Toward the end of Jeremiah (chapters 41-44) after the Babylonians had conquered Jerusalem, the Babylonians had set in place a governor over the region—Gedaliah. Well, there were some forces that didn’t like this foreign appointed governor so they killed Gedaliah. The folks that did this were soon brought to judgment by the people left in Jerusalem but they then faced a difficult future. Once the Babylonians heard that Gedaliah had been murdered they could come back and even do more destruction on them. So they thought of leaving and traveling to Egypt for protection. The people approach Jeremiah and ask him to seek the Lord’s will. Jeremiah tells them he will ask the Lord but they must listen to it. The people respond:
Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with the whole message with which the Lord your God will send to you to us. Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, so that it may go well with us when we listen to the voice of the Lord our God.” --Jeremiah 42.5-6
Doesn’t that sound great—“whatever God says, even if we don’t like it, we will obey!” Jeremiah goes and asks God what to do and he says not to go to Egypt but to stay in Jerusalem. He promises that it will be okay for them from the Babylonians. And how do the people respond? Do they humbly listen and submit? Not hardly. Here is there reply:
“You are telling a lie! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You are not to enter Egypt to reside there’; but Baruch the son of Neriah is inciting you against us to give us over into the hand of the Chaldeans, so they will put us to death or exile us to Babylon.” --Jeremiah 43.2-3
So the people go down to Egypt in defiance of the Lord’s word through Jeremiah. They even force Jeremiah to go with them. In Egypt the Lord continues to warn his people through his prophet Jeremiah. He rebukes their idolatry for the people were burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven. Will the people now listen to the Lord? Here is how they respond to Jeremiah’s message:
“As for the message that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we are not going to listen to you! But rather we will certainly carry out every word that has proceeded from our mouths, by burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven…” --Jeremiah 44.16-17
This is an amazing display of rebellion. This was God’s people who supposed to “live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8.3) but now they are arrogantly stating that they will “carry out every word that has proceeded from our mouths.”
Before we are too hard on these people we should examine our own hearts and lives. Do we do the same thing as they did? Do we say, “I just want to hear what God wants.” And then when we are shown the word of God and it challenges our desires do we run away in defiance? The choice before us is this: Will we live by the word of God or will we live by our words? These things were written for our instruction (1 Corinthians 10.11). May we heed the message and listen to the word of God. He knows best.