Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Now it came to pass in the seventh month, that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah the son of Elishama, of the seed royal, and the princes of the king, even ten men with him, came unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam to Mizpah; and there they did eat bread together in Mizpah.XLI.
(1) It came to pass in the seventh month.—It lies in the nature of the case that the visit purported to be one of courtesy and recognition. The remaining representatives of the house of David (Jeremiah 40:8) would show that they were ready to welcome the new Satrap. As the seventh month included the Feast of Tabernacles, it is not unlikely that they came as if to share in its festivities. Three months had passed since the capture of the city (Jeremiah 39:2).
Then arose Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and the ten men that were with him, and smote Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan with the sword, and slew him, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land.(2) Then arose Ishmael.—The narrative suggests the thought that, as in the massacre of Glencoe, the guests murdered their host at the very time when he was receiving them with open arms.
Ishmael also slew all the Jews that were with him, even with Gedaliah, at Mizpah, and the Chaldeans that were found there, and the men of war.(3) Ishmael also slew all the Jews. . . .—We wonder at first that ten men were able to effect so much. It does not follow, however, that the massacre went beyond the Jews and Chaldæan officers who were sharing Gedaliah’s hospitality, and they may easily have been surprised, like Gedaliah, unarmed, and in the act of feasting. Possibly, too, the ten princes may each have brought their retinue of attendants. Greek history presents two analogous massacres—that of the Persian generals by Alexander, the son of Amyntas (Herod, v. 19, 20); and that of Archias and Leontiades, the tyrants of Thebes, by Pelopidas and his associates. The massacre in this case was so complete that none escaped to tell the tale (Jeremiah 41:4). The italics in the last clause of the verse indicate that the conjunction “and” is not in the Hebrew, and that the words, “the men of war,” are in apposition with the previous clause, and limit their extent.
That there came certain from Shechem, from Shiloh, and from Samaria, even fourscore men, having their beards shaven, and their clothes rent, and having cut themselves, with offerings and incense in their hand, to bring them to the house of the LORD.(5) There came certain from Shechem, from Shiloh, and from Samaria.—The LXX. gives Salem instead of Shiloh, and this agrees better with the order of the names, Salem being a tower or fortress near Shechem (Genesis 33:18), while Shiloh lay further off. The eighty travellers were coming apparently on a pilgrimage of mourning to the ruins of the Temple, perhaps to keep the Feast of Tabernacles in the hope of finding at least an altar there on which they might present their oblations. Mizpah lay directly on their road from all three places. It is significant that they bring with them not burnt offerings but the mincha, or meat offering, the cakes of flour with incense. The outward signs of mourning were, perhaps, connected either with the approaching Day of Atonement, which fell in the seventh month; or with some special fast day belonging to the same season (Zechariah 7:5); or in token of their sorrow for the destruction of the Temple. In the signs themselves we note a relapse into a half-heathen custom which the Law had forbidden (Leviticus 19:27; Deuteronomy 14:1; Jeremiah 48:37).
And Ishmael the son of Nethaniah went forth from Mizpah to meet them, weeping all along as he went: and it came to pass, as he met them, he said unto them, Come to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam.(6) Weeping all along as he went.—The treacherous prince met them as sharing in their grief. He does not tell them of the murder; but assuming that they have heard of Gedaliah’s appointment as Satrap, invites them to come and see him, as being now within the bounds of his jurisdiction. The LXX., it may be noted, represents the pilgrims, and not Ishmael, as weeping.
And it was so, when they came into the midst of the city, that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah slew them, and cast them into the midst of the pit, he, and the men that were with him.(7) Ishmael the son of Nethaniah slew them.—The purpose of the new murder does not appear at first sight. The very presence of the devout mourners may have roused him to bitterness. Their recognition of Gedaliah may have seemed the act of traitors to their country. Possibly also the act may have been one of vindictive retaliation for the murder of his kinsmen (Jeremiah 52:10), or have been perpetrated for the sake of plunder.
But ten men were found among them that said unto Ishmael, Slay us not: for we have treasures in the field, of wheat, and of barley, and of oil, and of honey. So he forbare, and slew them not among their brethren.(8) But ten men were found among them.—The stores which formed the purchase-money by which the ten saved their lives represented probably the produce of the previous year, which, after the manner of the East, had been concealed in pits, far from the habitations of men, while the land was occupied by the Chaldæan armies.
Now the pit wherein Ishmael had cast all the dead bodies of the men, whom he had slain because of Gedaliah, was it which Asa the king had made for fear of Baasha king of Israel: and Ishmael the son of Nethaniah filled it with them that were slain.(9) Because of Gedaliah.—Literally, by the hand of Gedaliah; i.e., by using his name to entrap the unsuspecting pilgrims.
Which Asa the king had made for fear of Baasha . . .—See 1Kings 15:22; 2Chronicles 16:6. Baasha had tried to fortify Ramah as an outpost of his kingdom. Asa called in the help of Benhadad, king of Syria, and compelled him to desist, and then carried off the stones and timber to strengthen Mizpah as a position of defence. The “pit” was probably a trench with a drawbridge over it, so constructed as to stop all approach from the neighbouring kingdom; or else one of the tanks or reservoirs constructed to supply the fortress with water. A various reading gives “the pit of Gedaliah,” instead of “because of Gedaliah.”
Then Ishmael carried away captive all the residue of the people that were in Mizpah, even the king's daughters, and all the people that remained in Mizpah, whom Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had committed to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam: and Ishmael the son of Nethaniah carried them away captive, and departed to go over to the Ammonites.(10) Even the king’s daughters.—We find in Jeremiah 39:6 that the sons of Zedekiah were slain at Riblah. The daughters (the word was probably used generally for all the princesses of the royal house) were spared, and consigned to the protection of Gedaliah. In taking possession of them, Ishmael was asserting, after the fashion of the East, his claim as the representative of the royal house. The Ammonites had been in alliance with Zedekiah (Jeremiah 27:3), and Ishmael reckoned on finding a safe refuge with them. It would seem, indeed, from Jeremiah 40:14, that he had been sent, or was believed to have been sent, by the king of the Ammonites for the very purpose of the murder of Gedaliah.
Then they took all the men, and went to fight with Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and found him by the great waters that are in Gibeon.(12) By the great waters that are in Gibeon.—Johanan and his friends had been unable to prevent the slaughter of which they had warned Gedaliah (Jeremiah 41:15), but they were not too late to avenge it. Gibeon, retaining its name with little alteration in the modern El-jibe, lay about two miles from Mizpah; so that Ishmael must have halted on thinking himself safe against attack. On the east side of the hill on which it stands there are the remains of a large tank, about 120 feet by 100. It appears as the “pool of Gibeon” in 2Samuel 2:13, as the scene of a conflict between Joab and Abner. Josephus (Ant. x. 9-15) places the attack on Ishmael at “the pool in Hebron,” which is mentioned in 2Samuel 4:12. This, however, would hardly have been in Ishmael’s route to the country of the Ammonites.
Now it came to pass, that when all the people which were with Ishmael saw Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces that were with him, then they were glad.(13) They were glad.—The words are significant as implying the popularity of Gedaliah, and the joy of those who had been under him at seeing the prospect of his murder being avenged. They at once took refuge with the leader of the avenging party.
But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men, and went to the Ammonites.(15) With eight men.—He had come with ten (Jeremiah 41:1), and it is a natural inference that two had perished in one or other of the conflicts of Jeremiah 41:2; Jeremiah 41:12.
Then took Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces that were with him, all the remnant of the people whom he had recovered from Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, from Mizpah, after that he had slain Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, even mighty men of war, and the women, and the children, and the eunuchs, whom he had brought again from Gibeon:(16) Mighty men of war . . .—These were apparently such as had escaped the massacre of Jeremiah 41:2. In the women, the children, and the eunuchs we find the survivors of the king’s harem. Ebed-melech may well have been among the latter.
And they departed, and dwelt in the habitation of Chimham, which is by Bethlehem, to go to enter into Egypt,(17) They departed, and dwelt in the habitation of Chimham.—The word translated “habitation “is not found elsewhere, but it is connected with one which means “stranger,” “foreigner,” and means probably a caravanserai, or hospitium for travellers. The name of Chimham throws us back on the history of Barzillai in 2Samuel 19:37. When the Gileadite chief pleaded his age as a ground for not accepting David’s invitation to live at his court, the offer was transferred to his son Chimham. On the king’s death-bed he was specially commended to the care of Solomon (1Kings 2:7). It seems probable that some part of David’s personal patrimony, as distinct from his royal domains, had been bestowed on him, and that he had perpetuated his gratitude by erecting a resting-place for travellers, probably enough identical with the “inn” of the Nativity (Luke 2:7). The plan of the fugitives under Johanan took them to Bethlehem, as lying on the road to Egypt, where they hoped to find a refuge both from the anarchy in which the land had been left by the death of Gedaliah, and from the severe punishment which the Chaldæans were likely to inflict, without too careful an inquiry into the question who had been guilty of it, for the murder of the ruler whom they had appointed. The mere fact of their having remained with Ishmael might be construed into circumstantial evidence of complicity. There they halt, and take counsel.