In 587 BC the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, abolished Judah’s monarchy, plundered the nation’s treasures and took all its best people into captivity (2 Kings 25:1-21). They then appointed Gedaliah, son of a former Jerusalem official, governor over those Judeans who remained in the land (2 Kings 25:22; cf. Jer 26:24). Gedaliah set up his headquarters at Mizpah, north of Jerusalem, and with Jeremiah’s support followed a policy of submission to Babylon. He took no action against Judah’s anti-Babylonian military leaders who had managed to escape the Babylonian army, but encouraged them, and other Judeans who had fled for safety, to return and settle around Mizpah (2 Kings 25:23-24; Jer 40:5-12).

One of Judah’s former army commanders, Ishmael, opposed this policy of submission to Babylon and plotted to overthrow Gedaliah. When told of the plot, Gedaliah refused to believe it. That did not stop Ishmael from murdering him, along with all the Judean officials and Babylonian supervisors at Gedaliah’s headquarters (2 Kings 25:25; Jer 40:13-41:3). That started a sequence of events that resulted in the rest of the Judeans fleeing to Egypt (2 Kings 25:26; Jer 41:4-43:13). The Bible mentions four other men named Gedaliah. The first was a musician in the time of David (1 Chron 25:3,9), the second an ancestor of the prophet Zephaniah (Zeph 1:1), the third an official in Jerusalem who opposed Jeremiah (Jer 38:1-6), and the fourth a priest in the time of Ezra (Ezra 10:18).

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