In the beginning of Ezekiel’s prophecy we meet with a roll written in vision, for discovery of the things therein contained to the prophet himself, who was to receive and digest them, Ezek. 2:9, 10; 3:1. Here, in the latter end of Jeremiah’s prophecy, we meet with a roll written in fact, for discovery of the things contained therein to the people, who were to hear and give heed to them; for the written word and other good books are of great use both to ministers and people. We have here,
I. The command which God gave to Jeremiah to write a summary of his sermons, of all the reproofs and all the warnings he had given in God’s name to his people, ever since he first began to be a preacher, in the thirteenth year of Josiah, to this day, which was in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, Jer. 36:2, 3. What had been only spoken must now be written, that it might be reviewed, and that it might spread the further and last the longer. What had been spoken at large, with frequent repetitions of the same things, perhaps in the same words (which has its advantage one way), must now be contracted and put into less compass, that the several parts of it might be better compared together, which has its advantage another way. What they had heard once must be recapitulated, and rehearsed to them again, that what was forgotten might be called to mind again and what made no impression upon them at the first hearing might take hold of them when they heard it the second time. And what was perhaps already written, and published in single sermons, must be collected into one volume, that none might be lost. Note, The writing of the scripture is by divine appointment. And observe the reason here given for the writing of this roll (Jer. 36:3): It may be the house of Judah will hear. Not that the divine prescience was at any uncertainty concerning the event: with that there is no peradventure; God knew certainly that they would deal very treacherously, Isa. 48:8. But the divine wisdom directed to this as a proper means for attaining the desired end: and, if it failed, they would be the more inexcusable. And, though God foresaw that they would not hear, he did not tell the prophet so, but prescribed this method to him as a probably one to be used, in the hopes that they would hear, that is, heed and regard what they heard, take notice of it and mix faith with it: for otherwise our hearing the word, though an angel from heaven were to read or preach it to us, would stand us in no stead. Now observe here, 1. What it is hoped they will thus hear: All that evil which I purpose to do unto them. Note, The serious consideration of the certain fatal consequences of sin will be of great use to us to bring us to God. 2. What it is hoped will be produced thereby: They will hear, that they may return every man from his evil way. Note, The conversion of sinners from their evil courses is that which ministers should aim at in preaching; and people hear the word in vain if that point be not gained with them. To what purpose do we hear of the evil God will bring upon us for sin if we continue, notwithstanding, to do evil against him? 3. Of what vast advantage their consideration and conversion will be to them: That I may forgive their iniquity. This plainly implies the honour of God’s justice, with which it is not consistent that he should forgive the sin unless the sinner repent of it and turn from it; but it plainly expresses the honour of his mercy, that he is very ready to forgive sin and only waits till the sinner be qualified to receive forgiveness, and therefore uses various means to bring us to repentance, that he may forgive.
II. The instructions which Jeremiah gave to Baruch his scribe, pursuant to the command he had received from God, and the writing of the roll accordingly, Jer. 36:4. God bade Jeremiah write, but, it should seem, he had not the pen of a ready writer, he could not write fast, or fair, so as Baruch could, and therefore he made use of him as his amanuensis. St. Paul wrote but few of his epistles with his own hand, Gal. 6:11; Rom. 16:22. God dispenses his gifts variously; some have a good faculty at speaking, others at writing, and neither can say to the other, We have no need of you, 1 Cor. 12:21. The Spirit of God dictated to Jeremiah, and he to Baruch, who had been employed by Jeremiah as trustee for him in his purchase of the field (Jer. 32:12) and now was advanced to be his scribe and substitute in his prophetical office; and, if we may credit the apocryphal book that bears his name, he was afterwards himself a prophet to the captives in Babylon. Those that begin low are likely to rise high, and it is good for those that are designed for prophets to have their education under prophets and to be serviceable to them. Baruch wrote what Jeremiah dictated in a roll of a book on pieces of parchment, or vellum, which were joined together, the top of one to the bottom of the other, so making one long scroll, which was rolled perhaps upon a staff.
III. The orders which Jeremiah gave to Baruch to read what he had written to the people. Jeremiah, it seems was shut up, and could not go to the house of the Lord himself, Jer. 36:5. Though he was not a close prisoner, for then there would have been no occasion to send officers to seize him (Jer. 36:26), yet he was forbidden by the king to appear in the temple, was shut out thence where he might be serving God and doing good, which was as bad to him as if he had been shut up in a dungeon. Jehoiakim was ripening apace for ruin when he thus silenced God’s faithful messengers. But, when Jeremiah could not go to the temple himself, he sent one that was deputed by him to read to the people what he would himself have said. Thus St. Paul wrote epistles to the churches which he could not visit in person. Nay, it was what he himself had often said to them. Note, The writing and repeating of the sermons that have been preached may contribute very much towards the answering of the great ends of preaching. What we have heard and known it is good for us to hear again, that we may know it better. To preach and write the same thing is safe and profitable, and many times very necessary (Phil. 3:1), and we must be glad to hear a good word from God, though we have it, as here, at second hand. Both ministers and people must do what they can when they cannot do what they would. Observe, When God ordered the reading of the roll he said, It may be they will hear and return from their evil ways, Jer. 36:3. When Jeremiah orders it, he says, It may be they will pray (they will present their supplications before the Lord) and will return from their evil way. Note, Prayer to God for grace to turn us is necessary in order to our turning; and those that are convinced by the word of God of the necessity of returning to him will present their supplications to him for that grace. And the consideration of this, that great is the anger which God has pronounced against us for sin, should quicken both our prayers and our endeavours. Now, according to these orders, Baruch did read out of the book the words of the Lord, whenever there was a holy convocation, Jer. 36:8.