When we start expecting God to put His stamp of approval on our self-centered decisions, we are on the fast track to disaster. Just a glance at Israel’s history shows that it is God’s word, not man’s, that is true and enduring and offers a satisfying and God-honoring way forward.
On the Wrong Side of History
A well-known author of books on history once advised that we should not brood over what is past, but we should never forget it either. The problem is, the human race has a short memory, and lessons from the past are soon forgotten.
That is what is happening for the people left behind in Judah after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian Empire. As we learned in our last lesson, only the poorest people of the land are left there while all the other people are deported to Babylon.
Here in Jeremiah, chapters 40 through 44, we are given the aftermath of Judah’s defeat; and I must say, just about everybody soon forgets why the nation of Judah was defeated in the first place.
We are told here in chapter 40 that among those left behind is the prophet Jeremiah. It’s interesting that the Babylonian official in charge of the remnant remaining in Judah—a man by the name of Nebuzaradan—gives Jeremiah a choice:
“If it seems good to you to come with me to Babylon, come, and I will look after you well, but if it seems wrong to you to come with me to Babylon, do not come. See, the whole land is before you; go wherever you think it good and right to go.” (verse 4)
Verse 6 tells us Jeremiah chooses to stay in Judah, and he goes to Mizpah to live under the newly appointed governor of Judah, a man named Gedaliah. Jeremiah no doubt appreciated the kinship he shared with Gedaliah. They had the same perspective on God’s dealing with Judah; in fact, Gedaliah’s father had saved Jeremiah’s life back in chapter 26.
Gedaliah’s message to the people of Judah is given here in verse 9: “Do not be afraid to serve the Chaldeans. Dwell in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.”
To the average man or woman of Judah, this does not sound very patriotic at all—it sounds like treason! Verse 14 tells us a man named Ishmael makes plans to assassinate Gedaliah. Unfortunately, Gedaliah dismisses this as nothing more than a rumor.
In chapter 41, it becomes evident it is not a rumor at all. Ishmael murders Gedaliah and takes captive the remaining people of the city of Mizpah, which apparently includes the prophet Jeremiah. We are about to watch the people of Judah repeat the same mistakes their forefathers had made. They had learned nothing from history and so now launch another rebellion.
Now I don’t know what kind of career path Ishmael thought he was on, but murdering Gedaliah and leading a rebellion against Babylon is effectively rebelling against the will of God. It might look like he is succeeding in his quest for power, but it’s only a matter of time before it all catches up with him.
We are told here in chapter 42 that a leader named Johanan gathers a small force and pursues Ishmael. Johanan is able to rescue the hostages, but Ishmael escapes.
Now Johanan and his little army are afraid the king of Babylon is going to blame them for the death of Gedaliah. So, they decide, against the advice of Jeremiah, to flee to the land of Egypt. Again, they are repeating the mistakes of history, just as their forefathers did when they trusted in Egypt rather than in God.
Let me just say, beloved, that the safest place in all the world to be is in the will of God. And the most dangerous place to be is in disobedience to His will.
Now to their credit, before leaving for Egypt, Johanan and the people of Judah come to Jeremiah. They know what God has said through Jeremiah, but they are wondering if God has changed His mind. So, in verse 2 they ask Jeremiah to inquire of God again.
Jeremiah agrees, and after ten days he delivers God’s answer to them:
“If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up . . . Do not fear the king of Babylon . . . for I am with you.” (verses 10-11)
In other words, if they stay in the land of Judah, which seems dangerous, the Lord will establish them; but if they disobey God and go to Egypt, which seems safer, that will lead to their destruction. In fact, verse 17 promises, “All . . . who set their faces to go to Egypt to live there shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.”
The Lord cannot be any clearer. But as chapter 43 opens, the people respond by saying to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie.The Lord our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there’” (verse 2).
So much for asking God for guidance!
Isn’t this just like people today? Maybe you are teaching a Bible study or pastoring a church, and you are teaching people the truth of God’s Word. And they accuse you of making it all up or misrepresenting God’s Word. Why? Well, just as in Jeremiah’s day, God’s Word does not match their perceptions or preferences, so God must be wrong! And you—His messenger—must be out of touch and on the wrong side of history.
Well, with that defiant spirit, verse 6 tells us the people of Judah take off for Egypt, and they force Jeremiah to go with them. But when they arrive in Egypt, Jeremiah pronounces another prophecy of coming judgment. And this prophecy has an object lesson to go along with it.
God tells Jeremiah here in verse 9 to bury two large stones beneath the pavement at the entrance of Pharaoh’s palace. He is then to prophesy that the Babylonian king will set his throne above these two buried stones.
I can imagine Pharaoh was not too happy with having to fix his front porch there at the palace, much less with the news that he was not going to be around for very long.
Chapter 44 records another prophecy from Jeremiah to the people of Judah because of their ongoing idolatry. He condemns them for “making offerings to other gods” (verse 8). Particularly in view here are offerings made to the “queen of heaven.”
The worship of this goddess apparently was popular among the women of Judah, who are now living in Egypt. In fact, a large contingent of them show up here in verse 17 to argue with Jeremiah. They tell him that all their needs will be met as long as they offer their worship to the queen of heaven.
Well, let me tell you, the King of heaven—the true King who created heaven and earth—is not impressed. He sends a message back to them through Jeremiah, warning them of further judgment, and then God makes this profound statement in verse 28: “All the remnant of Judah, who came to the land of Egypt to live, shall know whose word will stand, mine or theirs.”
I can’t help but think of another warning, that one day, yet future, the entire unbelieving world will appear before God and discover that the word of man will not stand but the word of God will stand forever.
People today have forgotten the lesson of history. Those who rebel against God and reject His invitation to repent are going to stand before His final judgment. It does not matter how religious you are or how safe you feel in the approval of the world; the word of man will not stand against the word of God. (Revelation 21:11-15)
I hear leaders and people today say, “I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history.” Well, you don’t want to be on the wrong side of God. Let’s learn this lesson well. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of history. Let’s not rebel against the Creator, the King of heaven and earth whose word will stand forever.
 Quoted in Reader’s Digest, Quotable Quotes: Wit & Wisdom for Every Occasion (Reader’s Digest Association, 1997), 32.