Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
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 Jer 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 Jer 37-39, of the toils and sufferings of the prophet during that siege, until the fall of the city; then, in Jer 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 Jer 45:1-5, the words of comfort addressed to Baruch by Jeremiah. The second of these divisions is marked by a historical introduction, Jer 37:1-2, and the third by a somewhat lengthened prophetic heading. Only Jer 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 Jer 34 to the following is analogous to that of Jer 21:1-14. Just as the collection of special announcements regarding judgment and deliverance, Jer 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, Jer 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 (Jer 34:1, Jer 34:7); this setting marks it out as an introduction to the notices following. But the second utterance, Jer 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, Jer 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, Jer 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, Jer 34:1-7, announces to the king the fruitlessness of resistance to the power of the Chaldeans; the second, Jer 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 message to Zedekiah is regarded by Hitzig, Ewald, Graf, Ngelsbach, etc. as a supplement to Jer 32:1., and as giving, in its complete form, the prophecy to which Jer 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 Jer 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 Jer 32:3-5; Jer 21:3., and Jer 37:17; but we are not warranted in drawing the inference that this message forms a historical appendix or supplement to Jer 32:3., and was the occasion or reason of Jeremiah's imprisonment. See, on the contrary, the remarks on Jer 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 Jer 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, Jer 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, Eze 26:7. "All her towns" are the towns of Judah which belong to Jerusalem; see Jer 19:15. According to Jer 34:7, the strong towns not yet taken are meant, especially those strongly fortified, Lachish and Azekah in the plain (Jos 15:39, Jos 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 Jos 10:3, Jos 10:10, and Ch2 11:9. - Jeremiah is to say to the king:
"Thus saith Jahveh: Behold, I will deliver this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, that he may burn it with fire. Jer 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. Jer 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. Jer 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 Jer 34:2, Jer 34:3, cf. Jer 32:3-5. "But hear," Jer 34:4, introduces an exception to what has been said before; but the meaning of Jer 34:4, Jer 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 Jer 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. Jer 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 Jer 34:4 at least would require to run, "Obey the word of Jahveh" (שׁמע בּדבר ), as Jer 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 Jer 34:4, Jer 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 (Jer 22:18.). This intimation accords with the notices given elsewhere as to the end of Zedekiah (Jer 32:5; Jer 39:5-7). Although Zedekiah died a prisoner in Babylon (Jer 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 Ch2 16:14; Ch2 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 Ch2 16:14. On "alas, lord!" see Jer 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 Jer 34:6, Jer 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.
Threatening because of the Re-enslavement of the Liberated Hebrew Men-and Maid-servants. - Jer 34:8-11 describe the occasion of the word of the Lord, which follows in Jer 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. Jer 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. Jer 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, Exo 21:1-4; Deu 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, Jer 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, Lev 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 Jer 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 Lev 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. Lev 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. Ch2 15:12; Eze 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. Ch2 28:10; but the alteration is unnecessary - the Hiphil may intensify the active meaning.
The threat of punishment. - Jer 34:12. "Then came the word of Jahveh to Jeremiah from Jahveh, saying: Jer 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, Jer 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. Jer 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. Jer 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. Jer 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. Jer 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. Jer 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, Jer 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. Jer 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. Jer 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."
In Jer 34:13-16 the Lord sets before the people and their rulers their new offence; in Jer 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 (Jer 34:13, Jer 34:14). The designation of Egypt as a house of bondmen, as in Exo 13:3, Exo 13:14; Exo 20:2; Deu 6:12, etc., possesses a special emphasis, and points to what is mentioned in Deu 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, Exo 21:2; Deu 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 Deu 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 (Jer 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, Deu 21:14.
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 (Lev 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 Jer 15:4. - In Jer 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., Jer 34:22, Gen 17:5; Exo 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 = treat as, is joined with כּ, as in Isa 41:2; Eze 28:2, Eze 28:6; Gen 42:30; Kg1 10:27, etc. Finally, Rosenmller objects: continuata versu 19 personarum descriptio et repetitio verbi yṭitanfw̱ Jer 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., Jer 34:19, as a continuation or exposition of האנשׁים, Jer 34:18, and ונתתּי אותם, Jer 34:20, as a resumption of the same words in Jer 34:18. According to this view, Jer 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 Jer 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 Jer 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 Jer 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 Gen 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.
Jer 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 Jer 34:20, cf. Jer 7:33; Jer 16:4, etc. On סריסים see on Gen 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 Jer 21:2). See also Gen 37:5-8.