Monthly Archives: April 2012

A new covenant, written upon the heart

Photo of Exhibit at the Diaspora Museum, Tel A...

Diaspora Museum, Tel Aviv: Everyday life in Babylon

Ultimately, Jeremiah’s message to his crushed and broken people was one of hope.

Babylon—acting, in the prophet’s view, as an agent of God’s wrath—had crushed Judah in 587-586 B.C. The Temple was looted and destroyed, the city of Jerusalem burned and torn down. Leading citizens were executed or carried off into exile with those who had been deported 10 years before. Of the people who remained, many fled to Egypt. And yet, Jeremiah insisted, a remnant of the people would survive and the covenant would be renewed. But that remnant lived not in Judah, but in Babylon.

This was the prophet’s central insight, breaking ground for Ezekiel, Second Isaiah and other prophets of the exile. The covenant remained because the covenant partners remained: Yahweh and his people.

God would bring them back from captivity. Their enemies would be punished, Israel restored, Jerusalem rebuilt. Judah and Israel would flourish again, build and plant. God would forgive their sins and write a new covenant on their hearts. Joy and gladness would return to the towns of Judah. A Davidic king would rule in right and justice.

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah … I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people…. their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31, 33-34)

Until the remnant was restored to its own land, Jeremiah counseled the exiles to make a life for themselves in Babylon.

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Baruch and the legacy of Jeremiah

Without Baruch, would he have the Book of Jeremiah?

Baruch Writes Jeremiah's Prophecies (Jer. 36:4...

Baruch Writes Jeremiah's Prophecies

Certainly we would have fewer of the prophet’s words and know little if anything about his life. Chapters 26-45 are narratives attributed to Jeremiah’s friend, confidant, disciple, and scribe—not just a secretary but a skilled professional training in writing.

Baruch enabled Jeremiah to fulfill God’s direction:

Take a scroll and write on it all the words I have spoken to you against Israel, Judah, and all the nations, from the day I first spoke to you, in the days of Josiah, until today. Perhaps, when the house of Judah hears all the evil I have in mind to do to them, they will turn back each from his evil way, so that I may forgive their wickedness and their sin.    (Jeremiah 36:2-3)

Baruch recorded the words on a scroll and took the scroll to the temple. Jeremiah had been banned from entering the sacred space—possibly because of his temple sermon. Through the window of an upper room, he read Jeremiah’s words to a crowd gathered for a feast day. He later read the scroll again to court officials, who kept the scroll but urged Baruch and Jeremiah to go into hiding. One official read the scroll to princes and King Jehoiakim, who cut it off in strips and burned it even as the official continued reading, then ordered the arrest of the prophet and scribe.

In hiding, Jeremiah again dictated to Baruch all the words on the first scroll “and many others of the same kind in addition.” They both witnessed the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, 87-586 B.C. Historians and Bible scholars debate what happened

next. Conflicting traditions maintain that he went into exile with Jeremiah to Egypt, where he died, or that he later lived and wrote in Babylon. The Book of Baruch, accepted as canonical by Catholics, is attributed to the scribe.

Baruch 3:9-15 is the sixth reading of the Easter vigil:

Hear, Israel, the commandments of life:
listen, and know prudence!
How is it, Israel,
that you are in the land of your foes,
grown old in a foreign land,
Defiled with the dead,
counted among those destined for Hades?
You have forsaken the fountain of wisdom!
Had you walked in the way of God,
you would have dwelt in enduring peace.
Learn where prudence is,
where strength, where understanding;
That you may know also
where are length of days, and life,
where light of the eyes, and peace.
Who has found the place of wisdom?
Who has entered into her treasuries?