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 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.