13 So Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard sent Nebushasban, Rabsaris, Nergal-Sharezer, Rabmag, and all the king of Babylon’s chief officers; 14 then they sent someone to take Jeremiah from the court of the prison, and committed him to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, that he should take him home. So he dwelt among the people.
40 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord after Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him go from Ramah, when he had taken him bound in chains among all who were carried away captive from Jerusalem and Judah, who were carried away captive to Babylon.
There is a little bit of controversy about the story of the release of Jeremiah. Is Chapter 39 describing a first release of Jeremiah in Jerusalem and then Jeremiah is rounded later to be brought in chains to Ramah, a place somewhere approximately 5 miles north of Jerusalem. Chapter 40 would describe a second release of Jeremiah at Ramah.
What is more probable Jeremiah is describing the same event. The Chapter 39 description has less detail than the Chapter 40 description. The book of Jeremiah is a collection of essays by Jeremiah. The Chapter 40 introduction is necessary because the Chapter 39 description was not necessarily in the mind of the reader before the essays were collected and formed in the final book of Jeremiah.
The army of Nebuchadnezzar took captive the survivors in Jerusalem at a staging area in Ramah north of Jerusalem. Jeremiah was among the survivors. He had been found in the courtyard in Jerusalem brought in chains to Ramah. At Ramah the captains of the Babylonians were tasked with deciding the fate of the survivors.
Either the Babylonians were familiar with Jeremiah, by a spy network in the besieged city or through the testimony of deserter who fled Jerusalem before the conquest. Jeremiah was considered an ally of Babylon and afforded certain privileges. He was released from custody and allowed to decide his own fate.
The first verse says “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord.” What follows in Chapter 40 is not a prophesy from Jeremiah. It seems to be just a narrative of the final days after the fall of Jerusalem. In the context the words of the captain of Nebuchadnezzar is not considered a word from God. However in context the words of the captain are exactly what Jeremiah has been preaching for some twenty years. The Lord has brought doom on Jerusalem because they have continued in their sin and not repented.
7 The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, 8 if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. 9 And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, 10 if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.
God through Jeremiah is constantly warning Israel to repent of their evil ways and turn onto God or God will destroy them. Israel is the evil nation whom God is threatening to destroy. The hope of God is that Israel will repent of their evil ways so God can turn back his prophesied wrath against Israel.
3 Perhaps everyone will listen and turn from his evil way, that I may relent concerning the calamity which I purpose to bring on them because of the evil of their doings.
There is a limit to God’s patience, he will eventually bring the evil upon his people that he had promised.
Therefore I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you;
I am weary of relenting!
The word of the captain of the guard is exactly what God had been promising to do to Israel. It is a confirmation of the call of Jeremiah. The word is coming through a nonbeliever.
This has happened before. Balaam said in Numbers 2319 “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do?. He prophesies doom for Balak and victory for Israel.
2 Chronicles 3521 But he sent messengers to him, saying, “What have I to do with you, king of Judah? I have not come against you this day, but against the house with which I have war; for God commanded me to make haste. Refrain from meddling with God, who is with me, lest He destroy you.”
Josiah was prophesied to die in peace but Josiah decided to fight a war that was none of his business. He warned by God through Pharoah Necho to stay out of the war but with arrogance he decided to fight against Pharoah Necho. Josiah lost his prophesied promise from God through his arrogance.
2 Chronicles 34
28 “Surely I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace;
2 And the captain of the guard took Jeremiah and said to him: “The Lord your God has pronounced this doom on this place. 3 Now the Lord has brought it, and has done just as He said. Because you people have sinned against the Lord, and not obeyed His voice, therefore this thing has come upon you. 4 And now look, I free you this day from the chains that [a]were on your hand. If it seems good to you to come with me to Babylon, come, and I will look after you. But if it seems wrong for you to come with me to Babylon, remain here. See, all the land is before you; wherever it seems good and convenient for you to go, go there.”
Sometimes when a foreign army occupies a country, the crops are destroyed, the fields are salted, the and the land is unable to recover because of the ravages of the army. This is not what happened in the Babylonian occupation. There was a combination of depopulation and means of production that the poor people left behind were able to gather in abundance. The threat to the remnant of Israel was not the means of production and the resulting wealth. The threat was from the enemies of Israel who envious of that wealth.
For this reason the remnants of Jerusalem had to ally with a strong leader who could protest them and their interests. The logical resource would be Gedaliah who was appointed governor over Judah. Gedaliah was the grandson of Shaphan the scribe (2 Kings 22) who participated in the find of the Book of the law during the reign of Josiah. His son Ahikam who was Gedaliah’s father saved Jeremiah from the people when they sought to kill Jeremiah. (Jer. 26:24) Gedaliah had connections to the ruling class in Jerusalem and was allied with Jeremiah.
11 Likewise, when all the Jews who were in Moab, among the Ammonites, in Edom, and who were in all the countries, heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant of Judah, and that he had set over them Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, 12 then all the Jews returned out of all places where they had been driven, and came to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah at Mizpah, and gathered wine and summer fruit in abundance.
During the siege of Jerusalem some Judeans hid in the caves of Israel and others fled to neighboring countries to escape. Perhaps some served as vigilantes against Babylon during the siege. After the armies of Babylon left a Jerusalem that was burned and torn down, some of these refugees returned to Judah and naturally allied themselves with Gedaliah.
Although Gedaliah was a good political choice for Nebuchadnezzar he was not very good in judging the character of the people he was overseeing. Some people who had sought refuge from the Babylonians might owe some favors to the kings in the lands where refuge was obtained. In addition there might be some deep seated hatred of Babylon who had killed so many people and destroyed Jerusalem.
13 Moreover Johanan the son of Kareah and all the captains of the forces that were in the fields came to Gedaliah at Mizpah, 14 and said to him, [c]“Do you certainly know that Baalis the king of the Ammonites has sent Ishmael the son of Nethaniah to murder you?” But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam did not believe them.
15 Then Johanan the son of Kareah spoke secretly to Gedaliah in Mizpah, saying, “Let me go, please, and I will kill Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and no one will know it. Why should he murder you, so that all the Jews who are gathered to you would be scattered, and the remnant in Judah perish?”
16 But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam said to Johanan the son of Kareah, “You shall not do this thing, for you speak falsely concerning Ishmael.”
Johanan perhaps from his own spies determined the real intentions of Ishmael. The political naivete of Gedaliah will lead to his own death and the death of many other Jews.