Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Johanan and the remnant of the people desire Jeremiah to ask counsel of God what they should do, Jer 42:1-3. The prophet assures them of safety in Judea, but destruction in Egypt, Jer 42:4-18; and reproves their hypocrisy in asking counsel with which they had no intention to comply, Jer 42:19-22.
The captains of the forces - The different leaders of the small bands or companies, collected from different parts of the land. The principal are those here named.
That the Lord thy God may show us - They all thought there was no safety in Jerusalem or in Judea, and therefore determined to leave the land: but they did not know which might be the safest direction to take; for though they inclined to Egypt, yet they wished to know the mind of God on that point.
The Lord be a true and faithful Witness - The Lord is such; and as ye have bound yourselves to obey his voice, he will register the covenant, and bless or curse according as ye shall conduct yourselves in this matter.
After ten days - All this time he was waiting upon God; for it is evident the prophets could not prophesy when they pleased, any more than the disciples of our Lord could work miracles when they wished. The gift of prophecy and the gift of miracles were both dependent on the will of the Most High, and each of them was given only for the moment; and when the necessity was over, the influence ceased.
For I repent me of the evil - The meaning is, As I have punished you only because you continued to be rebellious, I will arrest this punishment as soon as you become obedient to my word. You need not fear the king of Babylon if you have me for your helper; and I will so show mercy to you that he shall see it, and cease from afflicting you, as he shall see that I am on your side.
If ye - set your faces to enter into Egypt, etc - Every evil that ye dreaded by staying in your own land shall come upon you in Egypt.
The sword - and the famine - shall follow close after you - Shall be at your heels; shall overtake and destroy you; for there ye shall die.
Go ye not into Egypt - Why? Because God knew, such was their miserable propensity to idolatry, that they would there adopt the worship of the country, and serve idols.
For ye dissembled in your hearts - What a most miserable and incorrigible people! Ingratitude, hypocrisy, rebellion, and cruelty seem to have been enthroned in their hearts! And what are they still? Just what their fathers were, except in the mere article of idolatry; and that they do not practice because they are indifferent to their own religion and to that of all others. Examine their devotions and their lives, and see whether Charity herself can say they believe in the God of Abraham!
Ye have not obeyed the voice - Though ye have requested to have this particular revelation of the Divine will, and promised obedience, yet have ye not done one thing for which ye sent me to inquire of the Lord.
Now therefore know certainly - As ye have determined to disobey, God has determined to punish. Ye may now follow the full bent of your wicked devices, and I will follow the requisitions of my justice. Ye shall die by the sword, by the pestilence, and by the famine, in the place whither ye desire to go to sojourn. Thus was their doom sealed.
With such dispositions and with such rebellion of heart, it is strange that they should put themselves to any trouble to inquire of the Lord relative to their future operations. They did not intend to obey; but as a matter of curiosity they would inquire to hear what the prophet might say; and if according to their own inclination, they would obey.