This week I opened my Bible randomly to Jeremiah 50. A reference to one of the verses led me back to Jeremiah 40, and I started reading about Gedeliah, Ishmael, and Johanan. Interesting story. With focus on the character of Johanan, a military leader, here is a brief synopsis of Jeremiah 40-43.
Gedaliah had been appointed governor over the towns of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon (2 Kings 25). When the Jewish people learned a remnant had returned to Judah, they came back to Judah from all the countries where they had been living. One of those who returned, Johanan, a military leader, warned Gedaliah of a plot to take his life. He offered to kill the threat, Ishmael, so that Gedaliah could continue to govern the land and keep the people together.
Gedaliah didn’t believe Johanan so he told him not to do it.
Gedaliah should have listened. Ishmael and ten men he brought with him visited Gedaliah, and while they ate, he struck down Gedaliah and all the Jews and Babylonian soldiers who were with him. Ishmael and his men went on to slay 70 more people and take everyone else captive, then they headed out.
When Johanan and his men heard the news, they went after Ishmael. Ishmael and some of his men escaped, but all the captives were set free and decided to stay with Johanan. All the people started toward Egypt out of fear of the Babylonians because Ishmael had killed Gedaliah and the Babylonian soldiers.
On the way, they decided to visit Jeremiah the prophet and asked him to seek God on their behalf to get instruction on where they should go and what they should do. Jeremiah agreed. The people’s response: thank you, yes and amen, we will do what the Lord says!
Jeremiah heard from the Lord and called all the people together to give them the Lord’s answer: stay in this land (Judah), do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, I will bless you and protect you; or, if you continue on to Egypt you’ll die by the sword, famine, and plague.
The people’s response, led by Azariah and Johanan (the noble one who tried to save the governor’s life): you’re lying, God did not tell you that, someone else told you to say that so the Babylonians will take us captive or kill us.
Then Azaraiah and Johanan proceeded to lead all the people – including those the Babylonian commander of imperial guard left with Gedaliah – away to Egypt in direct disobedience to the Lord.
My takeaways from this story (and yes, been there, done them all):
- We can be noble, well-intended, and right about certain situations and what we choose to do; that does not make us Supreme Commander in all circumstances.
- Seeking God with the intent of having God bless what we’re already doing blinds us to His course correction, and opens the door to deception.
- When we ask God for direction, we claim it can’t be God if it’s not what we wanted to hear; or conversely, if it sounds too good to be true.
- Fear also leads to deception and blocks us from hearing God.
- When God includes a warning with what He tells us (which is not often, but does happen), we take it lightly and shrug it off because we can’t see it happening.
- We need to seek God’s direction every day, in every situation. Then we need to do what He says.
God’s Word contains many stories like this one to help us understand the importance of obedience and the consequences of disobedience. The Bible also tells us that obeying God is how we show Him we love Him. And that obeying Him brings blessings and infuses us with His life and presence.
That’s the life I want, how about you?
For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. (Jeremiah 7:22-23, NIV)