OBSERVING THE SABBATH YEAR
A Twice Broken covenant
Verses 8-12 catch us up on recent history. King Zedekiah, his officials and the people released their Hebrew slaves.
Not only did they release the slaves, they made a covenant with God to do it. Verse 15 says they made the covenant in the Temple before the Lord. It was an act of repentance, a turning from sin to obedience to the covenant. They probably did it to obtain God’s favor, hoping it would save them from the Babylonians, who were besieging the city.
But, when the invasion briefly stopped, because the Babylonians withdrew to intercept the Egyptians, the Hebrews forced their slaves back into slavery.
Why is this important? Verses 12-15 tell us why.
The covenant required the Hebrews to release their slaves every 7 years. They also had to release the land and debts.
Read Exodus 21:1-6. It says they could only require a Hebrew slave to serve them for 6 years. In the 7th year, they went free. Two things are relevant.
First, this is a picture of redemption. All of the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt until God redeemed them. Therefore, they can no longer be permanent slaves. Note verse 13: God reminds them he brought them out of slavery.
Jesus used this same theme in John 8:31-36.
Second, this is a type of Sabbath. Read Exodus 20:8-10. The Sabbath must be observed even for slaves. When the 7th year was applied to the land, Leviticus 25:1-10 specifically called it a Sabbath.
In addition to the Sabbath days and Sabbath years, there was the Jubilee year. Read Leviticus 25:8. It occurred every 49th year. It was a Sabbath for the land the people. Slaves were set free. (Leviticus 25:37-43) In addition, Deuteronomy 15 states the Sabbath year principle. So Jeremiah 34:14 refers to the principle as stated in Deuteronomy 15:12.
But the Israelites continually failed to release servants and rest the land in the Sabbath years.
The Consequences of Breaking the Sabbath Year
This violation of the Sabbath year was a breach of the covenant, as stated in verse 18. But, further, this fake repentance was also profaning God’s name. (16)
God, therefore, decreed two punishments:
(1) freedom from his protection for failure to give freedom to the slaves (17); and
(2) they would be cut apart as the calf of the oath was cut apart.
Here are a couple of facts about covenants that help us understand this passage.
(1)The word for “make”, as in make a covenant, is the same word as “cut”. So a covenant was made and cut.
(2) a typical oath said “may bad things happen to me if I break my oath”. For example, kids will say “cross your heart and hope to die”.
(3) a sign of this cutting of a covenant was to cut an animal in half and walk between the pieces. A good example of this is God’s covenant ceremony for Abraham in Genesis 15:17.
Note the final curse. Verse 20 says birds and beasts will eat their dead bodies. This is the ultimate degradation of the body. See Revelation 19:17 for an example.
What can we learn from this besides history?
Let your repentance be genuine. We all have cried out to God when we are in trouble, then reneged on our promises to obey him or follow him. Ecclesiastes 5:4 says:
When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.
Do not profane God’s name. Do not invoke his name frivolously. Do not claim you are doing something in his name when you are doing it for yourself, or when you do not intend to obey.
Glorify God in all you do.