Jeremiah preached an unpopular message of surrender to the Babylonians. When the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, they gave the prophet a choice of going to Babylon or staying in Judah (Jer. 40:1–6). Jeremiah opted to stay in the land. Because Jeremiah stayed, the people and leaders approached Jeremiah with a request for prayer for direction on behalf of the remnant remaining in Judah (42:2–3).
God’s response to the prophet’s prayer was for the people to remain in the land and not to fear the king of Babylon or to move to Egypt as some of the Judeans opted. God encouraged the people by means of a promise that the king of Babylon would allow the Jews to return to their own land.
Jeremiah set before the people options and consequences. The people promised to obey God whether God’s Word was pleasant or unpleasant (v. 6).
Option 1 (7–12)
Some Jewish individuals attempted to create their own future by assassinating Gedaliah, Nebuchadnezzar’s choice to serve as governor. The people and leadership were afraid and requested the prophet Jeremiah to pray for guidance regarding “the way we should go and the thing we should do” (v. 3).
After 10 days of prayer, Jeremiah received an answer to the request and summoned the leaders and people from the least to the greatest. The people likely wondered why an answer was slow in coming. God’s answer was for the people to stay in the land and resume normal life by building and planting their lives in Judah.
God commanded the people to not fear the king of Babylon because God would rescue His people from the Babylonians. God would give compassion to the Judeans and to the king of Babylon, and he would allow the Jewish people to return in 539 B.C.
When God commissioned the prophet, His commission entailed a mission to nations and kingdoms. God’s plan for His people included “to build and plant” lives in obedience.
Option 2 (13–18)
The second option for the people of God was to flee for shelter in Egypt in disobedience to God.
Some of the Judeans desired to flee to Egypt as a place of safety and flourishing with the absence of war or hunger.
God declared that this option would bring disasters of sword, famine and plague — the very issues the people hoped to avoid by fleeing to Egypt.
Jeremiah gave three warnings. First, fleeing to Egypt would be an action against God’s will. Second, the people would not find the safety they sought in Egypt. Third, fleeing to Egypt would negate the call to be a blessing to the nations, and the people would become an example of cursing and scorn. Because fleeing to Egypt was a refusal to trust God, the people who fled would never see the land of Judah again.
The people requested for Jeremiah to pray to God on their behalf and pledged to obey all that God said. They did not like God’s answer. Rather than potentially dying by the sword, famine or plague associated with the Babylonians, the people would experience death by sword, famine or plague in Egypt.
In reversing the Exodus by returning to Egypt, the individuals who traveled to Egypt would die in Egypt. The best option for God’s people is to trust God.
By Mark Rathel
Professor at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Florida