A Warning to Zedekiah
1 The message from the LORD came to Jeremiah. The message came at the time when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and all the towns around it. Nebuchadnezzar had with him all his army and the armies of all the kingdoms and peoples in the empire he ruled.
2 This was the message: “This is what the LORD, the God of the people of Israel, says: Jeremiah, go to King Zedekiah of Judah and give him this message: ‘Zedekiah, this is what the LORD says: I will give the city of Jerusalem to the king of Babylon very soon, and he will burn it down. 3 Zedekiah, you will not escape from the king of Babylon. You will surely be caught and given to him. You will see the king of Babylon with your own eyes. He will talk to you face to face, and you will go to Babylon. 4 But listen to the promise of the LORD, King Zedekiah of Judah. This is what the LORD says about you: You will not be killed with a sword. 5 You will die in a peaceful way. People made funeral fires to honor your ancestors, the kings who ruled before you became king. In the same way people will make a funeral fire to honor you. They will cry for you and sadly say, “Oh, my master!” I myself make this promise to you.’ ” This message is from the LORD.
6 So Jeremiah told all this message to Zedekiah in Jerusalem. 7 This was while the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem. The army of Babylon was also fighting against the cities of Judah that had not been captured. These cities were Lachish and Azekah. These were the only fortified cities left in the land of Judah.
The People Break an Agreement
King Zedekiah had made an agreement with all the people in Jerusalem to give freedom to all the Hebrew slaves. A message from the LORD came to Jeremiah after Zedekiah had made that agreement. 9
Everyone was supposed to free their Hebrew slaves. All male and female Hebrew slaves were to be set free. No one was supposed to keep another person from the tribe of Judah in slavery. 10
So all the leaders of Judah and all the people accepted this agreement. They would free their male and female slaves so that they would no longer serve them. Everyone agreed, and so all the slaves were set free. 11
But after that,*
the people who had slaves changed their minds. So they took the people they had set free and made them slaves again.
12 Then this message from the LORD came to Jeremiah: 13 “This is what the LORD, the God of the people of Israel, says: ‘I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, where they were slaves. When I did that, I made an agreement with them. 14 I said to your ancestors, “At the end of every seven years, everyone must set their Hebrew slaves free. If you have fellow Hebrews who have sold themselves to you, you must let them go free after they have served you for six years.” But your ancestors did not listen to me or pay attention to me. 15 A short time ago you changed your hearts to do what is right. Everyone set free their fellow Hebrews who were slaves. And you even made an agreement before me in the Temple that is called by my name. 16 But now you have changed your minds. You have shown that you do not honor my name because each of you has taken back the male and female slaves that you had set free. You have forced them to become slaves again.’
“So this is what the LORD says: ‘You people have not obeyed me. You have not given freedom to your fellow Hebrews. So, because you have not given them freedom, I will give a special kind of freedom—freedom to die in war or by disease or by hunger! This message is from the LORD. When the other nations see what I have done to you, they will all be shocked. 18
I will hand over those who broke my agreement and have not kept the promises they made before me. They cut a calf into two pieces before me and walked between the two pieces.† 19
These are the people who walked between the two pieces of the calf when they made the agreement before me: the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the important officials of the court, the priests, and the people of the land. 20
So I will give them to their enemies and to everyone who wants to kill them. Their bodies will become food for the birds of the air and for the wild animals of the earth. 21
I will give King Zedekiah of Judah and his leaders to their enemies and to everyone who wants to kill them. I will give Zedekiah and his people to the army of the king of Babylon, even though that army has left Jerusalem.‡ 22
But I will give the order,’ says the LORD, ‘to bring the Babylonian army back to Jerusalem. That army will fight against Jerusalem. They will capture it, set it on fire, and burn it down. And I will destroy the towns in the land of Judah. They will become empty deserts. No one will live there.’ ”