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Jeremiah’s scroll ch. 36
"While ch. 36 is, in a sense, an independent unit, it is at the same time the last segment in a ’tradition complex’ which begins at ch. 26, where Jeremiah is vindicated as a true prophet of Yahweh by Jerusalem’s highest court and where the aim of his prophetic ministry is set out, and ends with ch. 36 where the continuing negative response of the people and of the king reaches a climax and the rejection of the nation is confirmed. The history of the mediation of Yahweh’s word by the faithful prophet Jeremiah concludes and another complex of chapters dealing with the prophet’s sufferings follows in chs. 37-43." [Note: Thompson, p. 621.]
The Lord sent a message to Jeremiah in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim’s reign, sometime between April of 605 and April of 604 B.C. (cf. Jeremiah 25:1)
"The preaching of Jeremiah offers Judah an opportunity to turn from their sinful ways and avoid destruction, but Jehoiakim’s rejection of the prophetic word brings Judah under a sentence of irrevocable judgment. The ’fourth year of Jehoiakim’ (605 BC) is a critical moment in Judah’s history where the fate of the nation is sealed and Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar emerges as the human instrument of divine judgment. Deliverance is reserved for only a tiny minority (the Rechabites and Baruch) who reflect faithfulness in their lives. National restoration will only come in the distant future when that faithfulness characterizes the nation as a whole (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34)." [Note: Gary E. Yates, "Narrative Parallelism and the ’Jehoiakim Frame’: A Reading Strategy for Jeremiah 26-45," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48:2 (June 2005):281.]
Its writing 36:1-8
Jeremiah was to write on a scroll (Heb. megillath sepher) all the prophecies that he had delivered concerning Israel, Judah, and the other nations since he began prophesying in the reign of Josiah (627 B.C.; cf. Jeremiah 1:2; Jeremiah 25:3). Most of the prophecies in the present Book of Jeremiah that date from this period are in chapters 1-25 and 46-51, but they were probably not in the same order on this scroll. Since Baruch and Jehudi read them on three separate occasions in one day (Jeremiah 36:8; Jeremiah 36:15; Jeremiah 36:21), perhaps Baruch did not read the whole scroll on the first two of these occasions.
Perhaps the Babylonians’ victory over the Assyrians and Egyptians at Carchemish in 605 B.C. provided the impetus for this project. With the Babylonians in power, Judah was one giant step closer to invasion.
All of these recorded prophecies of coming judgment might move the Judahites to repent (cf. Jeremiah 25:13). If the people repented, the Lord would forgive them.
Jeremiah then called for Baruch ben Neriah, who copied down these prophecies from the Lord as Jeremiah dictated them to him (cf. Jeremiah 32:12-13).
"Writing was a specialized skill, often restricted to a professional class. Learned men could read, but (like executives today) scorned to write." [Note: Graybill, p. 681.]
When the papyrus or parchment scroll was complete, Jeremiah instructed Baruch to take it and to read the prophecies to the people of Jerusalem and Judah in the temple courtyard. Baruch was to do this on a fast day so that many people would hear him. At this time in Israel’s history, the nation’s leaders sometimes called fast days in times of national emergency (cf. 2 Chronicles 20:3; Joel 1:14; Joel 2:12; Joel 2:15). Evidently Jeremiah anticipated a crisis, because Babylon had become the major power in the ancient Near East-the "enemy from the north"-with its victory at Carchemish. Jeremiah was restricted from going to the temple himself (Jeremiah 36:5) for reasons the text does not explain.
Jeremiah hoped that the reading of the scroll would move the people to repent and pray, since the Lord was very angry with His people.
Baruch then went to the temple and did as Jeremiah had instructed him.
During the winter of 604-603 B.C., the people, not the king, declared a fast. The occasion for the fast may have been the arrival of Babylonian armies on the Philistine plain or the Babylonians’ defeat of Ashkelon then. [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 151. See also D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldean Kings (626-556 B.C.) in the British Museum, p. 69.]
Its reading 36:9-20
On this occasion also, Baruch read Jeremiah’s scroll to all the people present. He stood in the room of Gemariah ben Shaphan the scribe (state secretary), in the upper or outer temple courtyard near the New Gate of the temple (cf. Jeremiah 20:2; Jeremiah 26:10; 2 Kings 15:35). [Note: See the diagram of Solomon’s Temple near my comments on 20:2.] This location would have made it easy for the people there to hear him. It also suggests that Gemariah was sympathetic to Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 26:24). When the priests discovered the scroll of the law in the temple during Josiah’s reign, it was Shaphan, Gemariah’s father, who had read it to the people (cf. 2 Kings 22:3 to 2 Kings 23:3). [Note: See the diagram with information about Shaphan’s sons near my comments on 26:24.]
When Micaiah, Gemariah’s son, heard the scroll read, he went into the scribe’s room in the palace, where all the king’s officials had gathered, and told them what he had heard. Achbor, the father of Elnathan, had been present at the reading of the law scroll in Josiah’s day (2 Kings 22:12).
The officials then sent Jehudi to Baruch in the temple precincts, and told him to bring Baruch and the scroll to them. Jehudi must have been an important person, since the writer mentioned three generations of his ancestors, though there are no other references to him in the Bible.
When Baruch arrived, the officials asked him to sit down and read the scroll to them, which he did. What he read surprised them, and they told him that they would report what he had read to the king.
They asked Baruch how he wrote the scroll, and Baruch replied that he had written it as Jeremiah dictated the prophecies to him. They evidently wanted to make sure that Jeremiah was the source of the prophecies, and not Baruch.
The officials then told Baruch to go into hiding with Jeremiah, and to tell no one where they were. They expected the king to react negatively and violently when he heard the news. Earlier, Jehoiakim had extradited and murdered the prophet Uriah, who had also prophesied against Judah and Jerusalem (Jeremiah 26:20-24).
The officials first deposited Jeremiah’s scroll in the room where they were, for safe keeping, and then went and told Jehoiakim what the scroll contained.
The king proceeded to send Jehudi to get the scroll from Elishama in the scribe’s room. When Jehudi returned with it, he read it to the king and his officials.
Its burning 36:21-26
Since it was winter, the king was sitting in his winter quarters with a fire burning in the brazier before him (cf. Amos 3:15). The king’s winter quarters were evidently warm rooms in the palace.
After Jehudi had read a few columns of text, Jehoiakim reached over and cut off what he had read and tossed it into the fire. He did this with the whole scroll; he burned it all up. This was a symbolic act; Jehoiakim was claiming that Jeremiah’s prophecies would come to an end just as surely as his scroll came to an end. [Note: M. Kessler, "The Significance of Jeremiah 36," Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 81 (1969):382.] Jehoiakim’s slow, methodical destruction of the scroll made his rejection of its message a much more emphatic gesture than if he had burned the whole thing at once in a fit of rage. [Note: Kidner, p. 121.]
Scrolls consisted of several sheet of papyrus or parchment that had been glued together and wrapped around a small rod. As the reader rolled the scroll off the rod and read it from right to left, the printing appeared in parallel, perpendicular columns that resembled doors. The Hebrew word for "column," delathoth, literally means "door." Binding documents in book (codex) form was unknown in Old Testament times.
This king’s response to hearing the Lord’s Word stands in stark contrast to that of his father Josiah, who tore his clothes in remorse when he heard the law scroll read to him (2 Kings 22:11-20). Josiah had feared and called the people to repentance, but Jehoiakim feared nothing and called for the prophet’s arrest.
Jeremiah’s prophecies did not frighten the king or his servants at all, who did not express any grief over what Jeremiah had predicted. The entreaties of three of his officials did not discourage Jehoiakim from burning up the whole scroll. One of these men, Elnathan ben Achbor, had previously extradited the prophet Uriah from Egypt (cf. Jeremiah 26:20-23). The people had failed to listen to the Lord, and now the king and his servants did the same thing. Surely the possibility of national repentance seemed remote.
"This is an exact picture of our own generation. Men today do not perhaps burn the Bible, nor does the Roman Catholic Church any longer put it on the index, as it once did. But men destroy it in the form of exegesis; they destroy it in the way they deal with it. They destroy it by not reading it as written in normal literary form, by ignoring historical-grammatical exegesis, by changing the Bible’s own perspective of itself as propositional revelation in space and time, in history." [Note: Schaeffer, p. 61.]
Then Jehoiakim ordered the arrest of Baruch and Jeremiah, but the officials sent to make the arrest could not find them, because the Lord had hidden them. According to Jewish tradition, the accuracy of which is uncertain, Jeremiah’s place of concealment was the so-called "Grotto of Jeremiah" outside the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem. Having destroyed the scroll, the king turned next to destroy its authors. Jehoiakim did not continue to hunt down Jeremiah, however, because later the prophet was able to move about the city (ch. 35).
"The narrative in these verses seems to have been composed as a conscious parallel to 2 Kings 22. In each case a scroll is brought before the king. First the scroll comes into the hands of a state official (2 Kings 22:9-10; Jeremiah 36:10-11). Both narratives record the reaction of the king (2 Kings 22:11-13; Jeremiah 36:23-26). Both narratives refer to an oracle that follows the king’s response (2 Kings 22:15-20; Jeremiah 36:28-31). In 2 Kings 22:11 Josiah ’rent his clothes’; in Jeremiah 36:24 Jehoiakim did not rend his clothes but rent the scroll." [Note: Thompson, p. 628.]
"Josiah burns altars in an attempt at reform; Jehoiakim attempts to invalidate the message by burning the scroll. Josiah ’heard’ the word of the LORD, while Jehoiakim pointedly does not ’hear.’ Finally, the end result is that God ’hears’ Josiah, but the outcome for Jehoiakim and Judah is another matter as Jeremiah 36:30-31 clearly indicate . . ." [Note: Keown, p. 203. For further development of these contrasts, see C. D. Isbell, "2 Kings 22:3-23:24 and Jeremiah 36 : A Stylistic Comparison," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 8 (1978):33-45; and M. Kessler, "Form Critical Suggestions on Jeremiah 36," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 28 (1966):389-401.]
The Lord commanded Jeremiah to make another copy of the scroll that the king had burned (cf. 2 Kings 22:15-20).
Its rewriting 36:27-32
He was also to send a message from the Lord to the king. Jehoiakim had burned the first scroll because it contained prophecies predicting that Nebuchadnezzar would come and destroy the land and its inhabitants.
Because Jehoiakim had done this, he would have no descendant to follow him on Judah’s throne. His son Jehoiachin did reign for three months after his father, but Jehoiachin assumed the throne without authorization, and Nebuchadnezzar quickly deported him to Babylon. Furthermore, Jehoiakim would suffer an ignominious death without burial (cf. Jeremiah 22:18-19). He who threw (Heb. hishlik) the scroll into the fire would be thrown (Heb. hushlak) out into the elements. Josiah, in contrast, received an honorable burial (2 Kings 23:30; 2 Chronicles 35:24). Jehoiakim evidently died either in a palace uprising or in a revolt by the people (cf. Jeremiah 22:18-19). [Note: Feinberg, "Jeremiah," p. 609; Graybill, p. 682.]
The Lord would also punish him and his descendants, and his servants, with all the judgments that Jeremiah had predicted for the people of Jerusalem and Judah. He would send them because they had refused to listen to the Lord.
Jeremiah then dictated the prophecies to Baruch again, and he wrote them down on a second scroll. This time Jeremiah included other prophecies, those that he had received since he had dictated the first scroll. This document probably became the "first draft" of the present Book of Jeremiah. This chapter is of special interest because it records the production of one of the books of the Bible. The prophet uttered many more oracles between 604 and 586 B.C.
"As Hananiah later attempts to render the symbolic word of judgment futile by destroying the wooden yoke, so Jehoiakim attempts to destroy the word literally, in the fire. In Jeremiah 28, a yoke of iron is Yahweh’s last word. The end of this scene introduces a new scroll, with specific ’words’ added for Jehoiakim in light of his rejection of the scroll. Jehoiakim cannot thwart the word of the LORD, and to attempt to do so brings inevitable consequences." [Note: Keown, p. 207.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 36". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
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