Commentary on Jeremiah 40 – Hope in the Midst of Despair


The book of Jeremiah records some of the most difficult and tragic events in the history of Israel. The nation had turned away from God andHis word, practicing idolatry and all kinds of wickedness. As a result, God’s judgment finally fell, and Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The people were killed or taken into exile in Babylon.

Yet even in the midst of this terrible calamity, there were glimmers of hope. Jeremiah 40 captures one of those moments. The people are in shock, mourning the loss of their home and way of life. They feel abandoned by God. But Jeremiah brings a word of encouragement – Godstill cares for them, and if they will only turn back to Him, there is a future and a hope.

Key Takeaways:

  • God keeps His promises, both of judgment and of restoration
  • There is always hope, even in the darkest of times, for those who turn to God
  • God still has a plan for His people, if they will walk in His ways
  • Turning to God requires letting go of fear and embracing His sovereignty
  • Believers must speak the truth with grace, not compromising God’s word

The chapter begins immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem. Jeremiah is given freedom by the Babylonians and seeks God’s direction. He chooses to stay with the remnant of people remaining in the land. His commitment offers hope that God has not forgotten them.

Commentary on Jeremiah 40 - Hope in the Midst of Despair

Transition to Exile (40:1-6)

The opening verses place us in the aftermath of Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 BC. The beloved city lies in ruins. Most of the people have been killed or carried off into exile. Only the poorest are left to work the vineyards and fields (2 Kings 25:12).

Into this scene of utter devastation, we find Jeremiah receiving an unexpected offer of freedom. The commander of the Babylonian guard releases him, saying, “The Lord your God pronounced this disaster on this place. Now the Lord has brought it about; he has done just as he said he would. All this happened because you people sinned against the Lord and did not obey him.” (40:2-3 NIV).

This pagan commander amazingly acknowledges the Lord as the one true God. He understands that the disaster resulted directly from Judah’s sin. God is faithful, and His word always comes to pass. If they had only obeyed Him, none of this would have happened.

The commander goes even further by offering Jeremiah a place of honor and protectionif he will come to Babylon. But Jeremiah opts to remainwith the poor remnant left in Judah. This decision is significant – he chooses to stand with his people in their time of distress rather than taking an easier road.

As a true shepherd, Jeremiah will walk through this dark valley with the flock. His presence gives the people hope that God has not abandoned them.

The Remnant Seeks God’s Direction (40:7-12)

With Jerusalem destroyed, the remaining leaders come to Jeremiah asking for direction. Their names hold meaning – Gedaliah means “the Lord is great,” Jaazaniah means “the Lord hears,” and Ishmael means “God hears.” But will they live up to the meaning of their names and turn to the Lord?

The people are understandably afraid of further reprisals from the Babylonians. But Jeremiah assures them they have nothing to fear from serving the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. In fact, it will go well for them if they submit to his authority. This seems counterintuitive, since Nebuchadnezzar was the instrument of their destruction. But God’s ways are higher.

Part of the judgment on Judah was to serve Babylon for 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11). Trying to rebel would only bring more calamity. Their hope lies in accepting what God has allowed, waiting patiently on Him for their future redemption.

Nebuchadnezzar’s dominion is part of God’s plan to humble and restore Judah. Later, when Babylon grows proud and defies the Lord, they too will be judged (Jeremiah 50-51). But for now, submission is the only wise course.

A Leader Rises Up (40:13-16)

With the endorsed backing of the Babylonians, Gedaliah takes charge over the remnant in Mizpah. Other Judean officers and the people gather around him. Even some Jews who had previously fled to nearby countries like Moab, Ammon and Edom return. They are welcomed by Gedaliah, who assures them of protection if they serve the Babylonians.

Under this new leadership, there seems to be a brief season of stability and calm. Fields are being worked and food gathered. A semblance of normalcy returns. Could this be God beginning to restore His people, as He promised?

But shadows loom. Ishmael and the Ammonite king Baalis are secretly plotting to assassinate Gedaliah. The time of testing is not over yet. But Gedaliah’s leadership provides a glimpse of hope. If the people will continue to turn back to God, He promises to restore them.

Gedaliah’s Mistake (40:13-16)

Into this fragile season of rebuilding, Johanan brings an urgent warning to Gedaliah – Ishmael is coming to kill you! He pleads for permission to assassinate Ishmael preemptively. But Gedaliah refuses, brushing aside the report. He seems to think there is no danger.

Tragically, Gedaliah’s optimism will prove very costly. Ishmael will murder him, the Babylonian garrison, and many of the people (Jeremiah 41:1-3). Gedaliah made the mistake of trusting in man’s basic goodness instead of God’s word. He fails to remove evil from the land.

The bible later confirms that the good king Josiah was killed because he did not remove the evil after being warned (2 Kings 22-23). Gedaliah likewise pays the price for disregarding the enemy within.

This serves as a sober warning that leaders cannot be naive, but must decisively deal with evil. Yet they should also lead with compassion, not repaying evil for evil (Romans 12:17). This is the narrow way followers of God must walk.

Truth and Grace (40:14-16)

As the chapter closes, we find a moving encounter between Johanan and Jeremiah that models speaking truth with grace. Johanan pleas again for action against Ishmael, but is rebuked by Jeremiah.

Jeremiah does not compromise – he will not support assassinating Ishmael on mere suspicion. But neither does he condemn or attack Johanan. He simply affirms his loyalty to Gedaliah and the truth. They leave on good terms, though disagreeing.

Believers today must emulate this example. We cannot bend God’s word to people’s opinions. But we also should not react in anger to those genuinely concerned. We must stand for truth, bathed in the love of Christ. This light pierces darkness.


The book of Jeremiah unpacks profound themes through narrative, poetry and prose. Chapter 40 is just a snapshot, but rich details make it come alive. We feel the desolation of a fallen Jerusalem yet see faint rays of light in the darkness. Will the people embrace God’s deliverance before it is too late?

The chapter ends with uncertainty. But God’s bigger story of redemption continues to unfold. If we walk with Him in obedience, there is always hope. His plans may take unexpected turns, but He ultimately works all things for good (Romans 8:28).

The key is staying faithful no matter how bleak circumstances appear. God remains sovereign over every earthly power. By judging Judah, He paved the way for their restoration. The people faced a choice: wallow in despair or turn wholeheartedly to the Lord.

Centuries later, we face the same choice. When chaos seems to reign, will we trust God’s promises? He is still Lord over the nations and our lives. There is no failure or pain from which He cannot bring healing and purpose. But we must seek Him with all our heart.

May the example of Jeremiah inspire us to walk faithfully with God and declare His unfailing hope, however dark the times. He will guide us through every valley and lead us to an enduring inheritance. What a joy to serve this great and gracious King!

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