1 - 6 The Remnant Seeks Counsel
1 Then all the commanders of the forces, Johanan the son of Kareah, Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people both small and great approached 2 and said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Please let our petition come before you, and pray for us to the LORD your God, [that is] for all this remnant; because we are left [but] a few out of many, as your own eyes [now] see us, 3 that the LORD your God may tell us the way in which we should walk and the thing that we should do.” 4 Then Jeremiah the prophet said to them, “I have heard [you]. Behold, I am going to pray to the LORD your God in accordance with your words; and I will tell you the whole message which the LORD will answer you. I will not keep back a word 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 the whole message with which the LORD your God will send you to us. 6 Whether [it] is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the LORD our God to whom we are sending you, so that it may go well with us when we listen to the voice of the LORD our God.”
Before the remnant moves on, they all, from small to great, go to Jeremiah to ask him to pray for them “to the LORD your God” (verses 1-2). By speaking of the LORD in this way, it seems that they themselves have no real relationship with Him. They see in Jeremiah a mediator. However, there is an unusual, rare unity among the remnant. They all, without exception, want to know what to do and where to go and want God to make it known to them (verse 3). This is a good thing.
We hear again from Jeremiah here. We know that he was offered riches and ease if he would go with the others to Babylon, but that he could also stay in the land. He has chosen the latter, for he wants to stay with the little remnant. He is eager to comply with their request (verse 4). He will ask the LORD, of Whom he says to them that He is “your God”, in accordance with their wishes and make known to them what He will answer. Jeremiah emphasizes that he will not leave out a word of the answer, but will communicate to them every word that the LORD has spoken.
Thereupon the company, appealing to the LORD “as a true and faithful witness”, declares that they will do exactly as He will answer (verse 5). They confirm their promise with the assurance that no matter what the answer will be, they will listen to “the voice of the LORD”, Whom they now call “our God” (verse 6). In doing so, they testify that listening to the voice of the LORD means to them that things will go well for them.
It is similar to swearing an oath (cf. Gen 31:50; 1Sam 12:5). Here it is just like at Sinai, where God’s people also similarly affirm that they will do all that the LORD will command them (Exo 19:8). The difference is that at Sinai the people say this while blinded by their inability to obey, whereas here the company has already decided in advance what they will do.
7 - 17 The Answer of the LORD
7 Now at the end of ten days the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah. 8 Then he called for Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces that were with him, and for all the people both small and great, 9 and said to them, “Thus says the LORD the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your petition before Him: 10 ‘If you will indeed stay in this land, then I will build you up and not tear you down, and I will plant you and not uproot you; for I will relent concerning the calamity that I have inflicted on you. 11 Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you are [now] fearing; do not be afraid of him,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I am with you to save you and deliver you from his hand. 12 I will also show you compassion, so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your own soil. 13 But if you are going to say, “We will not stay in this land,” so as not to listen to the voice of the LORD your God, 14 saying, “No, but we will go to the land of Egypt, where we will not see war or hear the sound of a trumpet or hunger for bread, and we will stay there”; 15 then in that case listen to the word of the LORD, O remnant of Judah. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “If you really set your mind to enter Egypt and go in to reside there, 16 then the sword, which you are afraid of, will overtake you there in the land of Egypt; and the famine, about which you are anxious, will follow closely after you there [in] Egypt, and you will die there. 17 So all the men who set their mind to go to Egypt to reside there will die by the sword, by famine and by pestilence; and they will have no survivors or refugees from the calamity that I am going to bring on them.”‘“
Jeremiah conveyed their request to the LORD. The LORD does not answer immediately. After ten days of waiting, the answer comes (verse 7; cf. Dan 10:12-13). These ten days will have been a great exercise for Jeremiah and for the remnant. For Jeremiah, it is an exercise in waiting. He will also have wondered what the answer will be, although he will probably have known from all the LORD’s previous communications what that answer will be. The remnant will also have waited in suspense. Their fear of the Babylonians is great. The only solution they see is to flee further into Egypt, to which they are headed. The ten days are a test of faith, a test to see if there is real faith.
When Jeremiah has heard the word of the LORD, he calls to him all those who have come to him seeking His counsel and for whom he has prayed (verse 8; verse 1). He introduces the LORD’s response by introducing Him as “the LORD the God of Israel” and reminding them that they have sent him to present their petition before Him (verse 9). He is and remains the faithful prophet who speaks what the LORD has told him.
The answer is comprehensive and not unlike what he had always said to the people during the siege of the city by the Babylonians (verse 10). The threat now is the same and so is the answer. If they stay in the land, they will stay alive. The LORD will even build and plant them. He knows their fear of the king of Babylon. Therefore, He assures them that they need not fear him, for He will be with them to save them and deliver them from his hand (verse 11). He will not only not harm them, but will even show them mercy and return them to their land (verse 12). This seems to indicate that although they will be taken to Babylon first, they will find mercy there. It may also be that this is already the case, since they are on their way Egypt.
In any case, we see here what a wonderful God we have, Who, after so much rejection on the part of His people, still devotes Himself in this way to bless them. If only they would listen and believe Him. He knows their insincerity, but that does not make His promise any less true.
The LORD also warns them in case they do not listen to His voice (verse 13). He knows their hearts and that it is possible that they will say they will go to Egypt because they think they will be safe there, will not see war or hear its threat and that there will also be food enough there (verse 14). If they do plan to go to Egypt, even if it is to stay there as a stranger (cf. Rth 1:1), then they, “remnant of Judah”, should listen carefully once more to “the word of the LORD” (verse 15). He “the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel”, is speaking to them. It is as if the LORD places Himself before them in all His greatness in order to give His speaking even more emphasis and to induce them to listen to Him and obey Him after all.
They will meet in Egypt precisely what they thought they were fleeing (verse 16). They will not stay alive there, but die there. That will be the fate of all men who have set their sights on seeking a safe haven in Egypt and want to stay there as strangers (verse 17). No one will escape the calamity, because the calamity will not come from Babylon, but from the LORD Himself. They can avoid this disappointment if they listen to Him. Disappointment in expectations is the result of wrong expectations, expectations based on our own deliberations and not on what God has said.
Abraham, Isaac and Jeroboam have in common that they spent time in Egypt. They were not blessed stays. The lessons of people who have seen the world – Egypt is a picture of the world – as a solution to a problem should help us not to seek our salvation there. Stay with the Lord and He will bless us. Are we afraid of one power or another? The Lord will protect us. If we only look to the power that scares us, we are entering into another power that will truly destroy us. Running away from problems leads to greater problems.
18 - 22 Punishments for Staying in Egypt
18 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “As My anger and wrath have been poured out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so My wrath will be poured out on you when you enter Egypt. And you will become a curse, an object of horror, an imprecation and a reproach; and you will see this place no more.” 19 The LORD has spoken to you, O remnant of Judah, “Do not go into Egypt!” You should clearly understand that today I have testified against you. 20 For you have [only] deceived yourselves; for it is you who sent me to the LORD your God, saying, “Pray for us to the LORD our God; and whatever the LORD our God says, tell us so, and we will do it.” 21 So I have told you today, but you have not obeyed the LORD your God, even in whatever He has sent me to [tell] you. 22 Therefore you should now clearly understand that you will die by the sword, by famine and by pestilence, in the place where you wish to go to reside.
After the promises and the warnings come the threats which take the form of retribution because the LORD knows the heart of the people. When they shall come into Egypt, the LORD will pour out His anger and wrath on them there, as He did upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem (verse 18). They will not be witnesses to Him there, but to a curse, an object of horror, an imprecation and a reproach. The Egyptians will not greet them as friends. But returning to the land of Judah will not be one of them either. Egypt will become the land of their burial and not the promised land.
It is impressive how clearly God speaks and warns. They have before them the result of their previous disobedience to His clear words about the destruction of Jerusalem. They have seen with their own eyes that the LORD has fulfilled His word. Now He warns again, but again they will not listen. How stubborn is man!
Jeremiah emphasizes again what the LORD has spoken and that he, Jeremiah, has warned them not to enter Egypt (verse 19). He places the entire responsibility for their going into Egypt on themselves. They are acting in self-deception. After all, they sent him to the LORD to pray for them, didn’t they? Did they not say that they will do all that he will make known to them from the LORD? Well, he has made it known, but in spite of that they do not listen or do what the LORD has said (verse 21). Then they must now face the consequences of their self-willed choice (verse 22). They must know full well that they will perish in the place where they think they can escape.