57. Which Way Should We Go?
Jeremiah 41:16-43:13 teaches us it's never a good idea to disregard God's word.
When I was ten or eleven, I “ran away” from home because I was mad at my parents for the usual things—too many chores and insufficient allowance.
I got about a half mile into my adventure before I realized my plan for “freedom” wasn’t going to work because I didn’t have any food or money. Plus, I was starting to feel guilty, so after about 30 minutes, I was faced with a choice—which way should I go? Should I keep going or go back home?
I went home, and as it turned out, nobody even knew I was gone. Relieved, it felt like I had been given a second chance, so I promised myself I’d never run away again or complain about doing my chores. I’ve been pretty good a keeping the first half of that promise.
Faced with a Choice
The remnant in Isreal was also faced with a choice. Faced with the threat of persecution, should they flee to Egypt or stay put? By the time we get to chapter 41, they had decided to flee.
Jeremiah 41:17–18 CSB
They left, stopping in Geruth Chimham, which is near Bethlehem, in order to make their way into Egypt, away from the Chaldeans. For they feared them because Ishmael son of Nethaniah had struck down Gedaliah son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had appointed over the land.
As refugees, the Israelites were justifiably afraid of the Babylonians. They had seen horrible things, including the deaths of friends and family. And now Gedaliah had been killed by Ishmael and was probably waiting to strike again. Each day the remnant was getting smaller, so something had to be done.
The best solution they came up with was to flee the country and return to Egypt. Even though God had performed so many miracles to take them out of Egypt, running back seemed like their best option. So they left, but on their way to Egypt, they had second thoughts and asked Jeremiah for advice.
Jeremiah 42:1–3 CSB
Then all the commanders of the armies, along with Johanan son of Kareah, Jezaniah son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest, approached the prophet Jeremiah and said, “May our petition come before you; pray to the Lord your God on our behalf, on behalf of this entire remnant (for few of us remain out of the many, as you can see with your own eyes), that the Lord your God may tell us the way we should go and the thing we should do.”
It’s good to seek God for advice, but sometimes it’s too little too late. See, when we ask for “advice” after we’ve already made up our minds, that’s a problem. As we will see, the Israelites didn’t want advice; they only wanted Jeremiah to confirm they were doing the right thing.
But at first, their attitude seemed to be in the right place.
Jeremiah 42:5–6 CSB
And they said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we don’t act according to every word the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will obey the Lord our God to whom we are sending you so that it may go well with us. We will certainly obey the Lord our God!”
Amen! There’s much to commend in these verses. Like the remnant of Israel, we should pray for guidance and vow to do whatever God says, no matter what. That’s a great attitude, but what happened when God answered?
Ten days later, God gave them an answer, but it wasn’t the answer they were hoping for. Summarizing, God said, “Stay in Judah and have peace or go to Egypt and die.” That’s not the answer they wanted, plus they were already on the road to Egypt. To obey, they’d have to admit they were wrong and turn around to go back.
What should have been an easy decision became difficult because their minds were already made up. All they could see back home was a lack of food and scary soldiers everywhere. Even though God promised to protect them, Egypt seemed a much better option because the food was plentiful, and no one was trying to kill them.
Or so they thought...
Jeremiah 42:13–17 CSB
“But if you say... we’ll go to the land of Egypt where we will not see war or hear the sound of the ram’s horn or hunger for food, and we’ll live there,’ then hear the word of the Lord... the sword you fear will overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine you are worried about will follow on your heels there to Egypt, and you will die there...
From a human point of view, the desire to go to Egypt made sense. There was one problem, however; God could see more clearly than they could, and going to Egypt would lead to more persecution, not less.
In other words, in order to obey God, the Israelites were going to have to live by faith. They had to trust that God knew what he was talking about, but they couldn’t do it. Instead, they did a risk assessment and came to the conclusion that the safest thing to do was disobey God. Big mistake.
We do the same things, though. How often do we choose the “safer” path of keeping our money instead of giving it to the poor? What about when we make the “safer” decision and avoid talking about the gospel? Every day, we make decisions not based on faith but on what seems to make the most sense to us. And that’s a problem.
But the truth is—obeying God is always the safest decision, while disobeying God is the riskiest choice imaginable.
So, despite their promise to do whatever God said, they ignored God and did what they wanted to do all along. They were like that friend who asks for our honest opinion and gets upset when we give it. It was hard for them to imagine that God’s plans would differ from theirs.
So they continued on toward Egypt, denying God’s word.
Denying God’s Word
They denied God’s word in two ways. First, they rationalized their disobedience by claiming God’s words didn’t sound like God.
Jeremiah 43:2 CSB
All the other arrogant men responded to Jeremiah, “You are speaking a lie! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You must not go to Egypt to stay there for a while!’
In other words, “Jeremiah, you’re lying! God didn’t say that!” Many people have predetermined ideas of what God’s word sounds like, and when they hear something they don’t like say, “That’s not God.” For example, some reject God’s words of warning and judgment because, in their mind, God is only loving. But God’s not only loving; he is also just, and it’s never a good idea to dismiss God’s words just because we don’t like them.
Second, they denied God’s word by saying it was only the word of men. They said,
Jeremiah 43:3 CSB
Rather, Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you against us to hand us over to the Chaldeans to put us to death or to deport us to Babylon!
Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe and assistant, a just a man, but not God, so they thought they could dismiss God’s clear command to them as only the word of a man. But God’s word isn’t just the opinion of men, and we aren’t free to pick the parts we like and reject others. According to 2 Timothy 3,
2 Timothy 3:16 CSB
All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.
And 2 Peter 1:20 confirms that the whole Bible is inspired by God.
2 Peter 1:20–21 CSB
Above all, you know this: No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
So rejecting the parts of the Bible we don’t like as merely the word of men will likely end up being the worst decision we ever make. God’s word has a way of catching up with us.
We Can Run, But We Can’t Hide
Isreal’s leaders disobeyed God’s word and led everyone away to Egypt, but they didn’t get very far.
Jeremiah 43:7 CSB
They went to the land of Egypt because they did not obey the Lord. They went as far as Tahpanhes.
Tahpanhes was on the edge of Egypt, which means they hadn’t made much progress before Jeremiah gave them another word from the Lord, this time an object lesson.
God said to “take some large stones and bury them at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes” and then tell them…
Jeremiah 43:10 CSB
This is what the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel, says: I will send for my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and I will place his throne on these stones that I have embedded, and he will pitch his pavilion over them.
In other words, let these stones remind you of the penalty for disobeying. Yes, they could run, but they couldn’t escape God’s judgment. And fleeing to Egypt would only make things much worse because Nebuchadnezzar was going to come and attack Egypt. If they kept going in the wrong direction, God’s people would suffer even more.
Jeremiah 43:11 CSB
[Nebuchadnezzar] will come and strike down the land of Egypt—those destined for death, to death; those destined for captivity, to captivity; and those destined for the sword, to the sword.
It’s perilous to think we know better than God. Rejecting his ways will always catch up with us, sooner or later. As Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death.”
What Happened to Jeremiah?
Jeremiah 43:6 tells us that Jeremiah went to Egypt, too, but I don’t think he did so willingly. If anyone had obeyed God, surely Jeremiah would have. So I think it’s likely he was taken against his will, yet, Jeremiah didn’t waste the opportunity to continue serving God’s people.
And this is a good reminder that even when God’s people disobey, God doesn’t completely abandon us. Yes, there will be consequences when we sin, but if we are in Christ, our sin isn’t what ultimately defines us.
Jeremiah’s staying with God’s people is a good reminder not to jump ship when fellow Christians sin. Sometimes Christians use all kinds of excuses in order to justify going in the wrong direction, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon our brothers and sisters in Christ. God doesn’t.
So, which way should we go? Well, there’s really only one choice. We should submit to God’s word, even when it’s difficult, and follow Jesus.