Chapter 45 is one of the most intriguing chapters in the entire book. It is by far the shortest chapter in the book—only five verses long. It is intentionally not in chronological order. The previous six chapters describe the fall of Jerusalem and the remnant’s rebellious flight to Egypt (39-44). But as the opening verse in chapter 45 indicates, the event detailed in chapter 45 took place in the “fourth year of Jehoiakim.” Further, the message from God recorded in this chapter is directed to one individual—Baruch son of Neriah.
I see several reasons for the unique features of this short chapter. First, chapter 45 finishes the section of the book dealing with God’s people; the remaining chapters of the book (excluding the final chapter) are God’s messages to the surrounding nations. So the words to Baruch are included at this point as a summary statement of God’s decision to bring judgment on Judah. Second, this chapter sets up the collection of prophetic messages to the nations by indicating God’s plan to “bring disaster on all people” (45:5).
In that sense, it is a hinge chapter between what has come before it (judgment on Judah) and what comes after it (judgment on the nations). The repeated mention of the “fourth year of Jehoiakim (45:1; 46:2) may indicate that the messages to the surrounding nations (46-51) could have been included on the scroll that Baruch finished writing (45:1). Third, this chapter provides God’s instruction on how His people should (and should not) respond to His plans to bring widespread judgment on the earth. Fourth, the chapter ends with a reminder that God can protect His people even in the worst of global judgment.
The message in this chapter is directed to Baruch, son of Neriah. Baruch was Jeremiah’s colleague and amanuenses. He wrote down what Jeremiah dictated (2). Baruch came from a well-connected family in Judah. His brother Seraiah would later serve as an officer in Zedekiah’s court (51:59).
Being an ally and assistant to Jeremiah was a difficult and dangerous assignment for Baruch, especially after Jehoiakim came to power. Verse 1 indicates that Baruch worked with Jeremiah to produce this scroll in the “fourth year of Jehoiakim” (1). The backstory is detailed in chapter 36. There we find that Jeremiah had been barred from speaking publicly in the Temple (36:5), so he sends Baruch to read the scroll in the Temple on a feast day (36:6); Baruch goes from being the writer in the shadows to the reader out in public. The message creates quite a stir. In short order, Baruch is asked to read the scroll to a private gathering of court officials (36:15-16). They advise him (along with Jeremiah) to go into hiding and they take the scroll to the king. Showing no fear of God, Jehoiakim burns the scroll bit by bit, and sends officials to find and arrest Jeremiah and Baruch. In keeping with God’s promise at the end of chapter 45, the Lord keeps both men safe (36:26; 45:5).
After he finishes writing the words that were dictated by Jeremiah (literally “from the mouth of” Jeremiah), Baruch is overcome with a sense of sorrow and self-pity. The Lord indicates that He heard Baruch’s lament: “You said, ‘Woe to me! The Lord has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest” (3). These words indicate Baruch had been groaning in pain before the writing of this scroll. He was already weary and discouraged (the word for “groaning” means “sighing”); the message on the scroll pushes him over edge.
Baruch had been faithful to serve the Lord by serving His prophet, Jeremiah. He had faithfully recorded the messages God gave Jeremiah. His association with Jeremiah had brought him pain as the message and messengers were resisted and rejected. Unlike his brother who would rise in the ranks of power under Zedekiah, Baruch would be hunted by Jehoiakim and forced into hiding. Now, he would suffer with “all people” for the disobedience of the Israelites—even when he had been faithful to God. Instead of a great life, he was getting great sorrow and great pain. He was tired of it all and could find no “rest” (safe haven).
The Lord has a personalized message for Baruch. It comes with the preamble that messages to Judah or the nations normally contain: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says . . .” (2). The message reiterates that God will indeed “bring disaster on all people” (5); He will “overthrow” and “uproot” Judah in a widespread judgment that will spill over to the surrounding nations (46-51). But the Lord’s message to Baruch is not only a confirmation of impending judgment, it also includes a correction of Baruch’s attitude and perspective: “Should you then seek great things for yourself? See them not.” In context, the great things (literally just “great”) would imply all that makes up a “great life.” This could include stability, peace, prosperity and safety. Perhaps, in Baruch’s case, it included great success ministry—a ministry that is (or at least becomes) fulfilling and fruitful.
Baruch is rebuked for allowing his perspective to become self-focused and his ambition to become self-centered. Rather than feeling the pain of the people he served, he was caught up in his own pain. Further, he missed the pain that the coming judgment would bring to God’s own heart. The Lord was about to “overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted” (4). God was grieved to destroy what He had built, but Baruch is either unaware or unmoved by this. He’s caught up in his own pain and ambitious for his own gain.
But God’s rebuke of Baruch’s self-centered ambition should not be read as a referendum on all ambition. In fact, God was calling Jeremiah and Baruch to an incredibly ambitious ministry assignment. He was having them record all His previous messages to Judah (36:2) for the purpose of calling the nation to repentance and renewal: “Perhaps when the people of Judah hear about every disaster I plan to inflict on them, each of them will turn from his wicked way; then I will forgive their wickedness and their sin” (36:3). Talk about an ambitious goal! They are called to work with God in bringing about national repentance. They are seeking to change the spiritual trajectory and history of an entire people. So God is not against ambition, provided it’s God-inspired and God-centered (not self-initiated and self-centered).
Even as the Lord rebukes and corrects Baruch’s ambition, He shows grace and mercy to him. The message ends with a promise of deliverance from death: “wherever you go I will let you escape with your life” (45:5). Though Baruch has slipped into self-pity and become self-centered, God is not through with him. The fact that Baruch continues to work with Jeremiah (see 43:3) is evidence that he responded well to God’s message. May that be true of all of us as well.