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Flight to Egypt July 21, 2017

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 41:16-43:13.

Summary: In this passage, Johanan son of Kareah – and those whom he has rescued from Ishmael son of Nethaniah – flee to Egypt, as they fear reprisals following the assassination of Gedaliah.

During their journey, they beseech Jeremiah to inquire of God on their behalf; they declare that they will bind themselves to His response.

After ten days have passed, God responds to them through Jeremiah. In particular, He commands them to remain in Judah. He assures them that if they obey Him in this regard, then they will not face reprisals for the assassination of Gedaliah. If they flee to Egypt, though, then He will use the sword, famine and plague to punish them – cutting them off from their homeland.

They respond with vituperation – labeling Jeremiah as a false prophet and casting aspersions on Baruch son of Neriah. They resume their flight to Egypt,
eventually reaching Tahpanhes.

At this point, God commands Jeremiah to use several large paving stones as an object lesson for his compatriots. In particular, He asserts that Nebuchadnezzar will raze Tahpanhes and set his throne over these stones. Moreover, He will raze all of Egypt – thereby punishing His people for their disobedience in fleeing to that pagan country.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Johanan and his fellow officers lead those who had been with Gedaliah at Mizpah in an escape to Egypt, as they fear the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar. Now I am curious: did Nebuchadnezzar eventually learn of the death of Gedaliah? Did the Babylonians conduct an investigation of his death? Did Nebuchadnezzar eventually learn that Ishmael struck down Gedaliah? Did he assume that Johanan and his companions were culpable for the death of Gedaliah? Did he assume that the death of Gedaliah marked the beginning of a rebellion by the Jews? Did he install another governor over Judah – and if so, did he order that leader to rule the Jews with an iron fist?

This passage includes a fascinating interaction between Jeremiah and the Jews who were fleeing to Egypt. Now I am curious: what was the mindset of those who asked Jeremiah to inquire of God on their behalf? Did they assume that God approved of their flight to Egypt and that He would enable them to avoid Babylonian troops in the process? Did Jeremiah know that his compatriots lacked a genuine desire to obey the Lord concerning their flight to Egypt? When they attacked him for his response, was he filled with exasperation? Why did they assume that Baruch was colluding with him to deliver him into the hands of the Babylonians? Did Baruch and Jeremiah attempt to escape from Johanan and return to Judah?

In verses 10-12 of chapter 42, God exhorts those who are fleeing to Egypt to place their trust in Him. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verses 11 and 12 of chapter 42:

He tells the Jews to be hopeful because as long as they rely on God’s protection, they will be safe…We should be fully convinced that God’s help is above all the aid any human beings can ever give us. So if the whole world rises up against us, we can look down on the situation from a secure height without fear. This is the summary of what is said here.

At first glance, I thought that the Jews’ decision to flee to Egypt was defensible. In particular, Nebuchadnezzar had likely crushed previous rebellions; they feared that he would crush them while ignoring the salient point that Ishmael was responsible for the death of Gedaliah. After contemplating this point for some time, I realized that God was challenging His people to place their trust in Him. He knew that the Jews wanted to place their trust in Egypt; instead, He wanted them to display their ultimate allegiance to Him. As modern-day believers, we also see that God calls us to refrain from placing our trust in the things of this world – yet this is a challenge that is almost too difficult for us, as we gravitate towards the things of this world. Indeed, we need strength from God – on a daily basis – to trust Him, displaying that trust in our words and deeds.

Gedaliah Assassinated July 19, 2017

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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.