43 When Jeremiah had finished telling the people all the words of the Lord their God—everything the Lord had sent him to tell them—2 Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are lying! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You must not go to Egypt to settle there.’ 3 But Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you against us to hand us over to the Babylonians, so they may kill us or carry us into exile to Babylon.”
4 So Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers and all the people disobeyed the Lord’s command to stay in the land of Judah. 5 Instead, Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers led away all the remnant of Judah who had come back to live in the land of Judah from all the nations where they had been scattered. 6 They also led away all those whom Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard had left with Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan—the men, the women, the children and the king’s daughters. And they took Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch son of Neriah along with them. 7 So they entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord and went as far as Tahpanhes.
(Jeremiah 43:1-7 NIV)
Today’s passage is a continuation of yesterday’s text in Chapter 42. Jeremiah has gone to the Lord at the request of the people, and the people have vowed obedience whatever the answer.
After Jeremiah finishes giving the word from the Lord, Azariah and Johanan accuse Jeremiah of lying, and also drag Baruch into their conspiracy theory. As guerrilla soldiers, they believe that Jeremiah has sold out to the Babylonians. After all, Jeremiah’s message was to serve the Babylonians – and Baruch had read Jeremiah’s letters in the Temple courtyard after King Jehoiakim banned Jeremiah from the Temple.
These army leaders didn’t have the guts to blame Jeremiah directly, so they accused Baruch of the conspiracy and painted Jeremiah as a misled co-conspirator.
So the military officers gathered up everyone and went to Egypt. No one was left behind – the remaining citizens that had never left Judah, the early deserters that had returned home, the king’s daughters, even Jeremiah and Baruch.
The army officers led the people to the town of Tahpenhes, just over the Egyptian border. Tahpenhes was in the eastern-most section of Egypt, in the Nile delta region.
Verse 2 slips in a one-word commentary on the mindset of the leaders, calling them “arrogant” men. Their words to Jeremiah when they asked him to inquire of the Lord were open, but their minds (as we see today) were closed. These men were so convinced they were right that they could conceive of no other answer from the Lord other than what they intended to do.
Notice the pronoun used in verse 2 when Azariah and Johanan respond to Jeremiah: “The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You must not go to Egypt to settle there.” This pronoun is not used in its inclusive form, but rather in its exclusive form. In other words, Azariah and Johanan were claiming that they had God on their side. They still saw the Lord as a deity to invoke to get their will, rather than a god to obey. They had reduced the Lord to the same status of the other gods, not the God of the Universe who made His covenant with the people of Israel and Judah.
One of the troubling questions in today’s text is why Azariah and Johanan would take Jeremiah and Baruch with them. Why not just walk away and leave them to fend for themselves? It was highly unlikely that Jeremiah would willingly go to Egypt after he had just given the word of the Lord to stay in Judah. After all, Jeremiah and Baruch had been nothing but trouble to these men. The only plausible explanation is that Azariah and Johanan took everyone to Egypt, and left no trace of civilization to inform the Babylonians where they had gone. Once again, fear rather than faith dictated their actions.
May we see God for the great being He is, and not constrain Him to someone to be manipulated for our comfort or convenience.
May we choose the path of obedience and faith, rather than of disobedience out of fear.
May we know that we are far worse sinners than we realize, but comprehend that God loves us far more than we can ever imagine.
Let the words of this hymn be the meditation of our hearts today:
“Two wonders here that I confess
My worth and my unworthiness
My value fixed – my ransom paid
At the cross”
(from “My Worth is Not in What I Own” by Keith and Kristyn Getty)
(Click here for the full lyrics and the Gettys performing this powerful hymn.)