“But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men and went to the Ammonites.”
After conquering Judah and Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah governor over the people. He allowed many of the Jews to remain in the land, and gave them certain freedoms regarding their worship. Soon, those who had fled from Jerusalem, when the Babylonians forces first arrived, began to make their way back to the city. Many of them were faithful to a man named Ishmael, who secretly wanted to overthrow Gedaliah and Babylon. He soon took action by going on a killing spree, putting to death all those he saw as faithful to the governor. His actions not only caused the death of many innocent men, but also turned Babylon against Jerusalem, and finally forced Ishmael to flee from Israel to the Ammonites.
This passage reminds me of the question Jesus asked His disciples. Recognizing that no man will ever gain the whole world, He inquired “What will a man give in exchange for His soul?” (Matthew 16:26 ) Ishmael was willing to murder to pursue his drive for power. He valued a position as more important than obedience to God. When his murderous tirade finally came to an end, he reigned for only a few short days, before he fled as a fugitive to a foreign land where he died in obscurity never to be heard from again.
The height of folly is to give up what will last forever in pursuit of what is only temporary. Like Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of soup, Ishmael gave up eternity for a few days upon the throne. The missionary Jim Elliot once wrote “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”