At the time King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and his entire army, along with the warriors from all the kingdoms under his dominion, and “all the peoples were fighting against Jerusalem” and all the neighboring towns (“all the cities of Judah” [LXX]), Jeremiah received a “word” or message from YHWH. (34:1 [40:1, LXX]) This message directed him to go to speak to Zedekiah the king of Judah. The message from YHWH to Zedekiah was, “Look, I am giving this city [Jerusalem] into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he [will seize it and (LXX)] will burn it with fire.” (34:2 [41:2, LXX]) “And you will not escape from his hand.” Zedekiah would be captured and delivered into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand. There would be a face-to-face encounter. Zedekiah’s eyes would see the “eyes of the king of Babylon,” and Nebuchadnezzar would speak “mouth to mouth” with Zedekiah, who would then be taken to Babylon. (34:3 [41:3, LXX]) Regarding Zedekiah’s death, the “word of YHWH” revealed, “You will not die by the sword.” (34:4 [41:4, LXX]; see the Notes section.) “You will die in peace,” not as a casualty of war, and be given an honorable burial, accompanied by “burnings” like those of your forefathers, kings who reigned before your time. The “burnings” to be made for Zedekiah would have been burnings of spices, and the people would lament for him, “Alas, O lord [or master]!” This “word” or message to Zedekiah would be fulfilled, for YHWH was the One who had spoken. According to Josephus (Antiquities, X, viii, 7), Nebuchadnezzar kept Zedekiah imprisoned in Babylon “until he died, and buried him magnificently.” (34:5 [41:5, LXX]; see the Notes section.)
In Jerusalem, “Jeremiah the prophet” spoke to Zedekiah, king of Judah “all these words” that YHWH had made known to him. (34:6 [41:6, LXX]; see the Notes section.) At that time, the army of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon was warring against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that by then had not fallen. Of the fortified cities only Lachish (identified with a site southwest of Jerusalem and west of Hebron) and Azekah (linked to a site southwest of Jerusalem and northwest of Hebron) remained to be conquered. One of the ostraca that are commonly called the “Lachish Letters” appears to have been written about this time. Part of the inscription directed to the commander at Lachish reads, “We are watching for the signals of Lachish, according to all the indications that my lord has given, for we cannot see Azekah.” This inscription could indicate that Azekah had fallen, with no fire signals being seen from there. (34:7 [41:7, LXX])
Probably at the time the military force under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar undertook the siege against Jerusalem, Zedekiah initiated concluding a covenant or solemn agreement with his subjects to free fellow Israelite slaves. The military threat may have prompted him to rectify past failure on the part of his subjects to free their fellow Israelites after six years of servitude (Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:12), and his hope may have been that YHWH would look more favorably on them as a result and spare Jerusalem from being conquered. It was after King Zedekiah had made the solemn agreement with his subjects to proclaim liberty to fellow Israelites who were then in servitude that a message from YHWH came to Jeremiah. (34:8 [41:8, LXX]) According to the covenant, every man was to let his Hebrew manservant and his Hebrew female slave go free. No one was to enslave “his brother,” a Judean. The Mosaic law only required the granting of liberty to all Israelite slaves in a Jubilee year, suggesting that the covenant was concluded to comply with the Jubilee arrangement. (34:9 [41:9, LXX]; Leviticus 25:10)
“All the princes [members of the royal court and officials (great ones or nobles [LXX])] and all the people who had entered into the covenant” to set their Hebrew male and female slaves free so that they would not be enslaved again complied with the terms of the covenant and liberated their slaves. (34:10 [41:10, LXX]; see the Notes section.)
Later, when the military force of the Egyptian Pharaoh came to the aid of the kingdom of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar withdrew his warriors from Jerusalem. (37:5) Therefore, apparently believing that Jerusalem would not fall to the Babylonians (34:21, 22), those to whom fellow Israelites had been in servitude “turned” or broke their solemn agreement regarding their former male and female slaves. They again forced them into servitude. (34:11 [41:11, LXX]; see the Notes section.)
In response to the unjust conduct of the oppressive men, YHWH made known to Jeremiah his “word” or message of judgment against them. (34:12 [41:12, LXX]) “YHWH, the God of Israel,” declared, “I concluded a covenant with your fathers [forefathers or ancestors] in the day” or at the time “I brought them out from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage [the land where the Israelites had been enslaved].” (34:13 [41:13, LXX]) According to the terms of the covenant relating to slavery, a Hebrew slave was to be granted his freedom at the “end of seven years” (in the seventh year of his servitude [whenever six years are fulfilled (LXX)]). After a Hebrew, a “brother” to a fellow Israelite, had served the one to whom he had been sold for six full years, his fellow Israelite was required to set him free. The ancestors of Jeremiah’s contemporaries did not “hear,” listen to, or obey YHWH and refused to “incline their ear” to give attention to his law. (34:14 [41:14, LXX])
Regarding Jeremiah’s contemporaries, the message from YHWH continued, Recently (literally, “today”), “you turned” (away from the wrong of your ancestors) “and did what was right in my eyes by proclaiming liberty each one [of you] to his fellow, and you concluded a covenant before my face [or before me] in the house upon which my name is called” (the temple that belonged exclusively to YHWH as his representative place of dwelling). (34:15 [41:15, LXX]) “And then you turned [from doing what was right] and profaned my name.” Although the people had agreed to carry out the terms of the covenant, doing so in God’s name and at his temple, they went back on their solemn agreement and thereby profaned his name. Each one of them took back his male and female slaves to whom they had granted liberty “according to their desire [literally, soul (or their own self)],” either according to their desire to be free or for the benefit of their own soul or self, and forced them back into servitude as their male and female slaves. (34:16 [41:16, LXX])
YHWH made known his severe judgment for the profanation of his name. “You have not heard [listened to or obeyed] me by proclaiming liberty each one [of you] to his brother and each one [of you] to his fellow. Look, I am proclaiming liberty to you.” The word “look” served to focus attention on the undesirable kind of liberty that would come upon those who again subjected fellow Israelites to enslavement. They would be exposed to the liberty of having the sword of war wielded against them and of suffering from famine (on account of siege and conquest) and pestilence (the spread of infectious disease from being weak from hunger and having to live in the unsanitary conditions of a city under siege). YHWH purposed to let the people experience a calamity that would cause them to be a “horror” (something that would appear terrifying [“give you for a dispersion” (LXX)]) to the people of “all the kingdoms of the earth” (all who would come to know about what had befallen them). (34:17 [41:17, LXX])
To conclude the covenant, a calf was sacrificed and cut in half, and the men agreeing to the terms of this covenant passed between the parts. YHWH is quoted as referring to this solemn agreement as “my covenant,” for it had been made in his name and before him [literally, “before [his] face”] in his temple. His judgment was directed against the men who transgressed the covenant, not living up to its “words” or terms. (34:18 [41:18, LXX]; see the Notes section.) The ones who passed between the parts of the calf are identified as the “princes of Judah” (officials [rulers (LXX] in the kingdom of Judah), “princes of Jerusalem” (members of the royal court), “eunuchs” (court officials [mighty ones or men in position of authority or power (LXX)]), “priests, and all the people of the land.” (34:19 [41:19, LXX]; see the Notes section.)
YHWH determined to deliver those who had transgressed the covenant “into the hand [or power] of their enemies and into the hand of those seeking their souls [or lives].” Their carcasses would become food for carrion-eating birds and wild animals. (34:20 [41:20, LXX]) Regarding “Zedekiah the king of Judah and his princes [rulers (LXX)],” YHWH decreed, “I will give [them] into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those seeking their souls [or lives] and into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon.” This was the army that had withdrawn from Jerusalem to face the troops of Pharaoh that had come from Egypt to help the kingdom of Judah. (34:21 [41:21, LXX]; 37:5, 7; see the Notes section.) YHWH declared his purpose to bring the army of the king of Babylon back to Jerusalem. Attention is focused on this development with the word “look,” and then the text continues, “I will command, says YHWH, and will bring them back to this city [to this land (LXX)], and they will fight against it and seize it, and burn it with fire; and the cities of Judah I will make a desolation, without inhabitant.” The kingdom of Judah would come to its end, and the cities in the realm would be reduced to ruins. This would be the severe judgment for the failure of the people to remain faithful to YHWH. (34:22 [41:22, LXX])
Verse 4 of the Hebrew text introduces the message directed to Zedekiah with the words, “Yet hear the word of YHWH, Zedekiah king of Judah; thus says YHWH about you.” The Septuagint rendering of verse 4 in chapter 41 is basically the same. “But hear the word of the Lord, Zedekiah king of Judah; thus says the Lord.” The Septuagint does not include the words “about you” and omits mentioning that Zedekiah would not die by the sword.
In verse 5 of chapter 41, the Septuagint transliterates the Hebrew word for “lord” as adon. There is no mention of “burnings” being made for Zedekiah.
The Septuagint, in verse 6 of chapter 41, mentions Jeremiah but does not refer to him as “the prophet.”
The Septuagint rendering of verse 10 of chapter 41 is combined with the wording of verse 11 and does not directly mention that the people were initially responsive to the terms of the covenant. Instead, the focus is on the failure of the people to continue complying with what they had agreed to do. “And all the nobles and all the people who had entered into the covenant to send away [or liberate] each one [of them] his male servant and female servant turned [or went back on their solemn agreement] and made them be their male servants and female servants.”
It may be that the Septuagint translator was unfamiliar with the ancient manner of concluding a covenant. The rendering of verse 18 in chapter 41 indicates that God would deliver up the men who transgressed his covenant and did not adhere to the covenant they made before his “face” or before him to be “like the calf they made, to work for it” (or to render service to the representation of a calf). The apparent allusion is to the golden calf that was made in the wilderness and which the Israelites worshiped (or served) during the time Moses was on Mount Sinai, where he received the tablets with the Ten Commandments and other instructions and commands, including about the construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings, the design of the priestly garments, and the sacrificial arrangement. (Exodus 24:12-32:8) Moses destroyed that representation of a calf. (Exodus 32:20) Therefore, for the contemporaries of Jeremiah to be made like the golden calf would mean that they would be facing the prospect of a violent end.
In keeping with the different rendering of verse 18, the Septuagint (in verse 19) does not refer to the “passing between the parts of the calf.” It also does not list the “princes of Jerusalem” but refers to the “rulers of Judah,” the “mighty” or influential ones, the “priests,” and the “people.”
The concluding phrase in verse 21 of chapter 41 in the Septuagint differs from the reading of the Hebrew text. It may be understood to mean that the “army of the king of Babylon” would come against those who were “running away from them [the Chaldeans or Babylonians].”