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Bible: What Does Jeremiah 40-43 Teach Us About Assassination and Feigned Obedience?

Updated on September 15, 2016

The Kingdom of Judah

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Jeremiah Lives in Mizpah

Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, releases Jeremiah from Ramah, and immediately the prophet receives a revelation (v. 1).

God may have told Jeremiah to record the captain's admission: Yahweh is showing His faithfulness by bringing doom on the nation of Israel because of its sinful disobedience (vv. 2-3).

[Apparently, a pagan knows and believes more about Yahweh than God’s own people!

If the captain's words of freedom are truly revelatory, then they may constitute Yahweh's reward to Jeremiah for his faithful service during that most difficult time].

Nebuzaradan gives Jeremiah the option of going to Babylon or staying in Jerusalem (v. 4), but suggests that he live in Mizpah with Gedaliah, the new governor (vv. 5-6).

Army captains gather to Governor Gedaliah at Mizpah, and the ruler takes an oath to serve the Babylonians (vv. 7-10).

He also advises these military men to stock their shelves and settle down (v. 10).

In addition to these captives, other Jews who traveled to neighboring lands return to Mizpah to live under Gedaliah's governance (vv. 11-12).

All seems harmonious until Gedaliah learns from Johanan (one of the army captains) that a certain Ishmael—another army captain (see 40:8)—planned to murder the governor at the direction of the Ammonite king Baalis (vv. 13-14).

[Why? Perhaps the departure of the Jews from his land to return to Judah caused a domestic financial collapse in Ammon].

Johanan offers to "hit" Ishmael, but the governor, unwilling to believe what he thinks is a rumor, forbids him (vv. 15-16).

The Prophet Jeremiah

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Competition and Confrontation

Jeremiah 41

This chapter is a lesson in the art of using repetition to stress certain facts. What does the prophet repeat?

The following list summarizes his emphases:

(1) The heritage of the principal characters (vv. 1, 2);

(2) The murder of the one "whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land" (vv. 2, 18);

(3) The name of the town in which the murders took place (Mizpah) [vv. 1, 3, 6, 10, 14, 16);

(4) That a certain number (or groups) of people accompanied the principal characters (vv. 1-3, 7-8, 10-11, 13, 15-16).

What significance may the repetitions have?

(1) The specific identities must have been important for posterity to know;

(2) Gedaliah's murder is a direct affront to Nebuchadnezzar and an indirect one to God;

(3) Mizpah becomes a prominent place for people who remained in Judah during the captivity;

(4) It may be the only language necessary to depict competition and confrontation.

Ishmael and Johanan

Verse one discloses what only seems to be Ishmael's friendly gesture toward the governor; the text gives no indication that Gedaliah suspected any plan of assassination.

But Ishmael soon reveals his true motive while eating bread with his victim (v. 2).

One murder leads to a massacre; first, of Gedaliah, his companions, and the Babylonian warriors (v. 3), and then of the seventy worshipers from Samaria (vv. 5, 8).

The assassin is a master of cunning and deceit (v. 6), luring this latter group into the midst of his power (v. 7).

Ishmael also shows an opportunistic streak, sparing the lives of ten wealthy Samaritans in exchange for making a profit (v. 8).

[Why Jeremiah mentions the history of the "death pit" is curious (see 2 Chronicles 16:1-6 for the story of Asa) [v. 9].

He then takes a great host of captives bound to the Ammonites (v. 10).

Johanan rides to the rescue with all of his men and confronts Ishmael in Gibeon (vv. 11-12).

His appearance raises the captives' spirits, causing them to return to be on his side (vv. 13-14).

When Ishmael sees the events turning against him, he "splits" with eight of his men (v. 15).

The victorious Johanan travels to Chimham on the way to Egypt with a great multitude of captains, people in Mizpah, women, children, and eunuchs (vv. 16-18).

Prophetic Instruction

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Feigned Obedience

Jeremiah 42

Seeking divine guidance, this same congregation assembles before Jeremiah; the prophet agrees to bring their petition (undisclosed) before God and then tell them the LORD’s counsel as he would learn it (vv. 1-4).

[The prophet seemingly goes to significant lengths to assure these people that the LORD is their God too, and not just his.]

The people then pledge their obedience—hypocritcally, as it turns out (v. 20)—to do whatever God commanded them to do (vv. 5-6).

[Interestingly, they seem to understand Jeremiah’s earlier point (v. 4) somewhere between verses five and six.]

Ten days later, Jeremiah receives revelation and calls a general assembly to report the will of God to them (vv. 7-9).

Yahweh's position has not changed: "Stay in Judah, and blessing will result. Stop being afraid of Nebuchadnezzar; obey his rule, and I will cause him to have mercy on you" (vv. 10-12).

But the LORD also warns against opposing Him by going down to Egypt to escape difficulties (vv. 13-14).

The very suffering that they seek to avoid—famine, sword, and pestilence—would find them there (vv. 15-17); nothing would distinguish their punishment from that of the other people of Judah (v. 18).

After repeating God's command for them not to go to Egypt, Jeremiah scolds them for their hypocrisy, for he knows that they had no intention of living up to their earlier commitment to obey whatever the LORD told them (vv. 19-21; cf. vv. 5-6).

He ends his warning by informing them of the sorry fate that awaited them in that foreign land (v. 22).

Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon

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An Object Lesson Made of Stone

Jeremiah 43

Once again, fear and unbelief cause the remnant to disobey the word of the LORD; Jeremiah intimates that pride also moved certain leaders to reject the message (vv. 1-2).

These men name Baruch, Jeremiah's scribe, as their antagonist (v. 3).

Johanan, Judah's savior against Ishmael's insurrection, is now the principal leader in the rebellion against the prophet.

Perhaps he wanted to be the "Big Man," and obeying Jeremiah's word would have effectively eliminated that possibility (vv. 4-6).

Choosing his own way, he leads everyone to Tahpanhes, an Egyptian city on the Pelusiac channel of the Nile (v. 7).

In Tahpanhes Yahweh instructs the prophet to show the remnant, by means of an object lesson, what would soon befall them (vv. 8-13).

[This method seems an effective way to communicate with people who do not want to listen to words]!

Large stones put in the courtyard of Pharaoh's house point to the site from which Nebuchadnezzar would reign after he conquered Egypt (vv. 8-11).

This Babylonian king would first destroy Egypt and its gods, and then reign supremely (vv. 12-13).

© 2013 glynch1

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