Jeremiah 40-43 Gedaliah, Jeremiah, And Judgment On The Remnant.
The beginning verses here seem incompatible with the treatment that Jeremiah was to receive. J. A. Thompson offers the following as a possible explanation, and yet one more turning point in Jeremiah’s life. “Jeremiah appeared with a group of other captives, all in fetters. There had been some mistake! Nebuchadrezzar (sic) had ordered considerate treatment for Jeremiah and he had been set free earlier (39:11-14). But an embarrassing mistake had been made by the soldiers responsible for rounding up the Jews in Jerusalem, and Jeremiah was brought in chains with the rest of the captives to Ramah. Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard promptly set him free. He had come to Jerusalem one month after its fall (cf. 2 K. 25:3, 8) to complete the destruction of the city and to organize the caravan train for the exiles. It was he who had set Jeremiah free on his arrival (39:11-14). Now he had to free him again.” ‘The Book Of Jeremiah’ (NICOT) (651-652)
It is in this historical context that the word of the LORD again comes to Jeremiah (v. 1). Another confusion appears on the surface in verse 2ff. The captain of the guard was only reiterating what Jeremiah had been saying all along, namely the doom to fall on the nation and the city (v. 2). It was in fact a witness to the fulfillment of the words which Jeremiah had delivered from the LORD. We know that he had made the point that a true prophet would be proved by the fulfillment of his/her predictions coming to pass (28). The judgment had come to pass, because they refused to heed the law-word of the covenant (v. 3). He then reiterated to Jeremiah the options of either going to Babylon but without restraints, or to return to dwell with Gedaliah, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the cities of Judah (vv. 4-5). Jeremiah chose to return to dwell with Gedaliah who was in Mizpah (v. 6).
It is no coincidence that Mizpah was the place known for the repentance and faith of covenant renewal (I Sam. 7). We know from 26:24 that Gedaliah, being the son Ahikam, was loyal to Jeremiah, therefore he would be at home with him among the people (Cf. 39:14). We also know that Jeremiah had exercised his right of redemption for inheritance in buying a field from Hanamel, the son of his uncle Shallum, in Anathoth (32:6-12). For Jeremiah this act was a statement of faith on his part. It was more than him just exercising his right of redemption for inheritance. He “charged Baruch before them saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Take these deeds, both this purchase deed which is sealed and this which is open, and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may last many days.” For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land.’” (32:13-15)
When the leaders who were left in the land of Judah heard that Gedaliah had been made governor, they went to him, and he in turn took an oath that if they served the Chaldeans and the king of Babylon in particular, that all would go well with them (vv. 7-9). He said that he himself would serve the Chaldeans who came to him, but he also gave these men provisions to take back with them (v. 10). “At the moment of judgment, we are given a glimpse of future blessing in the land. Contrast the drought conditions during parts of Jeremiah’s earlier preaching (14:1-6).” (NGSB. 1214) This was a time for the remnant who remained to come and share in the blessings of rest (vv. 11-12). However, one Johanan the son of Kareah warned Gedaliah that Baalis the king of the Ammonites had sent Ishmael the son of Nethaniah to murder him, but Gedaliah did not believe him (v. (vv. 13-14). Johanan feared for the remnant who might perish if Gedaliah were murdered (v. 15).
In an appeal to frontier justice, so to speak, Johanan offered to kill Ishmael, but Gedaliah forbade him, because he believed that Johanan was speaking falsely. However, Ishmael was of the royal family, and he was indeed intent on replacing Gedaliah, but he would do so surreptitiously. He returned to Gedaliah with ten men, and they broke bread together (41:1), and then he murdered Gedaliah (v. 2). He also struck down all who were with him, including Chaldean men of war (v. 3). Not only this, but he massacred some 80 men who had come in repentance and faith to the house of God (vv. 4-7), although 10 were spared because they said they had supplies of food with them (v. 8). Ishmael then took all the remnant and set out to return with them to the Ammonites (vv. 9-10). However, Johanan overtook the group and delivered the remnant with whom he returned to Mizpah, but Ishmael escaped with eight men to the Ammonites (vv. 11-15).
Johanan decided that they should all travel toward Egypt, to Chimham near Bethlehem, fearing that when the king of Babylon heard what had happened that he would seek vengeance (vv. 16-18). However, before departing they decided to seek out Jeremiah, for him to petition the LORD on behalf of the remnant, as to what they should do (42:1-3). They committed themselves to accept the word of the LORD to Jeremiah, whether pleasing or displeasing to them (vv. 4-6). This would also involve them in waiting, for it was ten days before the LORD answered them (v. 7). The answer was that if they remained, the LORD would build them up, and not pull them down, plant them and not pluck them up (vv. 8-10). Furthermore, they need not fear the king of Babylon, for the LORD out of mercy would keep them (vv. 11-12). However, if they went to Egypt they would die (vv. 13-17). They would then suffer the covenantal curse that fell on Jerusalem (v. 18).
However, Jeremiah must have known where this was all going, for yet again he was left preaching the same message as before. They were hypocrites for saying that they would obey no matter what, for “it happened when Jeremiah had stopped speaking to all the people all the words of the LORD their God, for which the LORD their God had sent him to them, all these words, that Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the proud men spoke saying to Jeremiah, ‘You speak falsely!’” (vv. 1-2) Instead they blame Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe, for setting him against them. One wonders if in fact it was not Baruch who informed Jeremiah of their real intentions. They did not want what they thought would be death or captivity (v. 3). So they leave for Egypt, and it is interesting to note that the remnant had not only been left with Gedaliah, but with Jeremiah and Baruch also, showing that Jeremiah and Baruch were really his colleagues in his governorship (vv. 4-6).
They also took Jeremiah with them to Tephanhes, for there the LORD spoke to him and told him to take large stones and hide them in the clay in the brick courtyard, then telling the people that the LORD would bring the king of Babylon, his servant, to sit on his throne there, and strike Egypt, delivering some to their appointed death and others to their appointed captivity (vv. 7-11). The houses of the gods of Egypt would be burned, and Nebuchadnezzar would enrich himself with their booty. The whole focus is upon idolatry, that the LORD would “break the sacred pillars of Beth Shemesh” and the houses of the gods, through his servant Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 12-13). This remnant had the opportunity to be numbered among the faithful remnant who would live in captivity, but in rejecting the word of the LORD, which they hypocritically asked for from Jeremiah, they would be sifted further, some dying, and some remaining in captivity.