Be Ye Doers of the Word

Jeremiah 40-45

Chapter 39 described the capture of Jerusalem, the capture and release of Jeremiah, a prophecy to the Ethiopian Ebed-Melech. Jeremiah “stayed among the people” (39:14).

I. The Governorship of Gedaliah (40:1–41:18)

A. Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, released Jeremiah from Ramah (40:1–6).

    1. Nebuzaradan demonstrated an awareness of the sovereignty of God (1–3). He was more perceptive than the Jews about the consequences of disobedience to the Lord of heaven and earth. As under the authority of Nebuchadnezzar, he knew and consented to the principle of order through proper channels of authority. If such was due to Nebuchadnezzar, how much more to the Lord. Jesus saw that the roman Centurion recognized this in the healing of the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5–13).
    2. Nebuzaradan removed Jeremiah’s chains and offered him options to go to Babylon or return to Judah (4).
    3. Jeremiah chose Mizpah which had been placed by Nebuchadnezzar under the protection of Gedaliah (5–6).

B. Those who scattered into various exiles of safety during the siege from Babylon returned to their land (40:7–12)

    1. Ishmael, Johanan, and other leaders of troops of men came with their followers to Mizpah to speak with Gedaliah (7–8).
    2. Gedaliah vouched for their safety if they stay in the land (9–10). He encouraged them to gather and conserve the produce of the land and live in the cities that they now had occupied.
    3. The scattered Jews returned to the land (11–12). They believed that the king of Babylon now would let the remnant live in safety and that Gedaliah spoke the truth. They returned, settled, and gathered in the produce of the land “in great abundance” (12).

C. Johanan alerted Gedaliah to the treachery of Ishmael (40:13–16). Ishmael was a tool of the king of Ammon who did not want to see security and stability return to the nation of Judah.

    1. Johanan’s warning (13–15) that Ishmael had been sent to take the life of Gedaliah probably came from discussions these leaders had as they sought to develop some order and stability among the returning exiles. He learned of Ishmael’s coziness with Baalis and that he probably was under some sort of contract with him to assassinate Gedaliah.
    2. Gedaliah refused to believe Johanan’s report (v. 16). His perception of the situation was entirely other than the truth. He told Johanan, who spoke the truth, “Do not do this thing, for you are telling a lie about Ishmael.” There is a great irony in seeing Gedaliah’s response to Johanan and Johanan’s response to Jeremiah in 43:2. “You are telling a lie,” he heard from Gedaliah; “You are telling lie,” he told Jeremiah.

D. The Assassination of Gedaliah (41:1–18)

    1. Ishmael killed Gedaliah and all those with him (1–3).
    2. Ishmael murdered seventy pilgrims and cast their bodies in a pit (4–10).
    3. Johanan pursued Ishmael and his men (vv. 11–18).
      • When all the people that had been taken by Ishmael, son of Nethaniah, they rallied their resolve and turned from Ishmael and went back to Johanan.
      • Ishmael escaped with 8 men and went to the Ammonites.
      • The rescued people with Johanan went for a temporary respite near Bethlehem intending to go down into Egypt. They feared retaliation from Babylon because of the assassination of Gedaliah.


II. The People fled to Egypt (42:1–45:5)

A. The people asked Jeremiah for guidance and pledge to act accordingly (42:1–6)

    1. They recognized their smallness as a remnant.
    2. Since Jeremiah alone was left as a prophet, they probably concluded that he could intercede. It might be significant that they first say “the Lord Your God;” he counters to them with “the Lord Your God” (4). They again say, “the Lord Your God,” (5) and then change in verse 6 to “the Lord Our God.”
    3. Jeremiah consented to intercede, and they pledged to do what he said “Whether it is good or bad.” How far we may go in deceiving ourselves about our own sincerity is a distressing realization. They had an intention to go to Egypt, based on a rational surmise of the political realities. They could not conceive of any possibility that Nebuchadnezzar would not retaliate for the assassination of Gedaliah. Escape was their only option, so they feared. It appears that they wanted some prophetic verification that their judgment was correct. They were being governed by their fear.

B. Jeremiah’s instructions for the people (42:7–22)

    1. Jeremiah waited for ten days to give an answer (7–8). Often, when we feel that guidance is urgent, we are called on to be patient.
    2. The people were instructed to wait in Judah (9–12; cf. 42:10 w/ 1:10). God had included “to build and to plant” as a par5t of Jeremiah’s calling. If they stayed, God would do with them the very aspect of building that was a part of Jeremiah’s original revelation. They would be blessed and prosper if they stayed. The Lord recognized their fear and the basis of their reasoning, but he set forth an option that would call for them to deny their reasoning and credit the word of God as true above their immediate perceptions. Even as the king of Babylon had been under God’s control in his attack on Judah, so he would be under God’s control in refraining from a renewed offensive against them.
    3. Going to Egypt, the thing they were determined to do, would bring wrath (13–22). Everything they feared would happen to them if they stayed, would come upon them with a vengeance if they went to Egypt. The sword would find them in their supposed safe place. Famine would ravage them, pestilence would kill them. God warned through Jeremiah, “They will have no survivor or refugees” (17).
      • The irony of this opportunity is striking. God would reconstruct the nation through this remnant if they stayed, trusted in him, and did not depend on Egypt. By going, they would subject themselves to the temptation of pagan worship, one of the great plagues that they inherited from Egypt and from which they never fully escaped.
      • God would rescue them from Egypt in reverse by prohibiting their self-imposed exile there. Instead, they chose to return to bondage, false gods, and judgment.
      • The promises of safety and prosperity in Judah as a remnant were true promises from a faithful covenant God. The promise included a knowledge that they would not listen but would follow their own determination. “You have only deceived yourselves” (20). They wanted the approval of the prophet for their plans. Though they said, in the form of a piously framed oath (5), that they would “listen to the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you” (6), they would approve only what coincided with their intention.

C. The people blatantly disobeyed the Lord’s instructions by misrepresenting Jeremiah (43:1–13).

    1. Proud leaders made false accusations against Jeremiah and Baruch (1–3).
    2. They took all the people, kidnapped Jeremiah and Baruch and went to Egypt (4–7). The people returned “from all the nations” where they had been scattered for the purpose of resuming residence in their beloved homeland, Judah (5). Now the treacherous Johanan commandeers all of them with a show of military force (5) and makes the journey into Egypt. Matthew Henry commented, “It is the folly of men that they know not when they are well off, and often ruin themselves by endeavoring to better themselves; and it is the pride of great men to force those they have under their power to follow them, though ever so much against their duty and interest.”
    3. The “parable” of the buried stones (8–13). Among the pagans of Egypt and the fearful and treacherous of Israel, Jeremiah received a word from the Lord, a word to be acted out in a visible dramatic way.
      • Through Nebuchadnezzar God will bring disaster on the people, the very thing they had feared by staying in Judah. Nebuchadnezzar still is God’s servant (10).
      • He will show the powerlessness of the gods of Egypt, because Johanan trusted in the protection of Egypt when it expressed confidence in these non-gods for their power and security.

III. God’s promise of judgment on the people of Judah (44:1–30).

A. He reminds them of God’s hatred of sin and their persistent history of sin (1–10).

B. God pledged to judge the remnant of his people (11–30).

    1. The people pledged to maintain their idolatry for they believed it made them prosper.
    2. Jeremiah reminded them that they very thing they cherish and trust brought their demise.

IV. Assurance for Baruch (45:1–5).

A. Baruch laments his suffering and loss of prestige as Jeremiah’s aid (1–3; cf. 43:3).

    1. Notice that our knowledge of Baruch’s grumbling is a direct revelation from God. It came to Jeremiah as a “Thus Saith the Lord.” (2).
    2. God is always aware of all that we do, say, and think. He knows all our subterfuges, our excuses, our complaints, our grumblings.
    3. Also consider what it means that one so immediately involved in communication of the Word of God, one so faithful in some difficult situations, receives this reprimand. We must never think that our labors for the Lord have earned for us an easy time, or that we must not bear the yoke of affliction with others.

B. The Lord instructs Baruch to be satisfied with the assurance of his life (4–5).

    1. The Lord reminds Baruch that he established the nation of Israel for his own purposes and now he will pluck it up in pursuit of these same purposes.
    2. Baruch must not see his service to God as a stepping stone to “greater” things. The breaking up of Judah seemed to be the destruction of opportunity for a man like Baruch to make his mark. Verse 5 was the verse that came to Charles Spurgeon’s mind after he had missed an opportunity for a very important interview concerning higher education. It made him determined to continue with ministry in a church in a small village, Waterbeach, rather than seek College education at the time. Eventually, through the Metropolitan Tabernacle Spurgeon established the most successful training school for preachers in the nineteenth century.
    3. At a time when disaster descends on all flesh, and there is a plucking up of the “whole land,” one should recognize that the granting of life is a bountiful blessing. If we have the right perspective on the relation between our sin and God’s present mercies in this life, and his eternal mercies in Christ, we will rejoice in such undeserved favors. All above hell is pure mercy.

V. Observations

A. A mere change in their physical circumstances did not change the hearts of the Jews.

They moved from Judah to Egypt; yet, their hearts remained corrupt and rebellious against the law of God and the revealed word of the prophet. We are fools if we think changed circumstances will change our hearts. A great renovation of soul and change of heart will change headstrong selfishness and rebellion into gratitude, submission, joy, love of truth, love of God.

B. God hates sin.Some conceive of God as a grandfatherly figure who winks at moral mischief, but it is intrinsically impossible for God to ignore sin.

Justice is an essential attribute of God, necessary to goodness.  The Lord of Hosts hates sin.  He loathed the very things the men of Judah held dear.  Their darling sins brought the Jews in direct and hostile confrontation with the Holy One of Israel.

C. Sin does terrible harm to those who disobey God (44:7).

This passage indicates that all sin is self-destructive. It shows mental arrogance, pleasure directed purpose, lack of fear and reverence, and desire for ontological autonomy.

D. Conditions for restoration remain clearly revealed; the only obstacle is the heart – Mt. 24:34–39.

E. God’s servant must find solace and confidence solely in his own conscientious confidence that he speaks the truth God has sent him to speak, not in the apparent success of a large following—Matthew 10:24–31; 11:8–19.

A word from God, for good or ill,
Announces treasured truth.
Ignore it and you’re lawless still,
Whether aged or brilliant youth.

He condescends to warn and woo
Our pride to halt and turn.
“My prophet warns and urges you,
And you, on hearing, spurn.”

Ignore the warning of the Lord,
Pursue your own desire;
Then feel the force of fury’s sword,
Your feet now sunk in mire.

The way of man enhances wrath,
His wisdom vaunts the fool.
He scurries down a thorny path,
Prefers unrighteous rule.

If one man truly loved the Lord
And He of spotless birth,
And even to death he kept the word
By deeds of priceless worth,

If such a One took as his own
Our sins, from filthy hearts,
And took the wrath sent from God’s throne
To satisfy each part,

Then God Himself would say, ”It’s done,
The price has now been paid.”
The Father seeks us through the Son,
Atonement has been made.

Rich mercies Jesus earned for us,
A righteous reign of grace.
New hearts are made, forgiven sin,
A holy, righteous race.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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