The people of Jerusalem had not obeyed Yahweh about freeing up their Hebrew slaves. Now Yahweh was going to free them to the sword, pestilence, and famine, the common formula of Jeremiah for destruction. They would become a horror for all the countries in the world. They had broken their covenant with Yahweh. They had not kept the terms of the covenant agreement, since they had re-enslaved the freed Hebrew slaves in Jerusalem. The ancient practice of cutting or sacrificing an animal into two pieces was a way of ratifying an agreement, as can be seen in Genesis, chapter 15. Then the two people would walk between the two pieces of the calf to indicate that if they broke the agreement, they too would be killed. Thus these disobedient ones who broke the covenant were subject to death, just as the calf had been killed and cut up.
Yahweh seems upset that the people of Jerusalem have gone back on their agreement to free their Hebrew slaves. Originally, they had repented. They did what was right in the eyes of God. They had proclaimed by a covenant in the Temple of Yahweh that the Hebrew slaves in Jerusalem would be set free. However, then they changed their minds. They profaned the name of Yahweh and the Temple by breaking their commitment to free their slaves. They took back both their male and female slaves into subjection again. This is odd since the slaves had no place to go. There was never any mention of non-Hebrew slaves.
Once again the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah, but this time it was to present Yahweh’s views on slavery. Yahweh had already made a covenant with their ancestors on this subject when he brought them out of slavery in Egypt. Yahweh’s commandment was to have only 6 years of slavery. Any purchased Hebrew slave should be let go on the 7th year. Like much else, their ancestors did not listen to Yahweh and his commands. Instead, they did what they wanted to do.
However, this proclamation of liberty for the Hebrew slaves did not last long. These Hebrew slave owners took back their Hebrew slaves, both male and female, the very ones that they had set free. They once again brought them back into subjection as slaves. Perhaps they thought that the attack of the Babylonians was not going to be that bad.
The proclamation of liberty said that everyone should set free both their male and female Hebrew slaves in Jerusalem. Thus there should not be any Judeans who were in slavery. All the officials and the people agreed to this and obeyed it. Thus all the Hebrew or Judean slaves were set free. This was probably done to help with the defense efforts of the city against the Babylonians. Why would you fight against invaders if you were already a slave?
Once again, we have an oracle of Yahweh to Jeremiah. However, this takes place after King Zedekiah has made a covenant with the people of Jerusalem that there should be a proclamation of liberty for all the Jewish slaves.
As usual, Jeremiah had done what Yahweh wanted him to do. He repeated all the words that Yahweh had told him to say to King Zedekiah. At the same time, that the Babylonian army was attacking Jerusalem, they were also fighting against the only two other remaining fortified cities in Judah, Lachish, about 23 miles southwest of Jerusalem, and Azekah, about 11 miles north of Lachish. Everything else had already been conquered by the Babylonians except for these two cities and Jerusalem.
Yahweh has Jeremiah tell King Zedekiah that he will not die by the sword or on the battlefield. Instead the king would die in peace. They would have a nice funeral for him. They would burn spices for him, as they had done to the honor the former kings, his ancestors. They had not done this for his brother King Jehoiakim or King Eliakim (609-598 BCE). However, they would lament the death of King Zedekiah as if he were a good king. Thus he would have a glorious happy death.
Yahweh, the God of Israel, spoke directly to Jeremiah. Jeremiah was to go and tell King Zedekiah about the coming defeat of Jerusalem and his own personal fate. Yahweh told Jeremiah exactly what to say to the king. Yahweh was going to hand over the city of Jerusalem to the king of Babylon, who was then going to burn it down. As for King Zedekiah, he was not going to escape. He was going to be captured. Then he would be turned over to King Nebuchadnezzar. He would then see him eye to eye and speak to him face to face. He would be sent off to Babylon. This prophecy is much like the same prophecy that Jeremiah had given to King Zedekiah earlier in chapter 32.
Once again, the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah, but there is a different setting, the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem in 588 BCE. King Nebuchadnezzar was going to fight against Jerusalem, as well as the towns and cities around it. At this point, the Babylonian king had a lot of people under him with a huge army. Besides his own army, other kingdoms under his control were also fighting with him against Jerusalem. Like the preceding chapter, this is a different numbered chapter in the Greek translation of the Septuagint, chapter 41, not chapter 34 as here.