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, after that Nebuzaradan the captain of the [royal…] guard had let him go from Ramah, when he had taken him being bound in chains among all that were carried away captive of Jerusalem and Judah, which were carried away captive unto Babylon.

Now, it’s interesting that we’re told that the following material in this chapter is “the word…from the Lord” “to Jeremiah.” Usually what follows that kind of pronouncement in this book is a message from the Lord containing directions for Jeremiah. And yet, in this chapter we’re going to see – not the Lord speaking directly to the prophet, but it seems that we’ll be seeing the Lord speaking indirectly through the means of a pagan military commander. We’ll see that played out starting in the next verse.

But before we get to that verse, let’s consider the scene set before us in verse 1 and compare it to what we saw in Jeremiah 39.

Toward the end of Jeremiah 39 we were told that Nebuchadnezzar gave orders for Jeremiah to be released from prison and to be taken care of. By the end of that chapter, we were told that Nebuzaradan told Jeremiah to go live with Gedaliah. But the text says that Jeremiah instead stayed among the people. He could have gone to live in the governor’s home – probably some distance from the normal folk of Judah. Instead, Jeremiah stayed with the people to whom God called him so many decades prior to this.

And because Jeremiah made that decision to stay with his people, we see what we just read in verse 1. He finds himself “bound in chains.” He was led from Jerusalem to this city called Ramah. This was apparently the city from which Babylon was sending the Judeans into exile from Judah to Babylon. And this is where Jeremiah finds himself – chained and on his way to Babylon with his people.

But then Nebuzaradan apparently recognizes him among those ready for deportation. And he releases the prophet.

Now, after he releases Jeremiah, he has a message that he wants to communicate to him. And really, according to verse 1 this is the Lord’s message to him. Look at verse 2.

2 And the captain of the guard took Jeremiah, and said unto him,

The LORD thy God hath [pronounced/threatened] this [evil/disaster] upon this place.

3 Now the LORD hath brought it, and done according as he hath said:

because ye have sinned against the LORD,
and have not obeyed his voice,

therefore this thing is come upon you.

Now, let’s stop in the middle of this man’s statement and consider what he’s truly saying.

This pagan general is preaching to Jeremiah. And the message he’s preaching is really no different than what Jeremiah himself had been preaching for decades.

The representative of God’s instrument of punishment (Nebuzaradan and Babylon) is telling the man who prophesied that punishment (Jeremiah) that God had threatened the punishment and is now bringing it on his people.

We might consider this kind of thing nearly unbelievable – that a pagan could be speaking God’s truth in some way like what we see here.

But let’s remember that God spoke through the pagan prophet Balaam. For that matter, God spoke through his donkey!

Want some more examples of the Lord speaking truth through unlikely sources? He spoke through Caiaphas the High Priest when that man said that it was to the Jews’ advantage that one man – Jesus – would die for the people. Did Caiaphas truly understand the significance of what he was saying? No. Was he a godly man? No. But did God use him to speak his truth? Yes.

It’s an unfortunate reality that lost people can sometimes understand what’s happening better than God’s professing people. I’m not saying that lost people always get everything right and professing Christians always get it wrong. But sometimes the ungodly can get things right that somehow supposed Christians don’t understand.

For example, in our day you have professing Christians being deceived into believing the so-called prosperity gospel. And on the other hand you have lost people that see through that nonsense.

Or regarding ungodly music – there are many professing Christians who have convinced themselves that as long as you put Christianized lyrics to ungodly tunes the entire song is somehow made godly. On the other hand, those who make no claim to godliness can often see right through this deception.

The point is that God – both now and 2500 years ago – sometimes uses the ungodly to speak sense to those who claim to be God’s people.

The people of Judah in Jeremiah’s time were so self-deceived. They wanted to believe that they could continue sinning and that God wasn’t going to punish them. But this pagan ruler isn’t confused about the answer as to why Babylon could come and destroy Judah. It was because the people sinned against their God.

Certainly, this man Nebuzaradan would have had intelligence that let him know what Jeremiah was preaching leading up to the Babylonian invasion. And yet, Nebuzaradan sounds like he really believes Jeremiah’s message. He believes it so much that he’s preaching it back to the prophet. He’s agreeing with Jeremiah’s message. Yet, amazingly, so very few in Judah did.

Well, with that message given by Nebuzaradan, he continues and offers Jeremiah freedom to come or go wherever he wishes.

4 And now, behold, I [loose/release] thee this day from the chains which were upon thine hand.

And then he gives Jeremiah two choices.

If it seem good unto thee to come with me into Babylon, come;
and I will look well [unto/after] thee:

but if it seem [ill/wrong] unto thee to come with me into Babylon, [forbear/you’re not required to do so]:

behold, all the land is before thee:
whither it seemeth good and [convenient/right] for thee to go, thither go.

Now, this is a very generous offer. Either option is gracious.

Jeremiah could go with Nebuzaradan and he would take care of the prophet. And we can imagine that this would have been one of the most comfortable lives afforded in the ancient near east – to live in Babylon and be taken care of by them. After decades of hard unappreciated work, Jeremiah could have retired, as it were! I mean, this might be the closest thing to receiving a pension and living a luxurious retirement that the ancient world knew.

But if that didn’t suit Jeremiah he could go back to Judah and live freely in the land of his fathers.

He’s free to do whatever.

And we can be sure that a “hireling” would have fled to whichever comfort suited his own desires. But Jeremiah was a true shepherd who loved God and was determined to stay with his straying sheep.

And yet, that decision I’m sure was not an easy one. In a certain way there was no joy for Jeremiah in either option. Go to Babylon and be with pagans or stay in Judah and be with rebellious professing people of God.

Neither option is one he is jumping at. But he does seem to want to stay in Judah and continue his ministry there. And that’s why Nebuzaradan has to respond to his own offer in verse 5.

5 Now while [he/Jeremiah] was not yet gone back [i.e., before he turned to leave…], [he/the Capt of the Guard…] said,

Go back also to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan,
whom the king of Babylon hath made governor over the cities of Judah,

and dwell with him among the people:

or go wheresoever it seemeth convenient unto thee to go.

And with that message ended, this man gives Jeremiah gifts.

So the captain of the guard gave him [victuals/food] and a [reward/present], and let him go.

And finally Jeremiah goes to live with Gedaliah.

6 Then went Jeremiah unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam to Mizpah [on the border between Benjamin and Judah / 8 miles north of Jerusalem];
and dwelt with him among the people that were left in the land.

Return of Jews to Judah (7-12)

And interestingly enough, Jeremiah is just the first of many Jews to return to Gedaliah. Because in verses 7 through 12 we see a mass migration of scattered Jews back to their new governor.

Military Commanders Return to Gedaliah (7-10)

The military commanders are the first to follow Jeremiah’s example in verses 7-10.

7 ¶ Now when all the [captains of the forces/officers of the Judean army] which were in the [fields/countryside], even they and their [men/troops], heard that the king of Babylon had made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam governor in the land, and had committed unto him men, and women, and children, and of the poor of the land, of them that were not carried away captive to Babylon;

8 Then [they/the following officers and their troops] came to Gedaliah to Mizpah,

even Ishmael the son of Nethaniah,
and Johanan
and Jonathan the sons of Kareah,
and Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth,
and the sons of Ephai the Netophathite,
and Jezaniah the son of a Maachathite,
they and their men.

So, these are military men.

It’s interesting to consider how they might have ended up in the fields or countryside. Your first thought would be that they were fighting Babylon there. But it seems that most of the people were hiding in Jerusalem when Babylon came and started attacking. And when Babylon came in to the city, the Babylonian army likely killed most if not all the enemy soldiers – except for Ebed-Melech of course.

So, what’s more likely is that these are men who fled the city – probably when Babylon entered – and then these men hid themselves in the surrounding fields.

But now they’re coming out of hiding because the enemy is gone.

9 And Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan [sware unto them and to their men/took an oath as to give them and their troops some assurance of safety], saying,

[Fear not/Don’t be afraid] to [serve/submit to] the Chaldeans:
[dwell/settle down] in the land,
and [serve/submit to] the king of Babylon,
and it shall be well with you.

10 As for me, behold, I will dwell at Mizpah to [serve/represent you before] the Chaldeans, which will come unto us:

but ye, gather ye wine, and summer fruits [i.e., dates and figs…], and oil, and [put/store] them in your [vessels/jars], and dwell in your cities that ye have taken [over…].

So, that’s the military commanders and their return to Gedaliah.

Jews in Foreign Countries Return (11-12)

Next we have all the Jews scattered in other countries returning to Gedaliah in verses 11 and 12.

11 Likewise when all the Jews that were in Moab,
and among the Ammonites,
and in Edom,
and that were in all the countries,

heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant of Judah,
and that he had set over them Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan;

12 Even all the Jews returned out of all places whither they were [driven/scattered],
and came to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah, unto Mizpah,
and gathered wine and [summer fruits/dates and figs] [very much/in great abundance].

So, I think what we’re seeing so far is that life is good for these Jews. How merciful God is. He had to punish them. And yet – look at them now. Back in the land. Gathering oil and summer fruit. Traumatized, no doubt. And yet, still alive and receiving mercy from God.

But all of that is about to change. Because though God was now showing them more mercy, their hearts were not changed at all. The goodness of God does lead to repentance in some hearts. But others despise his mercy and continue in their sin.

The Makings of Another Calamity (13-16)

So, for the rest of this chapter the stage will be set for yet another calamity for the people of Judah. And really this is the function of Jeremiah 40. It’s setting the scene for the rest of the story that unfolds from this chapter to the end of the 43rd chapter. And that’s why we don’t see a whole lot of action in this chapter – because it’s simply introducing us to people and places and concepts that will help us understand what happens in the next three chapters of this book.

With that in mind, let’s see the makings of another calamity for Judah starting in verse 13.

13 ¶ Moreover Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the [captains/officers] of the [forces/troops] that were in the [fields/open country], came to Gedaliah to Mizpah,

Remember this Johanan was mentioned a few verses ago. He was one of the men hiding in the countryside. And now we’re reminded that he returned to Gedaliah.

And if you recall that list in verse 8 you remember that there were several men named there. Well, one of those men is a traitor.

14 And [Johanan…] said unto him [Gedliah…],

[Dost thou certainly know/Are you at all aware] that Baalis the king of the Ammonites hath sent Ishmael the son of Nethaniah to [slay thee/take your life/kill you]?

But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam [believed them not/would not believe them].

Gedaliah doesn’t buy it.

So, Johanan tries once more to convince Gedaliah of the danger he faces.

15 Then Johanan the son of Kareah spake to Gedaliah in Mizpah [secretly/privately], saying,

Let me go, [I pray thee/please],
and I will slay Ishmael the son of Nethaniah,
and no man shall know it:

wherefore should he slay thee,
that all the Jews which are gathered unto thee should be scattered,
and the remnant in Judah perish?

So, Johanan thus far is proving himself to be a man with keen insight. While Gedaliah seems to be in a fantasy world, Johanan has seen battle and he’s aware of the situation on the ground.

And yet, Gedaliah for a second time ignores Johanan’s warnings – even accusing him of lying.

16 But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam said unto Johanan the son of Kareah,

Thou shalt not do this thing:
for thou speakest falsely of Ishmael.

How does Gedaliah know this? How does he know that Ishmael isn’t planning to kill him? We have no information here leading us to believe that Gedaliah conducted any sort of investigation into the claims of Johanan.

So then, what we see in Gedaliah is a blissful and yet irresponsible ignorance that’s only too characteristic of God’s people today. I know in my own soul a tendency to recoil from bad news about such-and-such a ministry or this-or-that preacher. I’d rather just plug my ears and not have to exercise discernment. Instead I’d rather just ignore the warnings issued by someone more knowledgeable than I am.

And some of that makes sense. Because, after all, who wants to be dwelling on negative things constantly? Who wants to keep hearing bad news?

Gedaliah went through something like hell on earth. He didn’t want any more battles. He wanted to live peacefully in the land and ignore any reality that threatened that prospect. And some of that is commendable. But at the same time, his willful ignorance will cost him his life and will ensure that God’s people are scattered and enslaved and led by men who do not love the Lord.

We need to thank God for leaders who don’t simply believe the best of every potential enemy of the people they’re leading – whether we’re speaking of threats to the Church or even threats to our nation.

In my opinion, we’ve had 8 years of an administration in this country that has constantly given the benefit of the doubt to those who would destroy our nation. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

But in the Church we have similar things happening. And therefore we can thank God for leaders who are willing to sound the alarm when necessary. We can be thankful to and for shepherds who will let the sheep know when the wolf is near – who will even identify who the wolf is for us.

And just like the Jews suffered because of Gedaliah’s blissful ignorance, so we too will suffer if we don’t have discerning leadership. So pray for that kind of leadership and thank God when you have it in your life.

So, we end with that thought for this time. And ending in the middle of an introduction to a story is not very satisfying. The story is just getting started. But hopefully this will help us anticipate what is to come in the next few messages.

Next time, we’ll see how right Johanan was, how wrong Gedaliah was, and how truly evil Ishmael turns out to be.

Jeremiah 39 Commentary

We’re in Jeremiah 39.

Jeremiah 39 is the culmination of much of what we’ve already read throughout the first 38 chapters of this book. God has made many threats in an attempt to turn his people back to him. But they had refused over and over. So, you wonder – what will happen to those people?

On the other hand, there have been a few bright shining examples of obedience. And we all hope that whatever happens to the bad guys doesn’t happen to these who have obeyed the Lord.

Well, Jeremiah 39 is where we learn the fate of these two groups of people.

God’s judgement finally falls. And we’re going to see the repercussions in this chapter.

Babylon Captures Jerusalem (1-14)

So, to begin, in verses 1-14 we see Babylon finally capturing Jerusalem, just as God had been threatening through Jeremiah for so many years – decades, really.

Babylon Besieges Jerusalem (1)

And it all starts with Jeremiah taking a step back and recounting that Jerusalem was indeed under siege by Babylon in verse 1. We knew this already even from Jeremiah 38, but for the purpose of this chapter, Jeremiah wants to recount this fact of Babylon’s besieging Jerusalem.

KJV Jeremiah 39:1 ¶ In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, came Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon and all his army against Jerusalem, and they besieged it.

Now, our pastor has in the last month or so commended to us laboring to understand what we read in the Bible. And one resource that I use for that purpose is the NET Bible study notes. I really used that resource heavily as I prepared for this message and so I wanted to try to avoid plagiarizing by naming a big source that I used this time – and that I have used regularly throughout the course of this series. I also of course wanted to put this resource in your mind as one that could be quite helpful for your personal Bible study.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let me point out two cross-references that speak of what we just read in verse 1. Verse 1 here told us that Babylon came in Zedekiah’s 9th year and in the 10th month of that year. Both 2 Kings 25:1 and Jeremiah 52:4 give the day of the month as well. That would be the 10th day. So, 10th day of 10th month of Zedekiah’s 9th year is when Babylon came to lay their final siege to Jerusalem. This actually equates to January 15th, 588 BC. This then all happened right around 2,605 years ago.

Babylon Breaks into Jerusalem (2)

And not quite two years into that siege, Babylon finally broke into the city in verse 2.

2 And in the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, the ninth day of the month, the city was [broken up/breached/broken into].

This would have been July 18th, 586 BC. So, about 18 months after the siege began, Jerusalem was broken into.

Babylonian Officials Set Up Shop (3)

Well, so, now Babylon has entered the city. By virtue of that fact, they are now the de facto governing authority. And so their officials set up governmental operations in the city gate in verse 3.

3 And all the princes of the king of Babylon came in, and [sat/set up quarters/set up a provisional military government over the city] in the middle gate [“The identification of the location of the Middle Gate is uncertain since it is mentioned nowhere else in the OT.” – NET], [see 1:15] even
Nergalsharezer, [of] [Samgarnebo/Samgar],
[Sarsechim/Nebo-Sarsechim], [the] [Rabsaris/the chief officer],
Nergalsharezer, [the] [Rabmag/a high official],
with all the [residue/rest] of the [princes/officers] of the king of Babylon.

Now, what we need to realize at this point is that this very thing was promised by God all the way back in Jeremiah 1:15. There, the Lord said…

KJV Jeremiah 1:15 For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms of the north, saith the LORD; and they shall come, and they shall set every one his throne at the entering of the gates of Jerusalem, …

And so, accordingly, these people from Babylon are now setting up their thrones – they’re acting as rulers – in the gate of Jerusalem. God’s word came to pass.

Also, it’s hard to tell if there are six names in verse 3 or just three with the other three just describing the person. For example, “Rab-Saris” might be a person’s name or it might be that person’s position or title. Whatever the case, the officials of Babylon are now ruling Jerusalem.

Zedekiah Flees (4)

So, seeing that there was now “a new sheriff in town,” so to speak, Zedekiah and his officials decide that the city isn’t big enough for all of them – and he flees.

4 And it came to pass, that when Zedekiah the king of Judah saw them, and all the [men of war/soldiers],

then they fled, and went forth out of the city by night,
by the way of the king’s garden,
by the gate betwixt the two walls:

And what is so sobering and sad to realize is that Zedekiah and these soldiers had multiple opportunities to “flee” when fleeing would have done them any good. They could have gone out to Babylon at any time before this and been spared. They could have been treated well. But we’ll see what their disobedience earns them later on in the story.

Now, this “king’s garden” is likely on the southern end of Jerusalem. There, the wall of the eastern hill and the western hill would have converged. Thus the reference to the “two walls.”

Continuing on…

and he went out [the way of/toward] the [plain/Arabah/Jordan Valley].

Apparently, Zedekiah and his soldiers were planning to flee to a country beyond the Jordan River – maybe Ammon or Moab.

Babylon Captures and Sentences Zedekiah (5-7)

And yet, Zedekiah can’t escape God’s punishment for his disobedience and wavering. So, as God has promised him several times already through Jeremiah, Zedekiah finally does see the king of Babylon eye-to-eye in verses 5-7. And that will be one of the last sights he sees.

5 But the Chaldeans’ army pursued after them, and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho:

And let’s not miss the significance of where Zedekiah was caught. He was caught – and thus, the fate of Judah was sealed – in this city called Jericho. But this was the very city that marked the beginning of the conquest of Canaan by Israel almost 10 centuries before this time.

And now, because of their disobedience, the Lord finally had to bring on them what he promised at the end of the book of Deuteronomy. And instead of giving them the land and keeping them there, he was now throwing them out. Back around 1400 BC, they were invading this land and expelling the inhabitants. But now in 586 BC, the Jews themselves are being expelled by the invading Babylonians.

Let me also mention one thing that I think I’ve glossed over to this point. We’ve noticed several times that this book has referred to the Babylonians or the Chaldeans interchangeably. And that’s fine, but I wanted to add a little background to that.

The Chaldeans were originally a group that was south of Babylon proper. It was from that group that Nebuchadnezzar came. His father was the one who built that Chaldean dynasty, actually. And so, it’s that entity – the Chaldean dynasty – that is referred to as “the Babylonians” or as “the Chaldeans.” This situation also partially explains why Jeremiah 1 cites God as speaking of “the families of the north” – probably reflecting this mix of groups within this entity known as “the Chaldeans” here in verse 5.

Now, verse 5 says that these Chaldeans overtook Zedekiah. But we just heard that his soldiers went with him. So, what’s going on?

Well, according to 2 Kings 25:5 and Jeremiah 52:8, at this point in the story his soldiers scattered from him. So, now Zedekiah is all alone – abandoned by his officials, and soldiers, and supposed friends. Just like Jeremiah told him in chapter 38. Just when his feet were stuck in the proverbial mud, they turned their back on him.

On the other hand, God wouldn’t have. God never leaves not forsakes his people. If only Zedekiah would have listened to and feared God rather than men.

And this kind of thinking is how we should read narratives in the Bible. When we come across stories in Scripture, we do need to allow them to shape our morals. Now, these stories are more than just moral teachings – but they’re no less than moral teachings.

As we read this story, for example, look at what Zedekiah did. Look at what God said. And consider the results of Zedekiah’s actions and faith – or lack thereof. And in this particular story, the message is – trust and obey God even when it looks like obeying him means certain death. Because, if you don’t take God seriously, you will experience worse than you could ever imagine. Do you think Zedekiah imagined that he’d have to witness the slaying of his sons followed by his eyes being put out? I doubt it. I imagine that this is what he was trying to avoid by not obeying God. It didn’t work. And this kind of disobedience won’t work for us either.

Trust and obey God even when doing so looks like it will kill you. Because the alternative could be even worse than death.

So, let’s get back to our story. The end of verse 5 relates the beginning of the lamentable result of Zedekiah’s disobedience to God.

and when they [the Babylonian army…] had taken him, they brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Riblah in the [land/territory] of Hamath, where he [gave judgment upon/passed sentence on] him.

Now, Riblah was a city on the western edge of what is today Syria – slash – Lebanon. It’s north of Israel and Judah, which is why the army brought Zedekiah “up.” They took him north of Jericho, where they found him.

6 Then the king of Babylon [slew/slaughtered/put to death] [used 36x in Lev. of animals…] the sons of Zedekiah in Riblah [before his eyes/while Zedekiah was forced to watch]:

also the king of Babylon [slew/slaughtered/put to death] all the nobles of Judah.

7 [Moreover/Then] he put out Zedekiah’s eyes [eyes emphasized in Heb; 32:4 and 34:3 said that Zed would see Neb with his eyes], and bound him with chains, to carry him to Babylon.

So, that’s how things went with Zedekiah and his officials. Death, destruction, disfigurement. It had not worked out as they had planned. And that’s because they didn’t plan with any thought of what God wanted.

They all met a most bitter end.

Babylon Burns Jerusalem and Breaks Down Its Wall (8)

So, now, moving on, we’re going to see how things went for the people of Jerusalem who refused to surrender to Babylon.

To begin, Babylon starts destroying their city in verse 8.

8 And the Chaldeans burned the [king’s house/royal palace], and the houses of the people, with fire, and [brake/tore] down the walls of Jerusalem.

So, the city of these rebellious people is now in ruins – ruins that won’t be rebuilt until Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah start leading a return to the land in around 70 years from this point.

Now, 2 Kings 25:8-9 and Jeremiah 52:12-13 tell us that what we just read in verse 8 occurred almost one month after Zedekiah’s escape from Jerusalem. So, between verses 5-7 and verse 8 we have around one month passing.

Also, it wasn’t Nebuchadnezzar himself who did these things to Jerusalem personally. Rather, from those passages we just referenced, we learn that a Babylonian official named Nebuzaradan carried out this destruction of Jerusalem. We’ll hear more about this man in the next verse.

Babylon Takes Most into Exile and Leaves the Poorest (9-10)

So, with the people’s houses and city in ruins, Babylon takes the rest of the people – those who hadn’t died – back to Babylon in verses 9-10, leaving once again only the poorest of the poor in the land.

9 Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive into Babylon the [remnant/rest] of the people [that remained/who were left] in the city, and those [that fell away, that fell/who had deserted] to him, with the rest of the people that remained.

10 But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left of the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.

Now, remember that around 10 years prior to these events, Nebuchadnezzar came and took away most of the skilled people from Judah, leaving the new king Zedekiah with mostly unskilled ignorant folks. Well, now, to make matters even worse, the cream of that crop that was left to Zedekiah was now being taken. So that now only the poorest of the poor were left in the land.

The rest were exiled. Many before this point had died. This is what happened to these people who rebelled against the Lord.

They worshipped idols. They abused their fellow-man. And yet they would come to the temple and make themselves believe that everything would be alright. Because, after all they thought, surely a God wouldn’t destroy his own temple, let alone the city that housed it.

And yet, our God, the only true and holy God, is more concerned about his people’s hearts and corresponding behavior than he is about their external religious observances.

And this is true to this day. Now, let us be clear on this. Every one of us in here is a sinner. We all fall short of God’s glory. The way to respond to sin in our life is not to avoid meeting with the church here in this city.

On the other hand, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we can be godless Monday morning through Saturday night and then come to church on Sunday morning and harbor some hope in our heart that the simple act of attending church is going to make things right with you and the Lord.

Attending church does not extend pardon to you of your sins. Only confessing those sins to the Lord, with an attendant faith in Christ does that.

I trust we have numerous people in here today who have a real sense that they are accepted by God and that all of their sins are pardoned by him.

And yet, I hope that no one in here thinks that this pardon is achieved by doing any sort of religious ritual. Going to church, getting baptized, giving your money to good causes, whatever. External religious observance will not save you. True repentance with a genuine saving faith in Christ alone does.

Babylon Deals with Jeremiah (11-14)

Well, so, that’s how Babylon dealt with the rebellious king of Judah along with his sons, officials, and the rebellious people of Jerusalem.

So, now, starting in verse 14 we hear of how Babylon treated Jeremiah the prophet.

11 ¶ Now Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon gave [charge/command] concerning Jeremiah [to/through] Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, saying,

12 Take him, and look [well/out] [to/after/for] him, and do him no harm; but [do unto/deal with] him [even as/whatever] he [shall say unto/tells] thee.

By the way, contrast this treatment of the prophet with the way that Jeremiah’s own people treated him! The Jews put him in jail, put him in a cistern, wanted him to die, abused him, and much more.

But this pagan army? They treat him well.

And they even know him by name! This is amazing.

What can we compare this to? I can’t think of any 100% parallel, but I’ll try to get close.

Picture the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. This situation with Jeremiah would be as if – when the US army was entering the capital city of Kabul – that George W. Bush would have given command to the army to spare the life of one particular citizen of that city.

It’s totally unlikely. There would be very little reason for the ruler of the invading nation to show mercy to anyone. And in fact, when it comes to Babylon, they are going to be so cruel – even to the old and weak of Judah – that God uses that as a reason that he is going to judge them in the future.

So, despite the fact that Babylon was cruel and brutal, they show great mercy toward Jeremiah. This then is nothing other than the direct influence of God on the heart of this pagan leader. The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord – whether that king is Jewish or Babylonian or any other nationality.

So, the command was given concerning Jeremiah. Now it’s executed.

13 So Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard sent,
and Nebushasban, [the] [Rabsaris/a chief officer],
and Nergalsharezer, [the] [Rabmag/a high official],
and all the king of Babylon’s [princes/chief officers];

14 Even they sent,
and took Jeremiah out of the [court/courtyard] of the [prison/guard/guardhouse],
and [committed/entrusted/turned over] him unto

Gedaliah
the son of Ahikam
the son of Shaphan,

that he should [carry/take] him [to Gedaliah’s…] home:

[so/but] [he/Jeremiah] [dwelt/stayed] among the people.

And here is the first mention of this man named Gedaliah. We’ll discover later that this man is now appointed governor of Judah by Babylon.

He has an interesting and godly lineage. His father Ahikam defended Jeremiah back in Jeremiah 26:24. And Gedaliah’s grandfather Shaphan as we’ve said before was a man who was involved in Josiah’s repentance.

Gedaliah himself seems to be a good man. But at the very least, his father and grandfather were good men.

Now, that last statement that Jeremiah stayed among the people is so significant. Do you think that Jeremiah liked these people? I mean, do you think he enjoyed being around them? Do you think they had a lot in common? Would their idolatry and abuse of others have been something Jeremiah would have been comfortable with?

No. I don’t think Jeremiah would have normally wanted to associate with these people. And yet, even when given the chance to separate himself from them, he stays among them. God had just had to punish these people for their flagrant sins. These people had abused Jeremiah and given him many reasons to hate them.

Why did Jeremiah stay with them? Here’s why. Jeremiah had come to understand that God called him to minister to these people – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

What keeps the missionary ministering in the presence of abhorrent sin? What will keep you and me reaching out to obstinate family and loved ones? Remember that God has called us to be witnesses to him in this life. That’s our job. That’s our one job in this life.

And the people you and I are called to serve are not our motivation for serving. The Lord our God should be our motivation to serve sinful people made in his image. That’s the way it was for Jeremiah. It’s that way for us, too.

Flashback: Ebed-Melech Saved by Faith (15-18)

Now, for a final time, I just want to remind us that we’ve seen how several groups or individuals have fared now that God’s judgements are coming to pass.

Zedekiah, his kids, his officials, and the people over whom he ruled – all of whom were disobedient to God’s reasonable requirements – are now all dead or in captivity. God’s word has been proven true in their situations.

Jeremiah, who was not like the others – but was obedient to God’s commands – he is alive and free and after decades of dealing with these rebels, he’s still standing by God’s grace.

But now the story stops right there and takes us back a few months. Last chapter we read about a man named Ebed-Melech. He was a mercenary fighter from Ethiopia. He apparently was hired to fight for Judah against Babylon.

And yet, something happened to this man – this gentile – that moved him to be concerned for the welfare of the prophet Jeremiah.

And now, we’re going to find out why Ebed-Melech was concerned for Jeremiah. Ebed-Melech trusted the one true God while he was there in Jerusalem. And as a result, he would be delivered from the people he was fearing – the Babylonians.

And thus, here in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, we have an amazing instance of a Gentile being saved by faith.

This is how God deals with Ebed-Melech – delivering him because of his faith. Verses 15-18.

15 ¶ Now the word of the LORD [came/had come] unto Jeremiah, while he was [shut up/confined] in the [court/courtyard] of the [prison/guard/guardhouse], saying,

16 Go and speak to Ebedmelech the Ethiopian [recall the Ethiopian eunuch in the NT…], saying,

So, again, this was in the previous 18 months during which time at some point Jeremiah was imprisoned. Ebed-Melech would have been accessible since Jeremiah’s prison was in the guard house where soldiers like Ebed-Melech would have been housed.

Thus saith the LORD of hosts [military term…], the God of Israel;

Behold, I will [bring/fulfill] my [words/promises] [upon/against] this city for evil, and not for good;

and they shall be accomplished in that day before thee.

So, that’s bad news. God’s punishment is coming and Ebed-Melech – this man hired to help these Judean soldiers – is on the losing side of things.

But now, contrast the dire situation Ebed-Melech faces as a soldier on the losing side of a battle to God’s promise to him in the midst of this catastrophe.

17 But I will [deliver/rescue] thee in that day,

[saith/affirms!] the LORD:

and thou shalt not be given into the hand of the men of whom thou art afraid.

Now, the men whom this mercenary soldier is fearing are probably not the Judean officials who imprisoned and tried to kill Jeremiah. Rather, this is a reference to the invading Babylonians who would normally kill the soldiers that they’re fighting. But God will reverse the way things usually go and deliver Ebed-Melech.

18 For I will surely [deliver/save] thee [or “delivering I will deliver”…],
and thou shalt not fall by the sword,

but thy life shall be [for/as] a [prey/prize of war] unto thee:

Why did God determine to deliver or save this man?

because thou hast put thy trust in me,

[saith/declares/affirms!] the LORD.

Saved. By faith!

So, let’s review.

Zedekiah? His children slaughtered. His kingdom violently wrested from him. His sense of vision stolen forever.

All the people of Jerusalem? Many of them died. The rest were taken from their homes, never to return. Their homes all destroyed.

Jeremiah? Treated well – better than he’d been treated for a few decades, probably.

Ebed-Melech? Saved by his faith in the one true God. Just like we are.

And you’d like to think that this is the end. That maybe Jeremiah could live happily ever after. And yet, we’ll see from the next several chapters that the rebellion of these Jews is far from over. We’ll look forward to that next time.