Our reading today begins while Jerusalem is still under siege (34:1). Jeremiah repeats to Zedekiah that Babylon will burn Jerusalem down (v. 2 – see 21:10) and that he will be captured by Nebuchadnezzar (v. 4 – see 32:4). The promise that he will not die in battle but “die in peace” (v. 5) is not exactly a good promise (see 52:11). We see that Babylon had taken much of Judah, since only three fortified cities remained (vv. 6-7). Defeat was imminent.
In verses 8-16, we see that Zedekiah proclaims liberty for Jewish slaves, perhaps in an attempt to assuage YHWH’s anger. But we see the heart of the people exposed. They cannot bring themselves to even keep their promise to let their slaves go free. Their failure here is a microcosm of their disobedience to YHWH and their covenant breaking all along. It is for breaking the covenant that Judah will be punished (v. 17). In verse 18, we see a reference to the ritual of establishing a covenant in the ancient world. The two parties would cut animals in half and walk between them, bringing the curse of death on themselves if they break the covenant (see Genesis 15). Once again, God is accusing them of breaking the covenant. This is why He will punish them (vv. 19-22).
Chapter 35 moves us back in time to the reign of Zedekiah’s father Jehoiakim (35:1). This story about the obedience of the Rechabites to their father even when tested by God is an object lesson for all of Judah. This family was obedient to their father all their days. Because he was their father, they obeyed. Yet Judah has not listened to YHWH (v. 13). A one-time command of Jonadab was enough for his family, yet persistent warnings by YHWH went unheeded by Judah (v. 14). He sent prophets to warn against worshipping other gods (v. 15) all to no avail. So Judah will be destroyed (v. 17) but the house of Jonadab will live forever (v. 19). God is drawing a distinction between the physical people and the spiritual people based on obedience.
Chapter 36 records another event during the reign of Jehoiakim (36:1). God commands Jeremiah to write down all the prophecies God has spoken through him (v. 2). It may serve to turn Judah to repentance (v. 3). So Jeremiah does it and sends his assistant Baruch to read the book to the people (v. 6) so that they may repent (v. 7). Note that his banishment from the Temple (v. 5) is likely because of his sermon from chapter 26. So Baruch goes (vv. 8-10). When a grandson of Shaphan (see 26:24) hears the prophecies (v. 11), he tells some of Judah’s officials (v. 12-13), who invite Baruch to come read Jeremiah’s prophecies to them (vv. 14-15). And they recognize their need for repentance (v. 16). They insist that the king hear the prophecy, but warn Baruch and Jeremiah to hide (v. 19).
In Jehoiakim’s reaction (vv. 20-26 – the total opposite of his father’s reaction to hearing the Word of God! – see 2 Kings 22:11-13) we see why God holds the king responsible for the sins of his people. But God preserved Jeremiah (v. 26). And now He will protect His Word. Jeremiah rewrites the book (v. 28), but God adds a new prophecy (v. 29, 32). The Davidic dynasty will now come to a (temporary) end (v. 30), and the physical people will be judged (v. 31).