“It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.” No Dickens, but surely it was the tale of one city, Jerusalem.
Because King Zedekiah has decided to take a stand against the Babylonians, Jerusalem had fallen. After butchering the king’s sons before his eyes and then putting out those eyes, the Chaldeans turned their wrath upon the city. They burned the king’s house, they burned all the peoples’ houses, and they burned the house of the LORD. They broke down the walls which had defined the city, and carried into exile the inhabitants which had given soul to the city (2Kings 25:8-11). It was the worst of times.
And even after the dust had settled, for those left the political landscape continued to be uncertain. The governor that Babylon had set in place to watch over the Chaldean’s interests in the land was murdered by the Ammonites as the Ammonites sought to increase their interests in the region at Babylon’s expanse. And though the insurrection was squelched by those living in the land, it was anybody’s guess as to how the ruthless Chaldeans would react to a dead governor in their newly acquired territory. And so, because they were afraid of the Chaldeans, the people were intending to go to Egypt (Jer. 41:17-18).
So, you wanna go back to Egypt? The land of original bondage. A type of the world system.
Since the Exodus, so often when the going got tough, God’s people have been tempted to thinking that they could find refuge in the place from which they had been delivered. Whether it was thinking that the harshness of desert dwelling could be alleviated by “the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic” (Nu. 11:5), or that the possible consequences of the unpredictable Babylonians could be avoided by taking refuge in Pharoah’s courts, Egypt has often seemed like a good “Plan B” for those called to sojourn to, and stay in, the promised land.
So the people go to Jeremiah and say, Pray for us! . . . “that the LORD your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do” (Jer. 42:3).
And Jeremiah prays. And God says, Stay.
“Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your plea for mercy before Him: 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; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you. Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the LORD, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. I will grant you mercy, that he may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land.”
(Jeremiah 42:9-12 ESV)
And though they asked, and though God answered, they still weren’t convinced. Though they had sought a word and received not only a word but a warning as well, that going to Egypt would result in disaster (42:18-22), they disobeyed. Because they feared the uncertain circumstance before them, even though they were exactly were God said they should be, they sought certainty in the world.
And so, when God fulfilled His purposes for Egypt, that Nebuchadnezzar would strike their land too, the people of disobedience found only more retribution when refuge was what they sought (Jer. 43:8-13).
“Remain in this land . . . do not fear . . . do not fear,” says the Lord.
Fear can be a great destabilizer of faith. It can short-circuit our Spirit-directed internal GPS and, before we know it, the screen is flashing, “Re-routing.” And the world becomes an option. Its lies, believable. Its pleasures, desirable. Its pseudo-promises of rest, persuadable.
But God through His Spirit says, “Stay!” Remain in the land. For I am with you . . . to save you . . . to deliver you.
So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.”
(John 6:67-69 ESV)
To be sure, in the worst of times fear might very well whisper, “How ’bout goin’ back to Egypt?” Might we be ready to respond, “No way! For we have come to know the Holy One of God . . . the Word of eternal life!”
By God’s grace. For God’s glory.