JEREMIAH CHAPTER 34
The captivity of Zedekiah and the city, Jeremiah 34:1-7. The princes and people by solemn covenant, according to the law, dismiss their bond-servants, but the Babylonians leaving the siege, they reassume them, Jeremiah 34:8-11. For this God threateneth a return of the enemy, and destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah 34:11-22.
The revelation of the will of God to Jeremiah, to be published to the people during the time of the siege. The seven first verses are plainly a distinct prophecy from that in the latter part of the chapter. It was (as some think) for this sermon that the prophet was imprisoned (for in this prophecy the sermons are much disordered in the placing of them); so as this, showing the cause for which the king imprisoned him, is set after others, Jer 32, which were during the time of his imprisonment.
We had all this Jeremiah 32:3,4.
See Poole "Jeremiah 32:3", See Poole "Jeremiah 32:4".
This only place informeth us concerning the manner of Zedekiah’s death, and that both negatively and positively. Negatively, that he did not die by the sword, the king of Babylon took him, killed his sons before his eyes, then put out his eyes, and bound him in chains, Jeremiah 39:7, but killed him not, as we learn from this text; but he died a natural death, which is here meant by dying in peace; and had an honourable burial, which the king of Babylon would not allow Jehoiakim, as we read, Jeremiah 22:18,19; he was buried with the burial of an ass, and his body was cast out of the gates of Jerusalem, and no man lamented for him; but as to Zedekiah, they burned sweet odours for him, (after the manner of the burial of kings, 2 Chronicles 16:14) and made solemn lamentation for him. The Jews, in their chronology, called by them Seder Olam, give us the form of their lamentation, thus: Alas! Zedekiah is dead, who drank the dregs of all ages; that is, who was punished for the sins of all former ages.
The prophet was not afraid to go and do the message God had intrusted him with to the king, upon which he was imprisoned, as we read before, Jeremiah 32:3: the time it should seem was after that the king of Babylon had invaded the country, and, taken the greatest part of it; only three fortified places remained, which he was besieging, viz. Jerusalem, which was the chief city of that country, and Lachish, of the conquest of which we read Joshua 10:31, disposed of to the tribe of Judah. Joshua 15:39, and Azekah, which was a city of Judah, of which we read in the same chapters.
This verse plainly beginneth a new prophecy, but at what particular time this revelation or the publication of it was we are not told, only the occasion of it is recorded. God had made a particular law respecting the Jewish nation, that if any had bought an Hebrew servant, he should serve but six years, and in the seventh should go out free, Exodus 21:2 Deuteronomy 15:12. It came into Zedekiah’s mind to make a proclamation for the execution of this law; what moved him to it we have not recorded. The learned author of the English Annotations observeth well, that it was their usual course when they were in some great straits to make some partial reformation, Jude 10:15,16 Psa 78:34,35 Ho 6 1.
This was the tenor of God’s law mentioned in the above named texts; and it seemeth Zedekiah, taking notice of the common violation of this law, and the Jews’ ordinary oppressing those of their own nation this way, judging that this might be one of those sins for which the wrath of God was at this time kindled against them, he caused the people to make a covenant, that they would give that liberty to their servants of either sex which the law of God required, of which he made proclamation.
The princes and the people, having first with the king agreed to the thing, upon the issuing out of his proclamation they at first yielded obedience to it.
Like a company of wretched hypocrites, they reformed this abuse only to serve a turn, which when it was served they returned again to their old oppression; and in this thing not the people alone, but the government, was to be blamed, for their judges in the courts of justice ought to have executed the law of the Lord, and to have restrained the covetous and oppressive humour of the people. The learned author of the English Annotations thinketh that that which altered their minds was a little alteration of their state, during the siege; for, Jeremiah 37:5, we read that the Babylonians and Chaldeans hearing of an army coming out of Egypt, to relieve the city, left the siege for a time, and that the prophet, Jeremiah 34:22 of this chapter, relates to that, when he prophesied that the king of Babylon’s army should return. But these wretched men, seeing the Babylonian army raised from the siege, concluded they were now out of God’s hands, and repented of their repentance in this particular, and would make all their servants return into their former servitude.
The law of God is called often a
covenant, because it containeth the will of God which he would have them do, to which (whether they express their consent or no), they are bound to consent and agree. But to the Jews all God’s laws given on Mount Sinai were a formal, explicit covenant, God explicitly telling them what he would have them to do, and they as explicitly promising they would do it, Exodus 24:3. Here was a double aggravation of their sin, in breaking this covenant made between God and them:
1. From the consideration of God’s kindness in bringing them out of Egypt.
2. From the consideration of their having been bond-men in Egypt, which should hays taught them to know the hearts of bond-men, so as to have compassionated them whom they kept in the like distress in which they had been themselves, and from which God had delivered them. We stand concerned to remember the vows we make to God in our distress, for God will not forget them, Genesis 35:1; as also to compassionate them who fall into the same distresses that we have been in, and out of which God hath saved us: God expecteth that we should show the same compassion to others, Matthew 18:33.
This is but a repetition of the law, Exodus 21:2 Deuteronomy 15:12, which concerned such persons as were sold by others, or had sold themselves. God would not have his people take advantage of the sudden and rash acts of their brethren, which were the effects of passion. Notwithstanding this law the Jews, who were always a very covetous, griping people, did otherwise.
Ye were now turned; that is, reformed in this particular, in which you had done the thing which I commanded you,
proclaiming a liberty to your servants. And you
made a covenant in my presence to that purpose, and that in the temple, where it seemeth this covenant was made.
You again licked up your vomit, and profaned my name, swearing by it to do that which you have not done, and forced your servants, though dismissed, to return again unto their former bondage and subjection to you.
They had turned and given a liberty, Jeremiah 34:20; how doth God say here they had not? So God accounteth none to have done those good acts which they do in a fit, or merely to serve themselves of God; he saith they had not done it, because they did not persist to do it; in such a case men’s righteousness shall by God never be remembered, but they shall die in the sins they have committed. Seeing you have refused to manumise your servants at my command, I will manumise you, and set you free from my protection and care. You shall perish by the sword, famine, and pestilence; and those of you who escape them shall see how pleasant a thing it is to be slaves, and in servitude, for you shall be dispersed in many nations, and be servants to the rulers of them.
This was a ceremony which they used in making of covenants, not without something of a warrant from a Divine precedent, Genesis 15:9,10: it is said, Jeremiah 34:18, that same day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham (that covenant was a promise that Abraham’s seed should possess the land of Canaan). Genesis 15:8. Abraham said unto God, Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? Genesis 15:9, God bids him take an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, &c. Genesis 15:10, it is said, that he took them, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another. Indeed we read nothing there of the parties covenanting passing betwixt the parts of the beasts so divided, but this was afterwards used in making covenants betwixt men, which had in it a secret imprecation or wishing that they might be cut in pieces like those beasts, if they did not keep the covenants which they made. It should seem that these Jews, in the making of their solemn promise or covenant with God about releasing their servants, used this rite; they caused a calf or heifer to be cut in pieces, and the parts to be laid in the temple right over against one another, then they recited this covenant, and in the way of a solemn promise, or confirmation of their resolution to make their promise good, they passed betwixt the parts of the calf or heifer so cut; silently agreeing that God should cut them in pieces like that beast if they did not make their words good. Hence is the Hebrew phrase of cutting a covenant, for making it. This was a ceremony ordinarily used also amongst the heathens, as we are informed by Cicero, Livy, and others.
God doth not threaten all the Jews, but those only who had made this covenant, and formally confirmed it, by killing a beast, and passing through the parts of it thus divided and laid opposite one to another. Of these he spareth none, but threatens both the king, and nobles, and great courtiers, as well as the people, that he would give them into the hand of their enemies that thirsted after their blood; they should be slain, and their dead bodies should not be buried. Herein the righteousness of God appeared, by doing to them as they desired (by passing betwixt the calf) that God would do in case they did not keep to the promise they had made, and called God to witness, and challenging him to destroy them if they did not fulfil what they covenanted for.
Here is nothing in this verse but what was said before, save only in the last clause, where mention is made of the king of Babylon’s army, which was gone up from them, the occasion of which we shall meet with Jeremiah 37:5, because there was an army came out of Egypt to assist the Jews.
I will put it into their hearts to return, saith the Lord, and they shall come back again to the siege, and shall rise up 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 at God’s command; when he bids them come they come, what he bids them do they do, and shall certainly effect what God hath determined. When we come to Jer 39, we shall read of the fulfilling of this prophecy.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Jeremiah 34". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://pro.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent