The Day of Vengeance.

The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the nations.

About Egypt. Concerning the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates at Carchemish and which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah:

“Prepare buckler and shield,
    and advance for battle!
Harness the horses;
    mount, O horsemen!
Take your stations with your helmets,
    polish your spears,
    put on your armor!
Why have I seen it?
They are dismayed
    and have turned backward.
Their warriors are beaten down
    and have fled in haste;
they look not back—
    terror on every side!
declares the Lord.

“The swift cannot flee away,
    nor the warrior escape;
in the north by the river Euphrates
    they have stumbled and fallen.

“Who is this, rising like the Nile,
    like rivers whose waters surge?
Egypt rises like the Nile,
    like rivers whose waters surge.
He said, ‘I will rise, I will cover the earth,
    I will destroy cities and their inhabitants.’
Advance, O horses,
    and rage, O chariots!
Let the warriors go out:
    men of Cush and Put who handle the shield,
    men of Lud, skilled in handling the bow.
That day is the day of the Lord God of hosts,
    a day of vengeance,
    to avenge himself on his foes.
The sword shall devour and be sated
    and drink its fill of their blood.
For the Lord God of hosts holds a sacrifice
    in the north country by the river Euphrates.
Go up to Gilead, and take balm,
    O virgin daughter of Egypt!
In vain you have used many medicines;
    there is no healing for you.
The nations have heard of your shame,
    and the earth is full of your cry;
for warrior has stumbled against warrior;
    they have both fallen together.” Jeremiah 46:1-12 ESV

At this point in the book, as it comes to a close, the attention of God shifts to the other nations who have played significant parts in the stories of Israel and Judah. God will speak oracles concerning each of these nations, providing a glimpse into what their fates will be. In doing so, God reveals His sovereign will over all the nations and peoples of the world, not just the Jews. His divine will and sovereign plan encompasses the entire earth and all who live on it. And God will begin His revelation concerning His plans for the nations by focusing His attention on Egypt. This should not be surprising, considering the fact that a portion of the people of Judah had fled to Egypt for safety, and they had taken God’s prophet along with them.

Egypt had been a significant power in the region of Canaan for centuries. There was a time when they controlled significant portions of Canaan and Syria, but they had lost these regions in subsequent battles with the Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians. In this oracle, provided by God to Jeremiah, we are given God’s pronouncement of Egypt’s defeat by the Babylonians. It all began in 609 B.C. when Pharaoh Neco and his troops marched to Carchemesh which was located on the Euphrates River in Northern Syria. King Josiah of Judah attempted to stop Neco, but was killed in battle. In the fourth year (605 B.C.) of the reign of Jehoiakim, Josiah’s son, Prince Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians defeated Neco’s forces, providing the Babylonians with complete control of the region. In this passage, God predicts this event. And while, Jeremiah writes in the past tense, he actually penned these words long before the events took place.

In the opening verses, Jeremiah warns the Egyptians to prepare themselves for battle. They are to arm themselves for war, making sure they include their chariots and war horses. But in the very next verses, Jeremiah paints a picture of the Egyptian forces running way in terror. Even the bravest warriors are attempting to escape, as fast as they can, not bothering to look back. “They are terrorized at every turn” (Jeremiah 46:5 NLT). But they can’t escape. There is nowhere to run. The Egyptian’s took great pride in their army because of its invincible power. They boastfully compared its might to that of the Nile when it overflowed its banks during flooding.

It is the Egyptian army,
    overflowing all the land,
boasting that it will cover the earth like a flood,
    destroying cities and their people. – Jeremiah 46:8 NLT

God issues a challenge to the Egyptians and all their allies.

Charge, you horses and chariots;
    attack, you mighty warriors of Egypt!
Come, all you allies from Ethiopia, Libya, and Lydia
    who are skilled with the shield and bow! – Jeremiah 46:9 NLT

But God warns them that things are not going to turn out quite like they expected. This would be a day of defeat for them, because they were running headlong into the sovereign will of God, the Lord God of hosts. This would prove to be a day of vengeance, when God would bring His judgment on the nation of Egypt. There is no reason given for Egypt’s fall. Perhaps it was due to Pharaoh Neco’s murder of King Josiah. But God is not required to provide us with a rationale or justification for His actions. He is the God of the universe. His ways are not our ways. “His judgments are true and just” (Revelation 19:2 NLT).

The battle will end in defeat. The Egyptians will fall to the swords of the Babylonians. And God describes this event as a sacrificial offering. The blood of the Egyptians will be spilled as payment for their many sins and for their arrogance and pride, believing themselves to be unbeatable in battle. God is clearly showing that He alone is God. Pharaoh is not divine. His troops are not invincible. It would not be because of the superior nature of the Babylonian forces that Egypt would fall that day, but because of the sovereign will and almighty power of God.

God recommends that Egypt go to Gilead and take advantage of their healing balms. But they would find no medicine strong enough to restore their health. Egypt, long renowned for its healing arts, would be incapable of recovering from the devastation God was bringing upon them. There was no ointment that could heal the wounds inflicted by a vengeful God. There were not enough allies to prevent defeat at the hands of a sovereign God, the Lord of heaven’s armies. These mighty nations that had risen to power and whose kings believed they had the right to rule over all the world, would find that the scope of their power was limited and their dreams of world domination were controlled by a power outside of themselves.

It is likely that these oracles from God were intended to remind the people of Judah that their God was in control. While they had suffered defeat at the hands of the Babylonians, God wanted them to understand that all the events surrounding their circumstances were part of His divine plan. He was in control of all that was taking place in the world at that time. They were never to have placed their hopes in foreign nations. They were to trust in God alone. But Judah and Israel had made a habit out of trusting in anything and everything but God. They had repeatedly turned to alliances with foreign nations and to the worship of false gods as their sources of comfort and security. But God was reminding them that He alone could be trusted. He alone could provide true safety and security. He alone was powerful enough to rely upon in times of need.

It is interesting to look back in the history of Judah and recall the time when Sennacherib, the king of the Assyrians was invading Judah. He sent an emissary to King Hezekiah, with a word of warning.

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!” – Isaiah 36:4-6 NLT

Even then, Judah was prone to place its trust in Egypt. And Sennacherib warned Hezekiah against putting the fate of his people in the hands of an unreliable “reed” like Egypt. But Sennacherib went on to warn Hezekiah not to put his trust in God either.

“But perhaps you will say to me, ‘We are trusting in the Lord our God!’ But isn’t he the one who was insulted by Hezekiah? Didn’t Hezekiah tear down his shrines and altars and make everyone in Judah and Jerusalem worship only at the altar here in Jerusalem?” – Isaiah 36:7 NLT

Ah, the pride of man. It is inescapable and unavoidable. Time and time again, all throughout history, we see it raise its ugly head, as mere men set themselves up as the masters of their fate and the self-proclaimed kings of the world. But they fail to recognize that God alone is King. He alone rules and reigns. It is His will alone that matters. And these oracles from God concerning the fates of the nations surrounding Judah were designed to let the people of God know that He was still in control. In the midst of their dire circumstances, they could rest in the fact that their God was still on His throne.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Have No Fear. God is Near.

The word that Jeremiah the prophet spoke to Baruch the son of Neriah, when he wrote these words in a book at the dictation of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: You said, ‘Woe is me! For the Lord has added sorrow to my pain. I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest.’ Thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord: Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up—that is, the whole land. And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the Lord. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go.” Jeremiah 45:1-5 ESV

This chapter appears to be a bit out of place, at least chronologically. But God had Jeremiah place it here in the narrative for a reason. If we go back to chapter 36, we find the first mention of Baruch in the book of Jeremiah, and it seems that chapter 45 is intended to provide further insight into the events surrounding this man’s life and his reaction to the role he was required to play. If you recall. Jeremiah had been told by God to put in writing all the words of prophecy that he had spoken to the people of Judah. To do so, Jeremiah called in Baruch to write the words in a scroll while he dictated them.  When this process was done, Jeremiah told Baruch to take the scroll and head to the temple, where he was to read in the hearing of all the people, the words written on it.

Then Jeremiah said to Baruch, “I am a prisoner here and unable to go to the Temple. So you go to the Temple on the next day of fasting, and read the messages from the Lord that I have had you write on this scroll. Read them so the people who are there from all over Judah will hear them. Perhaps even yet they will turn from their evil ways and ask the Lord’s forgiveness before it is too late. For the Lord has threatened them with his terrible anger.” – Jeremiah 36:5-7 NLT

Jeremiah had been banned from going to the temple. So, the job of relaying all the previous prophecies to the people was left up to Baruch. And all chapter 36 tells us is, “Baruch did as Jeremiah told him and read these messages from the Lord to the people at the Temple” (Jeremiah 36:8 NLT). Fairly matter-of-fact statement. We are given no indication that Baruch had a problem with this command. He doesn’t seem to display any reservations or put up any argument about having to play the role of the prophet. He would have been well-acquainted with the kinds of reactions Jeremiah typically received from the people when he spoke on behalf of God, but there seems to be no apprehension on Baruch’s part. Until we get to chapter 45. It clearly states that Jeremiah gave this message to Baruch, “after Baruch had written down everything Jeremiah had dictated to him” (Jeremiah 45:1 NLT). And what Jeremiah had to say to Baruch reveals that God knew what was going on in Baruch’s heart. He may not have said anything or even showed any signs of resistance when told what he was going to have to do, but God revealed to Jeremiah was Baruch was really thinking.

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to you, Baruch: You have said, ‘I am overwhelmed with trouble! Haven’t I had enough pain already? And now the Lord has added more! I am worn out from sighing and can find no rest.’” – Jeremiah 45:2-3 NLT

Whether or not Baruch ever stated these words out loud where anyone could hear them is not clear. But God knew his thoughts. And it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that Baruch is being a little over-dramatic. After all, how difficult was it to write down some words on a scroll and then read them out loud? But we have to remember that Baruch’s little adventure as Jeremiah’s prophetic stand-in hadn’t stopped at the temple. Word about the events taking place at the temple made its way to the palace and officials of the king were dispatched to get to the bottom of the matter. So Baruch found himself being interrogated and had the scroll confiscated. And the last thing Baruch was told was, “You and Jeremiah should both hide. Don’t tell anyone where you are!” (Jeremiah 36:19 NLT). Not exactly comforting words.

The king, Jehoaikim, ended up cutting up and burning the scroll in anger. Then he had sent guards to have Jeremiah and Baruch arrested. “But the Lord had hidden them” (Jeremiah 36:26 NLT). But God was not done with them. He commanded Jeremiah to take another scroll and to have Baruch copy down the words of prophecy yet again, and this time He would add a special warning the King Jehoiakim.

“So Jeremiah took another scroll and dictated again to his secretary, Baruch. He wrote everything that had been on the scroll King Jehoiakim had burned in the fire. Only this time he added much more!” – Jeremiah 36:32 NLT

And it was most likely at this point that Baruch had expressed his reservations at the events surrounding his life. Whether he put his thoughts into actual words where Jeremiah could hear them or just kept them to himself, it didn’t matter, because God knew. And God gave Baruch a message. This poor man was distraught. He had been placed in a very uncomfortable position by Jeremiah. He was not a prophet. He had not received a call from God to be His spokesman. He had received no assurances from God that he would protected. He was essentially a secretary. He was obviously an educated man, but he was not wired to be a prophet. And all the events surrounding the last few days of his life had left him in a state of despair. He thought, “I am overwhelmed with trouble!” He knew the king was out to have him arrested. His association with Jeremiah had got him into hot water. He had a bounty on his head and the outcome was not going to be good. It was keeping him awake at night. He asks, “Haven’t I had enough pain already?” He had done what Jeremiah had asked, not once, but twice. He had risked his life. He had experienced what it was like to have the people glare at him in anger and indignation when he read the prophecies of God written on the scroll. He had seen the concern on the faces of the court officials when they interviewed him. And he had sensed their soberness and seriousness when they had warned him to hide. Then, he had received news that the king had burned the scroll and was seeking to have him arrested. And his reaction was, “And now the Lord has added more! I am worn out from sighing and can find no rest.” Baruch had reached the end of his rope. He was at his wit’s end.

But God had a word for Baruch. And He revealed some insight into Baruch’s thinking that was influencing his reaction. God said, “Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don’t do it!” (Jeremiah 45:5 NLT). Baruch was well-connected and, evidently, well off. His brother would end up being an official on King Zedekiah’s staff. His grandfather had been the governor of Jerusalem during Josiah’s reign. It may have been that Baruch saw himself as a potential candidate for a place in the king’s administration, but now, that hope had been blown. He was a fugitive. Any hopes he had of moving up the corporate ladder had been dashed by his role in the temple affair. But God wanted Baruch to let go of his dreams and to place his trust in Him. God told him, “I will bring great disaster upon all these people; but I will give you your life as a reward wherever you go” (Jeremiah 45:5 NLT). God was promising Baruch with lifelong protection. Because of his willingness to do what Jeremiah had requested of him, Baruch would find himself covered by the best insurance policy imaginable: God Himself. Nothing would happen to him. No harm would come to him. While the nation of Judah and the city of Jerusalem would fall, Baruch would stand firm. God would give him his life as a reward for his faithfulness. He had obeyed and now God would repay him for his obedience.

Yes, Baruch’s dreams of success were a thing of the past. He was going to have let go of his aspirations to be a part of the administration. But God was actually protecting him by keeping him away from Jehoaikim and any other king that might come to power in Judah. Because God was going to bring about the fall of the house of David. He was going to bring an end to this charade and all the officials of Zedekiah’s court, including Baruch’s brother, would eventually be taken captive and transported to Babylon when the city of Jerusalem fell. But Baruch would live. He would have his freedom. He would enjoy God’s good pleasure and lifelong protection of his life. Yes, Baruch’s efforts on behalf of God had cost him. But God would repay him in full. While everyone around him was dying during the fall of the city, Baruch would be spared. While all his well-heeled friends were being hauled off in chains to Babylon, Baruch would be spared. His faithfulness to God was going to result in God’s faithfulness to him.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Futility of Fighting God’s Plans.

Jeremiah said to all the people and all the women, “Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who are in the land of Egypt. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: You and your wives have declared with your mouths, and have fulfilled it with your hands, saying, ‘We will surely perform our vows that we have made, to make offerings to the queen of heaven and to pour out drink offerings to her.’ Then confirm your vows and perform your vows! Therefore hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who dwell in the land of Egypt: Behold, I have sworn by my great name, says the Lord, that my name shall no more be invoked by the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, ‘As the Lord God lives.’ Behold, I am watching over them for disaster and not for good. All the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, until there is an end of them. And those who escape the sword shall return from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah, few in number; and all the remnant of Judah, who came to the land of Egypt to live, shall know whose word will stand, mine or theirs. This shall be the sign to you, declares the Lord, that I will punish you in this place, in order that you may know that my words will surely stand against you for harm: Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies and into the hand of those who seek his life, as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, who was his enemy and sought his life.” Jeremiah 44:24-30 ESV

The people have said, “We will not listen to your messages from the Lord! We will do whatever we want” (Jeremiah 44:16-17 NLT). They have dug their feet in and refused to budge. They were not going to repent or return to the Lord. They were not going to stop making sacrifices to their false gods. And they made their intentions very clear to Jeremiah.

“We will burn incense and pour out liquid offerings to the Queen of Heaven just as much as we like—just as we, and our ancestors, and our kings and officials have always done in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem.” – Jeremiah 454:17 NLT

No remorse. No fear of God. So, Jeremiah was left no other option but to give them the bad news regarding their poor choice. And to fully understand what Jeremiah tells them in these verses, you have to take a look back at an earlier statement they had received from God, back when they were still in the land of Judah and before the nation had fallen to the Babylonians.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

God spoke these words to the people concerning their upcoming fall to King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces, and their subsequent 70-year captivity in Babylon. God had let them know that it was all part of His divine plan for them. And that plan included a return to the land of promise when the 70 years was up. God had made a promise to the people of Judah.

“I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:14 NLT

Compare those words of promise to the ones Jeremiah delivers to the people of Judah who have stubbornly refused to return to Judah or to God.

“For I will watch over you to bring you disaster and not good. Everyone from Judah who is now living in Egypt will suffer war and famine until all of you are dead.” – Jeremiah 44:27 NLT

Instead of plans for welfare and hope, God’s plans had turned to disaster and not good. Rather than freedom from captivity and restoration of their fortunes, God was going to bring war, famine and death. Quite a dramatic difference. But why? Because the people who were living in Egypt were those who had refused to listen to God and had decided not to surrender to the Babylonians as He had commanded. God had clearly told them that their only viable option was surrender.

“Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die from war, famine, or disease, but those who surrender to the Babylonians will live. Their reward will be life. They will live!” – Jeremiah38:2 NLT

And while it appears that some heeded the warning and did as God commanded, the majority of the people had not. And when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem, thousands were slaughtered and others were taken captive. Only the poor were left behind.

“Then Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, took as exiles to Babylon the rest of the people who remained in the city, those who had defected to him, and everyone else who remained. But Nebuzaradan allowed some of the poorest people to stay behind in the land of Judah, and he assigned them to care for the vineyards and fields.” – Jeremiah 39:9-10 NLT

Along with those who had been left behind, there must be added the ones who had fled to the hills and hidden from the coming disaster. They had refused to surrender, but had also refused to take the punishment that God had decreed. And many of these people were the very ones who had fled to Egypt, against the expressed wishes of God. He had told them exactly what He wanted them to do.

“Stay here in this land. If you do, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you. For I am sorry about all the punishment I have had to bring upon you. Do not fear the king of Babylon anymore,’ says the Lord. ‘For I am with you and will save you and rescue you from his power. I will be merciful to you by making him kind, so he will let you stay here in your land.’” – Jeremiah 42:10-12 NLT

But as we know, they had rejected God’s counsel. Even though He had made it perfectly clear what would happen if they did.

“If you are determined to go to Egypt and live there, the very war and famine you fear will catch up to you, and you will die there. That is the fate awaiting every one of you who insists on going to live in Egypt. Yes, you will die from war, famine, and disease. None of you will escape the disaster I will bring upon you there.” – Jeremiah 42:15-17 NLT

And now, the consequences of their choice were about to happen. And just in case the people don’t believe Him, God determines to give them tangible proof. He declares that the Pharaoh of Egypt would fall to his enemies, just as King Zedekiah had done. Their new homeland and place of refuge was about to get extremely unsettled and dangerous. Their self-selected promised land was going to lose its luster and prove to be no safer than the land of Judah had been.

The bottom line was that the people were going to fine out who was the real one in charge. Was it going to be them or God? Would they prove to be the ones who had the right god and the right solution to their problem? Or was God going to come out of this on top and in perfect control of any all circumstances in Egypt as well as Judah? God shared His opinion:

“Then all those who came to Egypt will find out whose words are true—mine or theirs!” – Jeremiah 44:28 NLT

When the dust settled, it was going to be perfectly clear who was in charge. His way always proves best in the long run. His will always gets accomplished. We can fight it and refuse to submit to it, but our stubbornness doesn’t make a dent in the sovereign will of God. We can choose to do things our own way, but the only only one who suffers any harm will be us. God’s will remains unchanged and undamaged.

They could have repented of their unfaithfulness to God, but they had refused to do so.

They could have surrendered to the Babylonians as God had commanded, but they had refused to do so.

They could have remained in Judah as God had told them to, but they had refused to do so.

They could have submitted themselves to the all-knowing, gracious, and loving will of God Almighty, but they had refused to do so. But their repeated refusals didn’t change God’s will, it simply exposed them to another aspect of it. Rather than blessings, they would experience the curses that came from disobedience. Rather than plans for welfare, a future and hope; they would experience disaster, war, famine and death. Either way, God’s will would be done.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Revisionist History.

Then all the men who knew that their wives had made offerings to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly, all the people who lived in Pathros in the land of Egypt, answered Jeremiah: “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you. But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster. But since we left off making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine.” And the women said, “When we made offerings to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, was it without our husbands’ approval that we made cakes for her bearing her image and poured out drink offerings to her?”

Then Jeremiah said to all the people, men and women, all the people who had given him this answer: “As for the offerings that you offered in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, you and your fathers, your kings and your officials, and the people of the land, did not the Lord remember them? Did it not come into his mind? The Lord could no longer bear your evil deeds and the abominations that you committed. Therefore your land has become a desolation and a waste and a curse, without inhabitant, as it is this day. It is because you made offerings and because you sinned against the Lord and did not obey the voice of the Lord or walk in his law and in his statutes and in his testimonies that this disaster has happened to you, as at this day.” Jeremiah 44:15-23 ESV

This passage provides a remarkable glimpse into the mindset of an individual whose heart is set on sin. When a lifestyle of sin or rebellion against God becomes habitual, the individual involved in that sin will do everything he or she can to justify and rationalize their behavior. The truth is, they enjoy their sin and want to keep on doing it. They have grown accustomed to their disobedient lifestyle and any attempt by anyone, including God, to stop them will be met by stiff resistance, even anger. If they feel their sin, which they love to commit, is threatened in any way, they will become defensive and combative. And that’s exactly what we see in these verses.

The remnant of the people of Judah, led by Johanan, had fled to Egypt in order to escape the Babylonian occupation of their land. But they did so against the command of God. They had been warned not to go to Egypt, but had done so anyway, and they took Jeremiah with them by force. And now, after they had settled into their new lives in Egypt, Jeremiah had given them a word from God:

“I will take this remnant of Judah—those who were determined to come here and live in Egypt—and I will consume them. They will fall here in Egypt, killed by war and famine. All will die, from the least to the greatest.” – Jeremiah 44:12 NLT

This dire warning from God didn’t produce its intended effect. Rather than fear God and repent of their sins against Him, they responded with blame and indignation. They justified their actions and told God’s spokesman, the prophet Jeremiah, that they were not going to listen to his words any longer.

“We will not listen to your messages from the Lord! We will do whatever we want.” – Jeremiah 44:16-17 NLT

And they gave him their reasons why.

“We will burn incense and pour out liquid offerings to the Queen of Heaven just as much as we like—just as we, and our ancestors, and our kings and officials have always done in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For in those days we had plenty to eat, and we were well off and had no troubles!” – Jeremiah 44:17 NLT

As far as they were concerned, it was going to be business as usual. When they served their false gods everything had gone well for them, or so they claimed. Their memories, clouded by the fog of time and the mist of sin, were less-than-accurate in their portrayal of how things had been, but that was going to be their justification. It’s all very similar to the story of their ancestors as they made their way from Egypt to the promised land. God had fed them manna and provided them with water from a rock. But the day came when they were dissatisfied with God’s provision and took their complaint to Moses.

“Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” – Numbers 11:4-6 ESV

They had foggy memories of how things had been back in Egypt. They recalled their former days of slavery with fondness and saw their current circumstances under God direction as burdensome and unpleasant. They preferred captivity to freedom. They wanted their old way of life back. And the remnant of Jews who had fled to Egypt were expressing the same sentiment. They preferred their sin in Egypt over obedience to God in Judah. And they gave the credit for any joy or happiness they had enjoyed back in Judah to their false gods, not Yahweh. Once again, their sin-soaked memories were a bit vague on the actual details of how things had gone when they were still in Judah. They seem to recall a time when they had given up their false gods.

“But ever since we quit burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and stopped worshiping her with liquid offerings, we have been in great trouble and have been dying from war and famine.” – Jeremiah 44:18 NLT

But even during the days of King Josiah, the last king who tried to bring spiritual reform to Judah, the people had not fully given up their false gods. Their efforts at reform and repentance had been nothing more than window dressing. All along, they had continued to worship and offer up sacrifices to the Queen of Heaven and all their other idols. What they failed to remember was that their “dying from war and famine” had been God’s punishment on them for NOT turning from their false gods. It was their disobedience and unfaithfulness that had gotten them in trouble in the first place, and now they were doing it again. And they were adamant about it, boldly claiming, “We will do whatever we want.

But Jeremiah wasn’t going to let them play fast and loose with the facts. He wasn’t going to allow them to use their revisionist history to distort the reality of what had happened. And he let them know that God had always known that their so-called efforts at reform had always been a sham and a show.

“Do you think the Lord did not know that you and your ancestors, your kings and officials, and all the people were burning incense to idols in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? – Jeremiah 44:21 NLT

Was God blind? Had He not seen what was going on behind closed doors? Was He unaware of what they had been doing in secret while they had been feigning allegiance to Him? Jeremiah let them know that their problems were the result of their unfaithfulness to Yahweh, not their unfaithfulness to their false gods. They had never really given up their idolatry. Had they been willing to do so and had they turned back to God in true repentance, He would have spared them from judgment and restored them to a right relationship with Himself. But Jeremiah doesn’t pull any punches when he tells the people unvarnished truth about their past unfaithfulness and present predicament.

“It was because the Lord could no longer bear all the disgusting things you were doing that he made your land an object of cursing—a desolate ruin without inhabitants—as it is today.” – Jeremiah 44:22 NLT

The state of affairs back in Judah was God’s doing, not the work of the Queen of Heaven or any other false god. They were under God’s judgment and not that of some other non-existent deity. But the truth is, the people of Judah were simply trying to justify their sin and rationale their disobedience to God. They didn’t want to be led by Him. They didn’t want to live according to His rules and obey His commands. They wanted to worship gods they had created on their own. But it was their stubborn demand for autonomy and their refusal to willingly submit to the leadership of God in their lives that had brought all the pain and suffering on them. So, they had no one to blame but themselves.

“All these terrible things happened to you because you have burned incense to idols and sinned against the Lord. You have refused to obey him and have not followed his instructions, his decrees, and his laws.” – Jeremiah 44:23 NLT

They could attempt to revise history, but the facts would remain unchanged. Their sin was still worthy of judgment. Their rebellion against God was still deserving of His punishment. No amount of justification or rationalization was going to change their status before God. They were guilty. God was holy.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

False Gods in a Foreign Land.

The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the Judeans who lived in the land of Egypt, at Migdol, at Tahpanhes, at Memphis, and in the land of Pathros, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: You have seen all the disaster that I brought upon Jerusalem and upon all the cities of Judah. Behold, this day they are a desolation, and no one dwells in them, because of the evil that they committed, provoking me to anger, in that they went to make offerings and serve other gods that they knew not, neither they, nor you, nor your fathers. Yet I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying, ‘Oh, do not do this abomination that I hate!’ But they did not listen or incline their ear, to turn from their evil and make no offerings to other gods. Therefore my wrath and my anger were poured out and kindled in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, and they became a waste and a desolation, as at this day. And now thus says the Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel: Why do you commit this great evil against yourselves, to cut off from you man and woman, infant and child, from the midst of Judah, leaving you no remnant? Why do you provoke me to anger with the works of your hands, making offerings to other gods in the land of Egypt where you have come to live, so that you may be cut off and become a curse and a taunt among all the nations of the earth? Have you forgotten the evil of your fathers, the evil of the kings of Judah, the evil of their wives, your own evil, and the evil of your wives, which they committed in the land of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? They have not humbled themselves even to this day, nor have they feared, nor walked in my law and my statutes that I set before you and before your fathers. 

“Therefore, this is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: I am determined to destroy every one of you! I will take this remnant of Judah—those who were determined to come here and live in Egypt—and I will consume them. They will fall here in Egypt, killed by war and famine. All will die, from the least to the greatest. They will be an object of damnation, horror, cursing, and mockery. I will punish them in Egypt just as I punished them in Jerusalem, by war, famine, and disease. Of that remnant who fled to Egypt, hoping someday to return to Judah, there will be no survivors. Even though they long to return home, only a handful will do so.” Jeremiah 44:1-14 ESV

Evidently. significant time has lapsed between the events recorded in chapter 43 and those revealed in chapter 44. God’s promised judgment upon Johanan and the rest of those who fled to Egypt, has not yet taken place. And it seems that God’s apparent delay had left them feeling a bit cocky and sure of themselves. By the time the events recorded in chapter 44 take place, the people of Judah had become immersed in the Egyptian culture and were even worshiping their gods. So, through His prophet, God speaks to those Jews living in the land of Egypt and asks them:

“Why provoke my anger by burning incense to the idols you have made here in Egypt? You will only destroy yourselves and make yourselves an object of cursing and mockery for all the nations of the earth.” – Jeremiah 44:8 NLT

Then He gives them a not-so-subtle reminder of the sins of their ancestors, ending with a recap of what had happened to Judah and Jerusalem because of the unfaithfulness of the people. The whole reason they were in Egypt was because they had disobeyed God and had repeatedly refused to listen to His prophets.

“You saw the calamity I brought on Jerusalem and all the towns of Judah. They now lie deserted and in ruins. They provoked my anger with all their wickedness. They burned incense and worshiped other gods—gods that neither they nor you nor any of your ancestors had ever even known.” – Jeremiah 44:2-3 NLT

They had been eye-witnesses to those very events. They had been a part of the idolatry and unfaithfulness that had led to God’s judgment and the eventual fall of the nation to the Babylonians. And yet, here they were living in exile in Egypt and following the same pattern of rebellion and disobedience. Once again, given the opportunity, they had turned their backs on God and were pledging their allegiance to false gods. And God hurls some stinging accusations against them.

“To this very hour you have shown no remorse or reverence. No one has chosen to follow my word and the decrees I gave to you and your ancestors before you.” – Jeremiah 44:10 NLT

And God let’s them know that He is not going to tolerate their behavior. They may have been hundreds of miles away from the promised land, but their actions would still be held accountable by God. They were His chosen people and their collective lifestyle as His children was unacceptable and worthy of His wrath. So look at what He says:

“I will set my face against you…” – vs 11

“I will take the remnant of Judah … and they shall all be consumed…” – vs 12

“From the least to the greatest, they shall die…” – vs 12

“I will punish those who dwell in the land of Egypt…” – vs 13

No survivors. No mercy. No one would escape, survive or return to the land of Judah. All because they had refused to obey the word of God. Whether by sword, pestilence or famine, they would all receive the same reward for the sin against God: Death.

It seems that, in the short time the Jews had been in Egypt, they had forgotten all about Yahweh. He had become out of sight, out of mind. There were so many other gods from which to choose in their new homeland. And they had made themselves right at home. No longer did they live as the people whom God had set apart of His use and in order to bring Him glory. They were God’s people in name only. In fact, their choice of lifestyle actually denigrated and defamed the name of God. And that was not something He was willing to tolerate.

They were His people and they were expected to live as such. He had not sent them to Egypt. That was not the land He had promised Abraham. And even the great patriarch’s brief and ill-advised foray into the land of the Pharaohs had not turned out too well. Egypt had not been an option. God had commanded that they stay in the land and submit to the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar. But that had not appealed to them. They had better plans. They preferred their solution over that of God. And now they were going to have to pay the piper. Their sin debt to God had come due. Their little respite in Egypt was about to come to a dramatic and deadly end. Their false gods would prove of no help. Their new homeland would become anything but hospitable. Their search for safety and security would end in tragedy. All because they refused to trust God and obey His command. Disobedience among God’s people always begins with doubt, which leads to disbelief. They doubted God’s word and refused to believe that their best option had been to stay right where they were in Judah – in spite of the destruction and the presence of the Babylonians. And their disbelief led them to disobey. That is always the pattern. A lack of trust in God will always lead to a lack of subjection to God.  If we don’t trust Him, we will never obey Him.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The One True God.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes:Take in your hands large stones and hide them in the mortar in the pavement that is at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes, in the sight of the men of Judah, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will set his throne above these stones that I have hidden, and he will spread his royal canopy over them. He shall come and strike the land of Egypt, giving over to the pestilence those who are doomed to the pestilence, to captivity those who are doomed to captivity, and to the sword those who are doomed to the sword. I shall kindle a fire in the temples of the gods of Egypt, and he shall burn them and carry them away captive. And he shall clean the land of Egypt as a shepherd cleans his cloak of vermin, and he shall go away from there in peace. He shall break the obelisks of Heliopolis, which is in the land of Egypt, and the temples of the gods of Egypt he shall burn with fire.’” Jeremiah 43:8-13 ESV

Reading the story of the lives of the people of Israel and Judah can be a depressing and frustrating experience. Depressing, because they bring so much unnecessary misery upon themselves through sheer disobedience. Frustrating, because they bring so much unnecessary misery upon themselves through sheer disobedience. If they had just done what God had said, their lives could have been so much easier. But no, they had to do it their way. They stubbornly refused to obey God, because they were determined to do what they wanted to do.

Johanan and his companions, along with those they had taken captive from Judah, had made their way all the way to Tahpanhes, an important city on the northern border of Egypt. And it was at this point that God determined to deliver yet another message to His wayward children. Jeremiah and Baruch had been forcefully dragged along to Egypt by Johanan. Since Johanan had murdered Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor of Judah, who had been tasked with the responsibility of caring for Jeremiah, Johanan simply took the prophet and his scribe with him To Egypt. And God continued to speak to Jeremiah, giving him yet another strange object lesson to act out in front of the people of Judah.

“While the people of Judah are watching, take some large rocks and bury them under the pavement stones at the entrance of Pharaoh’s palace here in Tahpanhes.” – Jeremiah 43:9 NLT

This rather bizarre bit of theatrics is not explained to Jeremiah or to us. We are not told what the rocks were meant to represent, but we are told that King Nebuchadnezzar would set his throne over them.

“I will certainly bring my servant Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, here to Egypt. I will set his throne over these stones that I have hidden.” – Jeremiah 43:10 NLT

Perhaps the two large stones were meant to represent the people of Judah, who had chosen to hide from the Babylonians by escaping to Egypt. But God was letting them know that there was no escape from His divine will. He had commanded that they remain in Judah and subject themselves to the will of King Nebuchadnezzar, whom He had set over them. But since they had chosen to disobey God and follow their own plan, God let them know that their will was no match for His own. They would still find themselves subject to Nebuchadnezzar and, albeit unwillingly, submitting to the will of God. Not only that, their decision to escape to Egypt would bring destruction on the people of Egypt.

“And when he comes, he will destroy the land of Egypt. He will bring death to those destined for death, captivity to those destined for captivity, and war to those destined for war.” – Jeremiah 43:11 NLT

The prophet, Ezekiel, also spoke of the fall of Egypt to the Babylonians.

“Son of man, the army of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon fought so hard against Tyre that the warriors’ heads were rubbed bare and their shoulders were raw and blistered. Yet Nebuchadnezzar and his army won no plunder to compensate them for all their work. Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. He will carry off its wealth, plundering everything it has so he can pay his army. Yes, I have given him the land of Egypt as a reward for his work, says the Sovereign Lord, because he was working for me when he destroyed Tyre.” – Ezekiel 29:18-20 NLT

Just a few verses earlier, God gave His reason for destroying Egypt, addressing the pride and arrogance of Pharaoh.

“Because you said, ‘The Nile River is mine; I made it,’ I am now the enemy of both you and your river. I will make the land of Egypt a totally desolate wasteland, from Migdol to Aswan, as far south as the border of Ethiopia.” – Ezekiel 29:9-10

And God had made a similar accusation against the king of Tyre, the very nation whom He used the Babylonians to destroy.

“In your great pride you claim, ‘I am a god!
    I sit on a divine throne in the heart of the sea.’
But you are only a man and not a god,
    though you boast that you are a god. – Ezekiel 28:1 NLT

“Because you think you are as wise as a god,
    I will now bring against you a foreign army,
    the terror of the nations.
They will draw their swords against your marvelous wisdom
    and defile your splendor!” – Ezekiel 28:6-7 NLT

Both Pharoah and the king of Tyre were guilty of claiming to be divine. They had arrogantly set themselves up as gods. But they would both discover the painful truth that there is but one true God. He made it perfectly clear that they were nothing but men. Their wisdom and glory were limited. Their power, while extensive from an earthly perspective, was nothing when compared to God’s might.

God had used Nebuchadnezzar to punish the king of Tyre. And as a form of “reward”, God would allow Nebuchadnezzar to plunder Egypt. The thing that Johanan and his friends failed to understand was that God had far greater plans at work. He was doing things behind the scenes of which they were completely oblivious. Their little trip to Egypt, which had made so much sense to them at the time, was going to place them right in the middle of God’s divine strategy concerning the fates three nations: Egypt, Tyre and Babylon. Little did the Johanan know that his expedition to Egypt would end in disaster, and that the very fate he was attempting to escape would find him there.

King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt somewhere around 568-567 B.C., and he did to Egypt what he had done to Judah. His troops burned the temples of their gods and hauled away their idols as plunder. The people of Egypt were slaughtered or taken captive. Anything of value was seized as booty and hauled back to Babylon. And the nation was left desolate.

There is an easily overlooked lesson in all of this, and God makes it perfectly clear when He speaks through His prophet, Ezekiel.

“And when I put my sword in the hand of Babylon’s king and he brings it against the land of Egypt, Egypt will know that I am the Lord. I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, dispersing them throughout the earth. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 30:25-26 NLT

He is Lord. No debate. No arguments. Case closed. And if anyone should have known that, it was the people of God. The people of Judah should have been the first to recognize that God alone is Lord. But they had set themselves up as gods, making their own decisions, following their own plans, and refusing to listen to the words of God. All people – whether kings or commoners, pagans or Jews, powerful or weak – will have to one day recognize that God is Lord. The king of Tyre would learn the painful lesson that he was anything but a god. Pharaoh would have to learn the same thing. And, ultimately, even Nebuchadnezzar, in his pride, would be brought low by God. At the zenith of his power, God would deliver a message to King Nebuchadnezzar through a disturbing dream, which Daniel would interpret for him.

For you have become great and strong. Your greatness is such that it reaches to heaven, and your authority to the ends of the earth.…You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen, and you will become damp with the dew of the sky. Seven periods of time will pass by for you, before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes. – Daniel 4:22, 25 NLT

Even the great king was going to learn the painful lesson that there was only one true God. And not long after Daniel interpreted the king’s dream, Nebuchadnezzar found himself standing on the balcony of his palace, surveying his magnificent kingdom.

The king uttered these words: “Is this not the great Babylon that I have built for a royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor?” – Daniel 48:30 NLT

In the midst of his self-glorification, the king suddenly lost his sanity. He went from ruling over the most powerful nation in the world to wandering around the land and acting like an animal. But then something happened. The text says that the king, in his dementia, looked up to heaven and his sanity suddenly returned to him. And he said:

“I extolled the Most High,
and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever.
For his authority is an everlasting authority,
and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next.
All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing.
He does as he wishes with the army of heaven
and with those who inhabit the earth.
No one slaps his hand
and says to him, ‘What have you done?’” – Daniel 4:4-5 NLT

Nebuchadnezzar discovered the hard way that God alone is Lord. The king of Tyre and the Pharaoh of Egypt learned the same lesson. But what about Johanan and the people of Judah? Would they come to the point where they recognized and willingly confessed the sovereignty of God and their need to submit to His will for their lives? Time will tell. But one way or another, all men will be forced to acknowledge that God is who He says He is. They will have to stand before Him as judge and ruler over nations and kings. And at that time, they will know that He is Lord.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

I Did It My Way.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Yellow Brick Road of Disobedience.

At the end of ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. Then he summoned Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces who were with him, and all the people from the least to the greatest, and said to them, “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. But if you say, ‘We will not remain in this land,’ disobeying the voice of the Lord your God and saying, ‘No, we will go to the land of Egypt, where we shall not see war or hear the sound of the trumpet or be hungry for bread, and we will dwell there,’ then hear the word of the Lord, O remnant of Judah. 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.

“For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: As my anger and my wrath were poured out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so my wrath will be poured out on you when you go to Egypt. You shall become an execration, a horror, a curse, and a taunt. You shall see this place no more. The Lord has said to you, O remnant of Judah, ‘Do not go to Egypt.’ Know for a certainty that I have warned you this day that you have gone astray at the cost of your lives. For you sent me to the Lord your God, saying, ‘Pray for us to the Lord our God, and whatever the Lord our God says, declare to us and we will do it.’ And I have this day declared it to you, but you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord your God in anything that he sent me to tell you. Now therefore know for a certainty that you shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence in the place where you desire to go to live.” Jeremiah 42:7-22 ESV

Johanan and the people had asked Jeremiah to seek the will of God concerning whether they should stay in Judah and face the wrath of King Nebuchadnezzar over the murder of the man he had appointed as governor, or should they hightail it to Egypt. They had assured the prophet that they would do whatever God told them to do. So, ten days later, Jeremiah came back with the new from God. And it is not what they had been expecting or desiring to hear. He let them know, in no uncertain terms, that God wanted them to stay right where they were, and God communicates His message with two if-then conditional statements. The first described what would happen if they obeyed His will and stayed in the land.

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.” – Jeremiah 42:10 ESV

Obedience would bring the blessing of God. Rather than punish them, He would protect them, even preventing the king of Babylon from seeking revenge against them. They would no longer have to fear Nebuchadnezzar. God Almighty would stand in the gap and act as a shield of protection for them. There was no need to run and seek shelter in Egypt, because they had God on their side. But God knew their hearts and so, He gave them the second scenario.

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.” – Jeremiah 42:15-16 ESV

They had a choice to make. They could obey God and live, or they could disobey God and take their chances in Egypt. But if they chose option B, they would discover that Egypt would make a lousy savior. Their problems would follow them there, because there is no escape from the wrath of God. It was King David who wrote:

Where can I go to escape your spirit?
Where can I flee to escape your presence?
If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there.
If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be.
If I were to fly away on the wings of the dawn,
and settle down on the other side of the sea,
even there your hand would guide me,
your right hand would grab hold of me.
If I were to say, “Certainly the darkness will cover me,
and the light will turn to night all around me,”
even the darkness is not too dark for you to see,
and the night is as bright as day;
darkness and light are the same to you. – Psalm 139:7-12 NLT

Of course, David meant his words as a positive statement regarding God’s inescapable presence. He took comfort in the fact that there was no place where God was not present and His not all-pervasive. But for Johanan and the remnant of the people of Judah, they would find out that there was no escape from God judgment for disobedience. God had ordained the fall of Judah and He had chosen to use Nebuchadnezzar to do it. He had also told the people of Judah on numerous occasions, that it was His will that those who were left behind after the fall of Jerusalem were to stay in the land and remain under the submission of the Babylonians. What they didn’t realize was that God had a purpose behind His command. He intended the Babylonians to provide the remnant, in their weakened and vulnerable state, with protection from the mightiest nation on the planet. Their conquerors would become their defenders. But in order to enjoy that divinely ordained protection, the people of Judah would have to choose to remain under Babylonian rule. They would have to trust God and give up their desire to run from what they perceived as a threat on their lives.

But God knew what was going to happen, and He didn’t need His omniscience to come to that conclusion. He had seen this scenario played out time and time again with His people. He was well-acquainted with their hearts and their propensity to do things their own way. He even told them what they were probably thinking:

“We will not stay here; instead, we will go to Egypt where we will be free from war, the call to arms, and hunger.” – Jeremiah 42:13-14 NLT

Notice the rationale behind their decision. Freedom from war, the end of conscription of their young men for war, and no more hunger and starvation as a result of war. They viewed their escape to Egypt as a panacea for all their perceived problems. But the yellow brick path of disobedience never leads to the Emerald City. Choosing to disobey the will of God never ends well. It may seem appealing and, even logical, but it will always result in disappointment and disillusionment. Remember what happened to Jonah when he refused to do what God commanded him to do? He was to take God’s offer of repentance to the people living in the city of Ninevah. But rather than obey God, Jonah chose to get on a boat and head in the opposite direction. And how did that work out for him? He ended up in a storm, getting thrown overboard, swallowed by a large fish, and thrown up on the beach. On top of all that, he ended up doing God’s will anyway. And what is fascinating about the story of Jonah is that the fish was actually the means of Jonah’s salvation, not a punishment from God. God sent the fish to keep Jonah from drowning, and Jonah reflects his awareness of this fact in his own words:

“You threw me into the deep waters,
into the middle of the sea;
the ocean current engulfed me;
all the mighty waves you sent swept over me.
I thought I had been banished from your sight,
that I would never again see your holy temple!
Water engulfed me up to my neck;
the deep ocean surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
I went down to the very bottoms of the mountains;
the gates of the netherworld barred me in forever;
but you brought me up from the Pit, O Lord, my God.” – Jonah 2:3-6 NLT

As Jonah sank into the depths of the sea, he called out to God to save him, and God sent the fish to do just that. The fish was his means of escape. Yes, he had to remain three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, but his life was spared. And, as a result, he was able to heed God’s second call to go to Ninevah and, this time, he went.

Johanan and the people of Judah had their answer from God. Now, the question was what they were going to do with it. How would they respond? Jeremiah seemed to already know, because he flatly told them:

“You said, ‘Just tell us what the Lord our God says, and we will do it!’ And today I have told you exactly what he said, but you will not obey the Lord your God any better now than you have in the past. So you can be sure that you will die from war, famine, and disease in Egypt, where you insist on going.” – Jeremiah 42:20-22 NLT

They weren’t going to listen. They were not going to obey. They had already made up their minds and had the maps and provisions for their journey to Egypt pre-prepared. They probably had their bags packed. And it wouldn’t be long before they were on their way, following the yellow brick road of disillusionment and false hope. This should bring to mind a warning God gave to the people of Judah earlier in this very same book.

This is what the LORD says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls. But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’” – Jeremiah 6:16 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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Great Intentions, But…

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 the prophet said to them, “I have heard you. Behold, I will pray to the Lord your God according to your request, and whatever the Lord answers you I will tell you. I will keep nothing back from you.” Then they said to Jeremiah, “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 42:1-6 ESV

There had been a lot decisions being made among the remnant of the people of Judah who had been left in the land after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor, refused to heed the warning of Johanan about an assassination plot on his life. And he did not seek the counsel of God or even of Jeremiah, God’s prophet. In fact, ever since Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah and left him in charge, Jeremiah is suspiciously nowhere to be seen. His name isn’t even mentioned in all of chapter 41. Yet, he had been placed under Gedaliah’s care.

Then there was the decision of Ishmael, a member of the family of King David, who decided to side with the King of Ammon and played a personal role in the assassination of Gedaliah. Once again, there is no indication that he sought the will of God in making this fateful decision. He and the King of Ammon had plans and they obviously felt no need to consult with God or seek His approval.

Then, there was Johanan’s decision to pursue Ishmael and take revenge for his murder of Gedaliah. Johanan was able to rescue the people who had been captured by Ishmael and free them, but Ishmael himself escaped. And there is every indication that Johanan had plans to seek asylum in Egypt in order to escape what he knew would be the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar for the death on Gedaliah.

Then Johanan son of Kareah and the other military leaders took all the people they had rescued in Gibeon—the soldiers, women, children, and court officials whom Ishmael had captured after he killed Gedaliah. They took them all to the village of Geruth-kimham near Bethlehem, where they prepared to leave for Egypt. They were afraid of what the Babylonians would do when they heard that Ishmael had killed Gedaliah, the governor appointed by the Babylonian king. – Jeremiah 41:16-18 NLT

But now, as chapter 42 opens, Johanan, the people and all the military leaders who had been able to escape during the fall of Jerusalem, approach Jeremiah and ask Him to pray on their behalf.

“Please pray to the Lord your God for us. As you can see, we are only a tiny remnant compared to what we were before. Pray that the Lord your God will show us what to do and where to go.” – Jeremiah 42:2-3 NLT

This request sounds extremely spiritual. They are asking the prophet of God to approach Yahweh on their behalf and seek to discover what His will might be for them. They know they are in a dangerous predicament. Even though it was Ishmael, in a plot with the king of Ammon, who murdered Gedaliah, the Babylonians are not going to launch a lengthy investigation to determine culpability and hand out punishment. They will see this as a rebellion against their authority and move to suppress it. The Babylonians were not known for their diplomacy or their patience with those who refused to submit to their rule. So, Johanan and his companions were legitimately concerned that the actions of Ishmael were going to bring down the wrath of King Nebuchadnezzar on their heads. And they come to Jeremiah indicating that they want to know what God would have them do.  Jeremiah agrees to their request and promises to seek the will of God, assuring them that he will tell them everything that God tells him, holding nothing back. And they respond:

“May the Lord your God be a faithful witness against us if we refuse to obey whatever he tells us to do! Whether we like it or not, we will obey the Lord our God to whom we are sending you with our plea. For if we obey him, everything will turn out well for us.” – Jeremiah 42:5-6 NLT

You can almost sense what is about to happen, can’t you? If you know anything about the history of the people of Israel, this entire passage should create a sense of déjà vu – a feeling that you have seen this before. Think back to the days when Moses presented to the people of Israel the laws and commands of God in the wilderness. When he had told them what God expected of them, they had responded: “We will do everything the Lord has commanded” (Exodus 24:3 NLT).

Fast-forward to the days when Joshua was leading the people in their conquering of the land of Canaan, promised to them by God. He told the people:

“So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone.” – Joshua 24:14 NLT

He warned them what God would do if they failed to remain faithful and obedient to God.

“You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you abandon the Lord and serve other gods, he will turn against you and destroy you, even though he has been so good to you.” – Joshua 24:19-20 NLT

But they still responded:

“No, we will serve the Lord!” – Joshua 24:21 NLT

“We will serve the Lord our God. We will obey him alone.” – Joshua 24:24 NLT

There are other occasions recorded in Scripture where the people of God made unwavering promises to remain faithful to God and do what He told them to do. There are examples of individuals who pledged to do what God commanded, but who failed to keep their word. It is an ongoing, repetitive scenario found throughout the Old Testament. So, it is easy to read verses 1-6 of Jeremiah 42 and have some serious doubts whether Johanan and the people are really going to keep their promise to do whatever God tells them. There is a track record established that indicates that, unless God tells them what they want to hear, they are going to do what they want to do. Their collective will is going to overshadow the will of God.

What jumps out at me is the manner in which the people of God have always had a tendency to pray to Him wanting nothing more than for Him to rubber stamp their plans. And we must include ourselves as guilty regarding this same offense. How many times do we go to God, desiring Him to give us His blessing on decisions we have already made? We seek His approval of our plans. We want Him to validate and approve of our agenda, not reveal to us His own.

Back in chapter 37 of Jeremiah, there is the story of King Zedekiah seeking out Jeremiah and asking him to pray to God on behalf of the people.

“Please pray to the Lord our God for us.” – Jeremiah 37:3 NLT

But that request is prefaced by the statement:

But neither King Zedekiah nor his attendants nor the people who were left in the land listened to what the Lord said through Jeremiah. – Jeremiah 37:2 NLT

The king and the people had not yet listened to one thing the prophet had said to them, in spite of the fact that he had been speaking on behalf of God. So, why would his request to have Jeremiah pray to God on their behalf indicate that he was suddenly ready to do whatever it was that God said? Asking to know God’s will is pointless if you have no intention of following it. Desiring to know what God would have you do means nothing if you have already determined your next step. When we discover that God’s will for us is not what we expected or desired, our natural inclination is to follow our own desires and implement our own plans. And the people of Judah had a long record of doing just that. So, it is easy to assume that what is going to happen in the next verses is going to follow the established pattern. Jeremiah will seek the will of God. He will share it with Johanan and the others. They they will do what they have already determined to do.

Warren Wiersbe writes: “Sometimes God’s people take this false approach in discerning the will of God. Instead of honestly seeking God’s will, they go from counselor to counselor, asking for advice and hoping they’ll find somebody who will agree with their hidden agenda.”

Sad, but true. And we will see how the people of God react to hearing the will of God. What will they do? Will they listen to what God has to say? Will they do what He tells them to do, even if it seems to make no sense and contradicts their own plans? Seeking the will of God has no inherent value if you never intend to obey the will of God. Asking God to bless your plans and approve of your will is nothing more than asking God to do your bidding. It is treating God like a Genie in a bottle, granting you your three wishes and making your dreams come true. But that is not the God of the Bible.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Planning Without God Results in Godless Outcomes.

But when Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him heard of all the evil that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had done, they took all their men and went to fight against Ishmael the son of Nethaniah. They came upon him at the great pool that is in Gibeon. And when all the people who were with Ishmael saw Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him, they rejoiced. So all the people whom Ishmael had carried away captive from Mizpah turned around and came back, and went to Johanan the son of Kareah. But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men, and went to the Ammonites. Then Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him took from Mizpah all the rest of the people whom he had recovered from Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, after he had struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam—soldiers, women, children, and eunuchs, whom Johanan brought back from Gibeon. And they went and stayed at Geruth Chimham near Bethlehem, intending to go to Egypt because of the Chaldeans. For they were afraid of them, because Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land. Jeremiah 41:11-18 ESV

If you recall, at the close of chapter 40, there was an encounter between Gedaliah, the newly appointed governor of Judah and Johanan son of Kareah. Johanan and some other military leaders had come to warn Gedaliah of a plot on his life.

“Did you know that Baalis, king of Ammon, has sent Ishmael son of Nethaniah to assassinate you?” But Gedaliah refused to believe them. – Jeremiah 40:14 NLT

Johanan warned and Gedaliah ignored. And within days, Gedaliah was dead, murdered by Ishmael. But Johanan, rather than simply walk away with an I-told-you-so attitude, decides to avenge the death of Gedaliah and rescue all those Ishmael had taken captive. Johanan and his troops catch up to Ishmael at a watering spot near the town of Gibeon. We’re not told why Ishmael took this route, and it was not exactly a direct route to Ammon, where he was headed. But regardless of his motivation, Ishmael’s plans took him to Gibeon, where Johanah and his troops surprised them. Immediately, the people who had been taken captive by Ishmael turn on him and begin fighting alongside Johanan and his men. In the midst of all the chaos, Ishmael and eight of his men escape. But Johanan sets the captives free and takes them with him “to the village of Geruth-kimham near Bethlehem, where they prepared to leave for Egypt” (Jeremiah 41:17 NLT).

This last statement is significant. Johanan had already made plans for he and his troops to escape to Egypt. And now, he decides to have the recently rescued citizens of Mizpah join them. But where did he get this idea from? Why had he determined to make his way to Egypt? It would seem that he feared what King Nebuchadnezzar would do when he found out that the governor he had appointed over Judah had been murdered, along with some Babylonian soldiers. Johanan knew that the king of Babylon was not going to look kindly on this act of abject rebellion against his authority. So, rather than wait around to see what Nebuchadnezzar might do, Johanan decided to seek refuge from Egypt, a supposed ally of Judah. But notice what is missing. There is no indication that Johanan received a word from God to go to Egypt. This does not appear to be a divinely ordained plan. And any plan that lacks God’s blessing is ultimately doomed to failure.

This brings to mind another journey to Egypt made by Abraham and his wife, Sarah. There little trip was due to a famine in the land of Canaan. Abraham made the call to leave Canaan and journey to Egypt where they might find food and water. But again, there is no indication that God had given His blessing on this trip. And it ended up with Sarah nearly being guilty of have adultery with the the Pharaoh. It was only because God struck Pharaoh and his household with disease that this whole affair didn’t end up being a total disaster. Pharaoh discovered that Sarah was Abraham’s wife and angrily confronted Abraham for deceiving him. But rather than kill Abraham, he returns his wife to him and expels them from Egypt.

What about David? Do you recall the time he was attempting to escape from King Saul and decided to escape to Gath? This whole story has a what-were-you-thinking aspect to it. Gath was the hometown of Goliath, the great warrior who David had killed. And to top it all off, David had stopped at the city of Nob to get food and provisions. While there, he had taken the sword of Goliath that was stored there for safe keeping. This was the very same sword David had used to cut off the head of Goliath. So, David, the killer of the Philistine champion, shows up in Goliath’s hometown, wearing Goliath’s sword on his belt. And the Philistines can’t believe their eyes. The Philistine military commanders are highly suspicious.

But the officers of Achish were unhappy about his being there. “Isn’t this David, the king of the land?” they asked. “Isn’t he the one the people honor with dances, singing,

‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” – 1 Samuel 21:11 NLT

Waking up to his senses, David immediately realized the stupidity of his decision and came up with the desperate idea to feign insanity – literally.

David heard these comments and was very afraid of what King Achish of Gath might do to him. So he pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard. – 1 Samuel 21:12-13 NLT

It worked. They let David go. But his trip almost cost him his life. And his stop in Nob would end up resulting in the deaths of the priests who lived there. When King Saul caught wind that they had assisted David in his escape he had them slaughtered.

So Doeg the Edomite turned on them and killed them that day, eighty-five priests in all, still wearing their priestly garments. Then he went to Nob, the town of the priests, and killed the priests’ families—men and women, children and babies—and all the cattle, donkeys, sheep, and goats. – 1 Samuel 22:18-19 NLT

None of this had been God’s plan. He had never sanctioned this little trip to Gath with a side stop in Nob. And because it was out of His will, it ended up resulting in needless suffering and death.

So, here we have Johanan leading a group of people to Egypt. He has not received a direct word from God. He has not heard anything from the prophet of God. It appears that he made his decision based on nothing more than fear and human reason – the very same motivating factors behind Abraham’s trip to Egypt and David’s journey to Gath. Making plans apart from God’s will can be life-threatening; not just to us, but to all those around us. But we all have a nasty way of coming up with our own Egypts and Gaths. We find ourselves in trouble and then start looking for somewhere to run or hide. We look for a way out, a way of escape. But unless that way comes from the Lord, it will always end up creating problems, not solving them. Now, you might say that Abraham ended up leaving Egypt loaded with gifts from Pharaoh. The passage in Genesis clearly states:

So Abram’s wife was taken into the household of Pharaoh, and he did treat Abram well on account of her. Abram received sheep and cattle, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. – Genesis 12:15-16 NLT

And when Abraham left Egypt, it clearly tells us:

Pharaoh gave his men orders about Abram, and so they expelled him, along with his wife and all his possessions. – Genesis 12:20 NLT

Abraham left wealthier than he had arrived. And the very next chapter reinforces this idea.

So Abram went up from Egypt into the Negev. He took his wife and all his possessions with him, as well as Lot. (Now Abram was very wealthy in livestock, silver, and gold.)…

Now Lot, who was traveling with Abram, also had flocks, herds, and tents. But the land could not support them while they were living side by side. Because their possessions were so great, they were not able to live alongside one another. So there were quarrels between Abram’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen. – Genesis 13:1-2, 5-7 NLT

What appears to be good fortune as a result of his non-God-sanctioned trip to Egypt, turned out to be nothing but a headache over time. The “blessings” he got for heading to Egypt without God’s approval would prove to be curses. His abundance of flocks led to disunity between he and his nephew Lot. And when he gave Lot the first choice of land to occupy so they could part ways, Lot took the best land. Then, before long, Lot ended up moving to Sodom. And, eventually, Abraham would be forced to rescue Lot when he was captured along with the other citizens of Sodom. All because Abraham had gone to Egypt, lied to Pharaoh, and received an extravagant dowry from Pharaoh so he could have Sarah as his wife. Our best plans apart from God’s blessing and direction are futile and will prove fruitless. And Johanan’s plan would prove to be no less so.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson