Why Fast for Gedaliah?

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Bulla inscribed, Gedaliah ben Pashur – Courtesy of Dr. Eilat Mazar Discovered at Ir David / Announced 2008

On the fourth day of the 7th biblical month, the Jewish people will observe a day of fasting. The observance is known as the Fast of Gedaliah. Who was Gedaliah, and why is his name associated with a day of fasting down to this day?

In the aftermath of the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, a few of the poorest of the land were left to be vine dressers and plowmen (II Kings 25:12; Jeremiah 39:10). The majority of the people were taken captive, their cities were left in shambles and their hope was gone. The King of Babylon appointed Gedaliah as Governor over the land and the small remnant of Judeans. The Governor tried to reassure his people that all would be well if they would but serve the King of Babylon and live in the land. He encouraged them to dwell in the cities and go about their lives without fear. He told them to gather wine and summer fruits and oil, and store them in vessels and to live without fear. Judeans began to return and inhabit the cities left vacant in the wake of Babylonian aggression. Gedaliah made his home in Mizpah (Jeremiah 40:7-12).

During these dark days, Nebuchadnezzar gave special instruction concerning the prophet Jeremiah. He ordered Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard to, “take him, look after him well, and do him no harm, but deal with him as he tells you.” Nebuzaradan released Jeremiah from his chains and offered him the choice of going to Babylon or returning to his own land to dwell with the appointed Governor of the land among the people. Jeremiah chose to live among his people in the land, in the home of the Governor (Jeremiah 39:11-14, 40:1-6). As it turns out, the two most likely knew each other quite well. Gedaliah’s father, Ahikam, had come to Jeremiah’s aid when he was accused of prophesying against the Temple and the city, pronouncing their ruin (II Kings 26:24). Gedaliah’s grandfather, and Ahikam’s father, also played into the story of Jeremiah. His name was Shaphan. It was Shaphan, who in the days of Josiah was part of an incredible discovery story. The High Priest Hilkiah discovered a scroll of the Torah in the Temple and he told Shaphan about it. Shaphan reported the discovery to King Josiah and read the scroll to him. King Josiah sent Shaphan, his son Ahikam, the priest Hilkiah (Jeremiah’s father? cf. Jeremiah 1:1), and two others to go inquire of YHVH about the words of the scroll. They all went together to a prophetess by the name of Huldah who told them of all that was to come (II Kings 22:8-20).

So why do we fast for Gedaliah? What happened to the Governor whose family plays so prominent a role in the life of Jeremiah? He was assassinated by a member of the royal family (Jeremiah 41:1)! Gedaliah had been warned of the plot but refused to believe it, but the warning was true. At a meal in Mizpah, eleven men rose up and struck down the Governor and those that were with him (II Kings 25:25; Jeremiah 40:13-41:3). The murder of Gedaliah seemed to mark the end of the Judean commonwealth. According to the biblical record, the murder of Gedaliah occurred in the seventh month (II Kings 25:25, Jeremiah 41:1, 2) and the people of Judah held a fast to commemorate his death. According to tradition, this is believed to be the fast to which Zechariah makes reference (Zechariah 7:5; 8:19). The fast of the seventh month is known as the Fast of Gedaliah. It has been kept since the days of Zechariah it would seem!

So on this day I am thinking of Gedaliah. He was a good man who had high hopes and best wishes for the restoration of his people and their land in a very dark period of history. He didn’t want to believe that one of his own people would seek his harm. I sit here today as I write this and wonder what conversations took place between Gedaliah and the prophet Jeremiah in his home. Gedaliah’s father had once defended and saved the life of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:24). His father and his grandfather had been part of a discovery that led to one of the greatest revivals in all of biblical history. Should we not on this day honor Gedaliah? I say we should. One day, the fast of the seventh month will be among the seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts (Zechariah 8:19). Therefore love truth and peace. Gedaliah certainly did.

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