Gordon L. Bissett, Penarth, Cardiff, Wales
the Preaching Scribe or ‘I cannot go . . . you go’, Jer. 36. 1-6.
He had never done anything like this before! Baruch was a scribe, deft with scroll and pen, and with limitless patience to spell out, letter-by-letter, word-by-word, whatever was dictated to him; but to go out in public and read aloud what the prophet had dictated – that was a challenge indeed! For Baruch had no illusions; he well knew, from having watched Jeremiah’s total unpopularity, what a herald of the word of God might have to suffer on account of the message he bore.
God had chosen Jeremiah before he was born, Jer. 1. 5, and on calling him, the Lord warned him of the frightening opposition he would encounter, vv. 17-19. This opposition would be tolerable only because of the Lord’s promise of His presence. What a pathway of stress and sorrow the prophet was about to tread, a pathway of rejection, hatred, false accusations, threats of death, and now imprisonment. Then, when his enemies may well have thought that the disturbing voice of the prophet had been effectively silenced, the Lord spoke to Jeremiah, telling him to commit to writing all that he had preached to the rebellious city.
To aid him in this task Jeremiah called for Baruch the scribe, and as the prophet spoke by inspiration, Baruch painstakingly penned the word of the Lord letter by letter. This was no ‘general impression’ or interpretation that Jeremiah had ‘deduced’ from what the Lord spoke. These were ‘the words of the Lord’, a phrase used three times by the prophet, vv. 6, 8; and 1. 1. This was verbal inspiration.
Then came the shock for Baruch. He was to go out and read to the public, ‘all the words of the Lord’, vv. 5, 6. He obeyed; brave man! The impact of his reading on the minds of the hearers, like the ripples on a pond caused by a falling stone, reached as far as the ears of the king himself in his palace, vv. 10-21.
A young man, Michaiah, hearing Baruch reading the words of the Lord in the temple precincts, hurried in to the palace to ‘the scribes’ chamber’, where his father Gemariah, one of the princes, was sitting in a group of those important men. With what excitement he must have related what he had heard! The princes, impressed by his account, sent for Baruch, who came, scroll in hand, and read to them all the words of the Lord, v. 15. This resulted in their being ‘afraid’, v. 16. In this they were evidently more discerning than others who, in the company of the king, did nothing to restrain the wicked Jehoiakim from burning the inspired scroll.
Yet, their fears made the princes doubt that this ominous message really was the work of the prophet Jeremiah. Had Baruch composed it himself? v. 17. In a later incident the still unbelieving leaders of rebellion accused Baruch of having misled the prophet Jeremiah with a false prophecy of his own invention, 43. 3. Such blind unbelief reminds us of the incredulity of the Jews on seeing the blind man miraculously healed by the Lord in John chapter 9 verses 18 to 26. They could not bring themselves to believe the man’s own testimony! They advised Baruch and Jeremiah to go and hide, while they took the scroll right to the king himself. That wicked man mockingly cut off pieces of the scroll, column by column, burning the sacred writing in the palace fireplace. What must Baruch have felt on hearing that his hours of careful labour had been so lightly dismissed?
People in the West do not often burn Bibles, but their unbelief in the word of God is shown in other ways, less dramatic but equally sinful. Today they simply ignore the Bible, and neither know nor care what it says. This presents a very real difficulty to the gospel preacher as he seeks to be effective in presenting God’s message to the people. But we also need to challenge ourselves as believers in Christ. Are we moved as much as we ought to be when the word of God exposes our lukewarmness, the sporadic nature of our enthusiasm for the Lord, our lack of loyalty to the struggling local church?
When Baruch read the words of the Lord in public, it aroused considerable interest. Let us read the scriptures in public with such reverence, conviction, and clarity, that the listeners may understand that this is the word of God! The keen young preacher may be tempted to hurry through his scripture reading, eager to get on with his comments about the portion read, as if they were really more important than the word of God. This is patently a misjudgment of the power of God’s word alone to speak to human hearts.
Baruch’s labour was not in vain. At God’s command Jeremiah dictated all the contents of the first roll once again, and Baruch, with the same tireless patience, wrote down the same inspired message of warning, v. 31 The prophecy was tragically fulfilled, Jerusalem falling into the hands of the Babylonians with all the awful consequences that the prophet had foretold.
We now need to turn to the aftermath of the events we have been speaking of and also to consider the meaning of the words, ‘Do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them’, Jer. 45. 5.
Baruch’s spoken testimony had been faithfully completed. The Lord had hidden him and Jeremiah from the wrath of the king, 36. 26. Now the import of the prophet’s words became a terrifying reality in Baruch’s mind; he himself was living under the shadow of that impending disaster, 45. 3. He had seen Jeremiah’s distress as he warned the unbelieving city again and again of what was going to happen; now Baruch tastes in some degree the same anguish, as did the prophet.
But what ‘great things for himself’ had Baruch been dreaming of? We are not told, but the words of the Lord’s command to him, ‘Seek them not’, has rung down through the ages to all believers who would aspire to position, prominence or popularity in a godless, condemned world. However, in Jeremiah chapter 51 verse 59 we see a possible hint of what was in his mind.
Baruch’s brother Seraiah, had become an official in the court of the puppet king Zedekiah, v. 59. The Authorized Version calls him a ‘quiet prince’, whereas the NKJV calls him the ‘quartermaster’, as does the RSV. One Spanish version calls him the ‘manager’, and another, the ‘chamberlain’. By all accounts he held a position of some importance, with a measure of security in the precarious situation of the royal household. Was that the kind of advancement that Baruch secretly hoped for? If so, Jeremiah’s inspired message to him saved Baruch from deportation to Babylon, for when king Zedekiah was ignominiously led off into captivity, Seraiah went with him as part of the king’s household!
To Baruch God gave one word of consolation, ‘I will give your life to you as a prize’, 45. 5. So the Lord brought both Baruch and Jeremiah safely out of the horrors of the last days of Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar gave specific orders for Jeremiah to be kept safe, 39. 11-12, and apparently Baruch was in the prophet’s company at that time and was also spared, for we read of him in subsequent chapters.
Finally, we must turn to ourselves and ask some very important questions. What is our real hope and interest here on earth? Our Lord warned His disciples, saying, ‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth’. The apostle John says, ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world’, 1 John 2. 15, and he adds the fatal diagnosis, ‘if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him’ AV. The apostle Peter warns us of coming judgement for a wicked world, 2 Pet. 3. 7, and in verse 10, ‘but the day of the Lord will come’, then adds the challenge, ‘what manner of persons ought you to be?’
Are we, like Baruch, seeking great things for ourselves in this wicked, godless world? The word of the Lord would leap out at us afresh today from Jeremiah chapter 45 verse 5, ‘Do not seek them’.