Judah is defeated and Nebuchadnezzar put Gedaliah in charge of all who remained in the land. Ishmael was a traitor and an assassin, even though Gedaliah wouldn’t believe it of him.
The last time we were together, we met Gedaliah who was appointed as governor over the people who remained in the land of Judah. When those who were scattered about heard he was in charge they came to him. Even the bands of fighting men who were in the country joined him. Jeremiah too came to be with Gedaliah as Mizpah. And all was well; for a time.
A secret alliance was formed between the king of Ammon and one of the leaders of a band of raiders; Ishmael. These two leaders were aligned against the Chaldeans, Babylon, and planned to kill Gedaliah. Their secret plan was discovered and brought to the attention of Gedaliah but he wouldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe that one of his own countrymen would want to do him harm. He went so far as to forbid a preemptive strike on Ishmael.
We join Gedaliah today as he has a meal with Ishmael. I’m assuming that this was some kind of large gathering by the number of people in attendance. We aren’t told if it was any kind of formal gathering or just a meal between ‘friends’.
Ishmael brought ten of his men with him. These eleven were the only ones who knew what was about to happen. None of the other leaders of fighting forces were in attendance. No doubt Ishmael planned it that way. The other leaders knew of Ishmael’s plans and had told Gedaliah about them. So, if they were in attendance, they would have been prepared for what was about to happen.
I want to back up a minute and look at Ishmael himself. This is not the only Ishmael we see in scripture. Abraham’s son with Sarah’s maid was also named Ishmael. He was Abraham’s first born son but was not the son of the promise. He would not ‘inherit his father’s kingdom’. He would not be the one to carry on the name of Abraham. He was driven from the camp because of his jealousy of Isaac.
The Ishmael in our story is a part of “the royal family” (verse 1b). He wasn’t one of Zedekiah’s sons but somehow, he has ties to David’s line. I’m curious to know if he rose up against Gedaliah because he felt he was the rightful ruler of what was left of Judah. Gedaliah stood in his way.
Gedaliah didn’t fear Ishmael. It appears that he wasn’t the least bit suspicious of him. Which allowed Ishamel to easily over power those at the dinner. Eleven men against all those in attendance, INCLUDING Chaldean soldiers. The element of surprise was their greatest weapon that day.
Everyone was enjoying their meal when Ishmael and his men struck. The initial reaction was most likely shock. It took a moment for the people to realize what was going on. I imagine the soldiers and Gedaliah were the first to fall for they posed the biggest threat. It was a coordinated strike. One that had been planned well in advance.
Once the shock wore off, it is probable that the people in the room began running for the exits and screaming. They didn’t make it to the door. ALL were struck down as Ishmael’s men easily moved through the crowd of unarmed Judeans.
It’s finally over. The last of the attendees lies dying of the ground, breathing his last. The strike was so well organized that the people outside had no idea what had happened. Ishmael intended to keep it that way, for a while. No one knew of the carnage that lay behind the doors and none would for a while longer.
The next day dawns and Ishmael sees visitors coming. Eighty men from Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria. Their appearance is immediately recognizable as a solemn group. “Their beards shaved and their clothes torn, and their bodies gashed, bringing grain offerings and incense to present at the Temple of the Lord” (verse 5b). Their shorn faces and clothes alone would give them away. And, knowing the traditions of Israel, their purpose would be known too.
One thing I don’t believe God allowed is the cutting of their flesh before bringing an offering. That was something the false gods would have called for. And, being that the Temple had been burned, they were not going to be able to complete their desired task. I don’t know if there was a temporary ‘Temple’ set up at Mizpah where they would bring their offerings instead. I’m pretty sure God wouldn’t approve of that either.
Regardless of the impossibility of their task, these men were committed to do this for the Lord. This may have been an offering of atonement, to repent for the sins of Judah. Theirs were heavy hearts and when Ishmael met them “weeping as he came”, they assumed that he shared in their grief. They didn’t question him or his motives for even a minute. There was no suspicion, and being as the bodies from the night before had not been discovered, no warning from the people.
Ishmael, with his ten men killed all but eight of them. I’m thinking that it wasn’t as swift as what transpired the night before. Somehow, all eighty were subdued and questioned. Only eight had something Ishmael felt worth to bargain with. They offered him food. “We have stores of wheat, barley, oil and honey hidden in the fields” (verse 8b). Apparently, food was still a valuable commodity.
This slaughter did not go unnoticed. But the inhabitants of the city had nothing to defend themselves with. They were the poorest of the poor. They were most likely tasked with disposing of the bodies. There is no way Ishmael’s men could keep all who lived in the city under guard AND drag bodies to the cistern. This cistern was most likely MUCH bigger than the one Jeremiah was put into in Jerusalem. It was able to hold all 72 men from the morning and however many men died the night before with Gedaliah. Their bodies “filled” the cistern.
Now that the bodies are disposed of, Ishmael has to deal with the rest of the inhabitants of the city. He can’t simply leave them there. He would be forever in danger if he walked away without dealing with them. His BEST idea was to take them with him to the King of the Ammonites. Let their king decide what would become of them.
Someone escaped! That is the only way Johanan could have heard about the murders. And, YES, that is exactly what Ishmael had done. He committed murder, NOT took lives in war. Johanan was the one who warned Gedaliah to begin with. The one who wanted to take out Ishmael before he had a chance to put his plans into action. Johanan would not let this treachery stand.
As soon as Johanan heard about what had happened, he and his men took off to rescue the people and punish Ishmael. I don’t know if Ishmael had more than the ten men he brought to dinner that evening, but however many men he had, they were in DEEP trouble! Johanan and his men caught up to Ishmael and his captives in short order. I imagine it was slow going trying to keep the captives moving.
The people who were taken captive didn’t even wait for the battle to be over before running to Johanan. They were overjoyed to see their rescue. They did NOT want to go to Ammon. We are not told if any of Ishmael’s forces left him at this point. Any who stood with Ishmael lost their lives, however, Ishmael and eight of his men escaped and went to the Ammonites.
The battle is over. Johanan and the people now have another concern. What is Nebuchadnezzar going to do about this rebellion? He had set Gedaliah in charge. Would Nebuchadnezzar blame them for Gedaliah’s death? Would he send troops in to ‘put down the rebellion’? How could they protect themselves? Where should they go?
In all these events, there is one thing that we don’t see. It is Jeremiah. We know he wasn’t at dinner with Gedaliah but he was in Mizpah. He was part of the group that was taken captive and marched towards Ammon. He didn’t stick out at this time and he wasn’t exempted from going through these hardships. He was right there in the fray with his brothers and sisters. But he was still protected by God. We will see next time that he was also still looked to as the man of God by the people. He didn’t ‘ruin’ his reputation as God’s man by his actions while under duress.
Just as Jeremiah wasn’t exempt, neither are we. We will go through the ‘fires’ that are facing this world too, UNTIL the day God takes us out of them. We need to stand for Him in whatever situations we find ourselves in. He has a purpose for us in them. It is to be a beacon of light in the darkness. Stand firm in the fray and point the way to the One who can save you from it, WHILE STILL IN IT.
Father God, I don’t like the storms. I don’t know how I would have handled myself in Jeremiah’s shoes. Taken prisoner not once, not twice, but THREE times. Bound in chains. Thrown in prison as an innocent man. Dragged to places he had NO desire to go. But he KNEW You were watching out for him. He KNEW he was safe in Your hands. That’s the only way he made it through.
THANK YOU that the storms I have faced have made me stronger. They have proven You faithful in ALL of them. Jeremiah started with smaller storms so when the big ones came, he was ready. He KNEW You wouldn’t let him fall. That gives me hope that when larger ones come my way, I too will be ready. NOT that I’m asking for them! But that I’m trusting YOU in whatever comes.
Father God, tomorrow is the day we give thanks as a nation for all that You have done for us. I want to say THANK YOU for EVERY day that You let me come and sit on Your lap and learn of You. I have a request though for tomorrow. Can You give my dogs peaceful hearts. Paisley gets SO excited when people come. And Cici barks at anyone she doesn’t know, incessantly! Help them both to listen immediately to commands and NOT beg at the table!!! Give me peace also Holy Spirit as I open my home and welcome in all the love.