The Babylonians had come and gone. Though Jerusalem lay in ruins, those who were left in the land, and those who returned to the land from surrounding regions, sensed somewhat of a return to normality. A governor, Gedaliah, had been set in place by the conquering Chaldeans and, along with him, some semblance of order had been re-established. And, the daily, mundane tasks of working the land were once again their preoccupation as “they gathered wine and summer fruits in great abundance” (Jer. 40:12).
But then someone upset their apple cart. A foreign power sets their eye on the vulnerable land of the Jewish remnant. The governor is murdered. Violence returns to the land. Turmoil and uncertainty again greet every dawn as people wonder how are the Babylonians going to respond to their appointed governor being taken out? What to do?
Pray. Or, at least have Jeremiah pray for them.
[They] said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Let our plea for mercy come before you, and pray to the LORD your God for us, for all this remnant — because we are left with but a few, as your eyes see us — that the LORD your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do. . . . Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the LORD our God.”
(Jeremiah 42:2-6 ESV)
Seems simple enough. Jeremiah, we know you’re a prophet. Things have played out just as you, for years, have told us it would. Where we are now, is exactly where you said we’d be, though many refused to believe you. So now, we’re coming to you for another word from the LORD your God. Things are crazy around here. We need some guidance. Show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do.
So Jeremiah prays. And the LORD his God answers. But it’s not the people wanted to hear. Be careful what you pray for.
They thought there should be a way to go. They were expecting to be given something we should do. Instead, the response is, “Stay where you are.”
[Jeremiah] said to them, “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. . . . The LORD has said to you, O remnant of Judah, ‘Do not go to Egypt.'”
(Jeremiah 42:9-11, 19a ESV)
And the people’s response? We’re going to Egypt!
When Jeremiah finished speaking to all the people all these words of the LORD their God, with which the LORD their God had sent him to them, . . . [they] said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie. The LORD our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there’” . . . And they came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the LORD.
(Jeremiah 43:1-2, 7 ESV)
It really is an incredible story as you chew on it. Whatever the Lord says we will do, they say. Whether good or bad, they say, we will obey. But they were bluffing. They were so sure of their own wisdom and ways that, when God’s way was a different way, they responded, “No way!”
As they assessed the situation they thought that what the way to go, and the thing we should do, was a no-brainer. As they leaned on their own understanding, they were confident they understood what should be done. Head for the hills. Or, at least direct themselves towards the delta. Leave the uncertainty. Find a way out of the chaos. And what they really wanted when they asked Jeremiah to pray was to get some heavenly approval for their earthly thinking. But God said, “Don’t do it!” But they did it, anyhow.
And you sit back and think, “How dumb!” And then you think on it some more and you start to acknowledge, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
How often do we want out of our current circumstance? How often do we think we know the best way out? And then we “pray about it.” Not seeking God’s wisdom and way as much as we’re wanting God’s amen and approval. We start with, “God show me whatever’s the right thing to do.” But when it’s not our way we respond, effectively, “That’s what you want me to do? Whatever!”
Sometimes . . . maybe most times . . . it’s hard to stay put in a hard situation. It’s hard to trust that God is present and that His promises are still in play. It’s hard not to fear. It’s hard to believe that He will deliver us out of the trial someday when we think we know a way we can deliver ourselves today.
So be careful what you pray for. It could be hard.
But it will always be the right way to go and the right thing to do.
By His grace. For His glory.