Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Murder of Gedaliah and his followers, as well as other Jews, by Ishmael. - Jer 41:1-3. The warning of Johanan had been only too well founded. In the seventh month - only two months, therefore, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the appointment of Gedaliah as governor - Ishmael came with the men to Mizpah, and was hospitably received by Gedaliah and invited to his table. Ishmael is here more exactly described as to his family descent, for the purpose of throwing a stronger light upon the exceeding cruelty of the murders afterwards ascribed to him. He was the son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama - perhaps the secretary of state mentioned Jer 36:12, or more likely the son of David who bore this name, Sa2 5:6; Ch1 3:8; Ch1 14:7; so that Ishmael would belong to a lateral branch of the house of David, be of royal extraction, and one of the royal lords. ורבּי המּלך cannot be joined with Ishmael as the subject, because in what follows there is no further mention made of the royal lords, but only of Ishmael and his ten men; it belongs to what precedes, מזּרע המּלוּכּה, so that we must repeat מן before רבּי. The objections of Ngelsbach to this view will not stand examination. It is not self-evident that Ishmael, because he was of royal blood, was therefore also one of the royal nobles; for the רבּים certainly did not form a hereditary caste, but were perhaps a class of nobles in the service of the king, to which class the princes did not belong simply in virtue of their being princes. But the improbability that Ishmael should have been able with ten men to overpower the whole of the Jewish followers of Gedaliah, together with the Chaldean warriors, and (according to Jer 41:7) out of eighty men to kill some, making prisoners of the rest, is not so great as to compel us to take רבּי המּלך in such a meaning as to make it stand in contradiction with the statement, repeated twice, over, that Ishmael, with his ten men, did all this. Eleven men who are determined to commit murder can kill a large number of persons who are not prepared against such an attempt, and may also keep a whole district in terror.
(Note: There is still less ground, with Hitzig, Graf, and Ngelsbach, for assuming that ורבּי המּלך is a gloss that has crept into the text. The fact that רבּים, which is used here, is elsewhere applied only to Chaldean nobles, is insufficient to show this; and even Ewald has remarked that "the last king (Zedekiah) may well be supposed to have appointed a number of grandees, after the example of the Chaldeans, and given them, too, Chaldean names.")
"And they did eat bread there together," i.e., they were invited by Gedaliah to his table. While at meat, Ishmael and his ten men rose and slew Gedaliah with the sword. On account of ויּמת אתו, which comes after, Hitzig and Graf would change ויּכּוּ into ויּכּוּ, he slew him, Gedaliah; this alteration is possibly warranted, but by no means absolutely necessary. The words 'ויּמת אתו וגו, "and he killed him," contain a reflection of the narrator as to the greatness of the crime; in conformity with the facts of the case, the murder is ascribed only to the originator of the deed, since the ten men of Ishmael's retinue were simply his executioners. Besides Gedaliah, Ishmael killed "all the Jews that were with him, with Gedaliah in Mizpah, and the Chaldeans that were found there, the men of war." The very expression shows that, of the Jews, only those are meant who were present in the house with Gedaliah, and, of the Chaldean soldiers, only those warriors who had been allowed him as a guard, who for the time being were his servants, and who, though they were not, as Schmidt thinks, hausto liberalius vino inebriati, yet, as Chr. B. Michaelis remarks, were tunc temporis inermes et imparati. The Jews of post-exile times used to keep the third day of the seventh month as a fast-day, in commemoration of the murder of Gedaliah; see on Zac 7:3.
On the next day after the murder of Gedaliah, "when no man knew it," i.e., before the deed had become known beyond Mizpah, "there came eighty men from Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria," having all the tokens of mourning, "with their beards shaven, their clothes rent, and with cuts and scratches on their bodies (מתגּדדים, see on Jer 16:6), and a meat-offering and frankincense in their hand, to bring them into the house of Jahveh." The order in which the towns are named is not geographical; for Shiloh lay south from Shechem, and a little to the side from the straight road leading from Shechem to Jerusalem. Instead of שׁלו, the lxx (Cod. Vat.) have Σαλήμ; they use the same word as the name of a place in Gen 33:18, although the Hebrew שׁלם is there an adjective, meaning safe, in good condition. According to Robinson (Bibl. Res. iii. 102), there is a village named Slim three miles east from Nabls (Shechem); Hitzig and Graf, on the strength of this, prefer the reading of the lxx, to preserve the order of the names in the text. But Hitzig has renounced this conjecture in the second edition of his Commentary, "because Slim in Hebrew would be שׁולם, not שׁלם." There is absolutely no foundation for the view in the lxx and in Gen 33:18; the supposition, moreover, that the three towns are given in their topographical order, and must have stood near each other, is also unfounded. Shechem may have been named first because the greater number of these men came from that city, and other men from Shiloh and Samaria accompanied them. These men were pious descendants of the Israelites who belonged to the kingdom of Israel; they dwelt among the heathen colonists who had been settled in the country under Esarhaddon (Kg2 17:24.), but, from the days of Hezekiah or Josiah, had continued to serve Jahveh in Jerusalem, where they used to attend the feasts (Ch2 34:9, cf. Jer 30:11). Nay, even after the destruction of Jerusalem, at the seasons of the sacred feasts, they were still content to bring at least unbloody offerings - meat-offerings and incense - on the still sacred spot where these things used to be offered to Jahveh; but just because this could now be done only on the ruins of what had once been the sanctuary, they appeared there with all the signs of deep sorrow for the destruction of this holy place and the cessation of sacrificial worship. In illustration of this, Grotius has adduced a passage from Papinian's instit. de rerum divis. sacrae: "Locus in quo aedes sacrae sunt aedificatae, etiam diruto aedificio, sacer adhuc manet."
Ishmael went out from Mizpah to meet these men, always weeping as he went (הלך הלך וּבכה, cf. Ges. 131, ab; Ew. 280, b). If they came from Ephraim by way of Gibeon (el Jb), the road on to Jerusalem passed close by Mizpah. When Ishmael met them, he asked them to come to Gedaliah (to Mizpah). But when they had entered the city, "Ishmael slew them into the midst of the pit" (which was there), i.e., killed them and cast their corpses into the pit.
Only ten men out of the eighty saved their lives, and this by saying to Ishmael, "Do not kill us, for we have hidden stores in the field - wheat, and barley, and oil, and honey." מטמנים are excavations in the form of cisterns, or subterranean storehouses in the open country, for keeping grain; the openings or entrances to these are so concealed that the eye of a stranger could not perceive them. Such places are still universally employed in Palestine at the present day (Robinson's Palestine, i. pp. 324-5), and are also to be found in other southern countries, both in ancient and modern times; see proofs of this in Rosenmller's Scholia ad hunc locum. It is remarked, in Jer 41:9, of the pit into which Ishmael threw the corpses, that it was the same that King Asa had made, i.e., had caused to be made, against, i.e., for protection against, Baasha the king of Israel. In the historical books there is no mention made of this pit in the account of the war between Asa and Baasha, Kg1 15:16-22 and Ch2 16:1-6; it is only stated in Kg1 15:22 and Ch2 16:6 that, after Baasha, who had fortified Ramah, had been compelled to return to his own land because of the invasion of Benhadad the Syrian king, whom Asa had called to his aid, the king of Judah ordered all his people to carry away from Ramah the stones and timber which Baasha had employed in building, and therewith fortify Geba and Mizpah. The expression מפּני בעשׁא certainly implies that the pit had been formed as a protection against Baasha, and belonged to the fortifications raised at that time. However, הבּור cannot mean the burial-place belonging to the city (Grotius), but only a cistern (cf. Kg2 10:14); and one such as could contain a considerable store of water was as necessary as a wall and a moat for the fortification of a city, so that it might be able to endure a long siege (Graf). Hitzig, on the other hand, takes בּור to mean a long and broad ditch which cut off the approach to the city from Ephraim, or which, forming a part of the fortifications, made a break in the road to Jerusalem, though it was bridged over in times of peace, thus forming a kind of tunnel. This idea is certainly incorrect; for, according to Jer 41:7, the "ditch" was inside the city (בּתוך). The expression בּיד גּדליהוּ is obscure, and cannot be explained with any of certainty. בּיד cannot mean "through the fault of" Gedaliah (Raschi), or "because of" Gedaliah - for his sake (Kimchi, Umbreit), or "coram" Gedaliah (Venema), but must rather be rendered "by means of, through the medium of," or "at the side of, together with." Ngelsbach has decided for the rendering "by means of," giving as his reason the fact that Ishmael had made use of the name of Gedaliah in order to decoy these men into destruction. He had called to them, "Come to Gedaliah" (Jer 41:6); and simply on the authority of this name, they had followed him. But the employment of the name as a means of decoy can hardly be expressed by בּיד. We therefore prefer the meaning "at the hand = at the side of" (following the Syriac, L. de Dieu, Rosenmller, Ewald), although this signification cannot be established from the passages cited by Rosenm. (Sa1 14:34; Sa1 16:2; Ezr 7:23), nor can the meaning "together with" (Ewald) be shown to belong to it. On the other hand, a passage which is quite decisive for the rendering "by the hand of, beside," is Job 15:23 : "there stands ready at his hand (בּידו, i.e., close to him) a day of darkness." If we take this meaning for the passage now before us, then בּיד גּדליהוּ cannot be connected with אשׁר , in accordance with the Masoretic accents, but with השׁליך שׁם, "where Ishmael cast the bodies of the men whom he had slain, by the side of Gedaliah;" so that it is not stated till here and now, and only in a casual manner, what had become of Gedaliah's corpse. Nothing that admits of being proved can be brought against this view.
(Note: Because the lxx have, for בּיד גּדליהוּ הוּא, φρέαρ μέγα τοῦτό ἐστιν, J. D. Michaelis, Dahler, Movers, Hitzig, and Graf would change the text, and either take ryb lwdg 'wh (Dahler, Movers) or בּיר הגּדול הוּא (= בּור) as the original reading, inasmuch as one codex of De Rossi's also has בור. But apart from the improbability of בּור גּדול or הגּדול being incorrectly changed into בּיד גּדליהוּ, we find that הוּא stands provokingly in the way; for it would be superfluous, or introduce an improper emphasis into the sentence. The lxx have but been attempting to guess at a translation of a text they did not understand. What Hitzig further supposes has no foundation, viz., that this "ditch" is identical with that mentioned Sa1 19:22, in שׂכוּ, and with τὸ φρέαρ τὸ μέγα of 1 Macc. 7:19; for the ditch at Sechu was near Ramah, which was about four miles from Mizpah, and the large fountain 1 Macc. 7:19 was ἐν Βηζέθ, an unknown place in the vicinity of Jerusalem.)
The הוּא which follows is a predicate: "the ditch wherein...was that which Asa the king had formed."
The motive for this second series of assassinations by Ishmael is difficult to discover. The supposition that he was afraid of being betrayed, and for this reason killed these strangers, not wishing to be troubled with them, is improbable, for the simple reason that these strangers did not want to go to Mizpah, but to Jerusalem. For the supposition of Thenius (on Kg2 25:23) and of Schmieder, that the people had intended going to Mizpah to a house of God that was there, is very properly rejected by Hitzig, because no mention is made in history of a place of worship at Mizpah; and, according to the express statement of Jer 41:6., Ishmael had enticed them into this city only by inviting them to come and see Gedaliah. Had Ishmael wished merely to conceal the murder of Gedaliah from these strangers, he ought to have done anything but let them into Mizpah. As little can we regard this deed (with Graf) as an act of revenge on these Israelites by Ishmael for the murder of his relations and equals in rank by Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 52:10), because these men, who had now for a long time been living together with heathens, were Assyrian and Chaldean subjects. For we cannot comprehend how he could look on these Israelites as friends of the Chaldeans, and vent his anger against the Chaldean rule by murdering them; the mournful procession which they formed, and the offerings they were carrying to present, proclaimed them faithful adherents of Judah. Ngelsbach, accordingly, is of opinion that Ishmael had simply intended robbery. As it is evident that he, a rough and wild man, had assassinated the noble Gedaliah from personal jealousy, and in order to further the political interest of his Ammonite patron, he must have been seeking to put himself in the position of his victim, or to flee. "When we find, moreover, that he soon murdered a peaceable caravan of pilgrims, and preserved the lives only of a few who offered to show him hidden treasures; when, finally, we perceive that the whole turba imbellis of Mizpah were seized and carried off into slavery, Ishmael proves himself a mere robber." But, though the fact that Ishmael spared the lives of the ten men who offered to show him hidden treasures seems to support this view, yet the supposition that nothing more than robbery was intended does not suffice to explain the double murder. The two series of assassinations plainly stand in the closest connection, and must have been executed from one and the same motive. It was at the instigation of the Ammonite king that Ishmael murdered Gedaliah; moreover, as we learn from the report brought to Gedaliah by Johanan (Jer 40:15), the crime was committed in the expectation that the whole of Judah would then be dispersed, and the remnant of them perish. This murder was thus the work of the Ammonite king, who selected the royally-descended Ishmael as his instrument simply because he could conveniently, for the execution of his plans, employ the personal envy of one man against another who had been preferred by the king of Babylon. There can be no doubt that the same motive which urged him to destroy the remnant of Judah, i.e., to frustrate the attempt to gather and restore Judah, was also at work in the massacre of the pilgrims who were coming to the temple. If Ishmael, the leader of a robber-gang, had entered into the design of the Ammonite king, then everything that might serve for the preservation and consolidation of Judah must have been a source of pain to him; and this hatred of his towards Judah, which derived its strength and support from his religious views, incited him to murder the Jewish pilgrims to the temple, although the prospect of obtaining treasures might well cooperate with this in such a way as to make him spare the ten men who pretended they had hidden stores. With this, too, we can easily connect the hypocritical dealing on the part of Ishmael, in going forth, with tears, to meet these pious pilgrims, so that he might deceive them by making such a show of grief over the calamity that had befallen Judah; fore the wicked often assume an appearance of sanctity for the more effectual accomplishment of their evil deeds. The lxx evidently did not know what to make of this passage as it stands; hence, in Jer 41:6, they have quite dropped the words "from Mizpah," and have rendered הלך הלך by αὐτοὶ ἐπορεύοντο καὶ ἔκλαιον. Hitzig and Graf accept this as indicating the original text, since Ishmael had no ostensible ground for weeping. But the reasons which are supposed to justify this conjecture are, as Ngelsbach well remarks, of such a nature that one can scarcely believe they are seriously held.
After executing these murderous deeds, Ishmael led away into captivity all the people that still remained in Mizpah, the king's daughters and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had committed to the care of Gedaliah, intending to go over with them to the Ammonites. As the object of ויּשׁבּ is very far removed through the intervention of a relative clause, the connection is resumed by ויּשׁבּם. "The king's daughters" are not only the daughters of Zedekiah, but female members generally of the royal house, princesses, analogous to בּן־מלך, king's son = prince, Jer 36:26; Jer 38:6.
- Jer 41:11. When Johanan and the rest of the captains heard of what had taken place in Mizpah, they marched out with all their men to fight Ishmael, and came on him at the great water at Gibeon, i.e., by the pool at Gibeon which is mentioned Sa2 2:13, one of the large receptacles for water which are still found there; see on Sa2 2:13. Gibeon, now called el Jib (see on Jos 9:3), was situated only about two miles north from Mizpah; from which we may conclude that it was soon known what had happened, and the captains quickly assembled their men and marched after Ishmael.
When those who had been carried off by Ishmael saw these captains, they were glad, since they had followed their captor merely because they were forced to do so. They all turned, and went over to Johanan; but Ishmael escaped from Johanan, with eight men, - having thus lost two in the fight with Johanan, - and went to the Ammonites.
After the escape of Ishmael, it was to be feared that the Chaldeans would avenge the murder of the governor, and make the Jews who remained atone for the escape of the murderer by executing them or carrying them away to Babylon. Accordingly, Johanan and the other captains determined to withdraw to Egypt with the men, women, and children that had been carried off by Ishmael; these they conducted first to Bethlehem, where they encamped for the purpose of deliberating as to the rest of the journey, and taking due precautions. The account given in Jer 41:16 is clumsily expressed, especially the middle portion, between "whom he had brought back" and "the son of Ahikam;" and in this part the words "from Mizpah" are particularly troublesome in breaking the connection: "whom he (Johanan) had brought back from Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, from Mizpah, after he (Ishmael) had slain Gedaliah," while it is more correctly stated in the second relative clause, "whom he had brought back from Gibeon." Hitzig and Graf accordingly suppose that, originally, instead of אשׁר השׁיב מאת, there stood in the text אשׁר שׁבה, "whom he (Ishmael) had led captive from Mizpah, after he had slain Gedaliah." Thus the whole becomes clear. Against this conjecture there only stands the fact that the lxx translate οὕς ἀπέστρεψεν ἀπὸ ̓Ισμαήλ; they must thus have read אשׁר השׁיב מאת, and omitted merely המּצפּה as unsuited to the passage. However, the error may be even older than the lxx, and השׁיב מאת may easily have arisen through a scribe having glanced at the words אשׁר השׁיב of the last clause. The words from "men" to "chamberlains" form the more exact specification of the general expression "all the remnant of the people:" "men, viz., men of war, women (including the king's daughters, Jer 40:10), and children and chamberlains" (סריסים, guardians and servants of the female members of the royal family).
"They marched and stopped (made a half) at the inn if Chimham, which is near Bethlehem." גּרוּת, ἅπ.λεγ., considered etymologically, must mean diversorium, hospitium, an inn, khan, or caravanserai. Instead of the Kethib כמוהם, many codices read כּמהם (like the Qeri); nor, have any of the old translators read וּ or וׁ in the word. The Qeri is evidently correct, and we are to read כּמהם, the name of a son of Barzillai the rich Gileadite, Sa2 19:38, Sa2 19:41, who is supposed to have built or founded this caravanserai for the convenience of travellers. The words "because of the Chaldeans" in the beginning of Jer 41:18 depend on "to go to Egypt" at the end of the preceding verse: "to go to Egypt for fear of the Chaldeans," on account of the murder of Gedaliah by Ishmael.