Why Go to Egypt?

Ishmael and his men, under the order of Baalis the king of the Ammonites (Jer. 40:14), assassinated Gedaliah,who was appointed governor over Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. They also killed the Judeans who were with the governor, and Babylonian soldiers (Jer. 41:2, 3). The narrative’s description of Gedaliah as the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan (Jer. 40:9) traces his ancestral root to King Josiah’s scribe, named Shaphan (2 Kgs 22:3, 8, 12). On the other hand, Ishmael’s depiction of his pedigree (Jer. 40:8, 14) suggests that he came from a royal family (Jer. 41:1; 2 Kgs 25:25). The one who was of royal blood killed the one who was of a scribal family. Ishmael, who had the royal right to be the leader, murdered Gedaliah, who was appointed by the king of Babylon. Was Gedaliah murdered because of the question of legitimacy, or was it because of jealousy, or was it both?

Another question one might ask is why the rest of the Judeans would be afraid of the Babylonians’ reprisal, when they did not belong to the group of Ishmael. They were not responsible for the killing of Gedaliah. In fact, Johanan told Gedaliah about the plot to kill him, and offered to secretly kill Ishmael (Jer. 40:13-16). They could have told the Babylonians that it was the group of Ishmael who killed Gedaliah and the Babylonian soldiers. They might have reasoned out with them that they were not of Ishmael’s group.

If one will observe the men who came to Gedaliah after he was appointed governor, Johanan, the son of Kareah, was one of them (Jer. 40:8; 2 Kgs 25:23). Is it possible that Johanan, at one point may have colluded with Ishmael’s group, and then switched his allegiance when he learned of Ishmael’s deal with the Ammonite king to kill Gedaliah? There may be many unrecorded fear-based motives, generated by self-interest and self-preservation, in this situation. However, the narrative only tells us that they were afraid of the Babylonians due to Ishmael’s actions and wanted to escape them, as indicated by the following record: Johanan, with his men and the people he recovered from Gibeon from the hands of Ishmael, “went and stayed at Geruth Kimham near Bethlehem, going to enter Egypt” (Jer. 41:17, 18).

Evidently, they were heading toward Egypt to seek refuge there, but before they moved on, the people asked Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord regarding what they should do. The narrative tells us that these people were “all the princes of the troops, Johanan the son of Kareah, Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people, from the smallest to the greatest,” (Jer. 42:1).[1]In another place, they were named by God as the remnant of Judah (Jer. 42:15). Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah here is different from Jezaniah the Maacathite mentioned in Jer. 40:8.[2]

When the people had an audience with prophet Jeremiah, they promised that “whether it is pleasing or displeasing” they “will obey the voice of the Lord” (Jer. 42:6). After Jeremiah received the message from the Lord and passed it on to the people, “Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the proud men” (Jer. 43:2) refused to listen and denied the prophetic gift of Jeremiah. Apparently, they had asked advice and guidance from prophet Jeremiah not to receive new light or dissenting opinion, but to only seek affirmation of their own presupposed decision and plan (Jer. 42:3, 5-6; 43:2). At the outset, they had intended to go to Egypt (Jer. 41:16-18).

Because the message of Jeremiah from the Lord did not fit what they wanted to hear, they pigeonholed him as a deceiver. It is the same Hebrew root word (seqer) that Jeremiah used to describe false prophets (e.g., Jer. 29:23, 31). A serious charge indeed. Not only that, they accused Baruch, Jeremiah’s amanuensis, of inciting him to speak against them (Jer. 43:2, 3).

Apparently they had already decided to head south toward Egypt in spite of God’s advice against it. They ha already made up their mind not to stay in Judah. The group that did not listen to the prophetic voice of Jeremiah was described as “proud men” (Heb. ha’anashim hazerim). The classic book, Steps to Christ, notes, “Disguise it as they may, the real cause of doubt and skepticism, in most cases, is the love of sin. The teachings and restrictions of God’s word are not welcome to the proud, sin-loving heart, and those who are unwilling to obey its requirements are ready to doubt its authority.”[3]

After killing Gedaliah and taking captive all the people in Mizpah, Ishmael “set out to cross over to the Ammonites” (Jer. 41:10, NIV). His intention was to take people in Mizpah to Ammon. Later in the narrative, he sought refuge from the same place (Jer. 41:13-15) when his life was in danger from the hands of Johanan, the leader of the army troops. Ishmael’s choice of place to live was in Ammon. The text says that he “escaped from Johanan with eight men and went to the sons of Ammon” (Jer. 41:15). Ishmael had made up his mind to go toward Ammon.

During the time of King Zedekiah, the kings of Ammon, Edom, Moab, Tyre, and Sidon sent envoys to him to form a coalition against Babylonia (Jer. 27:3). Jeremiah’s message to the envoys was that God is a sovereign God and King Nebuchadnezzar is His servant. Thus, they would have to submit to Babylonia.

Many years back, prophet Isaiah told the people of Judah to not trust in Egypt and its power (Isa 31:1-3). Relying on them and trusting in their power would mean trusting less in God. Is it also the same reason why God did not advise them to go to Egypt? Seeking refuge in Egypt would mean trusting in human power instead of trusting their lives in the hands of God.

The people of Judah had a short memory. They quickly forgot their history with the Egyptians as their ally. During the time of King Zedekiah they withdrew their support to the Kingdom of Judah against the Babylonians (Jer. 37:7). Indeed, Egypt was not a reliable helper.

On the other hand, Jeremiah was told by God to come with Him to Babylon (Jer. 40:4), or to go wherever he wanted to go. He chose to stay in Judah, specifically in Mizpah together with Gedaliah, the appointed governor of King Nebuchadnezzar. But, when the people asked Jeremiah whether they should stay in Judah or go to Egypt, God told them not to go but stay in Judah. So, why did God tell Jeremiah to go to Babylon while He did not allow the remnant of Judah to go to Egypt? Is there something wrong in Egypt? Or is there something wrong with the people?

The message of God through the prophet Jeremiah to the Judeans was clear: remaining in the land of Judah meant blessing and protection. Abiding in the land was equivalent to life. Staying in Judah was their prosperity and would lead to the return to their own land (Jer. 42:10-12). Protection, blessings, life, and salvation were contingent upon the people trusting in God’s plan, which was to continue dwelling in the land until further notice. They were to wait on and trust in the Lord. Earlier, Gedaliah’s message was the same as Jeremiah’s. He said, “Do not be afraid to serve the Chaldeans. Dwell in the land and serve the king of Babylon and it shall be well with you” (Jer. 40:9, ESV).

When Jeremiah and the Judeans arrived in Egypt, the word of the Lord came to him once again. Through a symbolic act, he pointed out that Egypt is not a safe place. The Babylonians will invade and ruin Egypt (Jer. 40:11-14).

There was no guarantee of a safe place as long as the people of Judah were unrepentant and persistent in their idolatry, and did not heed the warnings of prophet Jeremiah. They were afraid of the Babylonians, but did not trust and respect the counsel of God. They wanted to flee to Egypt but did not want to depart from their idolatry. What they needed was a change of heart and not a change of place.

[1]Unless otherwise indicated, translations of the Bible texts are the author’s.

[2]Jack R. Lundbom, Jeremiah 37-52 (AB 21C: Garden City, 2004), 129. Jezaniah in Jer. 42:1 is the same person as Azariah in Jer. 42:6.

[3]Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Nampa, Idaho, 1908), 111.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7241

Good. The title of the article includes the “why” word.
It is profitable to always go from…who , what, when and where to the how and why.

The SS lesson is titled “Back to Egypt”

I will focus on the theme of what promotes backsliding and how the new covenant can address or counter it.

Some may know the inductive method of study/teaching…
Acquire/observe data, analyze/interpret it and then teach on how to apply it.
How do Christians backslide and why do they do it?

“Backsliding, also known as falling away, is a term used within Christianity to describe a process by which an individual who has converted to Christianity reverts to pre-conversion habits and/or lapses or falls into sin, when a person turns from God to pursue their own desire.”

People behave based on their beliefs, values and desires.

One can behave like this:
Psalms 40:8 I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.

Psalms 37:4 Delight thyself also in the LORD: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.

-1 John 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
1 John 2:16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

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I guess he question of the hour would be Why go to Canada? Tom Z

i think this glimpse in jeremiah at what disobedience looks like is interesting and instructive…the people doing the disobeying didn’t believe they were disobeying…their argument that they had prospered during the time that they had worshiped other gods fit neatly into what they had wanted all along, which was to be like the nations around them…they weren’t disobeying jeremiah in order to obey the teachings of moses in a purer form…they were disobeying jeremiah in order to have nothing to do with the calling of israel…

one wonders whether the case against egw is really based on the fact that she used the words of others without giving them credit, or if there’s something else going on…one thing’s for sure: adventists who disobey egw aren’t disobeying her in order to carry out adventism in a purer form…typically, everything adventist is thrown out the window, and if interest in the bible is retained, it’s along distinctly non-adventist lines…

i’m not sure we know what really happened to the jews who transported themselves to egypt, despite jeremiah’s warning…the narrative in 2 kings, 2 chronicles and jeremiah seem to be eerily silent, as though they’d been forgotten by god and prophets alike…


There are some questions in general : What about Egypt, the metaphor, and Egypt in general and in reality ? Help me, I up to now am curious why Exodus to Deuteronomy practically have no comments on Egyptioan heritage within the Israelites. Did not the y have this or that ? (Except Exodus 16 : 3 - the flesh pods). in spite of the OT depicting the details of Canaaans idolatries quite neuterally.

But, Jeremy, your second part : I gladly disobey EGW - I would - if I was a player - play chinese checkers and monopoly - you need dice for this game ! I have some pepper on my potato salad and some vinegar on the green salad - “faithful” Adventists here take Cardamon (or something like this spice, not for children and not for those with cardial problems) and take lemon juice instead of vinegar, because the one leads the body to acidity, the other to basidicy. (What ? As far as I have learned it is the ph, but I let you believe the dictum that the sprinkles of vinegar (ph maybe 6) initiate fermentations in the stomach (ph 2). And I shave on Sabbath morning, and I take a shower on Sabbath morning.

  • oh yes, I forgot ; Shoeshining is done during the week, with cleansing, then black paste and brushing and then polishing.

Look at her diary, May 26 to 31, 1887 : What she writes about my ancestors and their life in austerity - and then, she travelling first class, bothers about young ladies in the first class restroom powdering their noses. ( as usual and compulsory (!) for ladies travelling first class just like gentlemen being freshly shaved) . Remedy : Travel third or fourth class like Conradi !


I would love to read these diaries. Are they on line? Could you provide them, or provide a link? Thanks.


In the eighties my mother obtained them from the Estate - after some quarrels with Dieafield - it was not easy to get them. A copy of her handreritten diary and a mimieggraped transscripz now I donated to Daniel Heinz`Archives of European Adventism in Friedensau. But mail to me - I have a copy of the trtansscript on my harddisc. (svrcg@chello.at)

For a very different view on the matter of going to Egypt, see William Earnhardt’s excellent commentary on ssnet.org
"When Spiritual Egypt is Safer than Spiritual Israel"

Why Go to Egypt? ,16 December 2015, Ferdinand O. Regalado said, speaking about the people of God, “What they needed was a change of heart and not a change of place.”

I am told that there are committees looking into moving the General Conference headquarters location. The NAD offices are moving. In Adventism today there is much attention placed on strategic physical moves of persons and institutions. (R & H, Oakwood University, etc.) It seems like we are still having the same problem as in the days of Jeremiah. Do we know and understand how much we need God in our lives? A change of place does not substitute for a change of heart.

Adventist Christians often say that everyone has a need for God or has a “God-shaped hole” in them, but skeptics usually respond that while Christians may have a need to worship something, they themselves do not. What many people don’t realize is that a person’s need for God isn’t always as obvious as a desire to worship or to believe they’ll go to heaven when they die. Many of the needs and longings that we all share are actually things that prompt us to look for God and that can be fulfilled only by him.

God created us for a purpose, and we will find fulfillment and peace when we do what he designed us to do, namely be in relationship with him and love and worship him. It was because of this fulfillment that Paul could write the letter to the Philippians, rejoicing while he was in prison and saying, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians, 4:12-13).

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Thank you Gerhard.

I will connect this weekend. Heading out the door for a road trip today.