In our reading today, Zedekiah, the last king of Judah before the final destruction of Jerusalem and exile to Babylon, is the focus. His reign came to a tragic end. King Nebuchadnezzar killed his sons before his very eyes and then he plucked out Zedekiah’s eyes before sending him shackled into exile (Jeremiah 39:5-7). The tragedy is that it didn’t have to happen this way.
In Jeremiah 34:1-6, the LORD says to Zedekiah, through Jeremiah, that defeat at the hands of Babylon is inevitable. But God promises an honorable end to Zedekiah’s life. But then Zedekiah and the Israelites grievously renege on promises that they made when they renewed their covenant with the LORD in Jeremiah 34:8-22. They promise to release their Hebrew slaves, and in order to seal this covenant renewal, they pass between the cut pieces of a calf sacrifice. This is solemnly declaring that if they broke the covenant with God, the same thing that happened to the calf would happen to them. This is how the LORD had ratified His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15.
Zedekiah’s renewal of the Mosaic covenant with the LORD seems to be motivated by the nearness of the Babyonian’s mighty army to Jerusalem. Disaster seems imminent unless God intervenes. Zedekiah and Judah turn in desperation to the LORD. God seems to answer because the Babylonians turn away as they become occupied with the Egyptian army.
With the heat off, Zedekiah and the Israelites change their mind and take back their fellow Jews as slaves. They break covenant with the LORD and profane His name. So God pronounces this covenantal curse upon them: ” 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 hand over to their enemies who seek their lives. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth” (Jeremiah 34:19,20). The last sentence in this quote is the standard covenantal curse we hear throughout the prophetic preaching of Jeremiah.
Zedekiah and his fellow Jews brought down upon themselves the same tearing asunder of the animals that were sacrificed to seal their covenant with the LORD. Note that the blood of sacrificed animals were also sprinkled upon the Israelites at the foot of Mt. Sinai when they entered into the Mosaic covenant with God. This method of sealing God’s covenant with His people was indicating the kind of commitment that the LORD was making with them. He was making a vow of total commitment to them even to the point of death. And He expected the same kind of commitment from His people to Him.
The tragic exiles of Judah into Babylon and of Israel into Assyria a 125 years before, as well as Zedekiah’s horrifying end, were the inevitable judgment of their covenantal LORD for their disobedience. The LORD was faithful to what He promised would happen to His people for covenant unfaithfulness (Deut. 28:25-29). In fact, note the words of Deut. 28:26: ” Your carcasses will be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.” This is exactly the wording we find in Jeremiah 34:20b which describe Zedekiah’s judgment.
The LORD doesn’t take pleasure in bringing this kind of judgment on people. But He will for persistent disobedience. Covenant with God is serious business which brings great blessing to many in this world. Ultimately, the LORD will fulfill His plans to redeem the world through the new covenant death of His Son. The covenantal curses have been absorbed by Christ on the cross and He offers forgiveness to all who repent of their sin and enter into a covenantal relationship of faith with Him (Mt. 26:28; 2Cor. 5:17-21). This is the Good News of Jesus Christ