When Jeremiah finished speaking to all the people all these words of the Lord their God, with which the Lord their God had sent him to them, Azariah the son of Hoshaiah and Johanan the son of Kareah and all the insolent men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there,’ but Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may kill us or take us into exile in 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 remain in the land of Judah. But Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces took all the remnant of Judah who had returned to live in the land of Judah from all the nations to which they had been driven—the men, the women, the children, the princesses, and every person whom Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan; also Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch the son of Neriah. And they came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the Lord. And they arrived at Tahpanhes. – Jeremiah 43:1-7 ESV
Everyone has a right to their own opinion. But when the God who created the universe speaks, it would seem that His opinion should carry a bit more weight. And in the case of the people of Judah, you would think that they would learned to listen to what He had to say. Up until this point, every single prophecy Jeremiah had verbalized on behalf of God had come to pass, down to the last detail. So, when Jeremiah had returned to Johanan and the others with God’s word concerning whether they should escape to Egypt or remain in the land, he gave them God’s clear-cut, non-negotiable answer. And they refused to accept it. They accused Jeremiah of lying. They insinuated that it was all part of a plot instigated by Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe. Reading this passage as somewhat objective, third-party observers, it is difficult to understand how these people could be so stubborn or so stupid. How could they refuse to accept the words that Jeremiah spoke as having come from God? What possible reason could he have to lie to them? And how in the world did they arrive at the conclusion that Baruch was somehow to blame?
It seems rather clear that Johanan and his companions in crime had never intended to do anything but run away to Egypt. They were looking for God’s blessing on their plan, not insight into what He would have them do. When they didn’t get the answer they were looking for from God, they accused Jeremiah of lying and Baruch of plotting. Their minds had been made up a long time ago. Staying in the land had never been a viable option for them. And I think they knew in their hearts all along that God was going to tell them to do just that.
It would appear that there were other factors going on here. Their decision to go to Egypt was impacted and influenced by some personal factors that carried significant weight for Joahana and Azariah. They must have believed that this move to Egypt was going to have a particularly positive influence on them personally. Perhaps they believed that the Pharoah, who had not love affair with Babylon, would welcome them with open arms and reward them for bringing additional forces to use in his campaign against King Nebuchadnezzar. After all, Azariah was a guerilla leader who had troops under his command. Johanan may have been planning to auction off all the people he was taking with him once he got to Egypt. There had to be other factors involved in their decision-making process. And, inevitably, when anyone rebels against God’s revealed will, it is motivated by selfishness and pride. Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptations of the serpent and ate the fruit of the tree denied to them by God, because they desired to be like God. Absalom, the son of King David, staged a successful coup against his own father, because he desired to be king – even though it was not the will of God. He had been driven by pride, anger, and a lust for power. And he had been willing to depose the prophet-anointed, God-appointed king of Israel to get what he wanted.
In the book of Isaiah, there is recorded a word from God spoken against the king of Babylon. But it is also believed to be a prophetic statement regarding the original fall of Satan after he had rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven.
“How you are fallen from heaven,
O shining star, son of the morning!
You have been thrown down to the earth,
you who destroyed the nations of the world.
For you said to yourself,
‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars.
I will preside on the mountain of the gods
far away in the north.
I will climb to the highest heavens
and be like the Most High.’” – Isaiah 14:12-14
The desire to play god had always been a problem for mankind, ever since the fall. The innate and inbred desire for autonomy and control has always plagued us. And we are perfectly content to listen to God as long as what He says complements our own decision-making. But should God tell us to do something we find distasteful or in direct opposition to our own will, we simply reject it as untrue or flat out refuse to obey. Pride is a powerful force. Autonomy is a seductive mistress, with the ability to dull our senses and cause us to turn away from the sovereign and holy will of God.
The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about this matter and provides ample warning regarding the need for wisdom and the fear of the Lord.
Wisdom will save you from evil people,
from those whose words are twisted.
These men turn from the right way
to walk down dark paths.
They take pleasure in doing wrong,
and they enjoy the twisted ways of evil.
Their actions are crooked,
and their ways are wrong.
Wisdom will save you from the immoral woman,
from the seductive words of the promiscuous woman.
She has abandoned her husband
and ignores the covenant she made before God.
Entering her house leads to death;
it is the road to the grave.
The man who visits her is doomed.
He will never reach the paths of life.
So follow the steps of the good,
and stay on the paths of the righteous.
For only the godly will live in the land,
and those with integrity will remain in it.
But the wicked will be removed from the land,
and the treacherous will be uprooted. – Proverbs 2:12-22 NLT
Notice all the references to paths, steps, the right way and the wrong way. Johanan and his companions have been given the right way – the godly, righteous way. Jeremiah had told them exactly what God would have them do. But they were going to walk down the wrong path, the dark path. And in doing so, they would step out from under God’s gracious provision and protection. They would reject His wisdom and turn to their own sin-dominated wills for direction. And this section of chapter 43 ends with the sobering and prescient-filled statement:
The people refused to obey the voice of the Lord and went to Egypt, going as far as the city of Tahpanhes. – Jeremiah 43:7 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.