From Bad to Worse

An exposition of Jeremiah 34:1-26. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday evening, November 30, 2008.

Do you ever have trouble keeping your commitments? Do you ever promise and then fail to deliver? I find it is very easy to over-commit. To promise to do something because it is needed and I really want to help but the truth is there just isn’t time. The end result is that I disappoint and end up making matters worse. Have you ever promised to pray for someone and then forgot? Ever tell someone that you would call and let them know and then realize too late that you didn’t call? We all fail in these areas and thus cause hurt feelings, strained relationships and at times long-term emotional harm. But what if the one you fail is the Sovereign King of the universe? What happens when you promise God and fail to deliver?

Do you ever think about that? Do you ever consider what it means when you promise God something and then fail to follow through? I’m convinced most do not. I know that a lot of people repeat wedding vows with no thought to what ignoring them means. When you stand before a preacher in a wedding ceremony you take an oath before God to love, cherish, honor, respect and keep yourself only unto your spouse so long as you both shall live. Now with more than half of all marriages ending in divorce do you think those couples have given serious thought to what it means to toss that commitment aside? How many people make God a “promise” if He will just get them out of a jam? “Lord if you get me out of this I promise I’ll never…” – you fill in the blank. Too often we are like the man in the old joke who, fearing he was drowning, began to promise God great things. “If you just let me live I’ll give my life to foreign missions. I got to the jungles of Africa and live out my days preaching your word and loving natives into the kingdom.” As he got closer to the shore, “I promise Lord if you get me out of this I’ll take a week’s vacation and go on a mission trip.” Closer to shore he said, “Honest Lord I’ll give a huge offering every year to Lottie Moon.” Still closer he cried, “I’ll try to go to church more often.” As he drug himself up on the beach he said, “I’ll see you Christmas. Maybe.”

Is it an insignificant thing to promise God something? Is a commitment to God ever to be taken lightly? What does God think about it? We get an idea in our text this evening found in Jeremiah 34 beginning with verse 1.

Text: Jeremiah 34:1-26

Remember the context. Jerusalem is surrounded. They have been under siege for three years. Times are desperate. Word has already come through the prophet – Judah is going into exile. They will be in Babylon for 70 years. The king himself will be taken and will die in Babylon. Are you tempted to promise things when things seem hopeless? Is it reasonable to assume that desperate people take desperate measures? As we explore this chapter I think we come away understanding that…

Thesis: Failure to fulfill a solemn vow before God ignites His sovereign wrath.

Let me give you just a few examples:

For thus says the Lord GOD: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have
despised the oath in breaking the covenant…
Ezekiel 16:59


Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: As I live, surely it is my oath that he despised, and my
covenant that he broke. I will return it upon his head.
Ezekiel 17:19

Lets walk through this chapter together and note a few things along the way.

I. A troubling and yet gracious announcement. (34:1-7)
34:1 – sets the stage and reminds us of the severity of the situation. These are desperate times.
Nebuchadnezzar, his army, all the kings under his dominion, all the peoples. The whole world is against us. 34:6-7 reinforces it. So Jeremiah is sent to the king with a message from God. Keep in mind Jeremiah has already been imprisoned because of his preaching! How would you like to deliver this message?
34:2 – “A…king, your majesty…God said to tell you He has given your kingdom to the enemy and they are going to burn it to the ground and you are not going to escape. You will meet with Nebuchadnezzar face to face, eye to eye.” This was not going to be a pleasant chat! And yet note God’s kindness to Zedekiah – 34:4-5. All of this is background to what happens next. God was faithful and gracious though the king was not.

II. A treacherous deal. (34:8-11)
This is the Israelite version of the emancipation proclamation. A declaration setting slaves free. Slavery as practiced among the people of God in that day was scandalous. It was a clear violation of the law of God:

“Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. 2 When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. Exodus 21:1-2

The same command is given in Deuteronomy 15:12.

“If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave: 40 he shall be with you as a hired servant and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41 Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers. 42 For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. Leviticus 25:39-42

The Sabbath Year and the Jubilee Year granted freedom to the captives. Because the people belonged to God, the could not be sold to one another. Now the king and the people had ignored God’s law for centuries. But now with the real prospect of “facing God” they decided to repent and obey God’s law. So they set their prisoners free. Why? Was it political? Was it “cramming for the final exam?” I don’t know what the motivation was – I just know it was not sincere!

34:11 – they revoked their repentance. They repented of ever repenting.

Back to where we started.

The threat is over? “Lord, I’ll see you Christmas. Maybe.” This is the way the ungodly respond to crisis. How many ungodly people send for the preacher when in the hospital but completely fail to acknowledge God once they are well? Crisis confessions often ring hollow. Not all. But most. That brings us to the final section…

III. A call for sovereign justice. (34:12-26)
God reminded them they were once slaves. He reminded them He promised deliverance. Yet He was faithful while they were faithless. 34:15-16 – this is a stinging rebuke. So this is what I will do – 34:17-19. I’m going to pronounce a little “freedom” myself. Freedom to the sword, pestilence and famine. He is handing them over to their enemies. Justice will be done.

What’s the point of all this? Failure to fulfill a solemn vow before God ignites His sovereign wrath. In practical terms – you are better off not to promise God you’ll so something than to promise Him and not do it. When you violate a vow you bring judgment on your own head. Be careful what you promise. You may take a bad situation and make it worse.

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