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Jeremiah 34:1 The word which came to Jeremiah from Yahweh, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and all his army and all the kingdoms of the land that were under his dominion, and all the peoples, were fighting against Jerusalem and against all the cities of it, saying- The emphasis is upon how indeed all nations of the lands around Israel came to fight against Jerusalem.

Jeremiah 34:2 Thus says Yahweh the God of Israel, Go speak to Zedekiah king of Judah and tell him, Thus says Yahweh, Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire-
This was surely a conditional prophecy, even though no condition is given at the time: “I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire”. But the Jews made some sort of repentance, releasing their slaves… and the Babylonian armies retreated (Jer. 34:21,22). Then they enslaved their brethren again- and, v.22 says, only because of this did the Babylonian armies return and burn Jerusalem. Thus the initial prophecy of burning with fire was conditional. And the Jews realized this and therefore repented. In similar vein, “the king of Babylon shall certainly come and destroy this land” was capable of not being fulfilled, if Judah would only have repented (Jer. 36:3,7,29).  


Jeremiah 34:3 and you shall not escape out of his hand, but shall surely be taken, and delivered into his hand; and your eyes shall see the eyes of the king of Babylon, and he shall speak with you mouth to mouth, and you shall go to Babylon- This was still conditional; Zedekiah could have repented. It was because he did not humble himself before the words of Jeremiah that the destruction and exile happened (2 Chron. 36:12-17). Zedekiah did see the eyes of the king, but his eyes were then put out. But it seems that in his blindness he repented to some degree.

Jeremiah 34:4 Yet hear the word of Yahweh, O Zedekiah king of Judah: thus says Yahweh concerning you, You shall not die by the sword-
This was the previous judgment upon Zedekiah and the royal family (specifically :20; Jer. 21:7,9; also Jer. 9:16; 15:9; 20:4; 24:10). The idea may be that if he repented, a different destiny was possible. And indeed, he died in peace, albeit blind and in exile. We can conclude therefore that in the blindness and imprisonment he experienced, he did repent. Blindness was used as a spur to repentance in the lives of Saul, Elymas and others.

Jeremiah 34:5 You shall die in peace; and with the burnings of your fathers, the former kings who were before you, so shall they make a burning for you; and they shall lament you saying, Ah Lord! Because I have spoken the word, says Yahweh-
Previously, the fate of Zedekiah was to have been the consuming of his carcass in shame (Jer. 19:7). As noted on :4, the Divine intentions for Zedekiah were changed because of his later repentance.  The prophecy here mentions no conditions. But consider the words of Ez. 12:13 about the same man: “My net also will I spread upon him, and he shall be taken in my snare: and I will bring him to Babylon…yet shall he not see it, though he shall die there” [i.e. he would be made blind before arrival]. The surrounding verses give an accurate prophecy of how Zedekiah was captured whilst fleeing from Jerusalem. And the same is said in Jer. 32:4; 38:17. It surely has to be recognized that the ‘prophecy’ that Zedekiah would die in peace was conditional upon his obedience to the word of Jeremiah- even though those conditions aren’t recorded (although they are implicit surely). See on :20.

Jeremiah 34:6 Then Jeremiah the prophet spoke all these words to Zedekiah king of Judah in Jerusalem-
Given the power of Zedekiah against people like Jeremiah, this was spoken with great bravery, that was motivated by a real desire to see his repentance.

Jeremiah 34:7 when the king of Babylon’s army was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left, against Lachish and against Azekah; for these alone remained of the cities of Judah as fortified cities-
"Remained" is the word for "remnant". It is this "remnant" which could have repented and been saved. The rest of Judah had fallen apart from them. We constantly encounter all the potential salvations that were possible.

Jeremiah 34:8 The word that came to Jeremiah from Yahweh, after that the king Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people who were at Jerusalem, to proclaim liberty to them-
God's response to this covenant was to speak of His own covenant with Israel (:13). His covenant relationship with them was conditional upon their covenant attitude to each other; and that is an abiding principle. Relationship with God depends upon our relationship and attitude to each other; as John puts it, we cannot claim to love God without loving our brother. This is why attitude to others within the covenant is so critically important, as upon that our whole relationship with God may stand or fall. It was apparently a jubilee year, when the slaves should in any case be released. This explains why they had a choice; to give the land and people rest, or to allow the land and common people to "keep Sabbath" in the desolation and exile which would happen after the invasion.

Jeremiah 34:9 that every man should let his male servant, and every man his female servant, who is a Hebrew or a Hebrewess, go free; that none should make bond servants of them, of a Jew his brother-
Heb. 'should work through them', i.e. "should employ them for forced labour". It was on the back of this kind of abuse that the wealthy had built their great houses in Jerusalem. They were supposed to release them anyway in the Sabbath year, and that year was a jubilee year as well (:17). If they enslaved their brethren, then they were to be enslaved by the Babylonians. If they liberated their brethren, then they would be liberated from otherwise certain bondage (Jer. 30:8 uses the same language). Again we must perceive the point- that abuse of our brethren will lead to our condemnation. Our attitude to those weaker than ourselves is so critically important; it is upon this that our relationship with God depends. In the light of this, we must carefully reassess any policies of disfellowship which our church, fellowship or denomination demands us to uphold. As we have been called to freedom, our attitude to our brethren should be seeking to liberate them, rather than enslave them. The tragedy is that at the restoration, these abusive practices were revived (Neh. 5:5), when it was exactly because of them that Judah had gone into captivity.

Jeremiah 34:10 All the princes and all the people obeyed, who had entered into the covenant, that everyone should let his male servant and everyone his female servant, go free, that none should make bond servants of them any more; they obeyed, and let them go-
All those obeyed who had entered the covenant; which might suggest some didn't even enter it. A study of “the princes” of Judah at the time of the final Babylonian invasion shows that they were not against Jeremiah nor responding to God’s word (Jer. 26:16; 36:14,19); indeed at one stage they pulled back from their path of refusing to respond (Jer. 34:10). But “the princes” were the ones whom Zedekiah feared (Jer. 38:25), and that fear led him to reject God’s word. And “the princes” were finally condemned for their weakness (Jer. 32:32); it was they who imprisoned and sought to kill Jeremiah because ultimately they could not abide his word (Jer. 37:15; 38:14). One person or a very small group can easily lead a whole group, even of believers, into sin. And so it is that whole groups of people- even God’s people- can be very fickle.

Jeremiah 34:11 but afterwards they turned, and caused the servants and the handmaids, whom they had let go free, to return, and brought them into subjection for servants and for handmaids-
Note the play on the word "return". By making their servants 'return' to bondage, they were 'returning' to the bondage of sin and selfishness. And this example is so true to our lives- we can forgive a person at one point in time, or in some way 'release' them; but find it impossible to maintain that intensity, just as David failed with Shimei.

There was a clear commandment to release their bondservants in the Sabbath year (Ex. 21:2; Dt. 15:12). But these slaves had likely sold themselves into that bondage. And with Jerusalem consumed by plague, famine and the effects of the Babylonian siege, these people had no choice but to immediately sell themselves back into that slavery. Technically, it could be argued that the wealthier Jews had done nothing wrong. But clearly they had disobeyed the spirit of the law- that their brethren should not be in permanent bondage to them, but should be given the freedom which is intended for every human being. This keeping the letter of the law but breaking the spirit of it was deeply abhorrent to God; and so they are condemned for doing so. We cannot adopt a spirit of brinkmanship with God; rather are we to wholeheartedly follow the way of love, kindness, sensitivity and empathy.


The prophets not only reflected God’s dismay and passionate feelings, they expressed their own dismay too. Lack of justice was a major concern of the prophets. But to us, injustice may be so commonplace we don’t really worry about it too much. Given all the idolatry going on at the time of Jeremiah, we'd have expected the condition for being spared judgment at the hands of their invaders to be: 'Throw your idols away!'. But here God had offered them a reprieve if they stopped abusing their brethren. When, temporarily, the Jews ceased doing that and proclaimed liberty to their brethren- the pending judgment was put on hold. When they again abused their brethren, not giving them the "liberty" which must be afforded to all those made in God's image, then the Babylonians returned. And we need to ask whether we proclaim liberty to our brethren- or abuse them by not allowing them the basic freedom which is the dignity God allows to each of His children. It’s rather like Paul writing to the Corinthians, and firstly addressing the sin of their divisiveness. What about their drunkenness at the breaking of bread, false doctrine, idolatry, using temple prostitutes? Paul focuses firstly on the sin of their divisions.

Jeremiah 34:12 Therefore the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah from Yahweh saying-
As noted on :11, what the wealthy had done was technically within the limits of the law, but was such an obvious abuse of it that God responds very sternly.

Jeremiah 34:13 Thus says Yahweh, God of Israel: I made a covenant with your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, saying-
God's covenant with His people at this point was dependent upon their abiding by the covenant agreement to not abuse and rather liberate their brethren. Accepting covenant relationship with God involves a solemn understanding that we are not to abuse the weak, but are to do to them as God has done with us. We are to take them out of bondage, not into it. And we can return people to bondage by guilt tripping them and places burdens upon them.

Jeremiah 34:14 At the end of seven years you shall let go every man his brother who is a Hebrew, who has been sold to you, and has served you six years, you shall let him go free from you: but your fathers didn’t listen to Me-
Serving six years was counted inclusively as serving to the end of seven years. There was to be a generosity of spirit in dealing with their brethren.

Neither inclined their ear- Inclining or humbling / bowing down the ear means that true response to God's word ought to be a humbling experience. We cannot come away from engagement with God's word without being humbled. And this very phrase is used of how God bows down / inclines His ear to human prayer (2 Kings 19:16; Ps. 17:6; 31:2; 71:2 and often). We see here the mutuality possible between God and man, and the interplay between Bible reading and God's response to our prayers. We speak to God in line with our understanding of His word, and He responds to our prayers. Bible reading and prayer therefore mesh together in the Christian life, as part of the upward spiral of spirituality. God is not silent to our prayers- He reveals Himself in response through His word.

Jeremiah 34:15 You had now turned, and had done that which is right in My eyes, in proclaiming liberty every man to his neighbour; and you had made a covenant before Me in the house which is called by My name-
They turned in repentance, and then turned back (:16). The turning of their captivity was to be response to their final turning back to God; the idea of 'turning' / repenting is such a major theme in Jeremiah. For all their sins of rebellion and idolatry, the threatened judgment could have been turned away simply if they repented of this one thing. This highlights how critically important is love for our brethren, and not seeking to get out of our responsibilities to the weak by claiming technical obedience to Divine law. For this was just what they were doing- capitalizing on their brethren's poverty by letting them sell themselves to them as slaves, abusing their services, and then technically releasing them but letting these poor people sell themselves back into slavery to them soon afterwards.

Jeremiah 34:16 but you turned and profaned My name, and caused every man his servant, and every man his handmaid, whom you had let go free at their pleasure, to return; and you brought them into subjection, to be to you for servants and for handmaids-
God's Name has within it the ideas of salvation, redemption and liberation of His people. To act contrary to that is to profane His Name. This is the essence of blasphemy. God will not let His Name be polluted by His people (Is. 48:11; Ez. 20:9). But they did pollute His Name (Jer. 34:16), and the restored exiles did just the same rather than learn any lesson (Mal. 1:7). God invites us to see His efforts to stop His Name being polluted as somehow defeated by the extent of Israel's pollutions. This theme comes out clearly in Ezekiel: they polluted Him, but He strove lest His Name should be polluted. Here is the extent of freewill which God gives man to sin- and also the extent of the hopefulness of God. It's as if He didn't imagine they would pollute Him as much as they did.

Jeremiah 34:17 Therefore thus says Yahweh: you have not listened to Me, to proclaim liberty each man to his brother and each man to his neighbour: behold, I proclaim to you a liberty, says Yahweh, to the sword, to the plague and to the famine-
The play upon 'proclaiming liberty' has more appropriacy when we appreciate that this was a Sabbath and jubilee year. There is definite allusion to the prophecy of Is. 61:1, that the reestablished Messianic kingdom would be heralded by a proclamation of liberty to the captives; the same Hebrew phrase is used. Jeremiah's proclamation of this liberty was therefore a foretaste of that; if the Jews had accepted it and themselves proclaimed it, then despite all their other weaknesses, the most amazing turnaround could have happened. They who were on the brink of miserable destruction and condemnation could have been transformed into the restored Kingdom of God. The liberty was proclaimed to them. But instead they preferred petty power over others; their short term selfishness was too great, and the most wonderful, eternal opportunity was missed. They refused to accept their weaker, poorer brethren as their neighbours and equal brothers. And so it is with people to this day.

And I will make you to be tossed back and forth among all the kingdoms of the earth- This removing / tossing to and from of Judah from their land uses the same word as in Dt. 28:25; in response to their breaking of the covenant, they would be "removed (s.w.) into all the kingdoms of the eretz, throughout the land promised to Abraham. But this curse could have been turned into a blessing; for the restoration prophets envisaged the nations of the eretz repenting and converting to Yahweh. This could have been achieved by the exiles witnessing to the various peoples and languages within the Babylonian / Persian empire. But this didn't happen as was potentially possible. The exiles didn't repent, and so their repentance and experience of the grace of forgiveness was not the powerful pattern of conversion to their neighbours which it could have been.

Jeremiah 34:18 I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not performed the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between its parts-
The covenant in view seems specifically the covenant to release the slaves (:8). A calf was cut in two, representing how they would be cut in pieces if they failed to keep it. This contrasts with the new covenant, which was based upon the promises to Abraham. As noted on Gen. 15, this was a unilateral covenant from God to man. Yahweh alone passed through the pieces, whereas Abraham remained powerless to do so. He was simply the recipient of grace. The old covenant in the law of Moses was different; it depended upon the human side keeping their part of the agreement. It seems that now, at this dire point, God was willing to retain Israel within the covenant, even though they had broken it- if they kept their side of it, in simply liberating their brethren and not abusing them. But they failed to do even that, and so they were to be cut to pieces. But in grace, even that didn't happen to them all. For many of them went into exile rather than being slain with the sword, and as noted on Jer. 33, Zedekiah died in peace rather than be cut in pieces.

Jeremiah 34:19 the princes of Judah, and the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, and the priests, and all the people of the land, who passed between the parts of the calf-
As explained on :18, this meant that they were to be cut into parts, seeing they had broken the covenant. They of course would have argued that they didn't break the covenant; they had freed their slaves, but the slaves being in desperate straits had sold themselves back to them for another six years soon afterwards. But they were breaking thereby the obvious spirit of the law, and this was counted as having broken the covenant agreement made, to liberate their brethren.

Jeremiah 34:20 I will even give them into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of those who seek their life; and their dead bodies shall be for food to the birds of the sky and to the beasts of the earth-
The covenant of Gen. 15 featured the passing between the pieces, with birds of prey eager to come and eat the pieces of the slain calf. They had broken the covenant and were to be treated likewise. As explained on :19, they would have argued that they hadn't broken the covenant in the letter; but they had in spirit. And so they were to be cut in pieces and eaten by wild animals, with no decent burial. All because they refused to liberate their brethren. But did this really happen to them? The impression is given that the royal family went into exile and Zedekiah himself died in peace. Here again we would then see God in wrath remembering mercy, such was His grace.

Jeremiah 34:21 Zedekiah king of Judah and his princes will I give into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of those who seek their life, and into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army who have for now gone away from you-
To be given into the hand / power of those who want to kill you is surely tantamount to saying that they will kill you. As explained on :4,5, this was initially the prophetic scenario for Zedekiah; he would die by the sword. But by grace this was changed; he didn't repent at that time when he was intended to, and yet he presumably did later, after he was blinded and imprisoned.

Jeremiah 34:22 Behold, I will command, says Yahweh, and cause them to return to this city; and they shall fight against it, and take it, and burn it with fire: and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation, without inhabitant
- The 'return' of Judah to the sin of abusing their brethren, even despite doing to technically in the name of casuistic obedience to the law, was what caused the Babylonians to return. God placed such huge significance upon their attitude to their brethren; to the point that He effectively makes the entire return of the Babylonians to destroy the city and temple to pivot upon this matter.