Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
In the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, bidding him commit to writing all the addresses he had previously delivered, that Judah might, if it were possible, still regard the threatenings and return (Jer 36:1-3). In accordance with this command, he got all the words of the Lord written down in a book by his attendant Baruch, with the further instruction that this should be read on the fast-day in the temple to the people who came out of the country into Jerusalem (Jer 36:4-8). When, after this, in the ninth month of the fifth year of Jehoiakim, a fast was appointed, Baruch read the prophecies to the assembled people in the chamber of Gemariah in the temple. Michaiah the son of Gemariah mentioned the matter to the princes who were assembled in the royal palace; these then sent for Baruch with the roll, and made him read it to them. But they were so frightened by what was read to them that they deemed it necessary to inform the king regarding it (Jer 36:9-19). At their advice, the king had the roll brought and some of it read before him; but scarcely had some few columns been read, when he cut the roll into pieces and threw them into the pan of coals burning in the room, at the same time commanding that Baruch and Jeremiah should be brought to him; but God hid them (Jer 36:20-26). After this roll had been burnt, the Lord commanded the prophet to get all his words written on a new roll, and to predict an ignominious fate for King Jehoiakim; whereupon Jeremiah once more dictated his addresses to Baruch (Jer 36:27-32).
Since Jeremiah, according to Jer 36:3, Jer 36:6, Jer 36:7, is to get his addresses written down that Baruch may be able to read them publicly on the fast-day, now at hand, because he himself was prevented from getting to the temple, the intention of the divine command was not to make the prophet put down in writing and gather together all the addresses he had hitherto given, but the writing down is merely to serve as a means of once more presenting to the people the whole contents of his prophecies, in order to induce them, wherever it was possible, to return to the Lord. In the fourth year of Jehoiakim, Nebuchadnezzar, after vanquishing the Egyptians at the Euphrates, advanced against Judah, took Jerusalem, and made Jehoiakim tributary. In the same year, too, Jeremiah had delivered the prophecy regarding the giving up of Judah and all nations for seventy years into the power of the king of Babylon (Jer 25); this was before he had been bidden write down all his addresses. For, that he did not receive this command till towards the end of the fourth year, may be gathered with certainty from the fact that the public reading of the addresses, after they were written down, was to take place on the fast-day, which, according to Jer 36:9, was not held till the ninth month of the fifth year. The only doubtful point is, whether they were written down and read before or after the first capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. Most modern commentators take the former view; e.g., Hitzig says, briefly and decidedly, "According to Jer 36:29, the Chaldeans had not as yet appeared in the country." But this is not mentioned in Jer 36:29. The threatening in this verse, "The king of Babylon shall come and destroy this land, and exterminate men and beasts from it," does not prove that the king of Babylon had not yet come to Judah, but merely that the country had not yet been destroyed, and men and cattle exterminated from it. When Jerusalem was first taken, Nebuchadnezzar contented himself with subjecting Jehoiakim under his supreme authority and requiring the payment of tribute, as well as carrying away some of the vessels of the temple and some hostages. The devastation of Judah and the extirpation of men and beasts did not commence till the second subjugation of Jerusalem under Jehoiakim, and was completed when the city was utterly destroyed, in Zedekiah's time, on its third subjugation. The settlement of the question that has been raised depends on the determination of the object for which the special fast-day in the fifth year was appointed, whether for averting the threatened invasion by the Chaldeans, or as a memorial of the first capture of Jerusalem. This question we have already so far decided in the Commentary on Daniel, at Jer 1:1, where it is stated that the fast was held in remembrance of that day in the year when Jerusalem was taken for the first time by Nebuchadnezzar; we have also remarked in the same place, that Jehoiakim either appointed or permitted this special fast "for the purpose of rousing the popular feeling against the Chaldeans, to whom they were in subjection, - to evoke in the people a religious enthusiasm in favour of resistance; for Jehoiakim keenly felt the subjugation by the Chaldeans, and from the first thought of revolt." However, every form of resistance to the king of Babylon could only issue in the ruin of Judah. Accordingly, Jeremiah made Baruch read his prophecies publicly to the people assembled in the temple on that day, "by way of counterpoise to the king's desire;" the prophet also bade him announce to the king that the king of Babylon would come, i.e., return, to destroy the land, and to root out of it both men and beasts. These circumstances give the first complete explanation of the terror of the princes when they listened to the reading of the book (Jer 36:16), as well as of the wrath of the king, exhibited by his cutting the book in pieces and throwing it into the fire: he saw that the addresses of the prophet were more calculated to damp those religious aspirations of the people on which he based his hopes, than to rouse the nation against continued submission to the Chaldeans. Not till now, too, when the object of the appointment of the fast-day was perceived, did the command given by God to the prophet to write down his prophecies appear in its proper light. Shortly before, and in the most earnest manner, Jeremiah had reminded the people of their opposition to the word of God preached by him for twenty-three years, and had announced to them, as a punishment, the seventy years' subjugation to the Chaldeans and the desolation of the country; yet this announcement of the fearful chastisement had made no deeper or more lasting impression on the people. Hence, so long as the threatened judgment was still in the distance, not much could be expected to result from the reading of his addresses in the temple on the fast-day, so that the command of God to do so should appear quite justified. But the matter took a considerably different from when Nebuchadnezzar had actually taken Jerusalem and Jehoiakim had submitted. The commencement of the judgments which had been threatened by God was the proper moment for laying before the hearts of the people, once more, the intense earnestness of the divine message, and for urging them to deeper penitence. Just at this point the reading of the whole contents of the prophecies delivered by Jeremiah appears like a final attempt to preserve the people, on whom judgment has fallen, from complete destruction.
The word of the Lord to Jeremiah was to this effect: "Take thee a book-roll, and write on it (אליה for עליה) all the words that I have spoken unto thee concerning Israel and Judah, and concerning all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah till this day. Jer 36:3. Perhaps the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I meditate doing to them, that they may return every one from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin." ישׁמעוּ here means, to hear correctly and lay to heart; cf. Jer 26:3. Hitzig views the command as meaning, not that Jeremiah is now for the first time to write down his addresses (which would be an impossibility for the most faithful memory), but that he is merely to write them down together in one book, out of the several scattered leaves and scraps. Graf has already refuted this view, though more fully than was necessary. It is not a copying, word for word, of every separate address that is meant, but merely a writing down of the essential contents of all his oral discourses. This is quite clear, not merely from what is stated in Jer 36:3 as the object of this command, but also from the character of these collected addresses, as they are preserved to us. That the expression "all the words" is not to be understood in the most rigid sense, follows from the very fact that, when Jeremiah anew wrote down his prophecies, Jer 36:32, he further added "many similar words" to what had been contained in the first book-roll, which was burned by Jehoiakim. But Jeremiah might perhaps be able to retain in his memory the substance of all the addresses he had delivered during the twenty-three years, since all of them treated of the same subjects - reproof of prevailing sins, threat of punishment, and promises.
Jeremiah carries out the divine command by making Baruch write down on a book-roll all the words of the Lord, out of his mouth ('מפּי , i.e., at the dictation of Jeremiah); and since he himself is prevented from getting to the house of the Lord, he bids him read the words he had written down in the ears of the people in the temple on the fast-day, at the same time expressing the hope, Jer 36:7 : "Perhaps their supplication will fall down before the Lord, and they will return each one from his wicked way; for great is the wrath and the anger which the Lord hath expressed concerning this people." Baruch, who is mentioned so early as Jer 32:12. as the attendant of the prophet, was, according to the passage now before us, his amanuensis, and executed his commissions. אני עצוּר, according to Jer 33:1 and Jer 39:15, might mean, "I am in prison;" but this does not accord with the request of the princes, Jer 36:19, that Jeremiah should hide himself. Moreover, עצוּר does not mean "seized, captus," but "stopped, restrained, hindered;" see on Neh 6:10. The cause of hindrance is not mentioned, as being away from the purpose of the narrative. "To read in the roll in the ears of the people," i.e., to read to the people out of the book. בּיום צום does not mean "on any fast-day whatever," but, "on the fast-day." The article is omitted because there was no need for defining the fast-day more exactly. The special fast-day mentioned in Jer 36:9 is intended. 'תּפּל תּחנּתם וגו, "their supplication will fall down before the Lord," i.e., reach unto God, as if it were laid before His feet. נפל is transferred from the posture of the suppliant - his falling down before God - to his supplication. Hence, in Hiphil, to make the supplication fall down before the Lord is equivalent to laying the request at His feet; Jer 38:26; Jer 42:9; Dan 9:18, Dan 9:20. If the supplication actually comes before God, it is also heard and finds success. This success is pointed out in 'וישׁבוּ וגו, "that they may repent." If man, in a repentant spirit, supplicates God for grace, God grants him power for conversion. But the return of the people from their wicked way is indispensable, because the wrath which God has expressed concerning it is great, i.e., because God has threatened a heavy judgment of wrath.
Baruch executes his commission.
The reading of the book in the temple. - Jer 36:9. In the fifth year of Jehoiakim, in the ninth month, "they proclaimed a fast before the Lord - all the people in Jerusalem, and all the people who had come out of the cities of the Judah to Jerusalem." קתא צום, to call, declare, appoint a fast; cf. Kg1 21:9, Kg1 21:12; Ch2 20:3. From the tenor of the words, the people who lived in Jerusalem and those who had come thither out of the country might seem to have called the fast. But this is impossible; for the people from the cities of Judah evidently came to Jerusalem only in consequence of the fast being appointed. Hence Graf is of opinion that קתא צום seems here used in a general way of the keeping of such a fast. This view is not confirmed by any parallel instances. The expression is inexact, and the inexactness has arisen from the effort to attain greater conciseness of expression. The meaning is this: a fast was proclaimed, and all the people in Jerusalem and out of the cities of Judah came to worship the Lord in the temple. It remains doubtful with whom the appointment originated, - whether with the king, or with the high priest and the priesthood. The ninth month corresponds to our December, and consequently came round with the cold season; cf. Jer 36:22. The fast-day was a special one; for in the law only the day of atonement, in the seventh month, was prescribed as a fast-day. On the object of this measure, see supra, p. 316f.
On this day Baruch read the addresses of Jeremiah out of the book to the people who had come to the temple, in the "chamber of Gemariah, the son of Shaphan, the scribe, in the upper forecourt, at the entrance of the new gate of the house of the Lord." Gemariah the son of Shaphan was one of the king's private scribes, a secretary of state. For, according to Jer 36:12, he belonged to the princes, and was probably a brother of Ahikam the son of Shaphan, who had already shown himself, before this, a protector of the prophet (Jer 26:24). The chamber which he had in the temple was situated in the upper forecourt, at the entrance of the new gate, whose position we cannot exactly determine (see on Jer 26:10), but which led from the outer to the inner court of the priests, which rose higher than the others.
Micaiah, a son of Gemariah, was also listening to the reading; and he it was who brought the news into the palace. He made of the room, i.e., the office, of Elishama, the secretary of state, where the princes, viz., Elishama, Delaiah the son of Shemaiah, Elnathan the son of Achbor (cf. Jer 26:22), Gemariah the son of Shaphan, and Zedekiah the son of Hananiah, had just met for a consultation; and he mentioned to them what he had heard.
On this information the princes sent Jehudi (perhaps one of the under-officers of the secretary of state) to Baruch, to bring him, with the book from which he had read. From the designation, "Jehudi son of Nethaniah, son of Shelemiah, son of Cushi," Hitzig and Graf conclude that the first and last are not proper names, but appellatives, "the Jew" and "the Cushite," and account for the use of them on the ground that, through the application of the law given in Deu 23:7-8 to Cushites as well as Egyptians, the ancestor was a Cushite, and only his great-grandson became a Jew, or Jewish citizen, and was called "Jehudi." But this view is opposed (1) by the fact that the names of the father and the grandfather are true proper names, and these, moreover, contain the name Jah (Jahveh), - hence are genuine proper names of Israelites; moreover, (2) even in olden times Jehudith occurs as a woman's name, Gen 26:34. According to this, Jehudi is a true proper name, and at the most, Cushi is but a surname of the great-grandfather, given him because of his descent from the Cushites. Further, the law, Deu 23:7, applies only to the posterity of the Edomites and Egyptians, that these should not be received into the congregation of the Lord till the third generation; this ordinance was based on grounds which did not permit of its application to other nations. These might be naturalized even in the first generation on undergoing circumcision, with the exception of Canaanites, Ammonites, and Moabites, who were not to be admitted into the Israelitish community even in the tenth generation, Deu 23:3.
When Baruch came, the princes, in token of friendly and respectful treatment, bade him sit down and read to them out of the book he had brought with him. Jer 36:16. But when they heard all the words read, "they were afraid one at another;" i.e., by looks, gestures, and words, they gave mutual expression of their fear, partly because of the contents of what had been read. Although they were generally acquainted with the sense and the spirit of Jeremiah's addresses, yet what had now been read made a powerful impression on them; for Baruch plainly had read, both to the people in the temple and to the princes, not the whole book, but only the main portions, containing the sternest denunciations of sin and the strongest threats of punishment. The statement, "he read in (out of) the book the words of Jeremiah" (Jer 36:10), does not mean that he read the whole book; this would only have wearied the people and weakened the impression made. But they were partly also terrified, perhaps, by the boldness of a declaration which so decidedly opposed the desires and hopes of the king; for the thought of the event mentioned in Jer 26:20. would at once suggest to them the danger that might arise to the live of Jeremiah and Baruch from the despotic character of the king. They said therefore to Baruch, "We must tell the king all these things." For it was clear that the matter could not long remain concealed from the king, after the public reading in the temple. Hence they dared not, agreeably to their official relation to the king, hide from him what had taken place.
Meanwhile, in order to inform themselves more exactly regarding what had happened, they ask Baruch, "Tell us, how hast thou written all these words at his mouth?" Thereupon Baruch replied, "He used to call aloud these words to me," i.e., he used to dictate them to me by word of mouth, "and I wrote them in the book with ink." The imperfect expresses the repeated or continued doing of anything; hence יקרא here means to dictate, which requires considerable time. In the following circumstantial clause is found the participle ואני כתב, while I was writing; and so I myself was doing nothing else all the time than writing down what was dictated. Some commentators have found a stumbling-block in מפּיו in the question of the princes (Jer 36:17); the lxx and Ewald omit this word, inasmuch as Baruch does not explain till afterwards that he had written down the words from the mouth of Jeremiah. Others, like Venema, take מפּיו as a question = המפּיו. Both explanations are arbitrary and unnecessary. The princes knew quite well that the substance of the book was from the mouth of Jeremiah, i.e., contained his addresses; but Baruch, too, might have composed the book from the oral discourses of the prophet without being commissioned by him, without his knowledge also, and against his will. Accordingly, to attain certainty as to the share of the prophet in this matter, they ask him, and Baruch answers that Jeremiah had dictated it to him.
Thereupon the princes advised Baruch to hide himself and Jeremiah; for they know beforehand that Jehoiakim would put to death the witnesses of the truth.
The reading of the book before the king. - Jer 36:20. The princes betook themselves to the king חצרה, into the inner fore-court (leaving the book-roll in the chamber of the secretary of state), and gave him an account of the matter. חצר is the inner court of the palace, in which the royal dwelling-apartments are situated. הפקיד, to entrust a thing or person to any one (Jer 40:7), hence to deposit, preserve, Isa 10:28.
Thereupon the king makes Jehudi fetch the book, and causes it to be read before himself and the assembled princes. עמד מעל, to stand over, since the one who is standing before his master, while the latter is sitting, overtops him; cf. Gen 18:8. The king was sitting, as is stated in Jer 36:22 by way of preparation for what follows, in the winter-house, i.e., in that portion of the palace which was erected for a winter residence, in the ninth month, i.e., during the winter, and the pot of coals was burning before him. The rooms of eastern houses have no stoves, but in the middle of the floor there is a depression, in which is placed a sort of basin with burning coals, for the purpose of heating the apartment: cf. Keil's Bibl. Archol. ii. 95, S. 7. For the expression ואת־האח, "and as for the fire-pot, it was burning before him," cf. Ewald, 277, d.
Now, "when Jehudi had read three or four columns, he the king cut it the book-roll with a pen-knife and threw the pieces into the fire, in the pot of coals, till the whole roll was consumed on the fire in the pot of coals." דּלתות, properly "doors," are not leaves, but divisions of a book. The opinion of Hitzig, that leaves are to be understood, and that the Megillah, therefore, was not a roll, properly speaking, but a book with leaves, cannot be substantiated. In the synagogues, the Jews even at the present day, according to the ancient custom, use real rolls, which are rolled up on a stick. On these the Scripture text is written, though not in lines which occupy the whole breadth of the roll; the whole space is divided into parts. "Scribebatur," says Buxtorf in Institutione epistolari Hebr. p. 4, "volumen lineis, non per longitudinem totius chartae aut pergamenti deductis, sed in plures areas divisis, quomodo sunt latera paginarum in libris complicatis. Istae propterea voce metaphoric vocanturדּלתותjanuae valvae, quod figuram januae referent." The subject of יקרעה is not Jehudi, as Hitzig thinks, but the king, and the word does not signify "he cut it out," but "he cut it in pieces" (the suffix refers to המּגלּה). We are not, with many expositors, to view the conduct of the king in such a way as to think that, whenever Jehudi had read some portions, he cut these off and threw them into the fire, so that the book was, with these interruptions, read through to the end, and at the same time gradually destroyed. Such conduct Graf justly characterizes as trifling and silly, and not in harmony with the anger of a king having a violent disposition. But we cannot see how the imperfect יקרע (in Ngelsbach's opinion) proves that Jehudi read the whole, when the text states that only three or four columns were read. The meaning, peculiar to the imperfect, of the continuation or repetition of an act, is fully made out by supposing that the king cut down the roll bit by bit, and threw the pieces into the fire one after the other. Neither does the expression עד־תּם כּל־המּגלּה imply that the whole book was read; for תּמם does not denote the completion of the reading, but the completion of the burning: hence the words are to be translated, "till the whole roll had completely got upon the fire," i.e., was completely burnt; cf. תּם אל־, Gen 47:18. The inf. absol. והשׁלך is a continuation of the finite verb, as frequently occurs, e.g., in Jer 14:5; Jer 32:44.
In order to characterize the conduct of the king, the writer remarks, "Yet the king and his servants who heard all these words (which Jehudi had read) were not afraid, nor did they rend their garments (in token of deep sorrow); and even when Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah addressed the king, requesting him not to burn the roll, he did not listen to them." So hardened was the king, that he and his servants neither were terrified by the threatenings of the prophet, nor felt deep sorrow, as Josiah did in a similar case (Kg2 22:11, cf. Kg1 21:27), nor did they listen to the earnest representations of the princes. עבדיו are the court-attendants of the king in contrast with the princes, who, according to Jer 36:16, had been alarmed by what they heard read, and wished, by entreaties, to keep the king from the commission of such a wicked act as the destruction of the book. Ewald, on the contrary, has identified עבדיו with the princes, and thereby marred the whole account, while he reproaches the princes with "acting as the wretched instruments of what they knew to be the sentiments prevailing at court."
Not content with destroying the book, Jehoiakim also wished to get Baruch and Jeremiah out of the way; for he ordered the king's son Jerahmel and two other men to go for Baruch the scribe and Jeremiah the prophet; "but the Lord hid them," i.e., graciously kept them out of the sight of the spies. בּן־המּלך is not the son of Jehoiakim, - if so, we would find simply את־בּנו; but a royal prince is meant, cf. Jer 38:6; Kg1 22:26; Kg2 11:1-2; Zep 1:8.
The punishment which is to come on Jehoiakim for his wicked act. - Jer 36:27. After the burning of the roll by the king, Jeremiah received from the Lord the command to get all that had been on the former roll written on another, and to announce the following to Jehoiakim the king: Jer 36:29. "Thus saith Jahveh: Thou hast burned this roll, whilst thou sayest, Why hast thou written thereon, The king of Babylon shall surely come and destroy this land, and root out man and beast from it? Jer 36:30. Therefore thus saith Jahveh regarding Jehoiakim the king of Judah: He shall not have one who sits upon the throne of David, and his corpse shall be cast forth to the heat by day and to the frost by night. Jer 36:31. And I shall punish him, his servants, and his seed for their iniquity, and bring on them and on all the inhabitants of Judah and all the men of Judah all the evil which I have spoken to them; but they did not hear." On the meaning of Jer 36:29 see p. 316, supra. The threatening expressed in Jer 36:30. is really only a repetition of what is given in Jer 22:18-19, and has already been explained there. "There shall not be to him one who sits upon the throne of David," i.e., he is not to have a son that shall occupy the throne of David after him. This does not contradict the fact that, after his death, his son Jehoiachin ascended the throne. For this ascension could not be called a sitting on the throne, a reign, inasmuch as he was immediately besieged in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and compelled to surrender after three months, then go into exile to Babylon. On Jer 36:31 cf. Jer 35:17; Jer 19:15.
Thereupon Jeremiah made his attendant Baruch write all the words of the former roll on a new one, "out of his mouth," i.e., at his dictation; and to these he added many other words like them. כּהמּה, i.e., of like import with those on the previous roll. Hence we perceive that on the first roll there were written down not all the several addresses fully, but only the most important parts of his oral announcements.