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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Jeremiah 42

 

 

Verses 1-6

The People Approach Jeremiah And Seek Guidance, Giving The Impression Of Wanting To Obey YHWH (Jeremiah 42:1-6).

As a result of what had happened to Jerusalem Jeremiah had now been proved to be a true prophet of YHWH. Thus on finding him among the captives the people came to him ostensibly in order to receive the word of YHWH. What they really wanted was a religious assurance that the plan which they had formulated was the right one. They wanted God to back up their plans, rather than themselves wanting to fall into line with God’s plans.

There may be a deliberate parallel between what is said here and what is said in Exodus 24. In both cases the covenant is renewed with a promise being made by the people that they would obey it. It is setting the scene in both cases for their future disobedience.

Jeremiah 42:1

‘Then all the captains of the forces, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least even to the greatest, came near,’

It would appear that Johanan was the recognised leader of the military forces, probably by common consent of the commanders, with the son(s) of Hoshaiah possibly being the recognised leaders of the people in general. Compare Jeremiah 43:1 where Azariah the son of Hoshaiah takes precedence over Johanan in dealing with Jeremiah’s prophecy. Jezaniah as used here may simply have been another name for Azariah, or it may be that the two were brothers, both belonging to the same aristocratic family. He may or may not have been the same person as Jezaniah the Maachathite (Jeremiah 40:8). But it is emphasised here that both they, and all from highest to lowest, were concerned to seek Jeremiah’s support for their venture. This is speaking, of course, of those who were planning the flight to Egypt. Purportedly they wanted YHWH’s guidance. Actually it would turn out that they simply wanted to be told that they were right. It was not that they were deliberately dishonest. They genuinely wanted God’s will, but only as long as it conformed to theirs. And we must remember that they lived in a day when turning to the divine about future plans was looked on as the necessary thing to do. The gods were always consulted before any great enterprise. It is not therefore their religious sincerity which is in doubt but the condition of their hearts.

Jeremiah 42:2-3

‘And said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Let, we pray you, our supplication be presented before you, and pray for us to YHWH your God, even for all this remnant, for we are left but a few of many, as your eyes do behold us, that YHWH your God may show us the way in which we should walk, and the thing that we should do.”

For the last phrase compare Exodus 18:20. Outwardly their hopes were very pious. They wanted to know YHWH’s will and to do it. Indeed they claimed that they wanted to walk in the way of YHWH. And so they asked Jeremiah to pray to YHWH so that He would guide them (as it will turn out, as so often with us today, it was on condition that He said what they wanted Him to say). Note the reference to the remnant. They were very conscious that their once well populated land was now comparatively sparsely populated, mainly through slaughter, and through death by means of famine and pestilence, and through fleeing as refugees, rather than through exile, for only the cream of the people had actually been exiled. Isaiah in Jeremiah 6:11-13 had prophesied that Judah would be reduced to a remnant and that even that remnant would need to be purged. Here now was a remnant but it will soon become apparent that they too need to be purged. Outwardly, however, they give the impression of having learned their lesson.

Note that here they speak of ‘YHWHyourGod’, the idea being that Jeremiah was very much YHWH’s prophet, and that YHWH was the One from Whom he received His prophecies. Other prophets would go to other gods and even many gods, but they knew that Jeremiah had only one God.

Jeremiah 42:4

‘Then Jeremiah the prophet said to them, “I have heard you. Behold, I will pray to YHWH your God according to your words; and it will come about that whatever thing YHWH will answer you, I will declare it to you. I will keep nothing back from you.”

Jeremiah then assured them that he had heard their cry for help, and that he would pray to YHWH on their behalf as they had requested. He further promised that he would assuredly tell them what YHWH’s answer to them was, and would keep nothing back from them. This emphasis suggests that Jeremiah was already aware that his reply was not likely to please them. He knew that God did not want His people to return to Egypt (compare Isaiah 30:1-4; Hosea 11; Ezekiel 17:15; and often). Egypt was doomed (Ezekiel 29-32)

Note again the designation ‘YHWH your God’, this time spoken to the people. Jeremiah wants them to recognise in their turn that YHWH is their sole God too, the God to Whom they owe covenant responsibility, and the God Who is interested in their concerns.

Jeremiah 42:5

‘Then they said to Jeremiah, “YHWH be a true and faithful witness amongst us, if we do not according to all the word with which YHWH your God will send you to us.” ’

In bold words they asserted their determination to obey YHWH. They called on YHWH to act as a true and faithful prosecuting witness among them if they failed to obey His words which would He would send to them through Jeremiah. In other words they were indicating that they would be prepared to face up to a searching examination of their obedience. It was a powerfully phrased request. All seemed set well for the future. In this confident declaration we discover a decided similarity with similar declarations in the past. It indicated confirmation of the covenant. See Exodus 24:3; Exodus 24:7; and compare Joshua 24:21.

Jeremiah 42:6

‘Whether it be good, or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of YHWH our God, to whom we send you, that it may be well with us, when we obey the voice of YHWH our God.’

Indeed, they declared, they would obey the voice of YHWH through Jeremiah whether it spoke good or evil, in other words whatever it spoke, so that it might be well with them. The thought was pious and theologically correct. The problem was that they meant it only if it fitted in with their own ideas of what they should do, something common to many of us in our dealings with God.

Note that taking up Jeremiah’s indication that YHWH was ‘their God’ they now themselves spoke of Him as ‘our God’. By this they were acknowledging their responsibility to look only to Him as their only God and to obey and worship Him.


Verses 1-13

The Refugees Seek YHWH’s Guidance Through Jeremiah But On Receiving It Reject It Because It Does Not Fit In With Their Inclinations With The Consequence That Jeremiah Prophesies Judgment Against Them (Jeremiah 42:1 to Jeremiah 43:13).

That Judah had still not learned its lesson comes out in that on receiving the word of YHWH from Jeremiah they immediately reject it and determine to follow their own inclinations. We have here a reproduction in miniature of the whole history of Israel. They sought to Egypt rather than to YHWH. They were reversing Israel’ previous deliverance. Jeremiah on the other hand promised them that if only they would obey YHWH all that he had prophesied against Judah would be reversed, but they refused to listen. Mighty Egypt appeared to offer a better guarantee of safety than the promises of YHWH. Little were they to know that mighty Egypt would itself be humiliated by Nebuchadrezzar, and that they would be caught up in the repercussions.


Verses 7-22

Jeremiah Brings To The People The Word Of YHWH (Jeremiah 42:7-22).

The break of ten days during which Jeremiah waited on YHWH brings out the importance of what is to be said. The run of cultic prophets spoke spontaneously, having stirred themselves up into ecstasy, but this was no spontaneous word from Jeremiah. He had to wait on YHWH for the genuine word of YHWH. The wait would meanwhile leave the people feeling uneasy in the light of the impending threat of Nebuchadrezzar. It suggests that God was testing their faith and giving them time to think over their situation. He knew that what He was about to command would be contrary to all their intentions.

We soon discover the reason for the waiting. YHWH’s word was that, rather than fleeing to Egypt, they were to remain in Judah under His own protection. They must trust in Him not in Egypt (compare Isaiah 30:1-5). He further indicated, in terms reminiscent of Jeremiah’s previous prophecies, that the judgment which Jeremiah had previously pronounced against Judah had now been reversed, and that if they remained in the land, rather than their being delivered up to Nebuchadrezzar, they would be established and would be delivered out of his hand. On the other hand if they chose to go into Egypt they would find themselves subjected to all the judgments from which they were trying to escape. The choice before them was stark. YHWH or Egypt.

The passage closes with Jeremiah, expressing his awareness in a kind of postscript that their decision has been to disobey YHWH, declaring that they will in fact prove disobedient, and will thus come under God’s renewed judgment. It was not, of course, just the seeking of refuge in Egypt that was the problem. It was that once they had done so they would start to look to other gods, something which Jeremiah 44:15 ff. make clear is precisely what happened.

Jeremiah 42:7

‘And it came about after ten days, that the word of YHWH came to Jeremiah.’

‘Ten days’ may simply signify ‘a period longer than seven days’. In Genesis ‘three days’ regularly indicated a short period, with ‘seven days’ indicating a relatively longer period. ‘Ten days’ may therefore have been the next stage up the scale (compare ‘ten times’ in Genesis 31:41). But however that may be, the description indicated that Jeremiah had to wait some considerable period, well over a seven day period, for YHWH’s answer, something unusual in the field of prophecy (compare, however, Jeremiah 28:11-12; Ezekiel 3:16). It was a reminder that with the genuine prophets YHWH’s word was not just something that could be produced by religious manipulation, but was a genuine word from Him.

The impression we gain (Jeremiah 42:2; Jeremiah 42:4) is that Jeremiah was to spend much of the time in prayer and supplication. Then at YHWH’s discretion His word came to Jeremiah. The wait should have convinced God’s people that the word which came would be of vital importance. God was doing His best to bring home to them the importance of what He was about to say.

Jeremiah 42:8

‘Then he called Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces who were with him, and all the people from the least even to the greatest,’

Having received YHWH’s word Jeremiah then solemnly called together the whole leadership, together with all the people who were in the camp, from the commanders and the king’s daughters, to the lowest servants. The whole assembly of the people was to be there to hear YHWH’s command.

Jeremiah 42:9

‘And said to them, “Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your supplication before him,’

He reminded them that it was they who had sent him to ‘YHWH, the God of Israel’, in other words to ‘their God’, in order that he might pray before Him so that they might receive the true word of YHWH through him.

Jeremiah 42:10

“If you will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down, and I will plant you, and not pluck you up, for I repent me of the evil that I have done to you.’

The initial words are a reversal of the trend of Jeremiah’s previous prophecies against Judah (see Jeremiah 1:10), and guarantee a fulfilment of His promises in Jeremiah 18:7-10; Jeremiah 31:4-5; Jeremiah 33:7. YHWH promises to fulfil in Judah what is also promised to the exiles outside Judah (Jeremiah 24:6), their ‘building up and planting’. It was an offer to bring about the fulfilment of the promises concerning the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:27-34 (see especially Jeremiah 31:28). YHWH promises them that if they will remain in the land and put their trust in Him He will ‘build them up and plant them’ because as a result of His judgments He has been able to change His mind about their situation. We should notice in this regard that YHWH’s ‘repentance’ is always as a result of changed circumstances which enable Him to view things differently. He changes His mind because the situation has changed enabling Him to act differently, not because He had previously made the wrong decision or was sorry for what He had done.

Thus if they are willing to truly obey YHWH the beginning of the reversal of the judgments of God can commence, with a future bright in the light of the promises in chapters 30-31. They will be able to enter into a new covenant with YHWH, a covenant that changes the heart, the Davidic king will take his throne, and the whole land will become prosperous. It must not be overlooked that this was a prospective turning point in salvation history. Sadly it did not come to fruition.

Jeremiah 42:11

“Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not be afraid of him, the word of YHWH, for I am with you to save you, and to deliver you from his hand.”

YHWH assures the people that if they remain in the land they need not fear Nebuchadrezzar’s revenge because on ‘the word of YHWH’ they can be sure that He, YHWH, will deliver them out of Nebuchadrezzar’s hand. And this even though they are afraid of him. So once more YHWH’s people are called on to look to Him and trust Him to be their Deliverer and Saviour, and act accordingly, with the promise that if they are obedient they will enjoy His full protection.

Jeremiah 42:12

“And I will grant you mercy, that he may have mercy on you, and cause you to return to your own land.”

For as a result of YHWH granting them mercy (a word indicating a mother’s tender care and compassion), they can be sure that Nebuchadrezzar will also consequently have mercy on them, the final consequence of this being that they can now return safely to occupy their own land under YHWH’s protection, rather than seeking refuge in Egypt.

Indeed it is clear that by fleeing to Egypt they would in fact be giving Nebuchadrezzar the impression that they were guilty of being involved in Gedaliah’s assassination, and in the murder of the Babylonians who had been stationed in Mizpah. Had they in fact remained and informed Nebuchadrezzar of the efforts that they had made to bring the murderers to justice they may well have been believed. But they were aware of what he had done to Zedekiah and the rulers of Judah, and panicked.

Jeremiah 42:13-14

“But if you say, ‘We will not dwell in this land,’ so that you do not obey the voice of YHWH your God, saying, ‘No, but we will go into the land of Egypt, where we will see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor have hunger of bread, and there will we dwell,’ ”

On the other hand they are warned that if they refuse to take this option of dwelling in the land, thereby flagrantly disobeying YHWH, but rather declare that that they will go into Egypt and dwell there in order to avoid war and the sound of war, and in order to avoid hunger, then they must face the consequences which he is about to pronounce.

Jeremiah 42:15

“Now therefore hear you the word of YHWH, O remnant of Judah. Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, If you indeed set your faces to enter into Egypt, and go to sojourn there,’

Jeremiah now gives a solemn pronouncement of what will happen to them if they choose Egypt. Returning to Egypt is constantly seen in Scripture as an indication of backsliding. Israel had hankered after Egypt in the wilderness (Exodus 16:3; Numbers 11:5; Numbers 14:4), and they had continued to do so ever since even though Egypt had in the end brought them nothing but hurt (see Hosea 11). Scripture constantly sees their hearts as being centred on Egypt (‘the fleshpots of Egypt’ - Exodus 16:3), even though God had delivered them from it, that was why in the end the One Who represented Israel had to be called out of Egypt (Matthew 2:15). Deliverance from ‘Egypt’ and all that it stood for is essential for salvation.

Jeremiah 42:16

“Then it shall come about, that the sword, which you fear, will overtake you there in the land of Egypt; and the famine, of which you are afraid, will follow hard after you there in Egypt. And there you will die.”

For what would they find in Egypt? Would they find peace and security and wellbeing and life? No. Rather they would experience being overtaken by the sword and by famine and by death, the very things which they wished to avoid. Egypt could offer them no security.

Jeremiah 42:17

“So will it be with all the men who set their faces to go into Egypt to sojourn there. They will die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence, and none of them will remain or escape from the evil that I will bring on them.”

This is what it will be like for all who set their faces on Egypt to go there. They will experience the judgments of sword and famine and pestilence (contagious disease), and none of them will escape from them, for YHWH Himself will bring them on them because of their disobedience. Sword, famine and pestilence are regularly described together as the means of God’s judgments (Jeremiah 14:12; Jeremiah 21:7; Jeremiah 21:9; Jeremiah 24:10; Jeremiah 27:8; Jeremiah 27:13; Jeremiah 29:17-18; Jeremiah 32:24; Jeremiah 32:36; Jeremiah 34:17; Jeremiah 38:2; Jeremiah 44:13; Ezekiel 5:12; Ezekiel 5:17; Ezekiel 6:11-12; Ezekiel 7:15; Ezekiel 12:16). In Ezekiel 14:21, where they are supplemented by wild beasts, they represent YHWH’s four judgments. They were the killers of the ancient world. And he emphasises that none will escape these judgments.

Jeremiah 42:18

“For thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, As my anger and my wrath have been poured forth on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so will my wrath be poured forth on you, when you shall enter into Egypt, and you shall be an execration, and an astonishment, and a curse, and a reproach, and you shall see this place no more.”

For their returning to Egypt will be as heinous a crime as that of the disobedience of the inhabitants of Jerusalem which brought YHWH’s anger and wrath on them. In the same way will His wrath be poured out on those who enter Egypt. They will experience the Levitical and Deuteronomic curses of being viewed with execration and astonishment (Leviticus 26:32; Deuteronomy 28:37), of being a curse and a reproach. and they will certainly never see their homeland again.


Verses 19-22

Recognising That They Have No Intention Of Obeying YHWH Jeremiah Pronounces Over Them What Is To Come On Them (Jeremiah 42:19-22).

Having been brought down to being a remnant, Judah have now been given the opportunity to re-establish themselves as God’s people and renew God’s kingdom. God’s judgment was over and YHWH was willing to begin again with them. But in spite of their earlier commitment to obey His voice (which humanly speaking had brought them this offer) it is clear to Jeremiah from their reaction that it is their intention to turn away from the fulfilment of their promise.

This was one of those moments in history when all future history could have been changed, but the stubbornness, hardheartedness and disobedience of the people prevented it from happening. And Jeremiah could only watch in despair and declare to them that because they had made false promises, sword, famine and pestilence would surely come on them in the very place where they had hoped to find safety.

Jeremiah 42:19

‘YHWH has spoken concerning you, O remnant of Judah, “Do not go into Egypt,”. Know certainly that I have testified to you this day.”

Having watched the reactions of the people and their leaders Jeremiah realises with a sinking heart that they have no intention of obeying YHWH, and makes his last hopeless plea to ‘the remnant of Judah’. The ‘remnant of Judah’ were those for whom God had promised so much, but it was essential, if they were to retain their purity of faith, that they remain in Judah. They must not ‘go into Egypt’ with all that that will involve. And he emphasises that that was the command of YHWH which they had promised to obey, and which Jeremiah was now solemnly testifying to them.

Jeremiah 42:20-21

‘For you have dealt deceitfully against your own souls, for you sent me to YHWH your God, saying, “Pray for us to YHWH our God; and according unto all that YHWH our God shall say, so declare to us, and we will do it, and I have this day declared it to you. But you have not obeyed the voice of YHWH your God in anything for which he has sent me to you.’

And he brings out that the reason for his final solemn plea is because he can see that all their past promises have been deceitful. They have even deceived themselves, ‘dealt deceitfully against their own souls’. He recognises that they have in fact from the beginning had no intention of obeying YHWHwhatever He said’, even though they may have convinced themselves otherwise. Their obedience had rather been conditional on YHWH aligning Himself with their own intentions, which in their view were the only safe ones. Their view was that YHWH had to fit in with what they saw as their only real hope of security, refuge in Egypt. For to them the might and security of Egypt under Pharaoh Hophra offered them their only hope. Thus when they had called on Jeremiah to pray to YHWH for guidance and had promised to do all that he declared to them as from YHWH, which was what he had done, they had done so only conditionally on it fitting in with their own inclinations.

Refuge in Egypt had indeed always been the final choice for people in the land of Canaan. It was ever a safe haven in times of trouble and famine. And because in the past Egypt had always seen Canaan as a kind of protectorate the refuge was usually offered. Archaeology bears witness to how often parties of Canaanites were welcomed in Egypt. We can compare Abraham in Genesis 12:10; and Jacob in the time of Joseph (Genesis 42:1-3).

‘But you have not obeyed the voice of YHWH your God in anything for which he has sent me to you.’ But the truth was that Israel had never obeyed the voice of YHWH, even though they claimed Him as their God. And they were not ready to obey Him now. This may be a reference back to Judah as a whole, linking these people before him with the previous behaviour of Judah, or it may simply indicate that he recognises that they have come to a decision, and that that decision was to disobey YHWH. Thus in their intentions they have already disobeyed YHWH, just as they always have in the past.

Jeremiah 42:22

‘Now therefore know certainly that you will die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence, in the place to which you desire to go to sojourn there.’

Jeremiah thus pronounces on them YHWH’s final verdict. In the very place to which they intended to go in order tolivethere, sword and famine and pestilence will overtake them, bringing about their deaths. Rather than escaping from them they will have brought them upon themselves. And this is not just a possibility, but is a certainty.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 42:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/jeremiah-42.html. 2013.

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Saturday, September 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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