1 Samuel 3; Romans 3; Jeremiah 41; Psalm 17
THE ACCOUNT OF GEDALIAH’S assassination and its aftermath (Jer. 41) is brutal and ugly.
(1) The man responsible for Gedaliah’s death, Ishmael son of Nethaniah (Jer. 40:8; 41:1), was a man of royal blood, and may have been incensed because he was not the one the Babylonians appointed to rule the people. It is always shocking to see people scrambling for power even when there is nothing more than disaster and poverty over which to exercise power.
(2) The depth of Ishmael’s perfidy is powerfully portrayed. To kill people at a meal you are sharing was far more shocking in the sixth century B.C. than in our own, inured as we are by Agatha Christie novels and the like. Moreover, Ishmael’s rage boils over so that others are assassinated, including the Babylonian troops left behind to keep an eye on things. The motive impelling the next atrocity (Jer. 41:4-7) is uncertain: Ishmael may still have been suspicious of anyone interested in serving Gedaliah (Jer. 41:6). Or in the still terribly unstable political situation following the war, he may have been intent on robbery and mayhem. The latter view is favored by the fact that some of the pilgrims save their lives by telling Ishmael of a food cache (Jer. 41:8).
(3) Johanan son of Kereah was the one who first warned Gedaliah of Ishmael’s conspiracy (Jer. 40:13-14). Now he is equally quick to put together a band and go after Ishmael and his men and those they have taken captive (Jer. 41:11-12). Even though Ishmael and eight of his men escape, the captives are rescued (Jer. 41:14-15).
(4) Now Johanan must ask himself what to do. He and those with him are afraid that when the murder of Gedaliah and the others is reported back to Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar will be so filled with rage that he will send back powerful army units and kill everyone who is left. So Johanan starts south, heading for Egypt, stopping near Bethlehem (just south of Jerusalem) to gather together those who want to escape with him.
(5) Theologically, all of this is part of the utter devastation befalling Judah. The city and temple have been destroyed. The Davidic dynasty has ended. All of the leaders, craftsmen, priests, and the like have been deported in waves (see Jer. 52:28-30). And now, just when it seems that a good man, Gedaliah, might somehow nurse this broken nation back through slow recovery to real economic and political health, he is assassinated, and the few remaining leaders fear the Babylonians and plan to flee to Egypt. Unaware of what they are doing, they thus bring to perfect fulfillment the prophecies of utter doom that Jeremiah has pronounced for four decades.