Jeremiah, Ireland, the Stone of Scone, and the English Kings ...
CHAPTER III. MIZPAH
GEDALIAH, the grandson of Shaphan, the trusty Scribe or Secretary of State of good King Josiah (2 Chron. 34:15-18 and 20), whose appointment as Governor gave great satisfaction to the miserable residue of the nation, transferred the seat of his administration from the blackened ruins of the former capital to Mizpah, the fortress erected by the pious King Asa, a few miles north of Jerusalem (Jer. 40:10; 1 Kings 15. 22).
Here he made a compact with "all the captains of the forces which were in the fields and their men" and all the terror-stricken Jews who had fled before the Chaldean invaders into Moab, Edom, and other adjacent countries, who "when they heard that the King of Babylon had left a remnant of Judah, and that he had set over them Gedaliah .... returned out of all places whither they were driven, and came to the land of Judah to Gedaliah, unto Mizpah, and gathered wine and summer fruits very much" (Jer. 40:7-10).
Conspicuous amongst the many throngs of people who thus sought the countenance and protection of the kindly Governor was a little group of four persons, consisting of a venerable individual, whose lineaments bore the deep impress of great and recent sorrow, two young females of surpassing beauty, whose splendid dress and noble bearing indicated their high rank, and a quiet and serious man, whose mien was that of an upper and confidential servitor. Mark well this little band; for upon the life and welfare of one in that small and apparently insignificant company were suspended the most stupendous destinies - destinies which were to powerfully affect and influence, for good or evil, the status of Israel's Royal House, down to the final "restitution of all things."
The members of this small group who sought the presence of the Governor at Mizpah were the princess Tamar Tephi ("The Palm Beautiful ") the eldest of the surviving children of Zedekiah, and consequently, the Princess Royal of the House of Judah; her younger sister (whose name, unfortunately, has not come down to us), their great-grandfather, the weeping Prophet Jeremiah, and his secretary Baruch (Jer. 40:6).
We may be sure that Gedaliah was highly gratified when this illustrious party of notables presented themselves before him, and we may be equally certain that he received his welcome guests with all the honour due to their exalted rank: and this more especially in the case of Jeremiah. For "Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, gave charge concerning Jeremiah to Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, saying, `Take him, and look well to him, and do him no harm: but do unto him even as he shall say unto thee'" (Jer. 39:11, 12).
Knowing the expressed wish, or rather command of his Sovereign, Gedaliah would not dare run counter to it; and recognizing the sterling worth of the Prophet, and the high estate of his great-grandchildren, we may rest assured that Jeremiah and his defenseless proteges were "courteously entreated" and suitably lodged by the genial Governor, with whom they settled down at Mizpah.
The story of Jeremiah's sufferings and release is best told in the simple words of Holy Writ,
"So Jeremiah abode in the court of the guard until the day that Jerusalem was taken" (Jer. 38:28). After receipt of King Nebuchadnezzar's order, as given above, we read: "So Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, sent ..... and all the chief officers of the King of Babylon: they sent and took Jeremiah out of the court of the guard" (Jer. 39:13).
"The captain of the guard had let him (Jeremiah) go when he had let him go from Ramah, when he had taken him, being bound in chains among all the captives of Jerusalem and Judah, which were carried away captive unto Babylon. And the captain of the guard took Jeremiah, and said unto him ... `And now, behold, I loose thee this day from the chains which are upon thine hand. If it seem good unto thee to come with me into Babylon, come, and I will look well unto thee: but if it seem ill unto thee to come with me unto Babylon, forbear: behold, all the land is before thee: whither it seemeth good and convenient unto thee to go, thither go."
Now while he was not yet gone back, `Go back then,' said he, `to Gedaliah .... whom the King of Babylon hath made Governor over the cities of Judah, and dwell with him among the people: or go whithersoever it seemeth convenient unto thee to go.' So the captain of the guard gave him victuals and a present, and let him go. Then went Jeremiah unto Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam, to Mizpah and dwelt with him among the people that were left in the land" (Jer. 40:1, 2, 4-6, R.V.).
Thus was fulfilled, in the most striking manner, the promise made to Jeremiah by The Almighty, when commissioning that Prophet, and sending him on his great work (Jer. 1:17-19); and, as we shall see later on, the same Protecting Hand was extended over Jeremiah, who (like Paul of a later day), travelled further and "laboured more abundantly than they all," - of the "goodly fellowship of the prophets" in the former dispensation.
But if Jeremiah had passed through much trouble, so had the two young Princesses, now placed by Providence under his protecting care. They may have gone through all the horrors of the dreadful siege; they may, indeed, have felt the effect of the famine which "was sore in the city, so that there was no bread," and may have taken part in the hurried midnight flight from the doomed city, and in the arrestation of the fugitives in the plains of Jericho (2 Kings 25:3-5). It is not probable that they actually witnessed the fearful scene of slaughter which took place at Riblah, where their brothers were all slain before their agonized father's eyes, or the piteous fate of that father, who, after being compelled to look on whilst his offspring were being butchered, had his own vision destroyed, and was then put into heavy fetters of brass, preparatory to his going into perpetual exile; for we are told that when the Chaldean army "overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho, all his army were scattered from him. Then they took the King," etc. (2 Kings 25:5-7). The sword must, indeed, have passed through the hearts of both of these delicately nurtured young Princesses, now so terribly orphaned (we hear nothing as to the fate of their mother, Hamutal), and suddenly reduced to utter dependence upon others for their very food, clothing, and lodgment.
Theirs was, indeed, a sorrowful plight,, nor could the tender consolations of their pious and resigned great-grandfather (who well knew how to draw upon The Source of all Consolation), seconded by the kindly attentions of the good natured Governor, whose honored guests they were, entirely dispel the depression caused by the horrible nightmare of recent events, or lull their dismal forebodings as to what the future might have in store for them. Many and strange were the adventures through which these two highly-born and delicate creatures were to pass before they were to arrive at a permanent resting place.
The peaceful life at Mizpah, which appeared so calm and restful after the terrible scenes of the Chaldean invasion was destined to be rudely disturbed; and the disquieting cause sprang from an unsuspected quarter. Among the visitors calling on the easy-going Governor, was a man of considerable note in the country, named Ishmael, who was declared to be "of the seed royal" (2 Kings 25:25; Jer. 41:1). This individual, whose after conduct proved him to be of a very treacherous disposition, saw the beautiful Princess Tamar Tephi, and became deeply interested in her and her misfortunes. Whether this interest ever deepened into a more tender feeling we know not: but he speedily made it evident that he meant by some means, fair or foul, to gain possession of his lovely kinswoman.
Ishmael may have declared his passion to the royal lady herself, and been repulsed; Jeremiah, being a keen judge of character, may have cautioned his great-grandchild against his advances; or Gedaliah may have perceived the drift of his attentions, and warned him off; but these details are pure surmises, warranted, indeed, by subsequent events, but concerning which the Word of God is silent.
It is tolerably easy (even from this distant standpoint), to gauge the motives which actuated the ambitious and selfish mind of this unscrupulous and determined adventurer. He was aware that Jehoahaz had died during his Egyptian captivity: that Jehoiakim was also dead; that his son, Jehoiachin, with all his family had been carried to Babylon, from whence there was little or no likelihood of any return: and now he knows of the slaughter of Zedekiah's sons at Riblah, and of that unfortunate monarch's deportation to Babylon (2 Kings 23:34; 24:6; 25:7).
And thus this charming Princess Tamar (here a guest of Gedaliah's at Mizpah), was now the undoubted Heiress to the throne of Judah! Conscious of his own royal descent (through a collateral branch of the House of David), and doubtless thinking that an alliance with this beautiful Princess would constitute him the legal and actual King of Judah, if not, indeed, of all Israel, he resolves to leave nothing undone calculated to bring about this consummation of his covetous projects.
Ishmael is a very clever politician, and all his plans are carefully thought out. He knows that the new monarch of Egypt, Pharaoh Haa-ab-ra, is smarting under his recent repulse from Judea, and that the Ammonites have not forgotten their being tricked out of the spoils of Jerusalem in Jehoiakim's days by the Chaldean King; and he counts on receiving assistance from both of these quarters, whereby he will be enabled to give effect to his arrogant pretensions (2 Kings 24:2, 7).
At this juncture, overtures were made to Ishmael by Baalis, the King of Ammon, proposing the assassination of the recently-appointed Governor: and this coming to the ears of Johanan, one of the military leaders, that astute officer warned Gedaliah of his danger, and at a secret interview, he solicits permission to remove Ishmael. This the open-minded and generous Gedaliah refused, with disastrous consequences to himself (Jer. 40:13-16).
All the carefully laid plans of Ishmael were now fully matured, and nothing remained but to carry them into execution. The ready accessibility of the unsuspecting and hospitable Gedaliah made this easy of accomplishment. With ten accomplices, who must have been as culpable as their rascally employer, Ishmael paid a visit to the Governor, and was kindly received and entertained: "there they did eat bread together in Mizpah." (Jer. 41:2). During the course of this fatal banquet, Ishmael and his hired miscreants set upon and killed their genial and too-confiding host and all the rest of the guests at his table. This black treachery was followed up by the indiscriminate slaughtering of "all the Jews that were with him ..... and the Chaldeans that were found there, even the men of war"; and the number of the victims of this shocking massacre must have been very great, seeing that a large pit or trench, which King Asa had long ago constructed as one of the defenses of the fortress, "was filled with them that were slain" (i Kings 15:22; Jer. 41:3 and 9).
Nothing now remained to hinder or thwart the murderous desperado in his mad ambition. "Then Ishmael carried away captive all the residue of the people that were in Mizpah, even the King's Daughters ..... and Ishmael the son of Nethaniah carried them away captive, and departed to go over to the children of Ammon" (Jer. 41:10). Ishmael had metaphorically "burned his boats;" and this wanton, unprovoked, and perfidious murder of Gedaliah, "whom the King of Babylon made governor over the land," left him no other alternative but to cast in his lot with the wild tribes of the Ammonites, to the shelter of whose black tents he now made his way.
Here he would be safe from all pursuit: here he would convey the dearly won object of his daring enterprise, and have undisturbed possession and enjoyment of the society of his beautiful captives, and also defy the avenging arm of the insulted majesty of Babylon.
But these rosy anticipations were never to be realized; all Ishmael's designs were doomed to failure; and the cup of unhallowed bliss was dashed from his hand ere he could raise it to his lips.
In the counsels of Him Who "disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise" (Job 5:22), a better fate was reserved for this lovely Princess Royal of Judah than to become the mere leman [mistress] of a murderer and freebooter; to "waste her sweetness on the desert air" of the unsettled Ammonian highlands, and grace the tent of some nomad chief of a semi-savage horde whose business was plunder, and whose favorite pastime was the harrying of the lands of their more peaceful neighbors. She was destined under God's providence, to become the loved and honored Queen of a noble Danite King, and to be the Ancestress of a long line of powerful Monarchs who should wield the Sceptre of Judah over an Empire upon which the sun never sets.
So artfully had Ishmael's murderous scheme been arranged, that news of the massacre of Mizpah and the abduction of the two Princesses, did not reach the ears of the brave and faithful Johanan - who throughout all the trouble appears to have played a manly and noble part - for some days (Jer. 41:4 and 11); but as soon as he "heard of all the evil that Ishmael ... had done," he "took all the men, and went to fight with Ishmael...... and found him by the great waters that are in Gibeon" (Jer. 41:4, 11 and 12, ibid. ver. 12). There was no actual combat, however; for "when all the people which were with Ishmael saw Johanan .... and all the captains of the forces that were with him, then they were glad." ..... and "cast about and returned, and went unto Johanan. But Ishmael escaped from Johanan with eight men, and went to the Ammonites" (ibid. ver. 13-15). As to what became of this daring man, the Sacred Records are silent. Whether he lived to enjoy the reward of his base treachery towards Gedaliah, against whom Baalis, the chief of the Ammonites, had some grudge (Jer. 40:14); whether he subsequently met with the fate of a traitor at the hands of his newly found friends, the Ammonites, or of the punitive expedition sent from Babylon, we know not; his name disappears from the page of history (Prov. 10:9).
But now Johanan and his associates, having got rid of the arch-plotter Ishmael and recovered the two Princesses and their retinue, were themselves in a great dilemma as to their future movements, "And they departed," from Gibeon, "and dwelt in the habitation of Chimham, which is by Beth-lehem, to go to enter into Egypt, because of the Chaldeans; for they were afraid of them, because Ishmael ... had slain Gedaliah the son of Ahikim, whom the King of Babylon made governor in the land" (Jer. 41:16-18). Stay in Palestine they dare not: for they recognized that as soon as news of what had taken place reached Babylon, the fierce Nebuchadnezzar would at once take prompt action to avenge the affront put upon him in the murder of his Representative and the slaughter of the Chaldean garrison in Mizpah, left to uphold his own authority. In every respect Egypt appeared to offer the most safe and convenient asylum to this small band of desperate men, encumbered as they were by a number of helpless women and children; it was therefore determined to go thither.
Before taking this decisive step, however, it was deemed advisable to seek counsel at the hands of the venerable Prophet Jeremiah, who formed one of the rescued captives. Doubtless Johanan and the rest of the military leaders had heard of his predictions as to the fates of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah and that of the now destroyed Jerusalem; all of which had been fulfilled to the very letter - perhaps, before their own eyes; and, it may be, they realized that these denunciations, directed against his own relatives and his own interests - for the contumely and imprisonment which Jeremiah had suffered at the instance of the venal crew of self-seeking courtiers, who had lured the last three Kings of Judah to their doom, and brought about the utter destruction of the State, were well known to all Jewry, must have been wrung from him by a stern sense of duty to a Higher Power.
Whatever the motives, however, the leaders came to Jeremiah for advice and promised that, "whether it be good or whether it be evil, they would obey the voice of The Lord our God to Whom we send thee" (Jer. 42:1-6).
The answer came in ten days; but as it did not accord with their preconceived opinions, and depreciated the scheme of looking to Egypt for safety, these men, "wise in their own conceits," who ten days previously, loudly proclaimed their readiness to acquiesce in any plan of action presented to them by Jeremiah, now turned and railed upon the Prophet as a falsifier of God's message (Rom. 11:25). In an evil hour for themselves, we are told that "they obeyed not the Voice of the Lord, to dwell in the land of Judah" (Jer. 43:1-4).
"But Johanan ..... took all the remnant of Judah that were returned from all nations whither they had been driven ..... even men and women and children, and the King's Daughters ..... and Jeremiah the Prophet and Baruch the son of Neriah. So they came into the land of Egypt; for they obeyed not the Voice of the Lord; thus came they to Tahpanhes" (Jer. 43:5-7).
Jeremiah, Ireland, the Stone of Scone, and the English Kings ... Tamar
Tephi: or The Maid of Destiny, by John Dunham-Massey, 1918, and J. J. Pearson,