Here we are in the 42nd chapter of the Old Testament book of Jeremiah.
We’re in the midst of a “fiasco” – “a thing that is a complete failure, especially in a ludicrous or humiliating way.” This started in Jeremiah 40 and will end in Jeremiah 43. This fiasco — as we’ve seen so far — relates what happened after Babylon conquered Jerusalem and exiled most of its residents.
And this story from Jeremiah 40-43 fits into the broader story of Jeremiah 36-45 where Jeremiah is relating for us Judah’s bitter end. God’s judgement has finally fallen. And we’re seeing the consequences for these people who for decades had not submitted to God’s authority.
Last time we saw the Judean army captain named Johanan and his troops take back the Judeans who were stolen from Mizpah by Ishmael. Ishmael – the rogue descendant of David – then fled to Ammon and now we have the Jews residing – not in Jerusalem or Mizpah – but in a town near Bethlehem. And they’re there because they’re afraid of the Babylonians retaliating for the murder of Gedaliah – whom they appointed to govern Judah.
Now, in this chapter we see an illustration of when people pretend to want God’s will for their lives and yet they really just want their own way – but with God’s stamp of approval upon their chosen course of action.
So, let’s begin to see what it looks like when people want God to approve their premeditated plans. When they want their will to be done.
The People Ask for God’s Direction and Promise to Follow It | 1-6
To briefly summarize verses 1-6 before we get to the details – here we see the people asking God for direction for their future plans. Then the prophet Jeremiah commits to seeking the Lord to provide that direction. And then the people agree to do whatever God says.
The People Ask Jeremiah to Pray for Direction | 1-3
So, starting in verses 1-3 we have the people coming and asking Jeremiah to pray for them to God so that God can guide them with their next step.
KJV Jeremiah 42:1 ¶ Then all the [captains of the forces/army officers], [and/including] Johanan the son of Kareah, and Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least even unto the greatest, came near,
2 And said unto Jeremiah the prophet,
Let, we beseech thee, our [supplication/plea for mercy/request] be accepted before thee, and pray for us unto the LORD thy God, even for all [this remnant/who are still alive]; (for we are left but a few of many, as thine eyes do behold us:)
3 That the LORD thy God may shew us the way wherein we may walk, and the thing that we may do.
So, giving the people the benefit of the doubt, it seems that they are indeed truly seeking God’s will for their next step.
This is actually really encouraging. I mean, the Jews of this time aren’t known for their genuine seeking of God’s will. My reaction to this at first reading almost borders on shock!
And so, we see once more in this extended story this kind of hope that’s set out regarding the future of the nation. Remember – under Gedaliah we were seeing some positive and hopeful signs of reunification of all Israel. But then of course Ishmael messed that all up when he murdered Gedaliah and then fled the country.
But now here we are again. Ishmael is out of the picture for good. Johanan seems to be a good leader. At least he’s brave and seems to know what needs to be done and he does it.
The picture of getting rosier once more.
Jeremiah Commits to Seeking the Lord for Direction | 4
And so, in response to the people’s seemingly-genuine request for divine guidance, Jeremiah commits to seeking the Lord for direction for his people in verse 4.
4 Then Jeremiah the prophet said unto them,
I have heard you;
behold, I will pray unto the LORD your God according to your [words/request];
and it shall come to pass, that whatsoever thing the LORD shall answer you, I will declare it unto you; I will keep nothing back from you.
By the way, let’s notice that Jeremiah is still with the people. Did you think about where Jeremiah was in the last chapter when Ishmael was killing people and causing all sorts of problems? It’s very likely that Jeremiah would have been in Mizpah when Ishmael murdered Gedaliah. Jeremiah then would have been taken by Ishmael toward Ammon and then recovered by Johanan.
The People Commit to Obeying the Lord’s Revealed Direction | 5-6
Now, with Jeremiah committing to seek the Lord, the people commit to follow whatever the Lord declares to Jeremiah in verses 5-6.
5 Then they said to Jeremiah,
The LORD be a true and faithful witness [between/against] us, if we do not [,] even according to all things for the which the LORD thy God shall send thee to us.
6 Whether it be good, or whether it be [evil/bad] [in our estimation…], we will obey the voice of the LORD our God, to whom we send thee; that it may be well with us, when we obey the voice of the LORD our God.
Again, this is pretty amazing. If the people are serious about what they’re saying, this would be the first time in a long while that God’s Old Testament people would have had this heart toward God’s word – that they would do whatever God revealed through the prophet Jeremiah.
The Jews call God to witness against them if they disobey what he tells them through Jeremiah. The people recognize that what God says might be difficult for them to hear – it might be “evil” in their initial estimation. But they commit to following God’s command. And they even recognize that obeying whatsoever the Lord commands them will result in their wellbeing.
I mean, these people have things straight. They are thinking right. At least, their words indicate that this is the case.
But as you and I all know, it’s one thing to be able to verbally acknowledge reality. It’s one thing to speak truth. But it’s oftentimes not as easy to live truth.
And the wire connecting our speech and our living is one that is often disconnected to our own detriment.
Think of the prototypical false prophet Balaam. He spoke truth. But he lived a lie.
Think of Solomon. In his wisdom he spoke much truth. He lived a good deal of it as well. But in the end, his life didn’t match the truth he’d been speaking.
Think even of Israel at the base of Mount Sinai. They spoke as if they had every intention of following the Lord’s commands. But as Moses went up on the mountain to receive God’s laws, they quickly turned to idolatry.
There are other examples of people whose life doesn’t match their noble speech.
But in this story, thus far, we don’t have any inkling that this will be the case for the Jews here. We are hoping that their behavior will match their speech. And what they are saying is very encouraging so far.
Jeremiah Receives and Relates God’s Direction | 7-18
So, then, in verses 7-18 we have Jeremiah seeking the Lord, receiving an answer from him, and then giving that answer to the people.
7 ¶ And it came to pass after ten days, that the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah.
8 Then called he Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the [captains of the forces/army officers] which were with him, and all the people from the least even to the greatest,
9 And said unto them,
Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel, unto whom ye sent me to present your [supplication/plea for mercy] before him;
Stay in Judah and Be Blessed | 10-12
And now here’s the first of two parts of the Lord’s response. First, in verses 10-12, God tells the Jews to stay in Judah. And if they do, he will bless them.
10 If ye will [still abide/remain/stay] in this land,
then will I build you, and not pull you down,
and I will plant you, and not pluck you up:
Now, the Lord said something very similar before in the book of Jeremiah. Back in chapter 24 and verse 6, the Lord gave Jeremiah a vision of two fig baskets. One was good and one was rotten. The Lord interpreted the vision and told Jeremiah that the bad figs symbolized the Jews who stayed in Jerusalem and the good figs were the ones who obeyed the Lord and surrendered to Babylon.
But now here the situation is reversed. Now, the Lord is making clear to the Jews that obedience to him involves not leaving Judah but staying in that land.
And in both Jeremiah 24:6 and here these pictures of building and pulling and planting and plucking are used to say that blessing awaits those who will submit to God’s authority.
So, we can see that this is a reversal of the way God had been leading the people. He was previously saying that they need to leave the land. But now he’s advising the remnant there that they needed to stay.
And that’s because God was ready to change his stance toward them. He had punished them but now he was ready to end the punishment and be gracious to them – as we see at the end of verse 10, where he explains this…
for I [repent me/relent/am filled with sorrow] [of/because of] the [evil/disaster] that I have done unto you.
Scripture is clear that God’s character doesn’t change. And yet, his methods and dealings with people often do change.
God had been set on punishing his people for a while. But now that he sent the punishment in the form of a Babylonian invasion of the land and exile of most of the people, God was done with judging. He was ready to now be gracious to them.
And part of God’s graciousness with them is speaking to them on their level. He knows what they fear and so in verse 11 he tells them not to fear.
11 Be not afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom ye are afraid;
be not afraid of him, saith the LORD:
for I am with you to save you, and to deliver you from his [hand/power].
This is a promise the Lord has made twice already in this book.
Once in Jeremiah 15:20 the Lord responds to Jeremiah’s complaint with this assurance that he was with the prophet to be with him and to save him from his own fellow-countrymen.
Then again in Jeremiah 30:11 the Lord actually promises this to all Israel in the context of the time which is yet future to us during which the Lord will judge all nations but deliver his people Israel.
So, these are gracious words that the Lord is communicating to the Jews. Promises of building and planting. Promises to be with the Jews to deliver them. Encouragements to not fear.
And here’s more reason they shouldn’t fear to stay in the land of Judah.
12 And I will shew mercies unto you, that [he/Nebu.] may have mercy upon you, and [cause/let/allow] you to [return to/remain in] your own land.
And of course the Jews were expecting that Nebuchadnezzar would be angry with them and blame them for the death of Gedaliah. But according to Proverbs 16:7 the Lord is perfectly capable of making a person’s enemies to be at peace with him. That is, when that person’s ways are pleasing to the Lord.
And in this case, the way of these people could be pleasing to him if they humbly, submissively, and in full faith stay in the land as God has gently and graciously commanded them to do.
So, God holds out blessing to the Judeans if they stay in the land. That’s what we see in verses 10-12.
Go to Egypt and be Cursed | 13-18
But if there are blessings for staying in the land – and we already know that the people want to go to Egypt – then God needs to communicate to the people the bad things that will happen to them if they disobey him and go to Egypt. We see that part of the message in verses 13-18.
13 But if ye say,
We will not [dwell/remain] in this land, neither obey the voice of the LORD your God,
No; but we will go into the land of Egypt,
where we shall see no war,
nor hear the sound of the [enemy’s…] trumpet,
nor [have hunger of/be hungry for] bread;
and there will we dwell:
What the Lord is anticipating here is that the people will let their own limited understanding guide them rather than letting God himself guide them.
They will lean on their own understanding and do what makes sense to them. They will follow the way that seems right unto a man rather than trusting the Lord with all their heart.
God anticipates that these people will want to avoid the potential of war. They will want to have enough to eat.
And whereas God just promised to take care of these matters for them if they just stay in the land, there is an alternative in their minds to achieve the same goals in a way that’s more suitable to them. They will go to Egypt.
God says “trust me and don’t fear and stay here and I will bless you.” They are saying “we have our own plans that we are sure will work and so we will go to Egypt and there we’ll be blessed.”
If they insist on that course of action – of not submitting to God’s authority – then the Lord has a different message for the people.
15 And now therefore hear the word of the LORD, ye remnant of Judah;
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel;
If ye [wholly set your faces/are so determined] to enter into Egypt, [and/that you] go to [sojourn/live/settle] there;
16 Then it shall come to pass,
that the [sword/wars], which ye feared, shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt,
and the [famine/starvation], whereof ye were afraid, shall follow close after you there in Egypt;
and there ye shall die.
So, God is clear. The very thing you fear and that is influencing you to reject submitting to me – will come to you if you don’t submit to me.
You can’t win by resisting submission to God.
The people were wanting to avoid the swords of war. So they wanted to disobey God and go to Egypt. Yet, God is clear that those swords would find them there in Egypt, but would not harm them in Judah.
The people wanted to avoid starvation in Judah so they wanted to go to Egypt. But God was clear that they would surely starve in Egypt, while being well-fed in Judah.
But it would take faith on the part of the people to stay where they sense there was danger and not go to the place where they thought they’d be safe and provided for.
That’s where they as well as we need to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not unto our own understanding. We and they need and needed to acknowledge him in all our ways. And if they would have done this then he would direct their paths.
The alternative to trusting the Lord might seem to work at first, but is ultimately not pretty.
17 So shall it be with all the men that set their faces to go into Egypt to sojourn there;
they shall die by [the sword/war], by [the famine/starvation], and by [the pestilence/disease]:
and none of them shall [remain/survive] or escape from the [evil/disaster] that I will bring upon them.
And the Lord previously stated that he was ready to be done punishing his people. And yet, if they refused to submit to him, that wrath would be kindled yet again.
18 ¶ For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel;
As mine anger and my [fury/wrath] hath been poured forth upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem; so shall my [fury/wrath] be poured forth upon you, when ye shall enter into Egypt:
And [here’s the promised result of disobedience…] ye shall be an [execration/curse], and [an astonishment/a horror], and [a curse/an example of those who have been cursed], and [a reproach/a taunt/that people use in pronouncing a curse]; and ye shall see this place no more.
So, if they disobey they will become an example of destruction to others who would disobey the Lord. And they would never again see their homeland. That’s how the Lord ends his warnings for the people to not disobey him in verses 13-18.
Jeremiah Rebukes the People for Choosing Egypt | 19-22
So, with blessings for obedience and warnings of danger for disobedience, Jeremiah rebukes the people for already having chosen to go to Egypt in verses 19-22.
19 The LORD hath said concerning you, O ye remnant of Judah;
Go ye not into Egypt:
know certainly that I [Jeremiah…] have [admonished/warned] you this day.
20 For ye [dissembled/have gone astray/made a mistake] in your hearts, [when/for] ye sent me unto the LORD your God, saying,
Pray for us unto the LORD our God; and according unto all that the LORD our God shall say, so declare unto us, and we will do it.
21 And now I have this day declared it to you; but ye have not obeyed the voice of the LORD your God, nor any thing for the which he hath sent me unto you.
22 Now therefore know certainly that ye shall die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence, in the place whither ye desire to go and to sojourn.
So, although the Lord offered both possibilities of blessing and curse to the people, Jeremiah now cuts to the chase and lets them know that they will be punished for their intent to disobey the Lord and do what’s right in their own eyes.
Jeremiah perhaps could see from their countenances as he was giving the Lord’s message that the people had no intention of staying in Judah. Maybe they were even starting to pack their bags in front of his face as he was talking. Or maybe God just revealed to him that they were going to go to Egypt no matter what the Lord or his prophet said to them.
And so next time we’ll witness the result of the people’s resolve to disobey the Lord and we’ll see them head to Egypt.