Then all the commanders of the forces, and Johanan the son of Kareah and Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest, came near and said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Let our plea for mercy come before you, and pray to the Lord your God for us, for all this remnant—because we are left with but a few, as your eyes see us—that the Lord your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do.” – Jeremiah 42:1-3 ESV
Have you ever been at a loss as to what to do? Maybe you have found yourself going through what appears to be the discipline of God for something you have done and you want to know what your next steps should be. The people of Judah found themselves in that very predicament. They were surrounded by the military forces of Babylon and under the disciplinary judgment of God for their persistent sin and rebellion against Him. In fact, Jerusalem had already fallen to the Babylonians and thousands of their friends and fellow countrymen had already been taken captive to Babylon. They were the remnant that had been left. Their king, Zedekiah, had been captured by the Babylonians as he attempted to escape the city at night. He was taken to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonian, where he was forced to watch as all his sons were killed right in front of him, then he had his own eyes gouged out. The remnant that had been left knew their days were numbered. They had no king, no army, and no hope. There were some among them who wanted to turn to Egypt for help. Rather than take their problem to God, they thought they could solve it themselves with a little outside help. Others were recommending flight. We should just run away, they counseled. Some were even suggesting Egypt as the destination for their flight. So what should they do? Wisely, if not a bit too tardily, they decided to ask God. So they asked Jeremiah to go to God on their behalf and ask Him for guidance. What did He want them to do? You see, they were confused and divided. They asked, “that the Lord your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do.” Now that all was in a shambles and they had no other viable options, they suddenly decided to take their problem to God. They even promised to do whatever God said, if only He would answer them. “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to all the word with which the Lord your God sends you to us. Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God” (Jeremiah 42:5-6 ESV). But would all this prove to be too little, too late? Would God refuse to answer their request because of their consistent refusal to listen to His prophets and their call to repentance?
God answered. He made them sweat it out for ten days, but He answered. “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your plea for mercy before him: If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you. Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the Lord, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. I will grant you mercy, that he may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land” (Jeremiah 42:9-12 ESV). God’s answer was conditional. It contains an if-then statement. God promised to build them up, to plant them, to relent, to be with them, to save and deliver them, to show them mercy and allow them remain in the land – IF they would simply remain in the land and trust Him. Everything in them said to run and God knew it. He knew what they were thinking. He knew they were wanting to turn their attention to Egypt and place their trust in them. But while everything around them looked bleak and beyond hope, God wanted them to know that He was not done. He would even cause the king of Babylon to show them mercy. But if they refused to listen to God and took matters into their own hands, God would punish them just as He had their friends and neighbors. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: If you set your faces to enter Egypt and go to live there, then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt, and there you shall die. All the men who set their faces to go to Egypt to live there shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. They shall have no remnant or survivor from the disaster that I will bring upon them’ (Jeremiah 42:15-17 ESV).
Even in the midst of our most difficult situations, including those that are the result of our own sin and rebellion, we can call out to God for help and guidance. But we must be willing to listen to what He has to say. God will answer. He will give us direction, but we must obey Him – even when it seems to make no sense. Fear and flight may seem the most logical next step, but if God says, “Stay!”, we must stay. There is only one thing worse than refusing to seek guidance from the Lord, and that is to refuse to obey His guidance once you have sought it. God’s will may not make sense to us. His guidance may seem counter intuitive. Everything in us may scream that our way makes more sense, but we must obey. God answers when we call. But the question is whether we will obey when He answers.