Jeremiah – Chapter 36

The Invisible Man

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

In the fourth year of the reign of King Yehoyakim of Judah, G-d spoke to Jeremiah. He told Jeremiah to take a scroll and to write in it all the prophecies He had given him until that point. If the people of Judah reviewed this book, they might repent and avert disaster. So Jeremiah called his student, the prophet Baruch, and dictated the Book of Jeremiah up to this point. (Some say it was Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, which was also written by Jeremiah. If so, then Eicha was written prophetically mourning over Jerusalem’s destruction before it actually occurred.)

Jeremiah said to Baruch, “I am in prison, so I cannot go to the Temple. You will have to go and read the scroll to the people, on a fast day.” (This is not the same imprisonment that Jeremiah had in chapters 32-33. That was later, under King Tzidkiyahu. Jeremiah managed to get himself thrown in jail several times, as the kings really didn’t care for his prophecies.)

Baruch read the scroll as he had been instructed. King Yehoyakim declared a fast day in Jerusalem and Baruch read Jeremiah’s scroll in the Temple. Michayahu the son of Gemaryahu heard the scroll and went to the palace where his father and other officers were gathered. He told them what he had heard and the officers sent a “cease and desist” order to Baruch. He brought the scroll to the officers, who asked to hear it for themselves. When they heard the words, they were troubled and assured Baruch that they would tell the king. Next, the officers asked Baruch whether the scroll contained Jeremiah’s prophecies verbatim or Baruch’s paraphrase of them. (The practical difference would be how much they should worry about the details. It’s one thing if G-d spelled it out to Jeremiah and another if Baruch embellished the prophecies for effect.) Baruch assured them that the content of the scroll was word-for-word as dictated to him by Jeremiah. The officers recommended to Baruch that he hide himself and instruct Jeremiah to do likewise (as best he could in prison), because the king was not likely to care for the negative prophecies.

The officers went to King Yehoyakim and gave the scroll to the scribe for safekeeping before telling the king its contents. The king had the scroll brought to him and read. (It was winter, so he had a fire burning for warmth.) When only three or four verses had been read (three or four pages, according to the Radak), the king sliced the scroll with a razor and threw the scroll on the fire. He simply wasn’t concerned by what he had heard. Some of his officers asked him not to burn the scroll, but the king would not comply.

King Yehoyakim instructed some of his men to go and get Jeremiah and Baruch, but G-d had hidden them. (The Radak says miraculously. He suggests that G-d enveloped them in darkness or made their pursuers unable to see them.)

G-d told Jeremiah to write the scroll over again, plus a message for Yehoyakim: You burned the scroll because it foretold that Nebuchadnezzar would raze the land. Therefore, G-d says that Yehoyakim’s line would lose the throne and his corpse would be tossed out. Jeremiah re-wrote the scroll, along with the updates. (And, as we know from the Book of Kings, Yehoyakim’s son ruled only three months before he was succeeded by his uncle, Tzidkiyahu. Furthermore, We read more about Yehoyakim’s funeral – or lack thereof – earlier, in chapter 22. Remember, these prophecies are not necessarily collected in chronological order!)

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