Ishmael made captives of all the rest of the people who were in Mizpah—the king’s daughters along with all the others who were left there, over whom Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard had appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam. Ishmael son of Nethaniah took them captive and set out to cross over to the Ammonites. When Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers who were with him heard about all the crimes Ishmael son of Nethaniah had committed, they took all their men and went to fight Ishmael son of Nethaniah. They caught up with him near the great pool in Gibeon. When all the people Ishmael had with him saw Johanan son of Kareah and the army officers who were with him, they were glad. All the people Ishmael had taken captive at Mizpah turned and went over to Johanan son of Kareah. But Ishmael son of Nethaniah and eight of his men escaped from Johanan and fled to the Ammonites. – Jeremiah 41:10-15
I took a couple days to eddy out and ponder this passage and this part of Jeremiah. It does seem like a bleak time in the life of Israel and Judah. The last couple of passages have recounted Ishmael doing some pretty horrendous things in the name of “purity”. He has used cisterns to both imprison Jeremiah, and store a raft of people he murdered. I guess it is not too surprising that he feels that he has overstayed his welcome in Jerusalem and Judah and is now fleeing, with the people he spared from death, to the east across the Jordan.
I had to review my geography for this passage. The ammonites live east of the Jordan and one had to cross mountains to reach them from Jerusalem. Apparently Ishmael is headed north out of Jerusalem and is being pursued by a posse of people bent on retribution for his brutal murders. They catch up to him “near the great pool in Gibeon”.
The location of Gibeon has been mentioned a few times up to this point in the bible. Back in Isaiah 28:16-21, God described a “strange work” that would be required in the valley of Gibeon, and the Pool of Gibeon was also the site of a senseless sacrifice of warriors described in 2 Samuel 2:8-26.
The prisoners that were being led by Ishmael across the countryside were understandably glad when Johanan and his army caught up to them. Apparently Ishmael and his men were out-manned and out-gunned and decided to cut their losses and leave the prisoners rather than fight it out at the “great pool” of Gibeon. They head east, cross the Jordan River, and hide out in the land of the Ammonites. This guy Ishmael sounds like a coward to me. He surprises and slaughters the people in Jerusalem, runs away with his “spoils”, then drops the spoils and runs east as soon as it looks like he is in for a real fight.
I guess the only spiritual meaning I can glean from this is to not be like Ishmael. Although as I consider this passage and what is going on in the life of the people of Judah and Israel it occurs to me that the people who were in Jerusalem are not a good role model either. They were also disobeying God’s command to go into exile in Babylon. Granted the consequences seems pretty harsh, but Jeremiah did warn them that if they remained they would die.
That is pretty much what happened, they just did not know that it would happen at the hands of a fellow Israelite. They chose to follow their own path, both Ishmael and the people he killed. They chose to be free of God and the result was not good. God’s plan came to pass and in the end God wins.
Prayer: God when we make plans that do not include You we are bound to fail. Help us to seek to understand You plan and figure out our role in it.