34 While Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army and all the kingdoms and peoples in the empire he ruled were fighting against Jerusalem and all its surrounding towns, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Go to Zedekiah king of Judah and tell him, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am about to give this city into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will burn it down. 3 You will not escape from his grasp but will surely be captured and given into his hands. You will see the king of Babylon with your own eyes, and he will speak with you face to face. And you will go to Babylon.
4 “‘Yet hear the Lord’s promise to you, Zedekiah king of Judah. This is what the Lord says concerning you: You will not die by the sword; 5 you will die peacefully. As people made a funeral fire in honor of your predecessors, the kings who ruled before you, so they will make a fire in your honor and lament, “Alas, master!” I myself make this promise, declares the Lord.’”
6 Then Jeremiah the prophet told all this to Zedekiah king of Judah, in Jerusalem, 7 while the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and the other cities of Judah that were still holding out—Lachish and Azekah. These were the only fortified cities left in Judah.
(Jeremiah 34:1-7 NIV)
As we move from chapter 33 (the end of the Book of Consolation) to Chapter 34, we take a step back in time. Chapter 34 is about a year earlier than chapters 30-33, around the year 588 BC.
From verse 2, we see that Jeremiah was not yet in prison. The Lord told Jeremiah to “Go to Zedekiah king of Judah…”. If Jeremiah were in jail, he would not have that freedom.
In the second half of verse 2, the Lord had sealed the fate of Jerusalem – it would fall to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and the city would be burned to the ground. The Lord previously gave a choice to Jerusalem’s inhabitants – either surrender and live or stay, fight, and die:
8 “Furthermore, tell the people, ‘This is what the Lord says: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death. 9 Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; they will escape with their lives. 10 I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the Lord. It will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will destroy it with fire.’
(Jeremiah 21:8-10 NIV)
With this prior prophecy in mind, today’s passage is an implied reminder and plea to King Zedekiah to surrender and live. The Lord once again extended mercy to King Zedekiah, and once again, Zedekiah ignored the Lord and did what he wanted.
Verses 6 – 7 note that Jeremiah obeyed the Lord and delivered the news. These verses also help identify the timeframe of 588 BC, as there were only two outlying towns (Lachish and Azekah) still standing against the Babylonians.
May we faithfully follow the Lord, even when the action will bring undesirable consequences. Jeremiah knew this conversation would not go well, and it would likely be used against him (such as being thrown in prison).
May we take note that it’s never too late to repent; the Lord extends His hand of mercy, even if the situation or events seem inevitable. While not all events in progress may be reversed or stopped, like the Lord’s offer to King Zedekiah, the further consequences may be reduced and peace with God regained when we turn back to the Lord.