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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 41

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verses 1-3

Jer 41:1-3

Jeremiah 41:1-3

THE MURDER OF THE GOVERNOR

Now it came to pass in the seventh month, that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama, of the seed royal and [one of] the chief officers of the king, and ten men with him, came unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam to Mizpah; and there they did eat bread together in Mizpah. Then arose Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and the ten men that were with him, and smote Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan with the sword, and slew him, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land. Ishmael also slew all the Jews that were with him, [to wit], with Gedaliah, at Mizpah, and the Chaldeans that were found there, the men of war.

Of the seed royal...

(Jeremiah 41:1). It is believed that Ishmael was descended from David through Elishama (2 Samuel 5:16), and that this royal connection might have originated Ishmael’s vengeful hatred of Gedaliah, being bitterly jealous that Nebuchadnezzar had passed over Ishmael, a member of the royal house of David, to make Gedaliah governor!

In all the records of Israel’s wickedness, there is hardly anything that surpasses the dastardly deed of Ishmael here recorded. He not only violated God’s law, but the universal Eastern custom in the law of hospitality, that no man eats another man’s bread, and then murders him! Ishmael disappears from history in this chapter and fully deserved the oblivion in which he was swallowed up.

The concern and sympathy of the Jewish people for their noble governor who was cut down by the despicable Ishmael was crystallized and memorialized in the Jewish fast of "the seventh month" (October) (Zechariah 7:5; Zechariah 8:19), during the Inter-testamental period of their history.

Slew all the Jews that were with him...

(Jeremiah 41:3). It is believed that this is a reference, not all the Jews in Mizpah, but to all of those at the meal during which Gedaliah was slain. Also, the men of war would appear to refer merely to Gedaliah’s personal bodyguard of Babylonian soldiers.

2. The plot executed (Jeremiah 41:1-3)

It was in the seventh month that Ishmael began to set his plan in motion. Unfortunately the narrator has failed to mention the year in which the assassination took place. Does he mean that Gedaliah was assassinated in the same year in which Jerusalem was captured and burned? If so then Gedaliah’s governorship lasted only about three months. It is perhaps better (though certainly not necessary) to think here in terms of a governorship which lasted a few years. The Chaldean armies which were to avenge the death of governor Gedaliah arrived in Judah in 582 B.C. (Jeremiah 52:30). If Gedaliah died in the seventh month of 587 B.C., the year of Jerusalem’s destruction, it would be difficult to explain why it took the Chaldean armies six years to respond to the new rebellion in Judah.

When Ishmael and his crew of ten cutthroats arrived in Mizpah Gedaliah still suspected nothing. He invited these men of the nobility to dine with him (Jeremiah 41:1). During the course of the meal, in flagrant violation of the rules of oriental hospitality, the assassins suddenly rose up and slew Gedaliah (Jeremiah 41:2). In the ensuing panic these dedicated extremists Were also successful in slaying all the Jews present in the banquet hall and even the Chaldean bodyguard (Jeremiah 41:3). what a dastardly deed! In the ancient Near East when a man accepted an invitation to dine with another the host was honor-bound to protect his guests from all harm and the guests were expected to reciprocate in good faith. Given these circumstances Gedaliah was actually defenseless. Josephus (Antiquities X. 9.) adds the tradition that Gedaliah was intoxicated at the time he was murdered. Throughout the period of the exile the Jews observed the third day of the seventh month as a fast day to commemorate the assassination of Gedaliah (Zechariah 7:5; Zechariah 8:19).

Verses 4-7

Jer 41:4-7

Jeremiah 41:4-7

THE MURDER OF THE PILGRIMS

And it came to pass the second day after he had slain Gedaliah, and no man knew it, that there came men from Shechem, from Shiloh, and from Samaria, even fourscore men, having their beards shaven and their clothes rent, and having cut themselves, with meal-offerings and frankincense in their hand, to bring them to the house of Jehovah. And Ishmael the son of Nethaniah went forth from Mizpah to meet them, weeping all along as he went: and it came to pass, as he met them, he said unto them, Come to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam. And it was so, when they came into the midst of the city, that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah slew them, [and cast them] into the midst of the pit, he, and the men that were with him.

Weeping all along as he went...

(Jeremiah 41:6). The perfidious behavior of Ishmael was totally wicked. His weeping was hypocrisy; his pretended intention of helping the pilgrims was a lie; his murderous treachery was unlimited.

Scholars have attempted to guess why Ishmael destroyed those pilgrims, but the only suggestion that makes a little sense is that Baalis the king of Ammonites had instructed Ishmael, his partner in the plot, to terrorize the people with such atrocities in order to prevent any civil order from prevailing in the land. Also, it has been thought that Ishmael wanted to prevent any word of the murder from being carried far and near into all countries by such a company as that of the pilgrims. Then too, there is the supposition that Ishmael was merely a murderer who killed people for the gratification of his sadistic blood-lust. In any case, it was indeed a deed of infamy!

The shaven heads, the rent clothes, the cuts on their bodies, and the offerings in their hands, "Symbolized the distress of the pilgrims over the desertion and the destruction of the house of God."

Some significant facts are implied by this account of the slain pilgrims. (1) The Jews still honored the commandment to worship God at one altar only, namely, the One in Jerusalem. (2) Also, even though the temple was destroyed, the ruins of it were considered sacred and "holy unto the Lord." "By the Jewish people, the Western wall of the temple in Jerusalem until this day is considered sacred."

The senseless murder of those seventy pilgrims is utterly inexplicable, unless, as stated by Smith, "Ishmael intended to fill the whole land with terror, utterly frustrate Gedaliah’s work, and destroy the last possibility of the land being in peace, which was also very likely the object of Baalis the king of Ammon."

3. The massacre of the pilgrims (Jeremiah 41:4-9)

For two days Ishmael and his brigands controlled the town of Mizpah. No one was allowed to leave the town and therefore no one outside Mizpah knew that the crime had been committed (Jeremiah 41:4). The women, children and old men left in Mizpah were no match for the armed soldiers of Ishmael though they were few in number. Apparently Ishmael delayed his return to Ammon in order that he might increase his booty at the expense of some unsuspecting group of travelers who might be passing through Mizpah. This opportunity came on the second day after the murder of Gedaliah. A group of eighty pilgrims approached the town of Mizpah on their way to offer sacrifices at the ruins of the Temple in Jerusalem. These men were pious Israelites living in the former territory of the Northern Kingdom. Though the Temple had been destroyed and Jerusalem was in ruins these faithful few continued to observe the appointed festivals of the law of Moses. However, the festivals were no longer occasions for joy but for lamentation. The shaved beards, torn clothes and cut bodies are signs of the most intense mourning (Jeremiah 41:5).

Cunning Ishmael, shedding crocodile tears as though he too were sharing in the lamentation of the hour, went out to meet the pilgrims. He lured them into the town of Mizpah with the appeal that they should salute Gedaliah the governor of the land while they were in the vicinity (Jeremiah 41:6). As the unsuspecting pilgrims entered the town, Ishmael’s gang pounced upon them and murdered seventy of these harmless and helpless people. The corpses of the unfortunate victims were thrown into an old cistern constructed three hundred years earlier by King Asa when he fortified Mizpah against the possible attack of King Baasha of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Jeremiah 41:9). Cf. 1 Kings 15:22; 2 Chronicles 16:6. Apparently Gedaliah’s body was also in this cistern for verse nine states that their bodies were “by the side of Gedaliah” (ASV). The KJV wrongly translates here “because of Gedaliah” and creates the false impression that the pilgrims died because of some connection to Gedaliah. Some fifty such cisterns have been found at the ancient site of Mizpah. It is impossible, of course, to identify the one which was made by Asa.

During the massacre ten of the eighty men were spared because they offered to show Ishmael the whereabouts of stores of wheat, barley, oil, and honey (Jeremiah 41:8). Probably these goods were stored away in underground cisterns on their fields. The bribe was sufficient and Ishmael spared the lives of these men. Perhaps this reveals Ishmael’s motive in the massacre. He is seeking supplies and booty for his band of robbers and for the king of Ammon, who had sponsored the enterprise.

Verses 8-10

Jer 41:8-10

Jeremiah 41:8-10

THE TAKING OF PRISONERS AT MIZPAH

But ten men were found among them that said unto Ishmael, Slay us not; for we have stores hidden in the field, of wheat, and of barley, and of oil, and of honey. So he forbare, and slew them not among their brethren. Now the pit wherein Ishmael cast all the dead bodies of the men whom he had slain, by the side of Gedaliah (the same was that which Asa the king had made for fear of Baasha king of Israel,) Ishmael the son of Nethaniah filled it with them that were slain. Then Ishmael carried away captive all the residue of the people that were in Mizpah, even the king’s daughters, and all the people that remained in Mizpah, whom Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had committed to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam; Ishmael the son of Nethaniah carried them away captive, and departed to go over to the children of Ammon.

Slay us not, for we have stores hidden...

(Jeremiah 41:8). This was merely a bribe, greedily accepted by Ishmael, the wondering being that he did not immediately slay them also, as soon as he discovered their store of hidden supplies. It was customary in those times to hide such supplies in excavations (cisterns and the like) by covering them with a layer of earth.

The same (pit, or cistern) was that which Asa the king had made...

(Jeremiah 41:9). The purpose of this is to explain that the cistern which Ishmael filled with the bodies of those whom he murdered was no ordinary cistern, but a very large one, originally intended to supplement the water supply of the whole city. Now any ordinary cistern would require several hundred men to fill it; and from this revelation here, we are compelled to conclude that it was actually some tremendous number of people who fell before the ruthless sword of this terminal rascal of the house of David.

Then Ishmael carried away captive...

etc. (Jeremiah 41:10). There would appear to have been a great many of these captives; and the prompt maneuver of Ishmael in an attempt to carry them into the land of the Ammonites indicates, as Jamieson said, that, He probably meant to sell them all as slaves to the Ammonites.

The king’s daughters...

(Jeremiah 41:10). These were not only the actual children of Zedekiah, but such other female members of the royal entourage as the Chaldeans had not cared to take away to Babylon. It is not so stated in this passage, but it appears likely that Jeremiah was among the captives whom Ishmael was in the act of transporting to the land of the Ammonites.

4. The deliverance of the hostages (Jeremiah 41:10-16)

After the slaughter of the Israelite pilgrims Ishmael and his men took captive the entire population of Mizpah. Among the captives were “the daughters of the king,” i.e., princesses of the royal house whom Nebuchadnezzar had permitted to remain in Judah. Ishmael’s motives here are not entirely clear. Did he intend to sell these captives on a foreign slave market? Did he intend to use these people as hostages to guarantee his safe return across the Jordan to Ammon? In view of the detail in which the escapades of Ishmael are recounted, One cannot help but wonder if Jeremiah and Baruch were among the Mizpah captives. This, of course, must remain a matter of speculation.

It was not long before the Mizpah massacre was discovered. When Johanan and the other captives heard what had happened they took decisive action (Jeremiah 41:11). They immediately gathered together their fighting men and set out in pursuit of the brigands. The force of Johanan caught Up with Ishmael at the great waters near Gibeon three miles southwest of Mizpah (Jeremiah 41:12). The pool is mentioned in 2 Samuel 2:13 as the place of the battle between Abner and Joab. When the frightened captives saw the forces of Johanan approaching they took new heart, broke ranks and ran in the direction of their deliverers (Jeremiah 41:13-14). Ishmael and eight of his men were successful in escaping from Johanan, but two of the murderers apparently were caught and slain (Jeremiah 41:15).

Verses 11-15

Jer 41:11-15

Jeremiah 41:11-15

ISHMAEL IS DEFEATED;

HE ESCAPES TO AMMON

But when Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces that were with him, heard of all the evil that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had done, then they took all the men, and went to fight with Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and found him by the great waters that are in Gibeon. Now it came to pass that, when all the people that were with Ishmael saw Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces that were with him, then they were glad. So all the people that Ishmael had carried away captive from Mizpah turned about and came back, and went unto Johanan the son of Kareah. But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men, and went to the children of Ammon.

This is a drastically abbreviated account. Johanan knew all about Ishmael and no doubt anticipated his carrying captives away for sale to the Ammonites, pursued him, overtook him, and thoroughly defeated him at Gibeon, even killing two of his ten-man body-guard.

The great waters that are in Gibeon...

(Jeremiah 41:12). This is a reference to a rather large natural lake in the area.

They turned. and went unto Johanan .....

(Jeremiah 41:14). This the captives could not have done unless Johanan had already thoroughly defeated Ishmael and sent him fleeing for his life to the Ammonites. With what is said here, Ishmael disappears from Biblical history, a fitting exit indeed for the kind of man he was.

Verses 16-18

Jer 41:16-18

Jeremiah 41:16-18

JOHANAN TO LEAD THE PEOPLE TO EGYPT

Then took Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces that were with him, all the remnant of the people whom he had recovered from Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, from Mizpah, after that he had slain Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, [to wit], the men of war, and the women, and the children, and the eunuchs, whom he had brought back from Gibeon: and they departed, and dwelt in Geruth Chimham, which is by Beth-lehem, to go to enter into Egypt, because of the Chaldeans; for they were afraid of them, because Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had slain Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon made governor over the land.

And they dwelt at Geruth Chimham...

(Jeremiah 41:17). Little is known of this place except what is stated here, i.e., that it was near Bethlehem. The name Chimham, however, in 2 Samuel 19:37, is mentioned as the name of a man David the king rewarded for a favor done the king during the rebellion of Absalom. Chimham was the son of a very wealthy and powerful man, Barzillai, a friend of David the king. From this, it may be supposed that Geruth Chimham was a large estate near Bethlehem, of sufficient size to accommodate the considerable population that had been gathered by Johanan.

To go to enter into Egypt...

(Jeremiah 41:17). This decision, no doubt, was made by Johanan and supported by the fear of the people who supposed that the Babylonians might arrive any day and take vengeance upon the people for their murder of the governor appointed by the Chaldeans. They may have feared that the Chaldeans would not understand who was at fault, and therefore punish the innocent; or they may have thought that the Chaldeans would see the entire episode as an attempted revolt, and would not distinguish the innocent from the guilty. However, the decision was a terrible mistake.

It was contrary to God’s will for the people to return to Egypt; and, besides that, Egypt was by no means out of the reach of the Babylonians. Johanan had been true and correct in his warning Gedaliah of Ishmael; but now he would become a key factor in moving a remnant of Israel back under the power of the Pharaohs.

The Plight of the Remnant Jeremiah 41:17 to Jeremiah 43:7

Following the death of Gedaliah the tiny remnant in Judah was thrown into confusion. Gedaliah was dead; Ishmael had escaped. It would only be a matter of time before Nebuchadnezzar would appear to avenge the death of his governor. The preceding narrative has skillfully portrayed the dire plight of the people who remained in the land following the destruction of Jerusalem. But they had one consolation—God was still with them and the prophet of God was still available to deliver His word to them. This section of the book moves rapidly through four stages: (1) the reasoning of the people (Jeremiah 41:17-18); (2) the request to the prophet (Jeremiah 42:1-6); (3) the response of the Lord (Jeremiah 42:7-22); and (4) the rashness of the leaders (Jeremiah 43:1-7).

The Flight to Egypt - Jeremiah 40:7 to Jeremiah 45:5

Open It

1. Whom do you know who has been too trusting and suffered because he or she refused to believe ill of another person?

2. What traditional superstitions were you taught as you were growing up?

Explore It

3. How did the governor appointed by the Babylonians reassure the small fighting force that remained in the land after the Babylonians withdrew? (Jeremiah 40:7-10)

4.How did the remnant of people in the land of Judah grow and begin to prosper? (Jeremiah 40:11-12)

5. What warning did some of the commanders give to Gedaliah, the appointed governor? (Jeremiah 40:13-14)

6. How did Johanan propose to solve the threat against Gedaliah, which he perceived as potentially disastrous to the whole remnant? (Jeremiah 40:15)

7. How did Gedaliah respond to Johanan’s desire to protect him? (Jeremiah 40:16)

8. What devious plan was carried out by Ishmael and his followers? (Jeremiah 41:1-3)

9. What evil deeds did Ishmael add to his murder of Gedaliah? (Jeremiah 41:4-10)

10. What transpired when Johanan caught up to Ishmael? (Jeremiah 41:11-15)

11. What did Johanan assume the remaining faithful people would have to do since Gedaliah had been murdered? (Jeremiah 41:16-18)

12. What request did Johanan and the people with him make of the prophet Jeremiah? (Jeremiah 42:1-3)

13. What promises did Jeremiah and the people make to one another? (Jeremiah 42:4-6)

14. What positive commands and reassuring words did Jeremiah bring from God? (Jeremiah 42:7-12)

15. What warning did God have for the people in anticipation of their intended disobedience? (Jeremiah 42:13-18)

16. Of what fatal mistake did Jeremiah accuse the remnant of Judah? (Jeremiah 42:19-22)

17. How did Johanan and the other leaders rationalize their disobedience? (Jeremiah 43:1-3)

18. Who were the people who entered Egypt, some of them against their will? (Jeremiah 43:4-7)

19. When he was at Tahpanhes with the others, what symbolic action did God tell Jeremiah to take, and what was the meaning? (Jeremiah 43:8-13)

20. For what sin did God, through Jeremiah, remind the people that He had punished Judah and Jerusalem? (Jeremiah 44:1-6)

21. Why was Jeremiah amazed that the remnant had not learned a lesson from all that had happened before? (Jeremiah 44:7-10)

22. What did God say He would do to all those determined to go to Egypt for protection? (Jeremiah 44:11-14)

23. What superstitious belief did the people cite as they defied Jeremiah openly? (Jeremiah 44:15-19)

24. How did Jeremiah proceed to correct their thinking about the real cause of their misfortune? (Jeremiah 44:20-23)

25. With what vow did God answer the people’s vow to continue worshiping the "Queen of Heaven"? (Jeremiah 44:24-28)

26. What did God promise to do to the pharaoh of Egypt, whom the Israelites considered an ally against Babylon? (Jeremiah 44:29-30)

27. Why was the scribe, Baruch, feeling sorry for himself? (Jeremiah 45:1-3)

28. How did God respond to Baruch’s self-pity? (Jeremiah 45:4-5)

Get It

29. What mistake on the part of a well-meaning governor kept the remnant of poor people and fugitive soldiers from prospering after the Babylonian conquest?

30. How did reliance on their own wisdom and preconceptions about God’s answer get Johanan and his fellow leaders into trouble?

31. What (other than fear of the Babylonians) led the people to ignore God and His prophet, Jeremiah?

32. Why did Jeremiah call the disobedience of the people who insisted on fleeing to Egypt a fatal mistake?

33. Why do people swear oaths that they don’t really intend to keep?

34. Why are some people willing to attribute their misfortune to God’s indifference or powerlessness rather than to their own sins?

35. When have you felt discouraged because of how long you have endured hardship in doing the right thing?

36. What blessings will follow if we allow God’s loving-kindness to be our reward for faithfulness?

Apply It

37. In what area of your life do you need to pray for God’s perspective on human evil?

38. What initial steps can you take to refocus on the eternal rather than the earthly rewards when you face discouragement in serving the Lord?

Questions On Jeremiah Chapters Thirty-Nine Thru Forty-One

By Brent Kercheville

1 What does chapter 39 describe?

What were some of the horrors of this event?

Where in Deuteronomy did God warn Israel that this would happen if they disobeyed?

2 How does Nebuchadnezzar treat Jeremiah (Jeremiah 39:11-14)? Compare and contrast his treatment by Nebuchadnezzar with his treatment by Zedekiah.

3 What is God’s promise to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 39:15-18)?

4 What happens to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 40:1-6? Who does the text say did all of this for Jeremiah?

5 What happens in Jeremiah 40:7-16?

6 What else happens in chapter 41?

TRANSFORMATION:

How does this relationship change your relationship with God? What did you learn about him? What will

you do differently in your life?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Jeremiah 41". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/jeremiah-41.html.
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