Jeremiah 36:1-22 – The Scrolls of Jeremiah
SummaryJeremiah has his oracles committed to writing with the help of his amanuensis Baruch. They announce a certain judgment for Israel.
AnalysisThis 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.