Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentJEREMIAH 36
GOD'S WORD WRITTEN IN A BOOK;
THE BOOK READ TO THE PEOPLE, TO THE PRINCES, AND TO THE KING;
THE BOOK BURNED BY THE KING; AND THE BOOK REWRITTEN
The chapter heading here also serves as a list of the chapter divisions.
It was a critical hour in Israel's history. The Babylonians had just defeated the Egyptians in the Battle of Carchemish and were at that time moving into Palestine. "The crisis was at hand, and it was the psychological moment for Jeremiah to make a last-minute appeal for Jerusalem and Judea to repent and turn to the Lord."F1
Jehoiachim, however, hated Babylon. He was a vassal of Egypt, for the moment compelled to be instead a vassal of Babylon; but he was planning a revolt. He had evidently appointed a fast day to lead the people in mourning over that Chaldean victory which had made him and Jerusalem tributary to Babylon, with the purpose, no doubt, of fomenting opposition to Nebuchadnezzar.
Jeremiah himself, however, was for the time restrained from appearing in the Temple; and that situation prompted the commandment of God to convert all of his prophecies to a written record, and the commandment for them to be read to the people in the Temple.
Before exploring the text of the chapter, we wish to reject a couple of critical allegations which radicals have attempted to fasten upon it.
(1) First, there is the proposition proposed by Robinson, namely, that, "The circumstances throw light on the origin of written prophecy,"F2 even calling this "The first roll written!" There is no truth whatever in such statements. There was, in the days of Jeremiah, absolutely nothing new, either in the science and industry of writing, nor in the writing of Biblical prophecies. That Jeremiah should have dictated to a professional scribe the words of his prophecies, and that the scribe wrote them in one of the customary rolls, either of papyrus or the skins of animals, both of which had been in use for centuries, as Graybill wrote, "was normal for the times."F3
"Herodotus relates that the Ionians, from the earliest period, wrote on goat and sheepskins; and as the Hebrews were familiar with dressing skins at the time of their departure from Egypt, there is every reason to believe that Moses employed such materials in writing the Pentateuch."F4 Donald J. Wiseman authored an extensive eight-page article in the New Bible Dictionary, affirming that "the science of writing is at least as old as 3,100 B.C."; "writing is mentioned more than 450 times in the Bible"; "The Bible states that Moses wrote the Decalogue (Exodus 17:14), the words of God (Exodus 24:4), the Torah (Joshua 8:31), Deut. (24:1), all the statutes and judgments (Exodus 34:27), the legal enactments (Deuteronomy 24:1), the details of all the journeys of the Israelites (Numbers 33:2), etc., etc."F5
Centuries before Moses, the laws of Hammurabi were inscribed on a solid block of granite (black diorite) eight feet high, which was discovered at Susa in 1902! Furthermore, there are at least two instances of writing long before Hammurabi! These facts are mentioned in an article by W. J. Martin in the New Bible Dictionary, pp. 501,502.
(2) The other critical canard is the allegation that, it must have been a very small collection of prophecies, because they were all read three times in a single day! Indeed, indeed! And where is there anything in the sacred text that supports a notion like that? The events described here are a summary; and all of the events mentioned probably took place over a period of several days. It evidently took several months to conclude the extensive Book of Jeremiah's prophecies. Also we have the repeated statement that "all the words of Jeremiah" (Jeremiah 35:13) were read some three times, with the exception noted in the text itself that the king did not wait to hear "all the words" but acted promptly to burn it. It is an unfounded and purely gratuitous "guess" that all of these things happened in one day, or even in one week. The text gives no hint whatever of the time frame in which these things happened.
GOD COMMANDS THE BOOK TO BE WRITTEN
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 Jehovah, saying, 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. 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.
The date of the chapter is firmly fixed in the fourth year of Jehoiachim. "This was the year 604 B.C., following the victory of Nebuchadnezzar over the Egyptians at Carchemish."F6 "It is scarcely a coincidence that it was in this very month of December that the Babylonians assaulted, captured, and sacked Ashkelon on the Philistine plain; and not long afterward, Jehoiachim was forced to become a vassal of Babylon."F7 Halley further described the historical situation.
"Jeremiah at that time had been prophesying 23 years, from the 13th year of Josiah to the fourth year of Jehoiachim. The purpose was to have Baruch read a copy of all Jeremiah's prophecies to the people at a time when Jeremiah had apparently been banned from the temple area. It took a year or so to write the prophecies. Its reading made a profound impression on some of the princes, but the king reacted angrily, burning the roll in the fire."F8
THE READING OF THE BOOK TO THE PEOPLE
Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah; and Baruch wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of Jehovah, which he had spoken unto him, upon a roll of a book. And Jeremiah commanded Baruch, saying, I am shut up; I cannot go into the house of Jehovah: therefore go thou, and read in the roll, which thou hast written from my mouth, the words of Jehovah in the ears of the people in Jehovah's house upon the fast-day; and also thou shalt read them in the ears of all Judah that come out of their cities. It may be they will present their supplication before Jehovah, and will return every one from his evil way; for great is the anger and the wrath that Jehovah hath pronounced against this people. And Baruch the son of Neriah did according to all that Jeremiah the prophet commanded him, reading in the book the words of Jehovah in Jehovah's house.
At this point in their history, the apostasy of Israel was complete. God had commanded only one fast day, i.e., the Day of Atonement; but the evil rulers of the people had made public fasting to be a political weapon; and the one mentioned here in the month of December was connected in no way with the Day of Atonement which came in the seventh month. "December was the Hebrew month Chisleu that began on the first moon of the ninth month."F9
For additional comment regarding the many fasts invented by the Jews, after their own devices, and not according to the will of God, See Vol. 4 of my Minor Prophets Series, pp. 99-104.
Keil stated that the fast-day mentioned here was, "In remembrance of that day in the year when Jerusalem was taken for the first time by Nebuchadnezzar ... It was appointed (or allowed) by Jehoiachim for the purpose of rousing popular feeling against the Chaldeans to whom they were subjugated."F10
DETAILS ON THE FAST-DAY READING OF THE ROLL
Verses 9, 10
Now it came to pass in the fifth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, in the ninth month, that all the people in Jerusalem, and all the people that came from the cities of Judah unto Jerusalem, proclaimed a fast before Jehovah. Then read Baruch in the book the words of Jeremiah in the house of Jehovah, in the chamber of Gemariah the son of Shaphan, the scribe, in the upper court, at the entry of the new gate of Jehovah's house, in the ears of all the people.
This paragraph merely describes where the reading took place, evidently in one of the prominent chambers of the temple. For this to have been done with any degree of completion it would have required most of the whole day; and it is nowhere stated that the two subsequent readings took place on the fast-day.
READING OF THE ROLL TO ALL THE PRINCES
And when Micaiah the son of Gemariah, the son of Shaphan, had heard out of the book all the words of Jehovah, he went down into the king's house, into the scribe's chamber: and, lo, all the princes were sitting there, [to wit], 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. Then Micaiah declared unto them all the words that he had heard, when Baruch read the book in the ears of the people. Therefore all the princes sent Jehudi the son of Nethaniah, the son of Shelemiah, the son of Cushi, unto Baruch, saying, Take in thy 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. And they said unto him, Sit down now, and read it in our ears. So Baruch read it in their ears. Now it came to pass, when they had heard all the words, they turned in fear one toward another, and said unto Baruch, We will surely tell the king of all these words. And they asked Baruch, saying, Tell us now, How didst thou write all these words at his mouth? Then Baruch answered them, He pronounced all these words unto me with his mouth, and I wrote them with ink in the book. Then said the princes unto Baruch, Go, hide thee, thou and Jeremiah; and let no man know where ye are.
All the princes
(Jeremiah 36:14,14). Apparently all of these princes had an impressive pedigree and were doubtless some of the most important people in the city.
They turned in fear one toward another
(Jeremiah 36:16) All of them were afraid, and they demonstrated by looks, gestures, and words their fear and concern. Why were they afraid? The words of the prophet alone were enough to strike fear into the heart of every believer; but there was also another reason. The king, upon hearing that these princes had listened to the words of Jeremiah, might have been expected to react violently. They promptly informed Baruch that they would indeed tell the king all about it. There was, in fact, no way whatever by which such a report could have been avoided. The words of the book had already been read publicly!
They immediately requested that Baruch would explain to them just how the dictation took place, and Baruch promptly answered. It is evident that: (1) God's Word was transmitted accurately, and (2) that it was not edited or changed in any manner by Baruch.
The sympathy of these mighty princes toward Baruch and Jeremiah is evident in a number of incidentals: (1) they invited him to "sit," thus assuming the position of a teacher; (2) they questioned him about the manner of the dictation; and (3) they warned him to hide both himself and Jeremiah from the wrath of the king, which they had every right to anticipate. The implication in this is that, they would not have rushed their appearance before Jehoiachim, but would, in all probability, have allowed a reasonable time to pass in order to facilitate the hiding of Baruch and the prophet.
The king's lust for blood had already been demonstrated to those princes, when he extradited Uriah from Egypt and murdered him, casting the prophet's body into the common graveyard (Jeremiah 26:23).
THE READING OF THE BOOK BEFORE THE KING
And they went in to the king into the court; but they had laid up the roll in the chamber of Elishama the scribe; and they told all the words in the ears of the king. So the king sent Jehudi to fetch the roll; and he took it out of the chamber of Elishama the scribe. And Jehudi read it in the ears of the king, and in the ears of all the princes that stood beside the king. Now the king was sitting in the winter-house in the ninth month: and [there was a fire in] the brazier burning before him. And it came to pass, when Jehudi had read three or four leaves, that [the king] cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was in the brazier, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was in the brazier. And they were not afraid, nor rent their garments, neither the king, nor any of his servants that heard all these words. Moreover Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah had made intercession to the king that he would not burn the roll; but he would not hear them. And the king commanded Jerahmeel the king's son, and Seraiah the son of Azriel, and Shelemiah the son of Abdeel, to take Baruch the scribe and Jeremiah the prophet; but Jehovah hid them.
Three or four leaves
(Jeremiah 36:23). The roll of the book did not have leaves, so what is meant is that after reading three or four prophecies, the king refused to hear any more.
The king cut it with the penknife
(Jeremiah 36:23). According to Keil, the tenses used here indicate that the king repeatedly cut the book, casting it into the fire until all of it was burned.F11
As a number of commentators have pointed out, hardly any explanation is needed for this whole chapter.
Then the word of Jehovah came to Jeremiah, after that the king had burned the roll, and the words which Baruch wrote at the mouth of Jeremiah, saying, Take thee again another roll, and write in it all the former words that were in the first roll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah hath burned. And concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah thou shalt say, Thus saith Jehovah: Thou hast burned this roll, saying, Why hast thou written therein, saying, The king of Babylon shall certainly come and destroy this land, and shall cause to cease from thence man and beast? Therefore thus saith Jehovah concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah: He shall have none to sit upon the throne of David; and his dead body shall be cast out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost. And I will punish him and his seed and his servants for their iniquity; and I will bring upon them, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and upon the men of Judah, all the evil that I have pronounced against them, but they hearkened not. 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.
He shall have none to sit upon the throne of David
(Jeremiah 36:30). We do not understand the thinking of some writers who declare that this prophecy was unfulfilled, basing their denial upon the fact that a son did succeed him in Jerusalem for a brief three months and a few days; but, in our view, his being deposed in such a short time was more than an adequate fulfillment of what Jeremiah stated here.
We are reminded that Jehoiachim was not the last ruler to attempt to rid himself of God's Word by burning the written records of it. Hitler and his evil associates burned the Bible at Nuremberg in 1933, with the same disastrous consequences for himself and his kingdom as those which overcame Jehoiachim and his kingdom.
Footnotes for Jeremiah 36
1: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), p. 163.
2: H. Wheeler Robinson, Jeremiah, p. 490.
3: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 681.
4: E. Henderson, The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah (London: Hamilton, Adams, and Company, 1851), p. 195.
5: The New Bible Dictionary, pp. 1341-1351.
6: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 838.
7: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 edition), p. 182.
8: Henry H. Halley's Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House) , p. 291.
9: T. K. Cheyne, Jeremiah in the Pulpit Commentary, p. 104.
10: C. F. Keil, Keil-Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), P. 94.
11: Ibid., p. 100.