22 He appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan as governor over the people who remained in the land of Judah, whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had left. 23 Now when all the captains of the forces and their men heard that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah as governor, they came with their men to Gedaliah at Mizpah, namely, Ishmael son of Nethaniah, Johanan son of Kareah, Seraiah son of Tanhumeth the Netophathite, and Jaazaniah son of the Maacathite. 24 Gedaliah swore to them and their men, saying, “Do not be afraid because of the Chaldean officials; live in the land, serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.” 25 But in the seventh month, Ishmael son of Nethaniah son of Elishama, of the royal family, came with ten men; they struck down Gedaliah so that he died, along with the Judeans and Chaldeans who were with him at Mizpah. 26 Then all the people, high and low, and the captains of the forces set out and went to Egypt; for they were afraid of the Chaldeans.
Gosh, this is a tragic context. The exile begins. The verses and chapters before this are a litany of loss – buildings destroyed, sacred items for the temple broken down and stolen, people tortured and killed – loss after loss.
This doesn’t come from nowhere. The book has told of the people of Israel walking further and further away from the ways of Yahweh, up to and including worshipping idols and sacrificing children to them, and it has told of the prophets warnings and the refusal to heed them. So they’ve lost identity before they’ve lost homes, land, people. It’s heavy. The losses are enumerated, the extent of the tragedy is described.
In these final paragraphs of the book, we see a small, vulnerable, poor handful of people gather with Gedeliah, who’s been appointed to govern them. We read their names. The loss is not that of anonymous individuals but people. We are to feel the hurt, the mourning, the bewilderment. We are to understand that this is a story not of abstract humanity but of people with names and lives and stories. Loss is to be recognised as loss. Named.
Gedeliah, who I imagine a confused and traumatised man, thrust into a position he didn’t seek, is sought for guidance. He casts around for leader-y sounding words and finds words he’s heard before: “do not be afraid”.
In one sense, he’s right to speak them. If in doubt, go back to what God says again and again. But he goes on in a sort of haze of denial: “live in the land, serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.” His own death a couple of sentences doesn’t really fit into the ‘it shall be well’ category, I’d say. The last straw of hope is gone.
Don’t deny the loss. Don’t deny the hurt. That’s what I take from this. Because although this desperate story is at the end of one book of the bible, it’s not the end of the whole story.
A wiser and more articulate friend has described this process of naming the loss better than I have here: http://saltwaterandhoney.org/blog/the-only-pathway-to-joy. Grief is the precondition to joy.
There is a promise of dancing for mourners – don’t deny a person the chance to dance by denying them the chance to mourn.
For me, this has meant naming a couple of losses. I’m slightly wary of naming them here as the words are so loaded, but here we go – I’m never going to be a mother, and I’m never going to be a young bride. These two facts don’t *remotely* define me – they are the least interesting way I can describe myself as they say something I’m not (what I *am* is so much more worthy of a conversation :-)) – but to name them does give me the chance to mourn them…. in order that I can then put my dancing shoes on. Both of these ‘losses’ kind of creep up on you – there isn’t a fixed date on which one realises these things – but for me, to name them has been freeing – an invitation to a new and different chapter of a new and different story.
Take care with yourself, if you’re reading this and it hurts. Find someone to talk to about it. My journey isn’t the same as yours, so hold the journey I describe lightly, and hold tightly to the One who makes these promises. I trust in the deepest possible way that He will keep these promises for you, although it will look different for every person.
At the very end of this book, as the losses have been recognised and named, we see four curious verses – an odd hanging thread into which we might read the truth that loss is not the end. We read of an exiled king invited to a place of honour. We read of release, kindness, provision, of a king of Judah being invited to sit down at the table of an enemy. We suspect that there is more to come…