The Mystery of the Lost Ark: Part 6
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
But they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord!
So the Lord will stretch out his hand,
And he who helps will stumble
And he who is helped will fall,
And all of them will come to an end together.
Isaiah the Prophet
Soon after Gedaliah was made governor, he received a visit from the commanders of Judah's army who were still at large. They included Ishmael, a member of the royal family, and Johanan, an elite soldier. Gedaliah entreated them to stay in Judah and serve the king of Babylon. If they agreed, not only would their lives be spared but they would be free from the yoke of slavery borne by their countrymen in exile.
Because Ishmael had royal blood flowing through his veins, he refused to accept Jeremiah's prophecies. Spiritually blind, he saw the fall of Judah from a temporal perspective. He didn't believe that Judeans were being banished from their land as punishment for their sins. He saw Gedaliah as an opportunist who was using Nebuchadnezzar to usurp Judah's throne, a throne that belonged to the royal family.
Johanan paid Gedaliah a second visit warning him that Ishmael was planning to kill him. He offered to slay Ishmael because he knew Gedaliah's death would force Nebuchadnezzar to wreak havoc on the commanders at large as well as Gedaliah's Jewish subjects. Gedaliah refused to believe Ishmael was plotting against him and would have nothing to do with Johanan's plan to murder him.
Now Ishmael and ten of his followers also paid Gedaliah a second visit. While they were dining together, they slew Gedaliah with the sword. They also murdered his bodyguards who were both Jews and Babylonians. The remaining Jews, who had banded around Gedaliah after Nebuchadnezzar made him governor, were taken captive by Ishmael before he fled from the scene of his crime.
But Johanan was informed of Ishmael's treachery and he and the other commanders of Judah's armed forces caught up with him. They rescued the prisoners killing one of Ishmael's men and capturing another. But Ishmael and his other eight followers escaped.
Then Johanan led the remnant of Judah, whom he and his commanders had rescued, to a place beside Bethlehem. This was a steppingstone in his plan to seek refuge in Egypt for he feared that Babylon would avenge the death of Gedaliah and that he and his small band of Judeans would be blamed for the assassination.
Now Johanan beseeched Jeremiah the prophet to petition God for an answer to his dilemma because Isaiah's prophecies were clear on the futility of seeking refuge in Egypt. Expecting support for his proposed flight to Egypt, Johanan promised to abide by God's answer to Jeremiah. However, God's response did little to console the commander of Judah's army:
“All the men who set their mind to go to Egypt to reside there will die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; and they will have no survivors or refugees from the calamity that I am going to bring on them...for none will return except a few refugees.”
So Johanan refused to heed God's warning. Instead, he told Jeremiah that he had captured one of Ishmael's followers. His captive admitted to being a conspirator in Gedaliah's murder and confessed in detail the sequence of events leading up to the governor of Judah’s death: "Gedaliah was in a delirious state after being mortally wounded. His life seemed to flash before him. He rambled on about many things, most of which was indecipherable. However, in those few, short moments before his death, one valuable piece of information surfaced. He revealed the location of the cave on Mount Nebo which bore the Ark of the Covenant."
Ishmael's accomplice offered to trade the whereabouts of the Ark in exchange for his life. Unfortunately for him, Johanan took both and the reprobate was ruthlessly executed.
Johanan informed Jeremiah that he was in possession of the Ark and that it would accompany the remnant to Egypt. He reminded Jeremiah that as a Levite he had an obligation to the Ark. He told Jeremiah that if he didn't have the good sense to honour that obligation and save himself from the Babylonians in the process, he would be forcibly taken to Egypt.
Thus, about 583 BC, Jeremiah and Baruch, his secretary, went down into Egypt, not bound by chains and fetters but bound by the Ark.
Shortly after reaching Tahpanhes, Jeremiah the prophet had a confidential meeting with Baruch the scribe. “Do not seek great things for yourself," advised Jeremiah. "Judah has been a sinful and obstinate people. Therefore, the Lord is delivering calamity upon all Judeans, and you are no exception. But remember this. The Lord has promised to spare your life wherever you choose to go.”
Jeremiah had one last request to make of his disciple. “An emissary has been sent to me from Pathros. His boat is moored a short distance away.
“Soon, a celebration will be held to commemorate our safe arrival in Egypt. During the revelry, I want you to help my emissary transport the Ark to his boat. That boat will carry you up the Nile to a temple which has been built for the express purpose of housing the Ark of the Covenant.
“Don’t record the Ark's journey from Mount Nebo to Pathros,” warned Jeremiah. “It is imperative that the Ark's location remain a secret until God gathers His people together again.”