Jeremiah 34

When Will They Ever Learn?

“And now, [you] – what have you done? First you turned back to the right way and did the right thing, decreeing freedom for your brothers and sisters–and you made it official in a solemn covenant in my Temple. And then you turned right around and broke your word, making a mockery of both me and the covenant, and made them all slaves again, these men and women you’d just set free. You forced them back into slavery.” ­– Jeremiah 34:15-16 MSG

King Nebuchadnezzar and the armies of Babylon have the city of Jerusalem under siege. Only three fortified cities remain unfallen in the entire nation of Judah. King Zedekiah of Judah had made matters worse because he refused to surrender as God had told him to. Instead, he had made an alliance with Egypt, hoping to resist the inevitable, but he only made Nebuchadnezzar angrier. This was the third time the Babylonians had come up against Judah as they systematically swept their way across the nation, leaving the capital city of Jerusalem until last. All the prophesies of Jeremiah were taking place. The very judgment God had forewarned them about was about to happen. And yet the people of Judah remained as stubborn and unrepentant as ever.

At one point Zedekiah, sometime during the siege, the people had made a covenant, a solemn agreement with God, that they would release all their slaves who were Hebrews. They had obviously been violating God’s law regarding the keeping of fellow Hebrews as slaves and had been refusing to keep His commands regarding the Year of Jubilee. God had given the people of Israel specific instructions about these matters. “If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and cannot support himself, support him as you would a foreigner or a temporary resident and allow him to live with you. Do not charge interest or make a profit at his expense. Instead, show your fear of God by letting him live with you as your relative. Remember, do not charge interest on money you lend him or make a profit on food you sell him. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God” (Leviticus 25:35-38 NLT).

But the people of Judah had not been obeying God’s command. Under the pressure of siege and the threat of being taken captive as slaves themselves, they suddenly decide to set things right. They were probably trying to appease God in some way by their actions. So they make a covenant with God, ratifying it by sacrificing an animal and splitting the body into two pieces. They would then walk between the two pieces signifying that they were pledging to keep their part of the covenant or face the same kind of death the animal had just experienced. It was obedience or death. So the people set their slaves free. But something caused them to change their minds. Maybe there was a lull in the siege. Whatever it was, the people decided to go back on their word and force their former slaves back into slavery. God was not happy. He reminded them of His law. “I made a covenant with your ancestors when I delivered them out of their slavery in Egypt. At the time I made it clear: At the end of seven years, each of you must free any fellow Hebrew who has had to sell himself to you. After he has served six years, set him free. But your ancestors totally ignored me” (Jeremiah 34:13-14 MSG).

And they continued to ignore Him. They appeared to repent, but failed to remain repentant. They changed their minds. They reconsidered their decision. They thought better of it. They reneged on their promise to God. But what was it going to take to make them change? How bad were things going to have to get for them to truly repent and return to God? They were on the verge of total devastation, surrounded by the most powerful army in the world, and facing death or at least deportation and years of slavery. But they changed their minds. They un-repented. Totally unbelievable, isn’t it? Or is it? How many times do we make promises to God in the heat of the moment, only to break those same promises when the heat subsides? When under pressure, we can appear repentant, but fail to remain repentant when the pressure is off. We think we can manipulate God by appearing to give Him what He wants, until we really get what WE want. Then all bets are off. We change our mind. We go back on our word. And think nothing of it. But God is not pleased or impressed with our feigned repentance and words of sorrow. He wants changed hearts that result in changed behavior.

Father, forgive me for the many times I act repentant and sorrowful for my actions when things don’t seem to be going well in my world. I make promises to change, but then when circumstances improve, I simply change my mind. I go back on my word and continue to ignore Your Word. May my repentance always be real and lasting, not fake and fleeting. I want my repentance to be based on my relationship with You, not the predicament I find myself in. I want to learn to obey You out of love, not fear. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men