Jeremiah 34:8
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, after that the king Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people which were at Jerusalem, to proclaim liberty to them;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(8) After that the king Zedekiah had made» a covenant . . .—The remainder of the chapter brings before us an historical episode of considerable interest. The law of Moses did not allow in the case of a free-born Hebrew more than a temporary bondage of seven years (Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:12-18), extended (but under the form of serfage rather than slavery) in the later regulations of Leviticus 25:39-40 to the time that might intervene between the date of purchase and the commencement of the next year of jubilee. In 2Kings 4:1 we have an instance of the working of the law, as bringing even the sons of a prophet into this modified slavery. Only if the man preferred his state as a slave to the risks of freedom could his master retain him after the appointed limit (Exodus 21:5-6). The law had apparently fallen into disuse, and the nobles of Judah, like those of Athens before Solon, and Rome before the institution of the Tribunate, had used the law of debt to bring a large number of their fellow citizens into slavery, just as their successors did after the return from Babylon (Nehemiah 5:5). Under the pressure of the danger from the Chaldæan invasion, and that he might have the ready service of freemen instead of the forced work of slaves, perhaps also in consequence of the revival of the law, that followed on its discovery, probably in the form of the Book of Deuteronomy, in the days of Josiah (2Kings 22:8), Zedekiah had been led to promise freedom to all the slave population of this class that were within the walls of Jerusalem, either as a celebration of a Sabbatic year, or jubilee, or, irrespective of any such observance, as a reparation for past neglect. The step was probably not without its influence in giving fresh energy to the defenders of the city. The Chaldæans, threatened by the approach of an Egyptian army (Jeremiah 37:5), raised the siege (Jeremiah 34:21). When the danger was past, however, the princes who had agreed to the emancipation returned to their old policy of oppression (Jeremiah 34:11), and those who had been liberated were brought under a bondage all the more bitter for the temporary taste of freedom. Against this perfidious tyranny the prophet, stirred by “the word of the Lord,” bears his protests. His sympathies, like those of true prophets at all times, were with the poor and the oppressed. The phrase “proclaim liberty” was closely connected with the year of jubilee, as in Leviticus 25:10, Isaiah 61:1.

34:8-22 A Jew should not be held in servitude above seven years. This law they and their fathers had broken. And when there was some hope that the siege was raised, they forced the servants they had released into their services again. Those who think to cheat God by dissembled repentance and partial reformation, put the greatest cheat upon their own souls. This shows that liberty to sin, is really only liberty to have the sorest judgments. It is just with God to disappoint expectations of mercy, when we disappoint the expectations of duty. And when reformation springs only from terror, it is seldom lasting. Solemn vows thus entered into, profane the ordinances of God; and the most forward to bind themselves by appeals to God, are commonly most ready to break them. Let us look to our hearts, that our repentance may be real, and take care that the law of God regulates our conduct.It is usual with commentators to say that, the laws dealing with the emancipation of the Hebrew slaves, as also that of the land resting during the sabbatical year, were not observed. The narrative teaches us the exact contrary. The manumission of the slaves on the present occasion was the spontaneous act of Zedekiah and the people. They knew of the law, and acknowledged its obligation. The observance of it was, no doubt, lax: the majority let their own selfish interests prevail; but the minority made might give way to right, and Zedekiah supported their efforts though only in a weak way.

Early in January, in the ninth year of Zedekiah, the Chaldaean army approached Jerusalem. The people made a covenant with the king, who appears as the abettor of the measure, to let their slaves go free. Possibly patriotism had its share in this: and as Jerusalem was strongly fortified, all classes possibly hoped that if the slaves were manumitted, they too would labor with a more hearty good-will in resisting the enemy. In the summer of the same year the Egyptians advanced to the rescue, and Nebuchadnezzar withdrew to meet their attack. The Jews with a strange levity, which sets them before us in a most despicable light, at once forced the manumitted slaves back into bondage. With noble indignation Jeremiah rebukes them for their treachery, assures them that the Chaldaean army will return, and warns them of the certainty of the punishment which they so richly merited.

Jeremiah 34:8

As the Chaldaean army swept over the country the wealthier classes would all flee to Jerusalem, taking with them their households. And as the Mosaic Law was probably more carefully kept there than in the country, the presence in these families of slaves who had grown grey in service may have given offence to the stricter classes at the capital.

To proclaim liberty unto them - The words are those of the proclamation of the year of jubile to the people, whereupon it became their duty to set their slaves free.

8. By the law a Hebrew, after having been a bond-servant for six years, on the seventh was to be let go free (Ex 21:22; De 15:12).

Zedekiah made a covenant—with solemn ceremonial in the temple (Jer 34:15, 18, 19).

them—bond-servants (Jer 34:9).

This verse plainly beginneth a new prophecy, but at what particular time this revelation or the publication of it was we are not told, only the occasion of it is recorded. God had made a particular law respecting the Jewish nation, that if any had bought an Hebrew servant, he should serve but six years, and in the seventh should go out free, Exodus 21:2 Deu 15:12. It came into Zedekiah’s mind to make a proclamation for the execution of this law; what moved him to it we have not recorded. The learned author of the English Annotations observeth well, that it was their usual course when they were in some great straits to make some partial reformation, Judges 10:15,16 Psa 78:34,35 Ho 6 1. This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord,.... Here begins a new prophecy, which was delivered some time after the former; that was given out while the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem; this after he had quitted the siege for a while, and was gone to meet the king of Egypt, who was coming to the relief of the city, as appears from Jeremiah 34:21; though the Jews (k) say this was delivered in the seventh year of Zedekiah, in the first month, and tenth day of the month; at the same time that the elders of Israel came to Ezekiel, to inquire of the Lord by him, Ezekiel 20:1; which was two years before the king of Babylon came against Jerusalem; but this seems not likely. It is said to be

after that the King Zedekiah made a covenant with all the people that were at Jerusalem, to proclaim liberty unto them; not unto the people, or to themselves, the king and the people; unless the sense is, that the king and the people entered into an agreement among themselves to make proclamation, that liberty would be granted by them to their servants; for the liberty proclaimed was to the servants, and not to them. This seems to confirm it, that it was while the city was besieged that this covenant was made; since it was made only with the people at Jerusalem, which were pent up in it; for otherwise it would in all probability have been made with all the people of the land; and seems to have been done with this view, to obtain this favour of the Lord, that they might gain their freedom from the enemy, and come not under the yoke and into the servitude of the king of Babylon: and very probable it is that they did not do this of their own accord, but were exhorted to it by Jeremiah; who perhaps, among other sins, had reproved them for the breach of the law respecting the liberty of servants.

(k) Seder Olam Rabba, c. 26. p. 74.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, after king Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people who were at Jerusalem, {d} to proclaim liberty to them;

(d) When the enemy was at hand and they saw themselves in danger, they would seem holy, and so began some kind of reformation: but soon after they uttered their hypocrisy.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
8. had made a covenant] According to Exodus 21:2 [E] a Hebrew male slave was to be set free after six years’ service, and by Deuteronomy 15:12 this was extended to female slaves. The conscience-quickening power of impending danger, in meeting which the slaves, if enfranchised, would be more ready to co-operate with their former masters, seems to have induced Zedekiah, naturally too weak-minded a man to have displayed much vigour in urging any such conduct upon his subjects, to make the agreement with them here spoken of. This view of the motive is to be preferred to Du.’s theory that the slaves were turned out of the city during the siege because of the burden of feeding persons whose normal occupation of tillage, etc. was necessarily in abeyance. The narrative on the contrary implies that the action was to the slaves’ advantage (see Jeremiah 34:16), and that it was from motives of selfishness that the edict, though sanctioned by the solemnity of an oath, was cancelled on the temporary withdrawal of the besiegers to meet the approaching army of Pharaoh (Jeremiah 34:21).

to proclaim liberty unto them] The same phrase is used of the proclamation made in the year of jubilee (Leviticus 25:10). “Unto them,” if it be not an insertion, refers to the slaves.

8–22. Condemnation of the perjury involved in the treatment of the Hebrew slaves

The subsection may be summarized as follows. (i) Jeremiah 34:8-11. Zedekiah induces the people solemnly to bind themselves to release their slaves. They do so, but presently cancel their agreement. (ii) Jeremiah 34:12-16. Jeremiah is bidden to remind the people of the terms of the Law on the subject, and to charge them with perjury in the violation of the covenant they had recently made under solemn sanctions. (iii) Jeremiah 34:17-22. They shall in consequence fall victims to the sword. Their bodies after death shall suffer indignities. The king and his princes shall be taken captive, Jerusalem captured and burnt, and the cities laid waste.Verse 8. - A covenant. The scene of this "covenant" was the temple (veto. 15, 18). Solemn agreements of this kind were not uncommon (comp. 2 Chronicles 15:12; 2 Kings 11:17; 2 Kings 23:3; Nehemiah 10.). To proclaim liberty unto them. The phrase, a very peculiar one, is taken from the law of jubilee (Leviticus 25:10), though the prescription on which the covenant was based refers exclusively to the seventh year of the slave's servitude. "Thus saith Jahveh: Behold, I will deliver this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, that he may burn it with fire. Jeremiah 34:3. And thou shalt not escape from his hand, but shalt certainly be seized and delivered into his hand; and thine eyes shall see the eyes of the king of Babylon, and his mouth shall speak with thy mouth, and thou shalt go to Babylon. Jeremiah 34:4. But hear the word of Jahveh, O Zedekiah, king of Judah. Thus saith Jahveh concerning thee: Thou shalt not die by the sword. Jeremiah 34:5. In peace shalt thou die; and as with the burnings of thy fathers, the former kings who were before thee, so shall they make a burning for thee, and they shall wail for thee, [crying,] 'Alas, lord!' for I have spoken the word, saith Jahveh. - On Jeremiah 34:2, Jeremiah 34:3, cf. Jeremiah 32:3-5. "But hear," Jeremiah 34:4, introduces an exception to what has been said before; but the meaning of Jeremiah 34:4, Jeremiah 34:5 is disputed. They are usually understood in this say: Zedekiah shall be carried into exile to Babylon, but shall not be killed with the sword, or executed, but shall die a peaceful death, and be buried with royal honours. But C. B. Michaelis, Venema, Hitzig, and Graf take the words as an exception that will occur, should Zedekiah follow the advice given him to deliver himself up to the king of Babylon, instead of continuing the struggle. Then what is denounced in Jeremiah 34:3 will not happen; Zedekiah shall not be carried away to Babylon, but shall die as king in Jerusalem. This view rests on the hypothesis that the divine message has for its object to induce the king to submit and give up himself (cf. Jeremiah 38:17.). But this supposition has no foundation; and what must be inserted, as the condition laid before Zedekiah, "if thou dost willingly submit to the king of Babylon," is quite arbitrary, and incompatible with the spirit of the word, "But hear the word of Jahveh," for in this case Jeremiah 34:4 at least would require to run, "Obey the word of Jahveh" (שׁמע בּדבר ), as Jeremiah 38:20. To take the words שׁמע דברin the sense, "Give ear to the word, obey the word of Jahveh," is not merely inadmissible grammatically, but also against the context; for the word of Jahveh which Zedekiah is to hear, gives no directions as to how he is to act, but is simply an intimation as to what the end of his life shall be: to change or avert this does not stand in his power, so that we cannot here think of obedience or disobedience. The message in Jeremiah 34:4, Jeremiah 34:5 states more in detail what that was which lay before Zedekiah: he shall fall into the hands of the king of Babylon, be carried into exile in Babylon, yet shall not die a violent death through the sword, but die peacefully, and be buried with honour - not, like Jehoiakim, fall in battle, and be left unmourned and unburied (Jeremiah 22:18.). This intimation accords with the notices given elsewhere as to the end of Zedekiah (Jeremiah 32:5; Jeremiah 39:5-7). Although Zedekiah died a prisoner in Babylon (Jeremiah 52:11), yet his imprisonment would not necessarily be an obstacle in the way of an honourable burial after the fashion of his fathers. When Jehoiachin, after an imprisonment of thirty-seven years, was raised again to royal honours, then also might there be accorded not merely a tolerably comfortable imprisonment to Zedekiah himself, but to the Jews also, at his death, the permission to bury their king according to their national custom. Nor is anything to be found elsewhere contrary to this view of the words. The supposition that Zedekiah caused the prophet to be imprisoned on account of this message to him, which Ngelsbach has laboured hard to reconcile with the common acceptation of the passage, is wholly devoid of foundation in fact, and does not suit the time into which this message falls; for Jeremiah was not imprisoned till after the time when the Chaldeans were obliged for a season to raise the siege, on the approach of the Egyptians, and that, too, not at the command of the king, but by the watchman at the gate, on pretence that he was a deserter. "Thou shalt die in peace," in contrast with "thou shalt die by the sword," marks a peaceful death on a bed of sickness in contrast with execution, but not (what Graf introduces into the words) in addition, his being deposited in the sepulchre of his fathers. "With the burnings of thy fathers," etc., is to be understood, according to 2 Chronicles 16:14; 2 Chronicles 21:19, of the burning of aromatic spices in honour of the dead; for the burning of corpses was not customary among the Hebrews: see on 2 Chronicles 16:14. On "alas, lord!" see Jeremiah 22:18. This promise is strengthened by the addition, "for I have spoken the word," where the emphasis lies on the אני: I the Lord have spoken the word, which therefore shall certainly be fulfilled. - In Jeremiah 34:6, Jeremiah 34:7 it is further remarked in conclusion, that Jeremiah addressed these words to the king during the siege of Jerusalem, when all the cities of Judah except Lachish and Azekah were already in the power of the Chaldeans. ערי is not in apposition to ערי יהוּדה, but belongs to נשׁארוּ: "they were left among the towns of Judah as strong cities;" i.e., of the strong cities of Judah, they alone had not yet been conquered.
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