This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD…
I. CONSIDER THE ACT ITSELF. It was emphatically a right act in itself. It did not become right or necessary merely by becoming a covenanted thing. It was an act that meant the attainment of liberty to a very considerable number of people who were not their own masters. God is always on the side of liberty, for only to the free individual is full opportunity given of serving God. And yet this must be said with qualification. External liberty is only of use when it is accompanied with deliverance from inward bondage. Hence, in the New Testament, no great stress is laid upon civil liberty; that would come in due time, and, irresistibly, by the growth and conquering power of Christian principle. The stress in the New Testament is on the maintenance by the individual of liberty within himself. But in ancient Israel there was a God-governed nation as well as God-governed individuals, and civil liberty had to be sought as far as possible by Divine provisions and commands.
II. THE CAUSE OF THE LIBERATION SO FAR AS IT WAS ACCOMPLISHED. There is some obscurity as to the origin of the covenant and act. Some unmentioned motive seems to have combined king and people to resolve on the liberation of all slaves; but it could only have been a motive of fear and worldly prudence. The same sort of forces must have been in operation as we observe in Pharaoh. A plague drags him a little in the direction of letting Israel go; then the plague ceases, and he draws back again. External force, then, or a shallow repentance, or perhaps something of both, led the people into making this covenant. It was not a deep pity for the oppressed that moved them. The covenant did not come from a deep and perfect insight into the golden rule. Thus there is a revelation of the moral attainments of the people. It is already shown to us how little the better they were for all their opportunities of knowing God's Law and will.
III. THE RESULT OF A RIGHT ACT DONE IN A WRONG SPIRIT. The result is just what might have been expected. Inconvenience, awkwardness, daily, almost hourly, irritation, must have come at once. Just try to estimate some of the results. Only when the slaves had become free would the masters understand how dependent they had been upon them. The work of the covenant was not done when the slave was liberated. Really, it was only begun. The master bad then to set to work for himself. His former servant is now given opportunity to become his rival. Moreover, the liberated slave himself does not all at once get the spirit of a free man. When things have been going wrong for generations, they cannot be got right by some magical swiftness. Hence, many potent considerations tempted the masters in forcing a return to the former state of things. They had not counted the cost in beginning, and thus, it seems, they were able to take only a very few steps in the right course.
IV. THE PUNISHMENT. This is specially attached to the breaking of the covenant. The people had really no excuse to offer for breaking it, save the inconvenience and the temporal loss occasioned by keeping it. As far as we can see, this particular covenant was a voluntary one on their part. It recognized a law that had been made in the very coming out from the land of bondage, and it was a covenant to perform a certain outward act. The punishment was just enough; the real wonder would have been if something of the kind had failed to fall on those breaking such a covenant. - Y.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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;