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The assassination of Gedaliah 40:13-41:3
In September-October, not long after the fall of Jerusalem, Ishmael and 10 other men came to Mizpah and ate a meal with Gedaliah. It is impossible to date this event by year, but most authorities believe it happened quite soon after the fall of Jerusalem (cf. 2 Kings 25:22-26). During the meal, they got up and murdered Nebuchadnezzar’s appointee with the sword. [Note: Jews in the postexilic period commemorated this event with a yearly fast (Zechariah 7:5; 8:19).] This was not only an act of treason, but a violation of ancient Near Eastern hospitality customs.
The assassins also murdered the other Jews and the Chaldean soldiers who were there.
"Everything about him [Ishmael] disgraced the name of David his forebear [sic], who had resisted every impulse to ’wade through slaughter to a throne’ and had awaited God’s time and his people’s will [1 Samuel 26:10; 2 Samuel 2:1; 2 Samuel 2:4; 2 Samuel 5:1]. This was no David but a Jehu-and a Jehu without the excuse of a crusade. Almost as outrageous as his treachery was his folly, in supposing that a regime that was devised in deception, imposed by violence, backed by ill-wishers (Ammon, Jeremiah 40:14; Jeremiah 41:10 c) and in breach of God’s decree (Jeremiah 27:6), could have any hope of survival. It may seem far-fetched to draw parallels between this monster and ourselves; but here, although writ large and in blood, is the way in which even the well-meaning may be tempted to get things done, especially in corporate projects. That is, by guile rather than openness; by pressure rather than patience and prayer; in a word, by carnal weapons rather than spiritual, and towards ends of one’s own choosing." [Note: Kidner, p. 130.]
Two days after Gedaliah’s murder, before the news of it had spread, 80 religious pilgrims came down from the old towns of Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria in northern Israel on their way to Jerusalem. Their dress and other signs of mourning (cf. Jeremiah 16:6; Jeremiah 48:37) demonstrated grief over the effects of the Babylonian invasion (cf. Psalms 74; Psalms 79; Isaiah 63:7 to Isaiah 64:12). They may also have been fulfilling a vow. However, cutting their flesh was a pagan practice that the Mosaic Law condemned (Leviticus 19:28; Leviticus 21:5; Deuteronomy 14:1; cf. Jeremiah 16:6). They came with grain and incense to offer to Yahweh in worship. It was probably impossible to make animal sacrifices at the temple site at this time. Evidently there was some continuation of worship in the ruined capital after the temple fell.
"Even the ruins were held to be sacred, just as the Western [Wailing] Wall of the temple in Jerusalem is sacred to this day. Also, a token shrine might have been built." [Note: Feinberg, "Jeremiah," p. 631.]
Since it was the seventh month (September-October, Jeremiah 41:1), the pilgrims probably came to celebrate one or more of the fall festivals. The Jews celebrated the Feast of Trumpets on the first day of the seventh month, the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the month, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths, Ingathering) on the fifteenth through the twenty-second of the month (Leviticus 23:23-44). The first two events were optional for Israelites males to attend, and the third was required by the Law. The first and third events were feasts, and the second was a fast.
There were some people left in the territory of the old Northern Kingdom who still accepted and remained faithful to Josiah’s reforms of 622 B.C. (cf. Deuteronomy 12:5-6; 2 Kings 23:15-20; 2 Chronicles 34:9; 2 Chronicles 34:33). These pilgrims apparently made a stop in Mizpah to pay their respects to Gedaliah. [Note: Keown, p. 244.]
Ishmael’s further atrocities and Johanan’s intervention 41:4-18
Ishmael went out from Mizpah to meet these men, weeping as he went, pretending to share their grief. He invited them to come and see Gedaliah, who was now dead, as a way to trap them.
When they entered Mizpah, Ishmael and his henchmen turned on them, murdered them, and threw their corpses into a cistern. By not explaining his reason for doing so, the text paints Ishmael as a brutal murderer who was bent on carrying out a vendetta against all who had willing contact with Babylon and its representatives.
Ten of the men from the north convinced Ishmael to let them live by claiming that they had a hidden cache of food stored in a field. The Israelites frequently used dry wells and cisterns as underground silos. [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 162.] Apparently Ishmael needed these supplies and so allowed these 10 men to live, at least until he had confiscated their food.
The cistern that Ishmael filled with dead bodies was one that King Asa of Judah had constructed while battling against King Baasha of Israel (cf. 1 Kings 15:22; 2 Chronicles 16:6). Good King Asa had built the cistern to preserve life, but wicked Ishmael now polluted it by filling it with corpses. To give these pilgrims such a burial showed no respect for them.
Then Ishmael took captive all the people of Mizpah that Nebuzaradan had placed under Gedaliah’s charge, including King Zedekiah’s daughters (or perhaps "women with royal blood"). [Note: Thompson, p. 660.] He began to transport all these people to the nation of Ammon, his ally to the east of the Jordan River.
However, Johanan, who had warned Gedaliah to look out for Ishmael (Jeremiah 40:13-16), and some remaining guerrilla commanders, heard what Ishmael had done.
Johanan, the commanders, and their men, pursued Ishmael-intending to kill him. They caught up with him by the large pool in Gibeon, about three miles southwest of Mizpah (cf. 2 Samuel 2:12-16). Since Gibeon was to the southwest of Mizpah, it seems that Ishmael was taking a roundabout way to Ammon. Perhaps he went there to take more captives, or perhaps to elude his pursuers.
When the captives that Ishmael had taken saw Johanan and his men, they were encouraged. They broke away from Ishmael and joined Johanan. Ishmael, however, escaped to Ammon with eight accomplices.
Johanan led the people he had rescued south to Geruth-Chimham (lit. the lodging place of Chimham) near Bethlehem, six miles south of Jerusalem. The exact location of this place is presently unknown, but it may have been a site that David gave to Chimham in appreciation for Barzillai (cf. 2 Samuel 19:37-40). Johanan and his party intended to proceed to Egypt, because they feared that the Babylonian soldiers would retaliate and kill them when they discovered that Ishmael had assassinated Gedaliah.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 41". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20