We are now reading about the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem. Everything Jeremiah had predicted had come to pass, even if the people would not recognize it. The captain of the guard saw that this disaster had come upon the people because of their sins but he was kind to Jeremiah, allowing him to live wherever he wanted and allowing him to move freely around the land. The king of Babylon appointed Gedaliah as the governor over the remnant left in Judah. Gedaliah was from a high ranking family, his grandfather being the one who had taken the newly found scroll to king Josiah. His father was Ahikam, who held a position of influence with Jehoiakim, keeping Jeremiah safe. We read as Jews who were scattered all over the place cautiously returned to Judah, wanting to know how Gedaliah would rule. He assured them that if they would settle in they would prosper and the Lord would watch over them. It is interesting that Gedaliah mentions a great harvest. That means the Babylonians did not destroy the crops as they defeated Judah and Jerusalem. However, peace would not last long. The king of the Ammonites, thinking that he could enlarge his territory, sent a group of men led by Ishmael, son of Nethaniah, to assassinate Gedaliah. Gedaliah’s response to the warning showed his naïveté and lack of trust in his advisors that infected the whole chaotic situation.
The murder of Gedaliah occurred three months after the fall of Jerusalem, during a meal he was sharing with Ishmael and his delegation. It was a huge attack on Gedaliah’s hospitality. The murderers kept their deed quiet until the next day when men from Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria to the north arrived in Mizpah on their way south to survey the damage in Jerusalem. Their appearance and the offerings they carried indicated that they were on their way to plead for mercy from the Lord. It was the same time of the year as the festival of booths so the 80 worshipers would have come unarmed. The ten men who survived the attack had very quick wits about them by promising to provide what Ishmael’s men needed most, wheat, barley, olive oil, and honey. Years before this, king Asa had fortified Mizpah and dug wells, or cisterns, to have a ready supply of water in the event of an attack. They were also used as storage for grain. After Gedaliah and his men were killed, Ishmael dumped their bodies into one of these cisterns. The kings daughters referred to here were most likely women who had been members of King Zedekiah’s court. They may or may have not been related to the king. Some of them managed to escape being killed or taken into exile. Johanan, one of Judah’s military leaders, heard of the crimes against Gedaliah and he and his men moved to attack Ishmael. He had a variety of important people with him including soldiers, women, children, and court officials. And, Johanan and his group believed they would be safe from Babylonian reprisals if they fled as far as Egypt. The Babylonians were cruel and no one trusted them to seek out the true culprit in Gedaliah’s death.
This party of Judeans and the people they had rescued came to Jeremiah with what sounded like a sincere request for guidance. Notice that in the request they refer to God as the Lord YOUR God. They are not claiming God as their own but they know Jeremiah had connections. Jeremiah responded about the Lord their God and he began with the words ‘all right’. This indicated that Jeremiah heard the request but he questioned their sincerity. However, he agreed to pray for them, promising that he would share everything the Lord told him. The people may have sensed Jeremiah’s hesitation at their disbelief so they made solemn oaths in the Lord’s name. They were confident God would give them the answer they wanted. BUT, the Lord responded that He wanted the people to stay in Judea and settle down and God would plant them in the land. Their time of judgement was over and the Lord was calling on them to trust Him for protection against the king of Babylon.
Jeremiah had already prophesied Egypt’s destiny; it would be destroyed by the Babylonians. If these people continued on to Egypt they would walk right into the path of the Lord’s judgement. Just like their ancestors, these people were willing to trust the Egyptians to protect them rather than in the Lord.
Like their ancestors before them, Johanan and the rest of the people betrayed their oath when they chose not to trust in the Lord’s answer through Jeremiah. There is no indication anywhere as to why Baruch was blamed. The people refused to listen to the voice of the Lord and Johanan and the leaders took everyone, including Jeremiah and Baruch and they went to Egypt. The city of Tahpanhes is now known as Tell Dafneh. The city guarded the road the road entering Egypt at its northeast corner. While they were there the Lord gave Jeremiah another message, this one being an object lesson. Jeremiah was to take large rocks and bury them at the entrance to pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes. This was to indicate the king of Babylon would come there and set his throne on the spot where the stones were buried. This would mean the Babylonians would defeat Egypt and rule over them. Some would be killed, others would find themselves in captivity, and others would be conscripted into the Babylonian army. Fire would burn all the temples of the Egyptian gods and carry them off like plunder. In the ancient Near East temples and idols were regarded as power centers, so successful invaders usually destroyed them. The sacred pillars were highly prized by the Egyptians and the temple of the sun god was the most important. The sun god was the supreme deity of the Egyptian religion. The ruins of this city, Heliopolis, are today about six miles northeast of modern Cairo.
After the refugees arrived in Egypt they scattered throughout the country. Migdol was a fortress near Tahpanhes in the northeast corner of Egypt. Memphis was the original capital of Egypt and it became the religious center of northern Egypt. It’s ruins are located on the west side of the Nile River about 13 miles southwest of Cairo. Again the Lord gave Jeremiah a message about the calamity that had wiped out Judah and Jerusalem. He reminded the people of the sins their people had committed that now had them scattered all over the place. Since the exodus, idol worship had been forbidden in Israel but the people had not obeyed. These refugees had learned nothing. They had already forgotten their former sins. So, the Lord pronounced a death sentence, backed by the authority of His own name. Now we see the difference between those exiled to Babylon and those who fled to Egypt. The people who were carried off to Babylon had been given hope. They would serve their sentence of exile for a period of time and the Lord would restore them to the promised land. But those who had not listened to the Lord’s prophecy through Jeremiah would have no future. These people were totally, 100% committed to worshiping idols.
They gathered to observe a pagan festival. It is interesting that these Judean refugees believed they had found freedom. Evidently they believed that obedience to the Lord entailed bondage and their pagan worship was the way to fulfillment. The queen of heaven was worshiped under a variety of names throughout the ancient Near East. In Assyria and Babylon she was called Ishtar. The Canaanites called her Astarte and in the Old Testament she is referred to as Ashtoreth and associated with Baal. She was associated with the planet Venus and with all types of reproduction among plants and animals. Offerings of incense, food, and liquids were regarded as magical triggers that would induce reproduction and prosperity. These Judean refugees believed that worshiping the queen of heaven did provide prosperity and that ceasing to worship her would cause war and famine. Their mindset was completely pagan. They severed all meaningful relationships to the Lord and were thus condemned to death. This type of behavior was the reason Judah and Jerusalem lay in ruins. The Lord released the people to worship the queen of heaven. They would have to bear their consequences.
The refugees in Egypt were now forever free of covenant obligations to the Lord. They were also banned from covenant protection. The Lord would not listen to their prayers or receive any worship they might choose to bring. But He would not be abscent from their lives because he would see to it that disaster plagued them. Any individual who returned to Him would receive salvation and blessings. Even in Egypt there was a small remnant of believers. The Egyptian pharaoh, Hophra, was killed by his enemies in 570 B.C. Chapter 44:30 concluded the record of Jeremiah’s 40 year ministry. Nothing is known about when, where, or how he died.
Chapter 45 is dated 605 B.C. more than two decades prior to the preceding chapters. Jeremiah’s secretary Baruch was overwhelmed with trouble and the Lord promised him safety. The message for Baruch came when he had been in hiding as he wrote down the messages that Jeremiah dictated to him. Jehoiakim had threatened to kill both Jeremiah and Baruch which forced them into hiding. It seems that Baruch was physically exhausted and he felt sorry for himself. But the Lord promised him he would always have divine protection. He was with Jeremiah when they were taken to Egypt, but God watched over him even there.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W