On a first glance not much has changed from chapter 33 to chapter 34. Chapter 34 opens, “The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH” and the setting is again Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem. This is probably the longest portion of the book so far where we have seen the historical markers not jumping all over the place. And yet we have moved from the Book of Consolation at the climax of Jeremiah to a new section. Unfortunately, being past the climax of the book also means in Jeremiah that things get worse from here. This new section (ch.34-45) tells us events in Jeremiah’s life again, but these events now are ones of defeat for Jeremiah.
Here we see Jeremiah tell King Zedekiah that the king would be captured, go into exile to Babylon, and thus not die by the sword but in peace. There are some words of historical setting: “Then Jeremiah the prophet spoke all these words to Zedekiah king of Judah, in Jerusalem, when the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left, Lachish and Azekah, for these were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained” (Jeremiah 34:6-7). This gives us some idea of the late hour when this was all said.
Sections in this chapter continue to be marked by the phrase, “The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH” or “The word of YHWH came to Jeremiah from YHWH” (Jeremiah 34:1, 8, 12).
The chapter describes a proclamation of jubilee (setting free fellow Hebrews serving as indentured servants-slaves). The officials and people all did this and set them free but then turned around and enslaved them all again.
The introduction of the next chapter then moves us back in time to the reign of Jehoiakim. The chapter tells us about the Rechabites. Jonadab the son of Rechab commanded the family not to drink wine, not to sow seed, not to plant or have a vineyard, and to live in tents as sojourners. Then during the siege they went to Jerusalem to live. Jeremiah went and offered them wine to drink (Jeremiah did this at the command of YHWH). This chapter continues to use third person references to Jeremiah to mark paragraphs.
Then there is the comparison made between how the house of the Rechabites keep their father’s command not to drink wine but YHWH says, “I have spoken to you persistently, but you have not listened to me. I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently, saying, ‘Turn now every one of you from his evil way, and amend your deeds, and do not go after other gods to serve them, and then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to you and your fathers.’ But you did not incline your ear or listen to me. The sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have kept them, but this people has not obeyed me” (35:14c-16).
The chapter ends by commending the Rechabites for their obedience. And the promise is made: “Jonadab the son of Rechab shall never lack a man to stand before me” (Jeremiah 35:19b).
While the previous chapter was not specific as to the timing during Jehoiakim’s reign, this one is said to be “in the fourth year of Jehoiakim.”
Here again the possibility of repentance and thus God ‘repenting’ of what He has planned:
Jeremiah is told to write down everything that YHWH has spoken to him from the days of Josiah to the present on a scroll.
Then the text says, “It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin” (Jeremiah 36:3).
This is consistent with what we have already seen in Jeremiah but is in some tension with Kings where we saw that the reign of Manasseh had sealed the coming disaster. Jeremiah is continuing to remind the people that they have personal responsibility for their exile and cannot simply blame their fathers.
It is in this chapter that we see Baruch the son of Neriah writing on a scroll the words of prophecy that Jeremiah dictated to him “all the words of YHWH that He had spoken to him” (Jeremiah 36:4). And because Jeremiah was forbidden to go to the Temple he sent Baruch to read the words to everyone. “It may be that their plea for mercy will come before YHWH, and that every one will turn from his evil way…” (Jeremiah 36:7). Remember that Jeremiah cannot intercede for the people. Baruch was to read the words on a fast day.
And the text tells us that in the fifth year of Jehoiakim, in the ninth month, was a fast day. So Baruch went and read the words of Jeremiah from the scroll in the house of YHWH. And when the leaders of Israel heard what Baruch was saying they asked for the scroll, told him to go get Jeremiah and go into hiding, and then they had the scroll read to the king. And as three or four columns were read, the king would cut them off and throw them into the fire until the whole scroll had been burned. And they did not do any outward expressions of repentance/mourning.
“Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words that Baruch wrote at Jeremiah’s dictation, the word of YHWH came to Jeremiah: ‘Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned.”
And: “Therefore thus says YHWH concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah: He shall have none to sit on the throne of David…” (Jeremiah 36:30).
The chapter ends, “Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah, who wrote on it at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them” (Jeremiah 36:32).
And so we see that the king’s book burning effort, more accurately his scroll burning, did not have the last word. Even more, we see that not only does Jeremiah write it all down again but he adds more to it. This is the word of God!
Why the new edition of Jeremiah even includes this story about Jehoiakim burning the first edition. This threat to the word of God was serious. It is likely the reason that there ended up being at least two different final editions of Jeremiah. It is likely the reason that more than one version of Jeremiah survives and (in addition to the chiastic arrangment of material in this version) the text of Jeremiah jumps all over the place rather than being in an order that would make more sense. But this serious effort to deny and defy God’s word is unable to prevail and the result too is more words of judgment, even words of judgment specific for Jehoiakim.
Then the text moves ahead again to the reign of Zedekiah. We will continue here with the rest of the stories of Jeremiah in defeat with the next post.