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What does Jeremiah 40: 2-4-mean?

What does Jeremiah 40:2-4 mean, and what does it say about God’s guidance?

For years, Jeremiah had warned Israel to obey God and flee from sin. He preached, but no one listened. In the end God sent the Babylonians to punish Israel for their sins. Jeremiah advised the Israelites not to fight the Babylonians and not to rebel against their rule (e.g. Jeremiah 27). That probably was the reason that Nebuchadnezzar told his army not to harm Jeremiah after they would have conquered Jerusalem (Jeremiah 39:12).

So when a commander of the Babylonian army found Jeremiah among the captives, this is what happened: “The captain of the guard took Jeremiah and said to him, “The LORD your God pronounced this disaster against this place. The LORD has brought it about, and has done as He said. Because you sinned against the LORD and did not obey His voice, this thing has come upon you. Now, behold, I release you today from the chains on your hands. If it seems good to you to come with me to Babylon, come, and I will look after you well, but if it seems wrong to you to come with me to Babylon, do not come. See, the whole land is before you; go wherever you think it good and right to go.”

Free to choose

Alone among the Israelites Jeremiah is free to choose where to live: in Babylon, or in Jerusalem. The pagan soldier speaks truth about God’s punishment of Israel’s sin. He speaks as a prophet here, though he might not have believed in the Lord as his own God. The Lord can rebuke His people even through the words of those who do not follow Him. Sin is not without consequences. God punishes sins. If He chooses to do that already in this life, that is a sign of his grace because it calls us to repentance.

God’s guidance

The Babylonian soldier tells Jeremiah that he is free to choose what to do. We do not read that God tells Jeremiah what choice to make. So God also allows Jeremiah to make a free choice. What does that teach us about God’s guidance? When we are facing a choice, we find ourselves in one of three positions:

  • One alternative is obeying God’s commands and the other is disobeying them. In that case it is clear what we need to do: obey the will of God as He revealed it to us in his Word.
  • The Lord clearly speaks to us in our spirit about what we need to do. However, this is not a common experience that we should expect to happen all the time. And we should be careful about this, because it is possible to mistake your own thoughts for God’s voice. So even if we think we hear God’s voice, it is still important to talk with trusted brothers and sister to hear whether they sense the same guidance.
  • We are free to choose, and God says ‘do what you like’. Often we will find ourselves in situations like that. We may be confident that God has a plan for us, and that He will bring that plan to fruition in our lives. But we do not need to seek a direct word from Him. We can use our wisdom to make decisions. That wisdom should be informed by a desire to serve God, and a willingness to listen to the advice of Christian brothers and sisters. Yet we do not need to be afraid that we are missing out on God’s plans for us choosing one alternative over the other.

Jeremiah in this story finds himself in that last position. And that is often true for us as well. That is a relaxing thought. For it shows us that often, whatever choice we make, we are living according to God’s will and have the opportunity to serve Him. Whether you become a teacher or an accountant, you can glorify God with your life. Whether you marry Juliette or Vivian, you can grow in your faith. Whether you move to Manila or to Davao, you can serve God there. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). We serve God in freedom.

How does this Bible passage speak to you? Please share your thoughts below!

Also read Do we have a free will?

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Marten Visser

Marten Visser

Marten Visser (1971), experienced a call from the Lord to be a missionary while in Kindergarten. He received M.Div., Th.M. in Missiology, M.A. in cultural anthropology degrees and a Ph.D. degree in Theology. In 2000 he became a church planting missionary in Thailand with OMF, together with his wife Esther. In 2015 he returned to the Netherlands where he founded GlobalRize. He continues to serve as GlobalRize’s director of evangelism.

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