The Lord Makes an Ominous Promise to Zedekiah
1 The Lord spoke to Jeremiah while King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was attacking Jerusalem and the towns around it with a large army. This army consisted of troops from his own army and from the kingdoms and peoples of the lands under his dominion. 2 The Lord God of Israel told Jeremiah to go and give King Zedekiah of Judah a message. He told Jeremiah to tell him, “The Lord says, ‘I am going to hand this city over to the king of Babylon and he will burn it down. 3 You yourself will not escape his clutches, but will certainly be captured and handed over to him. You must confront the king of Babylon face to face and answer to him personally. Then you must go to Babylon. 4 However, listen to what I, the Lord, promise you, King Zedekiah of Judah. I, the Lord, promise that you will not die in battle or be executed. 5 You will die a peaceful death. They will burn incense at your burial just as they did at the burial of your ancestors, the former kings who preceded you. They will mourn for you, saying, “Poor, poor master!” Indeed, you have my own word on this. I, the Lord, affirm it!’”
6 The prophet Jeremiah told all this to King Zedekiah of Judah in Jerusalem. 7 He did this while the army of the king of Babylon was attacking Jerusalem and the cities of Lachish and Azekah. He was attacking these cities because they were the only fortified cities of Judah which were still holding out.
The Lord Threatens to Destroy Those Who Wronged Their Slaves
8 The Lord spoke to Jeremiah after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to grant their slaves their freedom. 9 Everyone was supposed to free their male and female Hebrew slaves. No one was supposed to keep a fellow Judean enslaved. 10 All the people and their leaders had agreed to this. They had agreed to free their male and female slaves and not keep them enslaved any longer. They originally complied with the covenant and freed them. 11 But later they had changed their minds. They had taken back their male and female slaves that they had freed and forced them to be slaves again. 12 That was when the Lord spoke to Jeremiah, 13 “The Lord God of Israel has a message for you. ‘I made a covenant with your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt where they had been slaves. It stipulated, 14 “Every seven years each of you must free any fellow Hebrews who have sold themselves to you. After they have served you for six years, you shall set them free.” But your ancestors did not obey me or pay any attention to me. 15 Recently, however, you yourselves showed a change of heart and did what is pleasing to me. You granted your fellow countrymen their freedom and you made a covenant to that effect in my presence in the house that I have claimed for my own. 16 But then you turned right around and showed that you did not honour me. Each of you took back your male and female slaves whom you had freed as they desired, and you forced them to be your slaves again. 17 So I, the Lord, say: “You have not really obeyed me and granted freedom to your neighbour and fellow countryman. Therefore, I will grant you freedom, the freedom to die in war, or by starvation or disease. I, the Lord, affirm it! I will make all the kingdoms of the earth horrified at what happens to you. 18 I will punish those people who have violated their covenant with me. I will make them like the calf they cut in two and passed between its pieces. I will do so because they did not keep the terms of the covenant they made in my presence. 19 I will punish the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the court officials, the priests, and all the other people of the land who passed between the pieces of the calf. 20 I will hand them over to their enemies who want to kill them. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds and the wild animals. 21 I will also hand King Zedekiah of Judah and his officials over to their enemies who want to kill them. I will hand them over to the army of the king of Babylon, even though they have temporarily withdrawn from attacking you. 22 For I, the Lord, affirm that I will soon give the order and bring them back to this city. They will fight against it and capture it and burn it down. I will also make the towns of Judah desolate so that there will be no one living in them.”’”