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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

By the Revd Dr Mark Pickles

Part 4

Gedaliah is appointed governor and we read that Jeremiah purposely chooses to live amongst “those of the poorest of the land who had not been taken into exile in Babylon” (40:7).

Things have taken a turn for the worse when Ishmael attacks and murders Gedaliah and all the Judeans who were with him.  When Johanan hears about all the evil Ishmael has done, he decides to go and fight Ishmael.  Ishmael escapes but Johanan with all the people Ishmael had taken prisoner then decided to flee to Egypt.  Why?  Because they feared what the Babylonians would do to them when they got wind of what had happened namely that Ishmael had murdered Gedaliah who Babylon had made governor (Chapters 40-41).

They then come to Jeremiah and in chapter 42 ask him to “pray to the Lord for us as to what we should do” (v5-6), promising “just tell us the truth whatever the Lord says we will obey the voice of the Lord our God.”

So Jeremiah calls them together after 10 days (42:10ff) and warns them very clearly not to go to Egypt.

The Lord says, “As my anger was poured out on Jerusalem so too it will be poured out on you if you go to Egypt (42:18).

True to form, despite Jeremiah’s clear warning they refuse to listen, rather they accuse Jeremiah once again of misleading them “you’re telling a lie, this a plot to deliver us into the hands of the Babylonians” (43:2).  So  they don’t obey and they take all the remnant of Judah to Egypt including Jeremiah and Baruch.

There are various explanations given as to why Jeremiah goes to Egypt and as far as we know ends his days there.  

Chris Wright in his commentary, The Message of Jeremiah, pg. 401, writes:

“In returning to the place of bondage the people of God have dealt a deathblow to the story of salvation—the womb of Israel’s birth—Egypt now becomes the abode of death— it is a small but very mixed crowd we see on that road south.  Men, women, children, old and young, from rags to royalty and in their midst Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch son of Neriah released from captivity by the Babylonians only to be taken captive by their own people and forced for the rest of their days to dwell among a disobedient people in the land from which God had delivered their ancestors.”

Philip Ryken in his commentary, Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope in the Preaching the Word series:

“There is nothing in the text to suggest that Jeremiah and Baruch were taken to Egypt against their will as some scholars suggest.  Such coercion is implausible.  Why would the remnant court disaster by bringing along the prophet who opposed them?”

So he argues:

“This is a remarkable statement of loyalty to God’s people.  Jeremiah did not have to go to Egypt … he was so devoted to God’s people that he rejected the pension he richly deserved.  He preferred to join the remnant of God’s people than to walk on the plush carpets of Babylon.  He stayed with God’s people even when they were almost beneath his dignity.  To live with such cowards may have been the most courageous thing Jeremiah ever did.  It was proof of his love for God and God’s people. It is also a glimpse of the love of God’s Son for his elect people.  Jesus identified himself with our sin and entered into our death for our salvation.”

Excerpted by permission from Gospel-Driven Anglicanism by the Revd Dr Mark Pickles, pages 77-79.