Baruch—Jeremiah’s Faithful Secretary
DO YOU know “Baruch the son of Neriah”? (Jeremiah 36:4) Although he is mentioned in only four chapters of the Bible, he is well-known to Bible readers as the personal secretary and close friend of the prophet Jeremiah. Together they went through the last 18 turbulent years of the kingdom of Judah, the terrible destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 607 B.C.E., and the ensuing exile into Egypt.
In recent years discoveries of two bullae * from the seventh century B.C.E. with the text “Belonging to Berekhyahu [Baruch’s Hebrew name], son of Neriyahu [Neriah’s Hebrew name], the Scribe,” have aroused scholars’ interest in this Bible character. Who was Baruch? What were his family background, education, and status? What does his firm stand with Jeremiah reveal? What can we learn from him? Let us search for the answers by looking at the Biblical and historical information available.
Background and Status
Many scholars today believe that Baruch belonged to a prominent scribal family in Judah. They point to a number of reasons for this conclusion. For example, the Bible account refers to Baruch by a special title, “the secretary,” or “the scribe” in some translations. The Scriptures also mention that Seraiah, his brother, was an important official at the court of King Zedekiah.—Jeremiah 36:32; 51:59.
Archaeologist Philip J. King writes regarding scribes in Jeremiah’s day: “Scribes, members of a professional class, were prominent in Judah during the late seventh and early sixth centuries B.C.E. . . . The title was held by high royal officials.”
In addition, the account in Jeremiah chapter 36, which we will consider in detail, conveys the impression that Baruch had access to the king’s counselors and was allowed to use the dining room, or the cabinet room, of Gemariah, a prince or an official. Bible scholar James Muilenberg argues: “Baruch could enter the cabinet room of the scribe because he had a rightful place there and was himself a member of the royal officials who had come together on the crucial occasion of the public reading of the scroll. He was among colleagues.”
The publication Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals adds another argument for the status of Baruch: “Since the bulla of Berekhyahu was found together with a large group of bullae of other high officials, it is reasonable to assume that Baruch/Berekhyahu was acting within the same official framework in which the other officials were operating.” The available information seems to indicate that Baruch and his brother Seraiah were high officials who supported the faithful prophet Jeremiah in the eventful years before the destruction of Jerusalem.
Public Support of Jeremiah
Chronologically, Baruch first appears in Jeremiah chapter 36, in “the fourth year of Jehoiakim,” or about 625 B.C.E. By this time Jeremiah had served as a prophet for 23 years.—Jeremiah 25:1-3; 36:1, 4.
Jehovah now told Jeremiah: “Take for yourself a roll of a book, and you must write in it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and against Judah and against all the nations, . . . since the days of Josiah, clear down to this day.” The account continues: “Jeremiah proceeded to call Baruch the son of Neriah that Baruch might write at the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of Jehovah.”—Jeremiah 36:2-4.
Why was Baruch called? Jeremiah told him: “I am shut up. I am unable to enter into the house of Jehovah.” (Jeremiah 36:5) Evidently, Jeremiah had been barred from the temple area where Jehovah’s message was to be read, perhaps because earlier messages had angered the authorities. (Jeremiah 26:1-9) Baruch was without doubt a sincere worshipper of Jehovah, and he “proceeded to do according to all that Jeremiah the prophet had commanded him.”—Jeremiah 36:8.
Writing the warnings that had been given over the past 23 years took time, and perhaps Jeremiah was also waiting for the right moment. But in November or December 624 B.C.E., Baruch boldly “began to read aloud from the book the words of Jeremiah at the house of Jehovah, in the dining room of Gemariah . . . , in the ears of all the people.”—Jeremiah 36:8-10.
Micaiah the son of Gemariah informed his father and a number of princes of what had happened, and they invited Baruch to read the roll aloud a second time. “Now it came about,” says the account, “that as soon as they heard all the words, they looked at one another in dread; and they proceeded to say to Baruch: ‘We shall without fail tell the king all these words. . . . Go, conceal yourself, you and Jeremiah, so that no one at all will know where you men are.’”—Jeremiah 36:11-19.
When King Jehoiakim heard what Baruch had written at Jeremiah’s dictation, he angrily tore up the roll, pitched it into the fire, and commanded his men to arrest Jeremiah and Baruch. On Jehovah’s command, the two men made a duplicate roll while in hiding.—Jeremiah 36:21-32.
There is no doubt that Baruch understood the dangers involved in this assignment. He must have known of the threats against Jeremiah a few years earlier. He would also have heard about the fate of Urijah, who had prophesied “in accord with all the words of Jeremiah” but who was killed by King Jehoiakim. Still, Baruch was willing to use his professional skills and his connections with government officials to support Jeremiah in this assignment.—Jeremiah 26:1-9, 20-24.
Do Not Seek “Great Things”
During the writing of the first roll, Baruch went through a period of distress. He exclaimed: “Woe, now, to me, for Jehovah has added grief to my pain! I have grown weary because of my sighing, and no resting-place have I found.” What was the reason for this crisis?—Jeremiah 45:1-3.
No direct answer is given. But try to picture Baruch’s situation. Summarizing 23 years of warnings to the people of Israel and Judah must have made their apostasy and rejection of Jehovah very evident. Jehovah’s decision to destroy Jerusalem and Judah and exile the nation for 70 years to Babylon—information that Jehovah revealed that same year and perhaps included in the roll—must have shocked Baruch. (Jeremiah 25:1-11) Moreover, there was the risk that his firm support for Jeremiah at this crucial time could cost him his position and career.
Whatever the case, Jehovah himself intervened to help Baruch keep in mind the forthcoming judgment. “What I have built up I am tearing down, and what I have planted I am uprooting, even all the land itself,” said Jehovah. Then he counseled Baruch: “But as for you, you keep seeking great things for yourself. Do not keep on seeking.”—Jeremiah 45:4, 5.
Jehovah did not specify what these “great things” were, but Baruch must have known whether they were selfish ambitions, prominence, or material prosperity. Jehovah counseled him to be realistic and remember what lay ahead: “Here I am bringing in a calamity upon all flesh, . . . and I will give you your soul as a spoil in all the places to which you may go.” Baruch’s most precious possession, his life, would be preserved wherever he might go.—Jeremiah 45:5.
After these events described in Jeremiah chapters 36 and 45, which took place from 625 to 624 B.C.E., the Bible is silent about Baruch until some months before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and Judah in 607 B.C.E. What happened then?
Baruch Supports Jeremiah Again
During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, Baruch reappears in the Bible account. Jeremiah was “under restraint in the Courtyard of the Guard” when Jehovah told him to buy his cousin’s tract of land at Anathoth as a sign that there would be a restoration. Baruch was called upon to help with the legal proceedings.—Jeremiah 32:1, 2, 6, 7.
Jeremiah explained: “I wrote in a deed and affixed the seal and took witnesses as I went weighing the money in the scales. After that I took the deed of purchase, the one sealed . . . and the one left open; and I then gave the deed of purchase to Baruch.” He then commanded Baruch to seal these deeds of purchase in an earthenware vessel for safekeeping. Some scholars believe that when Jeremiah said that he “wrote” the deed, he would have dictated it to Baruch, the professional scribe, who would do the actual writing.—Jeremiah 32:10-14; 36:4, 17, 18; 45:1.
Baruch and Jeremiah followed the legal practices of the time. One feature was the double deed. The book Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals explains: “The first deed was called the ‘sealed deed’ because it was rolled up and sealed with a bulla or bullae; it contained the original version of the contract. . . . The second, ‘open deed’ was a copy of the sealed, binding version, and was intended for normal perusal. Thus, there were two texts, an original and a duplicate copy, written on two separate sheets of papyrus.” Archaeological discoveries testify to the custom of storing the documents in a clay vessel.
At length, the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, burned it, and took all except a few poor people into exile. Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah as governor. He was murdered two months later. The remaining Jews planned to move to Egypt, against the inspired advice of Jeremiah, and it is in this context that Baruch is again mentioned.—Jeremiah 39:2, 8; 40:5; 41:1, 2; 42:13-17.
The Jewish leaders told Jeremiah: “It is a falsehood that you are speaking. Jehovah our God has not sent you, saying, ‘Do not enter into Egypt to reside there as aliens.’ But Baruch the son of Neriah is instigating you against us for the purpose of giving us into the hand of the Chaldeans, to put us to death or to take us into exile in Babylon.” (Jeremiah 43:2, 3) The accusation seems to reveal a belief among the Jewish leaders that Baruch exerted considerable influence over Jeremiah. Did they believe that because of Baruch’s position or his long-standing friendship with Jeremiah, he was acting as more than a mere scribe for the prophet? Perhaps, but whatever the Jewish leaders thought, the message did come from Jehovah.
Despite divine warnings, the remaining Jews departed and took “Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch the son of Neriah” with them. Jeremiah recorded: “They finally came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of Jehovah; and they came gradually as far as Tahpanhes,” a frontier city in the eastern Nile delta, bordering Sinai. At that, Baruch disappears from the Bible account.—Jeremiah 43:5-7.
What Can We Learn From Baruch?
There are many valuable lessons we can learn from Baruch. One outstanding lesson is his willingness to use in Jehovah’s service his professional skills and contacts, regardless of the consequences. Many of Jehovah’s Witnesses today—men and women—show the same spirit, offering their skills in connection with Bethel service, construction work, and the like. How can you show this Baruchlike spirit?
When Baruch was reminded that during the last days of Judah, there was no time for personal “great things,” he evidently responded in a positive way, for he did receive his soul as a spoil. It is reasonable to apply this counsel to ourselves, as we too live in the last days of a system of things. Jehovah’s promise to us is the same—our life will be spared. Can we respond to such reminders as Baruch did?
There is also a practical lesson to be learned from this story. Baruch helped Jeremiah and his cousin to go through the necessary legal procedures in their business dealing, even though the two men were relatives. This serves as a Scriptural precedent for Christians who have business dealings with their spiritual brothers and sisters. It is Scriptural, practical, and loving to follow this example of putting business agreements in writing.
Although Baruch appears only briefly in the Bible, he is worthy of note by all Christians today. Will you imitate the fine example of this faithful secretary of Jeremiah?
^ par. 3 A bulla is a small lump of clay used to seal the string tying an important document. The clay was impressed with a seal that identified the owner or sender.
[Picture on page 16]
Bulla: Courtesy of Israel Museum, Jerusalem