This message came to Jeremiah from the Lord after King Zedekiah made a covenant with the people, proclaiming freedom for the slaves. He had ordered all the people to free their Hebrew slaves—both men and women. No one was to keep a fellow Judean in bondage. The officials and all the people had obeyed the king’s command, but later they changed their minds. They took back the men and women they had freed, forcing them to be slaves again.
So the Lord gave them this message through Jeremiah: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I made a covenant with your ancestors long ago when I rescued them from their slavery in Egypt. I told them that every Hebrew slave must be freed after serving six years. But your ancestors paid no attention to me. Recently you repented and did what was right, following my command. You freed your slaves and made a solemn covenant with me in the Temple that bears my name. But now you have shrugged off your oath and defiled my name by taking back the men and women you had freed, forcing them to be slaves once again.” (Jeremiah 34:8-16)
This chapter describes the fulfillment of many of Jeremiah’s predictions. In the book of Jeremiah, many prophecies were both given and quickly fulfilled. Babylon had laid siege to Jerusalem, and the city was about to fall. Zedekiah finally decided to listen to Jeremiah and try to appease God by freeing the slaves. He thought he could win God’s favor with a kind act, but what he needed was a change of heart. The people had been disobeying God’s law from the beginning (Exodus 21:2-11; Leviticus 25:39-55; Deuteronomy 15:12-18). When the siege was temporarily lifted, the people became bold and returned to their sins (Jeremiah 34:11-17; 37:5, 11). The people of Judah had a hard time keeping their promises to God. In the Temple, they would solemnly promise to obey God, but back in their homes and at work they wouldn’t do it. God expressed his great displeasure by allowing them to suffer.
If you want to please God, make it a priority to keep your promises. God wants promises lived out, not just piously made. Keeping promises is the mark of integrity.