Jeremiah 42:7 At the end of ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. 8 Then he summoned Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces who were with him, and all the people from the least to the greatest, 9 and said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel… 10 If you will only remain in this land (Judah), then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I am sorry for the disaster that I have brought upon you. …13 But if you continue to say, ‘We will not stay in this land,’ thus disobeying the voice of the Lord your God 14 and saying, ‘No, we will go to the land of Egypt”…16 then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there, in the land of Egypt; and the famine that you dread shall follow close after you into Egypt; and there you shall die.
The land of Judah, which included the holy city of Jerusalem, had been overrun by the Babylonians. Many of God’s people died in the fighting while most survivors were sent to Babylon as slaves. The poorest of the Israelites were allowed to stay behind. Eventually other Israelites were able to return to Judah, but there was little left to come back to. Plus, with Israel’s warriors dead, the returning Israelites felt vulnerable. Who would protect them? Would the Babylonians come back and kill them all this time?
So they asked the prophet Jeremiah to seek guidance from God on their behalf as to what they should do. V.11-12 are very clear. God declared they should stay in Judah instead of running to Egypt for protection. God would protect them in Judah and bring them provision. If they did the logical thing, which was to go to Egypt where there was protection from the Babylonians, they would die. As you might expect, despite promises to Jeremiah they would do whatever God commanded, they fled to Egypt – and died there.
This story sounds a lot like the chapter 38 in which King Zedekiah also inquired of the Lord through Jeremiah. At that time Judah had not yet been overrun, but the Babylonians were at the gates. God told Zedekiah not to resist the king of Babylon, but to surrender to him – for it was God himself who had sent the Babylonians to humble Israel. If Zekekiah went willingly, God would protect him, the people of Israel and the holy city (which would not be destroyed). Did Zedekiah do as Jeremiah told him to do? Nope. The result was utter disaster for Isreal.
I read these stories and think, “What is wrong with these people?!”, confident I would act according to the word of God via Jeremiah. But is that really true? Would I really choose differently? It was logical for Zedekiah to fight instead of submit. Awful things happened to conquered peoples in ancient times. Could he really risk that?
The returning Israelites appeared to be completely vulnerable with no army to protect them. Surely it would only be a matter of time before a surrounding nation found them and put them all to death, claiming whatever valuables were left as plunder. Would I risk that? Would I risk my family, friends, and loved ones like that? Every impulse would be to flee to Egypt for protection.
In both cases the people were challenged to resist logic and trust the Lord instead.
As a Christian, this sort of thing confronts me all the time. Can I really trust the Lord with my material resources, giving away 10% or more of my income instead of doing with it as I see fit? Can I really trust the Lord with an entire day of the week called the Sabbath? Can I honestly afford to spend time at the beginning of each day in the scriptures and prayer when it seems I’m behind the 8-ball from the moment I get out of bed?
In these ways, and many others, I’m often no better than King Zedekiah and the Israelites during the Babylonian captivity. I know exactly what I’m supposed to do, what God counsels, and choose otherwise. To my own detriment. The human rebellion baked into our DNA, beginning with Adam and Eve, is alive and well.
Heavenly Father, left to my own devices I will often choose to rebel against your word than to submit. I want to think I’m more spiritually mature than the people we read about in these chapters of Jeremiah, but the truth is humbling indeed. By the power of your Holy Spirit that dwells in all believers, give me grace to follow after you – even when your ways defy all logic and so-called “common sense”. For your ways are truly not our ways. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.
P.S., I’m feeling lousy today. Think I’m getting a summer cold. Your prayers for healing are coveted.