However, before Jeremiah turned to go, Nebuzaradan added, “Go back to Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon has appointed over the towns of Judah, and live with him among the people, or go anywhere else you please.”
Jeremiah 40:5 (NIV)
Jerusalem is in ruins. The walls that kept the Babylonians out for some 30 months have been demolished. Solomon’s Temple, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, is demolished along with the Palace. The Babylonians burned the entire city. It lies uninhabitable.
Having failed to find a puppet King of Judah who didn’t rebel against him, Nebuchadnezzar follows his destruction of Jerusalem with destruction of the monarchy. He proclaims the region a Babylonian province with its capital in Mizpah. He appoints a man named Gedaliah as the new provincial Governor answering to Babylon.
Interesting, that both Gedeliah’s father and grandfather are mentioned when the Babylonian Commander suggests that Jeremiah go to live under the Governor’s protection. Gedeliah was from a family of Scribes. Scribes were held in high esteem in those days as the number of people who could actually write were very few. Even in the days of Jesus some 500 years later, Scribes were the ranking authorities within the powerful religious party of the Pharisees. Jeremiah being a prominent prophet, he would have been well-known by the Scribes for his prophetic work. But, there’s even more of a connection with Gedeliah.
Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry half-way through the reign of the reformer King Josiah. It was during this period of time that Gedeliah’s grandfather, Shaphan, who presented the rediscovered Book of the Law to King Josiah, leading to sweeping religious reforms in 2 Kings 22. Jeremiah would have been politically and religiously in alliance with Shaphan, King Josiah, and the sweeping reforms that temporarily put an end to idolatry and called upon the entire nation to worship the God of Abraham, Moses, and David alone. Back in chapter 26, when Jeremiah’s enemies attempted to have him killed, it was Gedeliah’s father, Ahikam, who protected Jeremiah from the mob. Gedeliah and his family were supporters and allies of Jeremiah.
It’s equally fascinating that the Babylonian Commander, Nebuzaradan, offers Jeremiah protection should he decide to return to Babylon. It was very common in religions of that day to believe that when a prophet spoke, it was his or her words that caused the prophesied events to happen. They would have believed that if Jeremiah had kept his mouth shut, the siege, the famine, the death, the destruction, and the exile would not have happened. The fact that Jeremiah was right would not have gotten Jeremiah off the hook. It would have made him an even bigger target as a scapegoat whom people could blame for their dire circumstances. Nebuzaradan understood that Jeremiah needed protection and was willing to provide it if Jeremiah was going to Babylon. If he was staying, Gedeliah was best person with the political power (backed by Babylonian force) to get the job done.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about Jeremiah’s life journey and the incredible things God asked of him throughout his entire life. There was never a point at which he was not in danger of insult, mockery, public humiliation, verbal attack, physical attack, or the threat of death. And in the multiple cases in which attacks were made on his life, God always provided a protector whether it was Gedeliah, Ebed-Melek, or an Akikam.
We aren’t sure when and how Jeremiah died, though Jewish tradition from extra-Biblical sources hold that he was taken to Egypt where he continued his prophetic proclamations to the exiles and was finally stoned by his fellow countrymen. Given the historical record we do have, this sounds quite plausible. I have to admire Jeremiah for his faithful tenacity in the face of perpetual threat.
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