Introduction to Dialogue #10
Some may hesitate to call this passage a “dialogue”. But it is included here because God DID speak, Jeremiah DID answer, and the consequences were great. Jeremiah’s last prayer is also recorded. It was offered on behalf of other people. They were anxious and worried, forced to wait ten long days for their answer. These were unusual times.
Flow of Conversation
Easily the strangest “dialogue” of all, the two parties communicate indirectly. God’s “servant”, Emperor Nebuchadnezzar, finds and frees Jeremiah (39:11-14). The Lord speaks through another foreigner to say, “Chose where you will live out the rest of your days.” (40:1-5). Jeremiah remains silent but answers with his feet (40:6). People force the prophet to reengage with Supreme Commander (42:1-3). Who then delays His answer (42:7) but eventually speaks clearly (42:9-22). Which the people reject anyway (43:1-2). Yes, this is a strange dialogue.
We can’t imagine the feelings of loss, devastation, and helplessness as Jeremiah watched the city walls torn down, the palace buildings destroyed, and the Temple of the Lord demolished.
The Babylonian officer in charge of the demolition was Nebuzaradan, a VIP Captain of the army, who received orders directly from King Nebuchadnezzar. He arrived a month after the wall was breached and King Zedekiah was blinded and taken away. Nebuzaradan’s job was to level the city.
Nebuchadnezzar, the Great Emperor himself, was very aware of God’s spokesperson, Jeremiah, and was ready to protect and honor him. This is not so surprising and shows the broad and powerful influence God’s spokesperson had. The Babylonian emperor told his top deputy to find Jeremiah. “See that he isn’t hurt. Look after him well and give him everything he wants.” 39:12.
The text sidetracks a little to show how the Lord remembered the Ethiopian (who saved Jeremiah from the muddy cistern) and promised to keep him safe (Jer. 39:15-18).
Then comes this statement, “The LORD gave a message to Jeremiah after Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, had released him at Ramah.” (40:1). But this was not a direct message (as were all the preceding ones), the Lord used a human intermediary, the foreign Captain himself.
The captain of the guard called for Jeremiah and said, “The LORD your God has brought this disaster on this land, just as he said he would … But I am going to take off your chains and let you go. If you want to come with me to Babylon, you are welcome. I will see that you are well cared for. But if you don’t want to come, you may stay here. The whole land is before you – go wherever you like … it’s up to you; go wherever you like.” 40:2-5.
This was the Lord’s word to Jeremiah. He gives him complete freedom and impels him to make a decision. Will you choose to join the exiles in Babylon or will you choose to remain in the land? You must decide, no one will do it for you.
There is no verbal response recorded in the text. Jeremiah instead spoke with his feet.
So Jeremiah returned to Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah, and he lived in Judah with the few who were still left in the land. 40:6.
The text offers no comment on this decision.
Did he make the “right” (God honoring) decision or the “wrong” (self-serving) decision? What was his thinking and motives? For what reasons did he choose to stay? For selfish reasons? Self-pity? Or to avoid the attention that awaited him in Babylon? We can only speculate, but asking these honest questions brings us “into” the situation, and how the text addresses it.
It seems apparent, though, that he chose to stay among the “bad figs” in the land accursed by God. Perhaps this was motivated by bitterness. He had worked tirelessly, against great opposition for 40 years, motivated by the hope that the holy city and temple could be saved. He gave his all, and it was not enough.
We learn that things turned out horribly for him. There was hope for peace while Gedaliah served as governor, but then he was murdered. Jeremiah was in the hands of this murderer and about to be taken to Ammon.
A rescue mission took place and now there was a diverse group of people under the leadership of the rescuer, Johanan. They felt they should flee to Egypt before the Babylonian armies brought vengeance for the murder of the appointed governor. But they decided to ask Jeremiah to check what God thought about their plans.
Then all the guerrilla leaders, including Johanan son of Kareah and Jezaniah son of Hoshaiah, and all the people, from the least to the greatest, approached Jeremiah the prophet. They said, “Please pray to the LORD your God for us. As you can see, we are only a tiny remnant compared to what we were before. Pray that the LORD your God will show us what to do and where to go.” 42:1-3.
Jeremiah agreed to enquire.
“All right,” Jeremiah replied. “I will pray to the LORD your God, as you have asked, and I will tell you everything he says. I will hide nothing from you.” 42:4.
They promised to do whatever the Lord said.
Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the LORD your God be a faithful witness against us if we refuse to obey whatever he tells us to do! Whether we like it or not, we will obey the LORD our God to whom we are sending you with our plea. For if we obey him, everything will turn out well for us.” 42:5-6.
But, the Lord did not answer quickly. Think of the times Jeremiah received almost immediately a “Word of the Lord.” But here a whole week went by without an answer. These are people living in fear; fear for their very lives. Eight days, no answer. Nine days, no answer.
The Lord’s spokesperson did not receive a word from him until the 10th day. Jeremiah was not in close fellowship with his God at this point of his life. Anger, bitterness, disappointment raged in this heart.
During this long wait the distraught seekers made up their own minds what to do. Jeremiah finally delivered a detailed, lengthy, well documented “word from the Lord” on the 10th day (42:7-22). But by now the people were prepared to go completely against the Lord’s instructions. They went to Egypt where God’s wrath awaited, and they forced Jeremiah and Baruch to go with them.
The Lord gave a few more messages to his spokesperson for the hearing of those in Egypt, but they were only messages of judgement that the people refused to hear. (43:8-13, 44:1-14, 44:20-30).
Jeremiah was forced to choose his own zip code. He could not blame God for that choice, the results that followed were entirely upon himself.
Jeremiah’s time in Judah and Egypt were, for all we can see, a waste. There is nothing good that came out of it.
The other place Jeremiah could have taken up residence had hundreds of thousands of the Lord’s “good figs.” The Lord’s heart, the Lord’s favor, and the Lord’s future plans were with those exiles. His seasoned spokesperson could have had (and I would say “should” have had) a strategic impact among those favored people.
But this was a choice Jeremiah had to make himself: To set aside his heart-pain and be willing to offer himself as a “living sacrifice” to the Lord, for the sake of his captive people.
Jeremiah was overcome by tragedy. But his amazing, longsuffering, relationship-driven God was not done with him. It would seem clear that God’s spokesperson, and the spokesperson’s scribe were in Egypt for some length of time. And as their hearts softened, as they allowed their loving God to renew their strength, they took the opportunity to work together in constructing this amazing, lengthy, full-disclosure scroll that we now know as The Book of Jeremiah.