The God Who Upholds His Covenants
Only Jerusalem and two other fortified cities in Judah haven’t yet fallen to Babylon. God tells King Zedekiah, through Jeremiah, that Jerusalem is going to fall, that he will be taken to Babylon alive and that he will die there. He will not die in battle.
King Zedekiah and the people had made a covenant before God to free all of their Jewish indentured servants. This pleased God—he had already commanded his people to release their brothers and sisters from slavery every seven years (see Deuteronomy 15:12). But then the people changed their minds and re-enslaved their servants. So God declares his people “free”—free to fall to the sword, plague and famine.
Several years earlier, during Jehoiakim’s reign, Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch was reading the scroll of Jeremiah’s words to the people in hopes that they’d repent. The city’s officials bring the scroll to King Jehoiakim. But instead of repenting, the king cuts off portions as they are read and burns them. God tells Jehoiakim that he will not have a descendant to reign on the throne.
The King’s Heart
Jeremiah 34:8 tells us that God’s people had made a covenant to free their servants. To solidify the covenant, they followed a covenant ritual that involved cutting animals in half and walking between the pieces. Passing through the pieces most likely invoked a self-curse: “If I don’t uphold my end of this covenant, may death come upon me as it has come upon these animals.”
Although the covenant the people made was in reference to their servants, it harkens back to another covenant—one that God himself had made many years before. God had commanded Abraham (then Abram) to set up such a ritual—cutting animals and birds in half, forming an aisle (see Genesis 15). God was covenanting to give Abram’s descendants the promised land. But God had put Abram to sleep—only he passed between the pieces. God was saying that he would uphold both ends of the covenant himself.
Centuries later, as Babylon’s army was suffocating the life out of his city, God promised that the invaders would kill or cart off his people to a foreign land. But he would also bring his people back home. God’s people would live in their land again, just as he had covenanted with Abram. He had not forgotten his long-ago promise.
When King Jehoiakim heard God’s Word, he burned it, piece by piece. But when God’s Word had been brought to his father, King Josiah, Josiah repented and instituted national reforms (see 2 Kings 22–23). King Jehoiakim had fallen far.