Freedom to the Slaves

34 God’s Message to Jeremiah at the time King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon mounted an all-out attack on Jerusalem and all the towns around it with his armies and allies and everyone he could muster:

2-3 “I, God, the God of Israel, direct you to go and tell Zedekiah king of Judah: ‘This is God’s Message. Listen to me. I am going to hand this city over to the king of Babylon, and he is going to burn it to the ground. And don’t think you’ll get away. You’ll be captured and be his prisoner. You will have a personal confrontation with the king of Babylon and be taken off with him, captive, to Babylon.

4-5 “‘But listen, O Zedekiah king of Judah, to the rest of the Message of God. You won’t be killed. You’ll die a peaceful death. They will honor you with funeral rites as they honored your ancestors, the kings who preceded you. They will properly mourn your death, weeping, “Master, master!” This is a solemn promise. God’s Decree.’”

6-7 The prophet Jeremiah gave this Message to Zedekiah king of Judah in Jerusalem, gave it to him word for word. It was at the very time that the king of Babylon was mounting his all-out attack on Jerusalem and whatever cities in Judah that were still standing—only Lachish and Azekah, as it turned out (they were the only fortified cities left in Judah).

* * *

8-10 God delivered a Message to Jeremiah after King Zedekiah made a covenant with the people of Jerusalem to decree freedom to the slaves who were Hebrews, both men and women. The covenant stipulated that no one in Judah would own a fellow Jew as a slave. All the leaders and people who had signed the covenant set free the slaves, men and women alike.

11 But a little while later, they reneged on the covenant, broke their promise and forced their former slaves to become slaves again.

12-14 Then Jeremiah received this Message from God: “God, the God of Israel, says, ‘I made a covenant with your ancestors when I delivered them out of their slavery in Egypt. At the time I made it clear: “At the end of seven years, each of you must free any fellow Hebrew who has had to sell himself to you. After he has served six years, set him free.” But your ancestors totally ignored me.

15-16 “‘And now, you—what have you done? First you turned back to the right way and did the right thing, decreeing freedom for your brothers and sisters—and you made it official in a solemn covenant in my Temple. And then you turned right around and broke your word, making a mockery of both me and the covenant, and made them all slaves again, these men and women you’d just set free. You forced them back into slavery.

17-20 “‘So here is what I, God, have to say: You have not obeyed me and set your brothers and sisters free. Here is what I’m going to do: I’m going to set you free—God’s Decree—free to get killed in war or by disease or by starvation. I’ll make you a spectacle of horror. People all over the world will take one look at you and shudder. Everyone who violated my covenant, who didn’t do what was solemnly promised in the covenant ceremony when they split the young bull into two halves and walked between them, all those people that day who walked between the two halves of the bull—leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, palace officials, priests, and all the rest of the people—I’m handing the lot of them over to their enemies who are out to kill them. Their dead bodies will be carrion food for vultures and stray dogs.

21-22 “‘As for Zedekiah king of Judah and his palace staff, I’ll also hand them over to their enemies, who are out to kill them. The army of the king of Babylon has pulled back for a time, but not for long, for I’m going to issue orders that will bring them back to this city. They’ll attack and take it and burn it to the ground. The surrounding cities of Judah will fare no better. I’ll turn them into ghost towns, unlivable and unlived in.’” God’s Decree.

Meeting in God’s Temple

35 The Message that Jeremiah received from God ten years earlier, during the time of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Israel:

“Go visit the Recabite community. Invite them to meet with you in one of the rooms in God’s Temple. And serve them wine.”

3-4 So I went and got Jaazaniah son of Jeremiah, son of Habazziniah, along with all his brothers and sons—the whole community of the Recabites as it turned out—and brought them to God’s Temple and to the meeting room of Hanan son of Igdaliah, a man of God. It was next to the meeting room of the Temple officials and just over the apartment of Maaseiah son of Shallum, who was in charge of Temple affairs.

Then I set out chalices and pitchers of wine for the Recabites and said, “A toast! Drink up!”

6-7 But they wouldn’t do it. “We don’t drink wine,” they said. “Our ancestor Jonadab son of Recab commanded us, ‘You are not to drink wine, you or your children, ever. Neither shall you build houses or settle down, planting fields and gardens and vineyards. Don’t own property. Live in tents as nomads so that you will live well and prosper in a wandering life.’

8-10 “And we’ve done it, done everything Jonadab son of Recab commanded. We and our wives, our sons and daughters, drink no wine at all. We don’t build houses. We don’t have vineyards or fields or gardens. We live in tents as nomads. We’ve listened to our ancestor Jonadab and we’ve done everything he commanded us.

11 “But when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded our land, we said, ‘Let’s go to Jerusalem and get out of the path of the Chaldean and Aramean armies, find ourselves a safe place.’ That’s why we’re living in Jerusalem right now.”

Why Won’t You Learn Your Lesson?

12-15 Then Jeremiah received this Message from God: “God-of-the-Angel-Armies, the God of Israel, wants you to go tell the people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem that I say, ‘Why won’t you learn your lesson and do what I tell you?’ God’s Decree. ‘The commands of Jonadab son of Recab to his sons have been carried out to the letter. He told them not to drink wine, and they haven’t touched a drop to this very day. They honored and obeyed their ancestor’s command. But look at you! I have gone to a lot of trouble to get your attention, and you’ve ignored me. I sent prophet after prophet to you, all of them my servants, to tell you from early morning to late at night to change your life, make a clean break with your evil past and do what is right, to not take up with every Tom, Dick, and Harry of a god that comes down the pike, but settle down and be faithful in this country I gave your ancestors.

15-16 “‘And what do I get from you? Deaf ears. The descendants of Jonadab son of Recab carried out to the letter what their ancestor commanded them, but this people ignores me.’

17 “So here’s what is going to happen. God-of-the-Angel-Armies, the God of Israel, says, ‘I will bring calamity down on the heads of the people of Judah and Jerusalem—the very calamity I warned you was coming—because you turned a deaf ear when I spoke, turned your backs when I called.’”

18-19 Then, turning to the Recabite community, Jeremiah said, “And this is what God-of-the-Angel-Armies, the God of Israel, says to you: ‘Because you have done what Jonadab your ancestor told you, obeyed his commands and followed through on his instructions, receive this Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, the God of Israel: There will always be a descendant of Jonadab son of Recab at my service! Always!’”

Reading God’s Message

36 In the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, Jeremiah received this Message from God:

“Get a scroll and write down everything I’ve told you regarding Israel and Judah and all the other nations from the time I first started speaking to you in Josiah’s reign right up to the present day.

“Maybe the community of Judah will finally get it, finally understand the catastrophe that I’m planning for them, turn back from their bad lives, and let me forgive their perversity and sin.”

So Jeremiah called in Baruch son of Neriah. Jeremiah dictated and Baruch wrote down on a scroll everything that God had said to him.

5-6 Then Jeremiah told Baruch, “I’m blacklisted. I can’t go into God’s Temple, so you’ll have to go in my place. Go into the Temple and read everything you’ve written at my dictation. Wait for a day of fasting when everyone is there to hear you. And make sure that all the people who come from the Judean villages hear you.

“Maybe, just maybe, they’ll start praying and God will hear their prayers. Maybe they’ll turn back from their bad lives. This is no light matter. God has certainly let them know how angry he is!”

Baruch son of Neriah did everything Jeremiah the prophet told him to do. In the Temple of God he read the Message of God from the scroll.

It came about in December of the fifth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah that all the people of Jerusalem, along with all the people from the Judean villages, were there in Jerusalem to observe a fast to God.

10 Baruch took the scroll to the Temple and read out publicly the words of Jeremiah. He read from the meeting room of Gemariah son of Shaphan the secretary of state, which was in the upper court right next to the New Gate of God’s Temple. Everyone could hear him.

11-12 The moment Micaiah the son of Gemariah heard what was being read from the scroll—God’s Message!—he went straight to the palace and to the chambers of the secretary of state where all the government officials were holding a meeting: Elishama the secretary, Delaiah son of Shemaiah, Elnathan son of Achbor, Gemariah son of Shaphan, Zedekiah son of Hananiah, and all the other government officials.

13 Micaiah reported everything he had heard Baruch read from the scroll as the officials listened.

14 Immediately they dispatched Jehudi son of Nethaniah, son of Semaiah, son of Cushi, to Baruch, ordering him, “Take the scroll that you have read to the people and bring it here.” So Baruch went and retrieved the scroll.

15 The officials told him, “Sit down. Read it to us, please.” Baruch read it.

16 When they had heard it all, they were upset. They talked it over. “We’ve got to tell the king all this.”

17 They asked Baruch, “Tell us, how did you come to write all this? Was it at Jeremiah’s dictation?”

18 Baruch said, “That’s right. Every word right from his own mouth. And I wrote it down, word for word, with pen and ink.”

19 The government officials told Baruch, “You need to get out of here. Go into hiding, you and Jeremiah. Don’t let anyone know where you are!”

20-21 The officials went to the court of the palace to report to the king, having put the scroll for safekeeping in the office of Elishama the secretary of state. The king sent Jehudi to get the scroll. He brought it from the office of Elishama the secretary. Jehudi then read it to the king and the officials who were in the king’s service.

22-23 It was December. The king was sitting in his winter quarters in front of a charcoal fire. After Jehudi would read three or four columns, the king would cut them off the scroll with his pocketknife and throw them in the fire. He continued in this way until the entire scroll had been burned up in the fire.

24-26 Neither the king nor any of his officials showed the slightest twinge of conscience as they listened to the messages read. Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah tried to convince the king not to burn the scroll, but he brushed them off. He just plowed ahead and ordered Prince Jerahameel, Seraiah son of Azriel, and Shelemiah son of Abdeel to arrest Jeremiah the prophet and his secretary Baruch. But God had hidden them away.

* * *

27-28 After the king had burned the scroll that Baruch had written at Jeremiah’s dictation, Jeremiah received this Message from God: “Get another blank scroll and do it all over again. Write out everything that was in that first scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah burned up.

29 “And send this personal message to Jehoiakim king of Judah: ‘God says, You had the gall to burn this scroll and then the nerve to say, “What kind of nonsense is this written here—that the king of Babylon will come and destroy this land and kill everything in it?”

30-31 “‘Well, do you want to know what God says about Jehoiakim king of Judah? This: No descendant of his will ever rule from David’s throne. His corpse will be thrown in the street and left unburied, exposed to the hot sun and the freezing night. I will punish him and his children and the officials in his government for their blatant sin. I’ll let loose on them and everyone in Jerusalem the doomsday disaster of which I warned them but they spit at.’”

32 So Jeremiah went and got another scroll and gave it to Baruch son of Neriah, his secretary. At Jeremiah’s dictation he again wrote down everything that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. There were also generous additions, but of the same kind of thing.

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