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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Jeremiah 36

 

 

Verse 3

A DREAD UNCERTAINTY

‘It may be.’

Jeremiah 36:3; Jeremiah 36:7

The words tell of an awful uncertainty as to the future of the chosen people.

Will they repent? ‘It may be——’

Let us recognise—

I. The even balance.—Could anything be more soul-stirring than to realise that a crisis so momentous had come? In Jeremiah 36:3 it is the voice of God, in Jeremiah 36:7 the voice of Jeremiah in echo. Divine love and prophetic zeal were linked in a supreme effort to turn the scale of destiny for a whole people. A people, too, with a history that has no parallel for its marvels of providence and grace. Now they stood on the brink of a precipice of disaster. Before the last step, the dreadful plunge, is taken, another effort is to be made to save them. ‘It may be——’ Among us there may be some for whom the personal crisis is just as momentous, just as urgent. Who knows the hour at which he passes over the line when God and His messengers are to make the last great effort to save him? Is it always at death? One dare not say ‘Yes, always!’ Might it not be here and now, in the hour when God speaks home some searching truth to the heart? Has He sent forth for some of us to-day His message that may never be repeated, saying, ‘It may be that [they] will hear … that they may return … that I may forgive.’

II. The favouring conditions.—A series of prophecies, twenty-three years long, culminated in Jeremiah 25:1-12, a vivid forecast of Babylon’s victory over Jerusalem, and the fall and captivity of the Jews. This was trumpeted forth in the fourth year of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 25:1). Probably at that very time Nebuchadnezzar had just defeated the forces of Egypt at Carchemish, and was marching towards Jerusalem. In a few months the city was captured. But Nebuchadnezzar, being called away, shortly left the vanquished city (2 Chronicles 36:6-7; Daniel 1:1), and before the year closed God stirred up Jeremiah to repeat all his warnings given in those long twenty-three years. Baruch wrote at Jeremiah’s dictation in some secluded hiding-place, and took, it seems, some nine months to prepare his awful message. Then, when the people had themselves arranged a day of fasting, in view of their calamitous estate, Baruch came forth and spoke the words of Jeremiah, in which was the voice of God (Jeremiah 36:1-10). Was there not everything to make the message effective? If only the people’s heart had been sincere in their day of fast, how could they do other than hear, heed, and repent? For us it is a matter of the greatest moment that we should not miss our crisis. If it comes in the solemn hour of worship, though it be on some ordinary Sunday, we shall look back upon it and feel that only hardened perversity could have blinded our eyes to its meaning. Is it our crisis now?

III. The disaster.—There is the burning of the roll. So impotent to do away with the prophecy. Cf. the case of Luther’s books. ‘Do you imagine that Luther’s doctrines are found only in those books that you are throwing into the fire? They are written where you cannot reach them, in the hearts of the nation.’ Then the dread captivity, now inevitable. But withal the remnant and the restoration, and every good promise wholly fulfilled. For the many, spite of all the tender mercy and longsuffering of God, desolation and misery; for the few, repentance, hope, and salvation. For us, too, there is the overshadowing of a great possibility of disaster, but also a promise and hope that never fail.


Verse 7

A DREAD UNCERTAINTY

‘It may be.’

Jeremiah 36:3; Jeremiah 36:7

The words tell of an awful uncertainty as to the future of the chosen people.

Will they repent? ‘It may be——’

Let us recognise—

I. The even balance.—Could anything be more soul-stirring than to realise that a crisis so momentous had come? In Jeremiah 36:3 it is the voice of God, in Jeremiah 36:7 the voice of Jeremiah in echo. Divine love and prophetic zeal were linked in a supreme effort to turn the scale of destiny for a whole people. A people, too, with a history that has no parallel for its marvels of providence and grace. Now they stood on the brink of a precipice of disaster. Before the last step, the dreadful plunge, is taken, another effort is to be made to save them. ‘It may be——’ Among us there may be some for whom the personal crisis is just as momentous, just as urgent. Who knows the hour at which he passes over the line when God and His messengers are to make the last great effort to save him? Is it always at death? One dare not say ‘Yes, always!’ Might it not be here and now, in the hour when God speaks home some searching truth to the heart? Has He sent forth for some of us to-day His message that may never be repeated, saying, ‘It may be that [they] will hear … that they may return … that I may forgive.’

II. The favouring conditions.—A series of prophecies, twenty-three years long, culminated in Jeremiah 25:1-12, a vivid forecast of Babylon’s victory over Jerusalem, and the fall and captivity of the Jews. This was trumpeted forth in the fourth year of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 25:1). Probably at that very time Nebuchadnezzar had just defeated the forces of Egypt at Carchemish, and was marching towards Jerusalem. In a few months the city was captured. But Nebuchadnezzar, being called away, shortly left the vanquished city (2 Chronicles 36:6-7; Daniel 1:1), and before the year closed God stirred up Jeremiah to repeat all his warnings given in those long twenty-three years. Baruch wrote at Jeremiah’s dictation in some secluded hiding-place, and took, it seems, some nine months to prepare his awful message. Then, when the people had themselves arranged a day of fasting, in view of their calamitous estate, Baruch came forth and spoke the words of Jeremiah, in which was the voice of God (Jeremiah 36:1-10). Was there not everything to make the message effective? If only the people’s heart had been sincere in their day of fast, how could they do other than hear, heed, and repent? For us it is a matter of the greatest moment that we should not miss our crisis. If it comes in the solemn hour of worship, though it be on some ordinary Sunday, we shall look back upon it and feel that only hardened perversity could have blinded our eyes to its meaning. Is it our crisis now?

III. The disaster.—There is the burning of the roll. So impotent to do away with the prophecy. Cf. the case of Luther’s books. ‘Do you imagine that Luther’s doctrines are found only in those books that you are throwing into the fire? They are written where you cannot reach them, in the hearts of the nation.’ Then the dread captivity, now inevitable. But withal the remnant and the restoration, and every good promise wholly fulfilled. For the many, spite of all the tender mercy and longsuffering of God, desolation and misery; for the few, repentance, hope, and salvation. For us, too, there is the overshadowing of a great possibility of disaster, but also a promise and hope that never fail.


Verse 23

THE INDESTRUCTIBLE BOOK

‘All the roll was consumed.’

Jeremiah 36:23

We often think the books of the prophets very dry reading; if we studied them more we should find in them incidents and scenes as interesting and suggestive as this. One point only I remind you of now.

I. This is the first instance of burning the sacred Book.—Begin by picture of the scene, Jeremiah’s book read by the officers, and making quite an excitement among them. Observe what the book contains, prophecies of national woe because of national sins. At last they feel that it must be read to the king. At first they tell him of the contents of the roll, evidently afraid to show the roll itself to him. He angrily orders it to be fetched; they dare not disobey. The king listens to a few lines, then passionately snatches it out of the hands of Jehudi, and begins to cut it up into strips with his knife. Three of the councillors are brave enough to plead with him not to burn the roll; he will not heed them, utterly refusing to receive the Divine truth and message; putting insult on God by his treatment of His Word, the king goes on cutting up the roll, and dropping piece after piece into the flames, until the whole is burnt up. And to the evident surprise of the writer it is added, ‘Yet they were not afraid, nor rent their garments, neither the king nor any of his servants.’ The sacred Word has been destroyed or burnt many a time since then. Illustrate by Diocletian, finding it impossible by persecutions to root out all the Christians and destroy Christianity, endeavouring to get possession of all the Christian books; many suffered death for refusing to give them up. Antiochus attempted to destroy the Jewish scriptures. Illustrations also found in martyr ages.

II. Reasons for burning the Book.—Jehoiakim’s reason. (1) It testifies against men’s wrongdoing, and points out their danger. Describe how anxious the wreckers who wanted to plunder shipwrecked vessels would be to get the light in the lighthouse put out. (2) It sets men free—from superstition, from error, from bonds, from priests. ‘Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’

III. The wickedness of burning the Book.—We can see the wickedness of setting fire to the tabernacle, or temple, or a church, because each is God’s house. Show why the Word is even more sacred. In it more of God and less of man. We can see how wicked it would be to burn all the barns which stored a nation’s food: how much worse to destroy the truth, which is the food of souls. The reason for killing Jesus is the reason for burning the Bible, ‘men hate the light, and love darkness rather.’

IV. The uselessness of burning the Book.—Some Baruch will be set writing another. The true Phœnix tale; from the ashes of burnt Bibles new editions have sprung. Illustrated by Professor Rogers’ dream of the ‘blank Bible’ in Eclipse of Faith. He beautifully shows how every part of it could be fetched back again out of Christian memories. Men may snatch the Bible from our hands, as the king did; they cannot take it out of our hearts.

Illustration

‘As a contrast, the case of Josiah may be recalled. When the lost Book of the Law had been found, Josiah rent his garments in great distress, because he now saw how he had sinned and that wrath was hanging over his head. Instead of repentance in Jehoiakim, we have defiance and presumption. Instead of listening reverently to the Divine words, he tore the roll in pieces and threw it into the fire.’


Verse 24

A FOOLISH BRAVERY

‘They were not afraid.’

Jeremiah 36:24

Jehoiakim is king in Jerusalem. The best of fathers he had—the devout, true-hearted Josiah; but this Jehoiakim turned out to be the worst of sons. Against God, King Jehoiakim used his power. And the badness in the lifted places struck infection through the lower orders of the people. Sin was getting everything out of gear in that kingdom of Judah. But Jehoiakim was not going on unwarned. Jeremiah, the Lord’s prophet, was living in Jerusalem, and faithfully Jehoiakim was being told of the Divine displeasure and of the doom for his own and the people’s sins which was surely gathering.

And the point is that, notwithstanding such defiance of the Divine will, and such refusal to treat rightly the Divine message, and such childish rage against the mutilation of God’s Word written in the prophetic roll, neither Jehoiakim nor his courtiers were afraid. They were puffed up with a foolish bravery (Jeremiah 36:24).

Think a little of such foolish bravery. There is many a modern instance and illustration of it.

I. It is a foolish bravery to ignore facts.—Just that did Jehoiakim.

(1) It was a fact that he had sinned.

(2) It was a fact that Jeremiah was God’s prophet.

(3) It was a fact that God, by the mouth of Jeremiah, had spoken doom for the sin of Jehoiakim unless he should repent.

But Jehoiakim would have nothing of these facts. He cut the roll to pieces and threw it on the fire, etc. But thus petulantly and wilfully to ignore facts did not change the facts. The facts stood, and it was the foolishest sort of daring thus to ignore them.

Think of certain facts.

(1) It is a fact that good is what ought to be; (2) that God is the good; (3) that evil is what ought not to be; (4) that the good which ought to be must be against the evil which ought not to be; (5) that God, Who is the good which ought to be, must be Himself against the evil which ought not to be; (6) that if I choose the evil which ought not to be, the good God, who must be against the evil which ought not to be, must be against me.

All this is written in two Bibles—in the Bible of the Scriptures, in the Bible of the nature of things.

Now, if I just ignore such facts as these and treat them as though they were not, it is the foolishest of bravery; it is poor bravado. Yet multitudes, during the past year and entering on the new year, have been and are doing precisely this. Does not the lapse of an old year and the beginning of a new admonish us it is time to stop such sheer and senseless carelessness of facts?

II. It is a foolish bravery to imagine yourself an exception from the working of the Divine law.—Doubtless this was a kind of reason prompting Jehoiakim. It is quite likely he thought that the law of doom for sin would not strike him, a king. If he did not think so, multitudes of men do think so.

Have you never been subdued into a vast awe, as the absolute irreversibleness of natural law has been pressed upon you? In this changing, transitory world there is one thing we can count on—the laws of physical nature will hold on their courses. The great wheels turn constantly, and they keep turning. It is because natural law is so unchanging that we may build our cities, and send our ships, and plough our fields, and reap our harvests.

But there is another and a fearful side to this irreversibleness of natural law. When, for any reason, man stands athwart one of these great natural laws, the penalty for violation is sure to smite.

And this is as true in the moral realm. It is a foolish bravery to think yourself an exception to God’s law. He said it—there are many who think it who do not so plainly say it—that young man, whom I was seeking to dissuade from courses of dissipation. ‘Oh,’ he answered, ‘it may hurt other fellows, but it won’t me; I am an exception.’ How crammed with folly such temerity!

III. It is a foolish bravery to refuse truth which you dislike.—This Jehoiakim did. The prophet’s roll which warned him he cut to pieces.

IV. It is a foolish bravery to go on heedlessly saying, ‘I don’t care.’—Thus did Jehoiakim, and multitudes follow him.

V. It is a foolish bravery to refuse repentance.—This Jehoiakim did, but the doom smote (Jeremiah 36:30).

Illustration

‘Behold a real and a right bravery. In the British Museum I saw the MS. of a letter from General Gordon to his sister, dated Khartoum, February 27th, 1884—“I have sent Stewart off to scour the river White Nile, and another expedition to push back rebels on the Blue Nile. With Stewart has gone Power, the British consul and Times correspondent; so I am left alone in the vast palace, but not alone, for I feel great confidence in my Saviour’s presence. I trust and stay myself in the fact that not one sparrow falls to the ground without our Lord’s permission; also that enough for the day is the evil.

All things are ruled by Him for His glory, and it is rebellion to murmur against His will.”’


Verse 28

‘BURNED, BUT NOT CONSUMED’

‘Take thee again another roll.’

Jeremiah 36:28

God laid it upon Jeremiah’s heart to gather his prophecies into a single roll. For this work the prophet employed Baruch, a man whose business gifts we have already heard of (Jeremiah 32:12). It may be that Jeremiah, like many another prophet, had not the pen of a ready writer. And just as St. Paul employed another hand in writing most of his glorious epistles, so did Jeremiah dictate his summary to his amanuensis Baruch. What a debt do we all owe to Baruch in helping the prophet in this lasting work! Now at this time Jeremiah, though not in prison, was under some restraint from prophesying. So Baruch took the roll and went to the Temple, and there from a balcony read it to the people. Then he was sent for to read it to the princes, for the princes had not been in church that day; and so at last the tidings of the sermon came to the ears of Jehoiakim himself. The king did not summon Baruch to his presence. He sent a courtier to fetch the roll. Probably the courtier then (like many now) was not just a man of first-rate education. And we can imagine how he would halt and stammer, and add to the growing anger of the king, who was lying warming himself beside the brazier, for it was winter time and cold. But the courtier was not left to stammer long—three or four pages was all he stumbled through—when the king snatched the roll from him, and hacked it with his knife, and flung it, roller and all, into the fire. And there it burned, yet it was not consumed, either in its message or its form, for the message was terribly fulfilled, and at God’s bidding it was all rewritten.

There are three lessons which we ought to learn here.

I. The first is the kindness of severity.—The prophets of God were terribly severe, yet only thus could they be kind to Israel. It was one mark of every false prophet that he was easy and compliant and accommodating. It was one mark of every true prophet that he was terrible in his passion against sin. Yet the latter were the truest friends of Israel, and loved Israel with an enduring love, and were never kinder to their unhappy land than when they voiced the judgments of Jehovah.

II. The next is the foolishness of temper, for was not Jehoiakim supremely foolish?—Was anything gained for himself or for his country by this mad act of an unbridled anger? There is an anger which is wise and holy, and a wrath which is as the wrath of the Lamb; but there is an anger far more common than that, in which everything is lost and nothing gained.

III. The last is the penalty of rejection.—Do you note what we read in Jeremiah 32:32? Not only did Jeremiah re-write his roll, but he added to it ‘many like words.’ That is to say, the message that was scorned became a message of increased severity. The roll that was rejected with contempt, grew into a roll of sterner judgment. And that is what every one is sure to find who spurns the message of the love of God, and flings away from him, in pride of heart, the summons and the warning of the prophets.

Illustration

‘In many ages there has been this folly of burning Bibles and prophets, but it has only added to the light and fire of the increasing truth. Latimer, when being burned with Ridley at Oxford, in 1555, said: “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust shall never be put out.” The well-known words of Fuller, finding in the burning of the bones of John Wycliffe, the great translator of the Bible, when the ashes were cast into the Wye river, and so into the Severn, and at last into the great sea, a symbol of the ever-spreading circle of his influence, illustrate the same thought of the eternity of truth. The all-illuminating case is, of course, the crucifixion of Christ, the Truth.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Jeremiah 36:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/jeremiah-36.html. 1876.

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