It had been such a long night of terror and fear, but at least they were alive! Nebuchadnezzar had now withdrawn, leaving a small garrison for the protection of the people. Gedaliah, that godly grandson of Shaphan who read to Josiah the book of the Law found in the Temple, that son of righteous Ahikam who had befriended and protected Jeremiah, had been appointed as governor. So the dispersed of Judah slowly made their way back home. A peaceful life with abundance from the fruits of harvest awaited them, and all this under Nebuchadnezzar’s protection! After so much horror, bloodshed, and terror, God had in His kindness turned from His wrath and left a blessing behind for the remnant.
How jarring, then, is Jeremiah 41 for those who contemplate the ways of God: When, at last, relief from great distress and trial is found and healing is beginning, the people are plunged, through no fault of their own, into an even more desperate crisis. We must ask, as we will several times more: why did, and why does, God allow things like this to happen? Why did He permit Ishmael, as agent of the King of Ammon with his plans to control the land, to succeed with his bloody plans? Why does God, just when we are beginning to find some stability and relief in our lives, plunge us even deeper into crisis? Ishmael’s actions had now exposed the remnant to the renewed wrath of Nebuchadnezzar!
While we don’t always have answers to God’s work in our own circumstances, it is both very instructive and encouraging to watch God at work in this incident as He tries to teach His people a profoundly simple, yet vital lesson… if only they would heed His voice.
The divine crisis
In this time of crisis the people did a good thing: They sought out God through the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 42:1-6). On the surface their words manifested a wonderful trust in God: “that the LORD God may show us the way in which we should walk… whether it is good or evil, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God!” Isn’t this what we too pledged on the day of our baptism? Isn’t this what life in Christ is all about?
“And it happened after ten days…” (Jer 42:7). Ten days? Why? Surely God knew how precarious their situation was? The whole garrison of Chaldeans had been slaughtered! Could any action more thoroughly ensure the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar against this remnant? Would they not be in a much safer place under the protection of the King of Egypt, far away from the threat of both Babylon and their hostile neighbors?
It is something to marvel at — and learn from — how often God uses time to manifest what is really in our hearts, whether we truly believe and trust the power of the invisible God. Consider Abraham, and Sarah especially, as they awaited the fulfillment of God’s promise of a child. Or Saul, waiting for Samuel to come to offer sacrifice. And, especially relevant for us today, consider the servants in the house and the ten virgins, all of whom had to deal with the passing of time in the purposeful delay of their Lord’s return (Matt 24:48; 25:5). We need to think deeply about these portrayals of real life: Why does God cause us to wait?
The LORD’s answer
In defiance of everything that was ‘sensible and right’ (the obvious protection of Egypt), God called them to face a frightening and uncertain future in His Land — indeed, a future full of risk to their very lives! Yet, if they were prepared to go with Him, He promised to protect them and deliver them and bless them (Jer 42:8-17,19).
“My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved… Trust in Him at all times, you people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” (Psa 62:5-6,8).
Isn’t this the crux of the whole matter? Isn’t this why God permitted these evil circumstances and made them wait? Were they prepared to trust the invisible God and to stay with Him no matter what happened — good or evil?
Isn’t this too the question God puts before us in our lives? Just when we give up on God and work out for ourselves a ‘reasonable’ and ‘sensible’ course of action, God exposes the chosen course not only as wrong, but also damaging to us over the long term. God then directs us to another path, one full (to our minds) of risk and danger, and clearly ‘foolish’ by human standards. So what do we do? The answer to this question tells God much about what we really believe in our heart.
The people’s answer
To these people, the decision to go to Egypt was so ‘right’, so ‘sensible’, so ‘logical’ — surely God must approve!
The reality, though, seems to be that they always intended to go to Egypt; all they really wanted from God was confirmation their decision was right (42:20).
When they received a “no” from God, they did what comes naturally when one’s intent is opposed. They attacked the instrument that expressed the divine answer:
“You speak falsely! The LORD our God has not sent you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to dwell there’ ” (Jer 43:2).
Doesn’t this ring true in our own experiences? Aren’t we sometimes so convinced our way is right that we proceed to attack the source that would beg to differ? “Oh, Bro. Jeremiah doesn’t know what he is talking about! What does he know about the Bible anyway? Why, look at the mess his life is in! Fine person to give me advice!” Or perhaps: “The Bible doesn’t really mean what you say it means. I understand it differently.” And then we set off rashly on our own predetermined course.
Pondering God’s ways
So, we do need to ponder this simple incident well. Underlying these events is a simple and basic premise for all who seek God’s Kingdom: the journey to God’s Kingdom is His; therefore, the course of our life must necessarily be set by Him (Jer 42:3).
This means that both the good and the evil event are there by God’s overshadowing control, each event being used by His foreknowledge for our ultimate good.
Isn’t this what Peter was saying, when after speaking of the “fiery trials” they were to endure, he urged his brethren to “humble yourselves … under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1Pet 5:6,7).
So here are the fundamental questions we each must answer:
- Do we really believe this journey and, therefore, the course of our lives, belongs to God?
- Are we prepared to submit to God’s mighty Hand in all the circumstances of our lives, even when they run counter to all human reasoning and open our lives to seemingly foolish and senseless risks?
- Are we prepared to submit to all the hardships and difficulties God deems necessary for our discipline and salvation?
In the end it can only be either life on our own, marking out our own path, or life with the Father and His Son. Happy is the man who learns this wisdom:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Prov 3:5,6).