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Jeremiah prophesieth the captivity of Zedekiah and of the inhabitants of the city. The princes and the people, having dismissed their bond-servants, re-assume them, contrary to their covenant with God. Jeremiah, for their disobedience, giveth them and Zedekiah into the hands of their enemies in the name of Jehovah.
Before Christ 605.
Jeremiah 34:1. The word, &c.— We do not know exactly at what time this happened; but we know that it was in the 11th year of Zedekiah, and during the interval between the raising of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and his return to that city, after having repulsed the king of Egypt, who was coming to the succour of Zedekiah: see chap. Jeremiah 37:5. Jeremiah was not at that time in prison. See the 4th, 14th, and 15th verses of that chapter, and chap. 32:
Jeremiah 34:8. To proclaim liberty unto them, &c.— By the law of Moses, Exodus 21:2. Deu 15:12 the Israelites were not allowed to detain their brethren of the Hebrew race in perpetual bondage, but were required to let them go free after having served fix years. This law had, it seems, fallen into disuse; but king Zedekiah, upon the approach of the Chaldean army, whether from religious motives, or a political view to employ the men who were set free in the service of the war, engaged the people in a covenant to act conformably to the law; and they released their brethren accordingly. But no sooner were their fears abated by the retreat of the Chaldeans, than, in defiance of every principle of religion, justice, and humanity, they imposed the yoke of servitude anew upon those unhappy persons. Archbishop Usher computes the ninth year of Zedekiah's reign to have been the sabbatical year, and supposes that on this account the covenant of general release was entered into at the beginning of that year. But the sabbatical year, which was every seventh year from that in which the Israelites entered into possession of the land of Canaan, had nothing at all to do with the release of servants. In the year of sabbath they were only restrained from sowing their ground, and pruning their vineyard. But every seventh year from the beginning of their service the Hebrew bond-slaves were to be discharged. Six years they were to serve, and in the seventh they were to go out free. Only the fiftieth year, or year of Jubilee, was also to be a time of general release; Leviticus 25:39-41. That the sabbatical year was so, I see not the least reason to conclude, but quite the contrary.
Jeremiah 34:10. Now, &c.— And all the princes, &c. consented that every one, &c. They consented, and let them go.
Jeremiah 34:14. At the end, &c.— Within the term of seven years.
Jeremiah 34:15. And ye were now turned— The covenant was properly such a one as that which Josiah and all the people formerly made in the house of the Lord, whereby they obliged themselves to worship him, to observe his laws in general, and this, of giving freedom to their servants, in particular.
Jeremiah 34:17. Behold, I proclaim a liberty— "I will now make public proclamation, that I give free commission and liberty for the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, to destroy you utterly." The reader will observe a turn upon the words in this denunciation, which is not uncommon in the sacred writers.
Jeremiah 34:18. When they cut the calf in twain, &c.— That is, "When they made a solemn covenant and alliance with me, wherein it was usual to pass between the parts of the sacrifice; as Abraham is described to have done." Genesis 15:9; Genesis 15:21.
Jeremiah 34:19. The eunuchs— Who made part of the court-officers. See 2 Kings 25:19.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, This prophesy in its date precedes the former, being, it seems, the cause of Jeremiah's commitment to the court of the prison, chap. Jeremiah 32:2-5. It was directed particularly to Zedekiah, and, though a king, the prophet faithfully delivered it; for they who will be true to their trust must neither flatter nor fear the greatest. Matters were now brought to a very desperate point: but two cities, Azekah and Lachish, remained to Judah; and these, as well as Jerusalem, were now invested by the army of Nebuchadnezzar; yet Zedekiah and the people persisted in their obstinacy, and refused to surrender. Hereupon,
1. Their doom is read. Jerusalem should be burned to the ground, the king himself made a prisoner, and, though attempting to escape, should be seized and brought to the king of Babylon, and carried by him into a miserable captivity—the just punishment of his rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar, and disobedience to the warnings of God.
2. A gleam of mercy breaks through the gloom. God assures him, and his word cannot fail, that he shall not be put to death, but die in peace, on his bed; treated kindly by the king of Babylon; and it may include, in peace with God, his sufferings in Babylon having been blessed to bring about his repentance; and, though a captive, he should be honourably interred, with the usual respect paid to the kings of Judah, and with the lamentations of the people, deeply afflicted at his loss. Note; They who at last, though late, return to God, will find peace with him; and, however severe their afflictions may have been, they will have reason to bless God for them as their chief mercies. The prison that leads to repentance is far preferable to a palace which proves the scene of iniquity.
2nd, The second prophesy contained in this chapter was delivered during that interval when Nebuchadnezzar had raised the siege of Jerusalem to go to meet the army of Egypt which was advancing to relieve it.
1. The occasion of the prophesy was, their unjust and hypocritical conduct toward their servants. The law had enjoined them every seventh year to release their brethren, who for poverty or debt had been sold for bondmen, in gratitude for their own deliverance from Egypt. But this, among their other sins, their fathers had neglected, and they kept them still in servitude, notwithstanding the year of release was past: and, custom having authorized the evil, it was become general. But, when the Chaldean army besieged the city, as the prophets, no doubt, had before rebuked them for such an avowed disobedience to the law, they now laid the matter to heart, convinced of the evil of the practice; an edict was published by the king, princes, and people, for a general release; and, to confirm it, they made a solemn covenant in the temple, to abide by God's law for the future, passing between the parts of the divided calf, as imprecating God's wrath, that they might be thus cut asunder, if they failed of performing their engagement. In consequence of this, all their servants and handmaids were set free, as was right in God's sight; but when the siege was raised, and the storm seemed to be blown over, they again forced them to return to servitude, committing a most flagrant piece of injustice to them, playing a part most hypocritical and affronting to God, and justly bringing upon their heads the curse of a broken covenant. Note; (1.) The reformations which fear and danger make are seldom sincere or abiding. (2.) The most solemn bonds and vows will not long restrain those whose hearts are not right with God. (3.) If God's reprieves are abused, and made an encouragement to persist in the ways of wickedness, he will then proceed to execution; for none ever hardened their hearts against him and prospered.
2. God pronounces judgment upon them for this treacherous dealing. He dismisses them from his service and protection, and devotes them to famine, pestilence, and the sword; the men who have transgressed the covenant, shall be as the calf which they divided, even the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the eunuchs, or officers about the court, the priests, and all the people of the land, who had so solemnly sworn to observe it. Given up into the hands of the Chaldeans, they are doomed to a miserable death; their carcases, unburied, shall be cast as dung upon the earth, and be meat for the beards and birds. Nor may they think, because the king of Babylon is gone up from them, that they are safe. He shall return infallibly, besiege, storm, and burn Jerusalem, with all the other cities of Judah, spread desolation on the land, and leave it as an uninhabited wilderness, dragging Zedekiah and his princes, with the remnant that escape the sword, into an ignominious captivity, to know themselves the miseries of that servitude which they had made so heavy to their brethren. Note; (1.) The sinner's security is a sad presage of his destruction. (2.) Promising beginnings, with which the end does not correspond, only bring more aggravated guilt, and surer destruction. Apostates, who were once professors, shall receive greater damnation.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Jeremiah 34". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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