“‘The LORD has said to you, O remnant of Judah, “Do not go to Egypt.” Know for a certainty that I have warned you this day that you have gone astray at the cost of your lives’” (Jeremiah 42:19-20a).
When the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem, they took captives from the highest levels of society. In the first wave, they captured the king’s family and his nobles, coming back a second time for the middle class. By the time their invasion was done, only the poorest of the poor were left in the city. The Babylonians treated them with relative kindness, giving them the land that was now left vacant and establishing a governor to keep things running smoothly. For many of the people, this was the nicest life they had ever known.
Despite this unexpected good fortune, though, the people were discontent. They didn’t like the thought of living under the rule of the Babylonians, even though the governor was one of their own and the Babylonians didn’t really interfere in their daily lives. Things became even worse when the governor was murdered. The people didn’t feel at all safe, and they began to look elsewhere for help. Soon, they turned their thoughts toward Egypt. If there was any nation who could properly defend them against Babylon, surely it was Egypt. This nation was powerful, with a mighty army of its own. Surely Pharaoh would protect them if they fled to him for help and free them from Babylonian slavery.
The people decided to go to Jeremiah for advice on this issue, promising to listen to whatever God told him. But when Jeremiah informed the people that God wanted them to stay in Jerusalem, they rebelled. They insisted Jeremiah was lying, and they went to Egypt anyway, dragging the prophet along with them.
What they didn’t know, though, was that Egypt itself was soon to be defeated by Babylon. In fleeing to this place of presumed safety, the people were actually running into a greater danger. If they had stayed in Jerusalem as God had instructed, they would have lived. Now they would meet the same fate as the Egyptians.
How many times do we do the same thing? We look at our circumstances and panic, convincing ourselves that all sorts of terrible things will happen if we stay where we are. We refuse to listen to God’s assurances that He is working everything out, looking instead for somewhere else to place our trust. We supplant God with a false sense of human security, putting our hope in things of the world. But God knows what He’s doing! He does not give instructions without a reason. The only safe place in the world is the center of His will. Looking outside of that will only bring us to greater harm. We must learn to trust what God says, even when our human perspective tells us He’s wrong.