Good morning! Today’s reading (Jeremiah 39-43) covers a lot of ground (so to speak) with refugees from Jerusalem, describing what happens as and after Babylonian forces overwhelm the walls of the city. What most catches my attention on this reading is the absolute chaos that ensues after Jerusalem falls. One wishes this were required reading for any military commander contemplating “regime change”, as though it were as simple as replacing a lightbulb.
The passage opens as Babylon breaches the wall of Jerusalem and takes the city captive after several years of siege. What follows is the typical though brutal behavior of conquerors when a city doesn’t surrender willingly—execution of officials, burning of the city, and exile of the city’s inhabitants. Some peasants remain in the land, and actually increase their property because they’re no longer excluded from the towns. This is one reason why, decades later when the exiles return, there’s a real cultural difference between those who stayed and those who were exiled.
Jeremiah receives mercy at the hands of the Babylonians, and is turned loose from his house arrest. He in turn protects the Ethiopian eunuch who helped save him when he was thrown into the muddy cistern. According to this account (and contrary to earlier chapters where Jeremiah is prophesying from Babylon), the prophet stays with the residents of Judah rather than going away with other elites into exile. Gedaliah is set up as governor of Judah with the support of Babylon, and a number of emigrants from Judah during the time of warfare come back to join the community in Jerusalem. However, not all the people support Gedaliah, and one of the surviving members of the royal family assassinates him. Bloodthirsty Ishmael then leads a coup against Babylonian authority, until his own insurrection is defeated by another group of Babylonian-sympathizing forces. It sounds like anarchy rules the land, with no clarity about who to follow in the power vacuum following the forced deportation.
Those who survive the chaos in Jerusalem are afraid of further Babylonian retribution, so they want to flee to Egypt. Asking for Jeremiah’s advice, they hear the message he receives from God, that their best course of action is to remain in the land. Paradoxically, this will be better than trying to assure their own salvation. Jeremiah says to trust God and stay put, but they don’t believe him, presuming that he’s tricking them into being captured again by Babylon. Yet again, Jeremiah is forcibly compelled against his wishes, this time to accompany the multitude fleeing into Egypt. Once there, Jeremiah reiterates the prophecy he gave in Jerusalem, that “God’s servant” Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon will overwhelm Egypt and do the same to them as he did in Jerusalem. The Judean refugees will discover that disbelieving the prophecy doesn’t make it any less true. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Jeremiah 44-46. Thanks for reading!