posted on Nov, 25 2016 @ 05:04 PM
When the kingdom of Judah was in the middle of its final crisis, the people of Jerusalem decided (a little late in the day) to free the slaves of the
city –Jeremiah ch34 vv6-22
Most of the slaves would have been people who had sold their labour to cover their debts.
This was covered by the law in Deuteronomy, which allowed the practice but imposed restrictions;
“If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free
And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed; you shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your
threshing-floor, and out of your wine press”. –Deuteronomy ch15 vv12-14
The laws of Leviticus maintain that slavery among “brethren” should not happen, and the brothers who sell themselves should at least be treated as
“servants and sojourners” rather than as slaves. - Leviticus ch25 vv39-40
But the slaves in Jerusalem were held illegally even under the terms of Deuteronomy.
They were being held indefinitely instead of being released at the end of their time of service.
The crisis in the time of Jeremiah was that the nation had rebelled against the king of Babylon, refusing tribute, and he had invaded the land.
Jerusalem, Lachish, and Azekah were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained uncaptured.
The thought-process in the minds of Judah was- God is allowing this- God is angry with us –what can we do to please God and win back his favour?
Hence the proposal to free the slaves.
This was typically human last-minute repentance.
If they were really capable of understanding that God did not want them holding their brethren as permanent slaves, they should have been doing
something about it a lot earlier than this.
“King Zedekiah made a covenant with all the people of Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them, that every one should set free his Hebrew
slaves, male and female, so that no-one should enslave a Jew, his brother”.
My guess (given his reaction later) would be that this move was prompted by Jeremiah.
It would not have happened at all unless somebody prompted it, and the prophet is the most likely candidate.
It would have been a very impressive occasion.
The city made a covenant with God (“cut a covenant”) in the standard form, which can be pieced together from various clues in the Old
There was a grand assembly in the Temple.
A calf was killed and cut in two.
Then everybody passed between the two sundered parts –“the princes of Judah, the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the
people of the land”.
At the same time, they would have offered the covenant oath; “May God do so to us, and more also, if we do not keep the terms of this vow”.
(This wording appears on a number of occasions in the Old Testament, even in casual oaths.
Richard Nixon’s favourite expletive was apparently “Goddam!”; but if he had been an Israelite, the phrase being excised from the White House
tapes would have been “The same to me and more also”, a longer version of the same thing.)
It has been said that the road to Hell is “paved with good intentions” (that is, the mere intention of doing something good, which is not followed
Possibly there was a sense in Jerusalem that the crisis was passing away. We learn later that the Babylonian army had withdrawn for a time, because
the Egyptians were approaching.
As the city began to relax, the solemn promise was forgotten, and the slaves were taken back into service.
One excuse might have been that they could not find gainful employment under siege conditions.
The reaction of the Lord God of Israel, as conveyed through Jeremiah, was furious.
Regarding slavery, the people of Jerusalem were under a double commitment.
When their fathers had been released from slavery in Egypt, God had instructed them to release their own slaves after their time of service, and this
instruction had been ignored.
More recently, the current population of the city “did what was right in my eyes” by proclaiming liberty to the slaves, making a covenant with
himself “in the house which is called by my name”.
Then they had gone back on their oath, and thus they had “profaned my name”.
Since they had ignored his original commandment by failing to proclaim liberty to their brothers and neighbours, he would also deny them liberty.
Putting it another way, with bitter irony, he would “proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine”.
In effect, he had freed them from bondage in Egypt on condition that they freed their own people from bondage.
As they had failed to do so, he would return them to another kind of “Egyptian” bondage.
And since they had broken the terms of the more recent covenant, he would invoke the penalty clause of the agreement.
They had sworn “May God make us like this calf if we fail to keep our oath”, and he would take them at their word.
To be exact, he would give them into the hands of their enemies, who would destroy the nation.
He would call back the army of the king of Babylon and direct it against his own city.
There is a common, superficial, perception that the God of Israel was indifferent to the plight of slaves in the land.
Yet here is an episode in which the act of re-enslavement is denounced in his name as the final straw, confirming his decision to allow the downfall
of the kingdom.