We must always ‘DELIVER’ on our PROMISES
August 18 Bible Reading: Jeremiah Chapters 34-36
“‘Then you recently turned and did what was right in My sight--every man proclaiming liberty to his neighbor; and you made a covenant before Me in the house which is called by My name. Then you turned around and profaned My name, and every one of you brought back his male and female slaves, whom he had set at liberty, at their pleasure, and brought them back into subjection, to be your male and female slaves.’ Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘You have not obeyed Me in proclaiming liberty, everyone to his brother and every one to his neighbor. Behold, I proclaim liberty to you,’ says the Lord—‘to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine! And I will deliver you to trouble among all the kingdoms of the earth.’” (Jer. 34:15-17)
One of the hardest things for a person in authority to do is to root out a sin that is socially acceptable and an integral part of the society. King Zedekiah of Judah found this out the hard way when he tried to put an end to the ungodly practice of the Jews in Jerusalem to extend slavery beyond God’s mandated timeline (vv. 8–9).
The Old Testament Law allowed the poor Jews, who could not pay back their debts, to become slaves of their creditors. However, God limited the period of servitude to a maximum time of six years. In the seventh (or, Sabbath) year, all the slaves were to be released to their freedom. Not only were the creditors required to write-off the debts of their slaves completely, but they were mandated to help these poor destitutes get back on their feet by supplying them with material provisions as well (see Exod. 21:2–11; Lev. 25:39–55; Deut. 15:12–18). This was God’s law regarding how the Jews should treat their slaves!
During the time of King Zedekiah, the economy started faltering. So, the wealthy Jews in the land of Judah broke God’s law and kept their slaves in a state of permanent bondage (see vv. 12-14; Isa. 3:14–15). King Zedekiah had wisely discerned that God’s judgment would come upon the land, and so he ordered the slave owners to enter into a covenant with him and release their slaves to freedom (v. 10). However, these slave owners quickly changed their mind, broke their commitments and returned their debtors back into slavery (v. 11). What caused this reversal? After the people had released the slaves, Babylon broke off its siege of Jerusalem to repel an attack by Egypt (see Jer. 37:4–13). The people hoped for an Egyptian victory, and so they broke their covenant with the king when it seemed life would return to normal.
By doing so, they profaned God’s name (and reputation) because the covenant had been made before God in the temple. The name of God sums up and represents His attributes, character, and work. That name had been defiled by the breach of covenant in the same way that the people had defiled the land with their idolatry (16:18). God delivered punishment that matched their sin, and the land of Judah was eventually judged by God (vv. 17–22; 52:4–27). Since the people had not given freedom to those Israelites wrongfully enslaved, He would give them “freedom” to die by “the sword, plague, and famine.” Although the Babylonians had withdrawn from Jerusalem, God said He would order them to return and burn the city with fire.
This story tells us that these wealthy slave owners did not deliver on their promises. Like so many promises that people make today, these promises were empty and hypocritical. God had previously warned the Israelites to honor their commitments, both to Him and to others. Whatever came out of the mouths of these people were binding, and God never look kindly on token gestures. That may be the reason why the psalmist makes the following statement: "I will go into Your house with burnt offerings; I will pay You my vows, which my lips have uttered and my mouth has spoken when I was in trouble" (Ps. 66:13-14).