Addition to Jeremiah – I Baruch
According to the introductory verses, Baruch presumably read this letter to Jeconiah, son of Jehoiakim, who was the deposed king of Judah in Babylon. The reading should have occurred five years after the destruction of Jerusalem. This immediately raises some red flags because most scholars are of the opinion that Baruch and Jeremiah were taken from Jerusalem to Egypt a few years after Jerusalem's collapse, and neither one was ever in Babylon.
Those same scholars are quick to point out that this narrative lacks the cohesion that would be evident of a single author. Even if Baruch wrote the first half, it would be very unlikely he wrote the rest. In fact, some scholars think these were four separate writings that were simply joined together by a redactor. That doesn't bode well for it being a unified whole, but some scholars do see an overarching framework that is typical of OT prophecy.
In essence, the book brings together several themes. It starts with a narrative, follows with a prayer, adds a Wisdom poem, and ends with a psalm of hope or consolation. Even if all of these elements were separate writings, the fact that they were at some point joined together -- and in this particular order -- actually gives the book a sense of movement. It addresses the issue of exile, displacement, and restoration in a way that would have been very helpful for the Jewish people at various key moments in their history. In order to accomplish this task, the author borrowed many phrases and themes from other OT writings, including Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, and Daniel. Most scholars decry the lack of original material. Nonetheless, this book is an attempt to explain the historical facts of exile in terms that were consistent with Judah's spiritual history. The bottom line is that bad things did happen to them, but not because they were wrong about God. Bad things happened because they weren't committed enough to living the vision laid out in the Jewish scriptures.
So it is that in the introduction, Baruch sets the stage for the reading that supposedly took place in the fifth year of captivity in Babylon. Upon hearing these words, the people in exile reacted with tears, fasting, and prayers. They quickly gathered whatever funds they could spare to send to the priests who remained in Jerusalem so the sacrificial system would remain intact. Additionally, Baruch would take back some of the sacred vessels along with the people's instructions on how the money was supposed to be used. The sacrifices in Jerusalem were supposed to include prayers for the Babylonian king as well as for those who were still in exile.
This all sounds good except for some blatant historical fallacies inherent in these verses. In addition to the fact that Baruch might not ever have been in Babylon, scholars don't think any of the sacred vessels were returned until the Persian era. Once again, Belshazzar is identified as Nebuchadnezzar's son. It seems like the sort of thing that would have happened if the text had actually been written years (possibly centuries) later.
The second section then moves into a prayer. The prayer has essentially two parts. The first is where it becomes apparent that the people deserved the punishment they had been given. It is as though the author publicly confesses all their transgressions, of which there were many. In addition to the basic ones of disobedience and not listening to the words of the Lord, the people also ignored the warnings of Moses and all the prophets. Each person did what he wanted and followed other gods, doing what was evil. Is it any wonder that finally God carried out His threats?
Having said all that, however, Baruch turned that confession into a prayer for the exiled community. The people had been chastened. They had suffered. Now it was time to pray for deliverance and the granting of God's favor. If God would save them, then the whole world would know that they were His people. He affirmed in this prayer that the people had truly learned their lesson. Now, they cry out in anguish with wearied spirits. They ask for pity. He also knows that God is still God, in all His might. God can restore them; He can wipe the slate clean.
The prayer is then followed by a Wisdom poem that is loosely based on phrases found in Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. Everything about this poem suggests a new author. Not only was this originally written in Greek, but the name for God is different. It asks the age-old question: "Who knows where Wisdom lives?" Obviously, people don't. Not the powerful or the wealthy or the wise or the ancestors. No mortal of any kind knows Wisdom. Yet, God does. God knows Wisdom and has given Israel the way to knowledge of her through His commandments. The Law will last forever as will those who keep it. The poem ends with a song of joy – "We are happy because we know the things that please God!"
The last section is best defined as a psalm of encouragement and hope. This psalm is closely related to phrases found in second Isaiah, chapters 40-55. Again, there is considerable movement in this section. It begins with the psalmist speaking to the exiles on God's behalf. They should take heart. Yes, they had been punished but they were not destroyed. The author also attributes great grief to God who had to bring up another nation to inflict this punishment on His chosen people. But this will not be the end of the story. As the children of Israel continue to cry out to God, they will be rescued from the tyranny and torment of their enemies. Then they will be able to return to Jerusalem, and Jerusalem will once again be filled with glory.
The author then addresses Jerusalem directly. The nation will rejoice when her children are returned to her from their captivity. From then on it will be an eternal city, and its splendor will be shown to every nation under heaven. It ends with very uplifting images about God's devotedness to His people.
So why didn't this make it into the canon? Scholars vary in their answers, but few think this book was ever included in the Jewish scriptures. Because of its affinity with Daniel, most think it was probably written around the same time (roughly 160 BCE), while others think it might not have been written until the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, which would easily explain why it was not considered to be canonical. However, it is included in some of the older manuscripts of the Septuagint. That doesn't mean it was known at the time of that translation, only that it circulated in Greek. There are no Hebrew copies or even fragments of this book. Apparently, the only ones who seemed to find it useful were the early Church Fathers from around the second century CE. Occasional references occur through the fifth century, but after that it was virtually ignored.
This book can be divided into four sections: 1:1-14 – Introduction; 1:15-3:8 – A Confession of Sins; 3:8-4:4 – A Wisdom Poem; 4:5-5:9 – Promises of Consolation and Restoration.
I -- 1:1-14 – Introduction
- Baruch speaks to the people
- Baruch's lineage is given
- The scene is set in Babylon five years after the captivity
- Letter was read to Jeconiah, son of Jehoiakim, King of Judah
- Exiled people were also in attendance
- This would include people from all walks of life
- Response of the people
- The people were very moved by the words of the letter
- They responded by weeping, fasting, and offering prayers
- They raised as much money as they could to send back to Jerusalem
- Apparently there was still a priestly contingency in Jerusalem
- The name of the priest is unknown historically
- The sacred vessels were taken to Jerusalem (presumably by Baruch)
- Scholars doubt this is accurate
- Instructions on using the money
- The money was to be used to buy sacrifices to be offered on the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem
- It is possible that some form of the altar remained after the destruction of the temple
- In addition to the sin offerings, the priests were asked to pray for Nebuchadnezzar and his son, Belshazzar
- It is known that Israelites did pray for pagan kings – their lives were in their hands
- Historically, however, this is incorrect
- Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon
- Nabonidus was not related to Nebuchadnezzar
II -- 1:15-3:8 – A Confession of Sins
- Confession of those who stayed behind in Palestine
- Reasons for God's judgment
- God was in the right and has been vindicated; it is to their shame
- The shame rests on all of them alike – from the top on down
- The Hebrew is literally translated "confusion of faces"
- They deliberately disobeyed God's commandments and refused to listen to Him
- This had been their longstanding pattern – almost from the beginning
- The disasters that had been sent along the way were also ignored
- Nor did they listen to Moses or the prophets
- Each one strayed, did evil in the eyes of the Lord
- God's response
- God finally carried out His threats
- No one really ever thought this could happen, but it did
- They had been warned about this since the days of Moses
- During the siege, some had resorted to cannibalism
- They had become subject to the surrounding nations
- Their land was made waste
- Prayers for those in exile
- Repetition of reasons for God's judgment
- Again, God has been vindicated; it is to their shame
- Everything that had been predicted had come to pass
- God was watching all along; now He had acted
- God used the surrounding nations to punish Israel
- Prayer of the community in exile
- Despite God's beneficence through the ages, they had broken all His commandments
- They prayed that He would not be angry with them any more
- They were a mere handful and had been scattered
- They prayed for deliverance so that the whole world would know He was their God
- They prayed that God would look down upon them and think of them
- Many had already died and could no longer sing God's praises
- Only the living can praise God and applaud His justice
- They were not asking for mercy because of the merits of their ancestors
- They knew they had been duly warned by the prophets
- Jeremiah told them repeatedly to surrender to Babylon, but they had refused
- Now they have suffered the consequences of their ignorance
- Graves have been desecrated; bones have been exposed; the temple was destroyed
- Moses' visions of the future
- God shared their shortcomings with Moses, who then repeatedly warned them
- Moses saw they would sin, be punished, and then restored
- Because they would refuse to obey God, they would be exiled
- In exile, they would wholeheartedly repent and return to God
- God would hear their cries and restore them to their land
- Then they would have an everlasting covenant and would dwell in the land forever
- Hearing this would be very hopeful for those in exile
- This was a hope based on God's mercy and promises
- Crying out to God
- The people appealed to God to hear their prayers
- They cried out for mercy for they had sinned
- They contrasted their sinfulness with God's greatness and power
- Lastly, they reminded God that His name and honor were at stake as long as Israel remained in humiliation
- If Israel were destroyed, then who would praise God?
- They had rejected their sins, yet they were suffering
III -- 3:8-4:4 – A Wisdom Poem
- There are five stanzas in this poem
- The first and fifth are about Wisdom and the Law
- The second and fourth are about searching for Wisdom
- The third connects both themes
- These are based on Sirach and Job
- Hear the commandments and learn Wisdom
- The commandments and Wisdom are in sync
- How is it that Israel is in exile?
- It is because they have forsaken Wisdom
- "Wisdom" here means the law and the way of God
- They need to learn where Wisdom is
- Then they will have strength, intelligence, life and light, long life and peace
- Searching for Wisdom
- Who has ever been able to find Wisdom or her storehouses?
- Obviously, no one
- Not the rulers, nor the hunters, nor the wealthy, nor the silversmiths
- Nor is Wisdom found in other countries
- Nor can the soothsayers and the seekers for understanding find her
- The greatness of God
- God has created all – His creation is immeasurable
- He even created giants in the world – but He did not choose them
- Nor did He give them understanding
- So their race died out
- More on the search for Wisdom
- Humans cannot find Wisdom regardless of how hard they try
- Only God – who knows all things – knows Wisdom
- Not only is He the creator of all, but He also maintains this creation through Wisdom
- He has given people the way of Wisdom through the Torah
- In that way, Wisdom dwells with humankind
- Wisdom and the Law
- Wisdom is "the book of the commandments, the law that stands forever"
- Those who follow Wisdom will live forever
- Those who don't will die
- Israel is called to set its course upon her and walk toward her light
- They are exhorted not to give this up
- "Happy are we, Israel, because we know what is pleasing to God!"
- What is pleasing is Wisdom through the commandments
IV – 4:5-5:9 – Promises of Consolation and Restoration
- Introductory call to those in exile
- They are the ones keeping Israel's name alive
- They were taken captive, but not destroyed
- The reasons are repeated – idolatry, turning away from God
- Personification of Jerusalem to the nations
- Jerusalem speaks to her neighbors
- God has brought great grief upon her
- She has seen the captivity of her children
- She delighted over them as a mother, but had to let them go
- Now a widow, she is bereaved of many
- The sins of her children have left her desolate
- They had all turned away from God
- She invites her neighbors to remember their captivity
- God brought down on them a nation from far away
- They carried off the widow's sons and left her in loneliness
- All of this happened under God's sovereign control
- Personification of Jerusalem to the exiles
- Turning to the exiles, Jerusalem continues her address
- She admits her inability to help them
- Only God can rescue them
- She will cry out to God on their behalf as long as she lives
- She also encourages them to trust in God
- She is convinced that He will rescue them
- She is so convinced that she feels real joy
- God will return them to her and she will have joy and gladness forever
- Their neighbors are about to witness Israel's deliverance
- Those nations who watched or aided in their captivity will soon themselves be destroyed
- The Israelites now must repent and cry out to God
- He has not forgotten them
- They need to seek Him with as much zeal as they disobeyed Him
- The same God who brought these disasters will bring untold joys to their lives
- Jerusalem's joy at their future return
- These words are spoken to Jerusalem, possibly by the prophet
- Jerusalem should "Take heart!"
- She will be a witness to the destruction of those who despoiled her
- The city that took them captive and made them slaves will be destroyed
- The city that rejoiced over their ruin shall weep for its own desolation
- Her pride will be turned into mourning
- It will be the place of fire and the place of demons
- Jerusalem should "Look eastward!"
- There is joy coming from God
- The sons that were scattered will be returning
- They will be rejoicing in the glory of God
- Jerusalem will remove her garment of sorrow and put on the glorious majesty that is the gift of God
- She will be wrapped in His robe of righteousness
- Nations all across the land will see her splendor
- She will be called "Righteous Peace, Godly Splendor" – names of honor
- Jerusalem should "Arise and stand!"
- She should look again for her returning sons and daughters
- God will be making their return smooth
- They will be rejoicing that God remembered them
- Though they left in disgrace and shame, they will be returning in glory
- They will be like a king on his throne
- God has commanded every mountain and hill to be made low
- All the valleys will be filled
- This will make their journey smooth
- The woods and trees will give them shade
- "God will lead Israel with joy in the light of his glory, granting them mercy and his righteousness"
The book, then, is a veritable treatise on sin, exile, repentance, and restoration. Their failure to be obedient to God's commands led to this horrendous captivity. In this way, He used the Babylonians to bring them to their senses. It worked. Israel admitted its sins and prayed that God would remember her. He did. Not only would He restore Israel to prosperity and to the land of promise, but in so doing He would also vindicate His honor among the nations. Jerusalem, as personified by Mother Zion, symbolically experienced their abject suffering but was told to expect their return. Then, her joy would be boundless and eternal.
deSilva, David. Introducing the Apocrypha. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2002.
Harrington, Daniel. Invitation to the Apocrypha. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans. 1999.
Meeks, Wayne, ed. The Harper Collins Study Bible. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins Publishers. 1993.
Metzer, Bruce, Ed. The Oxford Annotated Apocrypha. New York: Oxford University Press. 1965.
Mills, Watson and Richard Wilson, eds. Mercer Commentary on the Bible. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press. 2002.
Old Testament Apocrypha