Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
I. The Labour and Suffering of the Prophet Before and after the Conquest and Destruction of Jerusalem - Jeremiah 34-45
Under this title may be placed the whole of the contents of these twelve chapters, which fall into three divisions. For Jeremiah 34-36 contain partly utterances of Jeremiah in the early part of the siege of Jerusalem under Zedekiah, partly matters of fact in Jehoiakim's time. Next, mention is made, in Jeremiah 37-39, of the toils and sufferings of the prophet during that siege, until the fall of the city; then, in Jeremiah 40-44, is depicted his active labour among the people who had been left behind in the land by the Chaldeans, and who afterwards fled to Egypt; finally, as an appendix to the account of his labours among the people, we find, in Jeremiah 45:1-5, the words of comfort addressed to Baruch by Jeremiah. The second of these divisions is marked by a historical introduction, Jeremiah 37:1-2, and the third by a somewhat lengthened prophetic heading. Only Jeremiah 34-36, which we regard as the first division, seems to be without an external bond of unity. Graf, Ewald, Ngelsbach, and others have consequently marked them as appendixes; but in this way neither their position nor their connection is at all accounted for. The relation of Jeremiah 34 to the following is analogous to that of Jeremiah 21:1-14. Just as the collection of special announcements regarding judgment and deliverance, Jeremiah 21:1-14, was introduced by the utterances of the prophet in the beginning of the last siege of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans; so too, in our third division, the collected evidences of the labours of Jeremiah before and after the destruction of Jerusalem, are introduced, Jeremiah 34, by the utterances which predict quite definitely what shall be the issue of the siege of the city and the fate of the king and people. The first of these utterances is set in a frame of historical statements regarding the siege (Jeremiah 34:1, Jeremiah 34:7); this setting marks it out as an introduction to the notices following. But the second utterance, Jeremiah 34:8-22, refers to the fact of the manumission of the Hebrew men-and maid-servants during the siege, and the cancelling of that measure afterwards. The following chapters, Jeremiah 35, 36, furnish two proofs of the activity of the prophet under Jehoiakim, which, on account of their historical nature, could not be introduced till now, since they would not admit of being inserted in the collection of the particular prophecies of coming judgment, Jeremiah 21-29.
A. Prophecies Delivered under Zedekiah, and Events of Jehoiakim's Time - Jeremiah 34-36
Concerning Zedekiah and the Emancipation of the Men-and Maid-Servants - Jeremiah 34
This chapter contains two prophecies of the time of the siege of Jerusalem under Zedekiah, of which the first, Jeremiah 34:1-7, announces to the king the fruitlessness of resistance to the power of the Chaldeans; the second, Jeremiah 34:8-22, threatens the princes and people of Judah with severe judgments for annulling the manumission of the Hebrew men-and maid-servants. Both of these utterances belong to the first period of the siege, probably the ninth year of the reign of Zedekiah.
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 message to Zedekiah is regarded by Hitzig, Ewald, Graf, Ngelsbach, etc. as a supplement to Jeremiah 32:1., and as giving, in its complete form, the prophecy to which Jeremiah 32:3. was referred, as the reason of the confinement of Jeremiah in the court of the prison. Certainly it is so far true that Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 34:2-5, expresses himself more fully regarding the fate of King Zedekiah at the fall of Jerusalem into the hands of the Chaldeans than in Jeremiah 32:3-5; Jeremiah 21:3., and Jeremiah 37:17; but we are not warranted in drawing the inference that this message forms a historical appendix or supplement to Jeremiah 32:3., and was the occasion or reason of Jeremiah's imprisonment. See, on the contrary, the remarks on Jeremiah 32:3. It is not given here as an appendix to explain the reason of the prophet's imprisonment, but as a prophecy from which we may see how King Zedekiah was forewarned, from the very beginning of the siege, of what its issue would be, that he might frame his conduct accordingly. Nor does it belong to the period when Nebuchadnezzar, after beating off the Egyptians who had come to the relief of the beleaguered city, had returned to the siege of Jerusalem, but to the earliest period of the siege, when Zedekiah might still cherish the hope of defeating and driving off the Chaldeans through the help of the Egyptians. - According to Jeremiah 34:1, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah when "Nebuchadnezzar and," i.e., with, "all his host, and all the kingdoms of the land of the dominion of his hand, and all the nations, were fighting against Jerusalem and all her towns." The words are multiplied to represent the strength of the Chaldean army, so as to deepen the impression of overpowering might, against which resistance is vain. The army consists of men drawn from all the kingdoms of the territory he rules, and of all nations. ארץ ממשׁלת means the same as ארץ ממשׁלתּו, Jeremiah 51:28, the territory over which his dominion, which includes many kingdoms, extends. The lxx have omitted "all the nations" as superfluous. See a like conglomeration of words in a similar description, Ezekiel 26:7. "All her towns" are the towns of Judah which belong to Jerusalem; see Jeremiah 19:15. According to Jeremiah 34:7, the strong towns not yet taken are meant, especially those strongly fortified, Lachish and Azekah in the plain (Joshua 15:39, Joshua 15:35), the former of which is shown still under the name Um Lakhis, while the latter is to be sought for in the vicinity of Socho; see on Joshua 10:3, Joshua 10:10, and 2 Chronicles 11:9. - Jeremiah is to say to the king:
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:"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.
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.
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.
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.
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;Threatening because of the Re-enslavement of the Liberated Hebrew Men-and Maid-servants. - Jeremiah 34:8-11 describe the occasion of the word of the Lord, which follows in Jeremiah 34:12-22. It came to Jeremiah "after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem, to proclaim liberty to them, that every one should send away his man-servant, or his maid-servant, being a Hebrew or Hebrewess, so that none should impose servitude on any one of them who was a Jew, his brother. Jeremiah 34:10. And all the princes and all the people who entered into the covenant obeyed, each one setting free his man-servant and his maid-servant, and not imposing servitude on them any more: they obeyed and each one set them free. Jeremiah 34:11. But they turned round afterwards, and brought back the servants and the handmaids whom they had set free, and brought them under subjection, for servants and for handmaids." The covenant which Zedekiah concluded with all the people at Jerusalem, according to what follows, consisted in a solemn vow made before the Lord in the temple, probably confirmed by sacrifices, to set free the male and female slaves of Hebrew descent, in conformity with the law, Exodus 21:1-4; Deuteronomy 15:12.
The law required the gratuitous manumission of these after seven years of service. This time, indeed, is not mentioned in our verses, but it is assumed as well known through the law. But, in the general departure of the people from the Lord and His commandments, the observance of this law had probably long been intermitted, so that, in consequence of the solemn engagement to obey it once more, a great number of Hebrew male and female slaves received their freedom, inasmuch as very many had served longer than seven years; however, we need not suppose that all bond men and women were liberated at once. The resolution, Jeremiah 34:9, that every one should liberate his Hebrew man-or maid-servant, and that no one should continue to impose servitude on a Jew, his brother, i.e., compel him any longer to serve as a slave, is conditioned by the law, which is assumed as well known: this also accords with the expression לבלתּי עבד־בּם, which is used in a general way of the treatment of Hebrew men-and maid-servants, Leviticus 25:39. However, it is also possible that a liberation of all bond men and women took place without regard to the duration of their servitude, partly for the purpose of averting, by such obedience to the law, the calamity now threatening the city, and partly also to employ the liberated slaves in the defence of the city; for, according to Jeremiah 34:21., the emancipation took place during the siege of Jerusalem, and after the departure of the Chaldeans the solemn promise was revoked. The expression קתא דרור, "to proclaim liberty," is taken from Leviticus 25:10, but it does not prove that the manumission took place on a sabbath-or jubilee-year. להם refers ad sensum to those who were bondmen and had a right to be set free. The general expression is explained by שׁלּח חפשׁים, and this again is more closely defined by לבלתּי עבד־בּם (cf. Leviticus 25:39). אישׁ בּיהוּדי אחיהוּ, (that no one should labour) "though a Jew, who is his brother," i.e., a fellow-countryman; i.e., that no one should impose servitude on a Jew, as being a compatriot. "To enter into a covenant" is to assume its obligation; cf. 2 Chronicles 15:12; Ezekiel 16:8. The Kethib יכבישׁום receives, in the Qeri, the vowels of the Kal, since the Hiphil of this verb does not occur elsewhere, only the Kal, cf. 2 Chronicles 28:10; but the alteration is unnecessary - the Hiphil may intensify the active meaning.
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.
Therefore the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,The threat of punishment. - Jeremiah 34:12. "Then came the word of Jahveh to Jeremiah from Jahveh, saying: Jeremiah 34:13. Thus saith Jahveh, the God of Israel, 'I made a covenant with your fathers in the day when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from a house of bondmen, saying, Jeremiah 34:14. At the end of seven years shall ye set free each man his brother, who is a Hebrew that sold himself to thee; and he shall serve thee six years, then shalt thou send him away from thee free: but your fathers hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear. Jeremiah 34:15. But you had turned just now, and had done what is right in mine eyes, because each man proclaimed liberty to his neighbour, ad ye had made a covenant before me in the house on which my name is called. Jeremiah 34:16. But ye turned again and profaned my name, and each one made his man-servant and his handmaid, whom he had sent away free, at their pleasure, to return, and ye brought them into subjection, to be men-and maid-servants to you. Jeremiah 34:17. Therefore, thus saith Jahveh, Ye have not hearkened unto me in proclaiming liberty each man to his brother, and each man to his neighbour: behold, I proclaim a liberty for you, saith Jahveh, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to famine, and I will deliver you up for maltreatment to all the kingdoms of the earth. Jeremiah 34:18. And I shall make the men who have transgressed my covenant, that have not kept the words of the covenant which they concluded before me, like the calf which they cut in two, and between whose pieces they passed. Jeremiah 34:19. The princes of Judah and the princes of Jerusalem, the courtiers, and the priests, and all he people of the land, who passed through between the pieces of the calf, Jeremiah 34:20. Them will I give into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of those who seek their life, so that their corpses shall be for food to the birds of heaven and to the beasts of the earth. Jeremiah 34:21. And Zedekiah, king of Judah, and his princes will I give into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of those who seek their life, and into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon, that has departed from against you. Jeremiah 34:22. Behold, I will command, saith Jahveh, and will make them return to this city, and they shall fight against it, and shall take it, and shall burn it with fire; and the cities of Judah will I make a desolation, without an inhabitant."
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,In Jeremiah 34:13-16 the Lord sets before the people and their rulers their new offence; in Jeremiah 34:17-22 He announces to them the punishment for this new deed by which the covenant is broken. In order to place the transgression in its proper light, He mentions, first of all, that, when He led Israel out of Egypt, He concluded with them a covenant to the effect that every one of them should set free his Hebrew servant at the end of seven years; He also mentions that their fathers had transgressed this covenant (Jeremiah 34:13, Jeremiah 34:14). The designation of Egypt as a house of bondmen, as in Exodus 13:3, Exodus 13:14; Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 6:12, etc., possesses a special emphasis, and points to what is mentioned in Deuteronomy 15:15 as the motive for obeying the law referred to in the address. Because Israel was a servant in Egypt, and the Lord has redeemed him out of this house of bondmen, therefore must they not treat as slaves their brethren who had fallen into poverty, but set them free after six years of service. The expression "at the end (after the lapse) of seven years" is to be understood in the same way as the expression "after eight days." As this just means "when seven days are completed," so also, according to the law, Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:12, the emancipation was to follow in the seventh year, after six full years of service. "Who sold himself to thee" is an expression copied from Deuteronomy 15:12. - From this sin of their fathers they had now for a little turned away, and, in a solemn covenant, resolved to free the bondmen, as the law decreed (Jeremiah 34:15); but they have immediately profaned the name of the Lord again by revoking this decree, viz., by breaking the covenant made before God. לנפשׁם, "according to their pleasure," like eלנפשׁהּ, Deuteronomy 21:14.
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.
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.The announcement of punishment. Because ye have not hearkened, by proclaiming, every one, liberty to his bondman (this certainly had been done, but was again undone by annulling the decree), therefore I proclaim liberty for you; i.e., you, who have hitherto been my servants (Leviticus 25:55), I discharge from this relation, - deliver you up to your fate as regards the sword, etc., that the sword, famine, and pestilence may have power over you. For לזועה see Jeremiah 15:4. - In Jeremiah 34:18 the construction is disputed. Many, including Luther, take העגל as the second object to נתתּי: "I will make the men...the calf," i.e., like the calf. But, though נתן is frequently construed with a double accusative with the meaning of making some thing another thing (cf. e.g., Jeremiah 34:22, Genesis 17:5; Exodus 7:1), yet in such a case the predicative-object does not readily take the article. Moreover, נתן, in the sense required here, to make like equals treat as, is joined with כּ, as in Isaiah 41:2; Ezekiel 28:2, Ezekiel 28:6; Genesis 42:30; 1 Kings 10:27, etc. Finally, Rosenmller objects: continuata versu 19 personarum descriptio et repetitio verbi yṭitanfw̱ Jeremiah 34:20 vix permittunt, propositionem hoc versu absolvi. For these reasons, L. de Dieu, Rosenmller, Ewald, and Graf have taken העגל as being in apposition to הבּרית, and the enumeration "princes of Judah," etc., Jeremiah 34:19, as a continuation or exposition of האנשׁים, Jeremiah 34:18, and ונתתּי אותם, Jeremiah 34:20, as a resumption of the same words in Jeremiah 34:18. According to this view, Jeremiah 34:18-20 would form a series of appositions: "I will give the men...that have not kept the words of the covenant which they concluded before me...the princes of Judah who passed between the parts of the calf, - these will I give into the hands of their enemies." But, apart from the consideration that the enumeration of the covenant-breakers (viz., the princes of Judah, etc.), which is added by way of apposition in Jeremiah 34:19, ought not to come in till after the apposition to הבּרית, which would be a harsh and complicated arrangement of the members of the sentence, this construction seems untenable for the following reasons: (a) "The calf that they cut," etc., which forms the explanatory apposition to "the covenant," is separated from it by the intervening clause, "which they made before me." And (b), even though we might modify this harshness by repeating את־דּברי before העגל, yet the mode of expression, "they have not performed the words of the calf which they cut in two, and between whose parts they passed," would be a very stiff and unnatural one for "they have not performed what they vowed or sware in presence of the parts of the calf which they had halved, and when they passed through between these pieces." With Maurer and Hitzig, therefore, we abide by the older view, which takes העגל as the second object to ונתתּי: "I will make the men...the calf," or, better, "like the calf which they cut in two," etc. The article is used with עגל because this predicate is more exactly determined by relative clauses, and העגל stands for כּעגל, since, as often happens, the כּ of likeness is dropped to give more point to the idea. We make Jeremiah 34:19 begin a new sentence, and take the names of this verse as objects absolute, which, by אותם following ונתתּי, are subordinated to the verb: "As for the princes of Judah...them shall I give...." - From Jeremiah 34:18 we see that, when alliances were entered into, the contracting parties slaughtered an עגל, "calf," i.e., a young bullock, cut it in two halves, and went through between the pieces that were placed opposite one another. See on Genesis 15:10 for details regarding this most ancient custom and its meaning: according to the account of Ephraem Syrus, it is of Chaldean origin. Thus are explained the phrases used to signify the making of a covenant. כּרת בּרית, to cut a covenant, ὅρκια τέμνειν, faedus ferire, i.e., ferienda hostia faedus facere. We cannot with certainty infer, from the threatening pronounced in this passage, that this rite originally signified nothing more than that he who broke his promise would be treated like the animal that had been slaughtered. For the threatening is merely a conclusion drawn from the sacred act; but this does not exclude a deeper meaning of the rite.
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,
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;Jeremiah 34:19-22 give the real explanation of the threatening attached to the ritual of the covenant. Princes, officers of the court, priests and people, who have transgressed the covenant, shall die by the hand of the enemy, and perish ignominiously. On Jeremiah 34:20, cf. Jeremiah 7:33; Jeremiah 16:4, etc. On סריסים see on Genesis 37:36. King Zedekiah also, with his princes, his retinue, shall fall into the hand of his enemies, ay, into the hands of the Chaldeans, who have now withdrawn from Jerusalem (on עלה see on Jeremiah 21:2). See also Genesis 37:5-8.
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.