13 Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers still in the open country came to Gedaliah at Mizpah 14 and said to him, “Don’t you know that Baalis king of the Ammonites has sent Ishmael son of Nethaniah to take your life?” But Gedaliah son of Ahikam did not believe them.
15 Then Johanan son of Kareah said privately to Gedaliah in Mizpah, “Let me go and kill Ishmael son of Nethaniah, and no one will know it. Why should he take your life and cause all the Jews who are gathered around you to be scattered and the remnant of Judah to perish?”
16 But Gedaliah son of Ahikam said to Johanan son of Kareah, “Don’t do such a thing! What you are saying about Ishmael is not true.”
41 In the seventh month Ishmael son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama, who was of royal blood and had been one of the king’s officers, came with ten men to Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah. While they were eating together there, 2 Ishmael son of Nethaniah and the ten men who were with him got up and struck down Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, with the sword, killing the one whom the king of Babylon had appointed as governor over the land. 3 Ishmael also killed all the men of Judah who were with Gedaliah at Mizpah, as well as the Babylonian soldiers who were there.
(Jeremiah 40:13-41:3 NIV)
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has appointed Gedaliah as governor over Judah. Gedaliah works hard to reunite the remaining peasants, the returning deserters, and the guerrilla troops that had avoided capture by the Babylonian armies. Gedaliah’s top priority was to reestablish a sense of normalcy for the Judean residents and provide for their basic needs. The Lord had already started blessing the people and the land, and the fall harvest was plentiful.
In today’s passage, word comes to Gedaliah that there is a conspiracy to end his life. Gedaliah dismisses the idea, as well as the request to kill the conspirator. After all, the conspirator (Ishmael) was one of the guerrilla troop leaders that came to Gedaliah (40:8) and put himself under Gedaliah’s authority – how could he be a traitor?
Gedaliah, in a show of hospitality and healing, invites Ishmael and others to a state dinner. In ancient cultures, the host was responsible for the guests’ safety, and the guests were expected to treat the host with the utmost respect and not lift their hand against the host. Ishmael broke every part of that cultural protocol.
But loyalties are sometimes feigned when other motives are at stake. We don’t know Ishmael’s reason for wanting to kill Gedaliah – the text does not say. Verse 1 of chapter 41 does state that Ishmael was of royal birth, but a takeover of Gedaliah’s role as governor is probably not the motive. The fact that Ishmael was in league with the king of the Ammonites would lead to a more likely conclusion of anti-Babylon resentment against Gedaliah. The Ammonites hated the Babylonians, and they found an army commander with similar hatred against anyone who willingly joined with them. As governor of Judah appointed by Nebuchadnezzar, Gedaliah was guilty by association.
What is missing in this whole story? Any references to the Lord. Both Gedaliah’s rule and Ishmael’s treachery and murder were performed on a human level. We know that Jeremiah was at Mizpah, but was obviously not consulted as to whether the conspiracy was real, or what to do about it if the rumors were indeed correct. So, while the while the year is not recorded in this passage, most scholars think that Gedaliah’s rule ended almost as quickly as it started – three months later.
So what are we to think and feel about today’s events? Certainly, this is one of the lowest points of the book of Jeremiah. The nation of Judah is under Babylonian rule, the city of Jerusalem has been looted, burned, and destroyed, and its people exiled. The Lord has already begun blessing the land and its remaining inhabitants, and yet there are those who are receiving the Lord’s blessing and still pay no heed to the Lord and take matters into their hands and bring further wrath against those the Lord is trying to restore.
So what desire would we have from this history lesson? What can we take away as a change for us, so we don’t repeat the same mistakes?
Two thoughts come to mind:
- Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” May we seek the Lord first in all our dealings and decisions, and depend on Him for our guidance and direction.
- Matthew 10:16 quotes Jesus as saying, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” May we be kind and tender-hearted, and also mindful that we are in a spiritual battle, and as such, need to be wise and seek the Lord in all our assumptions and dealings.