Breaking the covenant agreement (Jer 34:17-34:18)

“Therefore,

Thus says Yahweh!

‘You have not obeyed me

By granting a release

To your neighbors,

As well as to your friends.

I am going to

Grant a release to you,

A release to the sword,

A release to pestilence,

A release to famine.’

Says Yahweh.

‘I will make you a horror

To all the kingdoms

Of the earth.

Those who transgressed

My covenant,

Those who did not

Keep the terms

Of the covenant

That they made before me,

I will make them

Like the calf

When they cut it in two.

As they passed

Between its parts.’”

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.

The reversal of freedom (Jer 34:15-34:16)

“You yourselves recently repented.

You did what was right

In my sight

By proclaiming liberty,

To one another.

You made a covenant

Before me

In the house

That is called by my name.

But then you turned around.

You profaned my name.

Each of you took back

Your male slaves,

Your female slaves,

Whom you had set free

According to their desire.

You brought them again

Into subjection

To be your slaves.”

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.

Yahweh’s six year slavery commandment (Jer 34:12-34:14)

“The word of Yahweh

Came to Jeremiah

From Yahweh.

‘Thus says Yahweh!

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.

‘Every seventh year,

Each of you

Must set free

Any Hebrews

Who has been sold to you.

If they served you six years,

You must set them free

From your service.’

But your ancestors

Did not listen to me.

They did not incline

Their ears to me.’”

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.

The re-enslavement (Jer 34:11-34:11)

“But afterwards,

They turned around.

They took back

Both the male slaves

With the female slaves

That they had set free.

They brought them again

Into subjection

As slaves.”

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 freeing of the Hebrew Judean slaves (Jer 34:9-34:10)

“All should set free

Their Hebrew slaves,

Both male and female.

Thus no one should hold

Another Judean

In slavery.

All the officials,

With all the people

Obeyed this.

They had entered

Into the covenant

That all would

Set their slaves free,

Both male and female.

Thus they would not be

Enslaved again.

They obeyed.

They set them free.”

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?

The proclamation of liberty in Jerusalem (Jer 34:8-34:8)

“The word

Came to Jeremiah

From Yahweh.

This is after King Zedekiah

Had made a covenant

With all the people

In Jerusalem

To make

A proclamation of liberty

To them.”

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.

The fight in the fortified cities of Judah (Jer 34:6-34:7)

“Then the prophet Jeremiah

Spoke all these words

To King Zedekiah

Of Judah,

In Jerusalem.

Meanwhile the army

Of the king of Babylon

Was fighting

Against Jerusalem.

They were also fighting

Against all the cities

Of Judah

That were left.

Lachish,

With Azekah

Were the only fortified cities

Of Judah

That remained.”

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.