Lesson 17
Part 1: Oracles to Judah and Jerusalem
(Babylon Conquers Judah and Jerusalem)
Chapters 34-36
The Broken Covenant
The Example of the Rechabites
The Destruction of the Book of Jeremiah

Eternal Father,

Help us to understand that the rules of Christian conduct You established for us under the guidance of Your Kingdom of the Church are only for our benefit. Even when we do not completely understand the reasons for certain prohibitions, help us to trust in Your divine judgment and to remain faithful and obedient. When we are confused, help us to seek the guidance of Your priestly representatives and to take the responsibility to learn more about the Narrow Path to Heaven from Sacred Scripture and the documents of the Church. Encourage us to be like your servant Jeremiah who put his faith and trust in Your plan for the salvation of his people and continued to speak to them with the authority of Your Divine Voice. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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If your fellow Hebrew, man or woman, sells himself to you, he can serve you for six years. In the seventh year you must set him free, and in setting him free you must not let him go empty handed. By way of present, you will load his shoulders with things from your flock, from your threshing-floor and from your winepress; as Yahweh your God has blessed you, so you must give to him. Remember that you were once a slave in Egypt and that Yahweh your God redeemed you; that is why I am giving you this order today.
Deuteronomy 15:12-13

Chapter 34: Zedekiah's Covenant and the Liberation of Hebrew Slaves


Chapter 34 divides into three oracles Jeremiah is to present to the king and the covenant people:

Between oracles 1 and 2 is the episode of Zedechiah's covenant ceremony with the Jerusalemites in which they agreed on oath to liberate all Hebrew slaves.

The first oracle dates to the first Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in 588 BC when King Nebuchadnezzar's army was also busy conquering the fortified cities to the south and southeast Jerusalem (34:7). The second and third oracles date to Nebuchadnezzar's temporary break in the siege when he withdrew from Jerusalem to meet the threat of the advancing Egyptian army sent by Pharaoh Hophra (known to Egyptologists by the Greek form of his name, Apries, who reigned from 589-569 BC). The Egyptians sent a military force in at attempt to rescue their ally, King Zedekiah (see 34:21b and 37:5-8). The third oracle ends with a prophecy that Nebuchadnezzar's army will resume the siege of Jerusalem and will conquer the city (see 34:21).

King Zedekiah still had time to send emissaries to submit to Nebuchadnezzar and save the city like his brother King Jehoiakim (reigned 609-598 BC) did in 605 BC (2 Kng 24:1). Unfortunately, he stubbornly refused to listen to Jeremiah's oracles from Yahweh, urging him to surrender to the Babylonians.


Jeremiah 34:1-7 ~ Oracle #1: The Fate of Jerusalem and King Zedekiah
1 The word came to Jeremiah from Yahweh when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and his whole army, with all the kingdoms of the earth under his dominion and all the peoples, were waging war on Jerusalem and all its towns, 2 Yahweh, God of Israel, says this, "Go and speak to Zedekiah king of Judah and tell him, Yahweh says this: I am going to hand this city over to the power of the king of Babylon, and he will burn it down. 3 And you yourself will not escape his clutches [hands] but will certainly be captured and handed over to him. You will see the king of Babylon face to face and speak to him personally. Then you will go to Babylon. 4 Even so, listen to the word of Yahweh, Zedekiah king of Judah! This is what Yahweh says about you: You will not die by the sword; 5 you will die in peace. And as spices were burnt for your ancestors, the kings who in times past preceded you, so spices will be burnt for you and a dirge sung for you: Alas for his highness! I have spoken, Yahweh declares." 6 The prophet Jeremiah repeated all these words to Zedekiah king of Judah in Jerusalem, 7 while the army of the king of Babylon was attacking Jerusalem and all such towns of Judah as still held out, namely Lachish and Azekah, these being the only fortified towns of Judah remaining.

In 588 BC, Jerusalem was under attack by Nebuchadnezzar's army. Of all the other towns in Judah, only the two fortified cities of Azekah and Lachish remained defiant in addition to Jerusalem (verse 7). Azekah was about 19 miles south-west of Jerusalem, and Lachish about 12.5 miles south-west of Azekah. An ostracon (potsherd with writing) dating to this period testifies to the resistance of these two cities.(1)

3 And you yourself will not escape his clutches [hands] but will certainly be captured and handed over to him.
This judgment oracle was not new information. Zedekiah received the same oracle from Jeremiah on other occasions (Jer 21:7; 32:4; 34:21; 37:17; 38:21-23). The record of the judgment oracle's fulfillment is in 2 Kings 25:5-6 and Jeremiah 39:5; 52:8-9.

A word of knowledge from Yahweh came to Jeremiah to deliver an oracle (divine message) to King Zedekiah.
Question: What is the message Yahweh commands Jeremiah to give King Zedekiah?

  1. The Babylonians will take Jerusalem, and they will burn the city to the ground.
  2. Nebuchadnezzar will capture Zedekiah and send him to Babylon.
  3. Zedekiah will die in peace and not by the sword.
  4. Zedekiah will be properly mourned by his people.

What is omitted from the oracle is that the face of Nebuchadnezzar is the last face the Zedekiah will ever see. Nebuchadnezzar will order the king to witness the death of his sons before gouging out Zedekiah eyes. While the oracle truthfully stated that he will not die in battle, he will die as a prisoner in Babylon (52:8-11) where the customary funeral rites of burning spices and incense will be observed.(2) The irony is that while spices and incense will be burned in Zedekiah's honor, Jerusalem will be burned in dishonor. Jeremiah's oracle must have unnerved Zedekiah, but he did not turn to God in prayer, call for national repentance, and plead for Yahweh's mercy as his ancestor Hezekiah did when the Assyrians threatened Jerusalem in 722 BC (2 Kng 19:1).

Jeremiah 34:8-11 ~ The Failure to Liberate Hebrew Slaves
8 The word came to Jeremiah from Yahweh after King Zedekiah had made a covenant [cut a covenant] with all the people in Jerusalem to issue a proclamation freeing their slaves: 9 each man was to free his Hebrew slaves, men and women, no one was any longer to keep a brother Judaean in slavery. 10 All the chief men and all the people who had entered into the covenant had agreed that everyone should free his slaves, men or women, and no longer keep them as slaves: they had agreed on this and set them free. 11 Afterwards, however, they changed their minds, recovered the slaves, men and women, whom they had set free, and reduced them to slavery again. [...] = literal translation IBHE, vol. IV, page 1829.

Yahweh notified Jeremiah (probably still confided in the Court of the Guard) that Zedekiah "cut a covenant" with the people of Jerusalem to liberate Hebrew slaves. A covenant was said to be "cut" because, in addition to sworn oaths, it involved blood sacrifice to seal the covenant between the two parties, in this case, the king and the people. See the same wording in 34:14 and a description of the blood ritual of covenant making between Yahweh and Abraham in Genesis 15:7-17.

This event took place while the Babylonians were still besieging Jerusalem when the situation for Zedekiah and the city was desperate. According to the Law of Moses, all Hebrew male slaves were to receive their freedom at the end of six years of service and the beginning of the seventh. Wives were only included if the male entered his term of slavery when he was married (Ex 21:2-6; Lev 25:39-55; Dt 15:12-13). The Israelites/Judahites were not adhering to this law (Jer 34:13-14) just as they were not observing the Sabbath rest every seventh year (Lev 25:1-7, 18-22) or the laws concerning the Jubilee Year every fifty years when slaves, no matter what the length of service, were released (Lev 25:8-17). Zedekiah, however, decided to liberate all Hebrew slaves, males and females, no matter the length of service, which may suggest this was a Jubilee Year. He made the release of Israelite slaves a covenant agreement for the entire population of Jerusalem and ratified the covenant in an oath-swearing ceremony in Yahweh's name at the Jerusalem Temple (34:15-16).

Slavery in ancient times was not only imposed on prisoners of war. Anyone who was unable to care for himself or his family could sell himself or his children or his family into slavery to pay off his creditors (32:14). It was a welfare system for the poor in ancient times. The Sinai Covenant's law for a slave's redemption did not include Gentile slaves. However, Gentiles were permitted to become converts and therefore covenant members. In that case, they were probably eligible for redemption in the seventh year from their conversion.

Question: What reason might Zedekiah have for asking the people of Jerusalem to make a covenant promise to liberate their slaves at this particular time during the siege?
Answer: There are two possible answers:

  1. Zedekiah's conscience bothered him concerning the failure to keep God's commandments concerning the liberation of Hebrew slaves.
  2. It was a political move by Zedekiah to orchestrate an increase in the number of fighting men against the Babylonians within the city. If a large number of slaves within the city remained in slavery, the Babylonians might seem more like liberators than the enemy, and the slaves might become a "fifth column" within the city, working for the enemy and a danger to their owners.

Zedekiah's plan to liberate the Hebrew slaves may point to the fact that it was a Jubilee Year (see Lev 25:10) since there was no requirement for years of service, and therefore it offered a good opportunity to achieve two goals with one plan.

Question: How did Zedekiah's plan fail?
Answer: The slave owners regretted their oath to free their slaves and set about imposing slavery on the people they had previously released.

But why did the Jerusalemites decide to take back their slaves? Slaves served in the households of their masters as personal servants, but most slaves worked their master's agricultural lands. It may have seemed reasonable to release all slaves when the city was under siege, and no one could work the land. However, when the Babylonians lifted the siege to pursue the Egyptians, the population may have believed they were no longer threatened, perhaps recalling the Assyrian army's complete withdrawal from Jerusalem in 722 BC. Therefore, they decided they needed their slaves back to start sowing seed and harvesting the fruit on their lands which also saved them the expense of releasing their slaves with the required goods to start a new life. It is the only reasonable explanation. The lifting of the siege after the covenant ceremony may have been God's gift for their repentance over the unlawful holding of Hebrew slaves (34:15); if so it was a gift for which they didn't show their gratitude.

Jeremiah 34:12-16 ~ Oracle #2: Yahweh's Judgment
12 The word of Yahweh came then to Jeremiah as follows, 13 "Yahweh, God of Israel, says this, I made [cut] a covenant with your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; it said: 14 At the end of seven years each one of you is to free his brother Hebrew who has sold himself to you: he may be your slave for six years, then you must send him away free. But your ancestors did not listen to me and would not pay attention. 15 Now, today you repented and did what pleases me by proclaiming freedom for your neighbor; you made a covenant before me in the Temple that bears my name. 16 And then you changed your minds and, profaning my name, each of you has recovered his slaves, men and women, whom you had sent away free to live their own lives, and has forced them to become your slaves again.'"

Oracle 2 is an indictment against the king and the people. The covenant with your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt in verse 13 is the Sinai Covenant. Despite their failure to keep the laws concerning slaves in the past, their action in "cutting a covenant" in a liturgical ceremony and swearing in Yahweh's name to release all their Hebrew slaves pleased Yahweh, and He saw it as an act of national repentance. However, any goodwill generated from their first act was erased by the second act of going back on their sworn oaths and recovering the slaves.

Question: What are the two points in Yahweh's indictment against the citizens of Jerusalem?

  1. The Judahites and their king were not obedient to the laws concerning slaves in the past.
  2. They swore an oath in Yahweh's name in His Temple to free their slaves, but they changed their minds by abandoning their oaths to take back their slaves. The result was that they all sinned by profaning the name of Yahweh.

Jeremiah 34:17-22 ~ Oracle #3: Judgment for Failure to Keep the Vow to Free the Slaves
17 So Yahweh says this: "You have disobeyed me, by failing to grant freedom to brother and neighbor. Very well, I in my turn, Yahweh declares, shall leave sword, famine and plague free to deal with you and I shall make you an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 18 As for the people who have broken my covenant, who have not observed the terms of the covenant which they made before me, I shall treat them like the calf that people cut in two to pass between its pieces. 19 The chief men of Judah and Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the country people who have passed between the pieces of the calf, 20 I shall hand over to their enemies and those determined to kill them, and their corpses will be food for the birds of the sky and the animals of earth. 21 As for Zedekiah king of Judah and his chief men, I shall hand them to their enemies, to those determined to kill them, and to the army of the king of Babylon which has just withdrawn. 22 Listen, I shall give the order, Yahweh declares, and bring them back to this city to attack it and capture it and burn it down. And I shall make an uninhabited waste of the towns of Judah.

Oracle 3 is the judgment following the indictment in Oracle 2. The covenant ceremony to release the slaves took place in the Temple because, in addition to the oath, the covenant ceremony had to be ratified by a blood sacrifice. Oath swearing and blood sacrifice followed by a sacred meal are the elements of covenant making (Gen 26:28-31; 31:44, 53-54; Ex 24:5-11; Jos 9:11, 14-15; Ps 50:5). It is because of the necessary blood sacrifice that the literal Biblical term is to "cut a covenant" and not "make a covenant," referring to the sacrifice of the animal.

18 As for the people who have broken my covenant, who have not observed the terms of the covenant which they made before me, I shall treat them like the calf that people cut in two to pass between its pieces.
The ritual was similar to the formation of the covenant between Yahweh and Abraham in Genesis 15 where animals were cut in half and God, who swore an unconditional covenant with Abraham, passed between the pieces of the animals (Gen 15:8-21).

Question: How was the covenant Zedekiah made with the people different from the covenant God cut with Abraham in Genesis chapter 15?
Answer: Zedekiah's covenant was conditional on the release of their Hebrew slaves, therefore all the people/slave owners passed between the pieces of the sacrifice. God's covenant with Abraham was an unconditional covenant placing all the promised to fulfill the covenant on God alone.

The purpose of the act of each person passing between the parts of the sacrifice (verse 19) was to impose a self-curse on each individual if they broke their covenant vow. What happened to the animal was to happen to them if they broke their sworn oath in Yahweh's name to release their slaves: the death of the animal represents God's just judgment for them if they abandon their oaths sworn in Yahweh's name. Their action in abandoning their oaths in Yahweh's name demonstrates that they did not fear offending Yahweh.

Question: How did Yahweh invoke their self-curse for breaking the covenant? See verses 19-20.
Answer: Just as the animal victim sealed the covenant in its death, they will pay the same penalty for violating their covenant in the destruction of the city and their deaths.

19 The chief men of Judah and Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the country people who have passed between the pieces of the calf, 20 I shall hand over to their enemies and those determined to kill them, and their corpses will be food for the birds of the sky and the animals of earth.
Those who took part in the covenant ratification ceremony at the Temple included representatives from the entire population including "eunuchs." Eunuchs, because of their physical deformity, and Gentiles, because they were not members of the covenant, were by Law excluded from the community of the faithful and barred from entering the inner courts of the Temple (Lev 22:24; Dt 23:2). Covenant members were to represent the image of redeemed man physically and spiritually.

Eunuchs, who were castrated males, were originally charged with maintaining the women's quarters in palaces and wealthy households. However, in later periods, it was common that eunuchs rose to high administrative ranks within kingdoms, and therefore the term "eunuch" became a title that referred to court officials or chamberlains (Gen 37:36; 39:1; 40:2; 2 Kng 24:12-15; 25:19). The prophet Isaiah prophesied a time when both foreigners and eunuchs would be accepted in the community of the redeemed (Is 56:3), and the inspired writer of the Book of Wisdom promised that righteous eunuchs who honored the Lord would enjoy God's special favor for their loyalty (Wis 3:14).(3)

Question: What is God's judgment on Jerusalem and Judah that the incident of the failed covenant only reinforced?
Answer: The failure to release the Hebrew slaves has served to "release" God's judgment of destruction on the population of Judah and Jerusalem by the return of the Babylonians.

Question: Yahweh gives the failed oath swearers the dubious liberty to choose their own destruction. What are the three choices He gives them in verse 17?
Answer: They can have their choice of sword, famine, or plague.

Whichever they choose, Yahweh will make their punishment them a horror to every kingdom on earth (34:17b) as a lesson in the cost of oppressing the dispossessed and disobeying the God of all nations.

22 Listen, I shall give the order, Yahweh declares, and bring them back to this city to attack it and capture it and burn it down. And I shall make an uninhabited waste of the towns of Judah.
As Yahweh ordained, Nebuchadnezzar returned to resume his siege of Jerusalem (Jer 52:4). In the eleventh year of Zedekiah's reign, in the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month, the city fell (July/August 587 BC; Jer 52:5-11).

Chapter 35: The Example of the Rechabites


The sons of Hobab the Kenite, father-in-law of Moses, marched up with the sons of Judah from the City of Palms [Jericho] into the desert of Judah lying in the Negeb of Arad, where they went and settled among the people.
Judges 1:16


The sons of Jonadab, we are told, drank neither wine nor strong drink and dwelled in tents pitched wherever night overtook them. According to the Psalter, they were the first to undergo captivity; for, when the Chaldaeans began to ravage Judah, they were compelled to take refuge in cities.
St. Jerome, Letters, 125.7

Chapter 35 takes place near the end of the reign of King Jehoiakim (reigned 609-598 BC) the brother of King Zedekiah. The Babylonians deposed Jehoiakim's son and placed Zedekiah on the throne of Judah in his place in 598 BC (2 Kng 24:17). This chapter can be divided into three oracles Yahweh commands Jeremiah to present:

When the Babylonians conquered Assyrian in 605 BC, Davidic King Jehoiakim submitted and became a vassal of the Babylonians. However, he later revolted against the Babylonians. The events in this chapter took place when Nebuchadnezzar was about to put Jerusalem under siege for the first time in 598 BC. When Jehoiakim refused to pay Judah's tribute to the Babylonians, incursions into Judah by armed bands of Babylonians allies were almost constant since 602 BC (see 2 Kng 24:2). During that time, Nebuchadnezzar was busy putting down other rebellions, but in 598 BC he was able to turn his attention to the rebellious king of Judah. The events recorded in Chapter 35, concerning an example of the earlier faithfulness of the Rechabites, displayed within the Temple complex, are placed after Chapter 34 to give a contrast between the loyalty of the Rechabites and the disloyalty of the Jerusalemites who swore an oath within the Temple which they broke.

Jeremiah 35:1-5 ~ A Lesson in Obedience
1 The word which came to Jeremiah from Yahweh in the days of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, king of Judah, 2 "Go to the clan of the Rechabites and speak to them; bring them into one of the rooms of the Temple of Yahweh and offer them wine to drink." 3 So I took Jaazaniah son of Jeremiah, son of Habazziniah, with his brothers and all his sons, the whole Rechabite clan, 4 and brought them to the Temple of Yahweh into the room of Ben-Johanan [Yohanan] son of Igdaliah, a man of God, which was next to that of the chief men, above the room of Maaseiah son of Shallum, guardian of the threshold. 5 I then set pitchers full of wine, and some cups, before the members of the Rachaibite clan and said, "Drink some wine."

Rechab was the founding father of the Rechabites. They were Gentiles who joined the Israelites during the Exodus wilderness years and came with them into the Promised Land. They believed in Yahweh but considered themselves resident aliens in the land of Israel, living in the desert region of the Negeb in southern Judah (Judg 1:16; Jer 35:7). Biblical tradition identifies the Rechabites with the Kenites (1 Chr 2:55), who were descendants of Moses' father-in-law, Jethro (Ex 3:1; 18:1; Judg 1:16; 4:11). They were known for their unwavering loyalty to Yahweh and their commitment to a nomadic pastoral lifestyle. The lifestyle rules for the clan were laid down by Rechab's son Jehonadab [Yehonadab]. They rejected all forms of settled culture, including wine cultivation and consumption. In 842 BC, according to 2 Kings 10:15-31, Jehonadab ben Rechab joined Jehu's successful revolt against wicked King Ahab because of his "zeal for Yahweh."(4)

4 and brought them to the Temple of Yahweh into the room of Ben-Johanan [Yohanan] son of Igdaliah, a man of God, which was next to that of the chief men, above the room of Maaseiah son of Shallum, guardian of the threshold.
Ben-Johanan was a member of the Rechabite clan who was probably recognized as a prophet of Yahweh since he had the title "a man of God" and occupied a room in the Temple (for example, see the same title for a prophet in 1 Sam 9:6-10 for Samuel, 2 Kng 1:9-13 for Elijah, and in 2 Kng 4:7, 9, 16 for Elisha). Notice we are told the exact location within the Temple complex of additional rooms next to and below the one that Jeremiah and the Rechabites entered. We are even told the names and patronyms of two of the chamber's occupants, one of whom was the doorkeeper of the Temple and the other, the Rechabite prophet, who was probably the clan leader. The whole clan was brought in to show that not one of them departed from their oath of obedience to their ancestor.

It is significant that God orders Jeremiah to test the commitment of the Rechabites to their ancestral traditions within the Temple of Yahweh.

Jeremiah 35:6-11 ~ The Rechabites' Reply to Jeremiah
6 But they replied, "We do not drink wine, because our ancestor Jonadab son of Rechab gave us this order, You must not drink wine, neither you nor your sons forever; 7 nor must you build houses, sow seed, plant vineyards or own them, but must live in tents all our lives, so that you may live long on the soil to which you are alien.' 8 We have punctiliously obeyed the orders of our ancestor, Jonadab son of Rechab, never drinking wine ourselves, nor our wives, our sons or our daughters, 9 not building houses to live in, owing neither vineyard nor field nor seed, living in tents. 10 We have obeyed the orders of our ancestor Jonadab, respecting them in every particular. 11 However, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded this country, we decided, We must get away! We will go to Jerusalem to escape the armies of the Chaldaeans and Aramaeans.' So that is why we are living in Jerusalem."

Question: Why did the Rechabites refuse Jeremiah's invitation to drink wine?
Answer: They were remaining faithful to their ancestral traditions to not drink wine.

Question: What reason did they give for leaving their nomadic life to seek refuge in the city of Jerusalem?
Answer: They only came for refuge because of the marauding Babylonians and their allies.

Jeremiah 35:12-16 ~ Oracle #1: Judahites and Jerusalemites Condemned for Their Disloyalty
12 Then the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah as follows, 13 "Yahweh Sabaoth, God of Israel, says this, Go and say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Will you never learn the lesson and listen to my words, Yahweh demands? 14 The words of Jonadab son of Rechab, ordering his sons to drink no wine, have been observed; obedient to their ancestors' command, they drink none even today. 15 But to me, who spoke to you so urgently, so untiringly, you have not listened. I have urgently and untiringly sent you all my servants the prophets to say: Turn back, each one of you, from your evil behavior and amend you actions, do not follow other gods to serve them, and you will go one living on the soil I gave to you and your ancestors. But you have not paid attention or listened to me. 16 Thus the sons of Jonadab son of Rechab have kept the command their ancestor gave them, but this people has not listened to me.

Jeremiah 35:11-19 contain oracles for the obedient and the disobedient.
Question: What is the reason the story of Jeremiah and the Rechabites follows the story of the covenant failure of the people of Judah in Chapter 34, and what is God's command concerning Jeremiah's experience with these people?
Answer: God instructs Jeremiah to use the faithfulness of the Rechabites to their vows as an example of their commitment to their traditions to emphasize the charge that Judah has not been faithful to its own traditions in obedience to the Laws of Yahweh.

Jeremiah 35:17 ~ Oracle #2: Judgment Against Disloyal Judah and Jerusalem
17 "And so, Yahweh, God Sabaoth, God of Israel, says this: Look, on Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem I am going to bring all the disaster which I have decreed for them, because I spoke to them and they would not listen, called to them and they would not answer.'"

The citizens of Judah and Jerusalem have again rejected the opportunity to turn away from their sins and turn back to God. The judgment decreed throughout Jeremiah's ministry will now fall fully upon the people because, Yahweh says, "I spoke to them and they would not listen, called to them and they would not answer" (it is an accusation of covenant failure throughout Israel's history; see for example: Is 6:9-10; Jer 5:21; Mt 13:14-15; Mk 4:12; Jn 12:40; Acts 28:26-27).

Jeremiah 35:18-19 ~ Oracle #3: Yahweh Gives the Rechabites a Divine Blessing
18 Then Jeremiah said to the Rechabite clan, "Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of Israel, says this, Because you have obeyed the orders of your ancestors Jonadab and observed all his rules and done everything he ordered you to do, 19 therefore, Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of Israel, says this: Jonadab son of Rechab will never lack a male descendant to stand before me forever.'"

To "stand before Yahweh" usually refers to someone standing before God in prayer or service. God's blessing is that the Rechabites will not die out but will continue to have descendants who are faithful to Yahweh. These verses exempt the Rechabites from the full fury of the coming judgment against the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The Rechabites survived the exile and, after the return, a Rechabite descendant helped to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple (Neh 3:14).

Chapter 36: King Jehoiakim Destroys the Book/Scroll of Jeremiah


The events in Chapter 36 took place between 605-604 BC. The "fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim" (36:1), who ruled from 609-598 BC, is calculated by Biblical scholars to be 605 BC. It is a date that brought far-reaching consequences in the ancient Near East:

Jeremiah 36:1-8 ~ Jeremiah Records all the Words of God in a Book/Scroll
1 In the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from Yahweh, 2 "Take a scroll and on it write all the words I have spoken to you about Israel, Judah and all the nations, from the day I first spoke to you, in the time of Josiah, until today. 3 Perhaps when the House of Judah hears about all the disaster I intend to inflict on them, they will turn, each one of them, from their evil behavior, so that I can forgive their sinful guilt." 4 Jeremiah then summoned Baruch son of Neriah, who at his dictation wrote down on the scroll all the words Yahweh had spoken to him. 5 Jeremiah then gave Baruch this order, "As I am prevented from entering the Temple of Yahweh, 6 you yourself must go and, from the scroll you wrote at my dictation, read all Yahweh's words to the people in his Temple on the day of the fast, and in this way you can read them in the hearing also of all the Judaeans who come in from their towns. 7 Perhaps their prayers will move Yahweh and they will turn one and all from their evil behavior, for great is the furious anger with which Yahweh has threatened this people." 8 Baruch son of Neriah duly carried out the order that the prophet Jeremiah had given him to read all Yahweh's words from the book in his Temple.

2 "Take a scroll and on it write all the words I have spoken to you about Israel, Judah and all the nations, from the day I first spoke to you, in the time of Josiah, until today.
In 605 BC, at Yahweh's command, Jeremiah dictates to the scribe Baruch all Yahweh's words he has received since he began his ministry in the time of King Josiah. We first heard of Baruch son of Neriah in Chapter 32 when Jeremiah was confined in the Court of the Guard in the palace in the year 587 BC. At that time Jeremiah needed a scribe to write out a document of sale for property God commanded Jeremiah to purchase from his cousin. The events in this chapter took place about 18 years before the land sale; therefore, this may be the first collaboration between Jeremiah and the professional scribe, Baruch. Jeremiah needed a professional scribe who had the professional skills to write the book of oracles in neat lines and columns.

At this time, Jeremiah had been serving as Yahweh's prophet for twenty-three years from the thirteenth year of Josiah to the fourth year of Jehoiakim. Yahweh orders that the scroll of Jeremiah's prophetic ministry with all its fearful warnings and predictions must be read to the assembly of the covenant people during the daily Temple liturgical worship service. It is interesting that the words of Yahweh must include all He spoke "about Israel, Judah and all the nations." In the Septuagint translation, the oracles concerning the nations are placed immediately after Chapter 25, whereas in the Jewish Masoretic text of Jeremiah those prophecies of the nations are at the end of the Book of Jeremiah in Chapters 46-51. Many Biblical scholars suggest this is more evidence that the Septuagint records an earlier and more accurate version of the Book of Jeremiah and its chapters. This event may coincide with Yahweh's oracle to Jeremiah concerning the seventy-year exile in 25:1.

Question: Why does Yahweh want the people to hear all the oracles of destruction Jeremiah received over the past twenty-three years? See verse 3.
Answer: In Yahweh's mercy, He is again appealing to the people to repent so He can forgive their sins and save them from the Babylonians.

Jeremiah orders Baruch to read the scroll to the assembly of the covenant people "on the day of the fast" (verse 6). It is a mission that Baruch courageously agrees to fulfill. He already realizes that linking his life to Jeremiah's life is a dangerous action.

According to the Law of the covenant, the only national day of fasting was Yom Kipper, the Feast of Atonement that was one of the seven annual sacred feasts (Lev Chapter 16; 23:26-32 and Num 29:7-11). However, that feast took place in the seventh month of the Liturgical calendar in our September/October time frame and not according to the month mentioned in verse 9. However, fast days were sometimes proclaimed in times of national emergencies like the death of a king (1 Sam 31:13; 2 Sam 1:12), a military defeat or threat (Judg 20:26; 2 Chr 20:3), a plague (Joel 1:14), or to lift a drought (Jer 14:12). The national day of fasting proclaimed by King Jehoiakim may be in response to the military threat by Babylon following its victory over the Assyrians at Carchemish in May/June 605 BC.

Question: Why doesn't Jeremiah read the scroll himself? See Jer 20:1-2 and 36:5.
Answer: After the incident in Jeremiah chapter 20 that took place prior to 605, the officer of the Temple Guard arrested Jeremiah, he was excommunicated from the Temple assembly, and could no longer enter the Temple precincts.

Jeremiah 36:9-10 ~ Baruch Reads the Scroll to the Assembly of Israel/Judah
9 Now, in the fifth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, king of Judah, in the ninth month, all the people of Jerusalem and all the people who could get to Jerusalem from the towns of Judah were summoned to a fast before Yahweh. 10 Baruch then read Jeremiah's words from the book; this happened in the room of Gemariah son of the scribe Shaphan, in the upper court at the entry of the New Gate of the Temple of Yahweh, where all the people could hear.

In the ninth month of the fifth year of the reign of the king, the month of Kislev corresponding to our November/December 604 BC, King Jehoiakim ordered the people to observe a national fast with a ceremony at the Temple. To fulfill Yahweh's command that the book must be read to all the people, Jeremiah sent Baruch to the Temple on the national fast day to read the book of oracles. Baruch read the book in the "upper court at the entry of the New Gate" in the room of the royal scribe Gemariah son of Shaphan. Gemariah's room must have had a balcony that allowed Baruch to have a vantage point from which to be heard by a large crowd of people.

That Baruch had access to restricted Temple areas and that Gemariah allowed Baruch to use his room suggests that he had a relationship with him, and perhaps, like Gemariah son of Shaphan, Baruch was a royal scribe. You may recall that the Shaphan family continued to support Jeremiah despite his persecution. Gemariah is the son of King Josiah's royal scribe (2 Kng 24:3), and he is the brother of Ahikam who interceded to rescue Jeremiah when he was tried for treason (Jer 26:24). The first century AD Jewish priest/historian, Josephus, writes that Baruch came from a distinguished family of scribes (Antiquity of the Jews, 10.158). That Baruch is named with a double patronym, son of Neriah, son of Mahseiah, for a scribe indicated descent from an established scribal family. Baruch's brother, Seraiah, held an important government post under King Zedekiah and was also a trained scribe (51:59-64). Since Baruch's seal impression was discovered among bullae belonging to royal officials, many Biblical scholars conclude that he was not simply Jeremiah's personal scribe but an official scribe who may have left his position among the royal scribes at the palace to join Jeremiah in his mission. It would also explain the other royal scribes concern for him expressed in 36:18.

Jeremiah 36:11-20 ~ The Royal Scribes Summon Baruch
11 Micaiah son of Gemariah, son of Shaphan, having heard all Yahweh's words read from the book, 12 went down to the royal palace, to the scribe's room. All the chief men were in session: the scribe Elishama, Delaiah son of Shemaiah, Elnathan son of Achbor, Gemariah son of Shaphan, Zedekiah son of Hananiah and all the other chief men; 13 and to them Micaiah reported all the words he heard as Baruch was reading the book aloud to the people. 14 The chief men then by common consent sent Jehudi son of Netaniah to Baruch, with Shelemiah son of Cushi, to say, "Come, and bring the scroll with you which you have been reading to the people." 15 Bringing the scroll with him, Baruch son of Neriah appeared before them. "Sit down," they said, "and read it out." So Baruch read it to them. 16 Having heard all the words they turned to one another in alarm and said to Baruch, "We must certainly inform the king of this." 17 They then questioned Baruch, "Tell us," they said, "how you came to write all these words." 18 "Jeremiah dictated them all to me," Baruch replied," and I wrote them down in ink in this book." 19 The chief men said to Baruch, "You and Jeremiah had better go into hiding; and do not tell anyone where you are." 20 Whereupon they went off to the king in the palace court, depositing the scroll in the room of the scribe Elishama. They then informed the king of the whole affair.

Gemariah's son, the royal scribe Micaiah, reports the event of Baruch reading the book of Jeremiah's oracles to the session of the chief palace scribes. The palace scribes then sent for Baruch to read the book to them. They were shocked by what they heard, but as a whole, they were sympathetic to Jeremiah and Baruch. Elnathan was the king's emissary who was sent to Egypt to bring back the prophet Uriah who was later executed for sedition (Jer 26:25), but even he is sympathetic (36:25). They know they must take the book to the King, but they warn Baruch that he and Jeremiah must go into hiding to preserve their lives.

depositing the scroll in the room of the scribe Elishama. Elishama is not named again in the Bible, but archaeologists found his name on clay bullae (clay seals for documents) discovered in a scribe's house in Jerusalem that the Babylonians destroyed when they conquered the city. It was the same house where archaeologists found bullae bearing Baurch's name were found.

Jeremiah 36:21-26 ~ Elishama Reads the Scroll to King Jehoiakim
21 The king sent Jehudi for the scroll, and he brought it from the room of the scribe Elishama and read it to the king and all the chief men standing round the king. 22 The king was sitting in his winter apartments; it was the ninth month, with a fire burning in a brazier in front of him. 23 Each time Jehudi had read three or four columns, the king cut them off with a scribe's knife and threw them into the fire in the brazier until the whole of the scroll had been burnt in the brazier fire. 24 But in spite of hearing all these words, neither the king nor any of his courtiers took alarm or tore their clothes; 25 and although Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah had urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them, 26 but ordered the king's son Jerahmeel and Seraiah son of Azriel and Shelemiah son of Abdeel to arrest the scribe Baruch and the prophet Jeremiah. But Yahweh had hidden them.

It is winter; the month of Kislev corresponding to our November/December, and the king is sitting by a fire. Yahweh's oracles are offensive to the king. He is not moved to repentance and instead, despite the pleading of some of the royal scribes, he destroys the first edition of the Book of Jeremiah by cutting off columns with a scribal knife and throwing the pieces into the fire.(5)

Question: What symbolic act Zedekiah is performing by destroying Yahweh's prophetic oracles written down in Jeremiah's scroll?
Answer: In destroying the written words of Yahweh, he may believe he is destroying the possibility of those words coming true.

Question: What is ironic about the king burning Jeremiah's prophetic book and the fate of the city and the nation?
Answer: The irony is that his action in refusing to listen to the voice of Yahweh and his destruction of the scroll by fire will mean that the same fate will befall his city when the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem by fire.

As the royal scribes feared, the king ordered the arrest of Baruch and Jeremiah, but, true to His oath to Jeremiah to protect him, "Yahweh had hidden them" from their enemies.

Jeremiah 36:27-32 ~ Yahweh's Oracle to King Jehoiakim and His Command to Re-write the Scroll
27 Then the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah, after the king had burnt the scroll containing the words Baruch had written at Jeremiah's dictation. 28 "Take another scroll and write down all the words that were written on the first scroll burnt by Jehoiakim king of Judah. 29 And as regards Jehoiakim king of Judah, you are to say, Yahweh says this: You have burnt that scroll, saying: Why have you written down: The king of Babylon will certainly come and lay this country waste and leave it without human or animal? 30 So, this is what Yahweh says about Jehoiakim king of Judah: He will have no one to occupy the throne of David, and his corpse will be tossed out to the heat of the day and the frost of the night. 31 I shall punish him, his offspring and his courtiers for their guilt; on them, on the citizens of Jerusalem and on the people of Judah I shall bring the total disaster which I had decreed for them but to which they have paid no attention.'" 32 Jeremiah then took another scroll and gave it to the scribe Baruch son of Neriah, who in it at Jeremiah's dictation wrote all the words of the book that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burnt, with many similar words in addition.

Yahweh's judgment oracle for the king is that God will fulfill everything that the king heard in the scroll of Jeremiah.
Question: What personal judgment against Jehoiakim did Yahweh add?
Answer: His personal judgment was:

  1. His descendants will not continue as kings of Judah.
  2. He will not receive an honorable burial.

The Babylonians deposed Jehoiakim's eighteen-year-old son, Jehoiachin, in 598 BC, and he and the Queen mother (the Gebira) spent the rest of their lives as prisoners in Babylon (2 Chr 36:5-10). In obedience to Yahweh command, Jeremiah gave Baruch a blank scroll and again dictated Yahweh's words for Baruch to write down, but in this second edition, Yahweh added to the prophetic work.

Question for reflection or group discussion:
How did Jesus establish our New Covenant, and how does the New Covenant in Christ Jesus continue in oath swearing, a blood sacrifice, and a sacred meal? The Latin word sacramentum means "oath."

1. Archaeologists discovered twenty-one ostraca (broken pieces of pottery used for writing) at the ruins of Lachish in what had been a guard room at the city gate. Known as "the Lachish Letters;" archaeologists date the letters between 597-587 BC. One of the letters was from a soldier named Hoshaiah at a nearby outpost writing to Yaosh, the garrison commander at Lachish. He tells the commander that Coniah son of Elnathan has traveled to Egypt to obtain military assistance. Another ostraca reports that they were watching for the signal fires from Lachish and that there were no longer any signal fires visible from Azekah: "And let my lord know that we are watching for the signals of Lachish, according to all the indications which my lord has given, for we cannot see Azekah" (Lundbom, page 552). Azekah presumably fell before Jerusalem in 587/6 BC.

2. According to the first-century historian, Flavius Josephus, Nebuchadnezzar buried Zedekiah with royal honors (Antiquities of the Jews, 10.154).

3. The Ethiopian eunuch who sought instruction from St. Philip and was baptized by him is an example of the fulfillment of those prophecies (Acts 8:27). Jesus also called those men who chose not to marry in their undivided devotion to serve His Kingdom "eunuchs" in Matthew 19:12, which prefigures the Latin Rite discipline of a celibate priesthood.

4. A Kenite-Rechabite relation who is hailed as a heroine is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, who killed the Canaanite General Sisera in Judges 4:11-22.

5. A scribe used a scribal knife with a ruler to gently score lines on a papyrus or scraped animal skin scroll (parchment) to keep the writing in even lines and columns on the page.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2017 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson (* indicated that Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the catechism citation):

Abraham (CCC 72, 992, 2571)
Sinai (CCC 62n 204, 1962-64, 2810)
New Covenant (CCC 73, 662, 759, 778, 839-40, 1348, 1365, 1410)
Eucharist and the New Covenant (CCC 619-11, 1339, 1365, 1410, 1846)
Sacraments and the New Covenant (CCC 1091, 1116, 1129, 1222, 1541)