Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And it came to pass in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, that this word came unto Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,XXXVI.
(1) The fourth year of Jehoiakim . . .—The prophetic message that follows is brought by the date thus given into close contact with Jeremiah 25, and it is a reasonable inference that we have in that chapter the substance of part, at least, of what was written by Baruch from the prophet’s dictation in Jeremiah 36:4. The contents exactly agree with the description of the prophecy given here in Jeremiah 36:2.
Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day.(2) Take thee a roll of a book.—The same phrase meets us in Psalm 40:7 (ascribed by some critics to Jeremiah), but does not occur in any earlier prophet or historical book. It is found in later prophets (Ezekiel 2:9; Ezekiel 3:1; Zechariah 5:1-2). It probably followed on the introduction of parchment as a material for writing on, and the consequent substitution of the roll for the papyrus books, for which, from their fragile fabric, a different form was necessary. The command thus given to Baruch is interesting as letting us, so to speak, into the “workshop” of the prophet. He speaks probably without premeditation, as the word of the Lord comes to him (Matthew 10:19). A disciple acts as reporter, and preserves the utterance in writing. It is interesting in this respect to note the parallelism between Jeremiah’s modus operandi and St. Paul’s (Romans 16:22; Galatians 6:11; 2Thessalonians 3:17). From time to time the prophet collects, repeats, revises, and, in modern phrase, edits what he has uttered. We have here accordingly what may be described as the history of the first volume of his discourses—a volume which perished, as the chapter records, but of which the earlier chapters of the present book are substantially a reproduction.
It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I purpose to do unto them; that they may return every man from his evil way; that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.(3) It may be that the house of Judah will hear . . .—Better, hearken to, as implying more than the physical act of listening. Here again, in the expression of the hope that Israel would “return every man from his evil way,” we have a distinct echo from Jeremiah 25:5.
Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah: and Baruch wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the LORD, which he had spoken unto him, upon a roll of a book.(4) Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah.—See Note on Jeremiah 32:12. The prophet was, as the next verse shows, in some way hindered, though apparently not by imprisonment, as he and Baruch could hide themselves (Jeremiah 36:19): Baruch therefore had to act not only as the prophet’s amanuensis, but as the preacher of his sermon. It will be noted that an interval of some months elapsed between the dictation and the public utterance.
Therefore go thou, and read in the roll, which thou hast written from my mouth, the words of the LORD in the ears of the people in the LORD'S house upon the fasting day: and also thou shalt read them in the ears of all Judah that come out of their cities.(6) In the Lord’s house upon the fasting day.—Literally, a fast day. We learn from Jeremiah 36:9 that this was one of the special fasts “proclaimed” in times of national distress (comp. Joel 2:1; 2Chronicles 20:3-4; 1Kings 21:10), and it was accordingly a time when the courts of the Temple would be more than usually thronged, and when, it might be hoped, the people gathered in them would be more than usually disposed to listen to warnings and exhortations to repentance. Probably, however, the king had proclaimed the fast by the advice of the priests and false prophets, to rouse the people to the “holy war” of an enthusiastic religious resistance to the Chaldeans, and this may account for the eagerness of Jeremiah to counteract the scheme by the unlooked-for sermon. The addition, “and also thou shalt read them in the ears of all Judah,” implies that Baruch was, if opportunity offered, to read the words of the prophecy on other occasions and to other gatherings of the people. The ordinary fast of the Day of Atonement was, it will be remembered, in the seventh month—i.e., October; this accordingly was in November or December. This agrees, it may be noted, with the charcoal fire which was burning in the king’s chamber (Jeremiah 36:22).
And it came to pass in the fifth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, in the ninth month, that they proclaimed a fast before the LORD to all the people in Jerusalem, and to all the people that came from the cities of Judah unto Jerusalem.(9) It came to pass in the fifth year of Jehoiakim.—The LXX. gives “the eighth year,” but the Hebrew text gives much the more probable date. What follows refers apparently to the same occasion as Jeremiah 36:8, and is of the nature of a note explaining the circumstances under which the prophetic discourse was read. An interval of some months thus passed between the writing of the book and its delivery in the Temple, during which its substance was, perhaps, made known to the inner circle of the prophet’s disciples. The fast was probably proclaimed on the king’s hearing of the approach of Nebuchadnezzar’s army, as described by the Rechabites in Jeremiah 35:11.
Then read Baruch in the book the words of Jeremiah in the house of the LORD, in the chamber of Gemariah the son of Shaphan the scribe, in the higher court, at the entry of the new gate of the LORD'S house, in the ears of all the people.(10) In the chamber of Gemariah the son of Shaphan.—The man thus named belonged to a family which, through three successive generations, presented conspicuous examples of devout patriotism. His father Shaphan was energetic in the work of re-building the Temple under Josiah (2Kings 22:3), in conjunction with the high priest Hilkiah, and had taken an active part in publishing the contents of the newly-discovered book of the Law of the Lord (2Kings 23:12). As a scribe, he must have taken part in the king’s edicts for the restoration of the true worship, and probably also in ordering copies of the new-found treasure—the whole Law, or, more probably, the book of Deuteronomy—to be made by the scribes who worked under him. We have seen one of his sons, Ahikam, protecting the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 26:24. Here Gemariah places his chamber in the Temple court at the service of the prophet’s delegate. The “new gate” may well have been a prominent part of the wor!r effected by Shaphan and Hilkiah (2Kings 22:5-6), and this may have led to a chamber over it being assigned to his son. (See Note on Jeremiah 35:4.) The people addressed may have been either in the outer court of the Temple, or gathered outside the gate. A chamber over the gateway would naturally have an opening on either side. The general use of the word for “entry” is in favour of the latter hypothesis.
When Michaiah the son of Gemariah, the son of Shaphan, had heard out of the book all the words of the LORD,(11) When Michaiah the son of Gemariah . . .—Gemariah himself was, as we find in the next verse, not one of the listeners, but took his place with the other princes, in the “scribe’s chamber,” probably used as a council-room, in the king’s palace. It seems obvious from Michaiah’s relation to him that his purpose in reporting Baruch’s discourse was not unfriendly. Probably it was part of a preconcerted plan, arranged between the prophet and his friends, that he should report it, and so give an opening for bringing Baruch into the presence of the king and his counsellors, as they sat in what we may call their council-chamber.
Then he went down into the king's house, into the scribe's chamber: and, lo, all the princes sat there, even Elishama the scribe, and Delaiah the son of Shemaiah, and Elnathan the son of Achbor, and Gemariah the son of Shaphan, and Zedekiah the son of Hananiah, and all the princes.(12) And, lo, all the princes sat there.—The following particulars may be noted as to the princes thus named. Elishama may have been identical with the prince of that name in 2Kings 25:25, and, if so, was the grandfather of a man who afterwards plays a conspicuous part in the history of the prophet’s life (Jeremiah 41) He appears to have taken a purely official line, as scribe, standing neutral between the prophet and his opponents. Delaiah (the name signifies “the Lord delivers,” and is found as that of a priest in the time of David, 1Chronicles 24:18) joins Elnathan and Gemariah in pleading against the king’s destruction of the prophetic roll. The name Shemaiah, which appears here as that of his father, is found in Nehemiah 6:10 as belonging to a son of Delaiah, and this probably indicates relationship. On Elnathan, the son of Achbor, see Note on Jeremiah 26:22. On Gemariah, see Note on Jeremiah 36:10. Of Zedekiah nothing more is known, unless his father Hananiah be the prophet who opposes Jeremiah in Jeremiah 28:1-17.
Therefore all the princes sent Jehudi the son of Nethaniah, the son of Shelemiah, the son of Cushi, unto Baruch, saying, Take in thine hand the roll wherein thou hast read in the ears of the people, and come. So Baruch the son of Neriah took the roll in his hand, and came unto them.(14) Therefore all the princes sent Jehudi the son of Nethaniah. . . .—There must obviously have been some reason for the exceptionally long genealogy thus given. It is probably indicated by the first and last names on the list. Cushi ( = Ethiopian)—the name appears, probably with this sense, as that of a courier of Joab’s in 2Samuel 18:21—was an alien by birth, who, like Ebed-melech the Ethiopian (Jeremiah 38:7), had gained the favour of one of Jehoiakim’s predecessors, and had become a proselyte. The rule of Deuteronomy 23:8 did not admit of the full incorporation of the descendants of such proselytes—Edomite or Egyptian, the latter term being taken probably as including Ethiopian—till the third generation, and the name Jehudi ( = Jew) was naturally enough given to the child who first became entitled to that privilege. The part he takes in the proceedings, though not more than ministerial, indicates sympathy with the prophet, and we may perhaps connect this with the like sympathy shown by Ebed-melech in Jeremiah 38:7. In Psalm 87:4 (probably belonging to the reign of Hezekiah) we have, it may be noted, a record of the admission of such Ethiopian proselytes. The purpose of his mission was to bring Baruch to the council of princes, that they might judge, on hearing the contents of the roll, how far it corresponded with Michaiah’s report. He comes, the princes listen, and the impression made on them is given in Jeremiah 36:16. We note a tone of respect in the request that Baruch would “sit down”—i.e., take the attitude of a teacher (Luke 4:20).
Now it came to pass, when they had heard all the words, they were afraid both one and other, and said unto Baruch, We will surely tell the king of all these words.(16) They were afraid both one and other . . .—The words indicate a conflict of feelings. They were alarmed for themselves and their country as they heard, with at least a partial faith, the woes that were threatened as impending. They were alarmed also for the safety of the prophet and the scribe who had the boldness to utter those woes. They have no hostile purpose in communicating what they had heard to the king, but the matter had come to their official knowledge, and they had no alternative but to report it (Leviticus 5:1; Proverbs 29:24).
And they asked Baruch, saying, Tell us now, How didst thou write all these words at his mouth?(17-19) Tell us now, How didst thou write . . .?—The question was clearly put as a judicial interrogatory. The princes were anxious to ascertain how far each of the parties concerned was responsible. Had Baruch exercised any discretion in writing so that the words were his, though the substance was Jeremiah’s? or had he, on his own responsibility, and without the prophet’s will, published what had been written privately? or had every syllable as it was read come from the prophet’s lips? The scribe’s answer showed that the last hypothesis answered to the facts of the case. On hearing this they, obviously with a friendly regard, advise him and the prophet to hide themselves till they should see what effect the report would have on the king’s mind. It would appear from Jeremiah 36:19 that Jeremiah, though “shut up” and unable to go into the house of the Lord (Jeremiah 36:5), was not actually so imprisoned as to hinder him from concealing himself. Either, therefore, we must assume that he was in a “libera custodia,” that gave him facilities for an escape, which the princes connived at, or that by “shut up” he meant only hindered by some cause or other. The latter seems the more probable hypothesis. In the concealment of the prophet we find a parallel to that of Elijah and the other prophets under Ahab (1Kings 17:3; 1Kings 18:4), of Polycarp (Mart. Polyc. c. 5), perhaps also of Luther in the Wartburg.
And they went in to the king into the court, but they laid up the roll in the chamber of Elishama the scribe, and told all the words in the ears of the king.(20) They laid up the roll in the chamber of Elishama . . .—The step was a material one, from the official standpoint. If either the prophet or the disciple were to be prosecuted for what had been spoken, it was important that the corpus delicti should itself be ready for reference, whether on behalf of the accusers or accused. The precaution taken by the princes of lodging it with Elishama, as the scribe or keeper of the archives, indicates an apprehension that the king, in his passionate waywardness, might act as he actually did. They accordingly content themselves with reporting from memory the substance of what they had heard.
So the king sent Jehudi to fetch the roll: and he took it out of Elishama the scribe's chamber. And Jehudi read it in the ears of the king, and in the ears of all the princes which stood beside the king.(21) So the king sent Jehudi . . .—The prudence ci the counsellors was foiled by the king’s impatience. He was not satisfied with hearing a general report. He would have the words themselves.
Now the king sat in the winterhouse in the ninth month: and there was a fire on the hearth burning before him.(22) Now the king sat in the winterhouse in the ninth month.—The “winterhouse” (the palaces of kings seem to have been commonly provided with such a special apartment; comp. Amos 3:15) was probably the southern wing of the palace. It was in November or December, and, as glass windows were unknown, a charcoal fire, placed after the Eastern fashion in a brazier, or earthen pot, in the middle of the room, was a necessity. So we find a fire in the court of the high priest’s palace in the raw early morning of a Passover in March or April (John 18:18).
And it came to pass, that when Jehudi had read three or four leaves, he cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth.(23) Three or four leaves . . .—The English words suggest the idea of a papyrus book rather than a parchment roll (see Note on Jeremiah 36:4), but the Hebrew word (literally = a door) may indicate the column of writing on such a roll, as well as a leaf. The act, in its childish impatience, betrayed the anger of the king. He could not bear to hear of the seventy years of exile which were in store for his people, and which, if we assume the roll to have included the substance of Jeremiah 25, would have come into one of the earlier columns. The word for “pen-knife” is used generally for any sharp instrument of iron—for a razor (Ezekiel 5:1), and for a sword (Isaiah 7:20). Here it is the knife which was used to shape the reed, or calamus, used in writing. It should, perhaps, be noted that the Hebrew, like the English, leaves it uncertain whether the king himself cut and burnt the roll, or Jehudi with his approval. Jeremiah 36:25 is in favour of the former view. We are reminded, as we read the words, of like orders given by Antiochus Epiphanes for the destruction of the Law (1 Maccabees 1:56), by Diocletian for that of the sacred books of the Christians, perhaps also of those of the Court of Rome for the destruction of the writings of Wyclif and Luther.
Yet they were not afraid, nor rent their garments, neither the king, nor any of his servants that heard all these words.(24-25) Yet they were not afraid, nor rent their garments . . .—If we suppose that the “servants” are identical with the princes, these were the very men who, when they first heard the words, had been afraid, “both one and other.” Now the king’s presence restrains them, and they dare not show their alarm at the contents of the scroll, nor “rend their clothes” (comp. Matthew 26:65; Acts 14:14) at what must have seemed to them the sacrilege of burning a scroll that contained a message from Jehovah. Three only had the courage, though they did not show their abhorrence, to entreat the king to refrain from his impiety. (See Note on Jeremiah 36:12.) Possibly, however, the “servants” or “courtiers” are distinguished from the princes, and are specially named in the next verse.
But the king commanded Jerahmeel the son of Hammelech, and Seraiah the son of Azriel, and Shelemiah the son of Abdeel, to take Baruch the scribe and Jeremiah the prophet: but the LORD hid them.(26) But the king commanded Jerahmeel . . .—Instead of “the son of Hammelech,” we have to read, if we take the usual meaning of the words, “the king’s son,” as, indeed, the LXX. rightly renders it. The term would not imply more than that he belonged to the “royal house.” Jehoiakim was only twenty-five when he came to the throne, and could not have had a son old enough to execute the orders given to Jerahmeel. Of Seraiah nothing more is known. He is clearly not identical with the “quiet prince,” the son of Neriah, in Jeremiah 51:59. The name of Shelemiah appears in Jeremiah 37:3, as the father of Jehucal, who is first sent by Zedekiah to consult the prophet, and who afterwards arrested him (Jeremiah 38:1). It is probable in the nature of the case that they belonged to the party of the prophet’s enemies. The counsel of Jeremiah 36:19 had fortunately been given in time, and the attempt to seize the prophet and his scribe was, as we say, providentially frustrated.
Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, after that the king had burned the roll, and the words which Baruch wrote at the mouth of Jeremiah, saying,(27) Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.—This was probably during the concealment of the two friends, and to the command thus given we probably owe the present form of Jeremiah 25—perhaps, also, of the earlier chapters of the book. But, in addition to the reproduction of the judgment denounced upon the nation at large, there was now a special prediction as to Jehoiakim himself. (1) He was to have “none to sit upon the throne of David.” As a matter of fact, he was succeeded by his son Jehoiachin, or Jeconiah, but the reign of the boy-prince as a tributary king lasted for three months only, and Zedekiah, who succeeded him, was the brother and not the son of Jehoiakim (comp. Jeremiah 22:30). (2) His dead body was to be “cast out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost.” The same prediction is found in Jeremiah 22:18-19, written probably after the incident thus recorded. See Note there as to its fulfilment.
Then took Jeremiah another roll, and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah; who wrote therein from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire: and there were added besides unto them many like words.(32) And there were added besides unto them many like words.—The passage is interesting as showing, as it were, the genesis of the present volume of the prophet’s writings. The discourse delivered in the Temple court was, in modern phrase, revised and enlarged, dictated to Baruch as before, and in this shape has probably come down to us in Jeremiah 25.