Israel was hopelessly outnumbered. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon “and all his army, with all the kingdoms of the earth that were under his dominion and all the peoples, were fighting against Jerusalem” and its remaining cities (Jer. 34:1). Because of Israel’s sin, apparently even the Lord, Israel’s protector, had withdrawn. For nearly forty years, Jeremiah the prophet pleaded with God’s people to repent, but they would not have it. Israel was nearly apostate, and the dire warnings of the prophet Jeremiah were about to come to pass.
However, hidden in the ways of God was a plan, a redemptive strategy that would reverse Israel’s direction. If the Jews implemented a “Year of Remission” (see Deut. 15:1-18), God would show to them the same mercy they showed to one another. What was required was that “each man [would] set free his male servant and each man his female servant . . . so that no one should keep them, a Jew his brother, in bondage” (Jer. 34:9).
Not only did they agree to this year of release, but “all the officials and all the people obeyed.” Then, in earnest faith, they “entered into the covenant . . . so that no one should keep them any longer in bondage; they obeyed, and set them free” (Jer. 34:10).
The Bible says the Judeans cut a calf in two and then passed “between its parts” (Jer. 34:18). This was the same kind of covenant ritual Abraham had made with the Lord centuries earlier (see Gen. 15:10, 17-18.).
The redemptive plan of God was this: If the Israelites set free their slaves, they would not be taken as slaves. If they showed mercy, God would show Himself merciful to them as well. Even though they were, by all counts, nearly apostate, the act of releasing the debts of others would have averted the destruction of their cities, for “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13)!
As they were releasing one another, something marvelous occurred. Supernaturally the Lord drew “the king of Babylon…away” (Jer. 34:21). At the very moment the people were releasing the debts of others, God was reducing their debt to Him. What they did on earth was actually being replicated for them in Heaven!
In all the years since the establishment of the Law, Israel had never celebrated a year of release. Yet now, even with their enemies within striking range, Israel covenanted with God to free every man his slave.
Unforgiveness In the Church
How does the above story relate to us? Today we too are facing overwhelming foes. Our society is overrun with corruption and the church is hardly better than the world. The prophets are warning of judgment, and at times, it seems as though God has stopped listening to our prayers.
Yet, I believe if we can sincerely forgive those who are spiritual debtors to us, even starting with those in our homes and families – if we extend forgiveness to our neighbors, and proclaim release to those who left our churches – the mercy of God will begin to fall again on our land.
Let the Lord reveal all with whom you have unforgiveness. If we are at the altar and remember someone who has unforgiveness toward us, let us leave our offering and be reconciled (see Matt. 5:23-24). Yes, let us covenant with God for our communities, and even for our nation!
Indeed, let us take this one step further: let us release those who have hurt us. It is time to rebuild our lives in Christ, and reunite in the power of redemption. Let us bring Christ’s covenant of forgiveness into our inter-racial relationships, and let us, each one, embrace the covenant of the Lamb.
The Sad End of the Jeremiah 34
In spite of the great breakthrough Israel experienced, their story ends badly. For when the enemy left and the pressure was off, each man “took back his” male and female servants ” . . . and brought them into subjection” (see vv. 13-16).
Beloved, hear me please: if only the Jews would have followed through and held fast their release, the Book of Lamentations never would have been written! Mercy would have triumphed and remained, but such was not the case.
Still, for us, the final chapters of our times are yet to be written. We can learn from the example we see in Jeremiah 34. If we will embrace mercy, if we can sincerely release one another, we will escape the dire expectations coming to meet our sinful society. Our actions today, even now, will determine whether our society is blessed or judged. Let us, therefore, release the debts of every man and covenant for mercy for our land.