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The Word of the Lord in Jeremiah

The Rev. J. G. S. S. Thomson, M.A., B.D., B.A., Ph.D.

 



THE TYNDALE OLD TESTAMENT LECTURE, 1959

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INTRODUCTION

Among the ancient Hebrews, words were conceived to have an objective existence, and to have a potency that was both inherent and irresistible. This was especially true of words of blessing and cursing. When Isaac discovered that his words of blessing had been pronounced inadvertently over Jacob, he trembled exceedingly. Once invoked, the blessing could not be revoked (Gn. xxvii. 18ff.). So also words of cursing. Balaam's curse was reckoned by Balak to be more potent than weapons of war against Israel, and could even limit the power of the God of Israel. God, therefore, had to prevent the curse from being uttered (Nu. xxii; and cf. 2 Sa. xvi. 5ff. with 1 Ki. ii. 44-46: see also Lv. xix. 14). It was the words of benediction or malediction that brought to pass the blessing or the curse.

Now if the words of men were invested with such potency, a fortiori the Word of the Lord would be a powerful agent wherever it went forth. Words expressed a man's will and thoughts, his motives and intentions; so the Word of the Lord expressed His thoughts and purposes (Is. xl. 8), and His promises, threats and commands. His Word and His will were synonymous (Is. lv. 11); and because to will and to do are identical and simultaneous with God, His Word was dynamic, creative, and effective. For example, when God spoke, things came into existence through the medium of His Word (Gn. i. 3; Pss. xxxiii. 6, 9, cxlviii. 5, cf. cxlvii. 15-18; Heb. xi. 3).

The Word of the Lord was also a medium of revelation. Through the Word God made Himself known from the Patriarchal period (Gn. xii. 1, xv. 1). In those early times too the Word both introduced and produced the event (Gn. xv. 4ff.). In the Mosaic period the Word of the Lord came in the form of torah and commandment (Ex. xx. 1ff.). Vriezen[1] describes Old Testament torah as revelational decision, and suggests that torah be rendered 'word of revelation'. Towards the end of the Judges'

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period the Word of the Lord had become 'rare' in Israel (1 Sa. iii. 1); but when the Lord began to reveal Himself to Samuel 'by the word of the Lord' (iii. 21), then Israel knew that a prophet of God was in their midst, and 'the word of Samuel' became a force in Israel (iv. 1).

The Word of the Lord was mediated to Israel also through Nathan (2 Sa. vii. 4), David (2 Sa. xxiii. 2), Micaiah (1 Ki. xxii. 19), Elijah (2 Ki. i. 3f.), and Elisha (2 Ki. iii. 11ff.), and with increasing frequency through the great prophets from the eighth century bc. The prophets were, above all, servants and bearers of the Word of the Lord, but in relation to the Word they were subordinate. The message was always greater than the messenger. The Word was never the prerogative of the prophet. It never became his Word. It was his only to transmit. The prophet was a messenger (Dt. xviii. 15ff.), but the message was the Word of the Lord not his own.

Now it is this Word of the Lord that is our concern here. It would be impracticable, and it is also unnecessary, to cover the whole of the Old Testament in an inquiry into what the religious mind in Israel meant by this important concept. The salient factors in this area of Old Testament religious experience are all found in Jeremiah's oracles; we shall, therefore, limit our field of inquiry to his writings. Of the 359 occurrences of the phrase, 'thus saith the Lord', in the Old Testament, 157 are in Jeremiah,[2] but we shall confine ourselves to Jeremianic passages that are of particular significance for an understanding of this concept, the Word of the Lord.


I. THE WORD OF THE LORD AND THE PROPHETIC CONSCIOUSNESS
(Jeremiah i. 1f.)

Jeremiah's silence concerning the activity of the Spirit in the coming of the Word is arresting. Nowhere does he ever refer to the Spirit. This is in complete distinction from the prophetic consciousness in early times in Israel (1 Sa. x. 10; 2 Ki. ii. 9), and reveals a difference in emphasis when placed alongside the testimony of Hosea (ix. 7), Micah (ii. 7), Isaiah (xi. 2, etc.) and Ezekiel (ii. 2, etc.). However, Jeremiah's silence notwithstanding, the facts of his prophetic ministry are such that we are

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bound to assume that the Spirit of the Lord was the source of the inspiration by which the Word of the Lord came to him.

Jeremiah's silence concerning any visual experience accompanying the Word through which his prophetic consciousness was created is also noteworthy. Amos (i. 1) reports that he 'saw' the Word; so also Isaiah (ii. 1) and Micah (i. 1). The Hebrew verb to see (chazah) in these references describes the visual experience of the seer while in an ecstatic state. Jeremiah, however, reports no vision acting as a medium for the Word. The Word of the Lord came to him with the immediacy of an objective experience which he describes in terms of dialogue between him and God. This undoubtedly underlines the authoritative nature of the Word that came to him within the context of this dialogue.

When 'the word of the Lord came' (i. 2) in this form of dialogue it does not mean simply that God spoke His Word and that the prophet heard. Within such a context of dialogue, to hear the Word of the Lord means to make a moral response of faith and obedience to it. The Word so spoken possessed the person to whom it was addressed, wielded an overpowering influence upon him, and obligated him to proclaim it. This domination of mind by the Word was a life-long experience with Jeremiah (i. 2f.). The whole of his prophetic ministry was a ministry of the Word of the Lord. From the moment the Word came to him he brought only what God delivered to him. The whole authority of the Word is God-centred, therefore the bearer of the Word must be the servant of God. The Word must come to him from, or be given to him by, the Lord to whom the Word belongs.

Now it is the bestowal of this prophetic gift of inspiration that is described in the words, 'the word of the Lord came to' Jeremiah. Prophetic inspiration was the process by which the divine Word was communicated by the Spirit to the prophet. To this day this process remains inscrutable to us, but that does not invalidate the experience. Nowhere in the Old Testament does anyone to whom the Word of the Lord came ever explain how the Word was communicated to his consciousness, or in what sense he considered himself to be a bearer of the Word. We can only assume, then, that as the Word had its source in God, so in receiving and perceiving the Word the prophet's mind was under God's control, or under divine inspiration. As the Lord worked in the prophetic consciousness, God's Word came

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through the inspiration of the Spirit to the prophet. And we may assume also that as God worked in His servant through the Spirit, the prophetic consciousness was created, energized, quickened, informed, and transformed.

This was necessarily a subjective experience, but the prophet's testimony suggests that the Word of the Lord communicated to him by divine inspiration was an objective reality. The Word was distinguished from the prophet's thoughts and opinions, and from illusory dreams. The Word was self-attesting, self-authenticating, irresistible to the prophetic consciousness. On the other hand, the words of the prophet and the Word of the Lord could be equated or conjoined (i. 1f.; cf. also xxxvi. 10f.; Am. i. 1). Jeremiah was the recipient of the Word of the Lord (i. 2) and this gave authority to his words, whether oracular or written, and indeed to the book of Jeremiah as a whole. The words were the words of the prophet, but they did not originate with him. He was a bearer of the Word only. Thus the phrase, 'the words of Jeremiah', means not that he was obtruding himself, or preaching his own message, but was proclaiming what God gave him to proclaim.


II. THE WORD OF THE LORD AND PROPHETIC AUTHORITY
(Jeremiah i. 4-10)

Through the coming of the Word the prophetic consciousness was created. With the call to prophesy came a divinely-inspired message in the form of the Word of the Lord (i. 4ff.). This 'moment before God' was not due to sudden presentiment, flash of intuition, or long and careful reflection on the part of the prophet, but to divine initiative. God exercised His prerogative, and inspired His servant with the divine Word. Herein lies the secret of prophetic authority.

a. The Word of the Lord communicated its authority to the bearer of the Word (i. 6ff.). In answer to his self-confessed lack of authority, Jeremiah is told he is not to proclaim his own ideas or wisdom but the will and the purpose of God, in the form of the Word of the Lord. The man who confessed he had nothing to say is to be given something to say by God. This is a powerful testimony to the dynamic existence and the potency of the Word of the Lord in Jeremiah's experience.

The symbolic touch of God's hand on Jeremiah's mouth

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meant that God was putting the Word into his mouth. It means God both creates, and in the mind of the prophet originates, the Word that will be spoken. It is the promise of divine inspiration, of the Spirit's inbreathing upon the human spirit which ensures that in uttering human words human lips will utter the Word of the Lord. This divine inspiration concerned the words of Jeremiah. The words would be not his own, but God's. 'For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Ghost' (2 Pet. i. 21, RV). Jeremiah's authority as bearer of the Word is being guaranteed, but the authority resides not in himself but in the Word of the Lord he proclaims.

The Hebrew verb translated 'touched' (i. 9) signifies 'caused to touch'. This emphasizes the purposefulness and the decisiveness of the act. The act was Jeremiah's investiture with prophetic authority. The divine hand had put the divine Word within his mouth.

The Hebrew tense in verse 9 is also significant. It implies 'I have put, once and for all, My Word in your mouth'. In the future God would often put His Word in Jeremiah's mouth, but in this moment all future occasions are compressed and guaranteed. From this moment the Word that will be spoken will be the Word of the Lord. To contradict the words of the prophet, then, will be to disobey the Word of the Lord who will always be present to cause him to speak only the divine Word. A true prophet brings nothing of his own. His message is God-centred, not man-centred, because God is speaking through him. This is what gives the prophet his authority. It resides in the Word given him by God. In himself the messenger is nothing; the message is everything.

b. The source of the authority of the Word is God (i. 10). True, Jeremiah is said to do what the Lord foretells shall be done, but that is because his words are the Word of the Lord; and the Word is the instrument through which God acts. Word and deed are identical with God, and it is this identity that makes the truth declared in the Word mighty in a power that is both destructive and constructive (i. 10). As the prophet speaks the divine Word, it becomes deeds. It is translated into visible manifestations of power. Thus early in Jeremiah's oracles the nature of the Word of the Lord is hinted at. God's Word is a form of God's power that effects God's purposes (cf. Is. lv. 10ff.).

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Nothing can withstand it (Je. xxiii. 29). In Jeremiah xxxi. 28 God Himself accomplishes what His Word accomplishes here in verse 10.

In verses 11ff. the Lord confirms the dynamism of the Word. He is about to manifest it, but the cause of this effect is His watchfulness over His Word to fulfil it (i. 12, RV). The Lord is the source of the authority of the divine Word. He ever extols it and makes it effectual. The Word is neither vanity nor empty sound. It is possessive of real power. It is dynamic not static. Every promise, every threat, every purpose, proclaimed by the bearer of the Word of the Lord will be fulfilled.

The prophet speaks the Word, but the Lord is in the Word. God does not delegate His power to His messenger, otherwise the authority would reside in the messenger, not in the message. The Word of the Lord requires to be proclaimed, but the prophet remains a servant of the Word to the end. Only God can exercise the power to accomplish the Word. But the bearer of the Word can go forward confident in the power of the Word he proclaims (i. 17). No person, no authority, can withstand it (i. 18). But the Lord is the sole Author of the prophet's calling, the prophet's message, and the prophet's authority. He proclaims only what God communicates to him.


III. THE WORD OF THE LORD DEMANDS A RESPONSE
(Jeremiah v. 13f, vi. 10f.)

a. There were two main responses to Jeremiah's proclamation of the Word of the Lord. i. Slanderous charges were made against the prophet (v. 13), the nature of which illumines the concept of the Word of the Lord held by his contemporaries. Jeremiah's oracles were described as mere 'wind'. It was also said that 'the word' was not in him What the Hebrew says is, 'He who speaks is not in him.' That is to say, Jeremiah's contemporaries asserted that he was not a true prophet. He was not speaking the Word through the inspiration of the Spirit. The words he spoke were his own, they originated in his own mind, and had no authority outside of himself.

ii. Judah turned a deaf ear to the Word of the Lord (vi. 10). Their ear was 'uncircumcised'. This strange metaphor also illumines the concept of the Word of the Lord held by Jeremiah's contemporaries. The uncircumcised ear was, as it were, covered

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with a foreskin (cf. Je. iv. 4), which prevented the Word of the Lord from penetrating to the heart. It was closed against the precepts, appeals and threats of the Lord. When spoken to the deaf, the dynamic in the Word can effect nothing but judgment; but it will effect something, since no Word of God returns unto Him void. Even this fatal inability to hear the Word is a form of divine judgment, because it is God who makes the ear dull and deaf (Is. vi. 9f.). On the other hand the covering over the uncircumcised ear came because of Judah's refusal to allow the ear to be opened by the Word and the Spirit.

b. What happened, then, in this situation? i. God vindicated the bearer of His Word (v. 14). That Jeremiah was an authentic prophet, and that his words were the authoritative Word of the Lord, was soon to be proved. The Word of the Lord, which loses none of its efficacy when proclaimed by human lips, was about to manifest its energy, the dynamism of a real force. The Word of the Lord was fire that would consume the despisers of the Word as fire consumes fuel (cf. Is. i. 31, x. 17). Here it is the devouring action of this fiery Word that is in view; in Jeremiah xxiii. 29 it is its penetrating energy. There is a potency in the Word, and its manifestation depends upon the moral response made to it. Its fiery energy may enthuse the heart and purify it from sin, or it may devour and scorch.

ii. Meantime what is the bearer of the Word to do? Is he to be silent? Even if he would, he could not remain silent, because the divine fury which fills him must be poured out (vi. 11). The uncircumcised ear of Judah renders the testimony of the servant of the Word vain, so the prophet pours forth divine fury by proclaiming the divine Word which fulfils itself in divine judgment. Judah closed eyes and ears when the Word of the Lord rebuked her sins, but thereby she became void of true knowledge and the uncircumcised ear became a permanent condition.


IV. THE WORD OF THE LORD IN THE PROPHET'S EXPERIENCE
(Jeremiah xv. 15f., xx. 7-9)

a. In the prophet's subjective experience the Word may be food to the soul (xv. 16). God's 'words were found' by Jeremiah when the Word of the Lord came to him at his call (i. 4ff.). The phrase 'thy words were found' means they came

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by divine initiative, and without mental effort on Jeremiah's part. They were 'found' when God put them in his mouth (i. 7). There was no ambitious seeking on the prophet's part. The Word, and the commission to proclaim it, were conferred upon him; although, of course, when he 'found' the words he perceived them, and recognized them as God's Word.

And he received them eagerly as the choicest of foods. The implication is that Jeremiah came into possession of the Word of the Lord as something real and actual. To eat God's Word is to make it one's own, by admitting it into the mind, by submitting to it and assimilating it. Calvin suggests it also implies union, and uses as an illustration the Sacrament by which the believer enters into a deeper union with Christ.

In chapter one God had put His Word into Jeremiah's mouth; thus the Word of the Lord and the words of Jeremiah were equated or identified, because he was speaking under divine inspiration. But Jeremiah's eating the Word of the Lord implies an even closer union. The Word now became part of his personality, as food becomes a part of the person who consumes it. At his call the bearer of the Word possessed it; when he eats the Word he becomes possessed by it. As the Word was tasted, received inwardly and digested, it became the prophet's food that nourished the soul. Doubtless his experience resembled that of Ezekiel who, when he ate the volume, found it as sweet as honey (Ezk. ii. 8-iii. 10; cf. Pss. xix. 10, cxix. 103; Rev. x. 9f.). Naturally, then, it became the joy and the rejoicing of his heart (Je. xv. 16). And because of what the Hebrew word for heart stands for, this means the Word satisfied the prophet's intellect, directed his will, illumined his understanding, controlled his emotions, purified his motives. He was taught the Word, and obeyed the Word, and only then did he begin to proclaim it.

b. On the other hand, the Word of the Lord in the personal experience of the prophet became a reproach to him (Je. xx. 9). The Word he proclaimed judged and condemned the hearers, who were thereby scandalized by the Word, and poured reproach upon the bearer of it. Jeremiah's ministry in the Word was not only fruitless (xx. 7f.); it issued only in evil consequences. The prophet's dilemma was that his proclamation of the Word of the Lord against Judah's sins only involved Judah in greater judgment. The Word only made Judah more insolent, and the Lord who inspired the Word only became more severe, while the bearer of

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the Word became increasingly an object of contempt and disgrace.

Why, then, continue to mention the Lord, or preach the Word? Why not abandon the call to be a bearer of the Word (xx. 9a)? However, a secret compulsion compelled Jeremiah to persist in the call he was tempted to abandon (xx. 9b). He was not free to desist. The bearer of the Word of the Lord forgot one important thing: because God had put the Word into his heart he could not refrain from proclaiming it. The Word which had been put into his mouth affected powerfully his whole personality. It was a fire pent up in the hollow of his bones, this fiery Word having burned up the marrow. This metaphor suggests an agonizing spiritual conflict raging within the soul.

And if the burning Word of the Lord were not proclaimed, it would in turn consume the bearer of the Word. He was, therefore, obliged to declare what had been communicated to him. As often as he said he would proclaim the Word no more, he became weary with restraining this terrible verbal fire raging within his heart, until he was compelled finally to admit, 'I cannot.' In this strange way the Lord of the eternal Word saves the servant of His Word. God aids the bearer of the Word by causing an even more ardent zeal to seize him! To cease to go on as a servant of the Word would be to cease to be himself. He must, therefore, continue to receive and communicate this inward, burning, offensive fury of the Word of the Lord.


V. THE WORD OF THE LORD AS A CRITERION OF JUDGMENT
(Jeremiah xxiii. 28-32)

As Jeremiah proclaimed the Word of the Lord, men were able to judge between the genuine Word and the counterfeit, between the true prophet and the false. But the false prophets attempted to falsify the Word of the Lord; it will, therefore, be instructive to notice how they sought to accomplish this.

The 'dream', as opposed to 'my (the Lord's) word' (xxiii. 28), was not a revelatory dream given by God, but a fiction of the false prophet's mind. In spite of the claim that these figments of the imagination were dream-revelations from God, they were not the Word of the Lord, and were not to be given out as such (verse 28). This passage, then, is not a denial that God speaks through dream experience. But it does insist that the dreams of the false prophets were not the media of an authentic revelation

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from God. It was as essential, then, to distinguish between them and the Word of the Lord, as it was to differentiate between straw and wheat (verse 28b).

But once the distinction had been established, let the dream be told for what it was, and let the Word be told for what it was. And let the Word be proclaimed as the truth, with fidelity, without alteration, addition, subtraction, or change in sense or nuance. The prophet's opinions and chancy interpretations are unnecessary. Let the bearer of the Word of the Lord send it forth on its missionary career to perform its own work, and achieve its own purpose. And let him do this in the conviction that the authority of the Word, or the authority of the bearer of the Word, is affected not one jot or tittle by the specious interpretations of the Word given by the false prophets, or by the additions they make to the Word and so adulterate it.

Jeremiah the servant of the Word now establishes the truth that false prophets mixing false words with God's Word do not invalidate that Word. He does this by describing the nature of the Word of the Lord (xxiii. 29). It is a fire that burns and a hammer that breaks. In the context this may be variously interpreted.

a. The Word of the Lord that is a fire that scorches and a hammer that smashes has an inherent power that makes it self-sufficient and self-authenticating. It does not, therefore, require any human addition to make it more potent, b. When false prophets mixed up their dreams with the Word of the Lord, the Word burned up their straw, and smashed their fantasies. The Word of the Lord burned up and broke every human admixture composed of the Word and the fantasies of the imagination. c. The servant of the Word, by emphasizing the inherent power of the Word, here supplies a criterion by which the living, dynamic Word of the Lord may be distinguished from the dead, impotent words of men. Men could distinguish the genuine Word of the Lord from the counterfeit words of the false prophets. d. This dynamic Word of the Lord will one day expose, and bring to nought, the fantasies and fictions of the lying prophets.

But this fiery dynamism of which the prophet speaks (verse 29) resides in the Word alone. It is quite independent of the bearer of the Word. The servant of the Word does not even feel this dynamic that is in the Word. It is, however, felt by the hearers as the burning Word tests and judges. The Word is also a hammer, but again this irresistible dynamic force is in the Word, not

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in the bearer of the Word. And no-one can withstand it. Be the human heart never so adamantine, once this divine fire, or this divine hammer, begins to operate neither its effect nor its issue can be hindered. The Word can never be rendered null and void. It can never be robbed of its own inherent power and effectiveness. Even its rejection by men does not minimize its efficacy. But its effect depends upon the moral response which is made to it. The Word of the Lord is food that invigorates and fire that refines, or it is fire that devours.

The attempt of the false prophets to weaken the Word of the Lord as a criterion of judgment, and so render it ineffective, took three forms. a. They misappropriated the Word which God had revealed to the authentic prophet (xxiii. 30). Themselves uninspired by the Spirit, they mixed the genuine Word, which they stole, with their dream fantasies, in order to impart to their fictions the semblance of revelatory words from God. Their purpose was to conceal their spiritual poverty, and their total deficiency of true prophetic inspiration.

b. The false prophets also, it is said, required only the tongue in order to reproduce a revelation (xxiii. 31). They were making false use of the phrase 'thus saith the Lord'. They acted as if God had given them authority in order to gain the reputation of being true organs of the Spirit and the Word. When a true prophet of the Word said 'thus saith the Lord', he was repeating what the Lord had put into his mouth; when a false prophet took the phrase upon his tongue he spoke only his poor, bankrupt, human ideas. Their so-called divinely-inspired words were only the imaginations and guesses of their own hearts. Never having stood in the council chamber of the Most High, the Lord had neither spoken His Word to them, nor was He now speaking His Word through them.

c. The false prophets invented lies (xxiii. 32). Their pronouncements were pure illusions. What they were palming off on a credulous people as authentic revelations were not only human notions and opinions, but falsehoods which deceived and deluded. They were only feigning divine communications by means of dream fantasies. They were foisting on a gullible people impositions in the form of deceptive visions. Because God was not in their words their oracles were only wind. The only solid thing is the Word of the Lord, hence the false words of the false prophets were profitless.

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These intensely interesting and highly important observations made by Jeremiah, the bearer of the Word, concerning the 'revelations' of the false prophets are of the greatest significance for our subject. In a negative way they throw light on the Old Testament conception of what constituted the Word of the Lord, and a genuine ministry of the Word.


VI. THE WORD OF THE LORD COMMITTED TO WRITING
(Jeremiah xxxvi)

A new mode of declaring the Word of the Lord is now used by the servant of the Word. The proclaimed Word now becomes the written Word. This, of course, was not the first occasion on which this had been done. Already Isaiah had committed his oracles to writing at God's command (Is. xxx. 8; and cf. Ex. xvii. 14, etc.). Now Jeremiah writes down by divine command the Word God had revealed to him. Isaiah had written his prophecies for future generations; Jeremiah was writing the Word of the Lord to make trial of his own age, to confront Judah once again with the Word. A redemptive purpose motivated the command to write the Word hitherto delivered orally (xxxvi. 3). The cumulative effect of hearing at one reading the Word of the Lord, which had been proclaimed piece-meal for over twenty years, might induce repentance in Judah. There was also the realization that the spoken Word vanishes. The written Word, on the other hand, can be read and studied. Implicit also in this command to commit the Word to writing was the reminder that the Word was the Word of the Lord, not Jeremiah's.

But, as when the Word was being delivered orally (i. 9), so now when the Word is being written — the Word of the Lord and the words of Jeremiah are equated. God is again directing the choice of words as well as the substance (cf. Jn. xiv. 26, xvi. 13). As Jeremiah the bearer of the Word dictated the Word to Baruch, God inspired the mind, and guided the lips, of His servant. The prophet of the Word declares categorically that the words are not his own, but God's (xxxvi. 4). The words were not an expression of his will and mind, but God was divinely inspiring him with His Word. It was Jeremiah's lips that spoke the words, but the Lord of the Word was putting His Word into his mouth; hence Baruch wrote the Word of the Lord. 'The same supernatural factor which operated in the production of the prophecies

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must also have acted in their reproduction. Here neither the much nor the little enters into consideration' (Lange).

Baruch then reads the written Word of the Lord (xxxvi. 6). The phrase 'in the roll', or book, that is to say, out of the book, might mean that Baruch read not every word in the book, but those passages calculated to express God's message to Judah through Jeremiah, and the consequences of rejecting it. This had the desired effect (verse 16). The princes then ask Baruch (verse 17) if what he read to them was written by him from memory after having heard Jeremiah's extempore prophecies, or accurately from the prophet's dictation, and Baruch's reply is quite unequivocal (verse 18). The phrase in the Hebrew is 'from his mouth', and means oral dictation of Jeremiah. Verses 1, 2 agree with this view. The position in the Massoretic Text of this phrase, 'from his mouth', lays special emphasis upon it.

The tense in verse 18 is also important. Baruch says that the prophet was in the habit of dictating (Hebrew imperfect), and this Jeremiah used to do while Baruch was writing (Hebrew active participle). That is to say, Baruch was doing nothing else all the while Jeremiah was dictating; and this activity went on for some considerable time. This, and the significance of the phrase 'from his mouth' (verse 18), make clear that Baruch did not write down Jeremiah's oracles when they were being delivered originally, and, therefore, without the prophet's knowledge, and so against his will, but at Jeremiah's deliberate dictation and express commission.

But the Word of the Lord in written form accomplished as little redemptively as it had in oracular form. Jeremiah spoke to the deaf and brought light to the blind (Calvin). This must have been a great grief to the prophet. The reaction of the bearer of the Word to King Jehoiakim's double sacrilege was astonished and horrified surprise. They were rending (qara') God's Word (xxxvi. 23) instead of rending (qara') their garments (verse 24). But the king's double sacrilege did not affect the Word of the Lord. Indeed Jehoiakim's designs were completely circumvented (verses 27ff.).

The royal penknife and the royal brazier could not destroy the living Word which the Lord had put into the mouth of His servant, but only the scroll upon which that Word had been transcribed. As a matter of fact. King Jehoiakim's action is not of primary importance. The significant point in chapter xxxvi is

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that God was directing the words written by Baruch at Jeremiah's dictation. The other important matter stems from the fact that the second edition of Jeremiah's oracles were not to be read: this means that God was preserving His Word for future generations (cf. Dn. ix. 2; Ezr. i. 1). This certainly points to the authority of the Word of the Lord in written form. And the Word on the second scroll written by Baruch (xxxvi. 27f.) was accompanied by divine reproof (verse 29) and divine judgment (verse 30). The Word corresponded to its Author.


VII. THE WORD OF THE LORD WAS COMMUNICATED WITHIN A CONTEXT OF PRAYER
(Jeremiah xxxvii. 3, 6, 7, 17, xxxviii. 14, 17, xlii. 1-9)

At the close, the bearer of the Word is vindicated (xlii. 2). The phrase, 'the Lord thy God', implied recognition of a very close relationship between the Lord of the Word and Jeremiah the servant of the Word, and was tantamount to an admission that he was a true prophet of the Lord. The people, therefore, come to him to ask him to pray for them. King Zedekiah also asked the prophet to pray to God for him and his people, not merely to inquire of God for them; and it was in answer to the prophet's prayer that the Word of the Lord came (xxxvii. 3, 6). After the fall of Jerusalem had confirmed the Word of the Lord, the servant of the Word is again asked to intercede with God in prayer in seeking a Word for them. And the Lord, who had forbidden the prophet to intercede for Judah on previous occasions (vii. 16, xi. 14, xiv. 11), responded to His servant's prayer on this occasion.

Apparently, then, the communication of the Word by the Lord, and its reception by the prophet, required a context of deep devotion and personal piety. The bearer of the Word of the Lord was also a mediator between God and men (xlii. 5). Indeed the two offices were probably never divorced in the prophetic consciousness. So thoroughly mediatoral was the role of the prophet as a servant of the Word that, to the extent that he was a true bearer of the Word, to the same extent was he a mediator between the Lord of the Word and the people to whom the Word of the Lord was to be addressed.

On this particular occasion when the prophet sought for the Word in prayer he had to wait ten days (xlii. 7; cf. Dn. x. 3, 12). Not that the prophet would be thinking his way through to a

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clearer understanding of the Word which, in his opinion, would be most relevant to the situation confronting Judah. This assumption is both unscriptural, and a denial of divine inspiration. During the ten days the servant of the Word would be sifting out his own thoughts and impulses, but only because of the determination not to give voice to any utterance, whatever the consequences might be, until he knew beyond doubt that God had spoken His Word.

God kept the servant of the Word waiting ten days in order also to discipline those who had requested the Word. It was an opportunity for them to search their hearts and examine their intentions, and in this way prepare themselves to receive the Word of the Lord. This was necessary, since the Word was not to coincide with their wish.

The period of waiting for the Word also served to remind the bearer of the Word that in communicating the Word the initiative remained with God. The Word was from the Lord and depended entirely upon Him. In the devotional context the servant of the Word would seek, but he could not command, divine inspiration; nor could he control the Word of the Lord. An immediate response to Jeremiah's prayer would have blurred that conviction in the minds of the people. The ten days' wait also signifies that in the prophetic consciousness there was a clear differentiation between the divine 'objective' revelation and the subjective human reflection, between the Word of the Lord and the words (or thoughts) of man.

Now all this pointed so clearly to the divine inspiration of the Word, when it finally came after the expiry of the ten days, that the ultimate rejection of the Word by those who asked for it was the more reprehensible. And the reason for the rejection was even more blameworthy (xliii. 2f.). It was 'the word of the Lord' that eventually came to Jeremiah (verse 7); therefore, when announcing the divinely inspired message, the prophet solemnly begins, 'Thus saith the Lord' (verse 10). When, then, the people rejected the Word, they were denying that this Word did have its origin in God (xliii. 1f.). They declared it had no higher source than the mind of Baruch, and was inspired by ulterior and unworthy motives in the heart of Baruch (verse 3).

[p. 20]

CONCLUSION

One thing emerges with clarity from the Old Testament view of revelation as that is mirrored in Jeremiah's oracles: the central authority is the self-revelation of God. This came when God spoke 'objectively' through the Word conjoined with the Spirit. But when God revealed Himself to the prophetic consciousness, the Word was given an importance that far outweighed the Spirit's activity as a medium of revelation. That is to say, God's self-unveiling to the prophetic consciousness was essentially direct and personal. And it was given especially through the Word.

What Jeremiah declared to his contemporaries was this Word of the Lord which, he testifies, God put into his mouth. And because this revelatory Word was not his own, and was not his to command or control, he could not on his own initiative go forth to proclaim it. But when the Word did come, the bearer of the Word was under an irresistible compulsion to announce it; even when he did not want to proclaim it! And we have Jeremiah's testimony to his conviction that the words he spoke were identical with the Word of the Lord; therefore, as God's messenger, he spoke with all the authority that divine inspiration could impart.

But God preserved His own prerogative throughout. The Word of the Lord never came under the control of the bearer of the Word. He sought it in prayer, but he could never command it. The Lord communicated His Word where, when, and how, He would. To reject Jeremiah and his words was, therefore, tantamount to a rejection of the Lord and His Word. The form of the Word, oracular or written, was not the important matter. The significant thing was that at all times, and under all forms, the Word of the Lord went forth. All the authority of God was behind it. It was His Word, it still lives, and will abide for ever.


References

[1] An Outline of Old Testament Theology, p. 256.

[2] Kohler, Old Testament Theology, p. 245.

This lecture was delivered in Cambridge on July 2nd, 1959 at a meeting convened by theTyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research. It was dedicated to the Rev. J. MacDowell, president of Columbia Theological Seminary, USA, in gratitude and esteem. The lecture was published by The Tyndale Press in 1959.

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