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Johanan and his fellow leaders of the refugees asked Jeremiah to pray for them, as few as they were, that the Lord would tell them what to do. Zedekiah had made a similar request of Jeremiah and then chose to go against what the Lord commanded (Jeremiah 37:3).
Many expositors believe that this remnant had already determined to proceed on to Egypt and simply wanted Yahweh’s blessing (cf. Jeremiah 43:1-3).
"Sometimes God’s people take this false approach in discerning the will of God. Instead of honestly seeking God’s will, they go from counselor to counselor, asking for advice and hoping they’ll find somebody who will agree with their hidden agenda." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 133.]
I tend to think their request was sincere in view of their words and the Lord’s reply. It seems to me that if they had already decided to leave the land, that the Lord would have responded to them more strongly, as to hypocrites, instead of people who were in the process of making a decision.
The remnant’s flight to Egypt 42:1-43:7
This chapter continues the narrative begun at Jeremiah 41:4. The remnant leaders asked Jeremiah to obtain the Lord’s instructions concerning their proposed flight to Egypt (Jeremiah 42:1-6).
Jeremiah agreed to seek the Lord’s guidance and to report what He said to the remnant.
The people promised three times that they would obey the Lord, the faithful and true witness, in all that He told them to do, so that things would go well for them.
Jeremiah obtained and then reported the Lord’s message to the remnant, which was encamped near Bethlehem (Jeremiah 42:7-22).
Ten days after agreeing to the remnan’t request, word came back to Jeremiah from Yahweh-so he assembled all the people to tell them God’s will. Perhaps the Lord waited this long to respond, to see if the people would wait for His answer, or proceed on to Egypt without it.
The Lord told the people, in classic covenant terminology, that if they remained in the land, He would build them up and plant them firmly (cf. Jeremiah 1:10; Jeremiah 24:6; Jeremiah 31:28; Deuteronomy 28). He would also lessen His punishment of them for their former disobedience-that had resulted in the Babylonian invasion (cf. Jeremiah 18:18).
The Lord told them not to fear Nebuchadnezzar because He, the ultimate sovereign, would be with them to save and deliver them from Nebuchadnezzar’s hand. Yahweh would have compassion on the people, and cause Nebuchadnezzar to have compassion on them and allow them to stay in their land.
However, if the people decided to leave the land and not listen to the Lord’s voice, if they chose to go to Egypt where they thought they would be safe and have plenty of food, they would surely die by the sword, famine, and disease there. The Lord made His will very clear to the remnant. None of them would survive the calamity He would bring on them.
"Just as Yahweh’s sovereignty can insure the safety of the faithful against repercussions from the king of Babylon, so will the judgment of Yahweh reach even to Egypt." [Note: Keown, p. 251.]
As the Lord had dealt with the people of Judah and Jerusalem in the invasion, so He would deal with the remnant if they went to Egypt. He would pour out His wrath on them when they entered Egypt, they would become a terrible object lesson to others, and they would never return to the Promised Land.
Jeremiah added that his hearers should understand that the Lord was clearly telling them not to go to Egypt. He also reminded them that they had asked him to secure God’s directions for them in prayer, and had promised to do whatever He commanded.
The prophet anticipated, because of the people’s previous negative reaction to his preaching, that they were not going to obey. So he warned them again that they would die in Egypt if they went there.
The leaders of the remnant rejected the Lord’s direction (Jeremiah 43:1-7).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 42". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20