“When You Read This”

Jeremiah 36

This chapter moves back in time to give greater depth to theme of cavalier disdain for the grace of divine revelation. God’s words, infinitely valuable, are disregarded as an imposition on the will and futile opinions of men. Zedekiah had punished Jeremiah for his faithful delivery of God’s word (Jeremiah 32). Prophecies of exile for faithless and rebellious living and restoration on account of divine purpose had continued (33, 34). Before the time of Zedekiah (35:1) the example of the faithfulness of the Rechabites to the command of an ancestor had been set before Israel’s leadership. Now this chapter gives a striking example of the disdain Judah and its king had for the word of God. It contains a strong picture of the verbal inspiration of the written word of God. Also, it reports one of the most brazen and aggressive instances of pure petulance against God’s word. From God, Jeremiah the prophet received words to inscribe on a scroll, and Baruch then served as a scribe to record verbatim what Jeremiah spoke. Jehoiakim’s destruction of the scroll of Jeremiah (36:1–32) pictures a staggering contrast to the simple fidelity and humble submission of the Rechabites. This presents a striking irony in the construction of the book. This immediate and aggressive disobedience and despising of the word of God, in contrast to a familial faithfulness to the word of man (35:9), establish the bedrock setting to the entire prophetic ministry of Jeremiah. The hope of repentance is swallowed up by the recalcitrance of disobedience.

I. God told Jeremiah to write all of the words the Lord had spoken against Israel and Judah (1–3).

This would involve all the prophecies written during the time of Josiah and until the fourth year of Jehoiakim. Later others related to Zedekiah.

A. Jeremiah was to record all of God’s prophecies since the time of King Josiah (1–2).

This would mean that God would bring to Jeremiah’s remembrance all that he had said over the past twenty-three years. He spoke these things not only about Judah, but about the nations. This is consistent with the promise Jesus gave the apostles in John 14:26 and 16:13. Paul refers to this same phenomenon in 1 Corinthians 2:10–12. Peter gives voice to this in 2 Peter 1:20, 21 and shows that the prophetic mantle had fallen on the apostles (1:19; 3:1, 2).

B. God intended these writings to move his people to repentance (36:3).

The threat of judgment has the capacity to bring men to fear and solicitation for mercy (1 Kings 21:27–29). “Perhaps the house of Judah will hear all the calamity which I plan to bring on them” (3). This means “hear with understanding and obedience.” The realty was that they had ears to hear but heard not.

C. This same intent was announced with the prophecies four years earlier at the beginning of Jehoiakim’s reign (26:1–6).

“Perhaps they will listen, and everyone will turn from his evil way, that I may repent of the calamity which I am planning to do to them” (26:3). At that time, Jeremiah announced his words in the court of the Lord’s house, but now he has been restricted.

II. Jeremiah enlisted Baruch to write the words of the prophecy and read the scroll to the people (36: 4–8).

This is another event that took place in the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim (See 25:1–7). “I have spoken to you again and again,” Jeremiah announced, “but you have not listened” (25:3).

A. Baruch was to fulfil what Jeremiah was prohibited from doing.

“I am restricted,” he told Baruch; “I cannot go into the house of the Lord” (5). This could be the result of the event described about Uriah the prophet in 26:20-24. Uriah was hunted down in Egypt, brought back to Jerusalem, and killed by Jehoiakim. Jeremiah, however, was protected by Ahikam.

B. Since it was on a fast day (6), Jeremiah thought that the people might be more susceptible to the necessity of repentance.

On that day, people would be gathered from many other cities of Judah (6).

C. Again this is done that the disaster prophesied might be averted—“Perhaps … everyone will turn from his evil way” (7).

The word of God is sent with an open, frank, earnest, and true to call to repentance; both provisions and promises are true. If it is not accompanied with effectual power to produce the result called for, it makes the word no less true and human responsibility no less real. If God leaves the hearers to their own moral capacities and their own heart-propensities, that is exactly what the godless man demands. He wants no “bullying” from God, but to be content with his own free will. When we get the “free will” that we want, the destruction is inevitable.

III. Baruch fulfilled his commission to read the words of the prophecy to the people of Judah (36:9–19).

A. Baruch read the scroll in the Temple, near the New Gate (9, 10), in the chamber of Gemariah, son of Shaphan (2 Kings 22:8–13).

Evidently, he thought this a safe place in light of the hostility he anticipated. From the first encounter of calling from the Lord, Jeremiah had been promised opposition (1:7–19). At the same time and for these instances of hostility, Jeremiah had been promised that he would be a “fortified city and an iron pillar.”

B. Michaiah, son of Gemariah and grandson of Shaphan, reported Baruch’s activity to the scribes and other officials in the king’s house (11–13).

He reported “all the words that he had heard” when Baruch read what Jeremiah had dictated. 

C. The princes of Judah bid Baruch to read the scroll to them (14–19).

They responded in fear and determined to report the words to the king. Seemingly, their fear arose from the judgment pronounced by Jeremiah, and probably their desire to tell the king involved a hope that he would lead the nation in repentance (36:25). The words read would be very similar to those found in 25:8–29. In case Jehoiakim maintained his defensive and insolent spirit, they knew that they needed to arrange for the protection of Jeremiah and Baruch. “Go, hide yourself, you and Jeremiah, and do not let anyone know where you are” (19).

IV. King Jehoiakim, contrasted to Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:19–21, 27), as the scroll was read column by column, Jehoiakim cut the scroll into pieces and cast the fragments in the fire (36:23–25).

V. The king ordered the arrest of Baruch and Jeremiah (26).

The faithful messenger of the word of God must always realize that people will not like those parts that set forth the legitimate anger of God toward our sin. Those parts that set forth human corruption, human rebellion, that call for repentance will inevitably be seen as irrational, judgmental, and unbearable in the opinion of the worldly-minded. The apostles of the New Testament were told that they would face opposition and even death for the sake of the gospel. This attitude of Jehoiakim was duplicated by the Jews that heard Stephen preach in Acts 7.

VI. God commanded Jeremiah to write the prophecy on another scroll (36:28–32).

A. Jehoiakim’s reprehensible resistance to the grace of divine revelation and a call to repentance received an increased intensity of judgment from God. Each opportunity for repentance when rejected stores up wrath (Romans 2:4–11). 

  1. The scroll of the words of God having been destroyed, Jeremiah dictated another scroll with the same words, but the judgment on Jehoiakim was added. Jehoiakim denied that Babylon would serve as an instrument of punishment (29).
  2. Added to the scroll were the prophecies of the inglorious death and treatment of Jehoiakim. His son, Jehoiachin ruled for three months and ten days before being deposed by Nebuchadnezzar and replaced by Jehoiakim’s brother Zedekiah.
  3. Also the fierceness of the attack of Babylon was reiterated. Consequent to their impenitence even under clear and detailed warning, the nation remained under terrible judgment (31).

B. Jeremiah and Baruch obeyed the Lord (32).

They did again what they had done before in dictating and writing on a new scroll. Upon the snarling contempt that Jehoiakim had manifested, “many similar words were added” to the initial warnings and descriptions of judgment.

C. Scripture is “Graphe,” that which is written.

The Bible claims its own status as the Word of God. Not only was the original scroll duplicated but expanded. Paul affirmed that “All Scripture” is given by inspiration of God. He told the Ephesians, “He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) … as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 3:3–5).

VII. Observations about the Lesson Passage:

A. Ungodly men hate the word of God. King Jehoiakim, after four years of ruling Judah, had little patience with Jeremiah’s writings.

Certainly, the king must have known of the preaching of the prophet, but the written word seemed to engender particular irritation. 

B. The destruction of the scroll of Baruch did not alter the message God sent to Judah.

God’s word is unchangeable and inviolable (Hebrews 4:12, 13; Isaiah 55:6–13). When they re-wrote the scroll the judgments on Jehoiakim personally were added. 

C. Baruch and Jeremiah remained patient and steadfast in their task.

The initial manuscript of the scroll may have taken months to produce; nevertheless, when the king destroyed the scroll, these two godly men simply went back to work on a replacement copy. The text gives not the slightest hint of irritation or agitation. They did not retaliate or chafe at the king’s foolish and destructive actions; rather, they just continued to obey God. 

D. The two servants of the Lord left the king in the hands of the Lord. So often, when God’s servants experience hardship and opposition to their work, they may be tempted to grow discouraged or angry.

Jeremiah and Baruch gave no indication of such attitudes. They remained faithful to their task, despite the hardships they endured. Moreover, they left their vindication in the hands of the Lord. 

Servants of God’s word bear a burden unrelenting.
Truth and grace combine to give death or life eternal.
Hearers of the word may be hard and unrepenting;
Softened hearts may hear and find hope with joy supernal.

Those who would destroy find the word of God resilient,
Sharper than two blades and more piercing than an arrow,
Granting life to trust and to darkened minds truth’s brilliance,
Lightening the path for the way is straight and narrow.

Prophets spoke the truth and then wrote it for the future.
Preachers now proclaim with persuasion and conviction.
Doctrine and reproof taught with patience is soul nurture,
Sin forgiven now, and when raised we gain perfection.

Love the word in truth for by it our feet trod safely. 
Treasure ev’ry line for the triune God indwells it.
Hide it in your heart; its transforming power shapes you,
By the Spirit’s work, truth invincible compels it.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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