Jeremiah Chapter 34
Lessons from the text
Vows Before God
The Jews, at King Zedekiah’s command, entered into a covenant with God. Rather, they choose to re-enter the covenant which God gave to their fathers when He freed them from Egypt. They willingly made this vow to free their slaves before God, even going through a public ritual to bind them to their word. Amazingly, the people then went back on their promise.
In the original covenant, God writes that it is a sin against Him to break a vow that you have made (Deut. 23:21). If, however, you do not make a vow and fail to perform what you thought of doing, then God does not hold it against you (Deut. 23:22).
The Jews of this chapter would have been in violation of God’s law even if they had not entered into the covenant. Yet having made and broken the vow, they now stood in even worse condemnation before a holy God.
Believers are to be very caution when entered into any covenant (vow) in the presence of God. Whatever we say we will do, He expects us to do it. If we do not do it, then we have sinned.
For instance, the words, “Lord I will…” is a type of vow. Suppose you say, “I will sing ‘Amazing Graze’ at the next service.” If something happens, like you get sick and are unable to attend that service, then you have committed a sin because you have broken your vow to God. To utter a vow over small matters is, to be blunt, backing yourself into a corner. Rather than saying a vow in ordinary conversation, believers would be wiser to say “If the Lord allows, I intend to…” or “I would like to….”
That being said, what about the larger matters of life? There are some vows which are encouraged in Scripture. Commitments to holiness, marital bonds, or upholding the requirements of your service to God (such as preaching the Gospel to the best of your ability) are things in which the Lord delights (Isa. 19:21, Heb. 13:4).
The point is that whatever vow you make before God needs to be spoken after much thought and prayer. Never vow something rashly or without fully understanding what it entails. As the Scripture says, “Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay” (Ecc. 5:5).
Verse by Verse Commentary
1-5 The siege against Jerusalem lasted one year and six months (II Ki. 25:1-4). This message is given before Jeremiah is placed in prison, placing it towards the beginning of the siege. God’s tone is that of judgment. The people have gone past the point where repentance will spare them from judgment. However, repentance will spare them from continual judgment; Zedekiah and others who repent will be granted a fair life in Babylon. God is still being gracious towards His people by giving them a way to flourish even in captivity. Noteworthy is that the city is burned according to this prophecy in the fifth month of Zedekiah’s eleventh year (II Ki. 25:2-10).
6-7 A faithful prophet, Jeremiah goes and proclaims the words just as God commanded. This event is most likely at the beginning of the siege since several defenced cities are still standing. Zedekiah has rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar and is now facing the consequences. His territory is fighting hard, but the Jews are outnumbered by the vast host of Babylon. In other words, it is the perfect time for God to reach out to Zedekiah for the king is now calling into question the decisions that have led him into this fight for his nation.
8-9 Zedekiah, after hearing the prophet proclaim the true message of God, demonstrates a renewed commitment to the Mosaic law. God forbade Jews from causing other Jews to be bondsmen, and Zedekiah is finally righting this wrong (Lev. 25:39-42). Zedekiah even obeys the command to not exact usury from the Jews, and graciously extends this to all inhabitants of the cities (Deut. 23:19-20). This is a particularly wise move to gain loyalty from the people in the face of an invading army.
10-11 The other rulers and people do not share in Zedekiah’s renewed interest in obeying God. They put up a front to satisfy the king’s command, but soon afterwards they go back on their word and force their slaves to return. This is greatly displeasing in the eyes of God on two accounts: they have disobeyed the Mosaic law, and they have broken an oath. See Deuteronomy 23:21-23 and Numbers 30:1-16 for the law concerning oaths, vows, and covenants.
12-17 God responds harshly to the disobedience of the people to Zedekiah’s command. He brings up the Mosaic law as a witness against the people; they have all sworn an oath to uphold the law and, by breaking it, are held accountable accordingly. God compliments them for choosing to do the right thing and re-enter the original covenant He made with Israel, but they have negated any favor from Him by returning to their previous behavior. Peter writes that if people accept the way of righteousness (in Peter’s context this is accepting Christ) and then choose to return back into sin, “the latter end is worse with them than the beginning” (II Pet. 2:20). Because the Jews know the law of God and what is expected of them yet choose to reject it to do as they please, God will completely withdraw His protective grace from the people who have sinned against Him.
18-19 On the origins of this ritual for sealing a covenant, see Genesis 15:8-21.
20-22 The consequences for breaking a covenant with God are severe. Not only will a liberty of the sword and famine be granted against them but also in death they will be disgraced, being left for the birds to consume them instead of receiving a proper burial. Noteworthy is God promises that even if it appears like the Jews have forced a retreat, the Babylonians will only come stronger to achieve total victory over Jerusalem.
Thank you for your faithfulness in studying God’s word.
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