One of the greatest blessings about the Bible’s contents is that it provides us with multiple accounts and perspectives on a large portion of the major events, stories, and people within. There are four Gospel books, each telling the story of Jesus in a different way. Echoes of several events recorded in the book of Acts can be found throughout the New Testament Epistles. And in the Old Testament there are a number of books that overlap with one another in their historical coverage. Sometimes this can be seen as a problem, for there are a number of instances that don’t seem to match. The exact sequence of events at the last supper, at Paul’s life-changing encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, and the lifespans and reigns of several Israelite kings are difficult to reconstruct with the conflicting information found in different accounts throughout the Bible. Many, if not most, of these issues can be harmonized with more careful study of the text, and an attentive eye to the writing style and emphasis of the particular authors. But even as some of these challenges remain, it is a source of blessing for us. It keeps us honest about the human element in the authorship of the Sacred Scriptures; it reminds us that the Bible exists to communicate Christ, and not to quibble over minor and inconsequential details like how long a particular Old Testament king lived in Jerusalem.
The book of Baruch, with appended Epistle of Jeremiah, is an offering of further perspective to the ministry and book of the Prophet Jeremiah. The prophet Baruch is mentioned several times in the book of Jeremiah as his scribe and assistant (cf. chapters 32, 36, 43, 45). For the most part this book serves as an answer to some of Jeremiah’s instructions to those who were going to Babylon in exile. Chapters 1 and 2 in particular match up with Jeremiah 29, suggesting that some of the exiles were indeed beginning to live in faith and penitence, respecting their new masters in their temporary exile home. The Epistle of Jeremiah, sometimes treated as chapter 6 of Baruch, is a further treatise against idolatry.
Those are what I tend to consider the major features of the book of Baruch, but oddly enough the ACNA Daily Lectionary only gives us two chapters of this short book to read, and it’s none of the above! Instead we are to read chapters 4 and 5 which speak words of comfort to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. As chapters 1 & 2 indicate, there were some among the exiles who did come to understand that the destruction of Jerusalem was God’s punishment for their idolatry, and they repented of their sins. To such penitent believers, hope and comfort could be preached: God had a future for his faithful people. These chapters are like the “Words of Comfort” in our Communion liturgy that follow the Confession and Absolution.
As you delve into these chapters this evening and tomorrow, think of this as the “light at the end of the tunnel” that Jeremiah yearned for in his long and painful prophetic ministry and his assistant finally gets to see.