Saturday, June 18, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 129. The Days That Followed The Fall, Part 1

Prophets And Kings
Day 129
The Days That Followed The Fall
Part 1

Today we study the events that happened right after the fall of Jerusalem.

2 KINGS 25:22-26
"Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, to be over the people he left behind in Judah." (2 Kings 25:22) We know that Gedaliah's father Ahikam was a friend of Jeremiah's, for when there was a murderous plot against him and the other prophets of God, the Bible tells us, "Furthermore, Ahikam son of Shaphan supported Jeremiah, and so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death." (Jeremiah 26:24) Gedaliah himself is well-known to Jeremiah. Because of the protective hand of the Lord, Nebuchadnezzar has mercy on the imprisoned prophet, "Now Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had given these orders about Jeremiah through Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard: 'Take him and look after him; don't harm him but do for him whatever he asks.' So Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard, Nebushazban a chief officer, Nergal-Sharezer a high official and all the other officers of the king of Babylon sent and had Jeremiah taken out of the courtyard of the guard. They turned him over to Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, to take him back to his home. So he remained among his own people." (Jeremiah 39:11-14)

Gedaliah is a man of such upstanding character that even the foreign king Nebuchadnezzar trusts him. "When all the army officers and their men heard that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah as governor, they came to Gedaliah at Mizpah---Ishmael son of Nathaniah, Johanan son of Kareah, Seraiah son of Tanhumeth the Netophathite, Jaazaniah the son of Maakathite, and their men. 'Do not be afraid of the Babylonian officials,' he said. 'Settle down in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it will go well with you.'" (2 Kings 25:23-24) Jeremiah adds that Gedaliah said this, "I myself will stay at Mizpah to represent you before the Babylonians who come before us, but you are to harvest the wine, summer fruit and olive oil, and put them in your storage jars, and live in the towns you have taken over." (Jeremiah 40:10) Gedaliah is a reasonable man who gives good advice. The fall of Jerusalem is the will of the Lord. The loss of their sovereignty as a nation is the will of the Lord. If the Babylonians wanted to kill them all they could have already done so. The best thing to do is be good subjects, to follow the laws Nebuchadnezzar sets forth, and to go about their duties. If they are responsible citizens no one will harm them.

In the beginning things go well for Gedaliah, "When all the Jews in Moab, Ammon, Edom and all the other countries heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant in Judah and had appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, as governor over them, they all came back to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah at Mizpah, from all the countries where they had been scattered. And they harvested an abundance of wine and summer fruit." (Jeremiah 40:11-12) Gedaliah is apparently known for his godliness and dependability. Knowing he is governor encourages the people who fled the nation to return and go about their work. They take heart because this good man is watching over them and is acting as a mediator between them and Babylon.

But a conspiracy is afoot. "Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers still in the open country came to Gedaliah at Mizpah and said to him, 'Don't you know that Baalis king of the Ammonites has sent Ishmael son of Nathaniah to take your life?' But Gedaliah son of Ahikam did not believe them." (Jeremiah 40:13-14) This is the same Ishmael the author of 2nd Kings tells us came and joined Gedaliah at Mizpah. Up til now Gedaliah believed Ishmael was on his side and he still believes it in spite of what he's heard. I puzzled over this because some commentators are critical of him for not believing what the men are telling him. Some accuse him of lacking spiritual discernment, of being able to tell whether a person is of good character or not. I prefer to believe that because he is a good man he finds it difficult to imagine evil in others. Some people are suspicious of everyone until they get to know them. Some people think the best of everyone until proven otherwise. Maybe he belonged to the latter group.

At one time the Ammonites proposed an alliance with Judah against Babylon but Jeremiah opposed it, telling the people over and over again to do nothing but surrender to Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah urged the people, on the authority of the Lord, to submit to the Lord's will. Nobody was going to save them from Babylon: not the Ammonites, not the Egyptians, not the Assyrians. Nobody. Some scholars speculate the king of Ammon is angry with Jeremiah and all who supported him in opposing the alliance, including Gedaliah. In addition, the king of Ammon is likely conspiring with a movement in Judah which wants to put a man of David's line in charge. Ishmael is of the house of David and feels he has more right to be governor than Gedaliah. There are people of Judah who feel this way too and believe and alliance with the Ammonites will help them to place a man of royal blood in charge as they seek to overthrow Babylon's rule of all who remain in Judah. Or it could be that the Ammonites wanted to keep the threat of Babylon off their own soil by keeping rebellion stirred up in Judah. In spite of the warning from his officers, Gedaliah is loathe to believe Ishmael is a false friend. "Then Johanan son of Kareah said privately to Gedaliah in Mizpah, 'Let me go and kill Ishmael son of Nethaniah, and no one will know it. Why should he take your life and cause all the Jews who are gathered around you to be scattered and the remnant of Judah to perish?'" (Jeremiah 40:15) Johanan is saying, "If you will not let me kill him for your own sake, let me do it for the sake of the remnant of Judah."

But Gedaliah will not approve the murder of Ishmael. The men are telling him Ishmael is a traitor but evidently Gedaliah can find no solid evidence of it. He fears being guilty of the blood of an innocent man. "But Gedaliah son of Ahikam said to Johanan son of Kareah, 'Don't do such a thing! What you are saying about Ishmael is not true.'" (Jeremiah 40:16) Now might have been a good time to consult his friend, the prophet Jeremiah, for advice. Jeremiah could have inquired of the Lord as to whether or not there was a plot against Gedaliah's life. If so, if he still felt reluctant to incite bloodshed, at the very least Gedaliah could have had Ishmael and his cohorts arrested and held in custody. He would have had the authority as governor to do that. Johanan believes the easiest way to make the plot fall apart is to kill the leader of it, and he's probably right about that, but I think Gedaliah is not a violent man and doesn't want to be responsible for anyone's death.

He ignores the warnings to his own peril. "In the seventh month, however, Ishmael son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama, who was of royal blood, came with ten men and assassinated Gedaliah and also the men of Judah and the Babylonians who were with him at Mizpah. At this, all the people from the least to the greatest, together with the army officers, fled to Egypt for fear of the Babylonians." (2 Kings 25:25-26) This is a dreadful day for the remnant of Judah, for those not involved in the conspiracy against Gedaliah. They have been busy trying to make the best of a bad situation living under the authority of Babylon, but at least they are able to work in their own fields and vineyards. At least they had a godly man of their own nation, Gedaliah, as governor. Now they fear all the power of Babylon is going to come down and crush them. Ishmael's plot wasn't only against Gedaliah but against King Nebuchadnezzar himself by assassinating the man Nebuchadnezzar appointed and killing Babylonian officials. In fear for their lives, the people flee the land.

When we pick up our study tomorrow we will learn what the wicked Ishmael does next. We will also catch back up with the people who fled to Egypt.

I think Gedaliah was a good man, trustworthy and dependable. But he did fail to seek spiritual guidance when it would have been most useful to him. He believed in his own heart he was doing the right thing in not allowing Johanan to kill Ishmael but it would have been best to go to the Lord in prayer when he heard of the conspiracy. It would have been a very good idea to consult the prophet Jeremiah. Gedaliah saw no outward evidence that Ishmael was a traitor and so he shut his mind to that possibility, refusing to believe the stories he was hearing. This was a grave mistake, a mistake which cost his life and the lives of others, a mistake which created fear and hardship for the people.

The world bombards us with conflicting messages all the time. We can't always believe what we hear with our ears. We can't always believe what we see with our eyes. That's why seeking the counsel of the Lord daily is so vital. He knows the heart of every human being on the face of the earth and is able to warn us in the spirit when someone has wicked intentions against us. Have you ever been warned in the spirit about certain people or certain situations even when everything on the outside looked fine? In the past I've made the mistake of talking myself out of these warnings and I've lived to regret it. So now when something feels wrong to me, even if everything looks right, I take heed. I don't always know why the Lord warns me and I don't have to know why. It's enough that He's saying to avoid certain alliances or certain situation. Not everyone has our best interests at heart and we can be certain our loving Father in heaven is aware of every plot against His children. There are times when the Lord allows trouble in our lives for a purpose but there are other times when His desire is to help us avoid trouble. And He does that by communicating to our spirit that something just isn't right. Gedaliah himself would probably tell us he wishes he'd gone straight to the Lord for help when the rumors of Ishmael's treachery first came to his ears. A lot of trouble would have been avoided if he had.

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