April 24, 2005 6(8)
© 2005, J.W. Carter
From the time that God created mankind, He has revealed Himself in a variety of ways that would serve to establish a relationship. One of the ways God has communicated effectively with mankind is through the Bible, God's written word. The Bible was written by people who received it from God Himself as revealed through the Holy Spirit. In some cases, God specifically instructed the author to write. Over the years it has been possible to determine which ancient writings were so inspired and which were not. The Bible is the total collection of inspired writings. Some of the criteria that were employed in developing this canon (collection of writings) were that all of the authors had to have first-hand knowledge, and there could be no errors or inconsistencies between the doctrines of any inspired writings. Extreme measures have been employed over the years to preserve the accuracy of written manuscripts, evident in the discovery of the ancient Dead Sea scrolls. This extensive collection of biblical documents is far more ancient than any others known. Yet, when compared with the later documents that we use to translate modern texts, there is no difference in the content.
By opening the pages of the Bible, we have an opportunity to hear God speak. It is the position of this writer that the Bible is without any mixture of error or inconsistency in its original form. The Bible is a totally reliable source of God's plan and purpose for mankind, and provides all of the teaching that is needed to find salvation and to live a life that honors God. The Bible is the sole written source of authority in spiritual matters.
Have we come to take God's written word for granted? The ancients treated the scrolls with the utmost reverence as they preserved their accuracy. Yet, it is quite evident as we study the history of ancient Israel, the people did not put the same effort into living by the teaching of scripture. The Jews divided into two kingdoms and each met their demise after years of apostasy. Today we see a society that seems to approach the written scriptures with similar indifference. Those who reject God, reject His word. The Bible is seen my most as simply a good book of stories and teachings about good living. Few give any thought to or have no belief that the Bible is truly God's message to mankind.
We see a similar indifference in the Christian church. Many denominations recognize the authority and power of the scriptures and provide opportunities for their membership to learn and study the scriptures. Still, most Christians (including those who engage in corporate Bible study) give little attention to the Bible outside of organized "Sunday" schools. Consequently, most Christians would score poorly on any test of some of the most basic Biblical content. Few Christians know enough about scripture to defend its content or authority to those who do not believe in its power. We seem to know very little about, and take little advantage of, this most significant of resources for living.
The scriptures chronicle the fall of Israel and Judah into apostasy as they rejected the contents of God's written word even as they so obsessively protected its accuracy. By ignoring the contents of the scriptures, they wandered so far from God that they rejected Him and embraced the secular and pagan culture of the world. Their fall into apostasy resulted in the loss of the "promised land" as they failed to meet the conditions of the covenant with God to remain obedient to Him. We certainly face the same dangers today as our response to God's written word ranges from rejection to apathy.
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 the LORD, saying, 2Take 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. 3It 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 writings of the prophet Jeremiah contain some of the few statements that speak directly to how the scriptures came into being. Jeremiah had been preaching in Judah since the reign of Josiah, one of the few Judean kings who tried to bring the nation to obedience to God. It has now been about 25 years since the call of Jeremiah as a prophet and the King of Judah is Jehoaikim, a rebellious and godless king who led the nation deeper into apostasy. It is 605 BC, one of the most dynamic years in the history of Judah. Babylon has overrun Judah. Jehoiakim was placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar with the expectation of Judah's submission to Babylon. However, Nebuchadnezzar was more concerned with the far more powerful nation of Egypt. While the events of this chapter were taking place, Nebuchadnezzar was about to meet and defeat Egypt at the battle of Chargamesh. In the meantime, there was a lull in the oppression of Judah.
It was at this time that the word of God came to Jeremiah with instructions to record his sermons on scrolls. These scrolls were usually rolls of sewn goat or sheep skins upon which words were written with a variety of locally produced inks. The writing would be recorded parallel with a wooden rod around which the scroll would be wrapped. As one unwrapped the scroll, the words could be read.
The purpose for the recording of Jeremiah's sermons is evident. It is clear that his sermons were rejected by the Judean kings, leadership, and people. Still, it is God's will that people repent from their sin and turn to Him in faith. Through the written word, people will have yet another opportunity for repentance. In fact, by recording the word on scrolls, His words would be available to all who read them in the future, a future that includes not only the events that would take place in ancient Judah, but that which extends into today and our modern future. Through God's written word people can learn of the nature of their sin, the destruction and judgment that sin brings, and the steps for repentance, forgiveness, and salvation.
The command to Jeremiah was to record all that he had preached in the last two decades. It is evident that this task actually took a long time, as long as a year, to complete. The following verses provide us with some more insight into how this monumental task was accomplished.
Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah: and Baruch wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the LORD, which he had spoken unto him, upon a roll of a book.
The writings of the prophet Jeremiah contain some of the few statements that speak directly to how the scriptures came into being. Jeremiah was a preacher, not a scribe. The skill of the scribe was specialized and important in ancient culture. It was common for writings to be created through the inscription process where a scribe would record the words of the speaker. This tradition continued through the first-century church where many of the New Testament writings were created using this same method. Jeremiah employed the inscription skills of Baruch, the son of Neriah. Baruch was a close friend and co-worker with Jeremiah.
And Jeremiah commanded Baruch, saying, I am shut up; I cannot go into the house of the LORD: 6Therefore go thou, and read in the roll, which thou hast written from my mouth, the words of the LORD in the ears of the people in the LORDíS house upon the fasting day: and also thou shalt read them in the ears of all Judah that come out of their cities. 7It may be they will present their supplication before the LORD, and will return every one from his evil way: for great is the anger and the fury that the LORD hath pronounced against this people. 8And Baruch the son of Neriah did according to all that Jeremiah the prophet commanded him, reading in the book the words of the LORD in the LORDíS house.
Once the scroll was completed, Jeremiah gave instructions to Baruch to take it to the temple on the upcoming day of fasting and read its contents. By this time Jeremiah had been forbidden entry into the temple. Jeremiah was rejected as a prophet of God in favor of those who called themselves prophets and came out of the "respected" schools. Hananiah (Jer. 28:1 ff.) was such a prophet. The controversy engendered by Jeremiah's message resulted in his banishment from the temple. "Shut up" could also refer to a form of imprisonment or house arrest imposed upon Jeremiah by the temple leadership. So, since Jeremiah could not go to the temple to preach the word of God, he sent Baruch to do it.
The events surrounding this reading also point to the timing of its message. Fasts were not scheduled in the tradition of the Jews until after the exile. At this time in history, fasts were called as a traditional response to a calamitous event. The very event of the fast points to the belief by the people in some upcoming disaster, most likely the return of Nebuchadnezzar from his Egyptian conquest.
And 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 that came from the cities of Judah unto Jerusalem. 10Then read Baruch in 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 higher court, at the entry of the new gate of the LORDíS house, in the ears of all the people.
At this point it is 604 BC, at least a year since the command to create the scroll and longer since Jeremiah's words had been heard in the temple. Nebuchadnezzar has defeated the Egyptians and is positioned to deal with this rebellious Judean nation. Usually it is the king who declares a fast in response to his knowledge of current events and by his own authority to do so. However, in this case it was the people who called the fast. The fast was to take place in Jerusalem and among its people and all who sojourned there. The purpose of the fast to was to allow people to spend the time in prayer, so attendance at the Temple would be at its peak. It was in this setting that Baruch brought Jeremiah's words back into the temple. The courts of the temple were very organized with levels appropriate to the righteousness of those allowed to attend there. "Common" people were restricted to the outer court areas while the leadership reserved the more important places for themselves. The chamber (or court) of Gemariah was such a place. By speaking in the higher court, Baruch would be addressing those who had the power to make a difference in the political structure of the nation.
When Michaiah the son of Gemariah, the son of Shaphan, had heard out of the book all the words of the LORD, 12Then he went down into the kingís house, into the scribeís chamber: and, lo, all the princes sat there, even 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. 13Then Michaiah declared unto them all the words that he had heard, when Baruch read the book in the ears of the people.
One of those who heard Baruch's recitation was Michaiah, the son of Gemariah, the scribe for whom this area of the court was reserved. It is difficult to ascertain whether Michaiah took Jeremiah's words to heart, but it is evident that he felt these words needed to be brought to the royal court of the king. Verse 14 implies that Michaiah paid close attention to Baruch's words. Jeremiah's prophesy included the impending destruction of Judah if they continued to rebel against the Babylonian king. Now that Nebuchadnezzar was poised to come against Judah, a fact reinforced by the calling of the fast, this message was more relevant than ever. According to Jeremiah's prophesy, the only escape from destruction was repentance from their apostasy and a return to faith in God.
Michaiah, upon hearing the reading of the scroll, went to the house of the king Jehoiakim and into the scribe's chamber. As a scribe himself, this would be the area of the royal palace where he would have access. The scribes were the respected keepers of the written documents and were respected as learned men. When Michaiah arrived, he found a pretty impressive group of people there. Here was in attendance his father, Gemariah, and Zedekiah the priest, son of Hananiah who had recently died following his rejection of Jeremiah (Jer. 28). Essentially, in this chamber were the most influential people in the kingdom. It is interesting to note that at this time of national emergency when the temple was opened to those who were taking part in the fast that none of these had been in the temple to listen to Baruch.
Upon arrival Michaiah told this group all that he had heard from Baruch's recitation in the temple. It was the message of the prophesy of Jeremiah that they had rejected. However, it also came at a time of crisis when the prophesy was unfolding in the manner it was stated. The prophesy was coming true before their eyes.
Therefore all the princes sent Jehudi the son of Nethaniah, the son of Shelemiah, the son of Cushi, unto Baruch, saying, Take in thine 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. 15And they said unto him, Sit down now, and read it in our ears. So Baruch read it in their ears. 16Now it came to pass, when they had heard all the words, they were afraid both one and other, and said unto Baruch, We will surely tell the king of all these words.
When they heard Michaiah's testimony of Baruch's teaching, the sons of the king wanted to hear for themselves from Baruch directly, so they sent a party to Baruch with instructions to bring him and the scroll from which he is reading to them. It is apparent that the princes submitted themselves to the hearing of the entire scroll, and upon its hearing were struck with fear. They knew of Judah's apostasy, and they knew of the impending danger posed by Nebuchadnezzar's thirst for conquest. If they listened to God's word without prejudice, they understood that all that they were hearing was true, and had a tremendous impact on the state of the nation. Jeremiah taught that the only way to avoid attack from Babylon was to be submissive to Nebuchadnezzar. At the same time, the temple leadership and king Jehoiakim were leading the nation against Babylon. The princes thought that the only solution was to bring this news to the king. The nature of their fear and their response to its message indicates that they believed these words.
And they asked Baruch, saying, Tell us now, How didst thou write all these words at his mouth? 18Then Baruch answered them, He pronounced all these words unto me with his mouth, and I wrote them with ink in the book. 19Then said the princes unto Baruch, Go, hide thee, thou and Jeremiah; and let no man know where ye be.
The astonishment of the princes as to the message they just heard is evident in their query of Beruch. What they have just heard is not the message that is passing on the streets. It is not the position of the temple leadership, and it is not what they are hearing coming from the throne of the king. Today there are many places where the gospel has not been heard, but for the most part the vast majority of developed culture has at least heard something about God's written word. The response of the princes is more like the response of someone who hears the gospel for the first time and is brought to faith in God. We might easily accept this taking place in some remote village in a far-off continent, and yet this message heard by the princes is in the very nation who has already been given God's word, a nation that is organized with a culture of scribes who protect its accuracy with an obsession. When one has been taught false Christian doctrine and is exposed to the truth, the testimony is often that "now God's word makes sense." Upon hearing Jeremiah's sermons, the ancient writings were brought into context and applicable to current events. They found that the writings of the law and prophets were true and reliable, that the nation had wandered away in apostasy, and the king was leading them there.
The princes made two requests of Baruch: (1) leave the scroll with them so they could read it to the king, and (2) go into hiding with Jeremiah because the publication of the scroll that was critical of the nation and its politics would put their lives in danger. They knew that the king needed to hear this message so that the coming calamity could be averted, yet if the king refused to listen, he would surely command that Baruch and Jeremiah be put to death.
And they went in to the king into the court, but they laid up the roll in the chamber of Elishama the scribe, and told all the words in the ears of the king. 21So the king sent Jehudi to fetch the roll: and he took it out of Elishama the scribeís chamber. And Jehudi read it in the ears of the king, and in the ears of all the princes which stood beside the king.
The princes took the scroll and left it in the scribe's chambers before they went before the king. They then told the king all of what they recalled from Baruch's recitation. When the king heard of the contents of the scroll and its whereabouts within the palace he called for the scroll to be brought to himself. Then, Jehudi read the scroll to the king, Jehoiakim.
God's command to Jeremiah to write his sermons culminated in their presentation to the king. The king sat and listened to all that Jeremiah had preached and prophesied over the last generation as the nation had fallen into apostasy and foreign domination under his leadership. It is evident that the princes embraced Jeremiah's solution to the situation: repent of their sin, and turn to God in obedience, an obedience that also included submitting to Nebuchadnezzar's current reign.
How would the king respond in hearing God's word that came through Jeremiah? Would he recognize the true reason for the fast that the people had called and take part in it? Would he call for the people to turn away from the pagan gods and return to the LORD?
Now the king sat in the winterhouse in the ninth month: and there was a fire on the hearth burning before him. 23And it came to pass, that when Jehudi had read three or four leaves, he cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth. 24Yet they were not afraid, nor rent their garments, neither the king, nor any of his servants that heard all these words. 25Nevertheless Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah had made intercession to the king that he would not burn the roll: but he would not hear them. 26But the king commanded Jerahmeel the son of Hammelech, and Seraiah the son of Azriel, and Shelemiah the son of Abdeel, to take Baruch the scribe and Jeremiah the prophet: but the LORD hid them.
The ninth month places these events in the month of December, a time when it is cold in Judea, and there would certainly be a fire in the hearth. The king's response to the reading of the scroll was dramatic. A scroll is constructed of a series of sheets that have been sewn together and rolled around the wooden axle. Each of these sheets is a "leaf," much like a page of a book is considered a single leaf. As Jehudi read the scroll, the king demanded that the leaves be cut off of the roll and cast into the fire. This implies that (2) the king listened to the entire prophesy, and (2) the king determined that nobody would ever hear of it again. Rather than respond to Jeremiah's preaching, Jehoiakim resolved to destroy the message and the messengers. Jehoiakim commanded that Baruch and Jeremiah be put to death.
Rather than understand the prophesy as God's words of redemption, Jehoiakim saw these words as a threat to his authority and to his ability to take the nation in the direction that he chose to take. Hearing the truth only enraged him.
The response in the king's court is interesting. Some of those in attendance urged the king not to destroy the scroll. This may have been in part because of the profound respect that their culture had for written documents. Because of the tremendous effort that was employed in their creation, the people tended to hold scrolls in high regard both in their intrinsic value and in the reliability and truth of their content. Yet, those who heard the king's response were "not afraid." They were astonished by Jeremiah's prophesy, but were not convinced. Certainly to take a stand against the king was to risk death, explaining their failure to express grief over the destruction of the prophesy. However, the king has no control over their thoughts, and those thoughts did not include fear or dread over what was taking place.
The influence of God's word in the temple was short-lived, and at least at the level of the throne was ineffectual. However, the reading of the prophesy in the winterhouse of the king placed upon Jehoiakim the full responsibility for his choices. He was given an opportunity to respond to the truth, to respond in submission to God's plan and purpose for the nation, and to save the nation by leading it back to obedience to God. Jehoikim's response to the word of God parallels that which the writer describes in the New Testament book of Hebrews 6:4-6 the consequence of hearing God's word and rejecting it. Jehoaikim knew the history of his nation and its apostasy. He knew that as the king of Israel the proper way to serve would be in obedience to God. It was his own choice to rebel against God, to preserve his own authority, and lead the nation in the direction of his own choosing: a direction away from God.
Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, after that the king had burned the roll, and the words which Baruch wrote at the mouth of Jeremiah, saying, 28Take 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. 29And thou shalt say to Jehoiakim king of Judah, Thus saith the LORD; 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? 30Therefore thus saith the LORD of 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. 31And 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. 32Then 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.
The attempt of the king to destroy the word of God failed. The king failed in his attempt to locate and put to death the author of the scroll, and under God's authority, the scroll was re-written. However, this time the scroll was even more complete than the first, for this scroll would also include the prophesy concerning the king's destruction of the first.
God's judgment upon the king was straightforward and self-fulfilling. By failing to follow God's commands, the king continued in his rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar who did indeed come in and destroy the nation. Jehoiakim and his princes were put to death by Nebuchadnezzar in the manner that Jeremiah had prophesied.
Over the thousands of years since God's word has been recorded, many have endeavored to discredit it and destroy it. For the thousands of years prior to the reformation even the Christian church under the leadership of the Roman Catholic church of Rome and breakaway Church of England kept the word of God out of the hands of the people for fear of a loss of autocratic authority. The sixteenth century Church of England went so far as to burn at the stake anyone who would write the scriptures in a language the common people could read. Consequently, the Bibles we read today were written under intense persecution that came not from the pagan world but from the church leadership. Out of rage, the Pope in Rome demanded that John Wycliff's bones be exhumed and burned for his heresy of writing scripture in English.
Discrediting of God's word still continues today, but in ways less dramatic than what took place in the 16th century, but every bit as effective. Few truly believe in the authority of the Bible and place their beliefs upon other sources of thought. However, the most tragic dissolution of the power of God's word may be taking place in the hands of those who call themselves faithful Christians. Many Christians will defend the authority of scripture but because of their ignorance of it cannot defend any of its content. Most Christians approach the word of God with the following pattern: out of obligation they attend one corporate "worship" service each week where a preacher might give a sermon on a segment of scripture. It is common that the sermon will be an exposition loosely related to the chosen scripture, if related at all. Consequently, it is a scripture that is forgotten before the person leaves the meeting. At best, with perfect attendance, the faithful attendee has heard 52 to 53 scripture passages in a hear and cannot repeat or discuss the contents of any of them. Even in churches that offer Bible study, usually less than half of their membership takes part, and even fewer give any thought to the Bible between periodic study sessions.
Is it any wonder that God's word, the same word that created the universe, does not shake the earth? We may not be burning the word of God as Jehoiakim did, but we can be just as effective in destroying its message by ignoring it as Jehoiakim did. The solution is simply for Christians to put to action what they already know: God's word is indeed the word of the creator. It is His expression to mankind of his plan and purpose for those whom He created and seeks fellowship with. A deep knowledge of God's word transforms lives, lifting them out of the sin and chaos that the message of this world can only bring. If one truly loves God, one truly loves His word. However we often let the pressures and demands of this world overwhelm our desire to spend more time in the study and meditation on God's word. This error is not far different from that which led Israel and Judah astray as they also let the culture in which they immersed replace their love of God.
The ability of a renewed interest in God's word to bring us back from a mediocre and powerless faith is real. Let us each reassess our attitude toward God's word, and make a commitment for more positive interaction with it. Let us not, like Jehoiakim, allow our own pride, prejudice and selfish desire to diminish or disable the ability of God's word to make a real difference in our lives, but let us love God instead. For, if we truly love God, we will want to learn more of His word as we seek to live in obedience to Him.