Jeremiah 40-44 contain prophecies and an account of events after the fall of Jerusalem. Jeremiah 40-42 deal with prophecies and events in Judah, Jeremiah 43-44 deal with those in Egypt.
1 - 6 The Release of Jeremiah
1 The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD after Nebuzaradan captain of the bodyguard had released him from Ramah, when he had taken him bound in chains among all the exiles of Jerusalem and Judah who were being exiled to Babylon. 2 Now the captain of the bodyguard had taken Jeremiah and said to him, “The LORD your God promised this calamity against this place; 3 and the LORD has brought [it] on and done just as He promised. Because you [people] sinned against the LORD and did not listen to His voice, therefore this thing has happened to you. 4 But now, behold, I am freeing you today from the chains which are on your hands. If you would prefer to come with me to Babylon, come [along], and I will look after you; but if you would prefer not to come with me to Babylon, never mind. Look, the whole land is before you; go wherever it seems good and right for you to go.” 5 As Jeremiah was still not going back, [he said], “Go on back then to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon has appointed over the cities of Judah, and stay with him among the people; or else go anywhere it seems right for you to go.” So the captain of the bodyguard gave him a ration and a gift and let him go. 6 Then Jeremiah went to Mizpah to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam and stayed with him among the people who were left in the land.
Now follows the long history of Jeremiah in the midst of those left behind in Judah. It seems that Jeremiah, despite Nebuchadnezzar’s command (Jer 39:11-14), was nevertheless captured and handcuffed with the exiles on his way to Babylon (verse 1). This will be so because the soldiers did not acknowledge him. This will have been another tremendous trial for Jeremiah. When the error is discovered, he is released again. The captain of the bodyguard has Jeremiah brought to him (verse 2). He speaks of “the LORD your God”. He knows himself to be a tool in His hand.
He, as the king’s confidant, lets Jeremiah know that it is known to him that he has preached about the evil that the LORD his God has pronounced on Jerusalem. He will have heard this from those who had defected to the Babylonians or who had been taken away by them before. He knows the reason, which is that they have sinned against the LORD and have not listened to His voice (verse 3). Therefore, what He has spoken has been done “to you”, that is, to Jeremiah. Jeremiah suffers with all the people. From his mouth we do not hear a word about the evil that has been done to him.
Jeremiah gets his freedom back (verse 4). He is allowed to decide for himself what to do. The captain holds out to him the choice of going with him to Babylon. If he chooses to do so, the captain guarantees his safety. An attractive offer for the man so hated by his people because of his preaching and the fulfillment of his words. If he prefers to stay in Israel, that’s fine too. He may go wherever he wishes. He is dependent on the LORD for making that choice. Until it is clear to Jeremiah, he lives in Jerusalem.
The captain advises Jeremiah to get in touch with Gedaliah as long as Jeremiah – literally he, by whom is probably meant Nebuchadnezzar – does not return (verse 5). Gedaliah, an official of Judah, has been appointed by Nebuchadnezzar to be the leader of the people. If Jeremiah wants to go somewhere else, he can. He has complete freedom of movement. Then the captain gives him food for the road and a gift – as compensation for the injustice done to him? – and lets him go. We don’t read anything about Jeremiah’s considerations in the choice he makes, but he goes to Gedaliah, with whom he stays as one of those left in the land (verse 6).
7 - 10 The Assurance of Gedaliah
7 Now all the commanders of the forces that were in the field, they and their men, heard that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah the son of Ahikam over the land and that he had put him in charge of the men, women and children, those of the poorest of the land who had not been exiled to Babylon. 8 So they came to Gedaliah at Mizpah, along with Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and Johanan and Jonathan the sons of Kareah, and Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth, and the sons of Ephai the Netophathite, and Jezaniah the son of the Maacathite, [both] they and their men. 9 Then Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, swore to them and to their men, saying, “Do not be afraid of serving the Chaldeans; stay in the land and serve the king of Babylon, that it may go well with you. 10 Now as for me, behold, I am going to stay at Mizpah to stand [for you] before the Chaldeans who come to us; but as for you, gather in wine and summer fruit and oil and put [them] in your [storage] vessels, and live in your cities that you have taken over.”
In the field are some of the remaining commanders of Judah with their men (verse 7). They have managed to hide from the army of the king of Babylon. They hear that Gedaliah has been appointed by Nebuchadnezzar over those remaining in the land. The commanders, who are named, go to Gedaliah (verse 8). Gedaliah assures them that they have nothing to fear if they serve the Chaldeans (verse 9). In fact, it will go well for them. He can say this because he believes the word of the LORD.
He himself remains in Mizpah to conduct the affairs of the people there with the rulers (verse 10). Let them apply themselves to gather in wine, summer fruit and oil. They can then sell these and thus provide themselves with income. In this way they can continue to live in the cities they have taken and build a new existence in the land.
11 - 12 The Return of the Refugees
11 Likewise, also all the Jews who were in Moab and among the sons of Ammon and in Edom and who were in all the [other] countries, heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant for Judah, and that he had appointed over them Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan. 12 Then all the Jews returned from all the places to which they had been driven away and came to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah at Mizpah, and gathered in wine and summer fruit in great abundance.
Still more Judeans hear of a remnant being left in Judah by the king of Babylon (verse 11). These are the Judeans who have fled to Moab, Ammon, Edom, and still others. They also hear that Gedaliah has been appointed over the land. What they hear prompts them to go back to Judah as well (verse 12). They come from the various places to which they have been driven and come to Gedaliah. They participate in Gedaliah’s program and gather in “wine and summer fruit in great abundance”.
13 - 16 Gedaliah Is Warned About Ishmael
13 Now Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces that were in the field came to Gedaliah at Mizpah 14 and said to him, “Are you well aware that Baalis the king of the sons of Ammon has sent Ishmael the son of Nethaniah to take your life?” But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam did not believe them. 15 Then Johanan the son of Kareah spoke secretly to Gedaliah in Mizpah, saying, “Let me go and kill Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and not a man will know! Why should he take your life, so that all the Jews who are gathered to you would be scattered and the remnant of Judah would perish?” 16 But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam said to Johanan the son of Kareah, “Do not do this thing, for you are telling a lie about Ishmael.”
Then Gedaliah is visited by Johanan and all the commanders of the armies who are in the field (verse 13). They come to warn Gedalia of an attempt that has been made on his life (verse 14). They know the details and inform him of them. The thing is, that Baalis, the king of the Ammonites, has sent Ishmael to kill him. Baalis had been an ally of Zedekiah in the battle against the king of Babylon. It seems that he still wants to fight against the king of Babylon. Now if Gedaliah is killed by Ishmael, Ishmael can take control and they can continue to resist the king of Babylon together.
Gedaliah, however, does not want to believe what he is told. Johanan does not give up and secretly seeks out Gedaliah (verse 15). He proposes that he will kill Ishmael. He will do it in such a way that no one will know that he has been murdered. The murder is necessary, he argues, because if that man kills Gedaliah, all who have joined Gedaliah will also perish.
Gedaliah forbids Johanan the mission he proposes (verse 16). This is not because he turns the matter over to the LORD. That’s what David does when his servant proposes to kill Saul (1Sam 24:7; 26:8-10). Here we hear nothing about the LORD. Jeremiah who is also there is not consulted by Gedaliah. Gedaliah is simply too trusting. He dismisses the threat, about which he has been informed, by stating that it are lies. He trusts his own assessment of the danger, and according to his assessment, there is no danger. That gullibility costs him his life.