Today: [Jeremiah 34] Letting Our Captives Go Free. In this chapter the city of Jerusalem is about to fall to the king of Babylon. Under pressure and needing fresh troops, king Zedekiah frees the slaves in the city, then changes his mind when it looks like they will prevail in battle. Because of this Jeremiah declares that they city will fall regardless because of the duplicity of the people in failing to honor their word and release their own captives. Have you ever held someone captive to your expectations and demands? Our failure to forgive and show mercy toward others results in mercy often being denied us, as Jeremiah, in this chapter demonstrates.
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[Jer 34:1-22 KJV] 1 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, 2 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: 3 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. 4 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: 5 [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. 6 Then Jeremiah the prophet spake all these words unto Zedekiah king of Judah in Jerusalem, 7 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. 8 [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; 9 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. 10 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. 11 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.
In this chapter Jeremiah prophesies to king Zedekiah the outcome of the siege of the city of Jerusalem by the king of Babylon. This prophecy is a continuation of the words that Jeremiah spoke when he was shut up in the king’s prison in Jer. 32:1-5. It refers to the Jews in the city at the command of the king who released all the Hebrew slaves to fight in the battle and then relented when it seemed the king of Babylon would withdraw. The actions of the king and the elders of the city is reminiscent of the Pharaoh of Egypt who after promising to release the Israelites, hardened his heart and refused them liberty. This resistance to the word of the Lord through Jeremiah was prophesied beforehand in Jer. 19:15 that they would as Pharaoh, harden their heart against the God of their fathers and as a result go into captivity.
Inside each and every one of us is an internal Pharaoh. We may come under pressure and relent in some area of our lives to give grace to those around us, but when the pressure is off the temptation is to return to our ways. Forgiveness and mercy are two of the primary virtues repeated time and time again throughout the scriptures. The Jews went back on their words because they had need of the indentured servitude of their fellow Hebrews and were willing to violate God’s word to keep them in slavery for their own ends. Because of this the elders will go into captivity and the king will be taken to Babylon, howbeit his life will be spared because he sits on the throne of David. The clemency of God toward wicked king Zedekiah arises from God’s promises to David generations before, toward what is known as the “sure mercies of David…” referred to in Isa. 55:3.
12 Therefore the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, 13 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, 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. 15 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: 16 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. 17 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. 18 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, 19 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; 20 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. 21 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. 22 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.
What is your posture toward those around you? We do not have indentured servitude in western culture, but how often do we hold others captive to our expectations and demands? Whether you have control over someone’s life like a Pharaoh, we often harden our hearts toward others and do not extend the same clemency to them that Christ has afforded us through the cross.
In the parable of the man who owed 10,000 talents we see the teaching of Jesus regarding our treatment of others:
[Mat 18:29-30, 32-35 KJV] 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. … 32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. 35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
When we fail to walk in mercy toward others we place ourselves in the hands of our tormentors. Many times difficulty comes not because God is trying us with the trials of the faithful, but because we have brought upon ourselves difficulty through unforgiveness and small mindedness toward those in our lives we have failed to show mercy toward. The king and the elders of Judah when fearful of failure released their slaves, they returned to their cruel ways when the pressure was off. This provoked the hand of God in their situation. We should examine our hearts in these situations and ask ourselves regarding the lives of others around us – are we a part of the solution or part of the problem? Remember the words of Jesus in Matt. 6:
[Mat 6:14-15 KJV] 14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
These are the words of Jesus Himself. The general consensus of the believing family is that God forgives sin no matter what. What then do we do with the words of Jesus above? Are they not true? Could it be possible that we ask forgiveness and do NOT receive it because our hearts are not right regarding our expectations and offenses toward others? If we are to accept the words of Jesus above the contaminated theology of popular teaching in Christianity, we must tremble at the thought of not walking in mercy toward those that have wronged us.
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