Lesson 19
Part I: Babylon Conquers Judah and Jerusalem
The Assassination of Governor Gedaliah
The Judaean Remnant's Flight to Egypt

Almighty Lord,

You have warned us to be wary of the wicked who plot the destruction of the righteous. This lesson reminds us that the good and just often underestimate the motives and plans of the wicked. It is the reason Jesus told His disciples to be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves (Mt 10:16). We must not lower ourselves to the tactics of the wicked, but we must recognize the danger and call on God to give us wisdom to guide us in the struggle to defeat the agents of evil. Send Your Holy Spirit, Lord, to guide us in our lesson. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Now the general of the army, Nebuzaradan, when he had carried the people of the Jews into captivity, left the poor, and those that had deserted, in the country; and made one, whose name was Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam, a person of a noble family, their governor; which Gedaliah was of a gentle and righteous disposition. He also commanded them that they should cultivate the ground, and pay an appointed tribute to the king.
Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 10.9.155

Jeremiah abode in a city of that country, which was called Mizpah; and desired of Nebuzaradan that he would set at liberty his disciple Baruch, the son of Neriah, one of a very eminent family, and exceeding skillful in the language of his country.
Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 10.9.158

Chapter 40: Jeremiah's Freedom and Gedaliah Becomes the Governor of Judah

Davidic king Zedekiah of Judah rebelled against Babylonian rule in 589 BC, forming an anti-Babylon coalition with the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon that planned to form an alliance with the Egyptians. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon responded by leading his armies to deal with the rebel kingdoms. His army commanded by General Nebuzaradan besieged Jerusalem. The siege, counting the first and second siege periods, lasted in total for about two and a half years. The final 18 months of the Babylonian siege began on January 15th, 588 BC. The city fell to the Babylonians and on the 9th of Ab (July), and the Babylonians burned the city to the ground after removing all the starving inhabitants. The Book of Jeremiah provides a more complete description of the fall of the city in the last chapter of the book (52:1-34).

The Babylonians gathered the Judaean captives, including Jeremiah and Baruch, at Ramah, but they sent King Zedekiah, his sons, and his officials to Nebuchadnezzar's headquarters at Riblah, a town north of Damascus (Syria) on the Orontes River. There the royal officials were executed, the king's sons were murdered in front of their father, and Zedekiah was blinded before he was sent to die in Babylon (2 Kng 25:8-21; Jer 39:8-9; 52:12-27).

King Nebuchadnezzar gave his commanding general, Nebuzaradan, specific instructions to send men to find Jeremiah and to deal kindly with him. After the Babylonian ministers found Jeremiah in the palace Court of the Guard (39:13-14), they transferred him to Ramah where he was kept with other captives from Jerusalem and Judah. Ramah was located about five miles north of Jerusalem. Chapters 40-45 relate the words of God which came to Jeremiah when the Babylonian commander released him at Ramah and the events that followed his release.

Jeremiah 40:1-6 ~ The Babylonian Commander Gives Jeremiah His Freedom
1 The word which came to Jeremiah from Yahweh after Nebuzaradan commander of the guard had released him from Ramah, where he had found him in chains with all the other captives from Jerusalem and Judah who were being deported to Babylon. 2 The commander of the guard took Jeremiah and said to him, "Yahweh your God foretold calamity for this country, 3 and now he has brought it. He has done what he threatened to do, because you [plural] had sinned against Yahweh and would not listen to his voice; so all this has happened to you [plural]. 4 Look, today I am having your [singular] hands unchained. If you [singular] like to come with me to Babylon, come: I shall look after you. If you do not want to come with me to Babylon, do not. Look, you have the whole country before you; go wherever you think it best and most suitable to go." 5 And before Jeremiah retired, he added, "You can go back to Gedaliah son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon has appointed governor of the towns of Judah, and stay with him among the people, or go anywhere else you think suitable." With that, the commander of the guard gave him provisions and a present, and dismissed him. 6 Jeremiah went to Mizpah, to Gedaliah son of Ahikam and stayed with him, among those people still left in the country.
[...] = IBHE, vol. IV, page 1846.

King Nebuchadnezzar's commander, Nebuzaradan, found Jeremiah among the captives on the plain at Ramah and released him.(1) It is interesting that the text describes Nebuzaradan's words to Jeremiah as coming from Yahweh (verse 1a). Yahweh puts into the mouth of the pagan Babylonian general a summary of the oracles Jeremiah preached for the 35 years of his ministry.

2 The commander of the guard took Jeremiah and said to him, "Yahweh your God foretold calamity for this country, 3 and now he has brought it. He has done what he threatened to do, because you [plural] had sinned against Yahweh and would not listen to his voice; so all this has happened to you [plural].
The Babylonians know about Jeremiah's prophecies of victory for Babylon and defeat for Judah. They even know the reason: the Judahites (the "you" plural) have sinned against their God and refused to listen to His voice through His prophet. The Babylonians probably heard about Jeremiah's oracles from the Judaeans who defected and possibly even from members of the Shaphan family of royal scribes who were Jeremiah's friends and supports.

Question: The Babylonian general gives Jeremiah what three choices?

  1. He can come with him back to Babylon where the general will look after him.
  2. He does not have to accept the general's offer and is free to go wherever he likes.
  3. He can join Gedaliah and the people staying in Judah at Mizpah.

Jeremiah decides to join his friend Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan, the new Jewish governor of Judah, at Mizpah (2 Kng 25:22). You may remember that Gedaliah's father, the royal scribe Ahikam son of Shaphan, saved Jeremiah's life in 26:24. A seal impression was found naming Gedaliah as the royal steward of the king; it was a position he must have held in the last years of Zedekiah's reign.(2) Jeremiah's release is another fulfillment of Yahweh's promise to protect him.

Jeremiah 40:7-12 ~ The Babylonians Appoint Gedaliah the Governor of Judah
7 When the military leaders who with their men were still in the field, all heard the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam as governor of the country, making him responsible for the men, women and children, and those of the poor country people who had not been deported to Babylon, 8 they came to Gedaliah at Mizpah: Ishmael son of Nethaniah, Johanan and Jonathan sons of Kareah, Seraiah son of Tanhumeth, the sons of Ephai the Netophathite, Jezaniah son of Maacathite, they and their men. 9 To them and to their men Gedaliah son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, swore an oath. "Do not be afraid," he said, "of serving the Chaldaeans, stay in the country, serve the king of Babylon, and all will go well with you. 10 I for my part, as the man answerable to the Chaldaeans when they come to us, shall stay here at Mizpah, whereas you can harvest the wine, summer fruit and oil, fill your storage jars and settle in the towns which you have seized." 11 Similarly, when all the Judaeans living in Moab, with the Ammonites, in Edom and elsewhere, heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant in Judah and had appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan as their governor, 12 the Judaeans all came back from wherever they had been driven. On their return to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah at Mizpah, they harvested an immense quantity of wine and summer fruit.

This part of the narrative from 40:7-41:18. continues in seven sections that are linked by the repetition of certain phrases that come at the beginning of each section in the Hebrew text:

  1. Then ... all the military leaders (40:7)
  2. ... and all the military leaders (40:13)
  3. And it happened (41:1)
  4. And it happened (41:4)
  5. And it happened (41:7)
  6. ...and all the military leaders (41:11)
  7. ...and all the military leaders (41:16)

When the Judean military commanders and their men who had managed to avoid capture by the Babylonians heard about Gedaliah's appointment as the Babylonian governor of Judah, they came to Mizpah to meet with him. They had sought refuge with the kingdoms across the Jordan River to the East: Moab, Edom, and the Kingdom of the Ammonites. In Hebrew, Mizpah means "watchtower," and there were several towns with this name.(3) This particular Mizpah is probably the important town in the territory of Benjamin where Samuel was Israel's prophet/judge and where Saul was elected the first king of Israel (1 Sam 7:15-16; 10:17-24). It is now the capital of the Neo-Babylonian province of Judah.

The commanders who came to Gedaliah at Mizpah included:(4)

  1. Ishmael son of Nethaniah: he was a prince of the royal family and an officer in the Judean army (2 Kng 25:25; Jer 41:1, 11). Like several other commanders, he took his men across the Jordan River and offered his services to the Ammonites.
  2. Johanan and Jonathan sons of Kareah: these brothers were officers in the Judaean army.
  3. Seraiah son of Tanhumeth: a commander of Judaean soldiers.
  4. The sons of Ephai the Netophathite: Netophah was in the general vicinity of Bethlehem.
  5. Jezaniah son of the Maacathite: a foreigner and an officer serving in the army of Judah.(6)Maacathites inhabited the forested mountain region of the north Transjordan

These men are also named in 2 Kings 25:23 with the exception of Ephai the Netophathite.

Gedaliah welcomed the soldiers and offered them his protection as the Babylonian governor of Judah. He realizes that it will be necessary for him to mediate between these battle hardened men and the Babylonian occupation forces, and he accepts this mission (verse 10).
Question: What were the conditions of the oath Gedaliah swore to these men if they decided to join the Judaeans under his care in verses 9-10?

  1. They had nothing to fear from the Babylonians because Gedaliah would protect them.
  2. They are invited to make use of the food supplies.
  3. They are invited to settle in any towns they take under their control.

... you can harvest the wine, summer fruit and oil, fill your storage jars and settle in the towns which you have seized."
His invitation does not refer to a harvest of newly grown crops but the collection of the products from the past harvest. The products Gedaliah mentions like wine and oil are processed from grapes and olives. He is inviting them to make use of the stores left behind by those taken into exile.

11 Similarly, when all the Judaeans living in Moab, with the Ammonites, in Edom and elsewhere, heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant in Judah and had appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan as their governor, 12 the Judaeans all came back from wherever they had been driven.
Other bands of Judaeans who had sought refuge across the Jordan River in Moab, Edom and with the Ammonites also returned to Judah that is now under Babylonian control. The problem is that some of the men have ambitions of their own.

Jeremiah 40:13-16 ~ Johanan Warns Gedaliah
13 Now Johanan son of Kareah and all the military leaders still in the field, came to Gedaliah at Mizpah 14 and said to him, "Are you aware that Baalis king of the Ammonites has sent Ishmael son of Nethaniah to assassinate you?" But Gedaliah son of Akiakam would not believe them. 15 Johanan son of Kareah then spoke in secret to Gedaliah at Mizpah, as follows: "Please let me go and kill Ishmael son of Nethaniah, and no one will be any the wiser. Why should he assassinate you and cause the dispersal of all the Judaeans who have rallied round you. Why should the remnant of Judah perish?" 16 But Gedaliah son of Akiham replied to Johanan son of Kareah, "You will do no such thing, for what you say about Ishmael is false."

Johanan son of Kareah, from the first group of officers to come to Mizpah in verse 8, first warns Gedaliah about an assassination plot and then offers to eliminate the threat. Baalis king of the Ammonites was a ruler who continued to hold out against the Babylonians.(5)

Question: Why wouldn't Gedaliah give Johanan his permission to kill Ishmael? See 41:1.
Answer: Gedaliah didn't believe the accusation against Ishmael; probably for two reasons: because of his respect for the royal family since Ishmael was of royal blood, and there was no proof that Ishmael intended to him harm.

The simple truth is that righteous men like Gedaliah often cannot accept that a person from a good family could be so evil as to take the life of an innocent person; especially one who had offered him both protection and a home. As far as Gedaliah can determine, Ishmael has no reason to kill him. As it turned out, Johanan's argument in verse 15, Why should he assassinate you and cause the dispersal of all the Judaeans who have rallied round you. Why should the remnant of Judah perish? was exactly what happened.

Chapter 41: The Assassination of Gedaliah

Jeremiah 41:1-3 ~ The Murder of the Babylonian Governor and Officers at Mizpah
1 [And it happened] In the seventh month, however, Ishmael son of Nethaniah son of Elishma, who was of royal descent, came with officers of the king and ten men to Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah. And as they were taking their meal together, there at Mizpah, 2 Ishmael son of Nethaniah stood up with his ten men, and attacking Gedaliah son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, with their swords, they killed the man whom the king of Babylon had made governor of the country. 3 And the Judaeans who were with him, that is with Gedaliah at Mizpah, and the Chaldaean soldiers who happened to be there, Ishmael killed too. [...] = IBHE, vol. IV, page 1848.

The seventh month was the month of Tishri in the Jewish calendar (September/October). However, the question is what is the year?

  1. Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in July of 587 BC.
  2. Summer fruits are harvested in August-September (40:12).
  3. The seventh month in 41:1 was the month of Tishri in the Jewish calendar (September/October).
  4. The pilgrim feast of Tabernacles/Shelters is from the 15th to the 21st of the month of Tishri (September/October) and explains the arrival of the pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem in 41:4-5 (see Ex 23:16; Dt 16:13-16).
  5. The events in 41:1-18 could be three months after the fall of Jerusalem or three or four years later.
  6. Nebuchadnezzar returned to Judah in 582 BC, perhaps as a response to the murder of his governor and the Babylonian garrison at Mizpah.

Jerusalem fell in July of 587 BC, summer fruits are harvested in August-September (40:12), and in the month of Tishri (September/October) is the pilgrim feast of Tabernacles/Shelters which explains the arrival of the pilgrims in 41:4-5 (see Ex 23:16; Dt 16:13-16). This event could be three months after the fall of Jerusalem, or it could be three or four years later. It may be significant that Nebuchadnezzar returned to Judah with his army in 582 BC, perhaps as a response to the murder of his governor and the garrison at Mizpah. That there were so few Babylonian soldiers in Judah might suggest that the territory was peaceful and only a small number of Babylonians were left there in the service of governor Gedaliah and supports a time that was three or four years after the appointment of Gedaliah as governor.

Ishmael and his ten men are the only outsiders present at the meal. The other Judaean officers and their men were either securing supplies from abandoned towns, or they had settled down to rebuild and lead normal lives in those towns. Gedaliah never expected an attack during a meal. Hospitality was one of the most highly regarded virtues of the ancient world. Since he was extending his pledge not to harm them, he probably assumed they would not harm him. They not only killed Gedaliah but his Judaean entourage and the Babylonian guards.

Question: Why did Ishmael assassinate Gedaliah and the other Judaeans with him? See Jer 41:1 and 2 Kng 25:25.
Answer: As a member of the royal family, he may have considered Gedaliah and the other Judaeans on his staff as traitors to the former king. He may also have decided that he had an opportunity to become the ruler of Judah as an ally of the Ammonites.

Assassinating the Babylonian governor of Judah was not only a strike against a man he may have considered to be a traitor but, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, Baalis of Ammon had designs of his own to rule Judah. Therefore, it is not difficult to imagine why Baalis might sponsor Ishmael in a plot to kill the Babylonian governor (Antiquities of the Jews, 10.160). The additional information in 2 Kings 25:25 and Jeremiah 41:1 that Ishmael was a member of the royal family helps to shed light on another reason he killed Gedaliah. He probably saw an opportunity to govern Judah as an ally of the Ammonites and a rightful heir of Judah who was a descendant of the House of David.

Jeremiah 41:4-10 ~ Pilgrims and Prisoners
4 [And it happened] On the day after the murder of Gedaliah, before the news had become known, 5 eighty men arrived from Shechem, Shiloh and Samaria, with their beards shaved off, their clothing torn, and covered in self-inflicted gashes; they were bringing cereal offerings and incense with them to present to the Temple [House] of Yahweh. 6 Ishmael son of Nethaniah went out of Mizpah to meet them, weeping as he went. When he met them he said, "Come to Gedaliah son of Ahikam." 7 [And it happened] (But) once they were well inside the town, Ishmael son of Nethaniah slaughtered them, with the help of his men, and had them thrown into the storage-well. 8 There were ten of them, however, who said to Ishmael, "Do not kill us; we have stocks of wheat and barley, oil and honey, hidden away in the fields." So he spared them and did not kill them with their brothers. 9 The storage-well into which Ishmael threw the corpses of all the men he had killed was a large one, the one which King Asa had built as a precaution against Baasha king of Israel. 10 Ishmael son of Nethaniah filled it with the murdered men. Ishmael then took all the rest of the people prisoners who were at Mizpah, the king's daughters and all the remaining people in Mizpah, whom Nebuzaradan, commander of the guard, had entrusted to Gedaliah son of Ahikam. Ishmael son of Nethaniah took them prisoner and set out, intended to cross over to the Ammonites. [...] = IBHE, vol. IV, page 1848; (But) not in the text.

The "second day" after the killing is the next day according to the way the ancients counted; the day of the killing was day one. The eighty men were pilgrims from important towns in the former Northern Kingdom who were on their way to the site of the ruined Temple in Jerusalem.
The seventh month (41:1) was the month of the pilgrim feast of Tabernacles, also known as Shelters or Booths (Ex 23:14-15; 34:20; Dt 16:16; 2 Chr 8:13). These pilgrims were Samaritans. They were people who were descendants of five different pagan peoples. They adopted Yahweh as their regional god but practiced illicit worship with an illicit temple to Yahweh on Mt. Gerizim along with worship or their cultural pagan gods (2 Kng 17:24-41). As a result of King Josiah's religious reforms, the Judaeans destroyed the Samaritan's illicit temple and pagan worship sites and true worship of Yahweh was introduced to them (2 Kng 23:19-20; 2 Chr 34:6-7).

5b with their beards shaved off, their clothing torn, and covered in self-inflicted gashes; they were bringing cereal offerings and incense with them to present to the Temple [House] of Yahweh.
Even with the destruction of the Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem, people evidently still venerated the site. Destruction of God's holy altar put an end to animal sacrifice, but worshippers continued to offer incense and grain offerings and to mourn the Temple's loss. The shaved beards, torn clothing and self-inflicted gashes were common signs of mourning. However, shaved beards and self-mutilation was not approved according to prohibitions of the Law, so these people still retained some of their pagan practices (see Lev 19:28; 21:5; Dt 14:1). Shaved heads were permitted (Is 22:12; Ez 7:18; Amos 8:10; Mic 1:16).

The pilgrims were evidently stopping off at Mizpah to show their respect for the governor, and fearing that they were about to discover his treachery, Ishmael decided to kill the pilgrims by first luring them into the town. The pilgrims were probably unharmed.

Question: How did ten pilgrims manage to convince Ishmael to spare them?
Answer: They bribed him by offering their stocks of wheat, barley, oil, and honey.

After assassinating Gedaliah and Judaean men, the Babylonian guard, and most of the pilgrims, Ishmael son of Nethaniah carried off all the remaining Judaeans at Mizpah, including the royal young daughters that the Babylonians entrusted to Gedaliah. The royal princesses must have been babies, and the Babylonians perhaps decided they were too young to safely make the journey. They would be useful pawns if they survived to grow up. Ishmael probably had a kinship relationship with them.

Jeremiah 41:11-18 ~ Retribution and Liberation
11 When Johanan son of Kareah and all the military leaders who were with him heard about all the crimes committed by Ishmael son of Nethaniah, 12 they mustered all their men and set out to attack Ishmael son of Nethaniah. 13 They caught up with him at the great Pool of Gibeon. At the sight of Johanan son of Kareah and all the military leaders with him, all the people with Ishmael were delighted. 14 All the people whom Ishmael had taken as prisoners from Mizpah turned about, went back and joined Johanan son of Kareah. 15 Ishmael son of Nethaniah, however, escaped from Johanan with eight of his men and fled to the Ammonites. 16 Jonahan son of Kareath and all the military leaders with him then rallied all the remaining people whom Ishmael son of Nethaniah had taken as prisoners from Mizpah after killing Gedaliah son of Ahikam: men, fighting men, women, children and eunuchs, whom they brought back from Gibeon. 17 Setting off, they made a halt at Khan Kimham near Bethlehem, intending to go on to Egypt, 18 to get away from the Chaldaeans. They were now terrified of them, since Ishmael son of Nethaniah had killed Gedaliah son of Ahikam whom the king of Babylon had made governor of the country.

Johanan and the other commanders and their men learned about Ishmael's treachery at Mizpah. Ishmael, his men, and the captives headed for the Jordan River to cross over into Ammonite territory. Going to Gibeon is a little out of the way (if the site of Mizpah has been correctly determined), but perhaps it was meant to throw off his pursuers by not taking a direct route or perhaps he was going there to collect a cache of food. Gibeon was a Benjaminite town located about eight miles northwest of Jerusalem (Josh 18:25).

Johanan and his men recovered the captives and killed two of Ishmael's men, but Ishmael and his eight remaining soldiers escaped to the Ammonites. For the first time, the list of captives includes eunuchs in verse 16 with the phrase "children and eunuchs" probably referring to the eunuchs who were responsible for the young princesses who were daughters of King Zedekiah and other royal relatives. Jeremiah and Baruch are among the liberated captives (42:2; 43:3).

Question: Why are the Judaeans terrified of the Babylonians, and why are they considering going to Egypt?
Answer: They are afraid that when the Babylonians hear that Judaeans murdered the royal governor and the Babylonian garrison that they will seek retribution and kill the surviving Judaeans.

Chapter 42: The Flight to Egypt

Jeremiah 42:1-6 ~ The Refugees Appeal to Jeremiah to Petition Yahweh
1 Then all the military leaders, in particular Johanan son of Kareah and Azariah son of Hoshaiah, all the people from least to greatest, approached 2 the prophet Jeremiah and said, "Please hear our petition and intercede with Yahweh your God for us and for all this remnant, and how few of us are left out of many, your own eyes can see, 3 so that Yahweh your God may show us the way we are to go and what we must do." 4 The prophet Jeremiah replied, "I hear you; I will indeed pray to Yahweh your God as you ask; and whatever answer Yahweh your God gives you, I will tell you, keeping nothing back from you." 5 They in their turn said to Jeremiah, "May Yahweh be a true and faithful witness against us, if we do not follow the instructions that Yahweh your God sends us through you. 6 Whether we like it or not, we shall obey the voice of Yahweh our God to whom we are sending you, so that we may prosper by obeying the voice of Yahweh our God."

The military leaders and all the people approach Jeremiah and ask him to "petition and intercede" with Yahweh to advise them on what they should do. For the first time, the name Azariah son of Hoshaiah is added to the list of leaders. He is either a brother of Jezaniah or Azariah is a shortened form of his name. Along with Johanan, he leads the Judaean remnant that came to consult Jeremiah (see 43:2)

Question: How many times did the leaders of the refugees speak to Jeremiah of "Yahweh your God" and not "Yahweh our God"? How does Jeremiah correct them in verse 4, and do they adjust their reference to Yahweh?
Answer: In their exchange with Jeremiah, they refer to Yahweh as "your God" in verses 2, 3, and 5. However, after Jeremiah corrects them referring to "Yahweh your God" twice in verse 4, they refer to "Yahweh our God" twice in verse 6 when they swear the oath, saying, we shall obey the voice of Yahweh our God to whom we are sending you, so that we may prosper by obeying the voice of Yahweh our God."

Yahweh condemned the Judaeans of Jeremiah's generation for teaching sins of idol worship and apostasy from to the covenant to their children and their grandchildren. These people petitioning Jeremiah for a "word" from Yahweh are probably from a generation of young adults who did not grow up knowing Yahweh in a covenant relationship, and therefore, sadly, Yahweh is Jeremiah's God and not their God. They must have caught Jeremiah's correction because when they swear their oath to obey whatever Yahweh tells them by saying, Whether we like it or not, we shall obey the voice of Yahweh our God they use "our God" in verse 6.

Question: To swear an oath in Yahweh's name is a serious commitment. When was the last time that Judaeans swore in Yahweh's name and then broke their oath? What was Yahweh's judgment against them? See Jer 34:15-22.
Answer: These refugees are the same people who broke their oath to Yahweh to release their Hebrew slaves in 588 BC and then took their slaves back when the Babylonians retreated from the siege of Jerusalem. At that time Yahweh told them they profaned His name in breaking their oath, and He prophesied the return of the Babylonian army and the people's destruction by sword, famine, and plague.

The refugees' oath swearing of obedience to Yahweh also recalls the same act by their fathers and grandfathers during King Josiah's covenant renewal ceremony in 622 BC (2 Kng 23:1-3; 2 Chr 34:29-38). It was a pledge Yahweh condemned as insincere in Jeremiah's first oracle to Judah.

Jeremiah 42:7-18 ~ Yahweh's Message to the Remnant of Judah
7 Ten days later the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah. 8 He then summoned Johanan son of Kareah and all the military leaders who were with him, and all the people from least to greatest, 9 and said, "Yahweh, God of Israel, to whom you people deputed me to present your petition says this, 10 If you will only stay in this country, I shall build you and not overthrow you; I shall plant you and not uproot you, for I am sorry about the disaster I have inflicted on you. 11 Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you fear now; do not fear him, Yahweh declares, for I am with you to save you and rescue you from his clutches. 12 I shall take pity on you, so that he pities you and lets you return to your native soil. 13 But if you say: We will not stay in this country; if you disobey the voice of Yahweh your God, 14 and say: No, Egypt is where we shall go, where we shall not see war or hear the trumpet-call or go short of food; that is where we want to live; 15 in that case, remnant of Judah, listen to Yahweh's word: Yahweh Sabaoth, God of Israel, says this: If you are determined to go to Egypt, and if you do go and settle there, 16 the sword you fear will overtake you there in Egypt, and there you will die. 17 Yes, all those who are determined to go to Egypt and settle there, will die by sword, famine and plague: not a single one of them will survive or escape the disaster I shall inflict on them. 18 Yes, Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of Israel, says this: Just as my furious anger was poured out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so will my fury be poured out on you if you go to Egypt: you will become an object of execration and horror, a curse, a laughing-stock; and you will never see this place again.'"

Yahweh does not give Jeremiah His oracle for the remnant of Judah for a period of ten days. This is not the first time Jeremiah waited for an oracle. He waited a day or two for the judgment against his tormentor Hananiah in 28:12, and at least twice Jeremiah waited an unspecified time for Yahweh's word after being told to expect it in 18:1-5 and 32:6-8; but this situation appears to be different. It may have been a literal ten days, but the number ten in the Bible represents divine order, and therefore, it could mean that the delay was for the period of time God ordained. Other delays of ten days in the Bible include:

  1. Laban's request that Rebecca remain with her family for ten days before leaving for Canaan to become Isaac's wife; it was a delay that was refused (Gen 24:55-56).
  2. There was a ten day delay between the judgment against Nabal and his death ( 1 Sam 25:38 ).
  3. The ten day test in which the Babylonian eunuch allowed Daniel and his companions to live on ritually clean vegetables and water instead of Babylonians foods that were ritually unclean for Jews (Dan 1:8-16).

Question: What do you think was the reason for the delay?
Answer: Perhaps the waiting period was a time of testing for the remnant of Judah to decide if they would be a faithful or unfaithful remnant. It could have been a testing period like Moses' forty day period on the mountain that was a period of testing for the children of Israel; a test they failed.

Yahweh's gives Jeremiah two oracles for the remnant of Judah:

10 If you will only stay in this country, I shall build you and not overthrow you; I shall plant you and not uproot you, for I am sorry about the disaster I have inflicted on you. 11 Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you fear now; do not fear him, Yahweh declares, for I am with you to save you and rescue you from his clutches.
The first oracle begins with a word of assurance. I shall plant you and not uproot you is a statement similar what Yahweh told Jeremiah in 1:10 in which the same four verbs: built, overthrow, plant and uproot, are used (also see Jer 18:7 and 31:28). That God is sorry about the disaster does not mean He regrets bring judgment on the Jerusalemites and Judahites. God only means that He regrets they did not repent and brought the disaster upon themselves, as God repeatedly told them through Jeremiah.

Question: Yahweh forbids them to go to Egypt. What promises does God make to them if they will trust Him and stay in Judah?
Answer: Promises:

  1. God will "build" them by making them prosper and not to be "overthrown" or destroyed.
  2. God will "plant" them in the land of Judah and not "uproot" or exile them.
  3. He will protect them from the Babylonians.

Question: What is God's judgment in the second oracle if they break their oath to obey Him and leave Judah for Egypt, disregarding His words?
Answer: Judgments for disobedience if they leave the land and go to Egypt:

  1. The violence they fear will find them in Egypt.
  2. They will all die in Egypt of the sword, famine, and plague.
  3. Just as God's anger was poured out on the Jerusalemites for their disobedience, His angry will be poured out on them in Egypt.

This remnant is not a "faithful remnant." They have not learned from the failures of their grandfathers, their fathers, and their king; they have only learned their sins. They are part of the "bad figs" left behind (24:1-10); they are unfit for a covenant relationship with Yahweh. Their decision whether to listen to Yahweh or not to listen is a decision every individual in every generation must make. Are you part of the "faithful remnant"?

Jeremiah 42:19-22 ~ Jeremiah's Warning to Obey the Word of Yahweh
19 "Remnant of Judah, Yahweh has told you, Do not go into Egypt.' Understand clearly that today I have given you a solemn warning. 20 You were not being sincere when you sent me to Yahweh your God and said, Intercede for us with Yahweh our God; tell us exactly what Yahweh our God says and we will do it.' 21 Today I have told you, but you have not obeyed the voice of Yahweh your God or any part of the message he sent me to give you. 22 So understand this clearly: you will die by sword, famine and plague in the place where you want to go and settle."

Imagine Jeremiah's shock and anger when he senses that the remnant of Judah is rejecting Yahweh's merciful plan for them. He feels compelled to add his warning to God's oracles, and he accuses them of being insincere in their petition to hear the will of God for their lives. How did Jeremiah know they were not being sincere? Perhaps during the ten days between their petition and the delivery of Jeremiah's oracle he saw that they were already gathering supplies for a journey to Egypt. In verse 22, Jeremiah repeats God's triple judgment of death by sword, famine, and plague in Egypt.

Chapter 43:1-7 ~ The Disobedient Remnant of Judah

They offer sacrifices to me and eat the meat, they do not win Yahweh's favor. On the contrary, he will remember their guilt and punish their sins; they will have to go back to Egypt.
Hosea 8:13

Jeremiah 43:1-3 ~ The Leaders of the Remnant Reply to Jeremiah's Warning
1 When Jeremiah had finished telling all the people all the words of Yahweh their God, which Yahweh their God had sent him to tell them, all the words quoted above, 2 Azariah son of Hoshaiah, and Johanan son of Kareah, and all those arrogant men, said to Jeremiah, "You are lying. Yahweh our God did not send you to say, Do not go to Egypt and settle there.' 3 It was Baruch son of Neriah, who keeps inciting you against us, to hand us over to the Chaldaeans so that they can put us to death or deport us to Babylon."

What do people often do when they make a decision to willfully reject God's word? They make excuses and blame their wrong decisions on someone or something else. The Bible says there is nothing "new under the sun" (Eccl 1:9). People, for good or ill, are the same in every generation of every age. There are the faithful who trust God and are obedient to His commands, and there are the disobedient: those who prefer to go their own way and determine their own destinies apart from God by relying on their own wisdom. There is "nothing new under the sun."

Question: Instead of admitting it is their decision to break their oath in Yahweh's name and that they will not obey Yahweh's oracle, what is their response to Jeremiah's warning?
Answer: They blame Jeremiah's friend and scribe, Baruch son of Neriah, for encouraging Jeremiah to give them a false oracle because he wants to see them in the power of the Babylonians.

It is interesting that they don't dare to blame Jeremiah but instead blame Baruch. Perhaps they think Baruch blames them for the death of Gedaliah, but it is more likely that they are using Baruch as a convenient excuse for rejecting Jeremiah's oracle.

Jeremiah 43:4-7 ~ The Remnant of Judah Leaves for Egypt
4 So neither Johanan nor any of the military leaders nor any of the people obeyed the voice of Yahweh by staying in the country of Judah. 5 Instead, Johanan son of Kareah and all the military leaders led off the entire remnant of Judah, those who had come back from all the nations where they had been driven to live in the country of Judah: 6 men, women, children, the royal princesses too, and every single person that Nebuzaradan commander of the guard had left with Gedaliah son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, including the prophet Jeremiah and Baruch son of Neriah. 7 And so, in disobedience to the voice of Yahweh, they reached Egypt and arrived at Tahpanhes.

It is tragic that none of the people of the remnant of Judah believed enough in Yahweh to fear offending Him. If they had believed, they would never have dared to break their oath in His Divine Name. Like their fathers told Jeremiah in 18:12, they intend to follow their own plan. They belonged to a generation of Judahites who were misled by their fathers and grandfathers in rejecting Yahweh's special covenant that bound them to the One True God. To them, Yahweh was just one of many gods the Judahites worshipped. And so, in a reversal of the Exodus, the remnant of Judah traveled to Egypt, forcing Jeremiah and Baruch to come with them and breaking God command to never go back to Egypt (Dt 17:16b). In this final act of disobedience, the surviving Judaeans brought about the ultimate curse predicted in Chapter 28 of the Book of the Law: Yahweh will send you back to Egypt, either by ship or by a road which I promised you would never see again. And there you will want to offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as serving men and women, but no one will buy you (Dt 28:68). They arrived in Tahpanhes, a town on the Egyptian frontier just south of Lake Menzaleh in the eastern Nile Delta. It was probably the same city later called Daphnai by the Greeks. They left, as Yahweh warned them, never to return.

This passage has a lesson for us concerning the sin of disobedience in trying to reinterpret the word of God to suit our own preferences. God promised the Judaeans, just as He promises us, that His commands and prohibitions are only meant for our benefit (Jer 29:11-14). Saint Josemarie Escriva advises us on what to do when we are faced with God's commands that seem contrary to the dictates of modern society, "You've been told to do something which seems useless and difficult. Do it. And you will see that it is easy and fruitful" (The Way, 623). Acts that demonstrate the obedience of faith yield eternal rewards.

Question for reflection or group discussion:
Do you believe the Bible is only a collection of myths or that it contains a history of God's relationship with real people and their families that He called into a covenant relationship with Him? Here is a list of some of the people mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah whose existence is confirmed by archaeologists who have discovered authentic inscriptions bearing their names:

  1. David
  2. Manasseh
  3. Shaphan
  4. Gemariah
  5. Jehoiachin
  6. Shelemiah
  7. Jehucal (Jucal)
  8. Pashhur
  9. Gedaliah
  10. Baruch
  11. Jezaniah/ Jaaziniah
  12. Nebuchadnezzar
  13. Nebuzaradan
  14. Nebosarsekim
  15. Ishmael son of Nethaniah
  16. Elishama father of Nethaniah and grandfather of Ishmael
  17. Baalis king of Ammon
  18. Hophra (Apries) Pharaoh of Egypt

See what the catechism teaches about Sacred Scripture in CCC 101-119.

1. A clay prism listing Babylonian court officials was found during excavations in Nebuchadnezzar's palace in Babylon. Nebuzaradan's name was found along with the title "Chancellor." The prism is believed to date to about 570 BC and probably reflects a political appointment for Nebuzaradan following his military career.

2. Archaeologists discovered a bulla (seal impression) of Gedaliah at Lachish (about 27 miles southwest of Jerusalem). The inscription reads: "Belonging to Gedaliah Over[seer] of the [royal] house." It is a title designating the chief steward of the royal palace, apparently the position Gedaliah held before the fall of Jerusalem. The brackets represent missing words in the impression.

3. There was also a Mizpah in Gilead (Judg 10:17; 11:29), Moab (1 Sam 22:3), and in Judah's Shephelah district (Josh 15:38).

4. Physical evidence for Jezaniah (or Jaaziniah in 2 Kng 25:23) and Ishmael son of Nethaniah son of Elishma: A high quality sixth-century BC onyx seal with the inscription, "Belonging to Jaazaniah, servant of the king," was discovered at Tell en-Nasbeh, believed to be the site of Mizpah. A bulla (clay seal impression) was discovered bearing the inscription, "Belonging to Ishmael the king's son." The style of the scribe has been dated to the late seventh or early sixth-century BC. Another six-century BC bullae purchased by a private collector in Jaffa bears the inscription, "Belonging to Elishama the king's son," and may have belonged to Ishmael's grandfather (2 Kng 25:25).

5. Baalis, King of Ammon: Three royal seal inscriptions have been fund that may have belonged to King Baalis of the Ammonites. One seal impression bearing the name of Ballis depicts a winged sphinx with the words: "Belonging to Baalis" above it with the letters for "king" on either side, and "Sons of Ammon" (referring to Ammonites) below it.

6. A fragment of a Babylonian inscription owned by the British Museum states that Nebuchadnezzar carried out a punitive expedition against Egypt in his thirty-seventh year (568-69 BC) during the reign of Pharaoh Amasis.

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