The prophet Baruch

Baruch was an associate of the prophet Jeremias in the last years of the kingdom of Juda. For example, when Jeremias was asked to compose a book of devastating prophecies for the Judaite king, he asked Baruch (who was a scribe) to write it up. The king promptly tore it up and Baruch was dictated a longer one yet. 

“In the fourth year of Josias’ son Joachim, the Lord gave Jeremias this command ment: ‘Get thyself a scroll, and write down on it all the warnings I have uttered against Israel and Juda, and against the other nations of the world, ever since I first spoke to thee under king Josias. Maybe, when the men of Juda hear of all the mischief I mean to do them, they will leave off their straying in false paths, and so I will overlook the guilt of their wrong-doing.’ So Jeremias sent for Baruch the son of Nerias; the Lord’s utterances, every one, Jeremias rehearsed and Baruch wrote down on the scroll.

Jeremias, 36: 1-4

Poor Baruch was asked even to read it out at the Temple, for Jeremias could not. Indeed, Baruch would have received much of the same treatment as Jeremias did. For all his suffering though, he was given a blessing from God:

“When Baruch, son of Nerias, had written down the words dictated to him by Jeremias, in the fourth year of Joachim’s reign in Juda, this comfort Jeremias gave him: ‘A message from the Lord, the God of Israel, to thee, Baruch! Woe is thee, heavy is thy heart; sorrow upon sorrow the Lord gives thee, and respite thou canst find none. Yet this message the Lord has for thee: Here am I destroying what My own hands built, uprooting what My own hands planted; and for thee must it be all prizes? For prizes never look thou; enough for thee that, go thou where thou wilt, safe-conduct of thy life I am granting thee.

Jeremias, 45

And that could serve as a bit of an introduction to the book of Baruch, which contains material apparently from the wretched time of the two deportations of the Judaites to Babylon, the second of which was accompanied by the destruction of the City and the Temple. The first chapter contains a book that Baruch read out to King Joachin (aka. Jechonias) and the Judaites clustered around him in Babylon. When Jechonias had been thus removed from his throne into imprisonment, his uncle Sedecias had been put in his place at Jerusalem (Jeremias, chapter thirty-seven). The book of Jeremias speaks of a letter sent in this way to Babylon (chapter twenty-nine), but doesn’t describe Baruch as the bearer or as one deputed to read it out. The effect of the Baruch’s reading is similar to Jeremias’ letter: that the people are to expect a considerable spell of time in exile and that they should cultivate the favour of the Babylonian king and build their families there:

“You shall pray long life for king Nabuchodonosor of Babylon, and his son Baltassar, that their reign on earth may last as long as heaven itself. May the Lord grant courage to all of us, and send us a gleam of hope; long thrive we under the protection of king Nabuchodonosor and his son Baltassar, persevering loyally in their service and winning their favour! And intercede with the Lord our God for us exiles; against His divine will we have rebelled, and to this hour He has not relented.”

Baruch 1: 11-13

Moreover, there is a significant sentiment of contrition in the rest of this chapter of Baruch, as the writer acknowledges the guilt of the people in their taking up multiple religions in Juda and so earning the wrath of the God of Israel:

“With king and prince of ours, priest and prophet of ours the fault lies, and with our fathers before us. We have defied the will of the Lord our God; trust and loyalty we had none to give Him, nor ever shewed Him submission, by listening to His divine voice and following the commands He gave us.

Baruch, 1: 16-18

Once more is repeated, now perhaps too late, the wisdom of Jeremias and the other prophets who had advised them to submit to Babylon, to avoid the destruction of their kingdom and nation. In this reading of Baruch, we find remorse for the missed opportunity. 

“But no; Thou hadst given them due warning, through those prophets that were servants of Thine, before letting Thy angry vengeance have its way, and the warning went unheeded. ‘Bow shoulder and bow neck,’ said the divine voice, ‘and be vassals to the king of Babylon; and the land I gave to your fathers shall still be your home. Refuse to serve the king of Babylon at My divine bidding, and Jerusalem with her daughter cities shall mourn their loss; no more the cry of joy and mirth, no more the voice of bridegroom and of bride; untrodden the whole land shall be, and uninhabited.’ But all Thy threats could not persuade them to be the king of Babylon’s vassals; Thy servants prophesied in vain. And so Thy threats were performed; kings of ours and fathers of ours might not rest quiet in their graves;”

Baruch, 2: 20-24

Chapter three is a prolonged prayer for forgiveness for the sins that were committed in an older generation that were now being brought upon the children and grandchildren of those generation. This must be a reference to the reign of the wicked King Manasses of Juda, grandfather of King Josias, who had gone so far as to pollute the Temple mount with idolatry and with the shedding of innocent blood. The latter histories of the kingdom of Juda paint the reign of this king as the reason for all the later woes of the destruction of the kingdom and the exile of the people. Here is now a promise of a renewed reform of the ancient religion:

“Lord Almighty, God of Israel, listen to the prayer Israel makes to Thee from the grave! Our fathers it was that defied the Lord their God, and gave no heed to Him; and to us, their sons, the punishment clings. Forget the wrong they did, those fathers of ours; remember Thy ancient power, Thy own honour, this day; only to Thee, the Lord our God, shall praise of ours be given. Why else hast Thou inspired us with such dread of Thee? Thou wouldst have us learn to invoke Thy name, to utter Thy praise, here as exiles, in proof that we disown the wrong our fathers did, when their sins defied Thee. Exiles we are this day, dispersed by Thee to suffer scorn and reviling, until we have made amends for all the wrong our fathers did when they abandoned Thee, abandoned the Lord our God.”

Baruch, 3: 4-8

After the praise of God and the futility of man’s search for Wisdom, the third chapter settles on the pride of Israel: that they alone were given the key to divine Wisdom, even if they have neglected it. Chapter four suggests that they have carried a book of the Law of Moses with them into exile, and with the help of this book, they would now reform in exile. 

Here is the book in which you may read God’s commandments, that law of His which stands for ever; holding fast by it or forsaking it, a man makes life or death his goal. Jacob, thy steps retrace, and this path follow, guiding thy steps by glow of the light that beckons thee; this is thy pride, wouldst thou yield it up to another? Thy prize, shall an alien race enjoy it? Israel, a blessed race is ours, that has knowledge of God’s will.”

Baruch, 4: 1-4

The following verses personify the Holy City as a mother who is now bereft of her children, far away in exile and chapter four ends with (and chapter five entirely consists of) a word of comfort to Jerusalem, who would be peopled once more in the future with the Jewish nation. One of the torments for the orthodox Jew living in the multicultural soup that was Babylon in that time was the rampant idolatry, and this is a subject of several books of the Bible that deal with the exiled people, such as Esther and Daniel. The book of Baruch ends with a prolonged critique and mockery of idolatry and idols, which it repeatedly says cannot protect themselves from natural wear or from destruction of any sort. Idols cannot sense anything, they are utterly dead matter, and they must be carried around for religious rites by attendants. And could such things, says Baruch, be called gods? And thus we may end this post.

“Fair, golden faces! Yet will they not shine on the worshipper, till he rub off the stains on them; cast once for all in a mould, without feeling. Cost what they will, there is never a breath of life in them; never a pace they walk, but must still be carried on men’s shoulders, putting their own worshippers to shame by the betrayal of their impotence. Fall they to earth, they cannot rise from it, and though they be set up again, it is in no power of their own that they stand. As well bring gifts to dead men as to these; the victim thou offerest yonder priest will sell, or put to his own use, nor ever a slice his wife cuts shall find its way to the sick and the needy. Those offerings every woman may touch if she will, child-birth and monthly times notwithstanding. And are these gods? Are these to be feared?

Baruch, 6: 23-28
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