Scriptures

Jeremiah 41

Introduction

All of the events of this chapter centre around the treacherous murder of Gedaliah.

An outline for this chapter would be:

1. The murder of the governor. Jeremiah 41:1-3.

2. The murder of the mourners. Jeremiah 41:4-7.

3. The captives at Mizpah are taken. Jeremiah 41:8-10.

4. Ishmael defeated, but escapes. Jeremiah 41:11-15.

5. The people with Johanan are on their way to Egypt. Jeremiah 41:16-18.

The length of Gedaliah’s tenure as governor is disputed by many scholars. It seems that it was for about five years. This is based on a Jewish belief that it lasted until 582 B.C. Others believe that he was only two or three months as governor. It is one of those queries that we cannot really answer, but does it really matter?

‘In the seventh month Ishmael son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama, who was of royal blood and had been one of the king’s officers, came with ten men to Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah. While they were eating together there, Ishmael son of Nethaniah and the ten men who were with him got up and struck down Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, with the sword, killing the one whom the king of Babylon had appointed as governor over the land. Ishmael also killed all the men of Judah who were with Gedaliah at Mizpah, as well as the Babylonian soldiers who were there.’ Jeremiah 41:1-3

All that Johanan predicted came to pass. At the climax of a social meal. Ishmael gets up and kills Gedaliah, along with his friends. He even killed the personal bodyguard that had been left to take care of Gedaliah. The death of the Babylonian soldiers alone would be a good enough reason for the Babylonian’s to react.

Some scholars believe that Ishmael was a descendant of David through Elishama, 2 Samuel 5:16, and that Ishmael was jealous because Nebuchadnezzar had not considered his royal connection before promoting Gedaliah to governor wickedness in the history of God’s people, but rarely do we find anything quite so bad as this.

He violated God’s law, and he violated the law of hospitality, i.e., that no-one eats another man’s bread, and then murders him. One good thing, Ishmael disappears from history after this chapter.

‘The day after Gedaliah’s assassination, before anyone knew about it, eighty men who had shaved off their beards, torn their clothes and cut themselves came from Shechem, Shiloh and Samaria, bringing grain offerings and incense with them to the house of the LORD. Ishmael son of Nethaniah went out from Mizpah to meet them, weeping as he went. When he met them, he said, ‘Come to Gedaliah son of Ahikam.’ When they went into the city, Ishmael son of Nethaniah and the men who were with him slaughtered them and threw them into a cistern. But ten of them said to Ishmael, ‘Don’t kill us! We have wheat and barley, olive oil and honey, hidden in a field.’ So, he let them alone and did not kill them with the others.’ Jeremiah 41:4-8

A group of confused mourners are next on the hit list. It seems that they had come to mourn the Fall of Jerusalem. What they were doing was something that was quite common following such a terrible calamity as this.

They would be shaven, their clothes would be torn, their bodies would be beaten as a sign of outward grief. They had brought grain offerings and incense to the temple, to the house of the Lord, even though the temple no longer existed.

Ishmael met them with crocodile tears, weeping and pretending he cared, but in actual fact he was out to deceive them. Because news of Gedaliah’s death had not leaked out. they had no reason to fear Ishmael, 70 of these mourners lost their lives, and 10 just about saved their skins.

There are some interesting points here. Despite what has happened, some of the Jews still wanted to worship God in Jerusalem. And it seems that, even though the house of the Lord had been destroyed, they still felt that, in the ruins of the temple, was the place to meet God. And even to this day the western wall of the temple ruins is considered sacred to the Jews.

‘Don’t kill us, we have wheat and barley, hidden in afield.’ This was a kind of bribe, but Ishmael let them live. One wonders why he didn’t kill them, once he found out where the supplies were hidden. It was the custom in those days to hide such supplies by covering them with a layer of earth.

‘Now the cistern where he threw all the bodies of the men he had killed along with Gedaliah was the one King Asa had made as part of his defence against Baasha king of Israel. Ishmael son of Nethaniah filled it with the dead. Ishmael made captives of all the rest of the people who were in Mizpah—the king’s daughters along with all the others who were left there, over whom Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard had appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam. Ishmael son of Nethaniah took them captive and set out to cross over to the Ammonites.’ Jeremiah 41:9-10

Ishmael disposes of the evidence by casting the corpses down a huge cistern. This was a cistern that King Asa built, and is a bit of a puzzle. The accounts in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles do not shed any light on the matter, 1 Kings 15:21ff and 2 Chronicles 16:6.

Asa had built a city and it was necessary to store water there just in case of a siege. Perhaps this is the answer to the query. Ishmael knows that he is no longer safe in Judah and decides to beat a hasty retreat to the Ammonites.

I think the explanation of this was to show that this was no ordinary cistern. It was obviously a large cistern, believed to have been built to hold sufficient water for a whole city. And it would have needed to be large to hold the many people who had been killed.

‘When Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers who were with him heard about all the crimes Ishmael son of Nethaniah had committed, they took all their men and went to fight Ishmael son of Nethaniah. They caught up with him near the great pool in Gibeon. When all the people Ishmael had with him saw Johanan son of Kareah and the army officers who were with him, they were glad. All the people Ishmael had taken captive at Mizpah turned and went over to Johanan son of Kareah. But Ishmael son of Nethaniah and eight of his men escaped from Johanan and fled to the Ammonites. Then Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers who were with him led away all the people of Mizpah who had survived, whom Johanan had recovered from Ishmael son of Nethaniah after Ishmael had assassinated Gedaliah son of Ahikam—the soldiers, women, children and court officials he had recovered from Gibeon. And they went on, stopping at Geruth Kimham near Bethlehem on their way to Egypt to escape the Babylonians. They were afraid of them because Ishmael son of Nethaniah had killed Gedaliah son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had appointed as governor over the land.’ Jeremiah 41:11-18

How Johanan got word of Ishmael’s atrocities is not known, but he vowed to avenge Gedaliah’s death. So, he marches to intercept Ishmael near Gibeon. The captives were glad to see him and went over to Johanan, but Ishmael and eight others escaped to the Ammonites. Johanan and the others stayed near Bethlehem intending to go to Egypt. They believed that the Babylonians would come for sure…to avenge the death of Gedaliah.

Verse 17 talks about Geruth Kimham. near Bethlehem. Little is known about this place. The name Kimham is mentioned 2 Samuel 19:37. It is mentioned as the name of a man that King David rewarded. He was believed to be the son of a wealthy friend of David’s, called Barzillai.

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DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God."

Acts 18:11

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