Jeremiah 41:1. Now, in the seventh month — Answering partly to our September, and partly to October; two months after the taking of Jerusalem. The murder of Gedaliah gave occasion to the fasts of the seventh month, which the Jews observed after their return from captivity, Zechariah 7:5; Zechariah 8:19. Ishmael the son of Nethaniah — The same Ishmael that came to Gedaliah, Jeremiah 40:8-9, and to whom he sware protection; of the seed royal — Being of the family of David, he supposed he had a greater right to the government than Gedaliah, and therefore seems to have borne him a grudge: on which account he was the fitter instrument for the king of the Ammonites to make use of; and the princes of the king, even ten men with him — Some of the chief officers of state belonging to Zedekiah. These, undoubtedly, brought a great number of others with them in their retinue, or else they could not have made such a destruction as they did.
Jeremiah 41:3-4. Ishmael also slew all the Jews and the men of war — That is, all that joined in opposing him, and in assisting Gedaliah: for several of the commanders, as well as the greater part of the people, were still left alive, as appears by the sequel of the story. And on the second day after, &c., no man knew it — That is, no man who lived at any considerable distance from Mizpah, for Ishmael undoubtedly used every means in his power to keep this slaughter secret, lest the news of it should reach the ears of some of the Chaldean commanders, and so he should be prevented from making his escape.
Jeremiah 41:5. There came fourscore men, having their beards shaven, &c. — “These were tokens of great mourning, by which these persons expressed their grief for the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Such expressions of sorrow were forbidden to be used at funeral obsequies, Leviticus 19:27-28; but might be lawfully used upon other mournful occasions. With offerings and incense to bring them to the house of the Lord — Some understand this as if devout persons brought their oblations to the place where the altar formerly stood, which they looked upon as consecrated ground; a custom, they think, countenanced by the words of Baruch, chap. Jeremiah 1:10, where the exiles at Babylon are supposed to send money to buy offerings for the altar of the Lord, after that Jerusalem was taken and burned. Others by the house of the Lord understand an altar or place of worship erected by Gedaliah at Mizpah; in imitation of that which was formerly set up there by Samuel, which place continued to be a proseucha, or place of worship, in after times, as appears from 1 Maccabees 3:46. There were many such sanctuaries or places of worship, both in Judea and elsewhere, among the Jewish dispersions.” — Lowth.
Jeremiah 41:6-8. And Ishmael went forth to meet them, weeping all along as he went — As if he sympathized with them, and bewailed, as they did, the desolations of Jerusalem. He appears to have been a complete hypocrite. As he met them he said, Come to Gedaliah — He invites them to the new governor for protection, as if he had been one of his courtiers and friends, and by these arts conceals his bloody design against them. And when they came into the midst of the city — Whence they could not easily escape; Ishmael slew them — Though they had given him no provocation, and indeed, as it seems, were entire strangers to him. And, no doubt, he took the offerings they had brought, and converted them to his own use: for he that did not hesitate to commit such a murder certainly would not scruple to commit sacrilege. And cast them into the midst of the pit — The words, and cast them, are not in the Hebrew, which is literally, slew them in the midst of the pit. So also the LXX., εσφαξεν αυτους εις το φρεαρ. The Complutensian edition, however, supplies και ενεβαλεν, and cast them, which accords with the reading of the Syriac. The Vulgate renders the clause, interfecit eos Ismael circa medium laci: Ishmael slew them about the middle of the lake, or, pool; and Blaney reads, Ishmael massacred them at the pit. He and the men that were with him — Hired, it seems, to assist him in this bloody work. But ten men were found that said, Slay us not, for we have treasures, &c. — He slew seventy of them, but the remaining ten pleading for their lives, and urging that they had estates in the country of corn, oil, and honey, his covetousness prevailed over his cruelty, and he spared their lives, to become master of their property.
Jeremiah 41:9. Now the pit was it which Asa had made, &c. — The word בור, here and elsewhere rendered pit, frequently signifies, a cistern, basin, or, reservoir; a large place made for receiving rain-water; which seems to be the meaning of the word here. This pit, or reservoir, Asa, who built and fortified Mizpah, at the time he was at war with Baasha king of Israel, caused to be made in the midst of the city, in order that the people might not be in want of so necessary an article as water in case of a siege. Reservoirs of this kind were much in use in Palestine, as Jerome tells us, in his commentary upon Amos 4:7-8. And Josephus testifies the advantage of them to the besieged when he tells us that, when Masada was reduced to the greatest distress for want of water, it was relieved by a fall of rain in the night, which filled all the reservoirs, Antiq. lib. 14. cap. 14. Each private family seems also to have had one of these reservoirs for its own use. Drink ye every one the waters of his own cistern, בורו, his pit, or, reservoir, says Rabshakeh to the people of Jerusalem, Isaiah 36:16.
Jeremiah 41:10-13. Ishmael carried away captive all the residue of the people — All that he did not slay: see note on Jeremiah 41:3; and among the rest Zedekiah’s daughters, who had been left to the care of Gedaliah, when his sons were slain. These, it seems, being recovered by Johanan, were taken with him into Egypt, where they perished among the other Jews. And Ishmael departed to go over to the Ammonites — Probably intending to make a present of the captives he was taking with him, to Baalis king of Ammon, by whom he had been instigated to the murder of Gedaliah. But when Johanan, and all the captains heard, &c. — It would have been well if Johanan, when he gave information to Gedaliah of Ishmael’s treasonable design, had stayed with him; for he and his captains, and their forces, might have been a life-guard to him, and a terror to Ishmael, and so have prevented the mischief, without the effusion of blood. They took all the men, and went to fight with Ishmael — Upon receiving notice of the murders he had committed, and which way he had gone, they pursued him, and found him by the great waters that are in Gibeon — Called the pool of Gibeon, of which we read 2 Samuel 2:13. Now when all the people which were with Ishmael — Namely, the poor captives whom he was taking into the land of the Ammonites; saw Johanan, &c., they were glad — As they might well be, to see a probability of escaping out of the hands of the bloody man who had slain so many of their brethren: and they presently found an opportunity to wheel about, and come over to Johanan and his captains, Ishmael not attempting to detain them, but readily quitting his prey to save his life.
Jeremiah 41:16-18. Then took Johanan and the captains, all the remnant of the people, &c. — It would have been a happy thing, if Johanan, when he had rescued the captives, would have sat quietly down with them, in the land of Judah, and governed them peaceably as Gedaliah did; but, instead of that, he is for leading them into the land of Egypt, as Ishmael would have led them into the land of the Ammonites; so that, though he got the command of them in a better way than Ishmael did, yet he did not use it much better. Gedaliah, who was of a meek and quiet spirit, was a great blessing to them; but Johanan, who was of a fierce and restless disposition, seems to have been permitted to get the command of them for their hurt, and to complete their ruin, even after they were, as they thought, redeemed. Thus did God still walk contrary to them, and thus did evil still pursue this sinful people. And they departed and dwelt in the habitation of Chimham — The same parcel of ground, probably, that David gave to Chimham, the son of Barzillai: see 2 Samuel 19:38-40. Here Johanan made his headquarters, steering his course toward Egypt, either from a personal affection to that country, or an ancient national confidence in the Egyptians for help in distress. Because of the Chaldeans — As the person, whom Nebuchadnezzar had made governor in the land, was slain, it was not unreasonable for them to think that Nebuchadnezzar would consider the murder of him as an affront done to himself; and though Johanan had no hand in that villanous act, yet he did not know but the king of Babylon, being unacquainted with all the parties among the Jews, might look upon all that remained in the country as guilty, and might revenge the murder of his deputy governor upon them all. He therefore chooses for them a habitation, from whence they might, in a short time, go down into Egypt, which was Johanan’s design, as we shall read in the next chapter.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Jeremiah 41". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany