Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Jeremiah 34:1-22. Incidents in connexion with the siege
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,1. The narrative portion of the work which we may ascribe to Baruch here recommences after a partial suspension. As Jeremiah was still at liberty (Jeremiah 34:6), his utterance must have preceded the temporary raising of the siege owing to the threatened approach of the Egyptian army (See on Jeremiah 32:1).
This subsection may be summarized as follows. (i) Jeremiah 34:1-3. Jeremiah is bidden to tell Zedekiah that the result of Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion now taking place will be that the city shall be burned, and the king taken captive to Babylon. (ii) Jeremiah 34:4-7. Zedekiah shall however die in peace with the customary funeral rites and mourning. At the time when Jeremiah spoke thus, two cities only besides the capital remained untaken.
Nebuchadnezzar … and all the peoples] The LXX reading is briefer, omitting “the kingdoms of … and all the peoples,” and probably gives the original form of the v.
1–7. Prophecy of the burning of the city and the captivity of Zedekiah.
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:
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.3. thine eyes shall behold the eyes of the king of Babylon] Cp. Jeremiah 32:4. There is no reason to doubt, with Du., that the blinding of Zedekiah, as related in Jeremiah 52:11; 2 Kings 25:7, after his interview with Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah (Jeremiah 39:6 f.), is historical. See Ezekiel 12:13.
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:4, 5. Du. challenges the statement in these vv. as not in consonance with the troublous ending of Zedekiah’s life in exile. If the text be sound, “in peace” can only mean a natural death, as opposed to one by violence or by the executioner’s sword. But there is likelihood in Co.’s view that some words may have fallen out, and that the utterance (“Yet hear, etc.”) was conditional on the king’s timely submission to Babylon.
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.5. shall they make a burning] Apparently some honorific burning of spices as an accompaniment of burial. See 2 Chronicles 16:14; 2 Chronicles 21:19.
Ah lord!] See on Jeremiah 22:18.
Then Jeremiah the prophet spake all these words unto Zedekiah king of Judah in Jerusalem,
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.7. all … that were left] The LXX give some support to the probability that this part of the v. is an interpolation, seeing that “all” resolves itself into two only.
Lachish] now Tell el-Ḥesy, about 35 miles S.W. of Jerusalem. Azekah has not been identified, but it was probably about 15 miles S.W. of Jerusalem. See Joshua 15:35; 1 Samuel 17:1.
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;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.
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.9. serve himself of them] The poverty, arising out of the devastation wrought by repeated wars, must have brought about a large amount of servitude, as was the case e.g. in later times. See Nehemiah 5:5, and on Jeremiah 30:8.
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.10, 11. The MT. is somewhat awkward, and the LXX (preferred by Co. and Du.) clearer and briefer. But we cannot accept the latter with entire confidence.
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.
Therefore the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,12–16. See introd. summary to the subsection.
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.14. At the end of seven years] As we should say of six (so LXX) years. In Hebrew counting of this kind both the first and the last items were reckoned in. So the jubilee was in strictness the forty-ninth (the seventh Sabbatical) not the fiftieth year. Compare the rite of circumcision administered on the eighth (seventh) day after birth, and our Lord’s Resurrection on “the third (second) day.” The words are quoted somewhat freely from Deuteronomy 15:12, rather than from the parallel passage Exodus 21:2 (“The Book of the Covenant”).
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.16. at their pleasure] lit. according to their soul. See on Jeremiah 22:27.
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.17. I proclaim unto you a liberty] The people, hitherto God’s servants, and secure in that service, shall be cast oft by Him, and shall accordingly, being no longer under His protection as their Owner, become subject to the perils which follow.
tossed to and fro] better, as mg. a terror unto. See on Jeremiah 15:4.
17–22. See introd. summary to section.
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,18. when they cut the calf in twain] This rendering, which simplifies the construction, is obtained from the literal Heb. as given in mg. by transposing two words of the clause in the original. See Genesis 15:10 for a ceremony of this kind as attendant upon a covenant. Its significance is probably that “the parties to the covenant are united by being taken within the life of the same sacred victim.” Pe., who compares the eating of the same sacrifice by the two parties to a covenant.
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.
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.