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Gedaliah Assassinated July 19, 2017

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 40:7-41:15.

Summary: In this passage, the remnant of the army of Judah travels to Mizpah to meet with Gedaliah son of Ahikam. He assures them that the Babylonians will not punish them if they lay down their arms; moreover, he encourages them to join their compatriots who have returned to their homeland from the surrounding nations in living off the land.

Later, Johanan son of Kareah and several army officers inform Gedaliah of a plot against his life; in particular, Ishmael son of Nethaniah has been sent by Baalis, the king of the Ammonites, to kill him. Yet Gedaliah does not heed their warning; he even rebuffs an offer on the part of Johanan to dispose of Ishmael.

Ishmael then carries out his plan, assassinating Gedaliah during a feast and murdering his Babylonian guards. He also slaughters seventy men who have come to the site of the temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices.

He then captures those who have survived his rampage in Mizpah and prepares to bring them to Baalis. Yet Johanan launches a successful rescue attempt; when Ishmael realizes that he cannot defeat him, he flees to Baalis.

Thoughts: Here, we see the wanton deeds of Ishmael son of Nethaniah. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verses 1-3 of chapter 41:

It was particularly cruel of Ishmael to kill Gedaliah, for Gedaliah had shown Ishmael kindness and entertained him. Even ungodly nations have always deemed hospitality as something sacred. To violate it has always been thought of as committing a great atrocity.

I must admit that when I read through this passage, I was shocked by its violent imagery, especially the account of the massacre of seventy men who wanted to offer sacrifices at the site of the temple in Jerusalem. In particular, the thought of seventy bodies being hurled into a cistern evoked several historical massacres. Now I am curious: did Ishmael view these seventy men – and Gedaliah and his companions – as traitors to Judah who deserved to be executed? Did he believe that if he murdered them, he could hamper a Babylonian investigation concerning the death of Gedaliah?

We also see that Baalis, king of the Ammonites, conspired with Ishmael against Gedaliah. Now I am curious: why did Baalis conspire with Ishmael? Was he in need of many slaves – and did Ishmael assert that Mizpah contained many potential slaves? Was Baalis in need of several concubines? Was he seeking to fill the power vacuum in Judah after the death of Gedaliah? Did he have any qualms about the outcome of a Babylonian investigation concerning the death of Gedaliah? What happened to him after the events of this passage?

On one level, this passage displays the ramifications of the sins of the (relatively wealthy) people of Judah. In particular, after the Babylonians had been defeated, the (relatively poor) people who remained in Judah abruptly lost their well-meaning governor; in some sense, the sins of their (relatively wealthy) compatriots were so great that their ramifications extended beyond the fall of Jerusalem. On another level, though, modern-day believers can be encouraged that these sins pale in comparison to the righteousness of Christ. Even though the sins of the people of Judah – and their ramifications – make for difficult reading, we know that Christ has defeated all sins throughout history by His person and work. While we cannot comprehend the extent of His person and work, we can gain some appreciation for Him and what He has done by contemplating the extent of human sinfulness.