Jeremiah 36 – Cutting and Burning God’s Word
A. The making of the scroll.
1. (1-3) The command to compile Jeremiah’s prophecies into a single scroll.
Now it came to pass in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, that this word came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying: “Take a scroll of a book and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel, against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah even to this day. It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the adversities which I purpose to bring upon them, that everyone may turn from his evil way, that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.”
a. It came to pass in the fourth year of Jehoiakim: This was at or near the time of the first Babylonian invasion (605 BC) when Daniel and other captives were taken to Babylon.
b. Take a scroll of a book and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you: God commanded Jeremiah not only to speak his prophecies, but also to write them. This was to include all the prophetic sayings he had given up to that point (from the day I spoke to you). Perhaps these were already written in some form and Jeremiah was commanded to compile them.
i. “If Jeremiah’s life were in danger, if he had no sons to carry on his word (Jeremiah 16:2), if the nation and the whole fabric of society were about to collapse, then a scroll would preserve the message. There was a great precedent in the scroll discovered in the temple in 621 BC” (Thompson)
ii. “Jeremiah, it seemeth, had either not written his prophecies, or not so legibly, or in loose papers only; now he hath them fair written out into a book, making the same use of Baruch as afterward Paul did of Tertius, [Romans 16:22].” (Trapp)
iii. “The actual contents of the document in question are unknown, though it probably compromised an anthology of material proclaimed between 626 and 605 BC.” (Harrison)
iv. “Our word ‘volume’ — from the verb ‘to roll up’ — goes back to this form of book.” (Feinberg)
c. It may be that the house of Judah will hear: God commanded Jeremiah to do this so that the message might be more effectively delivered. If the word was present in written form, it could be more easily remembered, consulted, and meditated upon.
i. “This verse helps explain Jeremiah’s many terrible prophecies of divine judgment. They were not intended simply to terrify; they were also intended to save.” (Ryken)
ii. This was still almost 20 years before the final conquest of Jerusalem, and it was still possible to see God rescue Judah. “It was yet possible to avert the judgments which had been so often denounced against them. But in order to do this they must – 1. Hear what God has spoken. 2. Every man turn from his evil way. 3. If they do so, God graciously promises to forgive their iniquity and their sin.” (Clarke)
2. (4-8) Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe, reads the scroll at the temple.
Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah; and Baruch wrote on a scroll of a book, at the instruction of Jeremiah, all the words of the LORD which He had spoken to him. And Jeremiah commanded Baruch, saying, “I am confined, I cannot go into the house of the LORD. You go, therefore, and read from the scroll which you have written at my instruction, the words of the LORD, in the hearing of the people in the LORD’s house on the day of fasting. And you shall also read them in the hearing of all Judah who come from their cities. It may be that they will present their supplication before the LORD, and everyone will turn from his evil way. For great is the anger and the fury that the LORD has pronounced against this people.” And Baruch the son of Neriah did according to all that Jeremiah the prophet commanded him, reading from the book the words of the LORD in the LORD’s house.
a. Baruch wrote on a scroll: Baruch was Jeremiah’s assistant and secretary. The prophet had Baruch do the actual writing of the words that Yahweh had spoken to Jeremiah. The prophet himself didn’t need to write the words himself for it to be God’s word.
i. There was a long relationship between the scribe and the prophet. “Seventeen years later on the eve of the final fall of Jerusalem Jeremiah entrusted to Baruch the title deed to the field he bought in Anathoth (Jeremiah 32:13, 16). Baruch finally went with Jeremiah to Egypt (Jeremiah 43:6).” (Thompson)
b. You go, therefore, and read from the scroll: Jeremiah was confined – not imprisoned, but likely banned from the temple area – he sent Baruch to read the written word of God to the people of Jerusalem at the temple.
i. I am confined: “The Hebrew asur describing Jeremiah’s debarment (Jeremiah 36:5) occurs in 33:1 and 39:15 in the sense of physical arrest or imprisonment, but that is not the meaning here, since verse 19 shows that Jeremiah was free to escape at will.” (Harrison)
ii. “It appears that Jeremiah was excommunicated from the Temple because of his outspoken comment in his Temple Sermon (Jeremiah 5, cf. Jeremiah 7:26). The word ‘debarred’ (‘shut up’, AV [KJV]) could indicate ritual defilement, but this was usually for a limited period.” (Cundall)
iii. “At a time when Jeremiah was shut up, and unable to go into the house of the Lord, he was commanded to write.” This was what Paul did with his prison letters. (Morgan)
iv. The prophet didn’t need to present the words himself for the work of the word of God to be effective. The word of God itself had power.
c. On the day of fasting: Apparently, even when so many hearts were far from God in Jerusalem and Judah, they still fulfilled particular days of fasting as instructed by the Law of Moses. They in some way could fulfill these with their hearts still far from God.
i. “After the Exile, fast days were specified (cf. Zechariah 7:3, 5; 8:19), but earlier they were called in time of emergency (cf. Joel 2:12, 15).” (Feinberg)
d. It may be that they will present their supplication before the LORD, and everyone will turn from his evil way: This was the desired result in bringing God’s word to the people. It was hoped that they would hear, pray, and repent – as described before in Jeremiah 36:3.
e. Baruch the son of Neriah did according to all that Jeremiah the prophet commanded him: Baruch did as Jeremiah told him, but there was no response from the people mentioned.
B. The reading of the scroll.
1. (9-10) Baruch reads the scroll again the following year.
Now 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 who came from the cities of Judah to Jerusalem. Then Baruch read from 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 upper court at the entry of the New Gate of the LORD’s house, in the hearing of all the people.
a. It came to pass in the fifth year of Jehoiakim: This was the year following the writing of the scroll described in the first part of Jeremiah 36. It is difficult to know if this was the reading of the scroll first described in Jeremiah 36:8 or a second public reading of the scroll some weeks or months later.
b. They proclaimed a fast before the LORD to all the people in Jerusalem: With the Babylonians conquering the nations surrounding Judah, the people felt every measure should be taken, so they called a fast before the LORD. In the best case, this showed seriousness in seeking God and hearts ready for repentance. There were also people from the cities of Judah who gathered for this proclaimed fast.
i. “The ninth month was December, 604 BC, when the Babylonians overthrew Ashkelon in the plain of Philista, an incident which probably provoked the fast.” (Harrison)
ii. They proclaimed a fast: “Notice it was the people, not the king, who proclaimed the fast.” (Feinberg)
c. Baruch read from the book the words of Jeremiah in the house of the LORD: Baruch publicly read the words of Jeremiah’s prophecy, calling the people to repentance and warning them of the judgment to come. He did this in the hearing of all the people.
i. In the chamber of Gemariah: “Gemariah was the son of Shaphan, who had been Secretary of State under Josiah (2 Kings 22:3, 8). If this Shaphan is to be identified with the man mentioned in Jeremiah 26:24, Gemariah would then be the brother of Ahikam who treated Jeremiah kindly.” (Harrison)
ii. “Shaphan was a good father as well as a great leader. His sons were among the forgotten heroes of the Bible (Jeremiah 26:24).” (Ryken)
2. (11-15) Baruch brings the scroll to the princes of Judah.
When Michaiah the son of Gemariah, the son of Shaphan, heard all the words of the LORD from the book, he then went down to the king’s house, into the scribe’s chamber; and there all the princes were sitting—Elishama the scribe, Delaiah the son of Shemaiah, Elnathan the son of Achbor, Gemariah the son of Shaphan, Zedekiah the son of Hananiah, and all the princes. Then Michaiah declared to them all the words that he had heard when Baruch read the book in the hearing of the people. Therefore all the princes sent Jehudi the son of Nethaniah, the son of Shelemiah, the son of Cushi, to Baruch, saying, “Take in your hand the scroll from which you have read in the hearing of the people, and come.” So Baruch the son of Neriah took the scroll in his hand and came to them. And they said to him, “Sit down now, and read it in our hearing.” So Baruch read it in their hearing.
a. Michaiah the son of Gemariah: This Michaiah was a godly man, having been connected with the reforms and revival under King Josiah (2 Kings 22:12-13). He heard all the words of the LORD from the book, and knew something of the authority and power of God’s word from the work in Josiah’s day.
b. Michaiah declared to them all the words that he had heard when Baruch read the book: Michaiah brought the message of the book to the princes of Judah – sons of nobility and royalty, leaders in the kingdom.
i. All the words: They read the whole thing. They didn’t just read a verse or two and then come back the next day for another verse or two. They heard the word chapter-by-chapter, verse by verse.
c. Sit down now, and read it in our hearing: When the princes of Judah heard the message of Jeremiah’s book, they knew others should hear it as well. They wanted it read to others directly from the scroll in his hand.
i. “The apparent courtesy with which the state officials treated Baruch indicates their friendly attitude, although it may be too that Baruch was of noble birth.” (Thompson)
3. (16-19) The princes of Judah tell Baruch and Jeremiah to hide.
Now it happened, when they had heard all the words, that they looked in fear from one to another, and said to Baruch, “We will surely tell the king of all these words.” And they asked Baruch, saying, “Tell us now, how did you write all these words — at his instruction?” So Baruch answered them, “He proclaimed with his mouth all these words to me, and I wrote them with ink in the book.” Then the princes said to Baruch, “Go and hide, you and Jeremiah; and let no one know where you are.”
a. They looked in fear from one to another: The princes of Judah knew Jeremiah’s message from God would bring trouble. They thought it best to tell the king directly.
i. We will surely tell the king: “They durst do no otherwise; for if these things should have come to the king’s ear, and they not first tell him, they might come into the danger of his displeasure.” (Trapp)
b. He proclaimed with his mouth all these words to me, and I wrote them: Baruch explained how he wrote the scroll. Jeremiah said the words, and Baruch wrote them down. Baruch made not claim to being a prophet himself, only the scribe of a prophet.
i. This practice was also carried over with the apostles in New Testament times. Romans 16:22 states how Tertius was the penman for Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians.
ii. “What is also impressive about these men is their careful enquiry into the nature of this document: whether each word of it was authentic or not (Jeremiah 36:17). As soon as they were satisfied of this, they knew what they must do, and did it.” (Kidner)
c. Go and hide, you and Jeremiah; and let no one know where you are: The princes of Judah knew the king would be displeased and perhaps strike out against the prophet and the scribe for their message.
i. Jeremiah 26 describes another time in Jehoiakim’s reign when Jeremiah was persecuted and perhaps in danger of death, as well as noting the prophet Uriah who was in fact murdered for being a faithful prophet (Jeremiah 26:23). The sense is that if Jeremiah and Baruch had not hidden, they too would have been martyred.
ii. “Jewish tradition has identified the place of concealment with the so-called ‘Grotto of Jeremiah’, located outside the Damascus Gate, though with what accuracy is uncertain.” (Harrison)
4. (20-21) Bringing the scroll to the king.
And they went to the king, into the court; but they stored the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the scribe, and told all the words in the hearing of the king. So the king sent Jehudi to bring the scroll, and he took it from Elishama the scribe’s chamber. And Jehudi read it in the hearing of the king and in the hearing of all the princes who stood beside the king.
a. They went to the king… but they stored the scroll: The princes of Judah were sympathetic to Jeremiah, Baruch, and their message on the scroll. They anticipated a bad reception of that message from King Jehoiakim, so for the protection of the scroll they stored the scroll in the chamber of Elishama.
b. Told all the words in the hearing of the king: They began by giving Jehoiakim a comprehensive report of what Jeremiah said and Baruch wrote. Then the king commanded that the scroll be brought to him and read to him directly and publicly.
5. (22-26) King Jehoiakim burns Jeremiah’s scroll.
Now the king was sitting in the winter house in the ninth month, with a fire burning on the hearth before him. And it happened, when Jehudi had read three or four columns, that the king cut it with the scribe’s knife and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the scroll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth. Yet they were not afraid, nor did they tear their garments, the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words. Nevertheless Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah implored the king not to burn the scroll; but he would not listen to them. And the king commanded Jerahmeel the king’s son, Seraiah the son of Azriel, and Shelemiah the son of Abdeel, to seize Baruch the scribe and Jeremiah the prophet, but the LORD hid them.
a. In the winter house in the ninth month: This probably refers to a portion or a floor of the palace that was more comfortable in the winter, suited for cooler weather. Jehoiakim sat there with a fire burning on the hearth before him.
i. “The king was in the winter house, not a separate dwelling, but a warm apartment in a sheltered part of the palace facing the winter sun (cf. Amos 3:15).” (Feinberg)
ii. “There sat he, in that his stately and sumptuous palace built by iniquity, [Jeremiah 22:13-14].” (Trapp)
b. The king cut it with the scribe’s knife: Scribes used small, sharp knives to trim their reed pens and to cut the parchments where needed. As Jehudi continued to read each column from the scroll, Jehoiakim cut the part that he just read. His first act against God’s word was to cut it.
i. The practice of cutting God’s word continues. Today, some want to decide for themselves what is true and false in the Bible, what actually happened and what is only a fairy-tale story. Some want to decide what moral teaching should be kept for our present age, and which they believe we have “progressed” beyond. Some want to cut the biblical authors and books so completely that they have no connection or harmony between them. Then and now, God’s word is cut before it is burned.
ii. “We are all tempted to use the penknife to God’s Book. There are passages in it which we do not like; those that cross our favourite notions, our cherished sins. Practically, we eliminate them. We never read them, or we explain them away, or profess to doubt their inspiration.” (Meyer)
iii. “This was the second time in Jeremiah’s lifetime that a portion of God’s word had been read to a reigning king, but how different was Josiah’s reaction (2 Kings 22:11-20)!” (Cundall)
c. The king cut it with the scribe’s knife and cast it into the fire: Jehoiakim took the sections he cut and methodically, repeatedly put them into the fire heating the room. This was a deliberate, dramatic way to insult and reject the prophet and the God whom the prophet represented. Jehoiakim hoped to burn and destroy the word of the prophet and his God.
i. Perhaps Jehoiakim thought, these aren’t the words of God; these are the words of Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s personality is all over these words. He was terribly wrong; they were Jeremiah’s words, but they were also God’s words. God was big enough to work through the words of Jeremiah.
ii. At the same time, King Jehoiakim was afraid of God’s word. He didn’t only hold it in contempt and he couldn’t bear to simply ignore it. The king hoped to destroy the power of God’s word by destroying the scroll.
iii. “The king’s slow, methodical destruction of the scroll, keeping pace with the steady progress of the reading, made his rejection a far more emphatic gesture than a swift reaction in hot blood.” (Kidner)
iv. This blasphemous and ignorant act failed to see the difference between the living, eternal word of God and the media for that word, the ink on the parchment or data on the screen. The ink and parchment can be burned, but God’s word can never be destroyed. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever (Isaiah 40:8). If it is the word of God, it can never be destroyed.
v. “The first recorded attempt to obliterate the word of God is something of a foretaste of the attacks on it in days to come: by sceptics, by persecutors, and with whatever good intent, by the rash use of the scholar’s knife. On this occasion, as on others to come, God saw to its preservation and completion.” (Kidner)
vi. In AD 300, the Roman emperor Diocletian ordered every Bible burned and they destroyed thousands of Bibles, even just portions of Bibles. A Christian could be killed for just having a Bible. Yet it didn’t work. The next Roman emperor ordered 50 brand new complete Bibles to be made at government expense.
vii. Early in the 20th century, an Armenian patient in an American hospital in Turkey was given a Bible, which was the first he had ever possessed. When he left the hospital, he proudly took the Bible to his village and showed it to friends. A Moslem teacher snatched the Bible from him, tore it from its binding, and threw the pieces into the street. A grocer passing down the street picked up the pages and used them for wrapping paper. Soon the pages of the Bible were scattered all over the entire village. Customers read the pages and asked for more. Sometime later, a Bible seller came to the village and was amazed to find a hundred people eager to buy the Holy Bible. Even the torn-up Bible survived and did a great work.
viii. Ravi Zacharias told the story of a Vietnamese Christian named Hien Pham who was his interpreter. Being a Christian and a translator for missionaries and the American forces, Hien was arrested when South Vietnam fell to the Communists. His faith was shaken under the pressure and propaganda of his prison camp and he decided he would no longer pray or think about his faith. The next day he was given the terrible job of cleaning the prison latrines. As he cleaned out a tin can overflowing with toilet paper, his eye caught what seemed to be English printed on a piece of paper. He quickly grabbed it, washed it, and after his roommates went to sleep that night, he brought out the paper and read from Romans 8: And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God… For I am persuaded… [that nothing] shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Hien cried, knowing this was God’s word for him, having decided just the previous night to give up on God. The prison official who thought the Bible was only fit for toilet paper actually rescued the faith of a believer. After finding the Scripture, Hien asked the commander if he could clean the latrines regularly. Each day he picked up a portion of Scripture, cleaned it off, and added it to his collection of nightly reading.
ix. “Sin may so deaden spiritual and moral faculties, that men will without fear cast the messages of God to the fire, and commit His messengers to death. But such action never destroys the word of God, nor invalidates its findings.” (Morgan)
x. “The captain may destroy the map which indicates the rocks in his course; but that will not rob them of the cruel fangs with which they will pierce the timbers of his ship. Men may deride and destroy the Bible; but this will not empty the future of hell, or hell of its bitter remorse.” (Meyer)
xi. “This was not the last attack on the word of God. Kings and governments have set themselves against it; sceptics and liberal scholars have sought to discredit or dismember it; but it remains indestructible. The man who acts as Jehoiakim did will be judged.” (Cundall)
d. Yet they were not afraid, nor did they tear their garments: Jeremiah noted this strange response. God and His word were both gravely insulted right before their eyes, yet it seemed a small thing to them. They probably didn’t approve, thinking something like “Well, I would never do such a thing.” Yet they thought it was of little significance that the king over God’s covenant people burned the very words of the covenant God.
i. When Josiah heard the Book of the Law read, he tore his clothes in grief and mourning over the sin and rebellion of his people and their leaders (2 Kings 22:11-20). In Jeremiah’s time the royal court had a different reaction. “Most of the court officials stood by indifferently. They shared the king’s contempt for God’s truth.” (Feinberg)
ii. “The king and his servants, those court parasites, were not stirred at all at such a Bible bonfire, but jeered when they should have feared.” (Trapp)
e. Nevertheless Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah implored the king not to burn the scroll: There were some who at least said something to the king. Yet Jehoiakim ignored them and commanded that Baruch and Jeremiah be arrested – but the LORD hid them.
i. “Three of the princes wished to save the scroll, and entreated the king that it might not be burnt. They would have saved it out of the fire, but the king would not permit it to be done.” (Clarke)
ii. Nevertheless Elnathan: “Who had before been active for the king in apprehending and slaughtering the prophet Uriah, [Jeremiah 26:22] but now haply touched with some remorse for having any hand in so bloody an act.” (Trapp)
iii. “His further step in ordering the arrest of Baruch and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36:26) revealed the fury and perhaps the fear beneath the show of cool defiance.” (Kidner)
6. (27-31) God’s response to the burning of the scroll.
Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words which Baruch had written at the instruction of Jeremiah, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying: “Take yet another scroll, and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned. And you shall say to Jehoiakim king of Judah, ‘Thus says the LORD: “You have burned this scroll, saying, ‘Why have you written in it that the king of Babylon will certainly come and destroy this land, and cause man and beast to cease from here?’” Therefore thus says the LORD concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah: “He shall have no one to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat of the day and the frost of the night. I will punish him, his family, and his servants for their iniquity; and I will bring on them, on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and on the men of Judah all the doom that I have pronounced against them; but they did not heed.”’”
a. Take yet another scroll, and write on it all the former words: God’s response to King Jehoiakim’s cutting and burning of the written word was to write it again and publish it again.
i. “God’s Word cannot be burnt, no more than it can be bound.” (Trapp)
b. Why have you written in it that the king of Babylon will certainly come and destroy this land, and cause man and beast to cease from here: This was the aspect of Jeremiah’s message that so upset Jehoiakim. He didn’t want to hear that Nebuchadnezzar was going to come again to Jerusalem and eventually destroy the city.
c. He shall have no one to sit on the throne of David: Jeremiah 22:28-30 records a promise made to Coniah (Jeconiah) the nephew of Jehoiakim – that none of his descendants would prosper, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling anymore in Judah (Jeremiah 22:30). What was true of the nephew would also be true of the uncle.
i. This prophecy presents something of a problem. God promised David that his descendant would reign as Messiah over Israel and the world (2 Samuel 7:16). By the time of Jehoiakim that descendant had not yet come, and here God seems to promise that it would be impossible for the descendant to come. If someone was a blood descendant of David through Jehoiakim, he could not sit on the throne of Israel and be the king and the Messiah because of this curse recorded in Jeremiah 22:30 and 36:30. But if the conqueror was not descended through David, he could not be the legal heir of the throne because of the promise made to David and the nature of the royal line.
ii. This is where we come to the differences in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. Matthew recorded the genealogy of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ (Matthew 1:16). He began at Abraham and followed the line down to Jesus, through Joseph. Luke recorded the genealogy of Mary: being, (as was supposed) the son of Joseph (Luke 3:23). He began with Jesus and followed the line back up, all the way to Adam, starting from the unmentioned Mary.
iii. “The three-month reign of Jehoiachin (cf. 2 Kings 24:6, 8) does not contradict the prediction of verse 30. Jehoiachin’s succession was not a valid one but only a token one because he was immediately besieged by Nebuchadnezzar, surrendered in three months, and then went into exile, where he died after many years. No other descendant of Jehoiakim ever ascended the throne.” (Feinberg)
d. His dead body shall be cast out to the heat of the day and the frost of the night: In the end, it was Jehoiakim who was doomed, not the word of God.
i. “The fulfillment of verse 30 is not recorded in history, and 2 Kings 24:6 says nothing about the circumstances of his burial. Jehoiakim had been just as guilty as his people in rejecting God’s word, hence his fate will typify that of the nation.” (Harrison)
e. I will punish him, his family, and his servants for their iniquity: God promised to bring upon King Jehoiakim the judgment Jeremiah prophesied, including the disgrace done to his corpse at his death. The catastrophe of judgment would come upon the people of Judah and Jerusalem because they rejected God’s word through Jeremiah, just as King Jehoiakim did.
i. All the doom that I have pronounced against them: “The dramatic adventures of the scroll should not distract us from what was at stake on this fateful day, when king and people set their course towards the shipwreck of their kingdom, nearly twenty years distant.” (Kidner)
7. (32) The second scroll of Jeremiah and Baruch.
Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah, who wrote on it at the instruction of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And besides, there were added to them many similar words.
a. Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch: Jeremiah and Baruch worked together. The prophet supplied the words and the scribe supplied the ink and the parchment. Together, God’s word was published and preserved.
b. Besides, there were added to them many similar words: In fact, the opposition of Jehoiakim made his cause worse, not better. Responding to the king’s cutting and burning of His word, God was determined to bring more words of judgment, not fewer.
i. “Though he destroyed them, he could not in this way arrest the penalties which they foretold. Indeed, he increased them.” (Meyer)