Zedekiah Is Warned
1Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonia, and all of his armies were fighting against Jerusalem. They were also fighting against all of the towns that were around it. All of the kingdoms and nations Nebuchadnezzar ruled over were helping him.
At that time a message came to me from the Lord. He said, 2"I am the Lord, the God of Israel. Go to Zedekiah, the king of Judah. Tell him, 'The Lord says, "I am about to hand this city over to the king of Babylonia. He will burn it down. 3You will not escape from his powerful hand. You will certainly be captured. You will be handed over to him. You will see the king of Babylonia with your own eyes. He will speak with you face to face. And you will go to Babylon.
4" ' "But listen to my promise, Zedekiah. Listen, king of Judah. I say that you will not be killed with a sword. 5You will die in a peaceful way. People made fires to honor the kings who died before you. In the same way, they will make a fire in your honor. They will sob over you. They will say, 'My poor master!' I myself make this promise," announces the Lord.' "
6Then I, the prophet Jeremiah, told all of that to King Zedekiah in Jerusalem. 7At that time Nebuchadnezzar's armies were fighting against Jerusalem. They were also fighting against Lachish and Azekah. Those two cities were still holding out. They were the only cities left in Judah that had high walls around them.
The People Set Their Slaves Free
8A message came to me from the Lord. King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all of the people in Jerusalem. He had told them to set their Hebrew slaves free. 9All of them had to do it. That applied to male and female slaves alike. No one was allowed to hold another Jew as a slave.
10So all of the officials and people entered into that covenant. They agreed to set their male and female slaves free. They agreed not to hold them as slaves anymore. Instead, they set them free. 11But later they changed their minds. They took back the people they had set free. They made them slaves again.
12Then a message came to me from the Lord. 13The Lord is the God of Israel. He says, "I made a covenant with your people long ago. I brought them out of Egypt. That is the land where they were slaves. I said, 14'Every seventh year you must set your people free. You must set free all of the Hebrews who have sold themselves to you. Let them serve you for six years. Then you must let them go free.' (Deuteronomy 15:12) But your people did not listen to me. They did not pay any attention to me.
15"Recently you turned away from your sins. You did what is right in my eyes. Each of you set your Hebrew slaves free. You even made a covenant in front of me. You did it in the house where I have put my Name. 16But now you have turned around. You have treated my name as if it were not holy. Each of you has taken back your male and female slaves. You had set them free to go where they wished. But now you have forced them to become your slaves again."
17So the Lord says, "You have not obeyed me. You have not set your Hebrew slaves free. So now I will set you free," announces the Lord. "I will set you free to be destroyed by war, plague and hunger. I will make all of the kingdoms on earth displeased with you.
18"The men who have broken my covenant will be punished. They have not lived up to the terms of the covenant they made in front of me. When you made that covenant, you cut a calf in two. Then you walked between its pieces. Now I will cut you to pieces. 19That includes all of you who walked between the pieces of the calf. It includes the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the court officials and the priests. It also includes some of the people of the land.
20"So I will hand all of those people over to their enemies who are trying to kill them. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds of the air and the wild animals.
21"I will hand King Zedekiah and his officials over to their enemies. I will hand them over to those who want to kill them. I will give them over to the armies of the king of Babylonia. They have now pulled back from you. 22But I am going to give an order," announces the Lord. "I will bring them back to this city. They will fight against it. They will take it and burn it down. And I will completely destroy the towns of Judah. No one will be able to live there."