Bear with me, while I explain the context of a passage buried in the Old Testament, so that we might grasp the application.
During the last half of the book of Jeremiah, the people of Judah were suffering the aftermath of the Babylonian destruction of Palestine. Much of the nation had been slain. A remnant had been carried off into Babylonian captivity.
The king of Babylon allowed only a few Jews to remain living near the city of Jerusalem, “some the poorest people who had nothing” (Jer. 39:10). The king appointed a new governor, named Gedaliah, to manage these remaining people. The king also allowed the prophet Jeremiah to stay in Jerusalem and minister to them (40:5).
Governor Gedaliah was a good man. He believed God’s word through Jeremiah. He understood that Babylonian domination was God’s will, as punishment for centuries of disobedience. He understood that God intended to bless the people through Babylon, eventually. So he cooperated with the Babylonian authorities, as God instructed, and the remaining Jews in the land began to prosper (40:9–12).
But some were still bitter about the defeat. They thought resistance against Babylon was the only patriotic thing to do. They secretly armed themselves, assassinated Gedaliah and his companions, and then ran away (41:2).
A new group of leaders arose to fill the vacuum. They herded the people together in a border town, “in order to proceed to Egypt because of the [Babylonians]; for they were afraid of them” (41:17–18). The Babylonian Empire had not yet conquered beyond the Sinai, and the African nations seemed strong enough to resist for a long time. The new leaders of Judah felt that Egypt would be a good place to seek refuge from the Babylonians, who would surely show up at any moment to exact revenge for the murder of Gedaliah.
But before they hit the road for Egypt, they summoned Jeremiah. They asked for direction from God. They said,
Pray for us to the Lord your God, that is, for all this remnant; because we are left but a few out of many, as your own eyes now see us, that the Lord your God may tell us the way in which we should walk and the thing that we should do… May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us, if we do not act in accordance with the whole message with which the Lord your God will send to us. Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, in order that it may go well with us when we listen to the voice of the Lord our God (Jer. 42:2–6).
What a wonderful attitude! These new leaders said they desired nothing less than the truth of God from Jeremiah’s lips. They were ready to obey “the whole message,” whether it was what they wanted to hear, or not.
We need to strive for that same mindset. When we sit down to read a chapter of Scripture, our prayer needs to be: “Lord, I am ready to learn. I am ready to obey whatever I find here, whether I agree with it or not!” Sometimes, the word of God demands that we sacrifice some treasured object, that we repent of some thrilling behavior He defines as sinful, or that we make the heart-wrenching decision to depart from a bad crowd. We must make up our minds to obey God, no matter how challenging His demands turn out to be. If we are going to read God’s word at all, then we must resolve to comply, for God is not a suggestor, but a Commander; not an advisor, but an Authority.
To return to the story: Jeremiah spoke to the leaders of Judah a simple message from God—stay put in Palestine and trust in God’s protection. It’s always better to rely on the arm of God, than on worldly forces that seem tough, but prove to be no more than the arm of flesh and a den of idolatry. God said, “Do not go into Egypt!” (42:19).
Sadly, the leaders’ previous promise proved shallow.
As soon as Jeremiah … had finished telling all the people all the words of the Lord their God … the arrogant men said, “You are telling a lie! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You are not to enter Egypt…’ ” All the people did not obey the voice of the Lord to stay in the land of Judah … and they entered the land of Egypt and went in as far as Tahpanhes (43:1–7).
They even kidnapped Jeremiah and took him to Egypt, too. But God is not mocked, and God instructed Jeremiah to mark the exact spot on the ground where the King of Babylon would set up his pavilion of judgment when he conquered Egypt.
One suspects that deep in the leaders’ hearts, they never were concerned about obeying God in the first place, but were just hoping that God would endorse of the plan they’d already crafted. Their minds had been made up all along. Let’s be careful that we’re not guilty of the same approach to life—making up plans and then hoping that God will go along with them. God’s word will not always agree with our private notions.
Don’t say, “God wants me to have this expensive item,” and then attempt to convince yourself of that. Or, “God wants me to have this girlfriend,” and then twist the Scripture to make it seem plausible.
Instead, make up your mind to obey, whether the Bible’s message turns out to be “pleasant or unpleasant.” Read it with an open mind, and prove to be a doer of the word (James 1:22). Even God’s rebukes are meant for our good—trust Him! —John Guzzetta