The word came to Jeremiah from Yahweh, after king Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people who were at Jerusalem, to proclaim liberty to them, that every man should let his male servant, and every man his female servant, who is a Hebrew or a Hebrewess, go free, that no one should make bondservants of them, of a Jew his brother. All the princes and all the people obeyed who had entered into the covenant, that everyone should let his male servant and everyone his female servant go free, that no one should make bondservants of them any more. They obeyed and let them go, but afterwards they turned, and caused the servants and the handmaids whom they had let go free to return, and brought them into subjection for servants and for handmaids.
Therefore Yahweh’s word came to Jeremiah from Yahweh, saying, “Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: ‘I made a covenant with your fathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, saying: At the end of seven years, every man of you shall release his brother who is a Hebrew, who has been sold to you, and has served you six years. You shall let him go free from you. But your fathers didn’t listen to me, and didn’t incline their ear. You had now turned, and had done that which is right in my eyes, in every man proclaiming liberty to his neighbor. You had made a covenant before me in the house which is called by my name; but you turned and profaned my name, and every man caused his servant and every man his handmaid, whom you had let go free at their pleasure, to return. You brought them into subjection, to be to you for servants and for handmaids.’ ”
Therefore Yahweh says: “You have not listened to me, to proclaim liberty, every man to his brother, and every man to his neighbor. Behold, I proclaim to you a liberty,” says Yahweh, “to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine. I will make you be tossed back and forth among all the kingdoms of the earth. I will give the men who have transgressed my covenant, who have not performed the words of the covenant which they made before me when they cut the calf in two and passed between its parts: the princes of Judah, the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land, who passed between the parts of the calf. I will even give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life. Their dead bodies will be food for the birds of the sky and for the animals of the earth.
“I will give Zedekiah king of Judah and his princes into the hands of their enemies, into the hands of those who seek their life and into the hands of the king of Babylon’s army, who has gone away from you. Behold, I will command,” says Yahweh, “and cause them to return to this city. They will fight against it, take it, and burn it with fire. I will make the cities of Judah a desolation, without inhabitant.”
This is a long passage today but I think it’s important to allow God to tell us what He thinks about this specific situation. God had required Israel to free all of its slaves every seven years. Obviously, they hadn’t been doing that and when they finally decided to do it, they took another oath before God to do so. Then, after freeing the slaves, they went back on their word and forced them into slavery again. Can you imagine the suffering those slaves must have felt to have had a false sense of freedom only to have it taken away?
I know that God felt the pain of those slaves, but even more than that, God had His own pain. His people not only broke the law, they made an oath before God and broke it again. To say that God was mad is to put it mildly. Notice what God says in His judgment. He tells them: “I proclaim to you a liberty” and then He describes the fact that He intends to make them sick, put them in slavery and kill them and make them bird feed. He simply gave them the freedom that they had given their own slaves and punished them for their violation of the law and their oaths.
As you can see, God hates slavery, oppression and lies. We read here that they tend to go together. We can also see that whoever does these things will not get away with them.