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Announcement of the End of Zedekiah
After the “book of comfort” (Jeremiah 30-33) we are back to everyday life. The word of the LORD comes to Jeremiah at the moment when the entire world is gathered against Jerusalem (Jer 34:1). Nebuchadnezzar and all his army and all the kingdoms over which he rules and all the nations over which he does not rule are fighting against Jerusalem and all the cities that belong to it. Jerusalem is the target. In that situation, the LORD instructs Jeremiah to go to Zedekiah saying that He will give the city into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar who will burn it with fire (Jer 34:2).
The LORD alludes to Zedekiah’s fleeing when He says that he will certainly be seized and brought before Nebuchadnezzar personally (Jer 34:3). His fleeing will be futile. He will come to Babylon. He will come face to face with the king of Babylon, but Babylon itself he will not see because his eyes will be put out before he is taken to Babylon (Jer 52:11; Eze 12:13b).
In His mercy, the LORD also says that Zedekiah will not die by the sword (Jer 34:4), but in peace in Babylon. It is even so, that spices will be burned for him (cf. 2Chr 16:14; 2Chr 21:19). This is an unexpected sign of tribute to this yet so wicked king, who apparently still had a certain care for his people (Jer 34:5).
Once again the Spirit of God points out the circumstances under which Jeremiah speaks all his words to Zedekiah (Jer 34:6). The battle for Jerusalem and all the cities of Judah that have not yet fallen is in full swing (Jer 34:7). Two remaining cities are mentioned by name, because they are the only cities that have been fortified – by Rehoboam (2Chr 11:5; 9) – and there the opposition is fiercest.
The Servants Deceived
Again the word of the LORD comes to Jeremiah (Jer 34:8). The occasion is a covenant Zedekiah made with all in Jerusalem to proclaim the release of the male servants and the female servants (Jer 34:9). The agreement is that each one will set free his male servant and his female servant who was a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, that is, a member of the people. This will be done from the understanding that it is a brother, a neighbor. It seems that the rich made the poor serve as servant for longer than the seven years prescribed by God in the law (Exo 21:1-11; Lev 25:39-55; Deu 15:12-18). This covenant is entered into by many (Jer 34:10). They obey it and set them free.
Then comes the regret (Jer 34:11). As soon as they notice what a loss they have suffered, they turn around and take back the servants and submit them to themselves again as male servants and female servants. This is a low, mean trick. The covenant was not made wholeheartedly. It has been assumed that Zedekiah also made this covenant only for political reasons. He must have thought that set free male servants and female servants would be much more willing to help defend the city against Nebuchadnezzar’s attack than if they had to do hard servant service. It is impossible to imagine that such a wicked man who cared nothing for God’s law would now suddenly be so insistent on carrying out a commandment of the law. He is known as a covenant breaker (Eze 17:11-21).
However, as soon as relief comes in the distress, they come back to their decision (cf. Ecc 5:3). It can rightly be said of them: “For your loyalty is like a morning cloud and like the dew which goes away early” (Hos 6:4b). The enemy has (temporarily) moved away (Jer 34:21). This will be related to a threat from Egypt (Jer 37:5; 7-10). Life largely resumes its normal course and they force the set free servants to serve them again.
The precept about the release of a servant has a spiritual meaning for us. For us, it means that we show our brother his true spiritual freedom and do not oblige him to us. If a brother owes us something, we must write off his debt. If we do not do so, we keep him in bondage in a certain respect. Then we will be disciplined. What matters is how we treat each other as brothers and sisters, whether we submit to each other and not someone to us.
The Sin of the Nation
Then comes the word of the LORD to Jeremiah (Jer 34:12). The LORD recalls to the people that He, “the LORD God of Israel”, made a covenant with their fathers when He led them out of Egypt, the house of slavery (Jer 34:13). With emphasis, Egypt is called “the house of bondage”. Then the LORD decreed that a Hebrew brother who had had to sell himself as slave must be set free by his lord after six years of service (Jer 34:14; Exo 21:1-6).
This law was given right after their exodus from Egypt, where they themselves served as servants for a long time. As a result, they know what it is to be a servant. Then you would say that they would execute such a law wholeheartedly. But the fathers did not listen. Man quickly forgets the misery in which he has been when things are going well for him and is then even able to exploit others.
Now the people to whom Jeremiah addresses the word did listen to this commandment (Jer 34:15). The LORD even says that they have repented and done what is right in His sight. The release and the covenant they have carried out. He praises that. What He does not praise, however, is that they have gone back on their made covenant (Jer 34:16). He blames them for that. It is a great injustice and unworthy of man to go back on such a decision. It is a great sin against God and against their neighbor. They had the servants “set free according to their desire”, but then subjected them to serve as servants again. The LORD is rightly very angry about this.
The Retribution of Betrayal
A new judgment from the LORD follows (Jer 34:17). He will declare them outlaws, as it were, to the sword, to the pestilence and to the famine because of their disobedience to the law of release. He will give these deadly means a free hand. These will do a thorough work, so that they will become a terror to all the kingdoms of the earth.
The LORD knows all the men who have broken His covenant (Jer 34:18). They are the men who made a covenant before Him and symbolically ratified it by cutting a calf in two and passing between the pieces. They did not make the covenant on a whim, but consciously and obligatorily. Whoever violates the covenant will suffer the fate of the calf killed at the covenant making. In the covenant that God made with Abraham, only God passed between the pieces, not Abraham (Gen 15:7-21). Therefore, that covenant rests solely on God’s promises, without any responsibility on the part of man.
This is not a small and select company, but it is people from all segments of the population, from high to low, who have acted in this way (Jer 34:19). All these transgressors the LORD will give into the hand of their enemies, including enemies who seek their life (Jer 34:20). The bodies of those who are killed will be food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth. They will not be chased away, contrary to what Abraham did (Gen 15:11).
To Zedekiah, the most responsible, comes another special word from the LORD. He will also fall under God’s judgment (Jer 34:21). Zedekiah first gave the command, but failed to act against all who returned to it. He is told that he will fall into the hand of the enemy, the king of Babylon. Although it does not appear that the king of Babylon will take the city, for he is just now moving away from Jerusalem because of an attack by the king of Egypt (Jer 37:5). As a result, the inhabitants of the city think that evil has passed. Possibly that is also why they have returned to their covenant to release the servants.
However, the enemy has only temporarily moved away (Jer 34:22). The LORD speaks that He will give command and then the enemy will come back to fight against the city. Then the city will be taken and burned with fire. The other cities of Judah will also be destroyed, so that they will be a wasteland without inhabitants. The LORD says He will do it, therefore it will happen.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Jeremiah 34". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14