YET ANOTHER REBELLION
Starting in verse 6, we see Gedaliah governing the few remaining people in Judah. Nebchadnezzar appointed him. He governed from Mizpah. Jeremiah lived there with him. An interesting facet of this is that Gedaliah was another descendant of Shaphan. The family of Shaphan was faithful to Jeremiah. In 26:24, for example, Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, kept him from being put to death for his prophecy. Gemariah, another son, let Baruch use his chamber in the upper court to read the scroll of Jeremiah’s messages. (36:10)
Mizpah is a town five or so miles north of Jerusalem. It is an old town. It is where Samuel led the Israelites to repent after the Philistines took the ark. It is where he raised the stone and named it Ebenezer.
As the Babylonian army withdrew, people who had hidden in the countryside came out. They heard that Gedaliah governed in Mizpah and they went to him. Some of them had fighting men with them. (8) One of these men was named Ishmael. (8) He was actually a surviving member of the royal family. (41:1)
Gedaliah told them to live in the land, but to serve Babylon. He would govern them and represent them to the Babylonians. They could gather food from the fields of those taken into captivity and live in their houses. This further fulfilled the word of the Lord that the properties of people would given to others. (Jeremiah 6:12)
The word spread even further. Hebrews in neighboring countries also came back.
The fighting men who came to Mizpah warned Gedaliah that Ishmael, who had also come to Mizpah, was plotting to kill him. Ishmael was evidently working on behalf of the Ammonite king Baalis. Baalis probably wanted to kill Gedaliah because he was appointed by the Babylonians. He was trying to start a rebellion.
Johanan even offered to kill Ishmael to prevent the attack. He correctly thought that Gedaliah’s murder would bring another attack by the Babylonians that would wipe out the few remaining Hebrews in Judah. But Gedaliah did not believe the threat and forbid the killing.
Gedaliah seemed like a good man. Unfortunately, he did not seek the Lord in this matter even though Jeremiah was living in his house. Had he done so, he might have avoided the evil to come.
Ishmael was treacherous. He and his men came to dinner with Gedaliah. He murdered him during dinner. Then he and his men slaughtered the Judeans living in the town as well as the Chaldean soldiers who were on guard there.
The next day Ishmael slaughtered a group of men who had come to worship at the temple, evidently not knowing it was destroyed. Ishmael threw all the bodies down into a cistern to hide them.
It seems likely that the root of this insurrection was Ishmael’s royal blood. With the backing of a neighboring king, he could overthrow the governor and become king. Then he could also throw off the yoke of the Babylonians. It was unrealistic, because he had no chance of defeating the Babylonians. It was also ungodly, killing the man appointed to govern. What a contrast this is to David, who would not harm Saul.
THE FAILED ESCAPE
Ishmael took the survivors as captive and took off for Ammon. Evidently he thought it would be better to be an Ammonite than to serve the king of Babylon. But Johanan and his men gave chase and overtook Ishmael at the great pool of Gibeon. This was the site of a great battle during the time of David. The fight between the soldiers of Joab and those of Abner took place beside the Pool of Gibeon (2 Samuel 2:12).
The captives of Ishmael fled to Johanan. Ishmael escaped to Ammon.
So, Johanan and the survivors had to decide what to do next. Their first thought was to go to Egypt, the only other great power in the area. They were afraid the Babylonians would kill them in retaliation for Ishmael’s actions.
SEEKING THE LORD
For one brief moment, something good happened in Judah. Johanan and his followers sought the will of the Lord. They came to Jeremiah the prophet. The asked him to pray for them, to ask the Lord what they should do. It was a great prayer and request. They seemed to cast themselves fully on the Lord’s mercy. The only thing I do not like about their request is that they refer to “the Lord your God” rather than “the Lord our God”. Nonetheless, they did seek the Lord. In addition, they promised to obey God whether they liked his instruction or not. (6)
So, Jeremiah agreed to pray for them and present their request. He promised to give them God’s answer. (4)
THE LORD’S ANSWER
After 10 days, the Lord answered Jeremiah. He called the people to come and hear the Lord’s answer and instruction. The Lord told them, through Jeremiah, not to go to Egypt. They were to stay in the land. If they obeyed, God would build them up. He would deliver them from the king of Babylon. God would give them mercy and cause the king to give them mercy. (12) The Lord even said he would relent of the disaster he brought on them. (10)
God’s instruction to the remnant of Judah reminds me of his instructions to Isaac in Genesis 26. There was a famine in Canaan then. Isaac thought of going to Egypt, but the Lord told him to stay in the land. If he did the Lord would be with him and bless him. (Genesis 26:1-5)
Egypt is always portrayed in the Bible as the enemy of God. They worshipped idols. Their Pharaoh considered himself a god. Egypt enslaved God’s people. The great act of redemption and type of our redemption is God’s redeeming of Israel from slavery in Egypt. To go back at any time would be to reject God and embrace sin. It would be to reject God’s salvation.
But if they did not obey, the Lord would impose a penalty. If they went to Egypt, thinking Egypt would provide for them and protect them, the Lord would have them die by the sword, by famine and by sickness. (17)
Evidently the people had already decided to go to Egypt. Jeremiah said “you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord”. (21) So Jeremiah pronounced God’s curse on them, they would die and they would suffer the wrath of the Lord as Jerusalem had. (18, 22)
So, yet again, the Hebrews rejected God. Despite the fact that God did all he said he would do, they refused to believe and obey.
That is the heart of the matter. And the matter of the heart.
Every human being that will ever live on this planet must believe God and obey him or face judgment.