Jeremiah 36: Destroyed Roll Rewritten
We know that we should treat the Bible reverently, and when we listen to the reading of it we should remember that it is holy, and listen reverently. But hear how a king in Jerusalem treated the book of Jeremiah's words.
Isaiah and Micah were prophets in Jerusalem when Hezekiah was king. Time has moved on, and Jeremiah is now the great prophet in Jerusalem. The king with whom he first lived was Josiah. We remember Josiah as one of the two who were made king when they were little boys. He is called a good king, and he did much to stop the worship of idols and to bring back the worship of the Lord. But kings that followed returned to evil ways. Jeremiah spoke boldly to them and to the people, and warned them that the time was near when Nebuchadnezzar and his army would come and destroy Jerusalem and take the people captive to Babylon far away. Few were willing to learn from Jeremiah. At one time they put him in prison and even into a deep pit. (Jer. 37 and 38) At another time when the words of Jeremiah, which had been written in a roll by Baruch, his scribe, were being read to the king Jehoiakim and his princes, as a few pages of the roll were read the king cut them off with his knife and threw them into the fire that was burning in the palace, till all was burnt. Was it right? It was very wrong to treat in this way the Lord's prophet and the words which he spoke from the Lord. If possible, you should see "a roll of a book," as we read Jer. 36.
In the third year of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, 606 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon carried some of the best citizens of Jerusalem into captivity. The following year Jeremiah prophesied the seventy years' captivity. (See last lesson.) That same year, the fourth of Jehoiakim (Jer. 36:1), the Lord commanded Jeremiah to write his prophecies against Israel and Judah and the nations in a book. What he had uttered from the beginning of his ministry in the days of Josiah should be written on a roll. Therefore, Jeremiah called Baruch to write the words that the Lord dictated to Jeremiah. Then Baruch went to the house of the Lord at the time of the fast when all the people in the city and from the country flocked to the temple, and he read the words of Jeremiah before them. When he had finished, Michaiah, one of the princes, went to the king's house, into the scribe's chamber, and told the other princes there all he had heard. They sent Jehudi to fetch Baruch. He came and read the words to them. They were afraid. They asked whence the words came. Baruch told them. They counseled him and Jeremiah to go and hide themselves. Then they informed the king of what they had heard. He sent Jehudi to fetch the roll and read it to him. But before Jehudi had read three or four columns (not leaves), the king cut the roll in pieces with a penknife and burnt it in the fire. He then ordered the arrest of Baruch and Jeremiah. The messengers, however, failed to find them because the Lord hid them.
Then Baruch took another roll and wrote in it the words which the Lord dictated to Jeremiah that had been in the first roll. "And there were added besides them many like words"; words of woe, because the king and the people had rejected the Lord's message, and refused to repent "that He might forgive their iniquity and their sin." "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate."
This happened in the ninth month of the year. The first month was Abib, the time of the Passover, the springtime of the year, which might be in March or the beginning of April. Therefore, the ninth month was in November or December. It was winter. The king was in the winterhouse; the fire burned on the hearth. This is usually for us a picture of comfort and happiness, but here it is one of utter desolation.
Baruch appears to have been a friend of Jeremiah. When Jeremiah purchased his uncle Hanameel's field in his native town of Anathoth, he "gave evidence of the purchase to Baruch, the son of Neriah, the son of Maaseiah." (Jer. 32:12) Baruch was probably a person of note, for his brother, Seraiah, was chief chamberlain to King Zedekiah and was entrusted with a message from Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon. (Jer. 51:59-64) We also learn from chapter 45 that when Baruch had written the words on the roll, he was full of sorrow and dismay. But Jeremiah comforted him. Evil would come to the people in Jerusalem, but Baruch's life would be spared.
Turn again to chapter 36. The first verse tells the time of the incident in the history. Have you seen a book written as a roll, the pages joined side to side, with a stick and handle at each end on which the roll is wound? Have in mind this kind of book when you read Luke 4:17-20 and Rev. 5:1. Verse 5 does not refer to Jeremiah's imprisonment, which was later (Jer. 37, 38) but probably means that the priests had forbidden the prophet to enter and speak in the temple. Note the effect of the reading, till finally the roll was brought and read in the presence of the king. The season was cold, and a fire was burning in a brasier in the room. A note interprets the time as December, 604 B.C. At this most irreverent treatment of the prophet's words, the people about the king were not disturbed. Compare the reading of the Book of the Law found in the temple and Josiah's rending of his clothes. (2 Kings 22:11) The rending of clothes was a sign of grief, for blasphemy and for truth profaned. (Matt. 27:65) Connect verse 26 with verse 19. Were the precious words of the prophet lost? The closing verses of the chapter tell us. The rewritten roll no doubt contained much of our present book of Jeremiah. Read again the Lord's warning to Jeremiah of hard treatment, but His promise of strength and protection. (Jer. 1:17-19)
The first verse indicates the time when this event took place. This describes the state of the church. It was near the end of the Jewish kingdom. The people were exceedingly corrupt and degenerate. Still another appeal for repentance is made. (Verses 2-3) It came through Baruch, the son of Neriah. Baruch means "blessed," and Neriah, "the lamp of Jah." The appeal was therefore made through feelings of blessedness that spring from keeping the truths of the Word. (Ps. 119:1, 105) The sins of the people prevent the Lord from approaching them. But surely there is some delight in keeping His precepts! Appeal must be made to the people through that. (Verse 5) The season to do so shall be one of fasting, of mourning, and repentance. (Verse 6, E. 375, 1189) Possibly they may be in a mood to listen to the Lord's words then, and repent. (Verse 7) The appeal is made while the people are reflecting upon their past wrongs. (Verses 8-9) Revelation of wrongs against the truth of the Lord is made from the house of the Lord. (Verse 10) The appeal is communicated to those in intelligence, the princes. (Verses 11-13) They take it into serious consideration, "sit down and read it in our ears." (Verses 14-15) They were affected by the words, and determine that they shall be applied to the roots of the evil. (Verse 16) A personís intelligence inquires whence proceeds this revelation. (Verse 17) It is of the Lord Himself. All truth in the Word is from the mouth of the Lord. (Verse 18) The intelligent fear that harm will come to the truth. Evil has become too much ingrained in the character to be easily reversed. (Verse 19) The attempt is made to have the appeal touch the very mainspring of the evil. The king as the head of the people signifies the same as the people. (A.7224) He therefore acts for the people, and his action represents their action. He listens to the message. (Verses 20-21) But the people are in a continued state of evil - their hearts are cold. "He sat in the winterhouse." Sitting depicts a confirmed attitude of the will. Evil burns within. (Verse 22) Therefore, when but a little of the truth had been uttered, the whole message was rejected and profaned. Evil consumed the truth. Bitter resentment against the message rendered the appeal powerless. (Verse 23) It was done without shame. (Verse 24) The conscience stung slightly but in vain. (Verse 23) Then the effort was made to destroy the blessedness of life, and the Lord from Whom it came. (Verse 26) But it is impossible to destroy the Word. (Verses 27-28) The truth still rings forth its appeal for righteousness and judgment of evil. (Verses 29-31) People may sear the truth in themselves, yet the truth itself is indestructible.
What a blessing! What a comfort! The Lord will always find some who will receive His truth and live according to it despite all the trials of self-sacrifice which it involves. If we will not keep His Word, He will grant the precious heritage to others. "Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." (Matt. 21:42-43)
Upon Jeremiah 36, the comment of Prophets and Psalms says, "That the destruction of the church and of the Jewish nation is foretold, and it was urged upon them to repent, verses 1-10; that they knew the truth, verses 11-16, of what had been foretold by the Lord, verses 17, 18; that they rejected it by profaning it, verses 19-24; in like manner the Word, verses 25, 26; that the Divine Truth will not perish, verses 27, 28, 32; because they hardened themselves against it, therefore the destruction of the church and of the kingdom is at hand, verses 29-31." The comment on the re-writing of the roll is beautiful as picturing the vitality of the Lord's truth, that it cannot be destroyed.
Note the comment of A. 4725, comparing the treatment of Jeremiah with the treatment of Joseph, who also was cast into a pit in which was no water. Both incidents represent the rejection of Divine truth among falsities in which there was nothing of truth. See also E. 537. On the rending of garments as an expression of grief for truth denied, see A. 4763. But there was no such expression of grief for the destruction of the roll in our chapter.
The whole story of Jeremiah and especially the rejection of his words in our chapter suggest strongly comparison with the treatment of the Lord and His words, especially on the night of His trial before the priests; and this comparison is fully justified. The treatment of the prophet and his words were a prediction of the treatment of the Lord. The fact that it was winter and that a fire was burning on account of the cold reminds us of the cold on the night of the Lord's trial and of the fire at which Peter warmed himself with servants of the high priest. The destruction of the roll by the knife and fire suggests the rejection of the Lordís truth both by mind and heart. (E. 481)