FLASH IN THE PAN SPIRITUAL LOYALTY DOESN’T CUT IT
You have heard of the Christian movement called “Promise Keepers.” I suppose you could call this episode in Israel’s history a record of “Promise Breakers.” Jeremiah comes to remind the city and king of the certainty of God’s judgment because they failed to sustain their commitment to obeying the covenant. They followed the path of expediency rather than of conviction and jettisoned their half-hearted pledges when their circumstances changed.
Mackay: Chapter 34 records two incidents in the closing years of Zedekiah’s reign: a message delivered to him by Jeremiah (vv. 1-7), and a blatant example of opportunism and half-heartedness in a solemn commitment (vv. 8-22).
FLASH IN THE PAN SPIRITUAL LOYALTY DOESN’T CUT IT
I. (:1-7) FATE OF KING ZEDEKIAH SPELLED OUT
“The 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,”
Parunak: this is the initial part of the siege, when Zed still entertains hope of Egyptian help. . . (:2-3), the city will fall and Zed will be captured. God will not deliver them; the appeal to Egypt will fail.
A. (:2-3) Captured by King of Babylon
“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. You 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.’”
Feinberg: Verse 3 discloses the fate of Zedekiah in the siege. The Lord’s message to him was that he was not to be led astray by the temporary respite in the siege; the situation was actually hopeless. As for Zedekiah, there would be no escape; he would have to face the invader (32:4). The mention of a face-to-face confrontation with Nebuchadnezzar shows something of the fear he inspired. Zedekiah could not escape the consequences of his treason in breaking his covenant with Nebuchadnezzar. He would have to answer personally for it. This prophecy and the prophecy in Ezekiel 12:13 are reconciled by the fact that after his confrontation with Nebuchadnezzar, Zedekiah was blinded and taken to Babylon (52:11).
B. (:4-5) Killed – But in Peace
“Yet hear the word of the LORD, O Zedekiah king of Judah! Thus says the LORD concerning you, ‘You will not die by the sword. You 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.”
Constable: The people of Judah would lament Zedekiah’s death by burning spices, a traditional way of expressing grief (cf. Jeremiah 22:18; 2 Chronicles 16:14; 2 Chronicles 21:19). Yahweh promised this to the king. The Babylonians evidently permitted the Judeans in exile to mourn the death of their king in this way.
Parunak: Zed will not die by the sword, but will be buried with royal honors. Contrast the treatment of Jehoiakim, 22:18-19, and the general treatment of those remaining in the city when it falls, 21:7.
(:6-7) Setting Repeated
“Then Jeremiah the prophet spoke all these words to Zedekiah king of Judah in Jerusalem when 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.”
II. (:8-16) FREEDOM FOR JEWISH SLAVES COMMANDED AND ONLY TEMPORARILY OBEYED
A. (:8-11) Cycle of Rebellion
“The 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:”
1. (:9) Command = Free Jewish Slaves
“that 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.”
Thompson: It may have been a matter of convenience since slaves had to be fed and could no longer be used for work in the fields. Moreover, the men were needed for the defense of the city. Some owners may have had nobler motives and wished to comply with the law.
2. (:10) Initial Obedience
“And 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.”
3. (:11) Relapse
“But 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.”
Parunak: This episode shows us very clearly the difference between inward and outward submission to the Lord, between obeying in the flesh and in the spirit. The fear of siege forced the Jews into an outward obedience, but in their hearts they never accepted the Lord’s authority, and as soon as the threat was gone, they lapsed back into their old conduct. What God wants is yielded hearts that accept his rule without compulsion.
Longman: They did not follow through on their commitment to do the right thing; they betrayed their covenantal agreement.
Feinberg: The incident has been aptly called “panic piety” (so Lewis). Recall how often the eighth-century prophets Isaiah, Micah, Hosea, and Amos denounced social injustices against slaves. To reimpose slavery on those who had been freed showed that the covenant had not been motivated by compassion, justice, and obedience to the Lord’s command.
B. (:12-16) Covenant Transgressions
“Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,”
1. (:13-14) Covenant Ratified and Broken
a. (:13) Ratification
“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,”
b. (:14a) Regulations
“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;”
c. (:14b) Relapse
“but your forefathers did not obey Me or incline their ear to Me.”
2. (:15-16) Covenant Obeyed and Then Profaned
a. (:15) Covenant Obeyed
“Although 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.”
b. (:16) Covenant Profaned
“Yet 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.”
Stedman: The remarkable phrase in this passage is, “you profaned my name.” This was a serious charge to any Jew. They had been brought up to revere and respect the name of God. The scribes did not even dare to write the name of God without taking a bath and changing their clothes. And they never pronounced it. The four Hebrew letters used for the name of God they called “The Ineffable Tetragrammaton” — the unpronounceable or unspeakable four letters. They never spoke the name of God. Yet God’s charge against this king is, “You have profaned my name.” The Hebrew word translated profane, means “wound,” “pierce,” or “deface.” God’s charge is, “You have defaced me.” How did Zedekiah do it? By failing to respect the human rights of slaves. It is an act of blasphemy against God to treat another person as somewhat less than a person. That is what God holds a nation to account for.
III. (:17-22) FATE OF COVENANT BREAKERS SPELLED OUT
A. (:17) Boomerang Threat Due to Covenant Breaking
1. (:17a) Release Ignored
“Therefore thus says the LORD, ‘You have not obeyed Me in proclaiming release each man to his brother and each man to his neighbor.’”
2. (:17b) Release Promised
“’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.’”
Longman: God will give them freedom though they did not grant freedom to the slaves. But this is a freedom they will not want. It is a freedom to fall by sword, plague, and famine.
B. (:18-21) Backsliders Punished
1. (:18-20) Punished for Breaking the Covenant
“I 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— the 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— I 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.”
Constable: The Lord would give all the people who had broken the covenant, regardless of their social position, into the hand of their enemy. They would die without the privilege of a burial; birds and beasts would consume their carcasses (cf. Jeremiah 7:33; Jeremiah 16:4; Jeremiah 19:7; Deuteronomy 28:26). They had used a typical covenant-making ritual. They had cut a young calf in two and the parties of the covenant passed between the halves (cf. Genesis 15:10; Genesis 15:17).
2. (:21) Punished by Their Enemies
“Zedekiah 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.”
C. (:22) Burning and Devastation in Store for Jerusalem and Cities of Judah
“’Behold, 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.’”