Jeremiah 36
Jeremiah 36 Kingcomments Bible Studies

The Writing of the Scroll

The word of the LORD comes to Jeremiah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim (Jer 36:1; cf. Jer 25:1; Jer 46:2). That is the year when Egypt is defeated by Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar becomes king. It is the beginning of the Babylonian empire. That empire is the tool in God’s hand to discipline Judah, as well as other nations, for their attitude toward Him.

Jeremiah not only spoke, but also wrote (Jer 30:2). The written word gives the spoken word supporting and enduring power. The LORD instructs him to write down all the words He spoke to him in the previous thirty-five chapters (Jer 36:2). It covers the period from the thirteenth year of Josiah (Jer 1:2) to the fourth year of Jehoiakim, which is a span of twenty-three years.

In doing so, the LORD gives the people another chance and proves a new and great mercy to His people. All the calamity that He has pronounced has had the intention of bringing His people to repentance (Jer 36:3). That this is the purpose we see in Josiah who also, on hearing all the calamity that the LORD foretold, humbled himself deeply before Him (2Chr 34:26-27). What is written down is the totality of all the prophecies spoken. If these are successively recited to the people one more time, it will perhaps make an even greater impression than the prophecies pronounced individually. In this way, the total package of judgments is brought to the attention of the people.

Jeremiah does what the LORD has instructed him to do (Jer 36:4). He calls Baruch, and he writes down in a scroll all the words of Jeremiah, which are expressly called “all the words of the LORD which He had spoken to him”. This is an example of the word-for-word inspiration of Scripture. We will see later the authority of the Word and the imperishability of the Word.

Paul usually dictated his letters (Rom 16:22; Col 4:18). The letter to the Galatians he wrote himself, which does seem to be an exception (Gal 6:11). God distributes His gifts differently. Some have a good talent for speaking and others for writing. Thus the gifts need each other (cf. 1Cor 12:21). The Spirit of God dictates to Jeremiah and Jeremiah dictates to Baruch, who was used by Jeremiah as a witness in the purchase of the field (Jer 32:12). Baruch is now his secretary and deputy in the prophetic office.

Command to Read the Scroll Aloud

Then Jeremiah tells Baruch that he himself cannot come to the house of the LORD to read the words of the scroll (Jer 36:5). What causes this is not clear. Jeremiah has not yet been captured and can still move freely among the people (Jer 36:19). Since he cannot go to the temple himself, he orders Baruch to go and read the scroll in the house of the LORD (Jer 36:6).

If one servant is indisposed, it is nice if another servant can take over the service. The LORD uses Jeremiah to pass on His words and He uses Baruch to write them down and he may now preach them. Thus, each servant of the Word is given his own task. Baruch is a servant of Jeremiah, but also an instrument of the LORD.

Thus, Paul sends co-workers to churches, which he cannot visit himself. These co-workers pass on in his place what he wants to tell them. These are not always new things, but sometimes things he has told them before (1Cor 4:17).

What Baruch is to read are the words of the LORD, not his own words. In this chapter we see the importance of the written Word and how important it is to preach only that. Baruch is to preach it in the house of the LORD on a fast day, that is, in God’s presence and on a day when the people are fasting. What prompted this day of fasting is not said. Keeping a day of fasting presupposes the consciousness of misery. But this can easily be an outward display and not a matter of the heart (Isa 58:1-14; Mt 6:16-18).

Jeremiah tells Baruch that the reading of the words of the LORD will possibly work a supplication to the LORD among the people and that they will repent (Jer 36:7). The word “will come” has the meaning of falling down and indicates the attitude of the supplicant. The supplication and the supplicant are identified, as it were. Jeremiah can hardly imagine that they will do this, because the anger and the wrath of the LORD against His people is so great.

Although the actual reading will not take place for several months, as the next verse makes clear, it already says here that Baruch does what Jeremiah has said (Jer 36:8). Baruch obeys because he acknowledges that Jeremiah’s command is according to the LORD’s will. He sees that the LORD is leading Jeremiah. Baruch meticulously carries out the command in all respects, what he is to do, at what time and in what place.

The Public Reading

Then a year later the day of fasting comes, the day set by Jeremiah to read his words (Jer 36:9; Jer 36:6). There is talk here of a special fast. This fast takes place in the ninth month, while the fast on the day of atonement takes place on the tenth day of the seventh month (Lev 16:29; Lev 23:27-32). This fast may have been proclaimed to ward off the impending attack of Nebuchadnezzar. On this occasion, it can be assumed that the people will be more receptive to the words of the LORD, while there will also be a greater number of people gathered to hear those words.

Baruch is given the use of Gemariah’s chamber (Jer 36:10). Gemariah is the son of Shaphan. Shaphan helped Josiah restore the temple (2Kgs 22:3-10). Gemariah has a chamber above the gate so that Baruch can read from there to all who enter the temple compound through the gate. That Gemariah makes his chamber available seems to indicate that he supports Baruch’s message.

Reading to the Officials

Gemariah has a son, Micaiah, who hears the words of the LORD (Jer 36:11). It is beautiful to see that line of grandfather (Shaphan), father (Gemariah) and son (Micaiah), all of whom have a connection to the Word of God. Micaiah is moved by what he hears. It causes him to go to the scribe’s chamber where all the officials are sitting (Jer 36:12).

He tells them all that he has heard from the scroll that Baruch read (Jer 36:13). If we have heard God’s words, and if they have affected and edified us, we will gladly communicate them to others who have not heard them for their edification.

Micaiah is a young man, but one who is taken seriously. He must have been known as trustworthy and God-fearing. The officials don’t say they don’t believe him, but take action after his report (Jer 36:14). They send Jehudi out to get Baruch with his scroll. Why don’t they go to Baruch themselves? Are they ashamed to go into the midst of the people and listen together with them to the words of God? This is also the way Zedekiah later acts when he secretly sends for Jeremiah.

Baruch does not hesitate, but comes directly to them with the scroll in his hand. This is brave, because he knows that the scroll does not contain a pleasant message and he knows the unruly nature of the officials. Then they ask him to sit down and read the scroll to them (Jer 36:15). Baruch does as he is asked, without reproach that they could have come to the gate anyway to hear it there and spare him this double work. He did it fearlessly before the people, he now does it fearlessly before the leaders of the people.

We do not hear what impression the reading of the scroll made on the people. We do read what the effect of the Word is on the officials. When they hear all the words, they become afraid (Jer 36:16). They do know the message of Jeremiah. They will often have shrugged it off, but now the words impress them. They cannot hide their fear, but show it to each other. It is not clear whether it is fear of the LORD or fear of the king. In any case, the words do not bring them to a confession before the LORD, but to a making known of the words to the king. He is to be informed of them.

Then they want to know how Baruch wrote down all these words from Jeremiah’s mouth (Jer 36:17). It seems more like a technical question than the question of a convinced conscience. Baruch’s answer is simple (Jer 36:18). There is nothing startling about it. The officials acknowledge the danger Jeremiah and Baruch face for their lives when Jehoiakim hears these words. They advise them to hide. God can still use people who have some appreciation for His Word, but do not repent, for His work and the protection of His servants (cf. Acts 19:31).

The officials know their king (Jer 36:19). They fear that his anger will kindle and that both Baruch and Jeremiah will be put to death if he knows where they are. Therefore, they tell Baruch that he and Jeremiah should hide. Just as Ahab diligently sought Elijah during the terrible drought to kill him (1Kgs 18:10), so too will Jehoiakim rage against them. The LORD, however, takes care of His servants.

Jehoiakim Hears the Scroll and Burns It

What happens next is so shocking and upsetting that Jeremiah describes everything in detail. The officials go to the king (Jer 36:20). They do not take the scroll with them, but put it away in the scribe’s chamber. They apparently know the contents so well that they can make what is written in the scroll known to the king. However, the king wants to see the scroll himself (Jer 36:21). He sends Jehudi out to get the scroll. Jehudi takes it from the scribe Elishama’s chamber. Twice it is said that the scroll is there. When Jehudi is back with the king, he reads from it. The king and all the officials hear the contents again. The officials are confronted with it for the third time.

The king sits in his winter palace (Jer 36:22; Amos 3:15). He sits there doing nothing. Perhaps he is thinking about how he can assure himself of a good life. Then he is confronted with the Word of God, the thoughts of God, thoughts that go against his plans. It is winter time. The ninth month is our month of December. That explains why he is sitting at a fire burning in the brazier before him. Outside it is cold; but also his heart is as cold as ice.

When Jehudi has read a portion of the LORD’s words, the king cuts that portion off and throws it into the fire that was in the brazier (Jer 36:23). He does not have the patience that the officials have to listen to the reading until everything is read. When he has heard the contents of “three or four columns”, he cuts them off the scroll in anger with a scribe’s knife – the knife with which the scribe sharpens his pen – and throws the columns, one by one, into the fire. [Note: In the old days, people did not write on stone tablets or on clay tablets, but on papyrus. A scroll consisted of papyrus sheets glued together and was written on in columns. ]

So it goes on until the entire roll is consumed by the fire and he is sure that there is nothing left of it. This is how thoroughly he proceeds. It is an act of supreme blasphemy and deepest contempt for God’s revelation in His written Word. Jehoiakim is doing the opposite of what God has said in the law, that the king himself should write for himself a copy of the law on a scroll in order to get to know it and rule in accordance with it (Deu 17:18).

In his folly he thinks that by doing so he is nullifying the threats that have been proclaimed against him, as if God cannot execute the verdict because the scroll is gone, in which the verdict was written down. What we think of the Bible and how we treat it has no effect on the Bible itself. What Jehoiakim does happens daily with all truths that do not please a man. Anything that hinders a man in his complacent life is cut out of God’s Word. Portions about the judgment of God are left out.

A lot of preachers preach only pleasant things, nice promises, but refuse to speak about judgment. They speak of God as a God of love Who will not send anyone to hell. But no matter what we delete from the Bible, it does not change God’s Word. Our contempt does not change God’s judgment. Jezebel opposed God’s Word, but her opposition did not change the fact that she became, as God said, food for the dogs (2Kgs 9:10; 35-36).

The coming of Christ to judge and establish His kingdom is not believed, but mocked (2Pet 3:3). This also cuts off the rapture of the church, which God’s Word clearly teaches (1Thes 4:15-18). The bodily resurrection is also denied (1Cor 15:12-23), as is the different place that man and woman have in God’s order of creation and also when the church comes together. The same goes for sexuality to be experienced only within marriage between that one man and that one woman, and for reverence for life at the beginning and the end. This is all being cut off.

Man judges everything by his own standards. He does not realize that he is guided by satan in doing so. Everything is thrown into the fire of his own judgment. And what about the commission to preach the gospel to all people? Have we cut that off too? And always pray? Do we do that? That too is a command of the Lord. If we don’t, we’ve cut it off. Do we listen to what the Bible says about our tongue (Jam 3:1-12)? If not, we have cut it off. We all so easily wield the scribe’s knife of our own opinions, sometimes without even realizing it.

The king cuts up God’s Word without batting an eye (Jer 36:24). Even his servants stand by and do not turn pale because of the unprecedented disregard for the LORD’s words shown by the king, the king of God’s people! They do not rend their garments, as Josiah, this Jehoiakim’s own father, does, when the book of the law is read to him (2Kgs 22:11). They do the opposite. What is for Josiah the find of his life is treated with the utmost contempt by Jehoiakim and all his servants.

Even earlier, the officials looked at each other anxiously when they heard the words read out (Jer 36:16). There is no sign that the word of the LORD has worked anything in them. That is the consequence of not separating oneself from evil. Jehoiakim and the officials resemble modern translators and modern theologians who also treat the Word of God without respect and with contempt. We are just as good Christians as we have love for the Bible. In other words, the measure of love for the Bible determines the measure or quality of being a Christian.

A few servants still made a weak protest (Jer 36:25). But people in the wrong position are powerless to act against a prevailing evil. Think of Lot in Sodom. The protest is more of a soothing of one’s own conscience. Those who are truly upset at the dishonor done to God will leave a fellowship that treats God and His Word with such contempt. Respect for God’s Word is demonstrated by obedience to God’s Word. God’s Word calls us to come out of a fellowship that refuses to judge evil, sin. It is either to remove the evil one (1Cor 5:13b), or to leave that fellowship if the evil one is not removed (2Tim 2:19-21).

Jehoiakim commands to seize Baruch and Jeremiah (Jer 36:26). He has destroyed their penmanship, now he wants to kill them as well, so that they can no longer do their work. After destroying the written testimony, the witnesses themselves must then be killed. We also see this attitude with the chief priests regarding the gospel when the church has just come into existence (Acts 4:17). The command of Jehoiakim cannot be carried out because Baruch and Jeremiah are untraceable because the LORD hid them. The officials can advise that they hide (Jer 36:19), but they cannot and dare not provide safety and protection. That is what the LORD does (Psa 31:20).

The Command to Write Again

The LORD is not embarrassed by the action of Jehoiakim. When the king has done His devastating work of burning the words from Jeremiah’s mouth that Baruch wrote down, He speaks again to Jeremiah (Jer 36:27). He has hidden both of His servants to use them again. He instructs them to take another scroll and write on it “all the former words that were on the first scroll which Jehoiakim the king of Judah burned” (Jer 36:28). It is with it as with the broken stone tablets of the law: on the two new stone tablets come all the words of the first tablets (Deu 10:4a).

The scroll rises again from the ashes, as it were, as a symbol of the indestructibility of God’s Word and that it is ineradicable. Throughout the history of mankind enemies of God have all tried by all means to remove God’s Word from the world. All attempts have failed. It is both futile and foolish to oppose the Word of God.

The Condemnation of Jehoiakim

Jeremiah is also instructed to tell Jehoiakim of the judgment. We hear here why Jehoiakim burned the scroll (Jer 36:29). He has accused Jeremiah that he has written that the king of Babylon will bring judgment on “this land” and on man and beast living in the land. He does not want such a message. He wants to hear of no judgment. The judgment on Jehoiakim speaks of the LORD’s great contempt for the man who has so scorned Him (Jer 36:30). Those who scorn Him will be scorned by Him.

Jehoiakim will have no successor on the throne and he himself will have no burial. The fact that his son Jeconiah reigned for three months after him cannot be called a reign. Nebuchadnezzar takes him captive after three months and carries him off to Babylon

He, his descendants, and his servants, all of whom have shared in his evil, will all be punished by the LORD (Jer 36:31). Over them and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the men of Judah the LORD brings the calamity that He has spoken, but to which they have not listened. God’s Word abides forever. It cannot be burned.

The Words Written Anew

After the judgment announcement on Jehoiakim, Jeremiah and Baruch do what the LORD has said (Jer 36:32). Jeremiah speaks all the words and Baruch writes them down. Not one of God’s words will remain unfulfilled (Mt 5:18). The Spirit of God brings to Jeremiah’s mind all his speeches and prophecies. This makes the burning of the scroll by Jehoiakim a meaningless action. The Word of God endures forever. Words are even added to it. These include the words of this chapter, which mentions the judgment on Jehoiakim. God records everything, and what we need to know, He has communicated to us in His Word.

Whoever loves God, loves His Word. Whoever says he loves God, but does not read His Word, is a liar. Such a person loves his own God. We do not need new songs and other forms of religion, but a revival of love for the Word of God. Everything God does, He does through His Word (Psa 33:6; 9). If that is a reality for us, we will read, study and live out the Word.

When the Lord Jesus is on earth, He lives by it and defends Himself with it. He says: “It is written”, and that ends all contradiction (Mt 4:1-11). That is how it should be in our lives. The Word of God and that alone gives the victory over the temptations of the devil. All misery comes because we do not want to base our lives on God’s Word. If we hide the Word in our heart, we will not sin (Psa 119:11). Someone is a good Christian according to God if he abides in the Word and lives by it.

© 2023 Author G. de Koning

All rights reserved. No part of the publications may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.

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