Jeremiah 41
Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures

CHAP. 41

1Now 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 2eat bread together in Mizpah. 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 3governor over the land. Ishmael also slew all the Jews that were with him, even with Gedaliah, at Mizpah, and the Chaldeans that were found there, the men of war.

4And it came to pass the second day after he had slain Gedaliah, and no man 5knew it, that there came certain [men] from Shechem, from Shiloh, and from Samaria, even fourscore [eighty] men, having their beards shaven and their clothes rent, and having cut themselves [their bodies], with offerings and incense in their 6hand, to bring them to the house of the LORD [Jehovah]. 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 7of Ahikam. 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 8[slew them into the cistern],1 he, and the men that were with him. 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 9slew them not among their brethren. Now the pit [cistern] wherein Ishmael had cast all the dead bodies of the men, whom he had slain because [by the hand] of2 Gedaliah, was it [that] which Asa the king had made for fear3of Baasha king of Israel: and Ishmael the son of Nethaniah filled it with them that were [the] slain.

10Then 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 Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard [halberdiers] 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.

11But when Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces that were with him, heard of all the evil that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had done, 12then they took all the men, and went to fight with Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, 13and found him by the waters that are in Gibeon. Now it came to pass, that when all the people which were with Ishmael saw Johanan the son of Kareah, and all 14the captains of the forces that were with him, then they were glad. So all the people that Ishmael had carried away captive from Mizpah cast about and returned, 15and went unto Johanan the son of Kareah. But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men, and went to the Ammonites

16Then 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,4 and the women, and the children, and the 17eunuchs, whom he had brought again from Gibeon: and they departed, and dwelt in the habitation of Chimham,5 which is by Beth-lehem, to go to enter into Egypt, 18because of the Chaldeans: for they were afraid of them, because Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had slain Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon made governor in the land.


The suspicion against Ishmael was only too well-founded. He really murders Gedaliah and his retinue, consisting of Jews and Chaldeans (Jer 41:1–3) also seventy Israelites who were bringing offerings to the destroyed sanctuary (Jer 41:4–9). The rest of the people he leads away captive from Mizpah, but is overtaken by Johanan and the other band-leaders. The captives immediately leave him, and he escapes with eight men to the Ammonites (Jer 41:10–15). Thereupon the leaders assemble the whole people in the neighborhood of Bethlehem, to prepare for removal to Egypt, for in consequence of the murder of Gedaliah they think that they will be liable to the extreme vengeance of the Chaldeans if they remain longer in the country.

Jer 41:1-3. Now it came to pass … men of war. There is a brief extract from these verses in 2 Ki. 25:25. The event took place in the seventh month, therefore three months after the capture of the city (39:2), and two after the destruction and deportation by Nebuzar-adan (52:12; 2 Ki. 25:8). Ishmael was of the royal, therefore David’s seed. Neither he nor his father Nethaniah (1 Chron. 26:2, 12; 2 Chron. 17:8, Levites are thus named) are mentioned elsewhere. Nethaniah is called the son of Elishama. Whether this person is identical with the “scribe” mentioned in 36:12, 20, 21, or the Elishama named in 2 Sam. 5:16; 1 Chron. 3:6 (8); 14:7 as a son of David is meant, is not apparent. Both cases are possible. In the latter Elishama would be the ancestor of the family, “son” being used according to a well known idiom, in the wider sense. Ishmael would then belong to a collateral branch of the royal family.—Princes of the king. It is clear that the king of Judah is meant. Not so clear the grammatical connection. It may be referred to “royal seed.” HITZIG in opposition to this correctly remarks that the “princes” did not form an hereditary caste. It is therefore, according to some, governed by “of.” Is it not however a matter of course that Ishmael as a prince belonged to the רַבּים, especially as this word by no means designates a definite category of greatness? Further, is it probable that Ishmael with ten men could overpower the entire Jewish retinue of Gedaliah, together with the Chaldean soldiers (Jer 41:3), eighty men (Jer 41:7), who if not provided with arms were with legs, and then lead away captive against their will the whole population of Mizpah (Jer 41:14)? We are thus recommended to take רַבּי as a nominative = and great men of the king. It would then be declared that Ishmael and other Jewish nobles (doubtless each with his own retinue), and ten men who formed the personal retinue of the former, accomplished the deed. The passage 52:10 would not contradict this. For since even the Chaldeans could not kill any one whom they did not have, that passage states only that the Chaldeans took the life of all the princes who fell into their power. Now besides here רַב never occurs in Jeremiah of the great men of the Hebrews, but only of the Chaldean grandees in general (39:18), and of the principal court-officers in particular. Comp. Rab-Mag., etc., 39:3, 13, etc.—It is then natural to suppose that the words “and the princes of the king” are a gloss, occasioned by the difficulty of crediting such deeds to a little band of eleven men.

Slew him. These words expressly set forth that though several smote Gedaliah with their swords, Ishmael was the real murderer, upon whom rested the immense responsibility of having killed the Chaldean king’s chief officer in the country. I therefore do not think that, as HITZIG and GRAF propose, we must read “smote” also in the singular (וַיכו). That by “all the Jews that were with Gedaliah at Mizpah” we are not to understand the whole population of the city, is apparent from Jer 41:10. It is rather the armed men, who were at the disposal of Gedaliah as governor, who are intended and who, whether permanently or temporarily, were strengthened by Chaldean soldiers.

Jer 41:4-9. And it came to pass … with the slain. Ishmael knew how to guard against the murder of Gedaliah being known immediately outside the city. He evidently intended to use Mizpah as a trap. So it happened that on the second day the approach of a troop of men was announced, who from a distance presented the appearance of a peaceful caravan, and from the burdens they bore one promising booty. They came from Shechem, Shiloh and Samaria. The LXX. read Σαλήμ, and HITZIG, as well as GRAF, is disposed to give this reading the preference, since thus a more correct order (according to geographical position we should have Shiloh, Shechem, Samaria) and vicinage of the cities is obtained. Salem would then be the place mentioned in Gen. 33:18, 19 as near Shechem (comp. HERZOG, R.-Enc., XIII. S. 326). But the authority of the LXX. is, as is well known, unreliable. Shiloh also lies so near the road that travellers proceeding from it might meet with those coming from Samaria and Shechem. As to the order, as this in itself was a matter of indifference, a more external circumstance may well have suggested it: the word of one syllable is placed first, then that of two syllables, and of these again that of five consonants after that of three.

From 2 Chron. 34:9 it is apparent, that at the time of Josiah there was still in the cities of the ten tribes a “remnant of Israel,” which contributed to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, which appears as a resumption and continuance of the co-operation, which even in the reign of Hezekiah the pious Israelites had afforded in establishing the worship of Jehovah in Jerusalem (2 Chron. 30 and 31) These men came as mourners over the destruction of the sanctuary (comp. on 16:6; 47:5; 48:37) with gifts of meat and incense offerings, as the beasts necessary for burnt offerings could not well be brought from so great a distance. Doubtless the feast of Tabernacles, occurring in the Seventh month (Lev. 23:34; Numb. 29:12; Deut. 16:13) was the occasion of their coming. Although they could not hope to find altar and priests in the holy place, they would still deposit their gifts there in order at least to manifest their devotion. GROTIUS calls attention here to the expression of Papinian (Instit. de rerum divisione, § Sacræ): “Locus, in quo ædes sacræ sunt ædificatæ etiam diruto ædificio sacer adhuc manet.”

What was the motive of Ishmael’s act? It is supposed by some that he feared to be betrayed, and therefore killed those strangers whom he could not drag away with him. But he only needed then not to admit them into Mizpah. GRAF sees in the deed an act of revenge which Ishmael took on these Israelites for the murder of his relatives and associates in rank (52:10), because these, living with heathens, had for a long time been Assyrian and Chaldean subjects. But these Israelites, coming with all the tokens of deepest sorrow, had shown themselves to be well-disposed towards the Jews, and it is inconceivable how Ishmael could have chosen them for the objects of his vengeance. I think he had simple robbery in view. For after this Ishmael, who was evidently a rough and wild man, had from personal jealousy, to the disadvantage of his people and in the political interest of his Ammonitish protection, assassinated the noble Gedaliah, he must either attempt to maintain himself in the latter’s position or flee. When he quickly, before the matter has become known, murders a peaceful caravan of temple pilgrims, and spares only a few of them, who offer him treasures, and at last drags with him as captives the whole turba imbellis from Mizpah into slavery, he shows himself to be simply a robber.

Jer 41:6. Weeping all along as he went [lit.: in going and weeping]. LXX.: αὐτοὶ ἐπορεύοντο καὶ ἔκλαιον. They then refer the words to the eighty. HITZIG and GRAF find this reference quite in order. Why should Ishmael weep ? We might suppose it to be perfectly clear that Ishmael wept to deceive those people, in order to present the appearance of a person who from internal grief was not thinking of worldly things at all, much less of robbery and murder. HITZIG and GRAF however deny that Ishmael wept at all, because he had no ostensible reason for doing so. HITZIG says he would not weep for the fate of the temple, since he did not in them meet again old friends for the first time since its destruction, he did not go to meet them in ceremony as notorious temple-pilgrims, nor was he himself on the way to Jerusalem. GRAF says if he had wept like the pilgrims over Jerusalem, this would have been unnatural behaviour for one who was sojourning in the vicinity of the city. But are these reasons? It is scarcely credible that they can be intended seriously. If in those days of the most tremendous national calamity a train of Jewish pilgrims, bearing themselves all the signs of grief, meet another Jew weeping, about what will they suppose that he is weeping? Will they not most naturally suppose that he accords with the general mourning of the country? There can be no doubt this was the supposition which Ishmael wished to produce in the pilgrims’ minds. There may have been one and another among them who regarded the weeping comer as not a partaker in the general grief, it sufficed for Ishmael that he was generally regarded as such. Murder and robbery are not expected from such a person. Ishmael tried in this way to deceive them. If they had mistrusted him his project must have failed or he must have tried other expedients. HITZIG and GRAF fail to convince us that they would have more readily believed a person who was not mourning, but who invited them to Gedaliah in a tone usual at other times. GRAF also urges that it was not necessary for Ishmael to shed tears the whole way, even though it was a short one, which however is implied in the grammatical construction (comp. on this point NAEGELSB. Gr., § 93, b, Anm.) To this it may be replied that Ishmael could not know how sharp sighted any one of the eighty might be, so that he would rather begin to weep too early than too late, and consequently traversed the greatest part of the distance, perhaps the whole way from the gate, weeping.

Come to Gedaliah. Why Gedaliah invites them he does not say. Many reasons might be imagined: Gedaliah might wish to show them hospitality, or to accompany them, or to impart some injunction or warning in his gubernatorial capacity. At any rate he was a powerful man, whose requisition was not to be ignored. They therefore followed. But in the midst of the city, at any rate in a place where eleven men sufficed to close up both their advance and their retreat, in some narrow lane, Ishmael fell upon them. Ten of them evidently perceived at once why this was done. They saw that it was robbery on which he was intent. They therefore promise him מַטמנִים, i.e., promtuaria subterranea (from טָמַןabscondidit), such being used from the earliest times in many countries of Asia and Africa for the concealment and preservation of the fruits of the earth. Comp. ROSENMUELLERad. l., and GESENIUSThesaurus, s. v.;WINER, R.- W.-B., s. v. Ernte.—By the hand of Gedaliah. The words are difficult. The explanations: by the fault of Gedaliah, on Gedaliah’s account, i.e., as friends of Gedaliah); coram Gedalja, i.e., together with Gedaliah, una cum Gedalja, in potestate Gedalja (i.e., as imperio G. subjectos) are all ungrammatical. The normal significance of the words seems to me to afford an appropriate meaning, Ishmael had made use of Gedaliah’s name, to allure them to destruction. He had called to them: Come to Gedaliah (Jer 41:6), and on the authority of this name they had followed him. Thus we may well say that Ishmael killed them by means of Gedaliah. Of course the person of Gedaliah was not the instrument of execution, but his name was the means by which their wills were determined in the intended direction.—Was that which Asa,etc. We read in 1 Ki. 15:22 that king Asa, with the material of which Baasha had fortified Ramah built Geba-Benjamin and Mizpah. This pit appears to have been part of these works of fortification, but as to its destination we are not informed. Was it a cistern, a ditch, or a mere pit, which might defend a narrow approach, and in ordinary times was bridged over? HITZIG assumes the latter. But as GRAF remarks, the pit appears according to Jer 41:7 to have been situated in the interior of the city. It cannot have been a ditch, such never being called בּוֹר. It was then probably a large and deep cistern (Comp. ROSENMUELLER on Jer 41:7), which was built to afford water to the fort, and which accordingly might be reckoned among the means of defence, with which Asa provided the city for fear of Baasha. Whether the pit, which is here spoken of, is identical with the great bore that is in Sechu, 1 Sam 19:21, and with the φρέαρ μἐγα1 Macc. 7:19, must be left undecided.

Jer 41:10-15. Then Ishmael … to the Ammonites. The intimidated, and probably in addition unarmed people, among them the king’s daughters (probably in the wider sense of princesses, as “king’s son,” 36:26; 38:6), Ishmael carried away captive, either to use them as slaves or to sell them. Meanwhile however the Jewish band-captains had received intelligence of the events in Mizpah. They hasten thither with their people, and encounter Ishmael by the “great water” near Gibeon. Gibeon is only half a league distant from Mizpah in a northeasterly direction. Till Ishmael had done with the eighty pilgrims and the gathering of the rest. of the population prior to their departure, so much time might pass that the captains could hurry up and almost reach him in Mizpah. The “great waters” of Gibeon are a pond. Comp. 2 Sam. 2:13. ROBINSON (II. 351, 2) recognizes Gibeon in the village El-Jib. [Comp. THOMSON, The Land and the Book, II., p. 546.—S. R. A.] At the east of the village he found a beautiful fountain and the remains of a large water-tank. All Ishmael’s prisoners left him at once to attach themselves to Johanan. Ishmael escaped with eight men. It seems then that there was a fight, in which he lost two of his ten men.

Jer 41:16-18. Then took Johanan … in the land. It cannot be denied that there is some, difficulty in the relative sentence from whom he had recovered to Song of Solomon of Ahikam. Especially troublesome is from Mizpah. Also the singular הֵשִׁיב as well as the sentence after he had slain, etc. (we should expect: after they had driven Ishmael off) are striking: so too the relative sentences whom he had recovered from Ishmael and whom he had brought again from Gibeon, as they both state the same fact. HITZIG supposes that “whom Ishmael carried away captive” should be read after Jer 41:14. Certainly the connection thus becomes clear and intelligible. And as the sentence whom he had recovered from Ishmael stands directly between whom Ishmael carried away captive from Mizpah, Jer 41:14, and whom he had brought again from Gibeon, fin. Jer 41:16, it is quite conceivable that an exchange may have taken place.—Mighty men of war. It is evident from these words that the great mass of the Jewish people still left were assembled in Mizpah, comp. 40:7–11—It is the more strange that Ishmael could take all these captive with ten men. Were they unarmed? Were they surprised? Did Ishmael terrify them with threats, by making a false show of Ammonitish help at hand?—However this may be, Johanan betakes himself with all these to a more southern rendezvous on the road to Egypt. This according to the Keri is called the “habitation (hospice, caravanserai) of Chimham [Kimham],” who according to 2 Sam. 19:37–40 was the son of the Barzillai who purveyed so well for David and his army on their flight. Why did an inn or caravanserai in the vicinity of Bethlehem bear the name of Chimham? We do not know.—This point was to serve as a meeting-place. There were still single bands or individuals scattered through the country. Preparations had also to be made for the march through the desert. The vengeance of the Chaldeans, in spite of the surely provable innocence of the Jews, appeared however so certain, and the fear of it was so great, that the resolution to flee to Egypt was already fixed, before they asked the prophet’s advice. Hence this act was a mere farce.


[1]Jer 41:7.—Preganant construction, Comp. NAEGELSB Gr., §112,7; 2 Ki. 10:14; 1 Macc. 7:19.

[2]Jer 41:9—בְיַד ג׳ J. D.MICHAELIS conjectures בַּיר (comp. 6:7 Keri), which reading is said to be found in one Codex of DE ROSSI (comp. ROSENMULLER ad. l) The LXX. translate φρέαρ μέλα τοῦτό ἐστιν, as if they had read בּוֹר הַגָּדוֹל הוּא which reading is adopted by DAHLER, MOVERS, HITZIG, GRAF. It would afford a good meaning. But the reading is not to be altered unneccessarily.

[3]Jer 41:9.—מִפְּנֵי, before, properly “on account of,” but used here in the sense of “against” Comp. Jud. 9:21; 1 Chron. 12:1.

[4]Jer 41:16.—אַנְשֵׁי הַמִּלְחָמָה is in apposition to גְּבָרִים and is to express that the latter is not to be taken in the same of mares generally, in which even the children might be included, but in the sense of “fighting men.”

[5]Jer 41:17—גֵּרוּת כִּמְהָם (Keri). The Chethibh seems to require the pronunciation כְּמוֹתֶם. The meaning of the word is not apparent. The old translators all express, though with great want of clearness and agreement among themselves, a proper name. Only JOSEPHUS (Antiq. X., 9, §5) says: είς τίνα τόπον μάνδραν λεγόμενον. He evidently read גְּדֵרָה (wall, protection, hurdle. Comp. Zeph. 2:6).—גֵרוּת is ἅπ. λεγ>., but from its etymology must mean hospitium, diversorium.

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.
Lange, John Peter - Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

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