FEAR OR FAITH?
Lord, teach me more about the consequences of direct disobedience to You.
Read JEREMIAH 41:16—42:22
Flight to Egypt
16 Then Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers who were with him led away all the people of Mizpah who had survived, whom Johanan had recovered from Ishmael son of Nethaniah after Ishmael had assassinated Gedaliah son of Ahikam—the soldiers, women, children and court officials he had recovered from Gibeon. 17 And they went on, stopping at Geruth Kimham near Bethlehem on their way to Egypt 18 to escape the Babylonians. They were afraid of them because Ishmael son of Nethaniah had killed Gedaliah son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had appointed as governor over the land.
42 Then all the army officers, including Johanan son of Kareah and Jezaniah son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest approached 2 Jeremiah the prophet and said to him, “Please hear our petition and pray to the Lord your God for this entire remnant. For as you now see, though we were once many, now only a few are left. 3 Pray that the Lord your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do.”
4 “I have heard you,” replied Jeremiah the prophet. “I will certainly pray to the Lord your God as you have requested; I will tell you everything the Lord says and will keep nothing back from you.”
5 Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. 6 Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.”
7 Ten days later the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. 8 So he called together Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers who were with him and all the people from the least to the greatest. 9 He said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your petition, says: 10 ‘If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I have relented concerning the disaster I have inflicted on you. 11 Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you now fear. Do not be afraid of him, declares the Lord, for I am with you and will save you and deliver you from his hands. 12 I will show you compassion so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your land.’
13 “However, if you say, ‘We will not stay in this land,’ and so disobey the Lord your God, 14 and if you say, ‘No, we will go and live in Egypt, where we will not see war or hear the trumpet or be hungry for bread,’ 15 then hear the word of the Lord, you remnant of Judah. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you are determined to go to Egypt and you do go to settle there, 16 then the sword you fear will overtake you there, and the famine you dread will follow you into Egypt, and there you will die. 17 Indeed, all who are determined to go to Egypt to settle there will die by the sword, famine and plague; not one of them will survive or escape the disaster I will bring on them.’ 18 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘As my anger and wrath have been poured out on those who lived in Jerusalem, so will my wrath be poured out on you when you go to Egypt. You will be a curse and an object of horror, a curse and an object of reproach; you will never see this place again.’
19 “Remnant of Judah, the Lord has told you, ‘Do not go to Egypt.’ Be sure of this: I warn you today 20 that you made a fatal mistake when you sent me to the Lord your God and said, ‘Pray to the Lord our God for us; tell us everything he says and we will do it.’ 21 I have told you today, but you still have not obeyed the Lord your God in all he sent me to tell you. 22 So now, be sure of this: You will die by the sword, famine and plague in the place where you want to go to settle.”
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
When we ask God for directions, we should be willing to carry them out, even when they seem counterproductive.
Fear can produce desperation. If we let it dilute our trust in God, it may bring serious consequences. Have compassion, then, for the frightened group of refugees traveling south towards Egypt (17,18) after two years of enemy occupation. Their brief taste of safety has been destroyed by the murder of Gedaliah and subsequent capture by his rival, Ishmael. Now, rescued by Johanan, they are scared of Babylonian reprisals (16–18). Not surprisingly, their instinct is to flee from the trouble zone. The little group is reversing their ancestors’ escape from Egypt a few centuries earlier.
Not far from Bethlehem, it occurs to them that it might be a good idea to ask God about their plans (42:1–3). Jeremiah, travelling with them, is the man for the job. Their desire to find out God’s will seems genuine (6), but have they, in fact, already made up their minds? The use of pronouns—“your God,” “our God” (5,6)—perhaps betrays some ambivalence towards Jeremiah’s God. After ten days of anxious waiting, God’s reply comes but seems irrational. His command to stay in the land coupled with the promise of his protection (11,12) fall on deaf ears. Jeremiah spells out the danger of defying God again. Paradoxically, their own choice brings their own destruction (21,22). They’re in no mood to heed anything he says.
As with all biblical narratives, this story carries a wider significance regarding God’s purposes for his people. Jeremiah’s “Remnant of Judah” (42:19) is a reminder that this group potentially has an important role in caring for their land during the exile. Instead, they reject God’s way. For us today, there is a similar challenge. Whatever our circumstances, we have a choice: reject God’s way, perhaps out of fear, or follow him in faith.
How many times have you acted irrationally out of fear? How did that work out for you?
Lord God, give us the strength and courage needed to do Your will today.