Bible Commentary: Jeremiah 36:1-7 and Related

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Jeremiah 36:1-7 and Related

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Baruch the Scribe

At the start of the current reading, it is still the fourth year of Jehoiakim—March-April 605 B.C. to March-April 604 B.C. The Battle of Carchemish happened in the late spring of 605. Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah sometime during the summer, carrying away a number of Jews, including Daniel and his friends. Jehoiakim had become a Babylonian vassal. And Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon in August to assume the imperial throne, which he did on September 7. Since the events in the past several readings occurred following Nebuchadnezzar's invasion but apparently prior to the events described in the current reading, it appears likely that the events of the current reading begin in the early part of 604 B.C.

Jeremiah is told to write everything he has prophesied from the beginning of his ministry in Josiah's day up till now in a book or scroll (Jeremiah 36:2). "Scrolls (Heb[rew] megilla; G[ree]kbiblion) were made by gluing together, side by side, separate strips of papyrus, leather, parchment or vellum and then winding the long strip around a pole, which would often have handles at both ends to facilitate transporting and reading the scroll. Papyrus, or specifically the pith of the papyrus reed, had been used as a writing surface since the early 3rd millennium b.c.e. [B.C.] It was probably a papyrus scroll, written by Baruch while Jeremiah dictated, that King Jehoiakim ordered burned (Jeremiah 36)" (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 2000, p. 1174).

The writing down of everything at this point does not mean that Jeremiah had written nothing before. Perhaps he had written many things and now dictated them into a single document—though God could have enabled him to reconstruct all he had said from memory. Jeremiah does not now personally write but instead dictates everything to Baruch the son of Neriah, a trained scribe.

While many people doubt the authenticity of the Bible, "through a most amazing combination of circumstances, it would appear that we now have two extraordinary reminders of reliability of the witness to Baruch's presence in the time of Jeremiah.... One particular bulla [a lump of clay impressed with a seal]...bears the same name as the scribe in the book of Jeremiah. In three lines of ancient Hebrew text, writing in the formal cursive style of the seventh century B.C., the seal reads, 'belonging to Berekhyahu, son of Neriyahu, the scribe.' Berekhyahu is almost certainly the complete name of the shortened form Baruch, which means 'Blessed of Yahweh.' Baruch's father, likewise, in its full form is also Neriyahu, called Neriah in the Bible. The suffix -yahu is a shortened form of Yahweh...

"Now a second bulla has shown up.... The same seal that impressed the bulla just described as belonging to Baruch was used on this one, for the three registers of writing are identical.... On the back of this bulla are impressions of the papyrus fibers from the document to which it was once tied. What is remarkable about this second bulla is that the edge is embossed with a fingerprint on the edge, which is presumably that of Baruch the scribe himself. Baruch must have written and sealed the document to which it was attached" (Walter Kaiser Jr., The Old Testament Documents; Are They Reliable and Relevant?, 2001, pp. 158-159).

Not only does Jeremiah have Baruch write down all his words, but he informs the scribe that, because he is "confined" (verse 6)—either physically restrained as in the previous reading or, more likely as he is able to hide later, merely barred from entering the temple—Baruch must go into the temple on the next fast day and read the words.

This is a difficult assignment, considering the punishment previously heaped on Jeremiah. Turning to chapter 45, we find it one of the shortest in the Bible. But it has a vitally important message. We can all find ourselves like Baruch, sympathizing with his comment: "I am overwhelmed with trouble! Haven't I had enough pain already? And now the LORD has added more! I am weary of my own sighing and can find no rest" (verse 3, New Living Translation). "Baruch came from a family of achievers. His grandfather was governor of Jerusalem in Josiah's time (2 Chronicles 34:8) and his brother [would later be] the staff officer in Zedekiah's court (Jeremiah 51:59) [and was likely already involved in government]. He [Baruch] had expected to receive some high office, but found himself the secretary of the most hated man in Judah! God told Baruch what He tells us. Be the best you can be, but don't expect to be more than you are ([Jeremiah 45] v. 5). Self-seeking ambition was hardly appropriate when the nation was facing divine judgment—or at any other time" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on verses 1-5). Furthermore, although he couldn't see it at the time, God was with him and would protect him wherever he went (compare Matthew 6:8, Matthew 6:25-32; Hebrews 13:5; Joshua 1:5; Deuteronomy 31:6; Philippians 4:11).

A Failed Attempt to Destroy God's Word

Baruch has to wait several months before carrying out his assigned duty but the fast day finally comes. Surprisingly, it is not God's commanded fast day, the Day of Atonement in the seventh month. Apparently the people had already forsaken this command since Josiah's death, which was only five years earlier. The fast mentioned in Jeremiah 36 occurs in the ninth month of Jehoiakim's fifth year—November-December 604 B.C. (verse 9). There was no traditional fast at this time that we know of, but there is a historical context to perhaps explain the fast. In "604, Nebuchadnezzar was back again in the Hatti-territory to receive tribute from all its kings. This no doubt included Jehoiakim. At that time the march went as far south as [the Philistine city of] Askelon, which was captured in the month Kislev [the Hebrew ninth month]" (Edwin Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, 1983, p. 186). The fast was probably called by the elders or priests at the urging of the people, who may have had some fears regarding Nebuchadnezzar's approach. The king, Jehoiakim, seems to have had no such fears. He was evidently secure in his position as a vassal to Babylon. In any case, with Nebuchadnezzar close at hand and the people perhaps somewhat softened by their fasting, it was a fit time to pronounce destruction on Jerusalem at the hands of Babylon.

Baruch reads aloud from the chamber of Gemariah. "Gemariah was the son of Shaphan, the scribe who read the scroll found during Josiah's reign (see 2 Kings 22:1-20). It seems Gemariah was sympathetic toward Jeremiah, allowing the use of the room in the upper court, a room overlooking the temple courts" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Jeremiah 36:9-10). Gemariah's son Michaiah reports the gist of what Baruch was proclaiming to his father and the other national leaders at the palace (verses 11-13). Elnathan, mentioned here, was the one who, on orders from Jehoiakim, brought the prophet Urijah back from Egypt to suffer execution (see Jeremiah 26:22-23). He is probably the same Elnathan named in 2 Kings 24:8 as the father of Nehushta, Jehoiachin's mother and therefore Jehoiakim's wife—thus making him Jehoiakim's father-in-law. Elnathan's father Achbor "also played a role in the reading of the scroll in the days of Josiah's reform. The parallels between Josiah's reform and Jeremiah's desire for national revival were included by Baruch deliberately, to remind the people of the earlier event" (note on Jeremiah 36:11-13).

The leaders send for Baruch to read the scroll to them. When he does, they become alarmed and decide that the king must be informed (verse 16). But, apparently fearing what Jehoiakim's reaction might be, they tell Baruch and Jeremiah to go hide out somewhere (verse 19). Perhaps some of them actually had a change of heart—though it may have been just momentary fearfulness. We do see Elnathan beseeching the king not to destroy the scroll (verse 25).

Outrageously, however, the king does destroy it—brazenly and contemptuously. Jehoiakim would have a few columns of the scroll read, whereupon he would cut that part out and cast it into the fire in the hearth before him. This is repeated until the entire scroll is read and burned (verse 23). The king and his servants show no fear at all (verse 24). It is not clear whether his servants here include all the leaders who had previously heard the scroll's contents. It may be that they did not all go to the king but sent just a few representatives, such as Elnathan, Delaiah and Gemariah, who did implore the king to not burn the scroll.

In verse 26, Jehoiakim sends men out to arrest Jeremiah and Baruch. Concerning Jerahmeel, the phrase "the king's son" should probably instead be "the son of Hamelech," as in the King James Version, since Jehoiakim had no grown sons at this time—his heir Jehoiachin being a 12-year-old boy. (It is also possible that "king's son" was the title of a particular office.) Thankfully, God protected His servants from being arrested and probably murdered.

How utterly horrible all of this was. God was giving a last chance for repentance—a possibility for reform as in the days of Josiah, Jehoiakim's father, who had responded positively to Jeremiah's pronouncements and to finding the Word of God. But no, this king of Judah will not repent. Instead, he burns the words of God and seeks to kill God's messengers. His actions are outrageous beyond description.

Jeremiah pronounces judgment on the king for his vile effrontery and blasphemy. He would die in disgrace. His lineage would not continue on David's throne, as his son Jehoiachin would reign for just three months. And Jerusalem would be destroyed. The Word of God, on the other hand, which Jehoiakim had tried to destroy, would endure. God had Jeremiah and Baruch rewrite everything, with even more added to it. And we have it today, before our very eyes. As Isaiah had proclaimed under divine inspiration, "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever" (Isaiah 40:8).

Supplementary Reading: "King Jehoiakim: A Lesson From Biblical History," Bible Study Course, Lesson 2: "The Word of God: The Foundation of Knowledge," p. 11).