God brought a message through Jeremiah to Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. The exile to Babylon would surely take place and the king would not escape. Zedekiah would go to Babylon and would die in peace. These were stubborn facts that the king would have a hard time accepting. Because of this, he brought more trouble upon himself and others than was necessary.
The account of this prophesy was followed by another message from the Lord regarding the reign of Zedekiah, one that had to do with the fate of Hebrew slaves held by their fellow countrymen. According to the law of God, Hebrews were to release their slaves at the end of seven years of service. This was something that the people did not do, even in the final days prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
During Zedekiah’s reign the king made a covenant with the people whereby they committed themselves to freeing their slaves. They actually seemed to be following through on their solemn word for a time. In ancient days when a public promise was made involving powerful people and nations, a ceremony was often used to seal that promise. In this case that ritual apparently involved the cutting of a calf into various pieces and walking between the pieces of the slain animal. What was the point of the ritual? May it be done to me as has happened to this calf if I do not keep my promise.
The people actually did what they were supposed to do and freed their Hebrew slaves. Unfortunately the former masters later took back their male and female slaves and brought them into subjection again.
The provisions in the law for liberty were important signposts to the coming of Israel’s Redeemer. Those statutes were to help people to understand the liberty that they would experience as they were brought out of cruel chains of sin. When God’s people freed slaves and then forced them back into submission, they were living out a false message. Instead of a picture of perfect and permanent liberty through a Savior, those who were slaves were given a taste of freedom that was quickly followed by the sad return to a life of captivity.
To make this solemn commitment to free Hebrew slaves, to actually free them, but then to recapture them again was a more serious offense against God and humanity than to never have pledged to follow God’s Law at all. The consequences would be serious, as the Lord announced through Jeremiah. As the pieces of that calf became food for scavenger birds and beasts, the bodies of those who abandoned their solemn promises would be food for animals.
Imagine if the consequence of this deception and oppression were that Zedekiah alone would suffer the penalty required. Would it have been just in God’s eyes for liars to go free and to have the king alone face the penalty for sin? But this is precisely what has happened for us in the cross of Jesus Christ. He has taken the trouble that we deserved upon Himself and has freed us from the “wages of sin.” (Romans 6:23)
Zedekiah could never have been a sinless substitute for us. He was a wicked king who needed help outside of himself. Jesus was a perfectly righteous King. Through His sinless life and atoning death He has won for us a deep and abiding freedom. It is our free privilege now to offer up our bodies as living sacrifices to Him so that the good news of liberty in Christ may be proclaimed throughout the world.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Lord God, there is a tremendous need in Your church today. We need spiritual resources for the battle that is near us and even within us. We would give in to worldliness without even seeming to know what is happening. We would be caught in enslaving sins and encourage others in that slavery, and think that all that we were doing is just normal living. Even when we make some small progress, the attack against us may be fierce, and we would quickly turn to some evil way. Have mercy on us, and send us the spiritual power that we need for the challenge of this day. Your Son has confirmed Your covenant love for us through His own blood. Bring us back home again to You, for You are faithful in Your kindness to us.