Scriptures

Jeremiah 34

Introduction

This chapter includes two prophecies.

1. The announcement of another conditional prophecy to Zedekiah. Jeremiah 34:1-8, offering him certain blessings if he surrenders to the Babylonians, and

2. A prophecy of doom. because by breaking the covenant to the slaves they had made a mockery of God’s word.

‘While Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army and all the kingdoms and peoples in the empire he ruled were fighting against Jerusalem and all its surrounding towns, this word came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Go to Zedekiah king of Judah and tell him, ‘This is what the LORD says: I am about to give this city into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will burn it down. You will not escape from his grasp but will surely be captured and given into his hands. You will see the king of Babylon with your own eyes, and he will speak with you face to face. And you will go to Babylon. ‘Yet hear the LORD’s promise to you, Zedekiah king of Judah. This is what the LORD says concerning you: You will not die by the sword; you will die peacefully. As people made a funeral fire in honour of your predecessors, the kings who ruled before you, so they will make a fire in your honour and lament, ‘Alas, master!’ I myself make this promise, declares the LORD.’ Then Jeremiah the prophet told all this to Zedekiah king of Judah, in Jerusalem, while the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and the other cities of Judah that were still holding out—Lachish and Azekah. These were the only fortified cities left in Judah.’ Jeremiah 34:1-7

The end is near for Judah. It is around 587 B.C. The final assault on Jerusalem is going on. The Babylonians are reducing the fortified towns in Judah, as quickly as possible. That is the reason why Lachish and Azekah are mentioned in verse 7. Verse 4 starts,

‘Yet hear the promise of the Lord.’

The very word ‘yet’ suggests that there is still hope for Zedekiah, he is still in a position to put things fight with God.

The Babylonian armies were made up of armies from countries that had already become subject to the might of Babylon. Zedekiah is reminded of his end, he would not be executed, but would die in peace. The customary respect and tribute that should be made to a king would be paid lo him. Lachish was about 35 miles from Jerusalem and Azekah about 15 miles.

A man on a look-out tower, upon a hill, would be able to see, quite clearly, the smoke of a town that was being destroyed nearby. And as these two towns are falling, Jeremiah brings the next message from God, which is free the slaves.

Verse 5 says, to Zedekiah,

‘you will die peacefully’.

How could he die peacefully?

His sons are going to be slain while he watches. Then he himself will be blinded, enslaved, and deported to Babylon. That is where he will die. But you can die in peace even when you are in prison. This could mean that he eventually died at peace with God. Certainly, he did not die by the sword.

It is truly wonderful how archaeologists have been able to prove the Bible to people who don’t believe some of the stories of the Bible. Details of the siege of Jerusalem have been confirmed by the spade. Pieces of pottery, with inscriptions upon them, were discovered in the 1930s and have proved the ruins of Lachish and this pottery has been positively dated to the time of the siege.

‘The word came to Jeremiah from the LORD after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to proclaim freedom for the slaves. Everyone was to free their Hebrew slaves, both male and female; no one was to hold a fellow Hebrew in bondage. So, all the officials and people who entered into this covenant agreed that they would free their male and female slaves and no longer hold them in bondage. They agreed, and set them free. But afterward they changed their minds and took back the slaves they had freed and enslaved them again.’ Jeremiah 34:8-11

Zedekiah makes a covenant with the people, and then breaks it. There are certain basic lessons that you and I can learn from this chapter.

1. Only God can set Man free.

2. You, in the capacity or position you may hold in this world, can take the liberty from someone, but God can take your liberty from you.

3. Every person and nation are subject to God.

So, what will Zedekiah lose?

His liberty, his freedom. His city will be destroyed by fire, his life, his kingdom. The king gets the owners of slaves to swear an oath to free those who were Jews, because of the crisis at hand. I guess that he did this in the hope that he would impress God, and that, because of his charitable action, God would step in and prevent the siege.

So, the slave owners agree and make the oath. At this point we have to rely on secular history, because we are not told this here. But secular history tells us that an army is marching north from Egypt to relieve Jerusalem. Word of this reached the city and the Babylonian armies. So, the Babylonian forces withdrew, with the intention of regrouping, before the final onslaught. So, Zedekiah believed that his action, regarding the oath, had worked.

Tension in the city eased off. That being the case, the slave owners brought the slaves back into slavery, those who had been freed were made slaves again. And so, we have this message from God,

‘you have broken the covenant, the oath, you have violated it.’

This was deceit, and to this they also added perjury, i.e., deliberately giving false evidence whilst under oath.

How come?

Verse 15 tells us that they made this vow in the temple, and called upon God to witness it. By going back on their word, they had brought shame on God’s name. By breaking the vow, they had broken the Law, the Law of release. Exodus 21:1-6 / Deuteronomy 15:12ff.

Was the king in on this crooked reversal of the people’s solemn promise?

I’m sure he was, as it was him who led the way to making it in the first place.

‘Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I made a covenant with your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I said, ‘Every seventh year each of you must free any fellow Hebrews who have sold themselves to you. After they have served you six years, you must let them go free.’ Your ancestors, however, did not listen to me or pay attention to me. Recently you repented and did what is right in my sight: Each of you proclaimed freedom to your own people. You even made a covenant before me in the house that bears my Name. But now you have turned around and profaned my name; each of you has taken back the male and female slaves you had set free to go where they wished. You have forced them to become your slaves again.’ Jeremiah 34:12-16

We can’t overstate the extent of Judah’s crime here. They had violated a commandment of God, they had mocked God Himself, they had made a covenant in God’s house and in God’s presence, they profaned the name of God by using His Holy name, it was an inhuman, unfeeling crime against the defenceless slaves, it was a violation of the promises that they had themselves made, under oath, it was a crime against both God and Mankind, and it was a crime against their nation, for which they deserved the punishment that God gave them.

‘Therefore, this is what the LORD says: You have not obeyed me; you have not proclaimed freedom to your own people. So, I now proclaim ‘freedom’ for you, declares the LORD— ‘freedom’ to fall by the sword, plague and famine. I will make you abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth. Those who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces.’ Jeremiah 34:17-18

God says,

‘you have not proclaimed freedom to your fellow countryman. So, I now proclaim freedom for you, ‘freedom’ to fall by the sword, plague and famine.’

Wow! What a proclamation this is! I am freeing you from my love, says God. Instead, I am giving you over to be destroyed, by war, disease and starvation.

They are going to pay for this, Genesis 15:8ff. This cutting up of an animal was the ancient way of giving full assent to a covenant or oath. Those who violated such an oath could then expect the same end as the animal that had been sacrificed. God says, beware, the Babylonians will be back.

‘The leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the court officials, the priests and all the people of the land who walked between the pieces of the calf, I will deliver into the hands of their enemies who want to kill them. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds and the wild animals. ‘I will deliver Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials into the hands of their enemies who want to kill them, to the army of the king of Babylon, which has withdrawn from you. I am going to give the order, declares the LORD, and I will bring them back to this city. They will fight against it, take it and burn it down. And I will lay waste the towns of Judah, so no one can live there.’ Jeremiah 34:19-22

This is a death sentence for those who violated the covenant. God says that He will hand them over to the king of Babylon,

‘which has withdrawn from you.’

We have already seen that the Babylonian army withdrew to regroup when the Egyptians were coming up from the south. So, these two verses give us the date for the events in this chapter, when the Egyptian army caused Nebuchadnezzar to withdraw for a while.

During that time, the Jews brought back the slaves that they had just recently given their freedom. God announced the sentence of death upon them. This death sentence would be fully executed with a year’s famine, when the Babylonians returned to complete the job.

Go To Jeremiah 35

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted."

Isaiah 53:4

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