This chapter is a gem. There are so many lessons to learn about prayer and following the prophets that it is surprising this story has not become part of LDS commentary either in conference or in the writings of prophets and scholars. The issues are accepting our answers to prayer, the timing of the Lord, following the prophet when we disagree, trusting in the power of God instead of the arm of flesh, and being obedient.
Jeremiah 42:1-3 all the people… came near, And said unto Jeremiah… pray for us unto the Lord
After Jerusalem was sacked, the survivors, many of whom lived in surrounding rural areas, gathered to Gedaliah at Mizpah. By now, as we have read in preceding chapters, Gedaliah has been assassinated and the remnant were almost taken captive to the Ammonites. Johanan has brought them back towards Egypt and they have stopped in Bethlehem. So they ask the prophet what they should do. Their language is sincere, “that the Lord may shew us the way wherein we may walk, and the thing that we may do… Whether it be good, or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God.” (v. 3, 6) It sounds sincere. They say they will do whatever God wants.
In reality, they are scared to death that Nebuchadnezzar is going to dispatch soldiers to destroy the remnant because of the assassination of Gedaliah and the Chaldeans that were with him at the time. They lived in an era of superpowers. The new superpower was Babylon; the old one was Egypt. They really thought the safest thing to do was to go to Egypt. That is what they want the answer to be—Go to Egypt! But that is not what they say in their petition to Jeremiah. Instead, they claim they will do whatever the Lord asks him to do.
Isn’t that like us when we pray for something we feel strongly about? We know what we want and we want God to approve. We might say in our prayer, “I will follow thee, thy will be done,” but in our hearts we are thinking, I really want the answer to be what I want it to be.
Jeremiah 42:6 Whether it be good, or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of the Lord
Did they really mean what they were saying? Were they really willing to do whatever the Lord asked? Are we?
Richard G. Scott
It is so hard when sincere prayer about something we desire very much is not answered the way we want. It is especially difficult when the Lord answers “no” to that which is worthy and would give us great joy and happiness. Whether it be overcoming illness or loneliness, recovery of a wayward child, coping with a handicap, or seeking continuing life for a dear one who is slipping away, it seems so reasonable and so consistent with our happiness to have a favorable answer. It is hard to understand why our exercise of deep and sincere faith from an obedient life does not bring the desired result. (“Trust in the Lord,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 16)
Robert D. Hales
It takes great faith and courage to pray to our Heavenly Father, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” The faith to believe in the Lord and endure brings great strength… Faithful prayers may be offered to change or moderate events in our life, but we must always remember that when concluding each prayer, there is an understanding: “Thy will be done” (Matt. 26:42). Faith in the Lord includes trust in the Lord. (“Behold, We Count Them Happy Which Endure,” Ensign, May 1998, 77)
Boyd K. Packer
In virtually every ward or branch there are chronic cases of individuals who endlessly seek counsel but never follow the counsel that is given. That, some may assume, is not serious. I think it is very serious! Like the common cold, it drains more strength out of humanity than any other disease. (“Self-Reliance,” Ensign, Aug. 1975, 87)
Jeremiah 42:7 after ten days… the word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah
Was the Lord too busy to answer Jeremiah right away? Was he busy with another world? Or perhaps as Elijah sarcastically pondered of Baal, “either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.” (1 Kgs. 18:27) Why the 10-day wait? If we have enough faith to believe that God delayed his answer for a reason better than “He was too busy,” then what was the reason?
Imagine what is going on in the minds of this remnant headed for Egypt. They are pretending not to have their hearts set on Egypt, but they do. They must have been thinking, “Come on! The Babylonians could be half way here by now! It has been more than a week! We have to get out of here fast!” So their anxiety is building during the waiting period. They are being tested; their faith is being tried; the delayed response is part of their trial. How often does that happen to us when we are in a hurry?
Neal A. Maxwell
Faith also includes trust in God’s timing, for He has said, “All things must come to pass in their time.” (D&C 64:32.) Ironically, some who acknowledge God are tried by His timing, globally and personally!
Faith likewise includes faith in God’s developmental purposes, for “the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.” (Mosiah 23:21.) Still, some of us have trouble when God’s tutoring is applied to us! (“Lest Ye Be Wearied and Faint in Your Minds,” Ensign, May 1991, 90)
Jeremiah 42:11 Be not afraid of the king of Babylon… for I am with you to save you, and to deliver you from his hand
For years Jeremiah prophesied the opposite thing. He had been saying, “The king of Babylon is coming to punish you for your wickedness. The Lord will not protect you. The walls of Jerusalem will not protect you. Even the temple will be destroyed. You must surrender.” Kings would come to him and ask for the word of the Lord expecting the answer that the Lord had given other Jewish kings, “I will save you. Be not afraid. I will fight your battles.” Instead, they were told God wouldn’t save them. (Jer. 38)
Now, however, Jeremiah’s message changes. The punishment has been meted out, and the Lord is ready to protect his people again. All they have to do is trust in Him. They need the faith to believe that God is more powerful than Nebuchadnezzar. They had been taken captive by a renegade named Ishmael, but needed to trust that God would protect them from future would be captors.
“I am with you to save you.” Wouldn’t we all love to hear the Lord tell us that? Through the prophet, He has told us the same thing. Are we like the remnant who still trusted in the strength of man, or are we like Jeremiah who trusted in the Lord? The destructions attending the Second Coming will try the souls of the latter-day saints.
“President Woodruff has said that the Savior will fight the battles of Judah: ‘… but when this affliction comes, the living God, that led Moses through the wilderness, will deliver you, and your Shiloh will come and stand in your midst and will fight your battles; and you will know him, and the afflictions of the Jews will be at an end, while the destruction of the Gentiles will be so great that it will take the whole house of Israel who are gathered about Jerusalem, seven months to bury the dead of their enemies, and the weapons of war will last them seven years for fuel, so that they need not go to any forest for wood. These are tremendous sayings—who can bear them? Nevertheless they are true, and will be fulfilled, according to the sayings of Ezekiel, Zechariah, and other prophets. Though the heavens and the earth pass away, not one jot or tittle will fall unfilled.’” (Daniel H. Ludlow, “The Future of the Holy Land,” Ensign, May 1972, 103)
Jeremiah 42:15-16 If ye wholly set your faces to enter into Egypt… the sword which ye feared, shall overtake you there
In the lives of the remnant Jews, Egypt had never been invaded by an outside power. There had not been a famine in Egypt in recent memory. Jeremiah is prophesying a most improbable thing—that Egypt will not be safe for them and that they will suffer from hunger amidst Egypt’s great stores of food. When God prophesies something that doesn’t coincide with our personal experience, it takes real faith to believe. As usual, that faith is being tested. At least the Lord is telling them exactly what will happen if they are disobedient to His counsel, but the truth is a difficult pill to swallow.
Jeremiah 42:18 ye shall be an execration
An execration is something that is cursed, utterly detested (Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, 1945).
Jeremiah 42:20-21 For ye dissembled in your hearts, when ye sent me unto the Lord your God… but ye have not obeyed
Both God and Jeremiah knew that the people had their hearts set on Egypt. They had their hearts set on an answer before they asked, yet they made it sound so sincere when they declared, “Whether it be good, or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of the Lord” (v. 6). In reality, they were lying when they said, “we will obey the word of the Lord.” That can’t be a good thing! We must be careful not to make the same mistake when we petition the Lord.
Jeremiah 43:2 all the proud men, [said] unto Jeremiah, thou speakest falsely
Poor Jeremiah! Nobody ever believes him. He has been right about everything—the destruction of the city—the fate of Zedekiah—the destruction of the temple—yet still he is rejected. That must have been emotionally exhausting and deeply disheartening.
The language here is interesting; it is the “proud men” who accused Jeremiah of speaking falsely. In every age, isn’t it always the “proud men” who reject the prophets?
John K. Carmack
“The scriptures warn against disloyalty to the Lord's anointed. ‘And if any man lift his voice against you [Joseph Smith the Prophet] he shall be confounded in mine own due time’ (D&C 71:10). In D&C 121:1 we read, ‘Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them.… Wo unto them; because they have offended my little ones they shall be severed from the ordinances of mine house.’ (D&C 121:16, 19.)
“…The anointed, in the eyes of the Church, is the prophet of God… To speak against the Lord's anointed, particularly in public, is an act of pride and apostasy.” (Tolerance: Principles, Practices, Obstacles, Limits [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1993], 137)
Jeremiah 43:3 Baruch the son of Neriah setteth thee on against us
Sure! Blame Baruch. He seems to be a little strange anyway. He must have pressured Jeremiah into this suicidal plan.
Jeremiah 43:4 So Johanan… and all the people obeyed not the voice of the Lord
Johanan is a man of great strength. He has rallied for the protection of the Jews and has been a hero in a time of crisis—until now. All the strength of character can’t make up for his disobedience to the word of the Lord. All his physical strength won’t be able to protect him against the Chaldeans—even in Egypt. It is a fatal flaw with a heavy price!
This crisis is so relevant for our times. The conflict is between public opinion and the prophet of God, between political correctness and spiritual correctness. The advice of the prophet is completely illogical! It makes no sense to stay in the land of Israel with no protection from anyone but God. The natural man has a very strong instinct to protect himself. For the people, it’s not just a matter of right and wrong or political expediency, their very lives are on the line. They are displaced and exposed. The fear must have been gnawing holes in their souls. These were the darkest times in the history of the nation. Under such circumstances, did they have the faith to follow the prophet and obey the Lord? Do we?
M. Russell Ballard
One thing is certain: the commandments have not changed. Let there be no mistake about that. Right is still right. Wrong is still wrong, no matter how cleverly cloaked in respectability or political correctness... It is neither subject to public opinion polls nor dependent upon situation or circumstance. There is no need to debate it or other gospel standards… The challenge before us is great. At risk are the immortal souls of those we love. (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1999/04/like-a-flame-unquenchable?lang=eng)
Neal A. Maxwell
Submission includes not shrinking… not drawing back from what is presented to us… We see this in President Brigham Young's life, which is one reason to quote from him often. As he said, even in the midst of deep and discouraging blackness we are to trust in the Lord in order to show that we are "a friend of God" by being "righteous in the dark." On another occasion, Brigham Young called for us to be faithful even if circumstances are "darker than 10,000 midnights." (That Ye May Believe [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1992], 4)
Jeremiah 43:6 Jeremiah and Baruch accompany the Israelites to Egypt
About 900 years prior this event, Moses had led the children of Israel out of Egypt so that he could bring them into the promised land. Having lost their nation through wickedness, the remnant now decides to go back to Egypt. They were going the wrong direction! Moses went out of Egypt to the promised land! Now they were going back! The first time, they were led by a prophet and the mighty hand of God. This time, they disobeyed the prophet and were punished with a mighty hand.
Jeremiah 43:9 take great stones in thine hand and hide them in the clay in the brickkiln
When Joshua brought the people into the land of Israel, the waters of the Jordan River were parted. The Lord commanded that 12 stones be taken and set up as a memorial of the covenant (Josh. 4:1-9). Jeremiah takes great stones like in Joshua’s day. But this is not a memorial to be honored for centuries; it is something of an embarrassment. Instead of marking the greatness of God in bringing the children into the land of Israel, they mark the wickedness of the people in going to Egypt. Instead of being displayed out in the open for subsequent generations to see, they are buried in the clay of Egypt as a reminder of the Israelite bondage wherein they made bricks for Pharaoh. The Jews had come full circle, from slaves in Egypt to freemen in Israel and back to Egypt. They were back to the clay and brickkilns (Ex. 5:7-9).
Notice that the Lord commands Jeremiah to hide them “in the sight of the men of Judah.” Did the Jews understand the symbolism? Did they realize what they had done? Probably, they could only remember that Egypt’s reputation as a superpower. They had no idea what they were giving up or what it meant. So Jeremiah gets to go back to the same old speech he had been giving for decades, “The Babylonians are coming! The Babylonians are coming!” It is an old warning from a tired prophet. Acting as God’s servant, he will punish them and also destroy the gods of Egypt. While he is there, he might as well. The idol smashing is just evidence that Nebuchadnezzar is doing the Lord’s bidding.
Jeremiah 43:10-13 I will send and take Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and… he shall smite the land of Egypt
God signified to the prophet that the king of Babylon was about making an expedition against the Egyptians… which things came to pass accordingly; for on the fifth year after the destruction of Jerusalem, which was the twenty-third of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, he made an expedition against Coelesyria; and when he had possessed himself of it, he made war against the Ammonites and Moabites; and when he had brought all those nations under subjection, he fell upon Egypt, in order to overthrow it; and he slew the king (i.e. pharaoh) that then reigned, and set up another: and he took those Jews that were there captives, and led them away to Babylon and such was the end of the nation of the Hebrews. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, 9:7)