42 Then all the army officers, including Johanan son of Kareah and Jezaniah son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest approached 2 Jeremiah the prophet and said to him, “Please hear our petition and pray to the Lord your God for this entire remnant. For as you now see, though we were once many, now only a few are left.3 Pray that the Lord your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do.”
4 “I have heard you,” replied Jeremiah the prophet. “I will certainly pray to the Lord your God as you have requested; I will tell you everything the Lord says and will keep nothing back from you.”
5 Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. 6 Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.”
(Jeremiah 42:1-6 NIV)
Chapter 42 is a carryover from Chapter 41, particularly verses 16-18. The last location of this ragtag band of folks was at Geruth Kimham, near Bethlehem. The last known destination of Jeremiah was Mizpah, where he was to check in with Gedaliah, the newly appointed governor of Judah.
The text does not say where Jeremiah was during Ishmael’s massacre, but it is likely that he checked in with Gedaliah, then went to the field he purchased while in prison or was assigned work elsewhere during the harvest. Regardless, he was apparently not in Mizpah.
In any case, Johanan and the other army officers, as well as all the people, from the greatest to the least, found Jeremiah and approached him to hear from the Lord.
Sometimes we need to step back to see the bigger picture, and other times we need to zoom in. Today is a case of zooming in, particularly examining the pronouns used in the exchange between Jeremiah and the people.
In verses 2 – 3, the people ask Jeremiah to pray to the “Lord your God”, as if they were outsiders looking in, and Jeremiah had an inside track to God. Even though the Lord had brought about judgment on Judah and Jerusalem because of their sin, the people had still not repented and returned to the Lord. Like King Zedekiah, they expected either a miracle from God or God’s blessing on their previous decision to go to Egypt.
In verse 4, Jeremiah agrees to pray but corrects their grammar and mindset, telling them that he would pray to the “Lord your God”. Jeremiah was showing the people that the Lord is God overall, and reminding them of the covenant that God made long ago with His people, at the same time inviting them back to repentance, reconciliation, and a relationship with Him.
In verses 5 – 6, the people protest by telling Jeremiah they will obey the “Lord your God” (v. 5), then twice telling Jeremiah they will obey “the Lord our God” (v. 6). The people’s words betray their hearts, sending a mixed message of obedience and relationship to the Lord. The people’s words said unconditional obedience before they hear from the Lord; we’ll have to wait and see their reaction after Jeremiah hears from the Lord and tells them.
As we read this passage and seek its application to our time, we need not look any further than our prayer life. How do we pray, and how do we approach the Lord? Do we first see God for who and what He is, the Creator and Sustainer of all, ruling from heaven? Or do we see Him only in our earthly realm, to be our granter of wishes and remover of problems?
Do we come expecting our agenda to be carried out in heaven, or do we come humbly asking God’s will to be done here on earth?
May we remember to pray as Jesus taught His disciples:
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
(Matthew 6:9-13 NIV)