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Jeremiah 36:1-22 – The Scrolls of Jeremiah

Summary

Jeremiah has his oracles committed to writing with the help of his amanuensis Baruch. They announce a certain judgment for Israel.

Analysis

This remarkable narrative is set in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim, which was also the year that Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish and threatened the future of Israel. This chapter is focused on the commitment of some of Jeremiah's oracles to writing and the negative response of the king to them; it introduces the story of Jeremiah's life of suffering (37-45).

Two scrolls, dictated by Jeremiah and written by Baruch, are mentioned. The chapter is concerned primarily with the first (36:1-26). After the first scroll was destroyed by the king, a second was prepared, adding "many similar words" (36:32), including the words of a certain judgment on Israel (36:29-31). The point of the chapter is not to specify the means by which the book of Jeremiah began to be produced (though that testimony is unique in the Old Testament). Rather, the concern centers on the response to the (written!) word of God on the part of the king and his officials.

King Jehoiakim's response to the word of God is portrayed in a graphic way; he destroys the first scroll himself, using a penknife and throwing the pieces into the fireplace. Destruction of a book speaks more loudly than rejection of a word that is spoken; the entire self becomes involved. This action seems to close off any positive possibilities regarding Israel's future.

At the same time, some positive response to the written word of God is reported (see 36:11-19, 25). Some persons take steps to protect Jeremiah from the wrath of the king. This step on the part of a few illustrates that there were persons at the time who supported the prophet (see also 38:7-13 on the rescue of Jeremiah from the pit).

The importance of writing down Jeremiah's words cannot be overestimated. It gives readers a glimpse into the process by which the spoken word of prophecy becomes the written word. Such an action assures that Jeremiah's words will live on in the community beyond the prophet's lifetime. Spoken words disappear in time; written words are more enduring. The spoken words have been rejected; written words will persist through time and will have either a judgmental or a salutary effect on subsequent generations of readers.

Jeremiah 36:1-22

The Scroll Read in the Temple

36In the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today. 3It may be that when the house of Judah hears of all the disasters that I intend to do to them, all of them may turn from their evil ways, so that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.

4 Then Jeremiah called Baruch son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll at Jeremiah’s dictation all the words of the Lord that he had spoken to him. 5And Jeremiah ordered Baruch, saying, ‘I am prevented from entering the house of the Lord; 6so you go yourself, and on a fast day in the hearing of the people in the Lord’s house you shall read the words of the Lord from the scroll that you have written at my dictation. You shall read them also in the hearing of all the people of Judah who come up from their towns. 7It may be that their plea will come before the Lord, and that all of them will turn from their evil ways, for great is the anger and wrath that the Lord has pronounced against this people.’ 8And Baruch son of Neriah did all that the prophet Jeremiah ordered him about reading from the scroll the words of the Lord in the Lord’s house.

9 In the fifth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, in the ninth month, all the people in Jerusalem and all the people who came from the towns of Judah to Jerusalem proclaimed a fast before the Lord. 10Then, in the hearing of all the people, Baruch read the words of Jeremiah from the scroll, in the house of the Lord, in the chamber of Gemariah son of Shaphan the secretary, which was in the upper court, at the entry of the New Gate of the Lord’s house.

The Scroll Read in the Palace

11 When Micaiah son of Gemariah son of Shaphan heard all the words of the Lord from the scroll, 12he went down to the king’s house, into the secretary’s chamber; and all the officials were sitting there: Elishama the secretary, Delaiah son of Shemaiah, Elnathan son of Achbor, Gemariah son of Shaphan, Zedekiah son of Hananiah, and all the officials. 13And Micaiah told them all the words that he had heard, when Baruch read the scroll in the hearing of the people. 14Then all the officials sent Jehudi son of Nethaniah son of Shelemiah son of Cushi to say to Baruch, ‘Bring the scroll that you read in the hearing of the people, and come.’ So Baruch son of Neriah took the scroll in his hand and came to them. 15And they said to him, ‘Sit down and read it to us.’ So Baruch read it to them. 16When they heard all the words, they turned to one another in alarm, and said to Baruch, ‘We certainly must report all these words to the king.’ 17Then they questioned Baruch, ‘Tell us now, how did you write all these words? Was it at his dictation?’ 18Baruch answered them, ‘He dictated all these words to me, and I wrote them with ink on the scroll.’ 19Then the officials said to Baruch, ‘Go and hide, you and Jeremiah, and let no one know where you are.’

Jehoiakim Burns the Scroll

20 Leaving the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the secretary, they went to the court of the king; and they reported all the words to the king. 21Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary; and Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king. 22Now the king was sitting in his winter apartment (it was the ninth month), and there was a fire burning in the brazier before him.

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10 February 2011

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