FLIGHT TO EGYPT Jeremiah 40–45
“You made a fatal mistake when you sent me to the Lord your God and said, ’Pray to the Lord our God’ “ (Jer. 42:19–20).Knowing the will of God obligates us to do it. Better not to ask God’s will unless you intend to do it!
Brisk narrative chapters tell of the assassination of the Babylonian-appointed governor, Gedaliah (40:1–41:15), and the Jewish remnant’s hasty flight to Egypt despite Jeremiah’s warnings (v. 16–43:13). Now destruction faced the fleeing population, which persisted in idolatry (44:1–30). A footnote contains God’s promise to, and rebuke of, Baruch (45:1–5).
Understanding the Text
“You people sinned against the Lord” Jer. 40:1–6.
Jeremiah was found chained with other captives due to be sent to Babylon. We do not know whether or not the Babylonian commander truly believed what he said to Jeremiah when he set the prophet free (vv. 1–3). But his words show that the enemy was well acquainted with the prophet’s message. We never know how far our words carry when we witness to our faith in God or share His message with others. “Gedaliah . . . took an oath to reassure them” Jer. 40:7–41:15. Gedaliah is one of Scripture’s least-known but most attractive figures. When he was appointed to govern Judah, he took pains to reassure the remaining population. He promised to represent their interests to the Babylonians, and settled them on productive land where they would have food and ultimately prosper. At first all went well. Reassured by Gedaliah’s appointment, Jews who had fled to neighboring countries returned, and the initial harvest was abundant. When warned of a plot to assassinate him, Gedaliah brushed it aside, refusing to believe the worst of a person he thought of as honorable and a friend. In all this Gedaliah showed himself to be a truly good man. But Gedaliah was an exception, and good men do not prosper in the land of the wicked. He was murdered, along with the small garrison of Babylonian soldiers left in Judah. Perhaps only the words of Isaiah provide insight when a person like Gedaliah dies before his time, and the wicked seem to prosper. “The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death” (Isa. 57:1–2). “Please hear our petition” Jer. 41:16–42:3. The murders terrified the Jewish population. Surely the Babylonians would avenge this terrorist act! All the remaining Jews, under discharged army officers led by Johanan son of Kareah, assembled and begged Jeremiah to ask God what they should do. On the surface this step seems a pious and wise one. But, as noted earlier, it is dangerous to ask God for guidance unless we fully intend to do as He directs. “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything [you] tell us” Jer. 42:4–22. After a 10-day delay, Jeremiah brought the anxious remnant God’s answer. The message was unequivocable and clear. The Jews were to remain in the land; God would see to it that Nebuchadnezzar dealt kindly with them. They were definitely not to go to Egypt. If the people did try to flee to Egypt, “not one of them will survive or escape the disaster I will bring on them.” As the men of Jeremiah’s day were about to discover, it’s not what we don’t know of God’s will that may be our problem. Knowing God’s will carries the obligation to do God’s will. Failure to do what we know is right is far more serious than not understanding what the Lord requires. One of the most exciting finds by archeologists in Jerusalem is the bullae (seal) used by Baruch, the scribe to whom Jeremiah dictated this Old Testament book. The seal, illustrated here, was used as an authenticating stamp and reads “to/from Baruch // son of Neriah // the scribe.” “They entered Egypt in disobedience” Jer. 43:1–13. The people of Jeremiah’s time had decided beforehand what they wanted God to say. When Jeremiah’s message disagreed with their expectations, they accused Jeremiah of lying! It seems like such an easy way out. You don’t like what the Bible says? Well then, just decide not to believe it! You feel uncomfortable about this or that passage? Then just ignore it, or revise it to suit. A contemporary paraphrase by Shirley Maclaine, the New Age Version, renders Romans 3:23 as: “For all have experienced momentary lapses and have come up a tad shy of the Divine Entity’s absolute idea, but hey, nobody’s perfect. So don’t worry. Be happy!” Nice try, Shirley. But this admittedly more cheery phrasing does not change the truth affirmed in the original. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And it has no impact on the fact that “the wages of sin is death” (6:23). One can choose to deny, ignore, or reinterpret the Word of God. But nothing a person does can change the fact that what God says is true and binding. “To this day they have not humbled themselves or shown reverence” Jer. 44:1–30. Rebelliously the leaders and remaining people of Judah announced that they were going to Egypt anyway. What’s more, “We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our fathers . . . did in . . . the streets of Jerusalem.” This defiance of God and His Word was the final demonstration of the attitude which cost the people of Judah their kingdom. Now the remaining few trudged into Egypt, terrified of the Babylonians behind them, but blind to the destruction that God assured them lay ahead. And so the remnant disappeared into the desert, as the focus of God’s plans for His people shifted to highlight the captives in Babylon.
Seeking Great Things (Jer. 45)
Baruch was a frustrated man. His confrontation with Jehoiakim over the words Jeremiah dictated to him had ruined his prospects! He saw a bright career going down the drain. We know from the text of Jeremiah that Baruch was a member of a respected Jerusalemite family (36:4), and that his brother was an official in the royal court (51:59). He was trained as a scribe, very likely in order to serve in government. Everything about Baruch—background, education, connections—suggests that he could normally expect to gain a high-status, high-paying position in the local aristocracy. And then somehow Baruch got mixed up with Jeremiah, was linked with that unpopular prophet in the mind of King Jehoiakim—and that was it! No high pay. No fancy chariot. No job with the king. Kaput! And so Baruch pouted, and complained, “Woe to me.” I suppose we can identify with Baruch to some extent. He had great plans for himself, and a real prospect of making it big. When his plans crashed down around him, he became despondent, “worn out with groaning” and finding “no rest.” Life didn’t seem worth living to Baruch unless he achieved his goals, and made it in the big city. It was then God spoke to Baruch, and rebuked him. God was about to bring the whole society crashing down! “Should you then seek great things for yourself?” Bluntly God told Baruch, “Seek them not.” And then God made a promise. In the coming disaster the Lord would give Baruch something more precious than position—God would let Baruch “escape with your life.” Sometimes we need to be reminded, as Baruch was. We may not see the realization of our dreams. We may not reach the potential we think we have. We may never take our place among the rich and famous of this world. But compared to the gift that God has given us, the gift of life, these things mean little. “Seek them not,” is still some of the best advice Scripture has for the godly. Instead of wanting what we do not have, let’s be grateful for God’s gift of life. And use our lives to serve Him.
Satisfaction is not found in getting what you want, but in wanting what you get.