In our previous article on chapter 40, we pointed out that Gedaliah was appointed governor over the Judean area by Nebuchadnezzar after the failed revolt of King Zechariah. Zechariah himself had been appointed king over Judah by Nebuchadnezzar but power went to his head and God was not in his heart. He had rebelled in hopes of help from Egypt. It never came.
Gedaliah became governor (not king) of the surrounding area of Judah. His capital city was Mizpah since Jerusalem itself had been mostly destroyed by Neb and his Chaldean/Babylonian army. He had a small contingency of Babylonian militia as body guards. Gedaliah was the son of Ahikam (who saved the life of the prophet Jeremiah back in Jeremiah 26) and the grandson of Shaphan. Shaphan is mentioned in relation to the discovery of the Scroll of Teaching that some scholars identify as the core of the Book of Deuteronomy. This is debated.
Ishmael (of all names to use in this pending assassination plan found in Jeremiah 41) was sent by the King of the Ammonites to assassinate Gedaliah. He wanted discord to once again fall upon what remained of the Judean people. The Ammonites, descendants of Lot, were an eternal enemy of all Israel. Using the guise of a friendly supper and drinking party, Ishmael, sent by the Ammonites and ten men with him, invited Governor Gedaliah to a small celebration. After dining and drinking they got up and slew Gedaliah and those (probably unarmed) within his company.
Once again Nebuchadnezzar was going to need a replacement as a ruler in the province of Judah. Since this area was a constant thorn in the side of the Babylonian king, the remaining Judeans feared with good reason the response by Nebuchadnezzar. They packed up and with all haste fled to Egypt. Most Judeans fled but not Ishmael and his murdering men. This was about 582 B.C.E.
Unexpectedly (Jeremiah 41:4) some 80 men from Shechem and Samaria came to Mizpah, in a sense, to welcome Gedaliah as an ally and friend and to pay tribute in the House of Jehovah. They did not know of the assassination of Gedaliah. The last thing Ishmael needed was witnesses from outside who were also under the thumb of Nebuchadnezzar.
Ishmael, was a great actor and met these men outside of the Judean province. He was weeping and look distraught; a deception not all that uncommon in the Middle East even to this day. Jeremiah 41:6 says…he (Ishmael) said unto them, Come to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam. They were emotionally disarmed by the appearance of a great servitude of Ishmael and his men. When they entered the city (Mizpah), Ishmael and his men began another day of assassinations and murders. These visitors were slaughter; all but ten of them. These survivors (all probably without weapons) used the old bargaining chip of hidden values (Jeremiah 41:8) that would remain hidden if they were slain. Gedaliah bought their plea bargain. What happens per these “valuables” we are not told.
“And the pit into which Ishmael had cast all the dead bodies of the men whom he had slain by the side of Gedaliah was the one which Asa the king had made for fear of Baasha king of Israel: Ishmael the son of Nethaniah filled it with his slain.”
In a very real sense this also served as a visual warning to the remaining ten survivors from Samaria and Shechem that a bad move could also make this pit their final resting ground. Then Ishmael makes a retreat back to the King of Ammon. However he does not go alone. He takes the remaining Jews in Mizpah captive and herds them to Ammon.
One might call it a remaining Judean guerrilla force (v11), rose up from their hiding places outside of Judah proper. They heard of the evil deeds of Ishmael and came to their rescue before Ishmael could carrel his captives in Ammon. One might think he was going to sell them as slaves to the King of Ammon. We don’t really know but that was the culture and practice of that day. We get this idea from verse 10 where they are identified as “CAPTIVES.”
Jeremiah 41:13 tells us…
“And it came to pass when all the people that were with Ishmael saw Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the (remaining Judean) forces that were with him, then they were glad.”
We can determine by close examination of Jeremiah 41:13-15 that Ishmael made a very hasty flight to Ammon leaving his captives standing in view of Johanan and his captains of what once again, we may identify as a guerrilla force of Judah. If one read the non-canonized books of the Maccabees, we see they too were a Judean guerrilla force but very successful in fighting off the Roman rule yet to come after Jeremiah’s time; albeit 300 years later.
This entourage of Judeans, probably under the leadership of Johanan, gathered near Bethlehem. They knew that Nebuchadnezzar was going to seek revenge. Since this was a common problem under the rule of Neb, this time his revenge would be brutal.
So, what are their options? Like most in today’s society, deny God until one gets into a fix s/he cannot get out of unscathed. Their initial design was to flee to Egypt. However they first go to Jeremiah and beg, yes, BEG that he pray to Jehovah-God seeking guidance. The significance of the new problem they all shared, it was not a seeking of God’s forgiveness, but a seeking of safety. We see this in chapter 42; our next article. Chapter 42 is fascinating in that God regrets having sent his people into captivity in Babylon and agrees to protect them but only if they remain in Judah and worship him as their one and only God.