4 The day after Gedaliah’s assassination, before anyone knew about it,5 eighty men who had shaved off their beards, torn their clothes and cut themselves came from Shechem, Shiloh and Samaria, bringing grain offerings and incense with them to the house of the Lord. 6 Ishmael son of Nethaniah went out from Mizpah to meet them, weeping as he went. When he met them, he said, “Come to Gedaliah son of Ahikam.” 7 When they went into the city, Ishmael son of Nethaniah and the men who were with him slaughtered them and threw them into a cistern. 8 But ten of them said to Ishmael, “Don’t kill us! We have wheat and barley, olive oil and honey, hidden in a field.” So he let them alone and did not kill them with the others. 9 Now the cistern where he threw all the bodies of the men he had killed along with Gedaliah was the one King Asa had made as part of his defense against Baasha king of Israel. Ishmael son of Nethaniah filled it with the dead.
10 Ishmael made captives of all the rest of the people who were in Mizpah—the king’s daughters along with all the others who were left there, over whom Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard had appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam. Ishmael son of Nethaniah took them captive and set out to cross over to the Ammonites.
11 When Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers who were with him heard about all the crimes Ishmael son of Nethaniah had committed, 12 they took all their men and went to fight Ishmael son of Nethaniah. They caught up with him near the great pool in Gibeon.13 When all the people Ishmael had with him saw Johanan son of Kareah and the army officers who were with him, they were glad. 14 All the people Ishmael had taken captive at Mizpah turned and went over to Johanan son of Kareah. 15 But Ishmael son of Nethaniah and eight of his men escaped from Johanan and fled to the Ammonites.
16 Then Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers who were with him led away all the people of Mizpah who had survived, whom Johanan had recovered from Ishmael son of Nethaniah after Ishmael had assassinated Gedaliah son of Ahikam—the soldiers, women, children and court officials he had recovered from Gibeon. 17 And they went on, stopping at Geruth Kimham near Bethlehem on their way to Egypt 18 to escape the Babylonians. They were afraid of them because Ishmael son of Nethaniah had killed Gedaliah son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had appointed as governor over the land.
(Jeremiah 41:4-18 NIV)
In yesterday’s passage, we saw Ishmael murder Gedaliah, the governor whom Nebuchadnezzar had appointed over Judah.
In today’s passage, Ishmael continues his killing spree. Ishmael sees eighty men on pilgrimage coming from Israel, with shaved heads and torn clothes in mourning for the loss of the temple at Jerusalem. Ishmael pretends to weep with them and invites them to meet governor Gedaliah. Once they reach Mizpah, Ishmael and his men, in an attempt to cover up the previous day’s murders, kill seventy of the eighty men and throw their bodies in an empty cistern to hide them. The other ten bribe their way to life via a claim to hidden food and supplies. Ishmael holds them for ransom. And what was the crime of these pilgrims? Simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Ishmael then gathers up the remaining people of Mizpah and heads south to the refuge of the Ammonites. Johanan, another guerrilla army commander, hears of Ishmael’s atrocities and scrambles his men to stop Ishmael before he gets to the safety of the Ammonites. Johanan and his men intercept Ishmael at Gibeon; when the captives see Johanan and his men, they immediately break free and leave Ishmael. Ishmael and eight of his men escape and flee to the safety of the Ammonites.
Now Johanan, his men, and the freed captives must face the choices before them – return to Mizpah and face the possible retribution of the Babylonians for the murder of Gedaliah, or flee to the only “safe haven” they know – Egypt, where many other Judean deserters have previously sought refuge.
Once again, notice that the Lord is conspicuously absent from this story. No one prays or asks the Lord before taking matters into their hands. No one seeks out Jeremiah and asks him to go to the Lord on their behalf. Everything is done from a human perspective; once again, the Lord is left out of the conversation and thought process.
In today’s passage, may we see the human tendency toward self-destruction without the Lord’s guiding hand. Only because of God’s abundant grace would Judah have any hope to overcome this travesty.
May we see the hand of God at work, even in the midst of abject human failure. He is not limited by our circumstances and sins and can use them to bring about repentance and restoration of people’s hearts to Himself.
May we not fear suffering, failure, and tragedy, but rather use them as guideposts to point us back to our true home in Christ. He alone is enough.