Chapter thirty-four reaches back just before the events of chapters 32-33 and the basic message to Zedekiah is the same as that presented in chapter twenty-one. Nebuchadnezzar, with a formidable army, has arrived in Palestine and is making quick work of the cities and towns that could provide support to Jerusalem. At this point, he has subdued all the area except for Lachish (23 miles southwest of Jerusalem) and Azekah (18 miles southwest).
In 1935 and 1938, archeologists excavating Lachish uncovered twenty-one letters written on pottery, probably written to a military commander from a subordinate. They mention a failure to see the signal fires from Azekah – probably because Azekah had fallen.
In those desperate days, Zedekiah called on the people of Jerusalem to free their slaves. The law forbade perpetual servitude. Slaves had to be released every seven years. But like the other laws, the Jews ignored this one too. Perhaps they freed them so they wouldn’t have to feed them. Perhaps they freed them so they would help fight the Babylonians. Perhaps they freed them in repentance, hoping God would deliver them now that they had been obedient. Whatever reason, the emancipation did not last long. The wealthy took back their slaves.
There would have been a covenant ceremony for freeing slaves. It involved cutting an animal in half and walking between the halves – to be followed by a fellowship meal. The ceremony simply promised that if the covenant of freedom was violated, that the violator was willing for God to do to him as he had done to the animals. In this chapter, God says that’s precisely what He has in mind.
There is a huge premium in the Bible on telling the truth and keeping one’s word. This chapter reminds us of the importance of speaking the truth.