The Word Made Fresh
1When king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and his army, along with other kingdoms and people under his control, were fighting against Jerusalem and the cities around it, this word came to Jeremiah from the LORD:
2The LORD God of Israel says this: “Go and tell King Zedekiah of Judah: This is what the LORD says: I am going to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon and he shall burn it down. 3You will not escape from his hand but will be taken captive and handed over to him. You will see the king of Babylon eye to eye. You will speak to him face to face, and you will go to Babylon. 4But hear the LORD’s word concerning you, King Zedekiah of Judah: you will not die by the sword. 5You will die in peace. And just as people built fires to honor your ancestors – the kings who ruled before you – they will build fires to honor you and they will mourn for you and cry out for you. You have my word on this,” says the LORD.
6Then Jeremiah the prophet repeated this to Zedekiah, the king of Judah in Jerusalem, 7while the army of the king of Babylon was attacking Jerusalem and the other remaining fortified towns of Judah, Lachish and Azekah: these were the only towns remaining in Judah that were fortified.
8The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah after King Zedekiah had issued an agreement with all the people in Jerusalem 9that they were to free all their Hebrew slaves, both men and women, so that no one would hold in slavery another Judean. 10All the officials and others who had accepted the agreement set their slaves free, both males and females. This was done so that they would not be held as slaves by their captors. They obeyed Zedekiah and set them free. 11But after Zedekiah was taken into captivity they reneged on their promise and took the people back into slavery. 12Then the LORD’s word came to Jeremiah: 13“I myself, the LORD, the God of Israel, made an agreement with your ancestors when I brought them out of slavery in the land of Egypt, and said, 14‘Every seventh year each of you must set free any Hebrews whom you purchased as slaves who have served you for six years.’ But your ancestors paid no attention to me and did not obey. 15You yourselves repented as well and did what was right in my sight by giving freedom to one another, and you made a pact with me in my house. 16But now you have turned around and cursed my name by taking back the men and women you had held as slaves. You set them free, but now you have brought them back into slavery. 17So,” says the LORD, “you have disobeyed me. You have not freed your neighbors and friends. I am going to set you free – free to suffer from the sword and from pestilence and from famine! You will become a horror to all the kingdoms of the world. 18And you who disobeyed my instructions and refused to keep the vows you made before me, I will treat you like the calf you butchered and laid out, and then danced between its parts. 19You officers of Judah and Jerusalem, including priests and eunuch servants and everyone else who danced between the parts of the calf 20shall be turned over to your enemies who seek to take your lives. Your dead bodies will become food for the birds of the air and the wild animals of the countryside. 21As for King Zedekiah of Judah and all his officials, they will be handed over to their enemies who seek their lives – to the army of the king of Babylon which has been withdrawn from you. 22I am going to issue an order to have them return to this city to fight against it and capture it and burn it down. I will make the towns of Judah desolate with no inhabitants.”
1-7: Here we have the word of the LORD Jeremiah was to give to King Zedekiah, telling him that Babylon is going to conquer Jerusalem. Because Jeremiah proclaimed it King Zedekiah had him placed under arrest (see 32:2-5).
8-17: These verses relay an event not recorded elsewhere in the Bible. Zedekiah ordered the release of Hebrew slaves in the city, in accordance with the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 15:12-13) which provided for such a release every seven years. There is no evidence that this particular provision had been obeyed at any time since the land was settled, but Zedekiah, who is judged to have been an evil king, apparently thought that such an act would help them in their present predicament by insuring the loyalty of the slaves when the fighting entered the city. The slave owners obeyed the decree, but then changed their minds and reclaimed their slaves when Zedekiah was taken captive to Babylon.
18-22: The Babylonian army has temporarily abandoned the siege to deal with the approaching Egyptian forces (see 37:5), which may explain why the slave owners reneged on the release of their slaves. Jeremiah pronounces God’s judgment that these fickle slave owners will be dealt with harshly. The mention of the calf cut in two is a reference to a story in Genesis (15:9-18) in which Abraham laid out the halved carcasses of a heifer, a goat and a ram, and dreamed that God passed between the divided parts and proclaimed the covenant with Abraham and his descendants, who are currently in the fight of their lives against the most powerful nation on earth. The destruction of Jerusalem and the slaughter of these slave owners will be God’s way of renewing the covenant relationship with Israel.
The scribes who recorded the history of God’s relationship with Israel are steadfast in their insistence that Judah’s and Israel’s collapse is entirely due to their disobedience to God. When we make life decisions without seeking God’s will for us, we place ourselves in danger of being controlled by powers that do not acknowledge the authority of the Most High.