Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentJEREMIAH 41
ISHMAEL'S MURDER OF GEDALIAH
All of the events of this chapter revolve around the shameful and treacherous murder of the new governor Gedaliah by Ishmael. The chapter divisions are: (1) the murder of the governor (Jeremiah 41:1-3); (2) the murder of the pilgrims (Jeremiah 41:4-7); (3) captives at Mizpah taken (Jeremiah 41:8-10); (4) Ishmael defeated, escapes to Ammon (Jeremiah 41:11-15); and (5) the people gathered by Johanan to go to Egypt (Jeremiah 41:16-18).
The length of Gedaliah's tenure as governor is disputed. In an earlier chapter, we suggested that Jeremiah was enabled to enjoy the protection and peace of Gedaliah's house for a period of some five years; and that was based upon the recent conviction of Jewish and other scholars that Gedaliah's government lasted until 582 B.C. In the previous chapter, we encountered the opinions of many of the older scholars that his government lasted only a matter of two or three months. We have no certain information on exactly how long it lasted.
Feinberg has this regarding the date: "Two dates have been given for the assassination of Gedaliah: 586 B.C. and 583-582 B.C. Keil-Delitzsch and others support the first date; but a number of more recent commentators prefer the second. They point out that the text does not require that the events of this chapter occurred in the same year as the fall of Jerusalem; and, upon the basis of Jer. 52:30, they believe that the Babylonian reaction to the assassination of Gedaliah took place five years after the event."F1
Bright, Hyatt, and others whom we have frequently quoted in this commentary support the later date. We shall let the matter stand as not certainly known.
THE MURDER OF THE GOVERNOR
Now it came to pass in the seventh month, that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama, of the seed royal and [one of] the chief officers of the king, and ten men with him, came unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam to Mizpah; and there they did eat bread together in Mizpah. Then arose Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and the ten men that were with him, and smote Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan with the sword, and slew him, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land. Ishmael also slew all the Jews that were with him, [to wit], with Gedaliah, at Mizpah, and the Chaldeans that were found there, the men of war.
Of the seed royal
(Jeremiah 41:1). It is believed that Ishmael was descended from David through Elishama (2 Samuel 5:16), and that this royal connection might have originated Ishmael's vengeful hatred of Gedaliah, being bitterly jealous that Nebuchadnezzar had passed over Ishmael, a member of the royal house of David, to make Gedaliah governor!
In all the records of Israel's wickedness, there is hardly anything that surpasses the dastardly deed of Ishmael here recorded. He not only violated God's law, but the universal Eastern custom in the law of hospitality, that no man eats another man's bread, and then murders him! Ishmael disappears from history in this chapter and fully deserved the oblivion in which he was swallowed up.
The concern and sympathy of the Jewish people for their noble governor who was cut down by the despicable Ishmael was crystallized and memorialized in the Jewish fast of "the seventh month" (October) (Zech. 7:5; 8:19), during the Inter-testamental period of their history.
Slew all the Jews that were with him
(Jeremiah 41:3). It is believed that this is a reference, not all the Jews in Mizpah, but to all of those at the meal during which Gedaliah was slain. Also, the men of war would appear to refer merely to Gedaliah's personal bodyguard of Babylonian soldiers.
THE MURDER OF THE PILGRIMS
And it came to pass the second day after he had slain Gedaliah, and no man knew it, that there came men from Shechem, from Shiloh, and from Samaria, even fourscore men, having their beards shaven and their clothes rent, and having cut themselves, with meal-offerings and frankincense in their hand, to bring them to the house of Jehovah. And Ishmael the son of Nethaniah went forth from Mizpah to meet them, weeping all along as he went: and it came to pass, as he met them, he said unto them, Come to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam. And it was so, when they came into the midst of the city, that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah slew them, [and cast them] into the midst of the pit, he, and the men that were with him.
Weeping all along as he went
(Jeremiah 41:6). The perfidious behavior of Ishmael was totally wicked. His weeping was hypocrisy; his pretended intention of helping the pilgrims was a lie; his murderous treachery was unlimited.
Scholars have attempted to guess why Ishmael destroyed those pilgrims, but the only suggestion that makes a little sense is that Baalis the king of Ammonites had instructed Ishmael, his partner in the plot, to terrorize the people with such atrocities in order to prevent any civil order from prevailing in the land. Also, it has been thought that Ishmael wanted to prevent any word of the murder from being carried far and near into all countries by such a company as that of the pilgrims. Then too, there is the supposition that Ishmael was merely a murderer who killed people for the gratification of his sadistic blood-lust. In any case, it was indeed a deed of infamy!
The shaven heads, the rent clothes, the cuts on their bodies, and the offerings in their hands, "Symbolized the distress of the pilgrims over the desertion and the destruction of the house of God."F2
Some significant facts are implied by this account of the slain pilgrims. (1) The Jews still honored the commandment to worship God at one altar only, namely, the One in Jerusalem. (2) Also, even though the temple was destroyed, the ruins of it were considered sacred and "holy unto the Lord." "By the Jewish people, the Western wall of the temple in Jerusalem until this day is considered sacred."F3
The senseless murder of those seventy pilgrims is utterly inexplicable, unless, as stated by Smith, "Ishmael intended to fill the whole land with terror, utterly frustrate Gedaliah's work, and destroy the last possibility of the land being in peace, which was also very likely the object of Baalis the king of Ammon."F4
THE TAKING OF PRISONERS AT MIZPAH
But ten men were found among them that said unto Ishmael, Slay us not; for we have stores hidden in the field, of wheat, and of barley, and of oil, and of honey. So he forbare, and slew them not among their brethren. Now the pit wherein Ishmael cast all the dead bodies of the men whom he had slain, by the side of Gedaliah (the same was that which Asa the king had made for fear of Baasha king of Israel,) Ishmael the son of Nethaniah filled it with them that were slain. Then Ishmael carried away captive all the residue of the people that were in Mizpah, even the king's daughters, and all the people that remained in Mizpah, whom Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had committed to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam; Ishmael the son of Nethaniah carried them away captive, and departed to go over to the children of Ammon.
Slay us not, for we have stores hidden
(Jeremiah 41:8). This was merely a bribe, greedily accepted by Ishmael, the wondering being that he did not immediately slay them also, as soon as he discovered their store of hidden supplies. It was customary in those times to hide such supplies in excavations (cisterns and the like) by covering them with a layer of earth.
The same (pit, or cistern) was that which Asa the king had made
(Jeremiah 41:9). The purpose of this is to explain that the cistern which Ishmael filled with the bodies of those whom he murdered was no ordinary cistern, but a very large one, originally intended to supplement the water supply of the whole city. Now any ordinary cistern would require several hundred men to fill it; and from this revelation here, we are compelled to conclude that it was actually some tremendous number of people who fell before the ruthless sword of this terminal rascal of the house of David.
Then Ishmael carried away captive
etc. (Jeremiah 41:10). There would appear to have been a great many of these captives; and the prompt maneuver of Ishmael in an attempt to carry them into the land of the Ammonites indicates, as Jamieson said, that, He probably meant to sell them all as slaves to the Ammonites.F5
The king's daughters
(Jeremiah 41:10). These were not only the actual children of Zedekiah, but such other female members of the royal entourage as the Chaldeans had not cared to take away to Babylon.F6 It is not so stated in this passage, but it appears likely that Jeremiah was among the captives whom Ishmael was in the act of transporting to the land of the Ammonites.
ISHMAEL IS DEFEATED;
HE ESCAPES TO AMMON
But when Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces that were with him, heard of all the evil that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had done, then they took all the men, and went to fight with Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and found him by the great waters that are in Gibeon. Now it came to pass that, when all the people that were with Ishmael saw Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces that were with him, then they were glad. So all the people that Ishmael had carried away captive from Mizpah turned about and came back, and went unto Johanan the son of Kareah. But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men, and went to the children of Ammon.
This is a drastically abbreviated account. Johanan knew all about Ishmael and no doubt anticipated his carrying captives away for sale to the Ammonites, pursued him, overtook him, and thoroughly defeated him at Gibeon, even killing two of his ten-man body-guard.
The great waters that are in Gibeon
(Jeremiah 41:12). This is a reference to a rather large natural lake in the area.
They turned. and went unto Johanan ..
(Jeremiah 41:14). This the captives could not have done unless Johanan had already thoroughly defeated Ishmael and sent him fleeing for his life to the Ammonites. With what is said here, Ishmael disappears from Biblical history, a fitting exit indeed for the kind of man he was.
JOHANAN TO LEAD THE PEOPLE TO EGYPT
Then took Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces that were with him, all the remnant of the people whom he had recovered from Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, from Mizpah, after that he had slain Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, [to wit], the men of war, and the women, and the children, and the eunuchs, whom he had brought back from Gibeon: and they departed, and dwelt in Geruth Chimham, which is by Beth-lehem, to go to enter into Egypt, because of the Chaldeans; for they were afraid of them, because Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had slain Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon made governor over the land.
And they dwelt at Geruth Chimham
(Jeremiah 41:17). Little is known of this place except what is stated here, i.e., that it was near Bethlehem. The name Chimham, however, in 2 Sam. 19:37, is mentioned as the name of a man David the king rewarded for a favor done the king during the rebellion of Absalom. Chimham was the son of a very wealthy and powerful man, Barzillai, a friend of David the king. From this, it may be supposed that Geruth Chimham was a large estate near Bethlehem, of sufficient size to accommodate the considerable population that had been gathered by Johanan.
To go to enter into Egypt
(Jeremiah 41:17). This decision, no doubt, was made by Johanan and supported by the fear of the people who supposed that the Babylonians might arrive any day and take vengeance upon the people for their murder of the governor appointed by the Chaldeans. They may have feared that the Chaldeans would not understand who was at fault, and therefore punish the innocent; or they may have thought that the Chaldeans would see the entire episode as an attempted revolt, and would not distinguish the innocent from the guilty.F7 However, the decision was a terrible mistake.
It was contrary to God's will for the people to return to Egypt; and, besides that, Egypt was by no means out of the reach of the Babylonians. Johanan had been true and correct in his warning Gedaliah of Ishmael; but now he would become a key factor in moving a remnant of Israel back under the power of the Pharaohs.
Footnotes for Jeremiah 41
1: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody Press), p. 629.
2: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 651.
3: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody Press), p. 631.
4: Scribner's Bible Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), p. 515.
5: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 547.
6: Scribner's Bible Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), p. 516.
7: Anthony L. Ash, Psalms (Abilene, Texas: A.C.U. Press, 1987), p. 278.