Jeremiah 40: 1-11 Jeremiah and the Remnant Settle in the Land
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD after Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him go from Ramah, when he took him bound in fetters along with all the captives of Jerusalem and Judah who were being exiled to Babylon. 2 The captain of the guard took Jeremiah and said to him, “The LORD your God threatened this place with this disaster; 3 and now the LORD has brought it about, and has done as he said, because all of you sinned against the LORD and did not obey his voice. Therefore this thing has come upon you. 4 Now look, I have just released you today from the fetters on your hands. If you wish to come with me to Babylon, come, and I will take good care of you; but if you do not wish to come with me to Babylon, you need not come. See, the whole land is before you; go wherever you think it good and right to go. 5 If you remain, then return to Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon appointed governor of the towns of Judah, and stay with him among the people; or go wherever you think it right to go.” So the captain of the guard gave him an allowance of food and a present, and let him go. 6 Then Jeremiah went to Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah, and stayed with him among the people who were left in the land.
7 When all the leaders of the forces in the open country and their troops heard that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam governor in the land, and had committed to him men, women, and children, those of the poorest of the land who had not been taken into exile to Babylon, 8 they went to Gedaliah at Mizpah– Ishmael son of Nethaniah, Johanan son of Kareah, Seraiah son of Tanhumeth, the sons of Ephai the Netophathite, Jezaniah son of the Maacathite, they and their troops. 9 Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan swore to them and their troops, saying, “Do not be afraid to serve the Chaldeans. Stay in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall go well with you.10 As for me, I am staying at Mizpah to represent you before the Chaldeans who come to us; but as for you, gather wine and summer fruits and oil, and store them in your vessels, and live in the towns that you have taken over.” 11 Likewise, when all the Judeans who were in Moab and among the Ammonites and in Edom and in other lands heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant in Judah and had appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan as governor over them, 12 then all the Judeans returned from all the places to which they had been scattered and came to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah at Mizpah; and they gathered wine and summer fruits in great abundance.
As happens so often in both the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament, it is the outsider who perceives what the insiders do not. As Patrick Miller insightfully sees, “The one acknowledgement of the truthfulness of Jeremiah’s prophecy I the whole book comes from the lips of the enemy.” (Elizabeth Actemeir, et. al., 1994, pp. 857, Vol. VI). Like in the book of Jonah when the sailors and the people of Ninevah acknowledge Jonah’s preaching, or in the gospels when either the demons know the identity of the son of man, or it is a Syro-Phonecian/Canaanite woman (Mark/Matthew) who shows great faith, or a Roman centurion who at the end of the gospels (perhaps sarcastically in Mark, but Matthew and Luke remove the possibility of reading it sarcastically) “Truly this man was God’s Son” (Matthew 27: 54, parallels in Mark and Luke). But in a ministry where Jeremiah’s message has been continually challenged and unheard, we hear from an unexpected source-a foreigner, a servant of another empire and different gods, an acknowledgment of the truth of the message of Jeremiah. As Jeremiah has testified all throughout his time, now it unfolds that these foreigners can be instruments of the LORD.
Jeremiah is presented a choice, will he go into exile and into a comfortable life after a long struggle in the nation of Judah or will he return to the remnant of the land. By his own words in Jeremiah 24 (talking about the good and the bad figs), although admittedly referring to the previous exile of the elites from Jerusalem and Judah, he indicated it would be those taken into exile that the future would pass through. Yet Jeremiah chooses to remain with the people of the land where, as Kathleen O’Conner puts it he will find himself with the “baddest of the bad figs” who will carry him with them into Egypt. (O’Conner, 2011, p. 130). Yet, Jeremiah’s choice to remain is consistent with his character to not give up on the people and the land. Other prophets will emerge among the people in the exile that will give them hope as they reconstruct their identity as exiles in a foreign land. Whatever Jeremiah’s motives for remaining we will never know, although perhaps there is some insight in the governor assigned to oversee the remnant in the land.
Gedaliah is given a very positive reading in this text. He comes from an established family. As Patrick Miller highlights:
His grandfather (Shapan) and father (Ahikam) had both been involved in the discovery and handling of the scroll of Torah found in the Temple during Josiah’s reign. Moreover, his father had protected Jeremiah from execution by the people after his trial in chap. 26. (Elizabeth Actemeir, et. al., 1994, pp. 857, Vol. VI)
Perhaps Jeremiah feels some loyalty to this family which had protected him and had attempted to be faithful to the LORD. In this short introduction we see Gedaliah urging the people to settle down, to raise their crops and to serve the Chaldeans, words remarkably like those of Jeremiah in other places. With the return of some of the scattered military in the open country and the refugees in the surrounding lands it looks like a miniature return to the land and a possible new beginning. Yet, this is not the ending of this unfortunate and traumatic story.
Jeremiah 40: 13-16: Whispers of Assassination
13 Now Johanan son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces in the open country came to Gedaliah at Mizpah 14 and said to him, “Are you at all aware that Baalis king of the Ammonites has sent Ishmael son of Nethaniah to take your life?” But Gedaliah son of Ahikam would not believe them. 15 Then Johanan son of Kareah spoke secretly to Gedaliah at Mizpah, “Please let me go and kill Ishmael son of Nethaniah, and no one else will know. Why should he take your life, so that all the Judeans who are gathered around you would be scattered, and the remnant of Judah would perish?” 16 But Gedaliah son of Ahikam said to Johanan son of Kareah, “Do not do such a thing, for you are telling a lie about Ishmael.”
Carl von Clauswitz famously said, “War is a continuation of politics by other means.” Yet within both the modern world and the ancient world there have always been other means to influence the policy within one’s region and to either call attention to oneself or away from one’s desired area of influence. History is often learned from the perspective of which empire is reigning at any one time, but often there is much more going on under the surface. Here we see the king of Ammon meddling in Judean and Babylonian inter-relations and this is not the first time. The king of Ammon in Jeremiah 27 is one of the kings also explicitly linked to the Judean resistance to Babylonian domination, and so the Ammonites may not have been happy with Gedaliah’s policy of cooperation with Babylon. Johanan becomes aware of the plot and comes to warn the king and offers to quell this plot before it has an opportunity to come to fruition. Unfortunately Gedaliah is either to naïve or refuses to believe the accusations about Ishmael plotting his assassination and this will have disastrous consequences for Gedaliah, Jeremiah, and the rest of the remnant in Judah. A foreign power is meddling in the affairs of a weakened Judean homeland, stirring the pot of international intrigue pivots the story once again towards the ending of Jeremiah’s narrative.