40 The word of the Eternal came again to Jeremiah after Nebuzaradan (captain of the imperial guard) found the prophet in chains with the rest of the exiles from Jerusalem and Judah and let him go. He had been taken to Ramah with the others who would soon be deported to Babylon. 2 When the captain of the imperial guard learned of the mix-up, he took Jeremiah aside and spoke to him.
In the aftermath of war, confusion and mistakes are rampant. Nebuchadnezzar himself has ordered that Jeremiah be placed in the care of Gedaliah (39:11–12), but some incompetent staff member has sent Jeremiah to be processed for exile in Babylon. It falls to Nebuzaradan to try to fix the mistake, before it is too late.
Nebuzaradan: Your God, the Eternal, commanded all of this to happen. 3 He brought this disaster on this land, just as He said He would. And it all happened because your people sinned against the Eternal and refused to obey His voice. 4 But today I am giving you your freedom. I am ordering the chains removed from your wrists. I am also giving you the chance to decide where you will live. If you’d like, you can come with me to Babylon, and I will look out for you. But if you’d rather not come to Babylon, then don’t. Look around you; you can go from here today and live anywhere you want. You decide.
5 But before Jeremiah turned to leave, Nebuzaradan made a suggestion.
Nebuzaradan: Why don’t you go back to Gedaliah (son of Ahikim and grandson of Shaphan)? The king of Babylon has put him in charge of the towns of Judah. You could live with him and still be among your people. But again, feel free to go where you please.
At this point, the captain gave Jeremiah some food and supplies, along with a gift, and released him. 6 Jeremiah took his advice and went to Mizpah where Gedaliah (son of Ahikim) had settled. There he remained with the others who had been left behind in the land of Judah.
7 The news reached Judah’s army officers and soldiers who were scattered throughout the countryside that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah (son of Ahikam) governor and put him in charge of the men, women, and children—the poor people of the land—who had not been deported to Babylon. 8 So a group of them came to Gedaliah’s home in Mizpah to meet with him. These included Ishmael (son of Nethaniah), Johanan and Jonathan (sons of Kareah), Seraiah (son of Tanhumeth), the sons of Ephai the Netophathite, and Jezaniah (son of the Maacathite), along with all their men. 9 Gedaliah (son of Ahikam and grandson of Shaphan) reassured those who gathered.
Gedaliah (to the leaders and their men): Do not be afraid to serve the Chaldeans. If you will settle peacefully in the land, agree to serve the king of Babylon, and give up any idea of rebelling against him, things will go well for you. 10 I will continue to live here in Mizpah and act as your representative whenever the Chaldeans come and want something from us. Go back and live in the villages and towns you have taken over. Harvest the grapes for wine, the summer fruits, and the olives for oil. Store what you gather, and live your lives in peace.
11 When all the Judeans living in Moab, Ammon, Edom, and the other neighboring nations heard that the king of Babylon had permitted a few people to remain in Judah and left Gedaliah (son of Ahikam and grandson of Shaphan) in charge, 12 they began to return home to the land of Judah from all the places to which they had run. With Gedaliah as their leader, governing from Mizpah, they returned to their ancestral lands to gather a great harvest of grapes for wine and summer crops.
This ragtag group of fugitives and survivors, along with the poorest of the poor, try to go back to life as normal. Perhaps there is still a glimmer of hope.
13 Now Johanan (son of Kareah) and the rest of the army officers who were still in the field came to Mizpah to speak with Gedaliah.
Johanan (speaking for the rest): 14 Are you aware that Ishmael (son of Nethaniah) has been hired by Baalis, the king of the Ammonites, to kill you?
But Gedaliah (son of Ahikam) had not heard of this threat and was not inclined to believe them. 15 So while he was in Mizpah, Johanan asked to speak with Gedaliah privately.
Johanan: Authorize me to go and kill Ishmael (son of Nethaniah). No one will know what happened. Should he be allowed to kill you just because he thinks you’re a pawn of Babylon? Think of what will happen to those Jews who have returned home and look to you as their leader. They will be scattered again, left to die because Babylon would consider this an act of aggression against them.
Gedaliah: 16 Do not kill him! What you are saying about Ishmael is not true!