Recently you repented and did what is right in my sight: Each of you proclaimed freedom to your own people. You even made a covenant before me in the house that bears my Name. But now you have turned around and profaned my name; each of you has taken back the male and female slaves you had set free to go where they wished. You have forced them to become your slaves again.
Jeremiah 34:15-16 (NIV)
The Babylonian siege of Jerusalem is estimated to have taken 30 months. For two and a half years, the Babylonian army surrounded the walled city. No food or supplies could get into the city. This was a fairly common tactic used by armies throughout history. As starvation and fear slowly took over the population inside the city, cities would eventually surrender, or the besieging army would eventually breach the walls or the gate and storm the city, whose population was so weakened that they could not put up a vigorous defense.
It’s helpful to think about that context as I read these chapters of Jeremiah which were written during drawn out siege. Jeremiah was confined under house arrest inside King Zedekiah’s palace. He was privy, therefore, to what was happening on the political landscape and had access to the King when given a prophetic message from God.
The Babylonian siege was a consequence of King Z’s own betrayal. Jerusalem was under the thumb of the Babylonian empire, but he secretly made an alliance with Egypt to try and break the chains of their servitude.
Today’s chapter references some interesting events that took place during the drawn out siege. Having made an alliance with Egypt, Zedekiah sends a messenger to Egypt to request their aid in breaking the siege. The Egyptians respond by marching an army towards Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, inside Jerusalem the besieged residents of Jerusalem agree to free any Hebrew slaves inside the city. This sounds like a worthy and kind gesture given the grave circumstances, but it was likely motivated by a desire to appease God in the hope God would change His mind and deliver the city. It was also motivated by selfishness because a freed slave was responsible to find their own food, giving the former slaveowner more food to keep for themselves.
Eventually, word reaches the Babylonians that the Egyptian army is headed toward Jerusalem. The Babylonians withdraw from Jerusalem to meet the Egyptian threat.
Imagine the feelings of relief when those inside Jerusalem see the Babylonian army withdraw. So relieved, in fact, that the seemingly altruistic slave owners who had freed their slaves suddenly changed their minds and enslaved their servants once again. “Just kidding!”
Today’s chapter is God’s response to these events through the prophetic words of Jeremiah. In addressing the slave owners, there is a bit of word play in the original Hebrew that gets lost in translation. God says, “you repented” and freed your slaves (which was a good thing) but then you “turned around” and took them back. In Hebrew, the same word is used for “repent” and “turned around.” In other words, God is saying that the slaveowners repented from their repentance.
God goes on to sarcastically explain that because they did not proclaim freedom for their own people, God was going to proclaim freedom for the slaveowners – the freedom to die by sword or famine when the Babylonian army returns after taking care of the Egyptian threat. And, that is exactly what happened.
I have to confess that in the quiet this morning, I caught myself shaking my self-righteous, 21st century head at the slave owners and the residents of Jerusalem for their false kindness and self-centered motives. As I did so, I was reminded in my spirit that along this life journey I’ve also repented of my repentance a time or two. Indeed, I have. Guilty as charged.
I am no better than the falsely repentant slave owners. I am in total need of God’s mercy, fully dependent on God’s grace.
With that reminder, I humbly enter a new work week.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
One thought on “Repenting My Repentance”
17-20 “‘So here is what I, God, have to say: You have not obeyed me and set your brothers and sisters free. Here is what I’m going to do: I’m going to set you free—God’s Decree—free to get killed in war or by disease or by starvation. I’ll make you a spectacle of horror. People all over the world will take one look at you and shudder.
In my church growing up, Exodus 20, the Law, was read every Sunday. The notion of a “jealous God” was always intriguing to my young self. Passages like this one cause me to think about modern day tragedies and those who claim that God is using said tragedies to serve out justice. Statements like that always draw ridicule, yet an understanding of the Old Testament, and chapters like this, do give one pause. How or when will God meter out justice? When will He stop and just return as He promised?