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found in Babylon. But the mention of Gedaliah by the Babylonian commander reminds him that a civil community is about to arise again in his own land; and he is in no doubt that it is God's will that he should pursue his calling there. Thus he came to Mizpah.
XL 7—12. As matter of fact, Gedaliah showed himself the man able, if any one was, in such confused and difficult circumstances, to gather together the remnant of the people, and preserve the land from anarchy as well as from further illusage by foreign conquerors or ill-disposed neighbours. As he possessed the confidence of the Babylonians in a high■ degree, so also his authority was acknowledged by the crowds of Jewish soldiers who had escaped the enemy's army, and were now returning, and by their leaders, so that the settlement subject to Gedaliah no longer consisted as at first of defenceless people. Such scattered ones returned also from the neighbouring lands of the Moabites, Ammonites, etc., and were advised by the wise Gedaliah, who was only too little careful of his personal safety, calmly to settle down and gather the fruits of the harvest, which would otherwise go to ruin.
XL. 13-XLI. 3. It was a sad fate that this Gedaliah, the last support to which the hopes of the poor Jews clung, was to perish. This came about through an infamous plot against his life set afoot by one of the captains who had fled to the Ammonites, and settled in the court there. This Ishmael, sprung from the Jewish royal family, was the agent therein at the instance of the king of the Ammonites (xl . 14), who hoped in this way to strike a deadly blow at the Jews, who were always hateful to the Ammonites, and perhaps to obtain a portion of their territory. Ishmael himself was easily stirred up to such a crime, filled as he was with jealousy and hate of Gedaliah, who had been put in his position by the enemies of the land,—altogether a common, coarse, cruel character. In vain bis companions, who knew him well, warned the simple governor, who in his noble magnanimity could not believe in such wickedness. While entertaining the conspirator with ten companions at his table, he was cut down along with his few Chaldaean and Jewish guards,—an event for which the Jews even after the exile continued to express their sorrow by fasting in the seventh month, as they fasted in the fifth for the destruction of Jerusalem (Zech. vii. 5, viii. 19).
XLI. 4-9. How base and unprincipled the murderer was, was proved the day after by a new massacre perpetrated on eighty unarmed pilgrims who were passing by Mizpah to the holy place at Jerusalem, bringing presents according to the custom of the feast of Tabernacles. They went along in deep sorrow for the fall of Jerusalem and the overthrow of the temple, instead of with songs of praise. Although dwelling in the kingdom of Ephraim, they were faithful to the holy place. Ishmael ran to meet them a great distance, simulating deep sympathy with their grief, and invited them to stay with Gedaliah, the new ruler of the land. Scarcely, however, had they come within the city, than they found themselves surrounded by a band of murderers. They were slain; and their corpses defiled the great costly cistern at Mizpah, into which the murderer cast them. The motive for this villainous attack could not be desire to revenge the .sanguinary doom inflicted on the royal family by the Babylonian conqueror (lii. 10), or still less fanatical aversion to the Ephraimites or Samaritans; but, as Nagelsbach rightly thinks, common avarice and thirst for booty which he wished to satisfy before vacating the country. This is clear from his sparing the few who could yield him no further gain (xli. 8). The violent removal of all the inhabitants of the city, especially of the relics of the royal harem, also had to do with his sordid passion for gain.
XLI. 10-15. It is evident that Ishmael after his shameful conduct must have contemplated speedy departure in order to escape revenge on the part of the other Jews, and, later, of the Chaldaeans. But as he had to take with him a large and cumbersome train, his march was delayed so long, that not far from Mizpah, in the neighbourhood of Gideon, he was overtaken by troops who had hastened in crowds on the terrible news. His unwilling following at once joined the deliverers. Ishmael escaped with a few of his people to the country of the Ammonites.
XLI. 16-18. Johanan, who figures, xl . 13 ff., at the head of the commanders, now took over the chief command. Panic had naturally taken hold of all. There was good reason for fearing that the Chaldaains would take terrible revenge on those whom they might find in the land for the slaughter of their representative and his garrison. So the wisest course seemed to be to forsake the land entirely, and to flee to distant Egypt, outside the range of the Chaldaean power. They accordingly journeyed southwards, and encamped a while near Bethlehem. Their numbers grew there by additions from different parts of the land. For the purpose was not merely to secure the safety of individuals, but to transplant the remnant of the Judaean race to Egypt.
b. Chs. xlii., xliii. 1-7. Having arrived at this decisive epoch, the leaders wished to assure themselves of the divine assent. They therefore inquired of Jeremiah the Lord's will . The prophet here again appears in the camp at Bethlehem. Had he been carried away by Ishmael, or was he absent from Mizpah at the time of the attack, and had he just now again joined the people? The former view is preferable according to xl. 6, and in view of the minute account of these occurrences. This inquiry also shows how greatly the prophet's influence had risen in consequence of what had taken place. The heads of the community humbly begged Jeremiah, with a solemn promise to obey the Lord's direction, to seek from the Lord a declaration of His will, appealing to the prophet's sympathy with the sadly shrunken nation (cf. xv. 11). Their promise was well meant; but therein they deceived, not God indeed, but themselves; according to ver. 20, they were guilty of treachery against their own souls, persuading themselves that they were prepared to obey; whereas they had not the inner strength to forego the bias of their own heart and the calculation of their own understanding, if God's word required this. They thus incurred the guilt of sinning against God's express will, declared at their own wish, in the face of their previous vow—an admonition to the most serious self-examination, without which no one should venture to inquire about the divine will.
XLII. 7-22. It was ten days before Jeremiah received an answer from the Lord—a long time for the impatient, trembling people, which the prophet had no power to abridge; they were to learn from this God's independence of human calculations. And after ten days the answer came in very definite terms, but in a sense the opposite of the general expectation. They were to give up their intention to go to Egypt, and to remain calmly and fearlessly in the land; their God would see after their preservation, vv. 10-12. If, on the other hand, they wilfully insisted on their own plan, the destruction which they thought to escape by flight would overtake them in Egypt, ver. 13 ff. This promise of divine protection is given with a certainty, such as was only possible under present circumstances by actual divine inspiration without blasphemous arrogance. The following threat also is uttered with great emphasis, and detailed at length, because Jeremiah knew already to what their hearts leaned. The conclusion (vv. 19-22) shows also that the hearers had already in unmistakeable ways made known their resolve to defy the Lord's message. Thus nothing remained to the prophet but solemnly to testify that he had warned them.
XLIII. 1-7. In order to palliate their open rebellion against God's message, the disputants now reproached Jeremiah with having prophesied falsely, and listened to human suggestions instead of to God's voice,—a convenient but foolish and blasphemous pretext. It is evident that they would gladly have had their own plan approved and hallowed by divine authority, but were so little influenced by true fear and faith, that they would rather reproach the confessedly faithful prophet than bow to God's behest. Their attitude of opposition to prophecy and its organ is analogous to that of King Zedekiah. It is in keeping with their divided feeling that they take the prophet with them against his will. They had not the courage to condemn him as a false prophet, especially as many in the crowd were convinced of his divine mission. Still they were unwilling to part with the unwelcome witness to their disobedience, since they felt too much what a palladium they had in his person. They take him with them to enhance the importance of the new Egyptian colony.