Jeremiah 36:1 it came to pass in the fourth year of Jehoiakim
The life of Jeremiah is starting to get tough. The resistance is heating up. The battle lines between the king and Jeremiah are being drawn. The king has no interest in Jeremiah’s next prophecy, for he had already come to the royal palace and warned Jehoiakim that he would be “buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem” (Jer. 22:19). Worse than that, the curse would affect his royal line, “for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah” (Jer. 22:30). The end of the royal line of David upon the throne! That’s a big deal because the next time someone from that line sits upon the throne it will be the Messiah, the Son of David, the King of kings.
Jeremiah 36:2 Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken
Obviously, Jeremiah recorded his prophecies on a scroll rather than a book. This shouldn’t surprise us, but it is very important in explaining the following prophecy of Ezekiel, “take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah (the Bible)… then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph (the Book of Mormon)…” (Ezek. 37:16) Who writes on a stick? To those unfamiliar with ancient writings, we need to explain that scrolls were rolled on sticks and that scriptures were preserved that way, as well as on metal plates (Nephi 3:3; 5:10-19).
Jeremiah 36:3 It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I purpose to do to unto them… they may return every man from his evil way
The Ninevites averted impending doom because they repented at the preaching of Jonah but that is more the exception than the rule.
These passages fascinate me. The Lord knows that the Jews are not going to repent, but he presents to Jeremiah the possibility that his words will be heeded. For the Lord, it is more about making sure the people have been warned than expecting them to repent, “I sent you out to testify and warn the people… therefore, they are left without excuse, and their sins are upon their own heads.” (D&C 88:81-82) How much hope did Jeremiah have? Did he know that the destruction of Jerusalem was inevitable? Were his prayers like that of Mormon, who prayed but “without faith, because of the hardness of their hearts” (Mormon 3:12)?
Jeremiah 36:4 Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah: and Baruch wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah
“Excavations in the City of David and in today's Jewish Quarter attest to the destruction in the 587-586 B.C. siege of Jerusalem: many arrowheads, a destroyed four-room house, a burnt room, and clay bullae (letter seals or stamps) baked hard by a great conflagration that swept over the whole city. The bullae were found in what has come to be known as ‘the bullae house,’ which the excavator Yigal Shiloh speculated may have been an official administrative archive. fn Inscribed on the bullae were fifty-one different names of scribes, court officials, and ministers, a high percentage of them with the theophoric suffix -yahu (Jehovah). Most of the names are known from the Bible and other inscriptions. One such name is Gemariah, son of Shaphan, likely the same man mentioned in Jeremiah 36, a sort of secretary of state in the court of Jehoiakim, king of Judah from 609 to 598 B.C. Another seal mentions the scribe and friend of the prophet Jeremiah, Berechiah, son of Neriah. Berechiah is the long form of Baruch. This same Baruch ben Neriah served as scribe for Jeremiah and recorded his teachings, including predictions of the downfall of Judah and Jerusalem (see 36:10-25).” (David B. Galbraith, D. Kelly Ogden, Andrew C. Skinner, Jerusalem: The Eternal City [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996], 109)
Jeremiah 36:5 I am shut up; I cannot go into the house of the Lord
Chronologically, this is the first time we hear that Jeremiah is under house arrest, or at least banned from the Temple. The terms of the arrangement are unclear but Jehoiakim wants him silent. “It is possible that the prophet had not been allowed to go into the temple area since the preaching of his ‘temple sermon’ (7:1-15; 26:1-6).” (The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 5, 1064)
Jeremiah 36:6 go thou, and read in the roll…in the Lord’s house upon the fasting day
The Jews had a temple; they had fasts; they had Sabbaths. They had all the forms of true religion but couldn’t recognize the divine message of the prophet of God. You would think the temple goers would be the most spiritual of all the Jews. The priests in the temple were the ecclesiastical leadership—you would think they would be in tune. You would think those that were fasting would be closer to the Spirit than anyone else. The Lord is maximizing their chances of hearing the message and feeling the Spirit. It almost works. But what good is fasting if you reject the Prophet’s message? What good is a temple if you don’t truly worship the God for whom it has been built?
“The reading of the scroll in the temple took place on a fast day. The ancient Hebrews had very few fixed days of fasting, but they were proclaimed on special occasions in times of national distress… Jeremiah (more accurately, the Lord) chose an occasion for the reading when many people were assembled in the temple courts.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 5, 1064-5)
Worshiping in the temple, repenting to become increasingly pure, forgiving and seeking forgiveness, and earnest fasting and prayer all increase our receptivity to the Spirit. Spiritual work works and is the key to learning to hear the voice of the Lord. (“We Are Not Alone,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 96)
Jeremiah 36:12 He went down into the king’s house, into the scribe’s chamber: and lo, all the princes sat there
To call these men princes is a mistranslation. They were not the sons of the king. Yet, they were members of the court of Jehoiakim. They were the elders and respected men of the Jews. Josephus calls them “rulers.” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, 6:2)
Jeremiah 36:15 sit down now, and read it in our ears
Without information exchange like we have it today, it would have been a great privilege to read or to hear the words of a prophet as these elders did. One of the reasons the Israelites were so quick to forget is because they did not have personal scriptures, daily newspapers, frequent reminders, etc. If the doctrine was not ingrained in the culture, it was not ingrained in the people. Public readings were extremely important and unfortunately too infrequent. Once the opportunity was given, even Jehoiakim’s key advisors could recognize the Spirit of Jeremiah’s prophecy. Ultimately, however, their opinion would not be enough.
Jeremiah 36:22 the king sat in the winter-house in the ninth month
“The calendar year began with Nisan, roughly March-April”… “According to the computations of R. A. Parker and W. H. Dubberstein… the ninth month in 605 began on December 4.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 5, 1065)
Jeremiah 36:23-25 when Jehudi had read three or four leaves… cast it into the fire… Yet they were not afraid, nor rent their garments
Book burnings are associated with restrictive, totalitarian societies. In today’s society, you just don’t burn books. If it is a sin to burn books, what about burning scripture? What about hearing the word of the Lord and stamping it under your feet?
“For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels” (1 Ne. 19:7)
The fear of God should have kept Jehudi from destroying the word of the Lord in the fire. The fear of God should have prompted Jehoiakim to rend his garments at the suggestion that the roll be burnt. The scribe writing this history for Jeremiah is careful to name three of the kings servants who dissented, Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah—the rest are worthy of whatever punishment the Lord inflicts.
Jeremiah 36:28 Take thee another roll, and write in it all the former words
Shouldn’t we be amazed that Jeremiah could just dictate all his prophecies over again? Prophets under the influence of the Spirit can recreate scripture as if they had a photographic memory. None of the Twelve Apostles were taking notes as they accompanied the Master during his ministry. Yet many years, even decades after the events, they would undertake to write the gospels. They were able to remember perfectly because of the Holy Ghost, “he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).
Similarly, the Prophet Joseph Smith was remarkably deliberate when he dictated scripture. Parley P. Pratt described the scene:
Each sentence was uttered slowly and very distinctly, and with a pause between each, sufficiently long for it to be recorded, by an ordinary writer, in long hand.
This was the manner in which all his written revelations were dictated and written. There was never any hesitation, reviewing, or reading back, in order to keep the run of the subject; neither did any of these communications undergo revisions, interlinings, or corrections. As he dictated them so they stood, so far as I have witnessed; and I was present to witness the dictation of several communications of several pages each. (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, edited by his son, Parley P. Pratt [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 48)
But what if a revelation was lost or destroyed? What if the king burned the dictated record in the fire? Can a prophet just redictate such a large document? The following vignette from the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith demonstrates the perfect memory of prophecy that both he and Jeremiah had.
On the morning of the 12th of July, 1843, Joseph and Hyrum Smith came into the office in the upper story of the brick store, on the bank of the Mississippi river. They were talking on the subject of plural marriage. Hyrum said to Joseph, “If you will write the revelation on celestial marriage, I will take it and read it to Emma, and I believe I can convince her of the truth, and you will hereafter have peace.” Joseph smiled and remarked, “You do not know Emma as well as I do.” Hyrum repeated his opinion and further remarked, “The doctrine is so plain I can convince any reasonable man or woman of its truth, purity and heavenly origin,” or words to that effect. Joseph then said, “Well, I will write the revelation and we will see.” He [Hyrum] then requested Joseph to write the revelation by means of the Urim and Thummim, but Joseph in reply said he did not need to, for he knew the revelation perfectly from beginning to end.
Joseph and Hyrum then sat down and Joseph commenced to dictate the revelation on celestial marriage, and I wrote it sentence by sentence, as he dictated. After the whole was written Joseph asked me to read it through, slowly and carefully, which I did, and he pronounced it correct. He then remarked that there was much more that he could write on the same subject, but what was written was sufficient for the present.
Hyrum then took the revelation to read to Emma. Joseph remained with me in the office until Hyrum returned. When he came back, Joseph asked him how he had succeeded. Hyrum replied that he had never received a more severe talking to in his life, that Emma was very bitter and full of resentment and anger.
Joseph quietly remarked, “I told you you did not know Emma as well as I did.” Joseph then put the revelation in his pocket, and they both left the office.
The revelation was read to several of the authorities during the day. Towards evening Bishop Newel K. Whitney asked Joseph if he had any objection to his taking a copy of the revelation; Joseph replied that he had not, and handed it to him. It was carefully copied the following day by Joseph C. Kingsbury. Two or three days after the revelation was written Joseph related to me and several others that Emma had so teased, and urgently entreated him for the privilege of destroying it, that he became so weary of her teasing, and to get rid of her annoyance, he told her she might destroy it and she had done so, but he had consented to her wish in this matter to pacify her, realizing that he knew the revelation perfectly, and could rewrite it at any time if necessary. (B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1930], 2: 106 – 107, emphasis added)
Jeremiah 36:30-31 Jehoiakim… shall have none to sit upon the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out
We end this chapter where we began, with a reminder that it is the end of the line, both literally and figuratively, for King Jehoiakim. His name can forever be linked with those who would reject the prophets, O Jehoiakim, Jehoiakim, “thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” (Matt. 23:37-38)