After the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the prophet Jeremiah was first taken in chains to Ramah a few miles north of Jerusalem (Jer. 39:11-14). It is here that Nebuchadnezzar had his royal camp. He was released by Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, and given freedom to go wherever he pleased (Jer. 40:1-5).
Jeremiah chose to join Gedaliah who had been appointed the Jewish governor of the land (Jer. 40:6-7). His headquarters was in Mizpah, a few miles north of Ramah. Gedaliah’s grandfather Shaphan was King Josiah’s scribe who reported the discovery of the book of the law and read it to the king (2 Ki. 22:3-13). And his father Ahikam was one of the men who was sent by Josiah to inquire of the prophetess Huldah (2 Ki. 22:12-14). Ahikam had stood up for Jeremiah and protected him (Jer. 26:24).
Johanan and the other captains warned Gedaliah that Ishmael planned to kill him at the instigation of Baalis the king of the Ammonites. Ishmael, who was of the royal seed, was probably motivated by envy and covetousness. The Ammonites had longstanding hatred of the Jews. “… who, out of ill will to the Jews, always bore them by the Ammonites, envying their reestablishment under Gedaliah, and hoping to make a prey of them if their governor was removed, moved it to this young prince to dispatch him” (John Gill).
Gedaliah was a sincere man from a good family, but he was gullible. He didn’t heed warnings and didn’t even check them out to see if they were true (Jer. 40:14-16). When he was warned of Johanan and other captains that the king of the Ammonites had sent Ishmael to kill him, Gedaliah said, “Thou speakest falsely of Ishmael.” At the very least, it would be wise to check out a warning issued from a captain of your own army, but like many pastors today, Gedaliah didn’t like warnings or “division.” He wanted to be “positive” and refused to listen to anything “negative” about a fellow Jew. “Very likely Ishmael had behaved in a very princely complaisant manner, and had expressed a great affection for the governor, and had been very familiar with him; and being of the seed royal” (John Gill). Gedaliah didn’t like warfare. Johanan volunteered to slay Ishmael, and his motive was right. Johanan said, “Wherefore should he slay thee, that all the Jews which are gathered unto thee should be scattered, and the remnant in Judah perish” (Je. 40:15). But Gedaliah was a pacifist. He didn’t want to see any fighting. As a result, he was killed and the flock was scattered. Many Baptist pastors follow in these unwise footsteps. They are spiritual pacifists. They don’t give clear warnings and don’t like those who do. They don’t fight the good fight (1 Ti. 4:7). They don’t earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3). They say they love the truth, but they don’t hate every false way” (Ps. 119:128). They teach truth but they don’t rebuke error. Gedaliahs look upon warners as troublemakers and divisive and attribute wrong motives to them. As a result, their sheep are not protected.
The warning about Ishmael was true. He was a liar, a murderer, and a rebel. He returned to Mizpah with ten other men who were princes and had joined him in the plot. They feigned friendship to Gedaliah, ate of his bread, then rose up and killed him and other men at Mizpah, including some Babylonians.
The next day, Ishmael feigned friendship toward a group of 80 men from Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria, who were traveling to Jerusalem to worship God. Ishmael even feigned weeping and invited them to Mizpah, where he killed all but 10 of them. By cutting themselves, the 70 worshipers were mixing pagan practices together with Judaism (Jer. 41:5)
All of the dead bodies were thrown into a great pit or cistern that had been dug by King Asa (Jer. 41:9). See 1 Ki. 15:22.
Ishmael took captive the people who remained alive at Mizpah, which would have included Jeremiah, and intended to carry them to Ammon across the Jordan. He was intercepted in Gibeon by Johanan and other captains and the captives were recovered (Jer. 41:10-15). Gibeon was south of Mizpah, about five miles northwest of Jerusalem. Ishmael escaped and we don’t hear any more about him. The great waters of Gibeon refers to the pool where the soldiers of Abner and Joab killed one another (2 Sa. 2:12-16). It was discovered by archaeologist James Pritchard in the 1950s. It consists of a shaft 37 feet in diameter that is cut into the limestone to a depth of 82 feet. A stone staircase winds to the bottom for access to the water. At the bottom of the vertical shaft is a horizontal 60 foot rock tunnel that channels water into the cistern. It is “one of ancient Palestine’s most remarkable feats of engineering” (“Famed Biblical Pool Flows Again,” Reading Eagle, Reading, Pennsylvania, Sep. 29, 1957). This find was called “one of the top 10 discoveries in biblical archaeology (Biblical Archaeology Review, May-June 1995).
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