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Ishmael Slays Gedaliah
v. 1. Now it came to pass in the seventh month, only about two months after the destruction of Jerusalem and the appointment of Gedaliah as governor, that Ishmael, the son of Netha-niah, the son of Elishama, of the seed royal and the princes of the king, he belonged to a side-line of the house of David and therefore of the mighty ones of the land, even ten men with him, came unto Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam, to Mizpah; and there they did eat bread together in Mizpah, as the guests of Gedaliah, who received them apparently without a show of suspicion and without any attempt at safeguarding himself against any wickedness on their part.
v. 2. Then arose Ishmael, the son of Neth-aniah, while he and his men were partaking of this hospitality, 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, or, literally, "so he slew him," whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land. The men with Ishmael were all of them guilty of his murder, but the heaviest burden of guilt rested upon him who had planned the foul deed.
v. 3. Ishmael also slew all the Jews that were with him, even with Gedaliah, at Mizpah, the armed men who had placed themselves at the disposal of the governor, and the Chaldeans that were found there, various officials of the Babylonian government, and the men of war, who were evidently unprepared for such an unexpected attack on the part of the governor's guest.
v. 4. And it came to pass the second day after he had slain Gedaliah, and no man knew it, news of the murder not having reached any other part of the country as yet,
v. 5. that there came certain from Shechem, from Shiloh, and from Samaria, three cities farther north in the province, even fourscore men, having their beards shaven, as a sign of deep mourning, and their clothes rent, and having cut themselves, such incisions into the skin being forbidden to the children of Israel, as a heathen custom. Leviticus 19:27-28; Deuteronomy 14:1, with offerings and incense in their hand, to bring them to the house of the Lord. These men mourned the destruction of the Temple, but continued their acts of worship even upon its site, covered with ruins as it was. Their road naturally led past the city of Mizpah, and they traveled along without the slightest apprehension of danger.
v. 6. And Ishmael, the son of Nethaniah, whose scouts had undoubtedly informed him of their coming, went forth from Mizpah to meet them, weeping all along as he went, pretending to weep, as they did, over the ruin of the Temple; and it came to pass, as he met them, he said unto them, Come to Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam, thus assuming the role of the governor's messenger.
v. 7. And it was so, when they came into the midst of the city, still without the slightest suspicion regarding the ruse employed by Ishmael, that Ishmael, the son of Nethaniah, slew them, murdered them in cold blood, and cast them into the midst of the pit, which was either the trench about the city or a large cistern used for storing water in the event of a siege, he and the men that were with him, for he could hardly have committed this wholesale murder single-handed.
v. 8. But ten men were found among them, the eighty who fell into Ishmael's trap, that said unto Ishmael, Slay us not, for we have treasures in the field, of wheat, and of barley, and of oil, and of honey, for it was customary for men to hide their stores of grain and fruit in underground bins during troublous times in order to prevent their being taken by invading hordes. So he forbare and slew them not among their brethren, very likely taking their goods as a ransom for their lives, for the motive for Ishmael's crime seems to have been plain robbery, since he was evidently a wild and lawless man.
v. 9. Now, the pit wherein Ishmael had cast all the dead bodies of the men whom he had slain because of Gedaliah, literally, "at the hand of Gedaliah," that is, next to Gedaliah, whom he had first cast into this trench or cistern, was it which Asa, the king, had made for fear of Baasha, king of Israel, Cf 1 Kings 15:16-22; and Ishmael, the son of Netha-niah, filled it with them that were slain, a gruesome heap of his victims.
v. 10. Then Ishmael carried away captive all the residue of the people that were in Mizpah, even the king's daughters, all the princesses of the royal household, including the daughters of Zedekiah, and all the people that remained in Mizpah, whom Nebuzar-adan, the captain of the guard, had committed to Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam, putting them into his care as people who had professed their loyalty to the Babylonian rule; and Ishmael, the son of Nethaniah, carried them away captive and departed to go over to the Ammonites, his intention being either to have his captives settle in the territory of the Ammonites, in the service of whose king he seems to have placed himself, or to sell them outright as slaves. Such is the way of men who yield to a life of sin: one crime leads to another, until they are fairly steeped in sins.
The Preparations to Emigrate to Egypt
v. 11. But when Johanan, the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces that were with him, who had warned Gedaliah against Ishmael, heard of all the evil that Ishmael, the son of Nethaniah, had done,
v. 12. then they took all the men, quickly summoning them upon receiving the sad news, and went to fight with Ishmael, the son of Nethaniah, and found him by the great waters that are in Gibeon, only a few miles northeast of Mizpah. The disposing of the seventy slain men and the gathering of the people of the city to be deported had clearly delayed Ishmael to such an extent that he could not get away in time.
v. 13. Now it came to pass that, when all the people which were with Ishmael saw Johanan, the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces that were with him, then they were glad, for the prospect of being sold into slavery was not pleasant.
v. 14. So all the people that Ishmael had carried away captive from Mizpah cast about, they came around, they circled back, and returned and went unto Johanan, the son of Kareah, they took this opportunity of joining the forces of their deliverer, since Ishmael was now engaged in defending himself against Johanan's attack.
v. 15. But Ishmael, the son of Nethaniah, escaped from Johanan, upon the latter's determined attack, with eight men and went to the Ammonites, two of his men evidently having fallen in the fight.
v. 16. 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, rescuing them out of his hand, from Mizpah, after that he had slain Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam, even mighty men of war, and the women, and the children, and the eunuchs, the special servants of the harem, whom he had brought again from Gibeon;
v. 17. and they departed and dwelt in the habitation of Chimham, a khan or caravansary, where large companies of travelers stopped for the night, which is by Bethlehem, to go to enter into Egypt,
v. 18. 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 in the land, they feared that they would be implicated in Ishmael's treason or in some way be held responsible for it. It would have been far better, since they had a good conscience in the matter, had they laid the facts in the case before the Chaldean authorities and cleared themselves. As it was, their removal from Judea placed them under the suspicion of the Babylonians. Fear often dictates a wrong course, even where people are altogether innocent.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Jeremiah 41". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent