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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Jeremiah 34

 

 

Verse 1

Jeremiah 34:1. The word which came unto Jeremiah from the Lord, when Nebuchadnezzar, &c., fought against Jerusalem — The siege was begun in the ninth year of Zedekiah, the tenth month and tenth day of the month, which answers to the latter end of our December. See Jeremiah 52:4. Blaney thinks the prophet received this revelation a month or two after the siege was begun, or toward the latter end of Zedekiah’s ninth year; namely, during the interval between the raising 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, Jeremiah 37:5. Jeremiah, it appears, was not at this time in prison: see Jeremiah 34:4; Jeremiah 34:14-15, of that chapter. And against all the cities thereof — The lesser cities of Judea, which were subject to Jerusalem, as their metropolis, called elsewhere the daughters of Judah by way of distinction from the mother city.


Verses 2-5

Jeremiah 34:2-5. Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and thou shalt not escape, &c. — This prophecy, which threatened the king in particular, as well as the city and nation in general, so much displeased Zedekiah that he shut up Jeremiah in prison. See notes on Jeremiah 32:2-5, where the same things are related that occur here. But thou shalt die in peace — Namely, by a natural death. The king of Babylon took him, killed his sons before his eyes, then put out his eyes, and bound him with chains, (Jeremiah 39:7,) but did not put him to death, as we here learn. With the burning of thy fathers, &c., so shall they burn odours for thee — It was customary among the Jews, at the funerals of their kings, especially of those whose memories they honoured, to prepare a bed of spices, of which they made a perfume by burning them, and therein to deposite the body of the deceased prince: see 2 Chronicles 16:14; 2 Chronicles 21:19. And they will lament thee, saying, Ah lord! — In these, and the foregoing words, God promises Zedekiah an honourable interment, and suitable to his quality; a favour he did not vouchsafe to Jehoiakim, Jeremiah 22:18.


Verse 7

Jeremiah 34:7. When the king of Babylon fought against Lachish and against Azekah — See 2 Kings 18:13; 2 Kings 19:8. These two cities were not far from Jerusalem, and had been fortified by Rehoboam, for the defence of his kingdom, 2 Chronicles 11:9. After that Zedekiah had made a covenant with the people to proclaim liberty, &c. — “By the law of Moses, (Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 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 six 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, honour, 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 the 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 vineyards. But every seventh year, from the beginning of their service, the Hebrew bond-slaves were to be discharged. Six years were they 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. But, that the sabbatical year was so, I see not the least reason to conclude, but quite the contrary.” — Blaney.


Verse 10-11

Jeremiah 34:10-11. Now when all the princes, &c., heard — This verse is better translated by Blaney and others thus, And all the princes hearkened, or, consented, and all the people who entered into covenant to let every one his bondman, and every one his bond-woman go free, and not to exact service of them any more, they hearkened, I say, and let them go. That is, they conformed to the obligations of the covenant, which they had entered into at the instigation of their prince. But afterward they turned, and brought them into subjection, &c. — Namely, upon the advance of the Egyptian army, which caused Nebuchadnezzar to raise the siege of Jerusalem. When they thought themselves safe from their enemies, as if they had also got out of God’s hand, they repented of their repentance, and returned to their old oppressions. Now this was not only a contempt of the divine law, as if it were of no force at all, but they might either keep it or break it as they thought fit; but it was a contempt of the covenant which they had, in a very solemn manner, (see Jeremiah 34:18-20,) made with him, and of that wrath which they had imprecated upon themselves in case they should break that covenant. It was jesting with God Almighty, as if he could be imposed on by fallacious promises, which, when they had gained their point, they would think themselves no longer obliged by. It was lying to God with their mouths, and flattering him with their tongues. It was likewise a contempt of the judgments of God, and setting them at defiance; as if when once the course of them was stopped a little, and interrupted, they would never proceed again, nor be revived: whereas, reprieves are so far from being pardons, that if they be abused thus, and sinners take encouragement from them to return to sin, they are but preparatives for heavier strokes of divine vengeance.


Verse 13-14

Jeremiah 34:13-14. I made a covenant with your fathers, saying, At the end of seven years — This is the literal translation of מקצ שׁבע שׁנים; but the import of the phrase is, in the course of the seventh year; or, within the term of seven years, as Dr. Waterland renders it. “The seventh year was the year of release, (Deuteronomy 15:9,) consequently servants were to continue in service but six years, and at the beginning of the seventh were to be let go free; ibid, Jeremiah 34:12. And the words mean no more, as appears by a like form of speech, Deuteronomy 14:28, where it is said, At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thy increase that year: which is to be explained by Jeremiah 26:12, where every third year is called the year of tithing. So Christ is said to rise again after three days, Mark 8:31, which is elsewhere explained by his rising the third day. But your fathers hearkened not unto me — Their worldly profit swaying more with them than God’s command. It appears from hence, that the law, requiring them to let their servants go free after six years’ service, had been violated by the Jews for ages before the captivity, as the law respecting the sabbatical year had also been. The consequence was, that the servants had, by long disuse, lost the benefit of the gracious provision which God, in his law, had made for them, for this trespass of them and their fathers God now justly delivered them into servitude to strangers.


Verses 15-17

Jeremiah 34:15-17. And ye were now turned — That is, reformed in this particular; and had done right in my sight — In proclaiming liberty to your servants. And ye had made a covenant before me — Had entered into solemn engagements in my presence and temple to that purpose. This was probably such a covenant as Josiah and all the people had made formerly, (2 Kings 23:2-3,) whereby they obliged themselves to serve God, and obey his laws in general, and this concerning giving freedom to their servants in particular. But ye turned — Declined from these good beginnings; and polluted my name — That is, profaned it, in swearing, or solemnly promising in and by it, to do that which you have not done. Certainly, whoever uses the name of God, by way of sanction to his promises, that the greater confidence may be placed in them, and afterward does not perform them, profanes or pollutes the name of God. Therefore, behold I proclaim liberty for you to the sword, &c. — I now declare that I give free commission and liberty to my sore judgments, the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, to invade and destroy multitudes of you. See Jeremiah 32:24; Jeremiah 32:36. The expressions here used import, that these calamities come upon men by direction and commission from God, as the executioners of his justice. And to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth — Those of you who escape destruction shall be dispersed through different nations, where you shall learn by experience how great are the hardships and miseries attendant on a state of servitude. See note on Jeremiah 24:9.


Verse 18

Jeremiah 34:18. When they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts — In order to ratify the covenant, they killed a calf, or young bullock, which they cut in two, and placing the two parts at some distance from each other, they passed between them; signifying by this rite that they consented to be served in the like manner, in case they violated their part of the covenant. We learn from the Holy Scriptures, and from heathen authors, that the same or similar ceremonies were in use in making and ratifying covenants and treaties in ancient times. In this way Abraham’s covenant with God was confirmed, Genesis 15:10. And, according to Livy, lib. 1. cap. 24; and lib. 21. cap. 45, rites of a similar kind were in use among the old Romans; as we find from Homer they were also among the Greeks. Thus he tells us, when they had entered into a solemn agreement with the Trojans to put an end to the war, by the single combat of Paris and Menelaus, at the pouring out of their wine upon their sacrifice, they made the following imprecation upon those who should not observe their part of the treaty, Iliad, 3. l, 298.

οπποτεροι προτεροι υπερ ορκια πημηνειαν,

ωδε σφεγκεφαλος χαμαδις ρεοι, ως οδε οινος.

“So may their blood who first the league confound. Shed, like this wine, distain the thirsty ground.” POPE.


Verses 19-22

Jeremiah 34:19-22. The princes of Judah, &c., (see Jeremiah 29:2,) the eunuchs — The officers belonging to the court; the priests and all the people which passed between the parts of the calf — Assenting to the solemn and awful imprecation, Let us in like manner be cut in pieces if we do not perform what we now promise. I will even give them into the hand of their enemies, &c. — God does not here threaten all the Jews, but those only who had first made, and then broken, this solemn covenant, and thereby falsified their engagements, and dealt treacherously with him. The king and nobles, and great courtiers, as well as the people, he would give into the hand of their enemies, who sought, not their wealth only, or their service, but their lives: and who should obtain what they sought; and, not content therewith, should leave their dead bodies lying unburied upon the face of the earth, a loathsome spectacle to all mankind, and an easy prey to the fowls of the heaven and the beasts of the earth. Thus doth the Lord execute justice, without respect of persons, on all that do wickedly, and who will neither be won by his mercies, nor be brought to obey him by a dread of his wrath. Behold, I will command, and cause them to return to this city — Namely, the king of Babylon’s army, which had departed for a season, having gone to meet the army of the king of Egypt. I will put it into their hearts to return, saith the Lord, to the siege, and they shall leave it no more till they have taken the city, and burned it with fire, and made the whole country desolate. The motions of armies are under the government of Divine Providence, they are all at God’s command; when he bids them come they come, and they shall certainly effect what he hath determined to be done. When we come to chapter 39. we shall read of the fulfilment of this prophecy. Observe here, reader, 1st, As an humble confidence in God is a hopeful presage of approaching deliverance, so security in sin is a sad omen of approaching destruction. 2d, When judgments are removed from a people before they have done their work, and leave them unhumbled and unreformed, they do but retreat to come on again with so much the greater force; for when God judges he will overcome. 3d, It is just with God to disappoint those expectations of mercy which his providence had excited, when we disappoint those expectations of duty which our professions, pretensions, and fair promises had given cause for. If we repent of the good we had promised, God will repent of the good he had purposed. The froward are an abomination to the Lord. With the froward he will show himself froward.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Jeremiah 34:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/jeremiah-34.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, September 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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