The following few chapters tell an intriguing story of destruction, prosperity, trust and betrayal. After the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of the majority of the people, a remnant is left and Nebuchadnezzar puts Gedaliah in charge of what remains in Judah. For the most part, those who are left are the poorest of the poor and a few bands of guerilla soldiers who escaped the hand of Babylon. When they gather together, Gedaliah addresses the motley crowd and tells them to farm, ranch, and rebuild their culture. He will govern and deal with the Babylonians—all they need to do is reestablish their lives.
The result is another glimpse into what I think is one of the core lessons in the book of Jeremiah. As they are faithful to Gedeliah’s directive, God shows them his grace and goodness. I love the fact that through the destruction of a rebellious and obstinate culture, God makes the poorest of the poor the wealthy land owners.
“[T]hen all the Judeans returned from all the places to which they had been driven and came to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah at Mizpah. And they gathered wine and summer fruits in great abundance.” (vs. 12)
But all is not well within the remnant. One of the military commanders, Johanan warns Gedaliah that another commander, Ishmael, struck a deal with a neighboring king to assassinate him. For whatever reason, Gedaliah does not believe Johanan, has Ishmael over for dinner, and at the table Ishmael rises up and kills Gedaliah. Ishmael, in what turns out to be raging evil, proceeds to slaughter seventy pilgrims on their way to mourn the destruction of the Temple, and then takes the remnant into captivity and prepares to take them into exile into Amon. Ishmael takes his own people captive! Ishmael was not satisfied with the state of things under Gedaliah, and forced control from his hands through treachery and conspiracy.
Ishmael’s evil is the end of the prosperity under Gedaliah, and as we discover in further chapters, this group of Judeans never returns to the Promised Land to live there.
The remnant was small and at the mercy of the Babylonians. They could either choose to be faithful to God in their land or rebel and try and take control of their situation again. Gedaliah represents one response, Ishmael the other. When you are a remnant, you learn an important lesson: God is in control. When we try to take control, the results are disastrous.
God’s people are rarely the powerful majority. More often than not, God’s people are one among many voices heard in any given culture, and they are rarely the single, dominant voice. In fact, God chose the nation of Israel exactly because they were small, and Paul picks up this theme in Romans 11:1-5 when he describes God’s use of the church.
Because the church of Jesus Christ is a remnant, we need to learn that God is in control. Our aim should be to be faithful to God in everything, not to take control. Don’t mistake me--I believe a faithful lifestyle will extend to absolutely every aspect of a believer’s life and hence will salt and season every aspect of our culture. But our goal is faithfulness, not control. The example of Gedaliah is the right lifestyle for Christians living as a remnant, and it requires a great deal of self-discipline and trust to avoid Ishmael’s error and to let God control the things we can’t but wish we could.