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CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Chronology of the Chapter.—Only three months after Jerusalem was captured by the Chaldeans: “in the seventh month” (Jeremiah 41:1, comp. chap. Jeremiah 32:2) See notes on two preceding chapters.
Personal Allusion. Jeremiah 41:1. “Elishama.” Vide note, chap. Jeremiah 36:12, in loc.
Geographical References. Jeremiah 41:7; Jeremiah 41:9. “The pit:” properly cistern. “On the summit of the hill was Asa’s fortress, with a deep well within a high enclosed courtyard, dug by him for the security of the garrison” (Stanley). Asa’s reason for digging this cistern was, that when the city should be besieged by the king of Israel there might be sufficient water for the inhabitants. (See 1 Kings 15:22.)
Jeremiah 41:12. “The great waters that are in Gibeon.” Gibeon is about two miles north of Mizpah. The מַיִם רַבִּים, “great waters,” mean the vast pool and fountains which Robinson (Researches, ii. 136) describes, about 120 feet by 100. (See 2 Samuel 2:13.)
Jeremiah 41:17. “The habitation of Chimham:” lit. Geruth-Chimham, i.e. the caravanserai belonging to Chimham (2 Samuel 19:37-38). Johanan makes this his headquarters until he could arrange his flight to Egypt.
SUBJECT OF CHAPTER 41
ISHMAEL’S SANGUINARY CONSPIRACY
Jeremiah 41:1. Theme: UNSUSPICIOUSNESS. “They did eat bread together in Mizpah.”
I. Unsuspiciousness is indicative of a frank and generous soul.
1. Honest men are naturally trustful. Themselves faithful, they do not suspect, in seeming friends, perfidious conspirators!
2. Kindly hearts entertain no dark suspicions. “Charity thinketh no evil” (1 Corinthians 13:5). It is painful to look for a villain in him who dips his sop with us in the same dish.
So far Gedaliah’s was a praiseworthy simplicity.
II. Unsuspiciousness runs the risks of incaution.
1. Guileless minds cannot credit base reports. Although warned (chap. Jeremiah 40:14; Jeremiah 40:16), he could not believe it possible that Ishmael plotted foul designs. Conscious only of innocency and good purposes himself, he found it impossible to believe that wrong was intended him.
2. Indiscreet trust pays a severe penalty. In this case, Gedaliah’s virtue of unsuspiciousness became a fault; for in being injudiciously trustful he both imperilled his own life and exposed the public interests to disaster.
III. Unsuspiciousness is apt to invite calamity.
1. By neglecting lurking danger. It was Gedaliah’s duty to have regarded the information given him (chap. Jeremiah 40:14), and arrested a villain whose plots threatened the public weal.
2. By shrinking from exercising a just severity. For the incapability of suspicions is allied often with a weak regard to justice; and hence a disinclination to punish wrong (chap. Jeremiah 40:16).
3. By tolerating evident evils. And here is the folly and blunder of habitual unsuspiciousness: it will not see evils; it prefers to let them alone, hoping for the best. And thus iniquities thrive under the benign tolerance of an ingenuous rule.
IV. Unsuspiciousness plays into the hands of villany.
1. Villany is a fact, existing and active in all human society. He who ignores it is wanting in prudence.
2. Villany plots deeds so foul that no vigilance can be too alert to check its purposes. By neglecting this wise suspiciousness Gedaliah wronged Johanan (chap. Jeremiah 40:16), imperilled the peace of the people, and placed himself in the assassin’s grasp (chap. Jeremiah 41:1).
3. Villany shrinks not from outrage on noblest souls. Surely it is the highest crime (Jeremiah 44:2) thus to woo generous confidence only to act the fiend! “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain!” The execrable character of such villany Shakespeare describes—
“My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemus me for a villain.”
—Richard III. Jer. 41:3.
Jeremiah 41:2. Theme: HOSPITALITY OUTRAGED. “Then arose Ishmael, … and slew him!”
Murder is frightful enough in itself, but the moment of the deed makes it heinous in the extreme.
I. Hospitality: the infamy of its abuse. Ishmael polluted his hands with innocent blood at the sacred table of hospitality.
Universally and in all ages hospitality has been cherished as sacred.
The ancient heathen nations regarded it so, and its violation was counted by them the greatest atrocity.
An oath given when at table and afterwards broken called for summary vengeance.
Among the Greeks existed a custom of pledging lasting friendship in return for hospitality. It was in this wise: On a four-sided stone was written the name of each guest; the stone, called “Tessara Hospitalis,” was then broken, and each friend carried away the part of the stone bearing the other’s name, and it entitled the holder of the part to ask protection and shelter from the other whenever necessity arose.
See Percy Anecdotes, on “Hospitality,” for illustrations.
II. Jealousy: outraging every instinct of gratitude. Ishmael had been treated with magnanimity by Gedaliah, and now was being entertained with courtesy and kindness; yet—
1. Ambition and envy prompted him to violence. He was “of the royal seed” (Jeremiah 41:1), and could not endure that Gedaliah should be in exaltation.
“Base envy withers at another’s joy,
And hates that excellence it cannot reach.”
—Thomson’s Seasons, 283.
“Jealousy is cruel as the grave.”
—Song of Solomon 8:6.
“Jealousy, the injured lover’s hell.”
—Milton’s Paradise Lost.
“Fling away ambition:
By that sin fell the angels.”
—Shakespeare, Henry VIII., iii. 2.
2. Innocence was no shield against the lust of jealousy. Gedaliah had done Ishmael no wrong. Ishmael had not been deposed from power. All Gedaliah’s acts had been generous and trustful, yet Ishmael could not endure the sight of his supremacy.
Such outrage on innocence refutes all natural sentiments in the human heart, and shows Ishmael to be an odious monster. Horace speaks the natural sentiment which we cherish towards innocence—
“True, conscious honour is to feel no sin,
He’s armed without who’s innocent within:
Be this thy screen, and this thy wall of brass.”
But it was this conscious innocence which made Gedaliah fearless and trustful, and should have ensured his safety.
“If there be a crime
Of deeper dye than all the guilty train
Of human vices, ’tis ingratitude.”—Brooke.
“Ingratitude is treason to mankind.”
Theme: GEDALIAH’S FATE AN EXAMPLE. “Illustrating what befalls even the most noble in times of deep corruption:—
(i.) They enjoy general confidence.
(ii.) They are incapable of attributing extreme wickedness to men.
(iii.) They become a sacrifice to their confidence.
(iv.) They are therefore not in a condition to stay the divine judgments.”—Naegelsbach.
“Judas’s kiss and Jacob’s brethren are very common in the world, and take after their grandfather Cain, who spake kindly to Abel and yet had bloodthirsty thoughts (Genesis 4:8). Yea, they take after their father the devil, who is a murderous spirit (John 8:14), and disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).”—Cramer.
“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.
Josephus suggests that Ishmael seized the opportunity of slaughter when Gedaliah and his guests were merry with wine, and his words are: “When Gedaliah had feasted Ishmael, and those that were with him, in a splendid manner at his table, and had given them presents, he became disordered in drink, while he endeavoured to be very merry with them; and when Ishmael saw him in this case, and that he was drowned in his cups to the degree of insensibility and fallen asleep, he rose up on a sudden, with his ten friends, and slew Gedaliah and those that were with him at the feast.”—Antiq. x. 9, 4.
Jeremiah 41:3. “Ishmael also slew the Chaldeans and men of war.” This gives support to kitto’s suggestion, that “he regarded Gedaliah with hatred, as one who had stooped to hold office under the destroyers of his country.”—Daily Bib. Illus.
Jeremiah 41:6. Theme: A TRAITOR’S TEARS. “Ishmael went forth weeping all along as he went.”
I. Patriotic pilgrims (Jeremiah 41:5). It was now the season of the Feast of Tabernacles, and these pilgrims journeyed to Jerusalem—
1. Mourning over the Temple’s ruin.
2. Carrying their devout offerings, to present them amid the scene of desolation.
A piteous spectacle! Oh how their souls grieved for the destruction of “the house of the Lord”! They would fain, amid the ruins, keep the observances of the law, and mourn before the Lord who had permitted this direful calamity to overtake His sinning people. Their aspects show them to be—
(a.) A penitential group; (b.) bringing their propitiatory offerings before God; (c.) touched with patriotic sorrow.
II. A blasphemous decoy. “Ishmael went weeping.”
1. Pretending that he also bemoaned the ruin of Zion.
2. Capturing them by his foul deceit.
They were unsuspicious of his murderous designs; and he intending to slay them lest they, discovering his deed to Gedaliah, should rouse the country against him before he had completed his usurpation, decoyed them to destruction.
What barbarity is here, thus to seize defenceless strangers, and slay them without the faintest provocation!
How does this illustrate the progress of guilt; having polluted his hands in blood, Ishmael went on to even baser effrontery and deeper villany.
Jeremiah 41:12. Theme: TREACHERY THWARTED. His design seems to have been to carry them as slaves into Ammon. The captives hailed their deliverer with joy, and deserted at once to Johanan, so that Ishmael returned, disgraced and defeated, to the king of Ammon, whose base purposes he attempted to serve. Yet—
How great woe may one foul hand work! How startling that no sorer punishment overtook him!
Nevertheless, though guilty men escape the immediate penalty of crime, their prolonged life only prolongs their career of wretchedness and terror, execrated by righteous men, and haunted by their guilty memories; for in this way God drags criminals daily before the tribunal of their own memory, and then lets them live under the curse of their own conscience.
Jeremiah 41:16-18. Theme: MISTAKEN PATRIOTISM. “Johanan departed to go into Egypt.”
I. Courage ungoverned by godliness.
1. His energy for his people was praiseworthy.
2. His valour wrought their deliverance (Jeremiah 41:16).
3. Yet his departure from God’s purpose, in inclining towards Egypt (Jeremiah 41:17), showed both unbelief and wilfulness.
II. Safety sought from a forbidden alliance.
1. Though strictly denounced by God’s messengers, yet he intended to trust in Egypt.
2. Fear (of the Chaldeans) was allowed to rule them instead of faith (in God) (Jeremiah 41:18).
3. Turning from the straight path of duty they were led to a tortuous and destructive policy.
III. Obedience to God proves the highest patriotism.
1. It wins more than noblest valour can effect.
2. Righteousness is always safest; doing God’s will regardless of consequences, untroubled by fears.
3. Simple faith in God’s word, regardless of our own fears, always issues best.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Jeremiah 41". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29