This chapter contains two prophecies: the first, delivered during the siege of Jerusalem, predicts to Zedekiah the taking and burning of the city, with his own peaceful death and honorable burial, Jeremiah 34:1-7. The second was delivered when the Chaldeans had for some time broken up the siege. It reproves the Jews for their conduct towards their brethren of the poorer sort, whom they released, by a solemn covenant, from bondage, in the extremity of their danger; but compelled to return to it when they thought that danger over, Jeremiah 34:8-11. For this God threatens them with the sword, pestilence, and famine; and with the return of the Chaldeans, who should take the city, destroy it and the other cities by fire, and make an utter desolation of the whole land of Judea, Jeremiah 34:12-22.
The word which came unto Jeremiah from the LORD, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and all his army, and all the kingdoms of the earth of his dominion, and all the people, fought against Jerusalem, and against all the cities thereof, saying,The word which came unto Jeremiah - This discourse was delivered in the tenth year of the reign of Zedekiah. The chapter contains two discourses; one, Jeremiah 34:1-7, which concerns the taking of the city, and Zedekiah's captivity and death; the other, Jeremiah 34:8-22, which is an invective against the inhabitants of Jerusalem for having Hebrew male and female slaves. These, having been manumitted at the instance of the prophet, were afterwards brought back by their old masters, and put in the same thraldom; for which God threatens them with severe judgments.
Nebuchadnezzar - and all his army, and all the kingdoms of the earth of his dominion - That is, his army was composed of soldiers gathered out of Babylon, and out of all his tributary dominions: one hundred and twenty provinces.
Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel; Go and speak to Zedekiah king of Judah, and tell him, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire:He shall burn it with fire - This was a newly-added circumstance. Among many ancient nations they burned the bodies of the more illustrious dead. Odours were used in the burning: they then gathered the ashes, and put them into an urn or pitcher, sometimes into a strong vessel, and buried them. Many of these have been digged up in different parts of England, where the Romans had stations.
And thou shalt not escape out of his hand, but shalt surely be taken, and delivered into his hand; and thine eyes shall behold the eyes of the king of Babylon, and he shall speak with thee mouth to mouth, and thou shalt go to Babylon.Thou shalt not escape - This, however, he had attempted, but was taken in his flight. See Jeremiah 39:4, and Jeremiah 52:7, etc.
Yet hear the word of the LORD, O Zedekiah king of Judah; Thus saith the LORD of thee, Thou shalt not die by the sword:
But thou shalt die in peace: and with the burnings of thy fathers, the former kings which were before thee, so shall they burn odours for thee; and they will lament thee, saying, Ah lord! for I have pronounced the word, saith the LORD.Thou shalt die in peace - Thou shalt not die a violent death; and at thy death thou shalt have all those funereal solemnities which were usual at the demise of kings. See 2 Chronicles 16:14.
So shall they burn odours for thee - Scented wood and other odoriferous substances are placed on the funeral pile of the rich Hindoos, and burned with the body.
And they will lament thee, saying, Ah lord! - They will recite the funeral dirge that begins with those words. See the note on Jeremiah 22:18 (note).
Then Jeremiah the prophet spake all these words unto Zedekiah king of Judah in Jerusalem,Spake all these Words unto Zedekiah - He delivered this message at the hazard of his life. Jeremiah feared God, and had no other fear.
When the king of Babylon's army fought against Jerusalem, and against all the cities of Judah that were left, against Lachish, and against Azekah: for these defenced cities remained of the cities of Judah.Against Lachish, and against Azekah - These were two cities of Judah of considerable importance: they had been strongly fortified by Rehoboam, 2 Chronicles 11:9-11; 2 Chronicles 32:9.
This is the word that came unto Jeremiah from the LORD, after that the king Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people which were at Jerusalem, to proclaim liberty unto them;The word that came unto Jeremiah - Here the second discourse begins, which was delivered probably a short time, even a few days, after the former.
Zedekiah had made a covenant - We find no account elsewhere of this covenant: "Every man should let his man-servant and his maid-servant go free;" i.e., as we learn from Jeremiah 34:14, on the sabbatical year; for the seventh year was the year of release. See Deuteronomy 15:12.
That every man should let his manservant, and every man his maidservant, being an Hebrew or an Hebrewess, go free; that none should serve himself of them, to wit, of a Jew his brother.
Now when all the princes, and all the people, which had entered into the covenant, heard that every one should let his manservant, and every one his maidservant, go free, that none should serve themselves of them any more, then they obeyed, and let them go.
But afterward they turned, and caused the servants and the handmaids, whom they had let go free, to return, and brought them into subjection for servants and for handmaids.But afterward they turned - They had agreed to manumit them at the end of the seventh year; but when the seventh year was ended, they recalled their engagement, and detained their servants. This, I believe, is what is here meant.
Therefore the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,
Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel; I made a covenant with your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondmen, saying,
At the end of seven years let ye go every man his brother an Hebrew, which hath been sold unto thee; and when he hath served thee six years, thou shalt let him go free from thee: but your fathers hearkened not unto me, neither inclined their ear.
And ye were now turned, and had done right in my sight, in proclaiming liberty every man to his neighbour; and ye had made a covenant before me in the house which is called by my name:
But ye turned and polluted my name, and caused every man his servant, and every man his handmaid, whom ye had set at liberty at their pleasure, to return, and brought them into subjection, to be unto you for servants and for handmaids.Ye - polluted my name - Had made the covenant in my name, calling me to witness it; now ye have dishonored my name, by breaking that covenant, and acting contrary to my law.
Therefore thus saith the LORD; Ye have not hearkened unto me, in proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother, and every man to his neighbour: behold, I proclaim a liberty for you, saith the LORD, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine; and I will make you to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth.I proclaim a liberty for you - Ye proclaimed liberty to your slaves, and afterward resumed your authority over them; and I had in consequence restrained the sword from cutting you off: but now I give liberty to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine, and to the captivity, to destroy and consume you, and enslave you: for ye shall be removed to all the kingdoms of the earth. The prophet loves to express the conformity between the crime and its punishment. You promised to give liberty to your enslaved brethren; I was pleased, and bound the sword in its sheath. You broke your promise, and brought them again into bondage; I gave liberty to the sword, pestilence, and famine, to destroy multitudes of you, and captivity to take the rest. Thus you are punished according to your crimes, and in the punishment you may see the crime. Sword, pestilence, and famine are frequently joined together, as being often the effects of each other. The sword or war produces famine; famine, the pestilence.
And I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant, which have not performed the words of the covenant which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof,When they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof - This was the ancient and most solemn way of making a covenant.
1. A calf as sacrifice was offered to God to secure his approbation and support.
2. The victim was then exactly divided from the nose to the rump; the spinal marrow being divided longitudinally, in the most careful manner, that the half of it might remain on each side.
3. These divided parts were laid opposite to each other, a passage being left between them.
4. The contracting parties entered this passage at each end, met in the middle, and there took the covenant oath; adjudging themselves to death should they break this covenant.
5. Then they both feasted on the victim. In reference to this last circumstance, God says he will give their bodies for meat to the fowls of heaven and to the beasts. This is a farther conformity between the crime and the punishment. See my notes on Genesis 15:9-17 (note).
The princes of Judah, and the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, and the priests, and all the people of the land, which passed between the parts of the calf;
I will even give them into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their life: and their dead bodies shall be for meat unto the fowls of the heaven, and to the beasts of the earth.
And Zedekiah king of Judah and his princes will I give into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their life, and into the hand of the king of Babylon's army, which are gone up from you.The king of Babylon's army, which are gone up from you - Nebuchadnezzar, hearing that there was an Egyptian army coming to the relief of Jerusalem, raised the siege, went out, and met and defeated the Egyptians. It was in the interim this prophecy was delivered.
Behold, I will command, saith the LORD, and cause them to return to this city; and they shall fight against it, and take it, and burn it with fire: and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without an inhabitant.I will - cause them to return - They did return; re-invested the city; and, after an obstinate defense, took it, plundered it, and burned it to the ground, taking Zedekiah and his princes captive.