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Jeremiah 42:7-17 – God’s Regret


God expresses regret regarding the excessive behaviors of the Babylonians in their execution of judgment against Israel.


Jeremiah 40-44 are set in the aftermath of the fall of Jerusalem. They narrate various features of the governorship of Gedaliah (appointed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E.) and the anarchy that follows upon his assassination by anti-Babylonian zealots. These chapters show how first one group and then another (which went down to Egypt and took Jeremiah with them) were eliminated as possible remnants for a new beginning for Israel. The only hope for Israel lies with the "remnant" in Babylon.

The basic issue faced in Jeremiah 42 is whether a key remnant, which stayed in the land after the destruction of Jerusalem, should proceed to Egypt. Jeremiah's counsel was for them to stay in the land and seek to rebuild it. They request a word of God from Jeremiah regarding their future. God's word in Jeremiah 42:10-12 has a very positive tone and outlook. If they remain in the land, God will build and plant them.

God's reason that informs this word is startling: God is sorry for bringing the disaster (the fall of Jerusalem) upon them! What does it mean for God to express regret? While various suggestions have been made, the most convincing is that it carries the sense of genuine divine regret (as in Genesis 6:5-6). The point is that the judgment and its painful effects proved to be more severe than God had intended. That is to say, the Babylonians far exceeded the divine mandate in the devastation they caused and made the land and the people a waste. God will pass judgment on them for their excessiveness (Jeremiah 25:12-14; 50-51; Isaiah 47). The language of Zechariah 1:15 puts it well: "while I was only a little angry, they made the disaster worse." God does not remove the divine self from responsibility for the choice of the means that resulted in an imperfect execution of the mandate.

Jeremiah 42:7-17

At the end of ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. 8Then he summoned Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces who were with him, and all the people from the least to the greatest, 9and said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your plea before him: 10If you will only 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 am sorry for the disaster that I have brought upon you. 11Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, as you have been; do not be afraid of him, says the Lord, for I am with you, to save you and to rescue you from his hand. 12I will grant you mercy, and he will have mercy on you and restore you to your native soil. 13But if you continue to say, “We will not stay in this land”, thus disobeying the voice of the Lord your God 14and saying, “No, we will go to the land of Egypt, where we shall not see war, or hear the sound of the trumpet, or be hungry for bread, and there we will stay”, 15then hear the word of the Lord, O remnant of Judah. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: If you are determined to enter Egypt and go to settle there, 16then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there, in the land of Egypt; and the famine that you dread shall follow close after you into Egypt; and there you shall die. 17All the people who have determined to go to Egypt to settle there shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; they shall have no remnant or survivor from the disaster that I am bringing upon them.

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