Warning to Zedekiah (34:1–7)
1–7 The events of this chapter occurred about two years before the fall of Jerusalem. In this section, the Lord tells Jeremiah to warn Zedekiah about his own fate and the fate of the city. The warning here is similar to the warnings recorded in Jeremiah 21:37 and 32:3–5. Jeremiah tells Zedekiah that he will die peacefully (not in battle) and that he will be properly mourned at his death (verse 5).
Freedom for Slaves (34:8–22)
8–11 During the siege of Jerusalem, Zedekiah and the slave owners made a covenant before God to let the Hebrew slaves go free. According to the law, HEBREWS (Israelites) who sold themselves to other Israelites (for economic reasons) were not to be treated as non–Hebrew slaves were treated (Leviticus 25:39); furthermore, they were to be set free every seventh year (Exodus 21:2). These laws had apparently not been observed in Judah for many years. Perhaps the people agreed to free their slaves in order to obtain the Lord’s blessing; or perhaps they simply hoped their freed slaves would help defend the city against the attacking Babylonians.
This covenant was made when the siege was heavy; some time later the Babylonians temporarily halted the siege (verse 21). When that happened, the slave owners changed their minds and took back the slaves they had just set free (verse 11).
12–16 The Lord was angered that the slave owners had broken the covenant they had recently made in His presence—in His house, the temple (verse 15). They were like many people today who, when facing a crisis, make a promise to God; but then, when the crisis has passed, they go back on their promise. True promises, like true repentance, are never taken back.
17–22 The Lord told the people of Jerusalem that since they hadn’t freed their slaves, He would “free” the slave owners—that is, He would “free” them from His protection! Just as a calf is cut in two during the making of a covenant,106 so they would be “cut in two” by the swords of the Babylonians (verses 18–20).