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Jeremiah 34


(The parentheses represent poetic literary units)

A Prophecy Against Zedekiah Zedekiah Warned by God Warning to Zedekiah A Message to Zedekiah The Fate of Zedekiah
34:1-5 34:1-5 34:1-5 34:1-5 34:1-5
34:6-7 34:6-7 34:6-7 34:6-7 34:6-7
  Treacherous Treatment of Slaves Manumission of Slaves and Perfidy of the Jerusalemites Deceitful Treatment of Slaves The Episode of the Liberated Slaves
34:8-11 34:8-11 34:8-22 34:8-11 34:8-16
34:12-16 34:12-16   34:12-22  
34:17-22 34:17-22     34:17-22

READING CYCLE THREE (see introductory section)


This is a study guide commentary,which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



1The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army, with all the kingdoms of the earth that were under his dominion and all the peoples, were fighting against Jerusalem and against all its cities, saying, 2"Thus says the Lord God of Israel, 'Go and speak to Zedekiah king of Judah and say to him: "Thus says the Lord, 'Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he will burn it with fire. 3You will not escape from his hand, for you will surely be captured and delivered into his hand; and you will see the king of Babylon eye to eye, and he will speak with you face to face, and you will go to Babylon.'"' 4Yet hear the word of the Lord, O Zedekiah king of Judah! Thus says the Lord concerning you, 'You will not die by the sword. 5You will die in peace; and as spices were burned for your fathers, the former kings who were before you, so they will burn spices for you; and they will lament for you, "Alas, lord!"' For I have spoken the word," declares the Lord.


TEV, NJB"Nebuchadnezzar"

#1 with an "n" in 27:6,8,20; 28:3,11,14; 29:1,3 (most common spelling outside Jeremiah)

#2 with an "r" in 21:2,7; 22:25; 24:1; 25:1,9; 25:21; 32:1,28; 34:1; 35:11; 37:1; 39:1,5,11; 43:10; 44:30 and several more (but only in Jeremiah and 4 times in Ezekiel)

The MT follows option #2. In Jeremiah the word is spelled both ways.

It is difficult to transcribe ancient names from one language to another, but it is surprising that two different spellings occur in one author. This may be a textual hint of a later editor/compiler.

▣ "all his army with all the kingdoms of the earth" The military force was made up of (1) Babylonians; (2) mercenaries; and (3) vassal people (cf. II Kgs. 24:1-2). This descriptive phrase links up with Jer. 1:15.

34:2 "Go and speak to Zedekiah king of Judah" This chapter refers to two different messages related to Zedekiah, the last king of Judah.

1. his personal fate and the fate of Jerusalem

2. the fate of his leaders who broke their covenant with YHWH and their servants


▣ "hand" A Hebrew idiom of "power" (cf. vv. 3,21; 21:7). See Special Topic at 1:9.

▣ "he will burn it with fire" This was a

1. means of total destruction (i.e., uninhabited, cf. Isa. 34:11-15; Zeph. 2:13-15)

2. symbol of the judgment of God (see Special Topic at 4:4)


34:3 "you will not escape" The "you" is emphatic! There are three accounts of Zedekiah's capture in the OT (cf. 39:4-7; 52:7-11; II Kgs. 25:4-7). It was God's will that Babylon succeed (cf. Ezek. 17:11-21). Only capitulation could have saved the city from destruction.

▣ "you will surely be captured" This is an infinitive absolute and an imperfect verb from the same root (BDB 1074, KB 1779), used for emphasis.

▣ "face to face" Zedekiah was brought before Nebuchadnezzar. They had a personal (lit. "mouth to mouth," BDB 804), "eye to eye" (BDB 744) encounter (cf. 32:4).

34:4-5 Zedekiah will experience

1. the death of his sons

2. the death of all the princes (the royal family or leaders in general)

3. being blinded

4. exiled in chains

5. put in prison in Babylon until his death

However, at this death in Babylon (cf. 52:11) he was honored as a royal Judean king.

34:4 This chapter is characterized by verbs being doubled.

1. captured, v. 3

2. die, v. 4

3. speak, vv. 5-6

4. turn, v. 11

5. proclaim, v. 17

6. give, vv. 17-18

7. pass over, vv. 18-19

"Says" is often found side by side (cf. vv. 1-2,2,12-13), but these other verbs being doubled form a characteristic of Jeremiah's writing style.

34:5 "burn spices for you" Literally this is the verb "to burn" (BDB 976). Exactly what, why, or how is not specified. It may be a reference to (1) large amounts of spices burnt in honor of the dead king as a symbol of prayers on his behalf (cf. II Chr. 16:14; 21:19). The people did it not so much for him personally but for the memory of their homeland's once-proud heritage. This was just opposite of Jehoiakim's funeral (cf. 22:18-19). (2) This is a conditional promise (though the "if. . .then" is not stated) message which did not come to pass because Zedekiah would not heed YHWH's words from Jeremiah.

6Then Jeremiah the prophet spoke all these words to Zedekiah king of Judah in Jerusalem 7when the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the remaining cities of Judah, that is, Lachish and Azekah, for they alone remained as fortified cities among the cities of Judah.

34:7 "Lachish" Archaeologists have found letters (i.e., the Lachish Letters on 21 ostraca) from this siege period. The city was larger than Jerusalem during this time. It is about 23 miles southwest of Jerusalem.

▣ "Azekah" This city was about eleven miles southwest of Jerusalem. This verse implies that all other cities of Judah had already been destroyed.

8The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people who were in Jerusalem to proclaim release to them: 9that each man should set free his male servant and each man his female servant, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman; so that no one should keep them, a Jew his brother, in bondage. 10And all the officials and all the people obeyed who had entered into the covenant that each man should set free his male servant and each man his female servant, so that no one should keep them any longer in bondage; they obeyed, and set them free. 11But afterward they turned around and took back the male servants and the female servants whom they had set free, and brought them into subjection for male servants and for female servants.

34:8-11 This paragraph describes one example of the evil and disrespect for YHWH that existed among the leadership of Jerusalem. They made a public commitment to YHWH and His law (i.e., setting slaves/ servants free, cf. v. 14; Exod. 21:1-11; Lev. 25:39-55; Deut. 15:12-18), but when the circumstances seemed to change they reversed their actions.

34:8 "covenant" This word (BDB 136, cf. vv. 13,15,18; 31:32) is not a Hebrew word. Its etymology is uncertain, possibly

1. "to cut," cf. vv. 18-19

2. "to bind" from Akkadian; see Special Topic at 3:7

3. "to establish a covenant with an oath" from Akkadian

4. "to eat a meal together," which sealed the covenant (BDB 136 I, הרב, I Kgs. 8:25)

34:9 "Hebrew" This word (BDB 720 I, cf. Gen. 14:13; 39:14,27) is not used much (i.e., 34 times in all the OT). It reflects the nomadic background of the Jews (BDB 397 I, an adjective formed from the noun Judah, cf. 32:12; 38:19; 40:11,12; 41:3,19; 44:1; 52:28,30) and is often associated with servitude more than racial lineage.

34:10-11 Jeremiah's poetry often used words that sound alike. Notice

1. hear, v. 10 - שׁמע (twice)

2. send away, vv. 10,11 - שׁלח (twice)

3. turn, v. 11 - שׁוב (twice)

If you go back to v. 9, there are eight words from vv. 9-11 that begin with שׁ.

 34:11 "afterward they turned around and took back the servants" Jeremiah 37:7-10,11 and 34:21-22 tell us that the Egyptian army was the cause of the siege being broken off briefly.

The Mosiac law allowed a Hebrew to sell himself or herself for a set period of time, six years. They were to be released at the end of one year of rest following the six of labor (cf. Exod. 23:10-11; 21:2-11; Lev. 25:39-46; Deut. 15:1,12-18). The rich people of the city vowed this act to impress God but when the siege was lifted they reneged!

12Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, 13"Thus says the Lord God of Israel, 'I made a covenant with your forefathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, saying, 14"At the end of seven years each of you shall set free his Hebrew brother who has been sold to you and has served you six years, you shall send him out free from you; but your forefathers did not obey Me or incline their ear to Me. 15Although recently you had turned and done what is right in My sight, each man proclaiming release to his neighbor, and you had made a covenant before Me in the house which is called by My name. 16Yet you turned and profaned My name, and each man took back his male servant and each man his female servant whom you had set free according to their desire, and you brought them into subjection to be your male servants and female servants."'

34:14 "end of seven years" The LXX has "six years." The meaning is "at the beginning of the seventh year." This reflects the ancient law (cf. Exod. 21:2-11; Lev. 25:39-46; Deut. 15:1,12-18).

▣ "did not obey Me or incline their ear to Me" This same reluctance to hear and obey is seen in 7:24-26; 17:23; 19:15. It was not an issue of ignorance of God's will but willful, recurrent disobedience.

1. "obey" - BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal perfect, lit. "hear" (Shema, cf. Deut. 6:4)

2. "incline" - BDB 639, KB 692, Hiphil perfect, cf. Josh. 24:23; Ps. 119:36


34:15 "in the house which is called by My name" This Deuteronomic language refers to the temple, which will eventually be in Jerusalem (cf. 7:10-11,14,30; 32:34).

The concept of the temple as "house" is the word play of II Sam. 7:2,13,16.

34:16 "profaned My name" This root (BDB 320 III, KB 319, Piel imperfect) means "to pollute," "to defile," or "to profane" (cf. Lev. 18:21; 19:12; 20:3; 21:6; 22:2,32; Ezek. 20:39; 36:20-23; Amos 2:7; Mal. 1:12; 2:10).

17"Therefore thus says the Lord, 'You have not obeyed Me in proclaiming release each man to his brother and each man to his neighbor. Behold, I am proclaiming a release to you,' declares the Lord, 'to the sword, to the pestilence and to the famine; and I will make you a terror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 18I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not fulfilled the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between its parts- 19the officials of Judah and the officials of Jerusalem, the court officers and the priests and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf- 20I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life. And their dead bodies will be food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth. 21Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials I will 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 which has gone away from you. 22Behold, I am going to command,' declares the Lord, 'and I will bring them back to this city; and they will fight against it and take it and burn it with fire; and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without inhabitant.'"

34:17 The leaders of Jerusalem swore in God's name to "free" their Hebrew slaves but they did not. Now YHWH will "free" (lit. "liberty," BDB 204 I) the sword (BDB 352), pestilence (BDB 184), and famine (BDB 944) on them (see note at 14:12).

▣ "and I will make you a terror to all the kingdoms of the earth" This same phrase is used in 29:18 and Deut. 28:25. God's covenant people were meant to be a light to the nations but they had become a proverb of disaster! This was an exact reversal of God's purposes (cf. Ezek. 36:22-38)!

34:19 "who passed between the parts of the calf" This was an ancient method of ratifying a covenant (cf. Gen. 15:9-10,17). See Special Topic at 3:7.

34:20 An improper burial was a horror to ancient Jewish people (cf. 19:7; I Sam. 17:44,46; I Kgs. 14:11; 16:4). It functioned as a threat and curse.

34:22 "I will bring them back to this city" As Nebuchadnezzar was besieging Jerusalem in 588 b.c., the Egyptian army appeared in Judah. The Babylonians withdrew their siege of Jerusalem for a brief period to meet the new threat (cf. Jeremiah 37), but there was no battle and the siege of Jerusalem was quickly reestablished.

Notice it is YHWH (lit. "I am going to command" - BDB 845, KB 1010, Piel active participle) who directs the Babylonian military (cf. II Kgs. 24:3). Remember the concept of monotheism (see Special Topic at 1:5) is often communicated by the absence of secondary causes! YHWH is in control of individual, national, and international (as well as physical) events!


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