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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 34

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Jeremiah 34:0


(The parentheses represent poetic literary units)

A Prophecy Against ZedekiahZedekiah Warned by GodWarning to ZedekiahA Message to ZedekiahThe Fate of Zedekiah
Jeremiah 34:1-5Jeremiah 34:1-5Jeremiah 34:1-5Jeremiah 34:1-5Jeremiah 34:1-5
Jeremiah 34:6-7Jeremiah 34:6-7Jeremiah 34:6-7Jeremiah 34:6-7Jeremiah 34:6-7
Treacherous Treatment of SlavesManumission of Slaves and Perfidy of the JerusalemitesDeceitful Treatment of SlavesThe Episode of the Liberated Slaves
Jeremiah 34:8-11Jeremiah 34:8-11Jeremiah 34:8-22Jeremiah 34:8-11Jeremiah 34:8-16
Jeremiah 34:12-16Jeremiah 34:12-16Jeremiah 34:12-22
Jeremiah 34:17-22Jeremiah 34:17-22Jeremiah 34:17-22

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 34:1-5 1The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army, with all the kingdoms of the earth that were under his dominion and all the peoples, were fighting against Jerusalem and against all its cities, saying, 2”Thus says the LORD God of Israel, 'Go and speak to Zedekiah king of Judah and say to him: “Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he will burn it with fire. 3You will not escape from his hand, for you will surely be captured and delivered into his hand; and you will see the king of Babylon eye to eye, and he will speak with you face to face, and you will go to Babylon.'“' 4Yet hear the word of the LORD, O Zedekiah king of Judah! Thus says the LORD concerning you, 'You will not die by the sword. 5You will die in peace; and as spices were burned for your fathers, the former kings who were before you, so they will burn spices for you; and they will lament for you, “Alas, lord!”' For I have spoken the word,” declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 34:1

NASB, NKJV, TEV, NJB“Nebuchadnezzar” NRSV, JPSOA, REB“Nebuchadrezzar”

#1 with an “n” in Jeremiah 27:6, Jeremiah 27:8, Jeremiah 27:20; Jeremiah 28:3, Jeremiah 28:11, Jeremiah 28:14; Jeremiah 29:1, Jeremiah 29:3 (most common spelling outside Jeremiah)

#2 with an “r” in Jeremiah 21:2, Jeremiah 21:7; Jeremiah 22:25; Jeremiah 24:1; Jeremiah 25:1, Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 29:21; Jeremiah 32:1, Jeremiah 32:28; Jeremiah 34:1; Jeremiah 35:11; Jeremiah 37:1; Jeremiah 39:1, Jeremiah 39:5, Jeremiah 39:11; Jeremiah 43:10; Jeremiah 44:30 and several more (but only in Jeremiah and 4 times in Ezekiel)

The MT follows option #2. In Jeremiah the word is spelled both ways.

It is difficult to transcribe ancient names from one language to another, but it is surprising that two different spellings occur in one author. This may be a textual hint of a later editor/compiler.

“all his army with all the kingdoms of the earth” The military force was made up of (1) Babylonians; (2) mercenaries; and (3) vassal people (cf. 2 Kings 24:1-2). This descriptive phrase links up with Jeremiah 1:15.

Jeremiah 34:2 “Go and speak to Zedekiah king of Judah” This chapter refers to two different messages related to Zedekiah, the last king of Judah.

1. his personal fate and the fate of Jerusalem

2. the fate of his leaders who broke their covenant with YHWH and their servants

“hand” A Hebrew idiom of “power” (cf. Jeremiah 34:3, Jeremiah 34:21; Jeremiah 21:7). See Special Topic: Hand.

“he will burn it with fire” This was a

1. means of total destruction (i.e., uninhabited, cf. Isaiah 34:11-15; Zephaniah 2:13-15)

2. symbol of the judgment of God (see Special Topic: Fire)

Jeremiah 34:3 “you will not escape” The “you” is emphatic! There are three accounts of Zedekiah's capture in the OT (cf. Jeremiah 39:4-7; Jeremiah 52:7-11; 2 Kings 25:4-7). It was God's will that Babylon succeed (cf. Ezekiel 17:11-21). Only capitulation could have saved the city from destruction.

“you will surely be captured” This is an INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and an IMPERFECT VERB from the same root (BDB 1074, KB 1779), used for emphasis.

“face to face” Zedekiah was brought before Nebuchadnezzar. They had a personal (lit. “mouth to mouth,” BDB 804), “eye to eye” (BDB 744) encounter (cf. Jeremiah 32:4).

Jeremiah 34:4-5 Zedekiah will experience

1. the death of his sons

2. the death of all the princes (the royal family or leaders in general)

3. being blinded

4. exiled in chains

5. put in prison in Babylon until his death

However, at his death in Babylon (cf. Jeremiah 52:11) he was honored as a royal Judean king.

Jeremiah 34:4 This chapter is characterized by VERBS being doubled.

1. captured, Jeremiah 34:3

2. die, Jeremiah 34:4-5

3. speak, Jeremiah 34:5-6

4. turn, Jeremiah 34:11

5. proclaim, Jeremiah 34:17

6. give, Jeremiah 34:17-18

7. pass over, Jeremiah 34:18-19

“Says” is often found side by side (cf. Jeremiah 34:1-2, Jeremiah 34:2, Jeremiah 34:12-13), but these other VERBS being doubled form a characteristic of Jeremiah's writing style.

Jeremiah 34:5 “burn spices for you” Literally this is the VERB “to burn” (BDB 976). Exactly what, why, or how is not specified. It may be a reference to (1) large amounts of spices burnt in honor of the dead king as a symbol of prayers on his behalf (cf. 2 Chronicles 16:14; 2 Chronicles 21:19). The people did it not so much for him personally but for the memory of their homeland's once-proud heritage. This was just opposite of Jehoiakim's funeral (cf. Jeremiah 22:18-19). (2) This is a conditional promise (though the “if. . .then” is not stated) message which did not come to pass because Zedekiah would not heed YHWH's words from Jeremiah.

Verses 6-7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 34:6-7 6Then Jeremiah the prophet spoke all these words to Zedekiah king of Judah in Jerusalem 7when the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the remaining cities of Judah, that is, Lachish and Azekah, for they alone remained as fortified cities among the cities of Judah.

Jeremiah 34:7 “Lachish” Archaeologists have found letters (i.e., the Lachish Letters on 21 ostraca) from this siege period. The city was larger than Jerusalem during this time. It is about 23 miles southwest of Jerusalem.

“Azekah” This city was about eleven miles southwest of Jerusalem. This verse implies that all other cities of Judah had already been destroyed.

Verses 8-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 34:8-11 8The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people who were in Jerusalem to proclaim release to them: 9that each man should set free his male servant and each man his female servant, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman; so that no one should keep them, a Jew his brother, in bondage. 10And all the officials and all the people obeyed who had entered into the covenant that each man should set free his male servant and each man his female servant, so that no one should keep them any longer in bondage; they obeyed, and set them free. 11But afterward they turned around and took back the male servants and the female servants whom they had set free, and brought them into subjection for male servants and for female servants.

Jeremiah 34:8-11 This paragraph describes one example of the evil and disrespect for YHWH that existed among the leadership of Jerusalem. They made a public commitment to YHWH and His law (i.e., setting slaves/ servants free, cf. Jeremiah 34:14; Exodus 21:1-11; Leviticus 25:39-55; Deuteronomy 15:12-18), but when the circumstances seemed to change they reversed their actions.

Jeremiah 34:8 “covenant” This word (BDB 136, cf. Jeremiah 34:13, Jeremiah 34:15, Jeremiah 34:18; Jeremiah 31:32) is not a Hebrew word. Its etymology is uncertain, possibly

1. “to cut,” cf. Jeremiah 34:18-19

2. “to bind” from Akkadian; see Special Topic: Covenant

3. “to establish a covenant with an oath” from Akkadian

4. “to eat a meal together,” which sealed the covenant (BDB 136 I, הרב, 1 Kings 8:25; 1 Kings 8:25)

Jeremiah 34:9 “Hebrew” This word (BDB 720 I, cf. Genesis 14:13; Genesis 39:14, Genesis 39:17) is not used much (i.e., 34 times in all the OT). It reflects the nomadic background of the Jews (BDB 397 I, an ADJECTIVE formed from the NOUN Judah, cf. Jeremiah 32:12; Jeremiah 38:19; Jeremiah 40:11, Jeremiah 40:12; Jeremiah 41:3; Jeremiah 44:1; Jeremiah 52:28, Jeremiah 52:30) and is often associated with servitude more than racial lineage.

Jeremiah 34:10-11 Jeremiah's poetry often used words that sound alike. Notice

1. hear, Jeremiah 34:10 - שׁמע (twice)

2. send away, Jeremiah 34:10, Jeremiah 34:11 - שׁלח (twice)

3. turn, Jeremiah 34:11 - שׁוב (twice)

If you go back to Jeremiah 34:9, there are eight words from Jeremiah 34:9-11 that begin with שׁ.

Jeremiah 34:11 “afterward they turned around and took back the servants” Jeremiah 37:7-10, Jeremiah 34:1 and 34:21-22 tell us that the Egyptian army was the cause of the siege being broken off briefly.

The Mosiac law allowed a Hebrew to sell himself or herself for a set period of time, six years. They were to be released at the end of one year of rest following the six of labor (cf. Exodus 23:10-11; Exodus 21:2-11; Leviticus 25:39-46; Deuteronomy 15:1, Deuteronomy 15:12-18). The rich people of the city vowed this act to impress God but when the siege was lifted they reneged!

Verses 12-16

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 34:12-16 12Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, 13”Thus says the LORD God of Israel, 'I made a covenant with your forefathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, saying, 14”At the end of seven years each of you shall set free his Hebrew brother who has been sold to you and has served you six years, you shall send him out free from you; but your forefathers did not obey Me or incline their ear to Me. 15Although recently you had turned and done what is right in My sight, each man proclaiming release to his neighbor, and you had made a covenant before Me in the house which is called by My name. 16Yet you turned and profaned My name, and each man took back his male servant and each man his female servant whom you had set free according to their desire, and you brought them into subjection to be your male servants and female servants.”'

Jeremiah 34:14 “end of seven years” The LXX has “six years.” The meaning is “at the beginning of the seventh year.” This reflects the ancient law (cf. Exodus 21:2-11; Leviticus 25:39-46; Deuteronomy 15:1, Deuteronomy 15:12-18).

“did not obey Me or incline their ear to Me” This same reluctance to hear and obey is seen in Jeremiah 7:24-26; Jeremiah 17:23; Jeremiah 19:15. It was not an issue of ignorance of God's will but willful, recurrent disobedience.

1. “obey” - BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal PERFECT, lit. “hear” (Shema, cf. Deuteronomy 6:4)

2. “incline” - BDB 639, KB 692, Hiphil PERFECT, cf. Joshua 24:23; Psalms 119:36

Jeremiah 34:15 “in the house which is called by My name” This Deuteronomic language refers to the temple, which will eventually be in Jerusalem (cf. Jeremiah 7:10-11, Jeremiah 7:14, Jeremiah 7:30; Jeremiah 32:34).

The concept of the temple as “house” is the word play of 2 Samuel 7:2, 2 Samuel 7:13, 2 Samuel 7:16.

Jeremiah 34:16 “profaned My name” This root (BDB 320 III, KB 319, Piel IMPERFECT) means “to pollute,” “to defile,” or “to profane” (cf. Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 19:12; Leviticus 20:3; Leviticus 21:6; Leviticus 22:2, Leviticus 22:32; Ezekiel 20:39; Ezekiel 36:20-23; Amos 2:7; Malachi 1:12; Malachi 2:10).

Verses 17-22

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 34:17-22 17”Therefore thus says the LORD, 'You have not obeyed Me in proclaiming release each man to his brother and each man to his neighbor. Behold, I am proclaiming a release to you,' declares the LORD, 'to the sword, to the pestilence and to the famine; and I will make you a terror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 18I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not fulfilled the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between its parts 19the officials of Judah and the officials of Jerusalem, the court officers and the priests and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf 20I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life. And their dead bodies will be food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth. 21Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials I will give into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life, and into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon which has gone away from you. 22Behold, I am going to command,' declares the LORD, 'and I will bring them back to this city; and they will fight against it and take it and burn it with fire; and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without inhabitant.'“

Jeremiah 34:17 The leaders of Jerusalem swore in God's name to “free” their Hebrew slaves but they did not. Now YHWH will “free” (lit. “liberty,” BDB 204 I) the sword (BDB 352), pestilence (BDB 184), and famine (BDB 944) on them (see note at Jeremiah 14:12).

“and I will make you a terror to all the kingdoms of the earth” This same phrase is used in Jeremiah 29:18 and Deuteronomy 28:25. God's covenant people were meant to be a light to the nations but they had become a proverb of disaster! This was an exact reversal of God's purposes (cf. Ezekiel 36:22-38)!

Jeremiah 34:19 “who passed between the parts of the calf” This was an ancient method of ratifying a covenant (cf. Genesis 15:9-10, Genesis 15:17). See Special Topic: Covenant.

Jeremiah 34:20 An improper burial was a horror to ancient Jewish people (cf. Jeremiah 19:7; 1 Samuel 17:44, 1 Samuel 17:46; 1 Kings 14:11; 1 Kings 16:4). It functioned as a threat and curse.

Jeremiah 34:22 “I will bring them back to this city” As Nebuchadnezzar was besieging Jerusalem in 588 B.C., the Egyptian army appeared in Judah. The Babylonians withdrew their siege of Jerusalem for a brief period to meet the new threat (cf. Jeremiah 37:0), but there was no battle and the siege of Jerusalem was quickly reestablished.

Notice it is YHWH (lit. “I am going to command” - BDB 845, KB 1010, Piel ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) who directs the Babylonian military (cf. 2 Kings 24:3). Remember the concept of monotheism (see Special Topic: Monotheism) is often communicated by the absence of secondary causes! YHWH is in control of individual, national, and international (as well as physical) events!

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Jeremiah 34". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/jeremiah-34.html. 2021.
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