“Then they said to Jeremiah, ‘May the LORD be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to all the word with which the LORD your God sends you to us. Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God to Whom we are sending you….’” (Jeremiah 42:5-6a)
By the end of the Babylonian conquest of Judah, there were very few people left in Jerusalem. The remnant that remained was made up of people so poor that the Babylonians had no interest in them. But they were still afraid. Recently, their governor had been murdered by someone they trusted, and they had no idea what would happen to them next. So they all came together and sought Jeremiah’s advice, begging him to speak to God on their behalf. To demonstrate their sincerity, they promised that whatever God told them, they would do. They wanted to go to Egypt, but they assured Jeremiah that if God wanted them to stay, then they would listen.
As they had requested, Jeremiah spoke to God about what they should do. And God’s message was an order to not to go to Egypt. Instead, He promised that if the people would remain in Jerusalem, He would be merciful to them and protect them, and they would never have to leave. But if they insisted on going to Egypt, everything they were running from would come upon them. There would be war, famine, and disease, and they would all die there.
After Jeremiah delivered this message, the people’s reaction was not a surprise to him. In line with their usual behavior, they instantly rebelled, arguing that this couldn’t really be what God had said. They immediately broke their promise to obey even if the word was bad, and every last one of them went to Egypt. Receiving a message they didn’t want to hear, they utterly refused to believe it.
Though our first reaction to this is probably irritation at the Israelites, let’s stop for a moment and examine our own lives. How many of us have acted in just this way, piously promising to do whatever God tells us, but then backing down when we see the mission He has for us? So many of us have the mindset that, of course, we’ll do what God wants—provided it’s something that we already wanted to do. When He says to do something we don’t like, it’s quite a different story.
The root problem here is that we value our own comfort more than God’s words. Nothing is more important to us than our security. So, at the expense of obeying our Master, we stay where we are, once again following our own will instead of His. As the people of Israel learned, this has serious consequences. They were afraid of what would happen to them, but by going to something that seemed good to them, they ended up bringing disaster on their own heads.
The thing is, God knows the future. He sees the outcome of every event, and He promises that what He does is for our good. But as always, it’s our choice whether or not to believe Him. In the end, it all comes down to this—will we trust our own sinful selves, focusing only on what we can see? Or will we believe God, trusting that He truly does know what He’s talking about? The Israelites put their faith in themselves and suffered for it; will we make the same mistake?