The ten days between Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) are specifically the days that Jewish tradition believes determines the coming year to be one of Divine Favor or Divine Judgement. Whatever happens, these 10 days are the time God makes the call for each person. When we reflect on God’s acts of discipline in our lives, we are called to learn and turn. But when we harden ourselves to what God is trying to say to us, we invite even greater judgement on ourselves.
The story of Gedaliah is told in II Kings 25 and Jeremiah 39-43, and is an illustration of what happens when we don’t recognize God’s call to repentance. For years God sent prophets to warn that the people’s idolatry was bringing God’s judgement, but they ignored God’s word and persecuted those who were sent with the message. When judgement finally came, Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed and most of the people were exiled to Babylon or killed.
Through all of this, there was a small remnant of people who remained in the Land and Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah as their governor. Some of those remaining rebelled and killed Gedaliah and the Babylonian guards. So the people feared the retaliation of the Babylonians and asked Jeremiah for the word of the Lord about their plans to run away down to Egypt. Jeremiah seeks the Lord on their behalf and tells them that the Lord will be gracious to them if they stay, but will bring judgement on them if they run to Egypt. The people decide that they are going to run to Egypt anyway, and a few years later they were destroyed when the Babylonians conquered Egypt as well.
The interesting thing is the timing of the death of Gedaliah. He was murdered on the 3rd of Tishri, during the 10 “Days of Awe” during the time when God is thought to determine their fate and bring judgement or mercy. This final act of rebellion, after God has just allowed the destruction of Jerusalem, was an act that sealed their eventual doom in Egypt.
So the Fast of Gedaliah is held every year as a memorial to the utter destruction that came about with this final rebellion against God. Even after we rebel and have experienced judgement, God extends to us a hand of mercy if we would only be willing to repent. But this example of judgement is there to remind us that destruction is the ultimate outcome of persistent rebellion.
“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (I Cor. 10:11)