Jeremiah 40
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
This heathen captain, who could not be expected to know the truth, who was, as it were, born blind as to the truth of God, sees clearly that truth, and declares it; whilst the people of Judah and Jerusalem, their kings, their priests, their nobles, all of whom regarded themselves as knowing the truth, who, as in John 9:41, said, "We see," are found to be completely blind as to that truth. Note herein -

I. HOW CLEAR WAS THE RECOGNITION OF GOD. He ascribes all to "the Lord thy God." He recognizes the prophet as sent of God (ver. 3), "According as he hath said" He traces their calamities to their true cause - sin against God. He recognizes that Babylon and her troops are but ministers of God to do his will.


1. The general belief that each nation had its own deity.

2. Yet more, the prophecies of Jeremiah.

3. Also the strength of Jerusalem. Never, apart from the people's sin, has such a fortress been overthrown.

4. The madness of the people. Quem deus vult perdere prius dementat. Only a God forsaken people could have thrown away their well being as these had done.

5. The judgments that came upon them.

III. WHAT SUCH FACTS AS THESE - the blind seeing, etc. - REVEAL.

1. How clear the light of truth which God has given! Were it not so clear, such as this heathen would not see it.

2. How dense the darkness which persistent sin spreads over the soul! Hence the "seeing blind."

3. How awful the doom of those who seeing, see not! Cf. Matthew 11., "Woe unto thee, Chorazin," etc.! - C.

We have here an expansion of vers. 13 and 14 of the previous chapter.

I. ONE OF THE BEST THINGS A MAN CAN HAVE IS FULL INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY. The royal master of the captain of the guard was anxious to do the best he could for the prophet; and he seems to have understood fully that only the prophet could decide on this best. The captain of the guard, in all he says, is but the mouthpiece of the king. Very likely the captain, if he had been left to decide, would have said, "What better thing can happen to this man than go to Babylon with me?" and so, meaning well enough, he might have done ill. Good intentions are not enough in providing for others. We go rather by our notion of what they want than by what they really want; and thus we are disappointed in our efforts. There never can be anything wrong in giving a man the largest scope to settle his path for himself. We may easily become cramped as a result of the ignorant kindness of others.

II. THERE WAS AN INCREASED RESPONSIBILITY FOR JEREMIAH. For a long time he had been in prison, and all he had to do was to endure captivity in a patient, trustful way. But now comes liberty, and in his case a peculiar responsibility. Few men, perhaps not even a single one, had the liberty enjoyed by him at this moment. Others had not been asked whether they would go to Babylon or stay. The conquerors settled all that. But Jeremiah has free choice, and he has to decide in very altered conditions of the land. Freedom brings human judgment into full strength and exercise.

III. JEREMIAH WAS SURE TO DECIDE RIGHTLY. Why? Because the first thing he would look to was the will of Jehovah. What lesson had he been learning all through his prophetic life but this, that negligence of the will of Jehovah brought incalculable mischief? Here is the necessity for us to keep in a state of discernment with respect to the will of God. As a general rule, we do not need special intimations of the Divine will; right is seen to be right and wrong to be wrong. But there are also times when, as we need such special intimations, they are sure to be given. - Y.

St. Paul tells how he was in such strait. He was willing to stay, but ready to depart home to his eternal rest, which would be far better. And oftentimes we are in perplexities as to choice in the common events and circumstances of our lives. It is so difficult to see what we ought to do, what it would be best to do. Here we have an instance. The patriotic prophet had a perplexing choice put before him. Consider -


1. He might go to Babylon, where, no doubt, the same favour that had shown him such consideration thus far would bring him to honour there.

2. He might stay amongst his own people. Amid their poverty, their displeasure, their disgrace.

3. Or he might go anywhere he pleased - to Tarshish, as Jonah tried, if so he pleased.


1. For Babylon. Safety, wealth, honour, help to his countrymen there.

2. For staying in Israel. There he had been called; there he was yet needed; Ezekiel and Daniel were in Babylon. Against this, he had no command of God; the peril in which he would be placed.

III. THE DECISION. He resolved to stay. This come to, not because the captain (ver. 5), who saw him lingering, bade him go back, but because the hardness of the duty seemed to declare it was his duty. In such cases choose what you like least. - C.

These verses are an illustration of men's desire for such government. In the disorder and confusion of the times, men were looking out for some settled rule. Companies of armed men were camping about, only waiting for some sign to indicate to whose standard they should repair. That which they wanted seemed to be found in Gedaliah. Hence they go to him (ver. 8). The incident here recorded suggests, in regard to government generally -

I. THE COMMON CONSENT OF MEN AS TO ITS NECESSITY. It was not merely one company of the scattered Jews that were on the look out for a leader, but all the companies, and not the men only, but their officers also. And in every collection of human beings, however they group themselves, however casually they may have been thrown together, if they have to dwell and to work together the choosing of a leader, one who shall rule them, is a never disregarded need.


1. There can be no well being - strength, peace, happiness - without order.

2. No order without law.

3. No law without a lawgiver, and a law upholder, i.e. a government. It may be monarchical, an oligarchy, a republic, a democracy, only in some way law must be expressed and upheld. Because men feel that this last is necessary to the first, men will ever seek after government, good, if possible, but any is felt to be better than none. Anarchy is so much misery. Thus do men reason in regard to their temporal affairs.

III. THE EXCEPTION WHICH MEN MAKE TO THIS CONSENT. It is strange that there should be exception, but there is. We find it when we look at men's spiritual affairs. Government there is as necessary as in that which is temporal - indeed, far more so, considering the far greater value of the interests at stake. And yet men will not have it. Each seeks to do that which is right in his own eyes. What would be ruin in regard to their secular affairs they deem to be no great harm in things that are spiritual. We see this anarchy at times in the things of the Church. If the Church of Christ is to do her work and glorify her Lord, there must be unity, cohesion, subordination, obedience. But these words, and yet more the things they represent, are hateful to not a few. And so the paralysis that has come over large sections of the Church. The prince of this world knows the force and value of the maxim, Divide et impera, and he has sought all too successfully to do the one that he may attain to the other. And so in the individual sphere of the soul. The one rightful ruler is God, speaking by his vicegerent conscience. All our sin and misery is owing to our disregard of this rule. The world is so mournful a world because it is so sinful a world. Loyal obedience is our life and health and peace. And because we refuse this, we are weak and sad, as well as sinful.

IV. THE DIVINE METHODS OF BRINGING THIS EXCEPTION TO AN END. For he will bring it to an end, glory be to his Name. He must reign till he hath put all things under his feet. And he thus works to this end:

1. By powerful instructors. Conscience. His providence, shown now in blessing, now in stern judgment. His Word, in which his law is laid down.

2. By bringing to bear the most mighty of motives. Love, which rises at the cross of Christ. Hope of his acceptance and reward. Fear of his awful displeasure and doom.

3. By his Spirit striving ever with men. - C.

To govern a country is never an easy task; but how difficult it must be when the work is that of reconstruction! Gedaliah has to begin, as it were, at the beginning. One of his first difficulties is to know exactly what he has to deal with. There are turbulent as well as peaceful dements, bands of free-lances, who, now that the Chaldean has gone, make their appearance before the governor to see what the prospect may be. Another difficulty is that of inspiring confidence. Those who have just been plundered may be excused for apprehensions lest they should soon be plundered again. On the other hand, Gedaliah was better off than the king who had just been dethroned. The latter vainly held on to a tottering building, whose very foundations were going, while the former was free from the pernicious elements which so long had made all government in the land an abomination. With all his difficulties, Gedaliah had some encouragements. There appears to have been a general gathering to him as a centre. Most men generally tend to the point where there are the greatest prospects of social order, security, and stability. - Y.

No sooner was the new government in a fair way of being settled and prosperous, than untoward circumstances occurred. Ishmael, son of Nethaniah, son of Elishama, a connection of the royal house, inspired, perhaps, with a jealous feeling towards Gedaliah, began to plot with the King of Ammon against him. Under cover of paying his respects to the new governor, he visited him at Mizpah, and partook of his hospitality. Although warned by Johanan the son of Kareah that Ishmael entertained hostile designs against him, Gedaliah refused to credit the information, and indignantly forbade his informant carrying out his proposal to assassinate Ishmael. The latter, finding thus a clear way for his schemes, took advantage of the trustfulness of Gedaliah to accomplish his murderous purpose and to deceive his leading supporters. This done, crime followed upon crime with startling rapidity, until Jehanan overtook the miscreant at the "great waters that are in Gibeon," and delivered the prisoners whom he was carrying off. In this tragic incident we see -

I. HOW THE VIRTUE OF ONE POSITION MAY BE THE VICE OF ANOTHER. A trusting, ingenuous man like Gedaliah was out of place in more senses than one as governor of such a people. In any circumstances it is necessary that the utmost precaution should be taken with respect to the person of a ruler, as there are always evil disposed persons who may take advantage of an opportunity, and accidents and misfortunes are continually possible. The off hand openness, therefore, which is so admirable in the private citizen, upon whose life so little depends, is highly reprehensible in one occupying so responsible a position. When it is remembered that the people over whom Gedaliah ruled were wholly undisciplined, and had but recently been exposed to the most demoralizing influences, his rashness will be even more apparent. It is well when a ruler can combine the trustful ingenuousness of the private citizen with the sagacity and watchfulness his responsibilities impose upon him. Life is full of such misplaced virtues. The poor man open-handed and lavish as when he was wealthy; the rich man meanly careful as when he had everything to acquire, etc.

II. HOW MUCH IS REQUIRED TO JUSTIFY A WRONG ACTION It was a case, apparently, on Johanan's showing, of self-protection. Ishmael contemplated murder and treachery; what more natural than that he should be killed? Yet this consideration had no weight with Gedaliah. His informant might be mistaken, and was, perhaps, interested. It was foreign to his disposition to be suspicious; and he could not brook the idea of assassination. If the governor was wrong in neglecting the most ordinary precautions, he was certainly right in this. The instinct of the true man is ever averse to underhand actions, even although their object be to avert contingent or certain evils. It is never right to do evil that good may come or evil may be averted. The weapons which God's children have to wield are ever those of truth and honour; and these are sufficient if they be sagaciously handled.


1. Jeremiah, for the most part, resided with Gedaliah, and yet no warning appears to have been given him of the catastrophe. How was this? Had it not as profound a bearing on the future of God's people as the march of Nebuchadnezzar's armies? It is a great mystery, and there are many like it. How appalling the wickedness of our Saviour's crucifixion.! Yet are the fruits of it a world's salvation.

2. The dictates of common sense and worldly experience, had they been attended to, might have proved sufficient. God's interpositions are not always to wait upon human folly. It is our duty to make the best of the means and information at our disposal This is especially incumbent with regard to the warnings and instructions of the gospel. The rich man, eager for an evangel from Hades to his careless, sinful brethren, is assured, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" (Luke 16:31). We may wait long if we expect to be converted by a miracle. The commandment is binding now: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." - M.

Charity says St. Paul," thinketh no evil." But without question, there are times when it ought to think evil, and not to think so is evil. For else charity will be misplaced, thrown away, productive of hurt and harm and not of good. Now -


1. The miserable way by which Gedallah came by his death, as told in the above section, is an illustration. He ought to have been on his guard. He was warned. He would not believe, but blamed severely the friend who warned him. And all because of his overconfidence in Ishmael, who murdered him.

2. And there have been many other such instances. Perhaps the king who said, concerning the wicked husbandmen, "They will reverence my son." And Paul, who, though warned again and again, would go to Jerusalem. He thought that the loving gifts he bore from the Gentile Churches to the mother Church in Jerusalem would soften their hard hearts. But it was not so. The elder son - though he was quite wrong - thought that his father's treatment of his prodigal younger brother was as unwise as it was kind. We have known those who would never let themselves speak anything but good of others, and the result was that they often misled those who trusted to their over lenient judgments. How often, after the most atrocious crimes, there will be found some who would try to prevent the criminal receiving the due reward of his deeds! What is it but charity in the wrong place?

3. But most of all are we guilty of this toward ourselves. We so little like to think harshly of ourselves, and hence we make all manner of excuse for our faults. We tamper with temptation; we spare ourselves when we ought to be most stern.

II. AND MUCH SORROW AND TROUBLE ARISE THEREFROM. Cf. above history; the massacres that followed; the ruin of the nation. Never did a seeming virtue work such ill. Charity to the evil is cruelty to the good. Choosing Barabbas means crucifying Christ. It discourages all virtue. Wherefore should I strive after excellence it the worthless are to be dealt with even as I? This was the elder son's complaint (Luke 15.). And there seemed to be a good deal in it; hence the father took care to point out to him how much preferable was his own lot: "Son, thou art ever with me," etc. Thy lot is ever so much the best, as the lot of him who never leaves the father's house is far better than that of him who comes back after a wretched leaving of it for the far country. But most of all the evil results are seen in our misplaced charity to ourselves. Temptation tampered with triumphs, and we who would not be stern with ourselves perish. Hiding from ourselves the truth as to our real condition, we never g¢ to him who alone can make us what we need to be, and so souls are lost.

III. HOW EXCELLENT THE EXAMPLE AND TEACHING OF OUR LORD ON THIS SUBJECT. Full of charity as he was, tender and gentle as a mother to the weak and sinful, to the poor outcasts who came to him, yet he was never guilty of any spurious charity. He did not, nor does he, warm vipers in his bosom who should sting him at the last. Cf. John 2. at end, "Jesus did not commit himself unto them." "But" - so the Gospel goes on; the word is unfortunately rendered "and" in our Authorized Version "there was a man of the Pharisees," etc. (John 3:1).

1. It means that our Lord did commit himself to this man - as we see he did - since he was very different from those whom our Lord could not and would not trust. His treatment of Judas was no exception to his rule. He knew him from the beginning. Nor is his treatment of ourselves, poor, sad recompense as we make him. He has taken us in hand, and he will not put us out of his hand until he has wrought in us all that he designs, he exemplified his own word about being, whilst harmless as doves, wise as serpents also. He says (Matthew 7:1), "Judge not." But almost the next verse bids us not cast pearls before swine! The intent is that, whilst we should not be censorious, we are not to be blind fools, who will imagine in their false charity that pearls will be appreciated by pigs. Charity is to think evil when evil is palpably there.

IV. WHAT LEADS TO THIS ERROR. Cf. the history.

1. Perhaps Gedaliah's conscious integrity; his freedom from all intent of evil.

2. Or over elation at the loyalty and trust that were being displayed on all sides.

3. The accused man had himself (ver. 8) come to Gedaliah.

4. Or dislike to Johanan and his proposals.

5. Or reliance on his own capacity of taking all due care. And when we are wrongly charitable to what is evil, our motives are akin to these. We intend no evil; that which is said to be evil has wrought no harm in others. We intend to be on our guard and deem ourselves to be quite able to take care of ourselves. We dislike the safeguards proposed. We do not believe in the peril against which we are warned. We are disposed to think well of and to like the evil.


1. Seek the knowledge of man.

2. Seek the Spirit of Christ. - C.

I. IN SPITE OF CAUTIONS. Gedaliah was told that Ishmael meditated his death. Told, not by one man, but by all who had opportunity of knowing the traitor's designs. Was it, then, blameworthy in him to neglect the information? We cannot tell. It may have been that he knew of jealousies which made him think that the rest of the captains were slandering Ishmael. Slanderers, be it remembered, are quite as numerous as traitors. The fault of Gedaliah, if fault it was, was that of a generous heart. It is one of the weapons of a traitor to put on the semblance of a true man. Then probably Gedaliah was further influenced by the proposition to kill Ishmael. If the informers had merely urged him to guard himself, they might have been better attended to. But those were days when, if people wanted to get rid of a troublesome man, they had little scruple in taking the most effectual way.

II. AN INSTANCE OF RASH JUDGMENT. Gedaliah in one breath judged the traitor to be a true man and the speaker of truth to be a slanderer. In this world of uncertainties there is no need to refuse any accusation. Only let the accusation be accompanied with evidence. Trumped up evidence soon shows its faults and contradictions. If Gedaliah had bid Ishmael meet the accusation, he might have prevented the serious migration spoken of at the end of the next chapter, he had to take care of himself not only for his own sake, but as the representative of Babylon. - Y.

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