What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
So reliant were king and people on the past that they had forgotten to plug God into their present. They refused to live His way of life. Thus God called for a change in attitude and behavior.
The moral and social depravity of king and people had reached a crucial state that could only become an inevitable tipping point, or to change the metaphor, a decided critical mass that begged God's prompt attention. The iniquity of the Amorites, so to speak, was full. Through a number of prophets, God warned of the consequences of this widespread turpitude. Consider Jeremiah 17:27, only one of many examples:
But if you will not heed Me to hallow the Sabbath day, such as not carrying a burden when entering the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.
God meant business. The king and all his men would be unable to douse the fires of Jerusalem. The cultural artifacts they so dearly prized would go up in smoke.
In figurative language, God issued a like warning through His prophet, Isaiah. As recorded in Isaiah 5, God likens His people to a vineyard that He has painstakingly cultivated. The fruit was not what He expected, however:
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard.
What more could have been done to My vineyard
That I have not done in it?
Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes,
Did it bring forth wild grapes?
And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard:
I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned;
And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
I will lay it waste;
It shall not be pruned or dug,
But there shall come up briers and thorns.
I will also command the clouds
That they rain no rain on it.”
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.
He looked for justice, but behold, oppression;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.
The metaphor is informed by the thoroughness implied by the act of digging up a plant. God is not just clipping or trimming or pruning. He is digging up, root and branch, stock and foliage. Everything is gone. A number of other passages convey this idea of uprooting. Consider Psalm 80:8-16, where Asaph asserts that God uprooted Israel from Egypt and planted it in the Promised Land. As another example, consider God's commission to a young Jeremiah, as recorded in Jeremiah 1:10:
See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms,
To root out and to pull down,
To destroy and to throw down,
To build and to plant.
Yet another use of the same metaphor appears in Jeremiah 18:7-10:
The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.
As a final example, consider Jeremiah 31:28, a more positive passage: “And it shall come to pass, that as I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to throw down, to destroy, and to afflict, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the LORD.”
There is, as God inspired Solomon to write, “a time to plant and a time to uproot” (Ecclesiastes 3:2, Complete Jewish Bible). The time for planting was past, and the time for “digging and dunging” (see Luke 13:8) was over as well. It was now time for God to do some serious uprooting, and to do so on a vast scale. Indeed, far more than “the house of Israel and the men of Judah” awaited the shovel. God sent Jeremiah to the kings of the earth, giving them a cup, telling them to drink of it. Jeremiah 25:27-29 tells the story:
“Drink, be drunk, and vomit! Fall and rise no more, because of the sword which I will send among you.” And it shall be, if they refuse to take the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'You shall certainly drink! For behold, I begin to bring calamity on the city which is called by My name, and should you be utterly unpunished? You shall not be unpunished, for I will call for a sword on all the inhabitants of the earth."
In verses 31-32, God emphasizes the depth and the breadth of His imminent digging project:
“A noise will come to the ends of the earth—
For the LORD has a controversy with the nations;
He will plead His case with all flesh.
He will give those who are wicked to the sword,” says the LORD. . . .
“Behold, disaster shall go forth
From nation to nation,
And a great whirlwind shall be raised up
From the farthest parts of the earth.
The historical fact of the matter is this: In the days before Jeremiah, God had uprooted ten-tribed Israel and later, Assyria. Now, He was in the proximate act of uprooting Judah. He would later uproot Babylon, Egypt, Persia. In this general timeframe, what some today call the Axial Period, God also rooted out empires in the Indus Valley and in the Far East. The scope of God's actions, as Jeremiah states, were gigantic, their impact on history—and on people—monumental.
Baruch's Complaint (Part One)
Jeremiah, like Baruch, has become discouraged by the turbulent maelstrom of events around him, the confusion and destruction that always accompany the unraveling of a nation. Yet, the prophet's complaint is more focused than that of his scribe's. Moreover, Jeremiah's complaint does not betray the self-absorption that Baruch's grumbling exhibits. Instead, Jeremiah's complaint is oriented outside himself. It is a “green” complaint, as we would say today: The land, he declares, mourns, the herbs everywhere wither, the animals and birds are gone because the residents of the land are evil.
It is clear that the natural environment of Judah was languishing as a result of mismanagement at the hands of selfish, exploitive people. Jeremiah did not limit culpability to Judah's leaders, but speaks more generally of the “wicked” (verse 1) or of “those who dwell there” (verse 4), who have “taken root” (verse 2), that is, become established to the point that they are prospering due to their environmentally destructive activities.
Jeremiah's complaint, therefore, has at its heart the issue of prosperity on the part of the wicked, people without scruples who take advantage of others and circumstances for their own gain. Why does God permit the wicked to prosper? The psalmist Asaph broached this issue in Psalm 73:1-28. Asaph comes to understand that a time will come when, “in a moment,” God will “destroy those who destroy the earth,” as John states it in Revelation 11:18. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 8:11, “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” Sooner or later, though, their sins and crimes catch up to them, and divine justice—destruction and death—follow.
A Tale of Two Complaints (Part One)
The intensity of rhetoric in the preceding verses, the horrific images it evokes, brings Jeremiah to experience profound depression, as verse 10 indicates. Jeremiah is not even a banker, yet people all around him condemn him!
Consider that, to this point, God has as yet done nothing more than what He told Amos He would always do: He would do nothing until he has revealed His secret to His servants the prophets (see Amos 3:7). Yet, the information He has provided Jeremiah has overwhelmed him. The prophet mouths the same formula Baruch would later utter, “Woe is me.” Is there anyone on “the whole earth” who understands what Jeremiah has gone through and who appreciates the work he is doing for God? Is he, like that mariner of old, alone in the wide, wide sea?
God's response contains three elements:
1. A message of hope, assuring the prophet that he is not alone (verse 11).
2. A powerful rebuke, complete with a threat (Jeremiah 15:19).
3. A reminder of the grace He has afforded Jeremiah from the start (Jeremiah 15:20-21).
God starts out with a message of hope, promising Jeremiah that He will provide a remnant, a group of people who will survive the siege and the destruction of Judah. Jeremiah is not alone and will never be alone. By His use of the term “your remnant,” God indicates that Jeremiah will “own” this group; he will be its leader. “Surely it will be well with your remnant; surely I will cause the enemy to intercede with you in the time of adversity and in the time of affliction” (verse 11).
A Tale of Two Complaints (Part Two)
Jeremiah is not satisfied with God's assurances. In verses 15-18, the prophet retorts with words bespeaking the depth of his dejection, the seriousness of his crises of belief. Jeremiah reminds God that he has taken of God's Word and rejoiced in it; he has called on God's name and avoided the gainsayers. Yet, his pain is ongoing. Like Baruch, he finds no rest (see Jeremiah 45:3). Will God be with him to the end? Will God abandon him? The Jubilee Bible 2000 renders verse 18 this way: “Why was my pain perpetual and my wound incurable, which refuses to be healed? Wilt thou be altogether unto me as a liar and as waters that fail?”
Strong words! Like Asaph, whose “feet had almost stumbled” and whose “steps had nearly slipped” when he became envious of “the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:2-3), Jeremiah is clearly experiencing intense spiritual doubts. Can God use such an individual as His spokesman, His prophet, especially in this time of national emergency, the approaching “worst of times?”
A Tale of Two Complaints (Part Two)
Little is known about Baruch, son of Neriah. A note in The Amplified Bible, citing II Chronicles 34:8, suggests that he may have been the grandson of Maaseiah, who served as the governor of Jerusalem in the days of King Josiah. Baruch may have been attached to a family of means, perhaps a prominent one. He was certainly educated, serving as he did as Jeremiah's secretary. Entrusted with putting down Jeremiah's words for posterity, we can surmise that he was detail-oriented and performance-motivated, able to get a lot of work done and get it done correctly.
Jeremiah 43 and 44 offer us a clue about Baruch's social status. Shortly after Jerusalem's fall, a small number of Jews remaining in the city ask Jeremiah to seek God's counsel regarding what action they should take. After ten days, God tells the people through Jeremiah to remain in the vicinity, around Jerusalem. Specifically, they are not to flee to Egypt in an attempt to escape from the Babylonians. The Jewish leadership rejects God's instruction to them, and ultimately leads the people down to Egypt anyway. One of their reasons for rejecting Jeremiah's comments may be telling. They respond to the prophet, as recorded in Jeremiah 43:2-3:
You speak falsely! The LORD our God has not sent you to say, “Do not go to Egypt to dwell there.” But Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may put us to death or carry us away captive to Babylon.
It appears that the Jewish leadership saw Baruch as somewhat of a mover-and-shaker, someone who had influence over Jeremiah, as though he, rather than God, were the power behind Jeremiah's words. It is not likely that they would come to this conclusion (erroneous as it was) if Baruch were just a secretary. He was undoubtedly a highly competent, poised person, perhaps prominent to some extent.
Baruch's Complaint (Part One)
This second scroll, then, is even longer than the first. All this transcribing is tedious work, carried out as it is under perhaps less-than-optimum conditions, since Jeremiah and Baruch are in hiding somewhere. It had to be done carefully and accurately. After all, some or all of these words became canonized Scripture, what we now call the book of Jeremiah. These were not man's words, but God's.
Baruch has quite a bit of responsibility on his shoulders. The effort may have discouraged Baruch as well as physically fatigued him, resulting in his griping, “The LORD has added misery to my pain” (see Isaiah 45:3)
Baruch's Complaint (Part Two)
Baruch, Jeremiah's scribe, certainly an intelligent and perhaps a prominent man in his own right, was born in these dire times. He was not above sounding off about his situation. The Scriptures do not quote Baruch's complaint directly. Rather, it comes to us through God's recitation. Maybe Baruch verbalized these exact words. It is more likely, through, that he was an inveterate grumbler—a typical Israelite, chronically registering his discontent to Jeremiah using various peevish words. In this passage, God may have simply distilled them into a kernel, as it were, Baruch's discontent in a nutshell. Jeremiah 36:2-7 may provide clues about what was behind Baruch's complaint.
Baruch's Complaint (Part Two)
God puts things into perspective for Baruch by making clear His intention and purpose. He has set His hand to bring about a major change in “this whole land.” However, God had taken action to protect Jeremiah and Baruch, hiding them away as the sun was setting on Judah. The catastrophe to come was immense in scope: All the civilizations of that time were in various stages of unraveling, being uprooted by God Himself.
God cuts through the smoke, that is, through any excuse Baruch may offer for wishing to end his service to Jeremiah and, through him, to God. Jeremiah 45:5: “But as for you, do you seek great things for yourself? Stop seeking!” (Holman Christian Standard Bible [HCSB]).
We may surmise why Baruch sought “great things” for himself. First, he may have considered himself well-positioned to take advantage of unstable times, times of war. Having come from a prominent—or perhaps, once-prominent—family, he may have had the capital with which he could fund significant investments. He may have been well-connected in the society of his day.
He was obviously educated. He understood that knowledge, properly leveraged, becomes power. And knowledge he had, in spades. As the secretary of God's prophet, he was an insider's insider. He knew what God was doing. A significant piece of that knowledge was that God had committed himself to protect Jeremiah in troubled times. After all, had he not himself transcribed God's words, recorded in Jeremiah 1:17-19?
What an insurance policy—underwritten by God Himself! Baruch well may have thought that, if he did not seek to use the unstable situation to his benefit, he did not deserve greatness. Add a little ambition to the mix, and you have a recipe for covetousness.
While we do not know the specifics, Baruch apparently sought to take advantage of highly turbulent times, leveraging the knowledge he had to turn a profit. God did not mince words: “Stop seeking.” He urges Baruch to read the words he had transcribed for Jeremiah and to heed their warming, not underestimating the enormity of the changes that were in the wings. Jeremiah would shortly see Jerusalem in flames; Baruch would see it in ashes. Great things—fame, notoriety, and money—would do Baruch no good in circumstances totally unlike the days of the fathers, when God had uprooted everything.
Baruch appears focused—maybe even fixated—on himself. He wants to aggrandize himself, bestowing “great things” on himself. In this regard, it is interesting to note the promise that God issues to Baruch: His life. That is all—just his life.
Jeremiah 45:5 reads, “. . . I will give your life to you as a prize in all places, wherever you go.” The HCSB renders it as, “. . . grant you your life like the spoils of war.” The Common English Bible states it as, “I will let you escape with your life.”
The implication of God's promise to Baruch is twofold. First, God connects Baruch's life with war. War and struggle would characterize his life. Baruch would continue to live as a blessing of God in the midst of a highly unstable environment, not apart from that environment, not in a state of immunity from its hardships. While many others would lose their lives, property, or freedom in the troubles that lay just ahead, God promises that He will preserve Baruch's life.
Second, the clause “wherever you go” hints that Baruch's would be a life “on the move.” Perhaps he would even be fleeing for his life at times. His life would not be a settled one behind a white picket fence in suburban Jerusalem. The rest that Baruch wanted, mentioned in Jeremiah 45:3, would not come in this life: It would come later.
It was the worst of times. The winter of despair chilled Baruch. Yet, God promises him his life, if he will refocus his priorities on God's work, not on seeking fame for himself. It is motivation that Baruch seems to have taken to heart.
Baruch's Complaint (Part Two)
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