Jeremiah 42:7-17 – God’s Regret


Jeremiah 42:7-17


God expresses regret regarding the excessive behaviors of the Babylonians in their execution of judgment against Israel.


Jeremiah 40-44 are set in the aftermath of the fall of Jerusalem. They narrate various features of the governorship of Gedaliah (appointed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E.) and the anarchy that follows upon his assassination by anti-Babylonian zealots. These chapters show how first one group and then another (which went down to Egypt and took Jeremiah with them) were eliminated as possible remnants for a new beginning for Israel. The only hope for Israel lies with the “remnant” in Babylon.

The basic issue faced in Jeremiah 42 is whether a key remnant, which stayed in the land after the destruction of Jerusalem, should proceed to Egypt. Jeremiah’s counsel was for them to stay in the land and seek to rebuild it. They request a word of God from Jeremiah regarding their future. God’s word in Jeremiah 42:10-12 has a very positive tone and outlook. If they remain in the land, God will build and plant them.

God’s reason that informs this word is startling: God is sorry for bringing the disaster (the fall of Jerusalem) upon them! What does it mean for God to express regret? While various suggestions have been made, the most convincing is that it carries the sense of genuine divine regret (as in Genesis 6:5-6). The point is that the judgment and its painful effects proved to be more severe than God had intended. That is to say, the Babylonians far exceeded the divine mandate in the devastation they caused and made the land and the people a waste. God will pass judgment on them for their excessiveness (Jeremiah 25:12-14; 50-51; Isaiah 47). The language of Zechariah 1:15 puts it well: “while I was only a little angry, they made the disaster worse.” God does not remove the divine self from responsibility for the choice of the means that resulted in an imperfect execution of the mandate.