40 The word came to Jeremiah from the Lord after Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard had released him at Ramah. He had found Jeremiah bound in chains among all the captives from Jerusalem and Judah who were being carried into exile to Babylon. 2 When the commander of the guard found Jeremiah, he said to him, “The Lord your God decreed this disaster for this place. 3 And now the Lord has brought it about; he has done just as he said he would. All this happened because you people sinned against the Lord and did not obey him. 4 But today I am freeing you from the chains on your wrists. Come with me to Babylon, if you like, and I will look after you; but if you do not want to, then don’t come. Look, the whole country lies before you; go wherever you please.” 5 However, before Jeremiah turned to go, Nebuzaradan added, “Go back to Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon has appointed over the towns of Judah, and live with him among the people, or go anywhere else you please.”
Then the commander gave him provisions and a present and let him go.6 So Jeremiah went to Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah and stayed with him among the people who were left behind in the land.
(Jeremiah 40:1-6 NIV)
As we open Chapter 40, we enter into a new section of the book of Jeremiah. Chapters 40 – 44 chronicle the events after the fall of Jerusalem.
Chapter 40 begins with Jeremiah in chains, among the other deportees headed for Babylon. They were at Ramah, the exile processing center six miles north of Jerusalem.
So we need to ask ourselves how this incident compares to 39:11-14, where Nebuzaradan, the same commander of the Babylonian Imperial Guard, had freed Jeremiah from house arrest in Jerusalem.
Most scholars believe these are two separate incidents. Nebuzaradan likely released Jeremiah from prison in Jerusalem, then the two parted ways. In the post-war chaos, Jeremiah was probably seen as another unnamed Judean resident that Babylonian soldiers were ordered to round up for deportation to Babylon. Jeremiah was taken in chains to Ramah, the processing center, where Nebuzaradan identified him and freed him again.
Verses 2 – 3 confirm that the Lord was behind the fall of Jerusalem and Judah, as spoken by Nebuzaradan. He was not mocking Jeremiah; he was affirming God’s hand in the previous events. In ancient cultures, even a country’s enemies confirmed the power and hand of a nation’s gods in their realms of influence within the country.
Verses 4 – 5 are a little confusing; at first glance, it appears as if Nebuzaradan tells Jeremiah that he is free to go wherever he wishes, then tells him to go to Mizpah and report to Gedaliah, the new governor appointed by Nebuchadnezzar over Judah.
Here’s a possible scenario – Nebuzaradan frees Jeremiah, then has the following speech: “Jeremiah, on behalf of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and myself, commander of the Babylonian Imperial Guard, you are now free to go. You are welcome to travel with me to Babylon, where I will personally ensure your safety and provision.”
Before Jeremiah even had a chance to open his mouth and respond, Nebuzaradan likely continued: “Jeremiah, off the record, I would count it a personal favor if you would stay here in Judah and report to Gedaliah, whom King Nebuchadnezzar has appointed governor over the land. I can use all the help I can get here. But it’s your choice either way. Here are provisions from the King, and here is a gift from me for the mix-up of my soldiers detaining you a second time. My apologies for the pain and suffering this has caused. You are now free to go.”
With that, Jeremiah senses the Lord’s direction and chooses to stay in Judah. He makes the journey two miles north of Ramah to Mizpah, where Gedaliah had set up his administrative headquarters for Judah. Jeremiah would serve the Lord along with Gedaliah, a trusted friend and fellow worshiper of the Lord.
May we stay focused on the Lord and listen to His voice, even from the most unlikely persons or in the most unlikely places.
May we trust in God’s sovereignty and Providence, even when we can’t see His hand amongst the chaos of life. May we trust His heart and promises even when the way is not clear, and the path is unknown.