7 When all the army officers and their men who were still in the open country heard that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam as governor over the land and had put him in charge of the men, women and children who were the poorest in the land and who had not been carried into exile to Babylon, 8 they came to Gedaliah at Mizpah—Ishmael son of Nethaniah, Johanan and Jonathan the sons of Kareah, Seraiah son of Tanhumeth, the sons of Ephai the Netophathite, and Jaazaniah the son of the Maakathite, and their men. 9 Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, took an oath to reassure them and their men. “Do not be afraid to serve the Babylonians,” he said. “Settle down in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it will go well with you.10 I myself will stay at Mizpah to represent you before the Babylonians who come to us, but you are to harvest the wine, summer fruit and olive oil, and put them in your storage jars, and live in the towns you have taken over.”
11 When all the Jews in Moab, Ammon, Edom and all the other countries heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant in Judah and had appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, as governor over them, 12 they all came back to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah at Mizpah, from all the countries where they had been scattered. And they harvested an abundance of wine and summer fruit.
(Jeremiah 40:7-12 NIV)
Yesterday we finished with Jeremiah set free and headed toward Mizpah, where Gedaliah was Nebuchadnezzar’s appointed governor over Judah. In today’s passage, we see Gedaliah working to restore normalcy to the small fragments of people either left behind or returning to Judah. While King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah and Jerusalem, it appears that the king did not intend to settle Judah, as he dragged off the majority of Judeans to Babylon to serve him there.
As the vast Babylonian army withdrew from Judah, word traveled throughout the land that Nebuchadnezzar had appointed Gedaliah as governor. The small bands of guerrilla troops concealed in the hills heard the news and came to Mizpah. Gedaliah assured them it was safe for them to come in; the Babylonians would not kill them, nor would he turn them over to the Babylonians.
Gedaliah, as governor, sought to focus and unify everyone on a simple but crucial task for the survival of all: take in the summer / fall harvest. There was wine to be made, fruit to be gathered, and olives to be pressed for oil. If they were gong to survive and thrive, they had to have provisions for the winter and the following year.
Soon, the word spread to the neighboring countries that there was a remnant of people in Judah and Gedaliah was governor, the deserters started returning to Judah. Gedaliah engaged everyone to help with the harvest.
As we read between the lines, we see from verse 12 that even as the Lord had pronounced judgment on the people of Judah and Jerusalem, He had also begun blessing the surviving remnant by providing an abundant harvest. This blessing also implies that the drought was over, the rains had returned, and the famine was soon to be a memory.
As we look at this text and timeframe, we see that Gedaliah was in a very unenviable position as governor of Judah. He was appointed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, charged with overseeing a nation and land wrecked by war, with little or no resources to provide for the poor peasant remnant living in the land.
Gedaliah also had to assure the guerrilla soldiers that they were safe to come back to civilization, with no reprisal from himself or the Babylonians. Gedaliah also had to convince these troops that he was not Nebuchadnezzar’s “puppet” – that they could trust him to lead them. Last but not least, Gedaliah had to convince these men that they had to lay down their weapons and become farmers for the good of all. For a bunch of tough military guys that had survived and fought all their life, this could be viewed as a demoralizing surrender without the larger context of everyone’s survival in mind.
Gedaliah also had the challenge of integrating the deserters that had fled to neighboring countries back into Judah. These people had fled Jerusalem and Judah to save their skin when the Babylonians attacked. The poor peasants remaining in the land would resent the deserters as privileged opportunists and fair-weather nationalists. The guerrilla-troops-turned-farmers would suspect those returning as selfish turncoats who had no loyalty to anything or anyone other than themselves.
Gedaliah was a capable leader, a peaceful man of integrity who sought to honor God as did his father and his grandfather before him. He sought healing and restoration among his people and stood in the gap between the people of Judah and the Babylonians (v. 10).
May we stand with the Lord and be willing to be misunderstood and our motives judged unfairly for the furtherance of the Gospel of Christ.
May we be like Gedaliah and be men and women of integrity that are peaceful and keep the welfare of others ahead of our selfish interests.