Jeremiah 34-36
(Are You Sure?)
August 14th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

"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 30:15-16 (MSG)

Summary of Chapters

Chapters 34-36 resume a series of warnings to the leaders and the people. Chapter 34 begins with Jeremiah telling Zedekiah that the king of Babylon would conquer the city of Jerusalem and take away Zedekiah as a captive. In response, Zedekiah tried to appease God by reinstating the seven year limit on enslavement of fellow Hebrews but this was a short-lived decree, as the people decided to re-enslave their own. The LORD then responded in anger saying that he will give the slave-holders their own freedom:

    “Therefore this is what the Lord says: You have not obeyed me; you have not proclaimed freedom to your own people. So I now proclaim ‘freedom’ for you, declares the Lord—‘freedom’ to fall by the sword, plague and famine. I will make you abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth. Those who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces. The leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the court officials, the priests and all the people of the land who walked between the pieces of the calf, I will deliver into the hands of their enemies who want to kill them. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds and the wild animals.

    - Jeremiah 34:17-20 (NIV)

Chapter 35 goes back in time to the period of King Jehoiakim, who preceded Zedekiah. During the era of Jehoiakim, Jeremiah had some support among the officials, but was opposed by the king. By contrast, in the era of Zedekiah, he had some support from the king, but was opposed by the officials. In this chapter, a group of people known as the Recabites are lifted up as an example of fidelity. Their forefathers had commanded them not to plant vineyards or drink wine. The Recabites obeyed that rule for generations, even up until the time that Jeremiah offered them wine in the house of the LORD. The LORD contrasts the loyalty of this clan versus the disobedience of most of the others.

Chapter 36 describes how the LORD told Jeremiah to write down everything that he had heard from him. Jeremiah asked Baruch to take dictation and write in a scroll, and then read the words at the temple. The officials who heard Baruch speak took possession of the scroll and then advised him and Jeremiah to go into hiding for their own safety. When one of the officials read the scroll to King Jehoiakim he burned the entire scroll and issued a warrant for the arrest of the two troublemakers: Jeremiah and his scribe.

The LORD had hidden Jeremiah and Baruch so that Jehoiakim could not find them and then told Jeremiah to re-write the scroll. He also told him to tell Jehoiakim that the LORD knew what he had done and that there would be a punishment for him and his family. Every disaster written in the scroll would come true because the people would not listen.

Reflection and Application

The reference to the calf cut in two in Jeremiah 34:18 quoted above depicts a traditional protocol for sealing an agreement in ancient times. The parties entering into the contract would walk between the pieces with the understanding that if one party fails to uphold their side of the terms than the other party could do to them what had been done to the calf. Possibly, this tradition was the origin of the phrase, "cut a deal."

In order to fulfill our covenant with God we must stick to our commitments for the long-term. If we promise to do something but don't follow through or don't keep up with it, then we might as well not have done it all. God seemed especially grieved that his people had no reservations about enslaving their own brothers. He therefore freed them from his protection and they did not stand a chance against the sword, plague, and famine.

The Recabites knew how to keep a promise. How did they do it, day after day, generation after generation? We can only suppose. Perhaps they focused on what they were supposed to do and did not dwell on what others had. Perhaps they understood the meaning of a commandment better than the other people. In return, God promised that they would get their reward and the others would get their punishment. When we need to call on our own self-discipline we can remember the reward that awaits us and let us use that as motivation.

Imagine Jeremiah's reaction when he learned that he and Baruch had to write the scrolls all over again. Many of us have experienced this feeling when we have been working on a word processing document and the computer locks and/or crashes before we can hit save. We stare at the Blue Screen of Death,ť resign ourselves to the task of re-typing, and hope that we can recall what we wrote.

One of the differences for Jeremiah is that he knew he faced potential persecution for putting these words down on papyrus. However, consistent with his behavior in the past, he was obedient to God and trusted in his protection.

How can we commit ourselves to the same loyalty and trust? Maybe we find ourselves doing many tasks over and over for a cause that seems lost. If this cause is for good, then God wants us to trust in him. If God tells us what to do, we must do it and trust him. The penalty for not listening can be very severe, as spelled out in these passages.

How come the people of Jeremiah' time did not listen to him? Did they think that Jeremiah was a nutcase? This may have been the perception of many people because Jeremiah didn't conform to the world and performed a number of unusual acts, such as walking around with a yoke around his neck. We can find some insight from the Hebrew word for prophet, which is nabi. According to the Jewish scholar, Abraham Heschel, "this word denoted a man who poured out his utterances loudly and madly with deep breaths, (and) the original meaning of the stem was "madness," "insanity(1)."

But the truth was that Jeremiah's perspective was closer to reality than many of the people. The leaders and the people did not recognize how they had strayed from the instructions of the Creator. It might be easy to see how the king and his officials and the general population were caught up in the here and now, such as the short-term gains of their lives and the struggle to keep up with the riches and possessions of their neighbors. They were focused on their own creations, so they were out of sync with the prophets, and certainly did not want to believe that their accomplishments were just castles made of sand that melt into the sea, eventually.

We are all vulnerable to becoming possessed by what is going on around us and consequently become deaf to what the LORD is saying. If we stray too far we may perhaps interpret the truth as madness and the truth-tellers as madmen. If we are in that position we need to take a break to focus on God, try to hear what he is saying to us, and compare that to what we hear in the world.

Some of the key mistakes in these recent chapters seem to be not difficult to avoid: Don't dismiss the word of the LORD but do treat others the way you would like to be treated (don't enslave them to your own demands). If we can avoid those two mistakes than surely we are on the right path.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

Related Questions

  1. When was the last time you had to re-write a letter or document that was lost?
  2. Who do you consider to be a herald of reasonable warnings that is ignored today?
  3. What are the words of the LORD that we want to ensure we listen to today?

Recommended Prayer
Father in heaven, help us to hear your word, preserve it and share it with others.

Suggested Prayer Concerns
Those who take dictation


(1) Heschel, Abraham Joshua, The Prophets, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2001, New York (originally published by Harper & Row in 1962), p 505

Looking Ahead

Tomorrow's reading: Jeremiah 37-38 (Final Days of Jerusalem)

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