Jeremiah 41

The Word Made Fresh

1In the seventh month Ishmael son of Nethaniah son of Elishama, who was a member of the royal family and had been one of the chief officers of the king, came with ten men to Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah. As they dined together at Mizpah, 2Ishmael son of Nethaniah and the ten men with him arose and attacked Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan and killed him with swords because the king of Babylon had appointed him governor of the land. 3Ishmael also killed the Judeans who were with Gedaliah at Mizpah as well as the Babylonian soldiers who happened to be there.

4The next day, before anyone had heard of Gedaliah’s death, 5eighty men arrived from Shechem and Shiloh and Samaria, with their beards shaved and their clothes torn and their bodies gashed, bringing grain offerings and incense to present at the LORD’s temple. 6Ishmael son of Nethaniah came from Mizpah to meet them. He wept as he met them and said, “Come to Gedaliah son of Ahikam.” 7When they reached the city’s center, Ishmael and the men with him murdered them and threw their dead bodies into a reservoir. 8But ten of them said to Ishmael, “Don’t kill us. We have a large supply of wheat, barley, oil, and honey hidden in the fields.” So, he held back and did not kill them with the others.

9Now, Ishmael had thrown the bodies of the men into the large reservoir that had been dug by King Asa for defense against King Baasha of Israel. Ishmael filled it with the dead bodies of those he had killed. 10Then he took all the rest of the people in Mizpah including the king’s daughters and others who had been left there – all the people Nebuzaradan, the Babylonian captain of the guard, had turned over to Gedaliah son of Ahikam. Ishmael son of Nethaniah took them and left that place to cross over to the Ammonites.

11When Johanan son of Kareah and the other leaders with their armies who had joined with him heard of the murders Ishmael son of Nethaniah had committed, 12they gathered their men and went after him. They caught up with him at the large pool in Gibeon. 13When the people whom Ishmael had taken saw Johanan son of Kareah and the other leaders and their armies with him, they rejoiced, 14and turned back and came to Johanan son of Kareah. 15But Ishmael son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men and went to the Ammonites. 16Then Johanan and the other leaders with him and their men took all the rest of the people Ishmael had captured from Mizpah after murdering Gedaliah son of Ahikam – the soldiers, the women and children and servants, and Johanan brought them all back from Gibeon. 17They left, stopping at Geruth Chimham near Bethlehem. They planned to go to Egypt. 18They were afraid of the Babylonians because Ishmael son of Nethaniah had murdered Gedaliah son of Ahikam whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land.


1-3: The 2 Kings account gives no hint of a plot by the king of Ammon, but does report the information we find here, that Ishmael and his men killed Gedaliah along with his Judean and Babylonian functionaries. The 2 Kings account adds that Ishmael and his men then fled to Egypt, without any of the information Jeremiah provides in chapters 41-42.

4-8: Jeremiah goes on to tell us that the day after Gedaliah’s murder a group of 80 pilgrims from the primary northern cities of Israel came to Mizpah intending to offer sacrifices, probably as an act of supplication to God to restore the grain and wine to their ravished land. They are not aware of the murder, and Ishmael invites them into the city where he slaughters 70 of them and dumps their bodies in a large reservoir. The other 10 buy their lives by saying they know where to find needed food supplies.

9-10: Ishmael gathers up the hostages, including Jeremiah, and heads for Ammon where he has the support of King Baalis.

11-18: They don’t get very far, however, when Johanan, who had tried to warn governor Gedaliah (40:13), caught up with him at Gibeon, a few miles south of Mizpah. The hostages are recovered, but Ishmael escapes to Ammon with eight of his men. Johanan, fearing reprisal from the Babylonians, heads south to pick up the road to Egypt. They camp near Bethlehem.


War is a terrible crisis for any nation or people. It is stark evidence of our refusal (or inability?) to give our allegiance to God, and only to God. God will help defend us when it is necessary to take up arms, but we need to always understand that war will leave unplanned and unexpected consequences, regardless of who “wins.”