That is a very long first reading. Let’s take a quick look at its historical background, then, then we can ask what our lesson from it should be.
Our reading places the events in the fourth year of the reign of Zedekiah. It was a time when the players in the struggles of the Middle East were similar to what they are today.
Jerusalem, which would now be Israel, was a prize coveted both by Egypt and by Babylon, which is now Iraq. Babylon’s famous King Nebuchadnezzar had subdued Jerusalem in 597. At that time he carried off its temple treasures and the cream of its citizens. He went on to installing Zedekiah as king, telling him to behave.
Our reading takes us four years into the reign of Zedekiah, which would have been 593 B.C. Then, Hananiah, a friend of king Zedekiah who passed himself off as a prophet, advised Zedekiah to bring on the good times by entering into secret negotiations with Egypt against Babylon.
Jeremiah, being far out of favor with king Zedekiah, had no voice at court. So, to protest his beloved Jerusalem’s entering into a secret alliance against Babylon, he took to roaming the streets of Jerusalem with a heavy wooden yoke over his shoulders. He was telling the people that would happen to them if they defied Nebuchadnezzar. The people got his message, but they didn’t reform.
Jeremiah told them that their only way out was for to both turn back to Yahweh and release their slaves. If they did not they would themselves be enslaved.
They ignored his warnings, so five years later, in 587 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar came back. Defeating Egypt, he bound Jerusalem’s people, leading them off into slavery; and bringing each of Zedekiah’s sons before their shamed father. Nebuchadnezzar had his soldiers slit the throats of those sons beginning with the youngest. Then, he blinded Zedekiah, letting him live on with the mental picture of that horror.
Our lesson from all this would be that shady deals cannot bring us true prosperity. It’s only turning back to God that can.