After Johanan rescued the captives Ishmael took at Mizpah, other military leaders joined Johanan at Geruth Chimham, which was close to Bethlehem, planning to go to Egypt. Then (Jeremiah Chapter 42) the leaders and people approached Jeremiah and asked him to inquire of God what they should do; “Then they said to Jeremiah, May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with the whole message with which the Lord your God will send you to us. Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, so that it may go well with us when we listen to the voice of the Lord our God.”
After ten days God spoke to Jeremiah that the people were to remain in Judah and that they need not fear the Babylonians, that the Babylonians would not retaliate against them for Ishmael’s murders at Mizpah. Notwithstanding the promise of the leaders and people to obey the Word of God, here is how they responded to Jeremiah:
“But as soon as Jeremiah, whom the Lord their God had sent, had finished telling all the people all the words of the Lord their God—that is, all these words— Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You are not to enter Egypt to reside there’; but Baruch the son of Neriah is inciting you against us to give us over into the hand of the Chaldeans, so they will put us to death or exile us to Babylon.” So Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces, and all the people, did not obey the voice of the Lord to stay in the land of Judah.” (Chapter 43).
What follows is the journey of the rebellious leaders and the people into Egypt, their adoption of idolatry, and Jeremiah’s continued words of judgement on their disobedience - with the message that Egypt would be conquered by Babylon just as Judah was conquered.
Ishmael and Johanan looked at circumstances, they looked at the expedient, and in looking at the expedient they rejected the Word of God. Ishmael resorted to an alliance with the ungodly king of Ammon, deceit, and murder. Johanan commendably rescued Ishmael’s captives, but then he sought an alliance with Egypt by going to Egypt and embracing that land’s false gods. Just as Johanan wanted to initially solve the problem with Ishmael by assassination, by taking things into his own hands and not trusting God, so he chose to answer the question of what to do and where to go according to his own reasoning, rather than obeying God’s Word through Jeremiah. Throughout the entire book of Jeremiah God’s Word remains steadfast and immovable - because of Judah’s sins the Babylonians were coming to conquer, submit to them and you will find mercy - that Word was true to Jehoiakim, it was true to Zedekiah, and it was true to Johanan - God’s Word did not change; all three of these men rejected God’s Word. This same Word was true to Gedaliah and he obeyed the Word while many around him were not obeying it - he obeyed the Word and he was killed for it. The Ethiopian, Ebed-melech, believed the Word, worked to save Jeremiah, and his life was spared.
We simply cannot trust what we see happening around us but we can trust the Word of God. When common worldly sense dictates that we adopt the methods of the world, that we think as the world, that we act as the world, the People of God must stand fast in God’s Word and with Paul look not at the things which are visible but at the things that are invisible (2 Corinthians 4:17 - 18). When the People of God become politicized and align themselves with the agendas of this age, whether they are those of Johanan or Ishmael, or others, we have ceased to be the distinct people we are called to be in Jesus Christ. We are not engaged in a conflict with flesh and blood, but with spiritual forces of wickedness (Ephesians Chapter 6), and when we make our conflict with flesh and blood we descend from the heavenlies into the earth, and the weapons of the earth will destroy us...whether others are using them against us or we are using them against others, the Church of God cannot use the weapons of the world with impunity.
When the kings of Judah used the treasures of God’s Temple to pay for military alliances and protection, the Temple was diminished until the Temple was no more. When the Church of Jesus Christ uses the treasures that it has been given to form unholy alliances, when it invites idols into its sanctuary, when it justifies the pragmatic on the grounds of self-preservation, can we expect anything less than what Jerusalem experienced? Anything less than what Jesus spoke to the Seven Churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3? We are to be a pure virgin for Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3), the holy Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22 - 33). As Paul asks, “What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:16). Let us not forget that “judgment begins with the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17).
Our time with Gedaliah, Ishmael, and Johanan tells us that things are not always what they seem to be. Only the Word of God can guide and direct us in this life, in its chaos, in its tensions, in its insistence that we align ourselves with the agendas of this evil age.
So what do we think? Shall we align ourselves with Ishmael? Or with Johanan? Or shall we submit to the Word of God with Gedaliah? Shall we not be ashamed to stand with Gedaliah? With Jesus? No matter what the cost? AMEN.