Jeremiah 41 – The Murder of Gedaliah, Governor of the Land
A. The massacre at Mizpah.
1. (1-3) The murder of Gedaliah.
Now it came to pass in the seventh month that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama, of the royal family and of the officers of the king, came with ten men to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, at Mizpah. And there they ate bread together in Mizpah. Then Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and the ten men who were with him, arose and struck Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, with the sword, and killed him whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land. Ishmael also struck down all the Jews who were with him, that is, with Gedaliah at Mizpah, and the Chaldeans who were found there, the men of war.
a. And they ate bread together in Mizpah: Gathered together at the same place where the remaining officers of Judah’s army warned him, Gedaliah the governor of Judah met with Ishmael the son of Nethaniah and his associates. The coming treachery was even worse because it violated the hospitality and protection of the shared table (ate bread together).
i. Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama: “Ishmael came from a collateral line of the Davidic family through Elishama, son of David (cf. 2 Samuel 5:16).” (Feinberg)
ii. Ate bread together: “Since the sharing of a meal was regarded as a covenant of brotherhood (cf. Psalm 41:9; John 13:18, 26-30) the treachery of his act would be the more reprehensible.” (Cundall)
iii. “The fact that Ishmael was at Gedaliah’s table may suggest that the two men knew one another and that Gedaliah was making a gesture of friendship.” (Thompson)
iv. “In spite of having been warned of an assassination plot, Gedaliah had taken no precautions.” (Feinberg)
v. “They feasted. Much treachery and cruelty hath been exercised at feasts. Absalom slew Amnon at a feast; so did Zimri King Elah; so did Alexander Philotas.” (Trapp)
b. Arose and struck Gedaliah: Ishmael and his ten men murdered the governor appointed by the king of Babylon, as well as all the Jews who were with him, and the Babylonian men of war there to protect the governor. Ishmael did this because Baalis, the king of the Ammonites hired him to do it (Jeremiah 40:14).
i. Ishmael was of the royal family and of the officers of the king, a descendant of David. He was probably jealous that Gedaliah was appointed governor, making him more willing to do the work of the king of the Ammonites.
ii. “Everything about him disgraced the name of David his forebear, who had resisted every impulse to ‘wade through slaughter to a throne’ and had awaited God’s time and his people’s will. This was no David but a Jehu.” (Kidner)
iii. Ishmael’s crime was all the more startling because he lived through the dramatic display of God’s judgment in the fall of Jerusalem and Judah. Nevertheless, it did not make him fear or honor the Lord. “Yet men may hear the word of the Lord, live through the experiences in which it is vindicated, and yet ignore it.” (Morgan)
iv. “Gedaliah’s death was a tragedy. For years afterward, the Jews held a fast to lament the day of his passing.” (Ryken) “In the centuries that followed, the Jews were to observe a fast to commemorate this tragedy (Zechariah 7:5; 8:19).” (Thompson)
v. “The whole shameful incident was bound to encourage stern reprisals by the Babylonians.” (Thompson)
2. (4-7) The murder of the men who came to sacrifice.
And it happened, on the second day after he had killed Gedaliah, when as yet no one knew it, that certain men came from Shechem, from Shiloh, and from Samaria, eighty men with their beards shaved and their clothes torn, having cut themselves, with offerings and incense in their hand, to bring them to the house of the LORD. Now Ishmael the son of Nethaniah went out from Mizpah to meet them, weeping as he went along; and it happened as he met them that he said to them, “Come to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam!” So it was, when they came into the midst of the city, that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah killed them and cast them into the midst of a pit, he and the men who were with him.
a. On the second day after he had killed Gedaliah, when as yet no one knew it: Ishmael and his men had so effectively killed the men at the Mizpah settlement that it took some time for the news of the murder to be known.
b. Certain men came from Shechem, from Shiloh, and from Samaria: There were worshippers of Yahweh in the lands that were formerly part of the Kingdom of Israel, conquered by the Assyrians more than 100 years before this. Perhaps they were influenced by King Josiah’s reforms, or perhaps they came from the southern kingdom of Judah.
i. “These pilgrims may have been descendants of Judeans who had moved north after Samaria fell in 722 BC.” (Harrison)
ii. “The cities named, all from the old northern kingdom of Israel, suggest the effects of the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah in this area (2 Kings 23:15-20; 2 Chronicles 30:1-12).” (Cundall)
iii. “Josiah had destroyed the altar at Bethel (one of the lasting effects of Josiah’s reform); so they were bringing offerings to the Jerusalem temple.” (Feinberg)
iv. They came with beards shaved: “All these were signs of deep mourning, probably on account of the destruction of the city.” (Clarke)
v. Beards shaved…having cut themselves: “These might be well minded men, though partly through ignorance of the law in those blind times, and partly through excess of passion, they went too far, heathen-like, in their outward expressions of sorrow [Leviticus 19:27Deuteronomy 14:1] for the public calamity of their country.” (Trapp)
c. With offerings and incense in their hand, to bring them to the house of the LORD: This large group of men came from the north to bring offerings and sacrifices to the temple. Since the Babylonians destroyed the temple (2 Kings 25:9), they came in respectful mourning to bring grain offerings and incense to the ruins of the temple.
i. “Their offerings (lit., ‘present’ or ‘tribute’) were bloodless sacrifices because no facilities were available for animal sacrifices (cf. Deuteronomy 12:13-14, 17-18).” (Feinberg)
ii. “Their offerings were probably intended for a ceremony in the area of the sacrificial altar.” (Harrison)
iii. “In spite of the destruction of the temple itself, they came to the temple site, which was still used for worship by those who survived the fall of the city. Even the ruins were held to be sacred, just as the Western Wall of the temple in Jerusalem is sacred to this day. Also, a token shrine might have been built.” (Feinberg)
d. Ishmael the son of Nethaniah went out from Mizpah to meet them, weeping as he went along: The wicked and heartless Ishmael knew how to put on a show and seem harmless to the approaching group of men.
e. Ishmael the son of Nethaniah killed them and cast them into the midst of a pit: Ishmael and his gang murdered as many as they could from this group of worshippers, and cruelly threw their bodies into a cistern (a pit).
i. “This hell hound having once, as other hounds, dipped his tongue in blood, can put no period to his unparalleled cruelty.” (Trapp)
ii. “Moreover, since the water supply was so precious in Palestine, the fouling of a cistern was a peculiarly irresponsible act of vandalism.” (Cundall)
iii. “This chapter is full of horrible atrocities. Blow on blow befell the already decimated remnant of Jews.” (Meyer)
iv. “One begins to picture Ishmael as a brutal murderer who enjoyed killing for its own sake.” (Thompson)
v. “Jeremiah inserted a historical notation, showing that King Asa of Judah (913-873 BC) had ordered this cistern to be made to insure ample water for Mizpah when he fortified it against King Baasha of Israel (910-887 BC) (cf. 1 Kings 15:22; 2 Chronicles 16:6).” (Feinberg)
vi. “Excavations at Tellen-Nasbeh may have brought the cistern to question to light.” (Thompson)
3. (8-10) Ishmael takes captive the survivors and returns to the Ammonites.
But ten men were found among them who said to Ishmael, “Do not kill us, for we have treasures of wheat, barley, oil, and honey in the field.” So he desisted and did not kill them among their brethren. Now the pit into which Ishmael had cast all the dead bodies of the men whom he had slain, because of Gedaliah, was the same one Asa the king had made for fear of Baasha king of Israel. Ishmael the son of Nethaniah filled it with the slain. Then Ishmael carried away captive all the rest of the people who were in Mizpah, the king’s daughters and all the people who remained in Mizpah, whom Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had committed to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam. And Ishmael the son of Nethaniah carried them away captive and departed to go over to the Ammonites.
a. Do not kill us, for we have treasures of wheat, barley, oil, and honey in the field: Among the eighty men who came to Mizpah from the north, ten were able to persuade Ishmael to spare their lives in exchange for all the good things they brought to sacrifice and offer unto the LORD.
i. “He kept ten alive because they told him they had treasures hidden in a field, which they would show him. Whether he kept his word with them is not recorded. He could do nothing good or great; and it is likely that, when he had possessed himself of those treasures, he served them as he had served their companions.” (Clarke)
b. The same one Asa the king had made for fear of Baasha king of Israel: Asa’s reign is described in 1 Kings 15:11-16. Perhaps he made this cistern as a preparation for battle against Baasha king of Israel.
i. “See 1Kings 15:22. Asa made this cistern as a reservoir for water for the supply of the place; for he built and fortified Mizpah at the time that he was at war with Baasha, king of Israel.” (Clarke)
c. Ishmael the son of Nethaniah carried them away captive: The brutal and cunning Ishmael took the survivors and slaves and servants to the Ammonites – likely to sell them as slaves to the foreign king.
i. The king’s daughers: “We cannot be certain who they represent, whether Zedekiah’s daughters or some other women of royal descent, of whom there may have been quite a number from other branches of the royal family.” (Thompson)
ii. “Ishmael’s motive in transporting the remnant may have been threefold: (1) to escape punishment, (2) to find refuge with Baalis who had instigated the assassination of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40:14), and (3) to sell the remnant as slaves to the Ammonites.” (Feinberg)
iii. “Again we are impressed with the terrible plight of the people.” (Morgan)
B. The response of Johanan.
1. (11-13) The rescue of the captives and the escape of Ishmael.
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, they took all the men and went to fight with Ishmael the son of Nethaniah; and they found him by the great pool that is in Gibeon. So it was, when all the people who were with Ishmael saw Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces who were with him, that they were glad. Then all the people whom Ishmael had carried away captive from Mizpah turned around and came back, and went to Johanan the son of Kareah. But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men and went to the Ammonites.
a. 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: This must have been especially tragic news to Johanan, because he warned Gedaliah of the murder plot Ishmael had planned against him (Jeremiah 40:15).
b. They took all the men and went to fight with Ishmael: Heroically, Johanan would not let this crime go unpunished. He and his men pursued and met Ishmael’s party in battle. Apparently both Ishmael’s captives and his captains were happy to see Johanan, and immediately went to his side. Ishmael was so violent and wicked that he frightened his own men.
i. “Ishmael finds how delusive is a victory that wins no hearts, as his whole captive company delightedly deserts him.” (Kidner)
ii. The great pool that is in Gibeon: “It has been suggested that ‘the great pool’ is the same as ‘the pool of Gibeon’ (cf. 2 Samuel 2:13).” (Feinberg)
iii. “Recent excavations at el-Jib some 6 miles northwest of Jerusalem have revealed a large pit hewn out of the rock, some 82 feet deep, which had steps carved around its sides from top to bottom to enable people to reach the water stored there.” (Thompson)
c. Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan: Ishmael was able to escape capture when Johanan and his men raided them. He and eight men made it to the Ammonites.
2. (16-18) Johanan’s leadership.
Then Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces that were with him, took from Mizpah all the rest of the people whom he had recovered from Ishmael the son of Nethaniah after he had murdered Gedaliah the son of Ahikam—the mighty 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 the habitation of Chimham, which is near Bethlehem, as they went on their way to Egypt, because of the Chaldeans; for they were afraid of them, because Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had murdered Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had made governor in the land.
a. Then Johanan the son of Kareah: Johanan and his men took the survivors from the Mizpah massacre and brought them to Chimham, which is near Bethlehem, until they eventually went to Egypt.
i. The habitation of Chimham: “The estate that David gave Chimham, the son of Barzillai. See 2 Samuel 19:37, etc. He took this merely as a resting-place; as he designed to carry all into Egypt, fearing the Chaldeans, who would endeavour to revenge the death of Gedaliah.” (Clarke)
b. For they were afraid of them: This terrible account is included to show how chaotic and unsafe conditions were in Judah and the region after the fall of the Kingdom of Judah. Many felt they were safer in Egypt than remaining in that lawless land.
i. As they went on their way to Egypt: “Johanan now decided to go as quickly as possible to Egypt. He and the army officers with him feared reprisals when the news of Gedaliah’s assassination reached Babylon.” (Feinberg)