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Jeremiah and Baruch   1 comment

Above:  Jehoiakim Burns the Word of God

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XVI

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Jeremiah 36:1-32

Jeremiah 45:1-5

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When I taught history survey courses in colleges and universities, I told my students:

Keep your facts straight and your chronology in order.

The Book of Jeremiah does not always keep its facts straight.  I have noted some examples of this already in this series of posts.  I point to two examples in this post.  I have more examples to point out when I get to them.  I am a serious student of history; I stand by the objective reality that x either happened or did not.  I make no apology for this.

The Book of Jeremiah does not keep its chronology straight, either.

  1. Zedekiah was the last King of Judah.  He reigned from 597 to 586 B.C.E.  He was the named monarch in Jeremiah 24, 27, 28, 32, 37, and 38.
  2. Jehoiakim, nephew of Zedekiah, reigned as the King of Judah from 608 to 598 B.C.E.  Jehoiakim was the named monarch in Chapters 25, 26 (completing the story in 7 and 8, by the way), 35, and 45.  The events of Chapter 35 transpired after those of Chapter 36.
  3. Jeremiah 39 and 52 cover the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.  Off-screen, so to speak, the city fell between Chapters 32 and 33, and before 10:23-25.

The Book of Jeremiah is messing with my head.  The beginning should come before the middle, which should precede the end.  Linear story-telling has its virtues.

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In 608 B.C.E., Eliakim ben Josiah came to the throne of Judah as Jehoiakim, succeeding a deposed and exiled brother, Jehoahaz ben Josiah (r. 609 B.C.E.).  Both brothers were vassals of Pharoah Neco II (reigned 610-595 B.C.E.).  During the reign of Jehoiakim, the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire replaced Egypt as the power to which Judah’s monarch served as a vassal.  Jehoiakim was also a tyrant who had prophets who spoke inconvenient truths arrested and executed circa 608 B.C.E.  Intervention spared the life of Jeremiah from Jehoiakim’s wrath (Jeremiah 26).  Yet, circa 608 B.C.E., Uriah ben Shemaiah died for saying what Jeremiah proclaimed (Jeremiah 26).

The events of Jeremiah 36 occurred in 605 B.C.E.  That year, Jeremiah had no access to the Temple.  Therefore, he sent his scribe, Baruch ben Neriah, in his place.  The scribe used the words of divine judgment and the invitation to repent.  These words met with a chilly reception.  King Jehoiakim burned the scroll.

The LORD now says of Jehoiakim, king of Judah:  No descendant of his shall sit on David’s throne; his corpse shall be thrown out, exposed to heat by day, frost by night.  I will punish him and his descendants for their wickedness; upon them, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the people of Judah I will bring all the evil threats to which they will not listen.

–Jeremiah 36:30-31, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

King Jehoiakim’s reign ended in 598 B.C.E.

  1. He may have died peacefully in his sleep, in his palace (2 Kings 24:6).  “He rested with his forefathers” usually indicated a peaceful death.
  2. He may have become a prisoner in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire (2 Chronicles 36:6; 1 Esdras 1:40).
  3. He may have died in battle, outside the walls of Jerusalem.  His corpse may have remained unburied, a sign of disgrace and disrespect (Jeremiah 22:19; 36:30-31).

Despite the prophecy, a son of Jehoiakim succeeded him.  King Jehoiachin/Jeconiah/Coniah reigned for about three months in 597 B.C.E. before becoming a prisoner in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire (2 Kings 24:8-17; 2 Kings 25:27-30; 2 Chronicles 36:9-10; 1 Esdras 1:43-46).

Above:  Baruch Writing Jeremiah’s Prophecies

Image in the Public Domain

Turning to Jeremiah 45, we remain in 605 B.C.E., according to the text.

God commanded Jeremiah to tell Baruch ben Neriah:

Thus said the LORD:  I am going to overthrow what I have built, and uproot what I have planted–this applies to the whole land.  And do you expect great things for yourself?  Don’t expect them.  For I am going to bring disaster upon all flesh–declares the LORD–but I will at least grant your life in all the places where you may go.

–Jeremiah 45:4-5, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This work exacted a heavy toll on Jeremiah and his scribe.  The divine promise of not getting killed in the line of duty applied to the prophet, also (Jeremiah 1:19).  Ebed-melech, another ally of Jeremiah, had a divine guarantee of his life, too (Jeremiah 39:18).  Despite this divine promise, being Jeremiah or one of his allies was risky.

One may not want to hear God say to one:

And do you expect great things for yourself?  Don’t expect them.

Baruch, of course, went to Egypt with Jeremiah (43:6).

Some interpretive difficulties arise in Jeremiah 45.

  1. The text dates the prophecy to 605 B.C.E.
  2. Yet Chapter 45 follows exile in Egypt for Jeremiah and Baruch, and flows thematically from Chapter 44.
  3. Nevertheless, as I keep repeating, chronology is not the organizing principle in the Book of Jeremiah.  Structurally, the Book of Jeremiah reminds me of certain movies by Atom Egoyan, the acclaimed Canadian movie director.  Egoyan does not favor linear story-telling; he often has three timeframes running in his movies, and cuts from one timeframe to another one periodically.  For proper understanding of The Sweet Hereafter (1997) and Ararat (2002), for example, one needs to watch at least three times.
  4. The translation of the end of 45:5 varies.  TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) goes one way, with, “…but I will, at least, grant you your life.”  The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) goes another way, with, “…but I will grant you your life as spoils of war….”

And do you expect great things for yourself?  Don’t expect them.

God’s reward to Jeremiah, Baruch, and Ebed-melech was survival in a terrifying time.

That does not seem like much of a reward, does it?  Yet, as St. Teresa of Calcutta said, God calls people to be faithful, not successful.  This is a difficult teaching.  I struggle with it.  Maybe you do, too, O reader.  I read that Jeremiah and Baruch did.

By human standards, Jeremiah was a failure.  He was on the outs with authorities.  His message convinced few people.  He died in involuntary exile in a land where he had warned people not to go.  And, by human standards, Jeremiah dragged Baruch down with him.

Yet, thousands of years later, faithful Jews and Christians utter the names of Jeremiah and Baruch with respect.  Many Jews and Christians still study and read the Book of Jeremiah.  The faithful legacy of Jeremiah and Baruch endures.

By that standard, Jeremiah and Baruch succeeded.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 12, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDWIN PAXTON HOOD, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, PHILANTHROPIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN DAVID JAESCHKE, GERMAN MORAVIAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER; AND HIS GRANDSON, HENRI MARC HERMANN VOLDEMAR VOULLAIRE, MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND MINISTER

THE FEAST OF ENMEGAHBOWH, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO THE OJIBWA NATION

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH DACRE CARLYLE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MILTON SMITH LITTLEFIELD, JR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN AND CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNAL EDITOR

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