Jeremiah 41
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics

1. If ever there was such a one, this Ishmael was of whom these verses tell. His atrocities remind us of the Indian Mutiny, its leader, and the well at Cawnpore (cf. ver. 9). Treachery, ingratitude, murder, massacre, greed, cowardice, - all are gathered in this detestable character (cf. Mr. Grove's article "Ishmael," Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible').

2. And such men are permitted to be. So clearly seen is this, that every drama has its villain; they are recognized as having definite place and function in this poor life of ours. History is full of them. But for them one might almost say there would be no history.

3. Can we explain this permission? Wherefore are such men created and preserved? It is a part of the great question of moral evil, for the full solution of which we must wait. Like as was said to a lad of one of our public schools, who had heard his master say in a sermon in the school chapel that in mathematics there were lines in the same plane ever converging but which never met. The lad heard this, and as he knew something of mathematics himself, he believed and said to a senior in the school that the master was wrong. The senior defended the master, and told the lad of the lines that mathematicians call asymptotes. "But explain," said the astonished lad. "No, I can't," said the other. "You must wait till you get there." The lad had not read on so far in the science as that, and hence there was nothing for it but to believe that, though it was at present incomprehensible to him how such lines as those spoken of could be, nevertheless, when he had read on further, he would see it clearly enough. And so we have to hear and see things which, to fully reconcile with the existence and superintendence of an all-loving and all-powerful God, is beyond our power, and there is nothing for it but that we must "wait till we get there" - there where the reading of these problems will be ready and clear. But the existence of such men as this Ishmael is but one out of the many terrible facts in God's providence, such as plague, famine, earthquake, etc. In regard to such men, we can see some purposes that they subserve.

I. They make evident the hideous capacities of evil which are in our nature, and the need, therefore, for God's restraining grace.

II. They are warnings to increased watchfulness on the part of those in whom the tendencies to like evil exist.

III. They are God's scourges for men's sin (cf. Attila, the Scourge of God).

IV. They weld together the people they oppress in one common league against them, and thus out of scattered tribes a nation is formed.

V. They clear out much that is evil (cf. French Revolution; Napoleon). But sometimes, as here, we cannot see what good they do; and then we can only wait. Conclusion. But we can get above these and all such affiictors of our lives. The fear of God will lift us up above their power.

"Fear him, ye saints, and you will then
Have nothing else to fear." On the wings of the fear and love of God let us mount up; and like as the little birds escape the hawk by keeping above it, so shall we escape all fear of fiercest human evils if we are upborne by the fear and love of God. - C.

I. A GREAT CRIME. The slaying of Gedaliah was accompanied by circumstances making it peculiarly atrocious.

1. The breach of good fellowship. There had been professions of amity before. Gedaliah shows by deed his confidence in Ishmael, sitting down with him at a common meal.

2. The subsequent slaughter. The slaying of Gedaliah was not enough to serve the purpose. A man, once entered on the ways of crime, cannot say, "So far I will go, and no further." Ishmael had to go on killing to secure his own safety and mastery.

II. THE CONSEQUENCE. The chief consequence was the departure to a point nearer to Egypt, to escape if possible the vengeance of the Chaldeans. One man sins and other people suffer. The great lesson is to stop crime in its beginnings. Ishmael gained none of the ends he seems to have had in view, and was this much the worse, that he had deep stains of murder on him. - Y.

So he forbare, etc. This was a case of bloodthirsty cruelty versus greed. Ishmael would have killed these men but for his greed of the wealth they had. It is satisfactory to think he never gained possession of it. Nevertheless, his greed made him guilty of one sin less. This story suggests that -


1. The best way of all. By granting a true repentance and his Holy Spirit, creating the clean heart and renewing the right spirit.

2. But there are other ways. By keeping the opportunity and the will apart. How much of our freedom from sin do we owe to this blessed providential severance! By fear of present evil consequences of our sin.

3. And sometimes, as here, by one sin getting in the way of another. Thus pride holds back not a few; not love of God, gratitude to Christ, love of holiness, but pride. And coveteousness checks the sinner in many sins he would be guilty of but for this. Anger, breaking up the alliances of transgressors; as when, in the days of Jehoshaphat, the Ammonites who were coming against him fell out one with the other (2 Chronicles 20:22). The old saying is, "When thieves fall Out, honest men come by their rights." Sensual self-indulgence. The vilest Romans emperors were those who least persecuted the Church - Tiberius, Commodus, etc. They were too absorbed in their own indulgences to trouble about the Christians.

II. BUT THESE OTHER WAYS LEAVE MEN AS GREAT SINNERS AS BEFORE. The question is not as to your freedom from transgression so much, but - What kept you free? Only the first and best way is accepted of God.

III. NEVERTHELESS, LET US BE THANKFUL THAT SIN IS SELF-DESTRUCTIVE IN ITS VERY NATURE. It is a blessed anarchy, for it protects many who would otherwise suffer.


These verses record the pursuit and overthrow of Ishmael. He had sold himself to work all manner of wickedness. What had he not been guilty of? And now we hear the last of him. He is seen in flight to Ammon, whence he came out, escaping with his life, but stripped of all his captives and his plunder. He had taken a world of trouble, incurred a load of guilt, filled his soul with evil, dishonoured his name forever. And this was what came of it all. Every one of his purposes, plans, hopes, all his toil and villainy, all his apparent success, utterly lost and gone. He is one out of many more proofs of the miserable wages of sin. Now -

I. IT IS EVER SO. Men may go on in sin for a long time, and be undisturbed save by conscience; may find their sin very pleasant and very gainful, and they may seem to escape with utter impunity; but the visitation of God comes upon them, sometimes here in this life, certainly, if not here, hereafter. The Bible history, the world, are full of proofs of this.

II. BUT MEN CANNOT BE GOT TO BELIEVE THIS. Else why do they persist in evil ways?

III. WHY IS IT THAT THEY WILL NOT BELIEVE? They do not wish to believe. Sentence against evil work is not executed speedily, sometimes not at all here in this world in any visible way.

IV. WHY, THEN, DOES NOT GOD DEAL DIFFERENTLY WITH SIN? Because his purpose is to foster trust and love, neither of which could find place in a system of prompt and visible punishments such as some would desire.


1. He causes the way of transgressors to be hard. Loss of peace, of hope, of Divine favour, of purity, of strength, of sympathy with and from the good, often of present and visible good; conscience is deadened, and the soul perishes. Besides this, there are frequent direct judgments sent.

2. On the other hand, he orders that in keeping of his commandments there is great reward. "His ways are ways of pleasantness, and all his paths are peace." It is related how an aged couple in the vicinity of London, who in the early part of life were poor, but who by the blessing of God upon their industry enjoyed a comfortable independency in their old age, were called upon by a Christian minister, who solicited their contributions to a charity. The old lady was disposed to make out some excuse, and to answer in the negative, both for her husband and for herself, and therefore replied, "Why, sir, we have lost a deal by religion since we began; my husband knows that very well." And being wishful to obtain her husband's consent to the assertion, she said, "Have we not, Thomas?" Thomas, after a long and solemn pause, replied, "Yes, Mary, we have lost a deal by our religion! I have lost a deal by my religion. Before I got religion, Mary, I had got a water pail in which I carried water; and that, you know, I lost many years ago. And then I had an old slouched hat, a patched old coat, and mended shoes and stockings; but I have lost them also long ago. And, Mary, you know that, poor as I was, I had a habit of getting drunk and quarrelling with you; and that, you know, I have lost. And then I had a burdened conscience and a wicked heart, and then I had ten thousand guilty feelings and fears; but all are lost, completely lost, and like a millstone east into the deep sea. Before we got religion, Mary; you had a washing tray, in which you washed for hire, and God Almighty blessed your industry; but since we got religion you have lost your washing tray. And you had a gown and bonnet much the worse for wear, though they were all you had to wear; but you have lost them long ago. And you had many an aching heart concerning me at times; but those you happily have lost. And I could even wish that you had lost as much as I have lost, and even more; for what we lose by our religion will be our eternal gain." We need not add that the preacher did not go away without substantial proof of the sincerity of what had been said in his hearing. And to all those who like the rich man in the parable (Luke 16.), who asked that one from the dead might be sent to warn his five brethren, the same answer may be given, "They have Moses and the prophets," and we may add, in our day, far more than these; "if they hear not them, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." - C.

This is one of the reflections that come to us as we read of the place whither Johanan led his followers, and as we see the events that happened immediately after. This chapter is a record of disappointments. First the hopeful prospects of Gedaliah's governorship, which seemed starting so fairly and happily for all, these are shattered and overthrown by the villainous conduct of Ishmael. Then it is a grievous disappointment that we do not hear of Ishmael's death, only of his escape. That such a wretch should escape with his life seems a reflection upon that justice which generally follows on the track of wrong doers such as he was, and metes out to them their due. Escape seems too lenient a dealing with him. And now here is another disappointment that Johanan, instead of seeking to follow in Gedaiiah's footsteps, should be for leading the people down into Egypt. At the caravanserai of Chimham, in Bethlehem - the natural halting place on the way to Egypt - Johanan held a council of war, and then, against the prophet's advice, finally determined to abandon their homes, and to make for the refuge, to which the worldly Israelite always had recourse, across the Egyptian border." It was a bad place to halt at; it was too near that beguiling land, the witchery of which not a few of them had long been feeling and would now feel mere than ever. Whenever Israel went thither, it was always a "going down into Egypt." This was more true morally and spiritually than even geographically, to which the word "down," of course, refers. And the present was no exception. Looking at them there at Chimham, we note -

I. THE RESEMBLANCE THEY OFFER. Are they not like all those who tamper with temptation? They know, as Israel knew, that they are in a forbidden path, and yet they do not keep clear of it. Like moths fluttering around the flame, so men will dally with sin. They know that to yield would be both most wrong and ruinous, and yet they go close to the border.

II. THE REASONS WHICH GOVERNED THEM. The Jews came to Chimham because their will had already consented to go further - on and down into Egypt. For like reasons men come to such places. There has been already the secret yielding of the will. There was no need of the Jews being at Chimham. It was not the way back from Gibeon. It was a deliberate going into temptation. So those who act like them have, as they, already consented in heart. And the causes of that consent are akin. They falsely feared what the Chaldeans might do, though there was no ground for such fear; and they falsely hoped for good - freedom from war and want - which they never realized. And such persons will ever magnify both the difficulties of the right path and. the looked-for pleasures and advantages of the wrong. Thus would they persuade themselves that the right is wrong and the wrong is right.

III. THE RESISTANCE WHEY SEEMED TO MAKE. The Jews did not yield all at once. They appeal to the prophet. They ask his prayers. They make repeated and loud - much too loud: "Methinks he doth protest too much" - professions. They wait patiently the prophet's message. And yet all the while (ver. 20) they were dissembling in their hearts, "regarding iniquity" there (cf. history of Balsam). They would have God on their side, not themselves on God's side. All this is most melancholy matter of fact with those who, of their own accord, go too near the edge.

IV. THE RESULTS THAT FOLLOWED. Of course they went over the edge; such people always do. They showed the insincerity of their prayers by their anger when they were denied (cf. Jeremiah 43:2, etc.). They escaped none of the evil they dreaded; they gained none of the good they expected. "So disastrous did this step appear to the next and to all subsequent generations of Israel, that the day of Gedaliah's murder, which led to it, has been from that time forth and to this day observed as a national fast. It seemed to be the final revocation of the advantages of the Exodus. By this breach in their local continuity a chasm was made in the history, which for good or evil was never filled up." Yes; they who will go so near temptation will go into it, and be borne down by it to their sore hurt and harm.

V. THE REMEDY RECOMMENDED. Jeremiah urged them to return to their own land and stay there (Jeremiah 42:8, etc.), promising them the blessing of God if they obeyed, and threatening his sore anger if they did not. This counsel ever wise. Get away from the border land back into safety. Think of what will follow on your conduct - the blessing or the curse. "Stay not in all the plain, but escape for thy life." As "the angels hastened Lot," so would we hasten all those who have foolishly and wrongly chosen to go too near temptation's edge. - C.

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