New English Translation
The Lord Makes an Ominous Promise to Zedekiah
34 The Lord’s message came to Jeremiah while King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was attacking Jerusalem and the towns around it with a large army. This army consisted of troops from his own army and from the kingdoms and peoples of the lands under his dominion.[a] 2 This is what the Lord God of Israel told Jeremiah,[b] “Go, speak to King Zedekiah of Judah. Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord has said: “Take note! I am going to hand this city over to the king of Babylon, and he will burn it down. 3 You yourself will not escape his clutches but will certainly be captured and handed over to him. You must confront the king of Babylon face to face and answer to him personally.[c] Then you must go to Babylon.”’ 4 However, listen to the Lord’s message, King Zedekiah of Judah. This is what the Lord has said: ‘You will not die in battle or be executed.[d] 5 You will die a peaceful death. They will burn incense at your burial just as they did at the burial of your ancestors, the former kings who preceded you.[e] They will mourn for you, saying, “Alas, master!”[f] Indeed, you have my own word on this.[g] I, the Lord, affirm it!’”[h]
6 The prophet Jeremiah told all these things to King Zedekiah of Judah in Jerusalem. 7 He did this while the army of the king of Babylon was attacking Jerusalem and the cities of Lachish and Azekah. He was attacking these cities because they were the only fortified cities of Judah that were still holding out.[i]
The Lord Threatens to Destroy Those Who Wronged Their Slaves
8 The Lord spoke to Jeremiah after King Zedekiah had made a covenant[j] with all the people in Jerusalem to grant their slaves their freedom. 9 Everyone was supposed to free their male and female Hebrew slaves. No one was supposed to keep a fellow Judean enslaved.[k] 10 All the people and their leaders had agreed to this. They had agreed to free their male and female slaves and not keep them enslaved any longer. They originally complied with the covenant and freed them.[l] 11 But later[m] they changed their minds. They took back their male and female slaves that they had freed and forced them to be slaves again.[n] 12 The Lord’s message came to Jeremiah,[o] 13 “The Lord God of Israel has a message for you:[p] ‘I made a covenant with your ancestors[q] when I brought them out of Egypt where they had been slaves.[r] It stipulated,[s] 14 “Every seven years each of you must free any fellow Hebrews who have sold themselves to you. After they have served you for six years, you shall set them free.”[t] But your ancestors did not obey me or pay any attention to me. 15 Recently, however, you yourselves[u] showed a change of heart and did what is pleasing to me. You granted your fellow countrymen their freedom and you made a covenant to that effect in my presence in the house that I have claimed for my own.[v] 16 But then you turned right around[w] and showed that you did not honor me.[x] Each of you took back your male and female slaves, whom you had freed as they desired, and you forced them to be your slaves again.[y] 17 So I, the Lord, say: “You have not really obeyed me and granted freedom to your neighbor and fellow countryman.[z] Therefore, I will grant you freedom, the freedom[aa] to die in war, or by starvation, or disease. I, the Lord, affirm it![ab] I will make all the kingdoms of the earth horrified at what happens to you.[ac] 18 I will punish those people who have violated their covenant with me. I will make them like the calf they cut in two and passed between its pieces.[ad] I will do so because they did not keep the terms of the covenant they made in my presence.[ae] 19 I will punish the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the court officials,[af] the priests, and all the other people of the land who passed between the pieces of the calf.[ag] 20 I will hand them over to their enemies who want to kill them. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds and the wild animals.[ah] 21 I will also hand King Zedekiah of Judah and his officials over to their enemies who want to kill them. I will hand them over to the army of the king of Babylon, even though they have temporarily withdrawn from attacking you.[ai] 22 For I, the Lord, affirm that[aj] I will soon give the order and bring them back to this city. They will fight against it and capture it and burn it down. I will also make the towns of Judah desolate so that there will be no one living in them.”’”
- Jeremiah 34:1 tn Heb “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord while Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army and all the kingdoms of the earth under the dominion of his hand and all the peoples were fighting against Jerusalem and against all its towns, saying….” The sentence is obviously too long and the qualifiers obviously too ill-defined to translate literally. This same introductory formula has occurred in 7:1; 11:1; 18:1; 21:1; 30:1; 32:1, but without such a long introductory phrase. It is generally agreed that the phrase “all the peoples” should be seen as a parallel term to “all the kingdoms” under the qualifying “under the dominion of his hand/control,” and what is referred to are contingent forces supplied by these vassal kingdoms and peoples under the terms of their vassal treaties with Nebuchadnezzar. Some of the nature of the make-up of these forces may be seen from a reference to Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite, and Ammonite raiders in the earlier attacks on Jerusalem during the reign of Jehoiakim (2 Kgs 24:2).sn It is difficult to assign dates to passages that have no dating formulas, but there is sufficient detail in this passage to show that this incident occurred sometime early in the siege of Jerusalem while Jeremiah was still free to come and go (see v. 2, compare 37:4, and see the second study note on 32:2). The Babylonian forces blockaded Jerusalem and attacked the outlying cities, reducing them one by one until Jerusalem had no further help. According to v. 7, Azekah and Lachish in the western foothills still held out, and there is evidence from some of the correspondence from Lachish at this period that help was being sought from Egypt.
- Jeremiah 34:2 tn Heb “told him”; the referent (Jeremiah) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
- Jeremiah 34:3 tn Heb “Your eyes will see the eyes of the king of Babylon, and his mouth will speak with your mouth.” For this same idiom in reverse order, see 32:4 and consult the translator’s note there for the obligatory nuance given to the verbs.sn For the fulfillment of this see Jer 52:7-11.
- Jeremiah 34:4 tn Heb “by the sword.”sn The idea is violent death, either by battle, execution, or murder. Zedekiah was captured, had to witness the execution of his sons, had his eyes put out, and was taken to Babylon, where he died after a lengthy imprisonment (Jer 52:10-11).
- Jeremiah 34:5 tn Heb “And like the burning [of incense] for your fathers, the former kings who were before you, so will they burn [incense] for you.” The sentence has been reversed for easier style and the technical use of the terms interpreted.sn For the custom referred to compare 2 Chr 16:14 and 21:19.
- Jeremiah 34:5 sn The intent of this oracle may have been to contrast the fate of Zedekiah with that of Jehoiakim, who was apparently executed, went unmourned, and was left unburied (contrast Jer 22:18-19).
- Jeremiah 34:5 tn Heb “For [or Indeed] I myself have spoken [this] word.”
- Jeremiah 34:5 tn Heb “Oracle of the Lord.”
- Jeremiah 34:7 tn Heb “And the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left, [namely] against Lachish and Azekah, for they alone were left of the cities of Judah as fortified cities.” The intent of this sentence is to serve as a circumstantial sentence to v. 6 (= “while the army…”). That thought is picked up by “he did this while….” The long, complex sentence in v. 7 has been divided in two, with qualifying material moved to create shorter English sentences in conformity with contemporary style.
- Jeremiah 34:8 tn Or “agreement.” See the study note on 11:2 for discussion.sn There are no details regarding the nature of this covenant, but it was probably a parity covenant in which the people agreed to free their slaves in exchange for some concessions from the king (see the study note on 11:2 for more details on the nature of ancient Near-Eastern covenants). More details about this covenant are given in vv. 15, 18-19, where it is said to have been made before the Lord in the temple and to have involved passing between the pieces of a cut-up calf. Hence it entailed their swearing an oath invoking the Lord’s name (cf. Gen 21:23; 31:51-53; 1 Sam 20:42) and pronouncing self-maledictory curses for a fate similar to that of the dead calf if they failed to keep the oath. (This latter practice is illustrated in treaty documents from the ancient Near East and is reflected in the covenant ceremony in Gen 15:8-16.)
- Jeremiah 34:9 tn Heb “after King Zedekiah made a covenant…to proclaim liberty to them [the slaves mentioned in the next verse] so that each would send away free his male slave and his female slave, the Hebrew man and the Hebrew woman, so that a man would not do work by them, by a Judean, his brother [this latter phrase is explicative of “them” because it repeats the preposition in front of “them”].” The complex Hebrew syntax has been broken down into shorter English sentences, but an attempt has been made to retain the proper subordinations.sn Through economic necessity some of the poorer people of the land had on occasion to sell themselves or their children to wealthier Hebrew landowners. The terms of their servitude were strictly regulated under Hebrew law (cf. Exod 21:2-11; Lev 25:39-55; Deut 15:12-18). In brief, no Hebrew was to serve a fellow Hebrew for any longer than six years. In the seventh year he or she was to go free. The period could even be shortened if the Year of Jubilee intervened, since all debts were to be canceled, freedom restored, and indentured property returned in that year. Some see the covenant here coming in conjunction with such a Jubilee year, since it involved the freedom of all slaves, regardless of how long they had served. Others see this covenant as paralleling an old Babylonian practice of a king declaring liberty for slaves and canceling all debts, generally at the beginning of his reign (but also at other significant times within it) in order to ingratiate himself with his subjects.
- Jeremiah 34:10 tn Heb “And they complied, [that is] all the leaders and all the people who entered into the covenant that they would each let his male slave and his female slave go free so as not to hold them in bondage any longer; they complied and let [them] go.” The verb “they complied” (Heb “they hearkened”) is repeated at the end after the lengthy description of the subject. This is characteristic of Hebrew style. The translation has resolved the complex sentence by turning the relative clauses modifying the subject into independent sentences describing the situational background before mention of the main focus: “they had complied and let them go.”
- Jeremiah 34:11 sn Most commentators are agreed that the incident referred to here occurred during the period of relief from the siege provided by the Babylonians going off to fight against the Egyptians, who were apparently coming to Zedekiah’s aid (compare vv. 21-22 with 37:5, 7). The freeing of the slaves had occurred earlier, under the crisis of the siege, while the people were more responsive to the Lord due to the threat of destruction (cf. v. 15).
- Jeremiah 34:11 tn Heb “they had brought them into subjection for male and female slaves.” However, the qualification of “male and female” is already clear from the preceding and is unnecessary to the English sentence.
- Jeremiah 34:12 sn This is the resumption of the introduction in v. 8 after the lengthy description of the situation that had precipitated the Lord’s message to Jeremiah.
- Jeremiah 34:13 tn Heb “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘…’” The style adopted here has been used to avoid a longer, more complex English sentence.
- Jeremiah 34:13 tn Heb “fathers” (also in vv. 14, 15).
- Jeremiah 34:13 tn Heb “out of the house of bondage.”sn This refers to the Mosaic covenant, initiated at Mount Sinai and renewed on the plains of Moab. The statement “I brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” functions as the “historical prologue” in the Ten Commandments, which is the Lord’s vassal treaty with Israel in miniature. (See the study note on 11:2 and see Exod 20:2; Deut 5:6; Exod 34:8. As such, it was a motivating factor in their pledge of loyalty to him. This statement was also invoked within the law itself as a motivation for kindly treatment of slaves, including their emancipation [see Deut 15:15].)
- Jeremiah 34:13 tn Heb “made a covenant, saying.” This was only one of several stipulations of the covenant. The form used here has been chosen as an indirect way of relating the specific stipulation that is being focused upon to the general covenant that is referred to in v. 13.
- Jeremiah 34:14 sn Cf. Deut 15:12-18 for the complete statement of this law. Here only the first part of it is cited.
- Jeremiah 34:15 tn The presence of the independent pronoun in the Hebrew text is intended to contrast their actions with those of their ancestors.
- Jeremiah 34:15 sn This refers to the temple. See Jer 7:10, 11, 14, 30 and see the translator’s note on 7:10 and the study note on 10:25 for the explanation of the idiom involved here.
- Jeremiah 34:16 sn The verbs at the beginning of v. 15 and v. 16 are the same in the Hebrew. The people had two changes of heart (Heb “you turned”), one that was pleasing to him (Heb “right in his eyes”) and one that showed they did not honor him (Heb “profaned [or belittled] his name”).
- Jeremiah 34:16 sn Heb “you profaned my name.” His name had been invoked in the oath confirming the covenant. Breaking the covenant involved taking his name in vain (cf. Exod 20:7; Deut 5:11; Jer 5:2). Hence the one who bore the name was not treated with the special honor and reverence due him (see the study note on 23:27 for the significance of “name” in the OT).
- Jeremiah 34:16 tn Heb “and you brought them into subjection to be to you for male and female slaves.” See the translator’s note on v. 11 for the same redundant repetition, which is not carried over into the contemporary English sentence.
- Jeremiah 34:17 tn The Hebrew text has a compound object, the two terms of which have been synonyms in vv. 14, 15. G. L. Keown, P. J. Scalise, and T. G. Smothers (Jeremiah 26-52 [WBC], 189) make the interesting observation that these two terms (Heb “brother” and “neighbor”) emphasize the relationships that should have taken precedence over their being viewed as mere slaves.
- Jeremiah 34:17 sn This is, of course, a metaphorical and ironical use of the term “to grant freedom to.” It is, however, a typical statement of the concept of talionic justice that is quite often operative in God’s judgments in the OT (cf., e.g., Obad 15).
- Jeremiah 34:17 tn Heb “Oracle of the Lord.”
- Jeremiah 34:17 sn Cf. Jer 15:4; 24:9; 29:18.
- Jeremiah 34:18 sn See the study note on v. 8 for explanation and parallels.
- Jeremiah 34:18 tn There is a little confusion in the syntax of this section because the nominal phrase “the calf” does not have any accompanying conjunction or preposition to show how it relates to the rest of the sentence. KJV treats it and the following words as though they were a temporal clause modifying “covenant which they made.” The majority of modern English versions and commentaries, however, understand it as a second accusative after the verb + object “I will make the men.” This fits under the category of what GKC 375 §118.r calls an accusative of comparison (compare usage in Isa 21:8; Zech 2:8). Stated baldly, it reads, “I will make the people…the calf.” This is more forceful than the formal use of the noun + preposition כּ (kaf; “like”), just as metaphors are generally more forceful than similes. The whole verse is one long, complex sentence in Hebrew: “I will make the men who broke my covenant [referring to the Mosaic covenant containing the stipulation to free slaves after six years] [and] who did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me [referring to their agreement to free their slaves] [like] the calf which they cut in two and passed between its pieces.” The sentence has been broken down into shorter sentences in conformity with contemporary English style.
- Jeremiah 34:19 tn For the rendering of this term see the translator’s note on 29:2.
- Jeremiah 34:19 tn This verse is not actually a sentence in the Hebrew original but is a pre-positioned object to the verb in v. 20, “I will hand them over.” This construction is called casus pendens in the older grammars and is used to call attention to a subject or object (cf. GKC 458 §143.d and compare the usage in 33:24). The same nondescript “I will punish” that was used to resolve the complex sentence in the previous verse has been chosen to introduce the objects here before the more specific “I will hand them over” in the next verse.
- Jeremiah 34:20 sn See this same phrase in Jer 7:33; 16:4; 19:7.
- Jeremiah 34:21 tn Heb “And Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials I will give into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives and into the hands of the army of the king of Babylon that has gone up from against them.” The last two “and into the hand” phrases are each giving further explication of “their enemies” (the conjunction is explicative [cf. BDB 252 s.v. וְ 1.b]). The sentence has been broken down into shorter English sentences in conformity with contemporary English style.sn This refers to the relief offered by the withdrawal of the Babylonian troops to fight against the Egyptians, who were coming to Zedekiah’s aid (cf. 37:5, 7, 11).
- Jeremiah 34:22 tn Heb “Oracle of the Lord.”