Yesterday, Sunday, the Jewish people celebrated the Fast of Gedaliah. The actual day was on Saturday, the 3rd day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, but because of the Sabbath celebration, the fast day was celebrated on Sunday.
The Fast of Gedaliah, known in Hebrew as Tzom Gedaliah, is an annual fast set aside to remember the assassination of Gedaliah, the governor of Judah after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. The death of Gedaliah was the culmination of a series of events that began with the deportation of Jehoiachin in 597 B.C. and ended with the deportation of what remained of the population of Judah to Babylon in 582 B.C.
The Fast of Gedaliah is observed annually on the day immediately following Rosh Hashanah, on the third day of Tishrei. In Jewish Writings the fast is called “The Fast of the Seventh” (see Zechariah 8:19) in allusion to Tishrei, the seventh month in the Hebrew calendar.
Gedaliah was the son of Ahikam and the grandson of Shaphan, the secretary of king Josiah. Shaphan and the members of his family were great supporters of Jeremiah. As a result of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 587 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, killed most of the leadership of Judah and deported the royal officials and the members of the royal family to Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah governor of the province of Judea to rule over what remained of Judah under the protection of the Babylonian army (Jeremiah 40:5). Gedaliah established the seat of his government at Mizpah, since Jerusalem was in ruins. Gedaliah ruled over the province as a tributary of the king of Babylon.
The Babylonians put Gedaliah in charge of the men, women, and children who had not been carried into exile in Babylon. According to Jeremiah 52:16, only the poorest people of the land were left behind to work the vineyards and the fields. Jeremiah was allowed to make a choice. Nebuzaradan, the commander of the Babylonian army, said to Jeremiah:
“Today I am freeing you from the chains on your wrists. Come with me to Babylon, if you like, and I will look after you; but if you do not want to, then don’t come. Look, the whole country lies before you; go wherever you please.” However, before Jeremiah answered, Nebuzaradan added, “Go back to Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon has appointed over the towns of Judah, and live with him among the people, or go anywhere else you please” (Jeremiah 40:4-5).
After Jeremiah made his decision, the commander of the Babylonian army gave him provisions and a present and let him go. Jeremiah went to Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam, at Mizpah and stayed with him and with the people who were left behind in the land.
Gedaliah’s father, Ahikam, was one of the four persons sent by King Josiah to inquire of the prophetess Huldah concerning the book of the law found in the temple by Hilkiah, the high priest. Ahikam also protected the prophet Jeremiah from the wrath of Jehoiakim, king of Judah (Jeremiah 26:24).
After Gedaliah was appointed governor of Judah, he selected Mizpah, a city in the tribe of Benjamin, as the seat of his government. Gedaliah adopted a policy of reconciliation and counseled the people to submit to the Babylonians. Jeremiah joined Gedaliah at Mizpah and the city became a refuge for many people who had fled before the coming of the Babylonian army (Jeremiah 40:11-12).
However, Gedaliah’s policy of conciliation and submission did not meet with universal approval. Ishmael, a member of the royal family of Judah, planned to assassinate Gedaliah and probably take control of the government. Ishmael was encouraged by Baalis, king of Ammon, where Ishmael had fled during the war with the Babylonians.
Johanan, the son of Kareah, warned Gedaliah of the plot against his life: “Don't you know that Baalis king of the Ammonites has sent Ishmael son of Nethaniah to take your life?” (Jeremiah 40:14). However, Gedaliah did not believe that Ishmael would kill him. What follows demonstrates the character of Gedaliah:
“Then Johanan son of Kareah said privately to Gedaliah in Mizpah: ‘Let me go and kill Ishmael son of Nethaniah, and no one will know it. Why should he take your life and cause all the Jews who are gathered around you to be scattered and the remnant of Judah to perish?’”
“But Gedaliah son of Ahikam said to Johanan son of Kareah, ‘Don't do such a thing! What you are saying about Ishmael is not true’” (Jeremiah 40:15-16). But it was true.
The assassination of Gedaliah is described in 2 Kings 25:25-26:
“In the seventh month, however, Ishmael son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama, who was of royal blood, came with ten men and assassinated Gedaliah and also the men of Judah and the Babylonians who were with him at Mizpah. At this, all the people from the least to the greatest, together with the army officers, fled to Egypt for fear of the Babylonians.”
The Israelites who remained in Mizpah, in anticipation of the reprisal by the king of Babylon, fled to Egypt, forcing Jeremiah to accompany them. As a result of Gedaliah’s death, a third deportation of the people of Judah took place in 582 B.C. (Jeremiah 52:30). In addition, the province of Judah was eliminated and what remained of the territory of Judah was incorporated into the province of Samaria.
The Fast of Gedaliah is commemorated by Jewish people as a day of national calamity. The death of Gedaliah was an event “which left Judah devoid of any Jews and Jewish rule, and made the destruction of the first Temple complete.”
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Tags: Gedaliah, Jeremiah