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Death in Captivity Predicted for Zedekiah


The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, when King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon and all his army and all the kingdoms of the earth and all the peoples under his dominion were fighting against Jerusalem and all its cities: 2Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Go and speak to King Zedekiah of Judah and say to him: Thus says the Lord: I am going to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire. 3And you yourself shall not escape from his hand, but shall surely be captured and handed over to him; you shall see the king of Babylon eye to eye and speak with him face to face; and you shall go to Babylon. 4Yet hear the word of the Lord, O King Zedekiah of Judah! Thus says the Lord concerning you: You shall not die by the sword; 5you shall die in peace. And as spices were burned for your ancestors, the earlier kings who preceded you, so they shall burn spices for you and lament for you, saying, “Alas, lord!” For I have spoken the word, says the Lord.

6 Then the prophet Jeremiah 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 cities of Judah that were left, Lachish and Azekah; for these were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained.

Treacherous Treatment of Slaves

8 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them— 9that all should set free their Hebrew slaves, male and female, so that no one should hold another Judean in slavery. 10And they obeyed, all the officials and all the people who had entered into the covenant that all would set free their slaves, male or female, so that they would not be enslaved again; they obeyed and set them free. 11But afterward they turned around and took back the male and female slaves they had set free, and brought them again into subjection as slaves. 12The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 13Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I myself made a covenant with your ancestors when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, saying, 14“Every seventh year each of you must set free any Hebrews who have been sold to you and have served you six years; you must set them free from your service.” But your ancestors did not listen to me or incline their ears to me. 15You yourselves recently repented and did what was right in my sight by proclaiming liberty to one another, and you made a covenant before me in the house that is called by my name; 16but then you turned around and profaned my name when each of you took back your male and female slaves, whom you had set free according to their desire, and you brought them again into subjection to be your slaves. 17Therefore, thus says the Lord: You have not obeyed me by granting a release to your neighbors and friends; I am going to grant a release to you, says the Lord—a release to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 18And those who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make like the calf when they cut it in two and passed between its parts: 19the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf 20shall be handed over to their enemies and to those who seek their lives. Their corpses shall become food for the birds of the air and the wild animals of the earth. 21And as for King Zedekiah of Judah and his officials, I will hand them over to their enemies and to those who seek their lives, to the army of the king of Babylon, which has withdrawn from you. 22I am going to command, says the Lord, and will bring them back to this city; and they will fight against it, and take it, and burn it with fire. The towns of Judah I will make a desolation without inhabitant.


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Jer 34:1-22. Captivity of Zedekiah and the People Foretold for Their Disobedience and Perfidy.

The prophecy (Jer 34:1-7) as to Zedekiah is an amplification of that in Jer 32:1-5, in consequence of which Jeremiah was then shut up in the court of the prison. The prophecy (Jer 34:8-22) refers to the Jews, who, afraid of the capture of the city, had, in obedience to the law, granted freedom to their servants at the end of seven years, but on the intermission of the siege forced them back into bondage.

1. Jerusalem and … all the cities thereof—(see on Jer 19:15). It was amazing blindness in the king, that, in such a desperate position, he should reject admonition.

3. (Jer 32:4).

4, 5. Mitigation of Zedekiah's punishment.

5. the burnings of thy fathers—Thy funeral shall be honored with the same burning of aromatic spices as there was at the funerals of thy fathers (2Ch 16:14; 21:19). The honors here mentioned were denied to Jehoiakim (Jer 22:18).

Ah, lord!—The Hebrews in their chronology (Seder Olam) mention the wailing used over him, "Alas! King Zedekiah is dead, drinking the dregs (that is, paying the penalty for the sins) of former ages."

7. these … retained—alone (compare 2Ch 11:5, 9).

8. By the law a Hebrew, after having been a bond-servant for six years, on the seventh was to be let go free (Ex 21:22; De 15:12).

Zedekiah made a covenant—with solemn ceremonial in the temple (Jer 34:15, 18, 19).

them—bond-servants (Jer 34:9).

9. none … serve himself of a Jew—(Le 25:39-46).

11. During the interruption of the siege by Pharaoh-hophra (compare Jer 34:21, 22, with Jer 37:5-10), the Jews reduced their servants to bondage again.

13. The last year of Zedekiah was the sabbatical year. How just the retribution, that they who, against God's law and their own covenant, enslaved their brethren, should be doomed to bondage themselves: and that the bond-servants should enjoy the sabbatical freedom at the hands of the foe (Jer 52:16) which their own countrymen denied them!

14. At the end of seven years—that is, not on the eighth year, but within the limit of the seventh year, not later than the end of the seventh year (Ex 21:2; 23:10; De 15:12). So "at the end of three years" (De 14:28; 2Ki 18:10), and "after three days, I will rise again" (Mt 27:63), that is, on the third day (compare Mt 27:64).

15. in the house … called by my name—the usual place of making such covenants (2Ki 23:3; compare 1Ki 8:31; Ne 10:29).

16. polluted my name—by violating your oath (Ex 20:7).

17. not … proclaiming liberty—Though the Jews had ostensibly emancipated their bond-servants, they virtually did not do so by revoking the liberty which they had granted. God looks not to outward appearances, but to the sincere intention.

I proclaim a liberty—retribution answering to the offense (Mt 7:2; 18:32, 33; Ga 6:7; Jas 2:13). The Jews who would not give liberty to their brethren shall themselves receive "a liberty" calamitous to them. God will manumit them from His happy and safe service (Ps 121:3), which is real "liberty" (Ps 119:45; Joh 8:36; 2Co 3:17), only to pass under the terrible bondage of other taskmasters, the "sword," &c.

to be removed—The Hebrew expresses agitation (see on Jer 15:4). Compare De 28:25, 48, 64, 65, as to the restless agitation of the Jews in their ceaseless removals from place to place in their dispersion.

18. passed between the parts thereof—The contracting parties in the "covenant" (not here the law in general, but their covenant made before God in His house to emancipate their slaves, Jer 34:8, 9) passed through the parts of the animal cut in two, implying that they prayed so to be cut in sunder (Mt 24:51; Greek, "cut in two") if they should break the covenant (Ge 15:10, 17).

20. I will even give—resuming the sentence begun, but not completed (Jer 34:18), "I will give," &c.

seek their life—implacably: satisfied with nothing short of their blood; not content with booty.

dead bodies—The breakers of the covenant shall be cut in pieces, as the calf between whose parts they passed.

21. gone up—that is, raised the siege in order to meet Pharaoh-hophra (Jer 37:7-10). The departure of the Chaldeans was a kind of manumission of the Jews; but as their manumission of their bond-servants was recalled, so God revoked His manumission of them from the Chaldeans.

22. I will command—Nebuchadnezzar, impelled unconsciously by a divine instigation, returned on the withdrawal of the Egyptians.