Jeremiah 42 – An Insincere Request for Guidance
A. Guidance requested.
1. (1-3) Johanan and the people ask Jeremiah for guidance.
Now all the captains of the forces, Johanan the son of Kareah, Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people, from the least to the greatest, came near and said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Please, let our petition be acceptable to you, and pray for us to the LORD your God, for all this remnant (since we are left but a few of many, as you can see), that the LORD your God may show us the way in which we should walk and the thing we should do.”
a. Now all the captains of the forces…and all the people, from the least to the greatest, came near: After the brutal massacre at Mizpah (Jeremiah 41), the leaders and citizens of those left in the land were anxious and asked Jeremiah for a word from the Lord.
i. “The whole populace came to secure an oracle from him; something which had never happened in the forty years before Jerusalem fell.” (Cundall)
ii. The son of Hoshaiah: “Hoshaiah may be the Hoshaiah whose name appears in the Lachish Letters.” (Feinberg)
b. Please, let our petition be acceptable to you: When they came to the old and distinguished prophet, they came with great politeness and respect.
i. “There was some degree of panic among the refugees as to what should be their next move. An oracle from Yahweh would cut short their perplexity.” (Thompson)
c. That the LORD your God may show us the way in which we should walk and the thing we should do: Rightly concerned over the dangers surrounding them, they asked Jeremiah for guidance from God, with the idea that if they did what God wanted them to do, they would enjoy His protection. By all appearance this was a humble, wise, and proper request.
i. On the surface, this was a great prayer to pray. “It is still a prayer worth praying daily. Yet a minute flaw on the surface of it, in the words ‘your God’, made an admission that went deeper than they realized.” (Kidner)
ii. Underneath the good words, “Self-interest has predominated once again, and now their concern is merely to know if God will approve of their plan to migrate to Egypt.” (Harrison)
iii. “It is useless to profess our desire to know God’s will, whilst in our secret heart we are determined to follow a certain course, come what may. How often do believers ask for prayer that their course may be made clear, when in point of fact they have already decided on it, and are secretly hoping to turn God to their own side!” (Meyer)
iv. “It is possible to deal deceitfully with our own souls. We do so, as these people did, whenever we ask for Divine guidance, having previously decided as to what our course of action is to be. Such praying is only a superstitious activity. When prayer is conceived of as a means of getting our own desires fulfilled, it is a superstition.” (Morgan)
2. (4) Jeremiah promises to answer their request.
Then Jeremiah the prophet said to them, “I have heard. Indeed, I will pray to the LORD your God according to your words, and it shall be, that whatever the LORD answers you, I will declare it to you. I will keep nothing back from you.”
a. I will pray to the LORD your God according to your words: Jeremiah was happy to bring them a word from God, but he had to seek God and pray for it.
i. “Jeremiah was unwilling to speak until he had received the Lord’s explicit word.” (Feinberg)
b. I will declare it to you. I will keep nothing back from you: Jeremiah promised to faithfully deliver whatever word God gave him for the leaders and commoners of those remaining in the land after the Babylonian exile.
i. “He knew, in all probability by divine revelation, that the prayer they had asked him to offer for them had not been honest.” (Morgan)
3. (5-6) Johanan and the people promise to obey the word of the LORD.
So they said to Jeremiah, “Let the LORD be a true and faithful witness between us, if we do not do according to everything which the LORD your God sends us by you. Whether it is pleasing or displeasing, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God to whom we send you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the LORD our God.”
a. Let the LORD be a true and faithful witness between us, if we do not do according to everything: With a holy and solemn oath, they promised to do whatever God told them to do through the Prophet Jeremiah, whether it is pleasing or displeasing.
i. “Did these men know what it was so solemnly to swear a thing? Or were they stark atheists, thus to promise that with an oath which they never meant to perform?” (Trapp)
b. That it may be well with us when we obey: They properly believed that God would care for them if they obeyed Him. They expected the blessings that would come to God’s obedient people under the terms of the Old Covenant (Deuteronomy 28).
i. “Probably they were sincere, but they were absolutely sure in their own minds concerning the right course, and they could not imagine that the prophet’s advice would so flatly contradict the conclusions of their own sound reasoning.” (Cundall)
B. Guidance given.
1. (7-12) The blessing to those who remain in the land.
And it happened after ten days that the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah. Then he called Johanan the son of Kareah, all the captains of the forces which were with him, and all the people from the least even to the greatest, and said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your petition before Him: ‘If you will still remain in this land, then I will build you and not pull you down, and I will plant you and not pluck you up. For I relent concerning the disaster that I have brought upon you. Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid; do not be afraid of him,’ says the LORD, ‘for I am with you, to save you and deliver you from his hand. And I will show you mercy, that he may have mercy on you and cause you to return to your own land.’
a. After ten days that the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: The prophetic word took time to come to Jeremiah. It wasn’t an immediate thing to be called upon whenever he pleased. It had to come in God’s timing.
i. “The ten days which Jeremiah took before he felt able to pronounce the divine oracle must have seemed interminable to the Jews, living as they were in such apparent danger.” (Cundall)
ii. “It is evident the prophets could not prophesy when they pleased, any more than the disciples of our Lord could work miracles when they wished. The gift of prophecy and the gift of miracles were both dependent on the will of the Most High, and each of them was given only for the moment; and when the necessity was over, the influence ceased.” (Clarke)
b. If you will still remain in this land, then I will build you and not pull you down: Jeremiah delivered God’s message to the leaders and common people, that if they stayed in the land God would protect and establish them. Speaking in God’s voice, Jeremiah assured them that God would relent concerning the disaster God had brought upon them. The days of terrible judgment were over.
i. “As I have punished you only because you continued to be rebellious, I will arrest this punishment as soon as you become obedient to my word. You need not fear the king of Babylon if you have me for your helper; and I will so show mercy to you that he shall see it, and cease from afflicting you, as he shall see that I am on your side.” (Clarke)
ii. For I relent: “The verb translated ‘grieve for’ (niham) should be translated ‘repent’ as in AV, RV, and RSV, as though Yahweh realized that he had made a mistake and was sorry for it. LXX translates ‘I relent with regard to,’ that is, the judgment that had already fallen had satisfied the divine demands resulting from the broken covenant.” (Thompson)
c. I will show you mercy: God asked the leaders and common people to trust Him that the season of judgment had now been replaced by a season of mercy. Before the final Babylonian conquest, the message was, surrender to exile. Now in the season of mercy the message was, trust Me and remain in the land. If they did, God would bless them with protection and goodness in your own land.
i. I will show you mercy, that he may have mercy on you: “If Yahweh showed mercy to his people, so would the king of Babylon. He would allow them to return to their homes in peace.” (Thompson)
ii. “There is no evidence that Nebuchadnezzar avenged the governor’s assassination; he did take more captives in 582 BC (Jeremiah 52:30), but if this was a reprisal it was very much belated one.” (Thompson)
2. (13-17) The curse upon those who return to Egypt.
“But if you say, ‘We will not dwell in this land,’ disobeying the voice of the LORD your God, saying, ‘No, but we will go to the land of Egypt where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor be hungry for bread, and there we will dwell’— Then hear now the word of the LORD, O remnant of Judah! Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘If you wholly set your faces to enter Egypt, and go to dwell there, then it shall be that the sword which you feared shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt; the famine of which you were afraid shall follow close after you there in Egypt; and there you shall die. So shall it be with all the men who set their faces to go to Egypt to dwell there. They shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. And none of them shall remain or escape from the disaster that I will bring upon them.’”
a. But if you say: God gave them a great promise if they trusted Him and stayed in the land. If they refused to trust Him and instead went to the land of Egypt for security and provision, they would be disobeying the voice of the LORD your God.
i. “Once more Jeremiah had to deliver an unpopular message.” (Feinberg)
b. Then it shall be that the sword which you feared shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt: If unbelief drove them to Egypt, what they feared would come upon them in Judea would come upon them in Egypt. The price paid for their unbelief would be to certainly die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence in Egypt.
i. “Disaster would follow the remnant right down to Egypt. Everything that had happened in Jerusalem would happen on the Nile – sword, fear, famine, death, plague, disaster, wrath, cursing, horror, condemnation, and reproach.” (Ryken)
ii. By the sword: “Although Egypt had lost the Battle of Carchemish (605 BC), it had not been the scene of military actions. On the other hand, Judah had from the time of the Battle of Megiddo (609 BC) constantly experienced the rigors of war. Thus the remaining Jews could not fail to be impressed by the contrast between peaceful Egypt and war-torn Judah. Actually, however, Judah’s trials were past; Egypt’s were soon to begin.” (Feinberg)
iii. By famine: “Egypt was very fertile, the granary of the world, and yet God could cause a famine there; he hath treasures of plagues for sinners, and can never be exhausted.” (Trapp)
3. (18) An oath to punish those to go to Egypt.
“For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘As My anger and My fury have been poured out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so will My fury be poured out on you when you enter Egypt. And you shall be an oath, an astonishment, a curse, and a reproach; and you shall see this place no more.’”
a. As My anger and My fury have been poured out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem: This was a lot of anger and a lot of fury. These survivors of the conquest of Judea and the destruction of Jerusalem saw this anger and fury with their own eyes.
b. So will My fury be poured out on you when you enter Egypt: As much as blessing was promised if they trusted God and remained in the ruined land, so judgment was promised if they looked to Egypt for security and provision.
c. You shall be an oath, an astonishment, a curse, and a reproach: Others would see the sad state of those who refused to trust God. Those under this judgment would become an example of those afflicted by God, and they would see this place no more, never to return to the Promised Land.
i. “The risky choice was perfectly safe, while the easy way out was deadly.” (Ryken)
4. (19-22) Exposing the hypocrisy of their hearts.
“The LORD has said concerning you, O remnant of Judah, ‘Do not go to Egypt!’ Know certainly that I have admonished you this day. For you were hypocrites in your hearts when you sent me to the LORD your God, saying, ‘Pray for us to the LORD our God, and according to all that the LORD your God says, so declare to us and we will do it.’ And I have this day declared it to you, but you have not obeyed the voice of the LORD your God, or anything which He has sent you by me. Now therefore, know certainly that you shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence in the place where you desire to go to dwell.”
a. You were hypocrites in your hearts when you sent me to the LORD your God: God clearly told the leaders and common people remaining in the land what His will was – they were to remain in land. Now God spoke to them about their pretended sincerity in seeking a word from Jeremiah the Prophet. When they said, “so declare to us and we will do it,” they did not speak truthfully.
b. For you were hypocrites in your hearts: They acted as if they sought the LORD in sincerity and submission, but it was not true. Many still seek God with pretended sincerity, already determined to do what they want to do, and only hoping that God will affirm them in so doing. This teaches the importance of seeking God with a truly submitted heart that will do whatever He tells us to do.
c. Know certainly that you shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence in the place where you desire to go to dwell: Their insincere seeking only added to their guilt. They would go to Egypt as they had already decided to do, and the judgment God promised was certain to come upon them.
i. “As ye have determined to disobey, God has determined to punish.” (Clarke) “In running from death ye shall but run to it.” (Trapp)