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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 11–18
Verses 11–18

It would have been well if Johanan, when he gave information to Gedaliah of Ishmael’s treasonable design, though he could not obtain leave to kill Ishmael and to prevent it that way, yet had staid with Gedaliah; for he, and his captains, and their forces, might have been a life-guard to Gedaliah and a terror to Ishmael, and so have prevented the mischief without the effusion of blood: but, it seems they were out upon some expedition, perhaps no good one, and so were out of the way when they should have been upon the best service. Those that affect to ramble are many times out of their place when they are most needed. However, at length they hear of all the evil that Ishmael had done (Jer. 41:11), and are resolved to try an after-game, which we have an account of in these verses. 1. We heartily wish Johanan could have taken revenge upon the murderers, but he prevailed only to rescue the captives. Those that had shed so much blood, it was a pity but their blood should have been shed; and it is strange that vengeance suffered them to live; yet it did. Johanan gathered what forces he could and went to fight with Ishmael (Jer. 41:12), upon notice of the murders he had committed (for though he concealed it for a time, Jer. 41:4; yet murder will out) and which way he was gone; he pursued him, and overtook him by the great pool of Gibeon, which we read of, 2 Sam. 2:13. And, upon his appearing with such a force, Ishmael’s heart failed him, his guilty conscience flew in his face, and he durst not stand his ground against an enemy that was something like a match for him. The most cruel are often the most cowardly. The poor captives were glad when they saw Johanan and the captains that were with him, looking upon them as their deliverers (Jer. 41:13), and they immediately found a way to wheel about and come over to them (Jer. 41:14), Ishmael not offering to detain them when he saw Johanan. Note, Those that would be helped must help themselves. These captives staid not till their conquerors were beaten, but took the first opportunity to make their escape, as soon as they saw their friends appear and their enemies thereby disheartened. Ishmael quitted his pray to save his life, and escaped with eight men, Jer. 41:15. It seems, two of his ten men, that were his banditti or assassins (spoken of Jer. 41:1), either deserted him or were killed in the engagement; but he made the best of his way to the Ammonites, as a perfect renegado, that had quite abandoned all relation to the commonwealth of Israel, though he was of the seed royal, and we hear no more of him. 2. We heartily wish that Johanan, when he had rescued the captives, would have sat down quietly with them, and governed them peaceably, as Gedaliah did; but, instead of that, he is for leading them into the land of Egypt, as Ishmael would have led them into the land of the Ammonites; so that though he got the command over them in a better way than Ishmael did, and honestly enough, yet he did not use it much better. Gedaliah, who was of a meek and quiet spirit, was a great blessing to them; but Johanan, who was of a fierce and restless spirit, was set over them for their hurt, and to complete their ruin, even after they were, as they thought, redeemed. Thus did God still walk contrary to them. (1.) The resolution of Johanan and the captains was very rash; nothing would serve them but they would go to enter into Egypt (Jer. 41:17), and, in order to that, they encamped for a time in the habitation of Chimham, by Bethlehem, David’s city. Probably it was some land which David gave to Chimham, the son of Barzillai, which, though it returned to David’s family at the year of the Jubilee, yet still bore the name of Chimham. Here Johanan made his headquarters, steering his course towards Egypt, either from a personal affection to that country or an ancient national confidence in the Egyptians for help in distress. Some of the mighty men of war, it seems had escaped; those he took with him, and the women and children, whom he had recovered from Ishmael, who were thus emptied from vessel to vessel, because they were yet unchanged. (2.) The reason for this resolution was very frivolous. They pretended that they were afraid of the Chaldeans, that they would come and do I know not what with them, because Ishmael had killed Gedaliah, Jer. 41:18. I cannot think they really had any apprehensions of danger upon this account; for, though it is true that the Chaldeans had cause enough to resent the murder of their viceroy, yet they were not so unreasonable, or unjust, as to revenge it upon those who appeared so vigorously against the murderers. But they only make use of this as a sham to cover that corrupt inclination of their unbelieving ancestors, which was so strong in them, to return into Egypt. Those will justly lose their comfort in real fears that excuse themselves in sin with pretended fears.