Jeremiah 45, shortest chapter in the book, is a little aside from the Lord to Baruch. My Bible commentary calls it a "word of encouragement." I see it as a trip to the woodshed. I take it personally.
It is the worst of times, 605 b.c. The ship of state called Judah now lists and heels with buffeting winds from both north and south. Centuries of trifling with the covenant now capsize into a slow-motion death spiral of which the book of Lamentations is the dirge. Assyria takes a bite, Egypt will have its turn, and Babylon waits in the wings for the spoils. All that remains is, as it were, two mangled legs or a piece of an ear, retrieved by the shepherd from the lion's mouth (Amos 3:12).
Judah is now a revolving door of kings and desperate shifting allegiances, her sister Israel having buckled years earlier under Tiglath-Pileser's rapacious war machine. Josiah is finished off by Pharaoh Necho at Megiddo. His son Jehoahaz is forthwith replaced by a puppet, Jehoiakim. But then Necho is famously routed at Carchemish, with Egypt never to rise again to its former height. Jehoiakim vacillates, cowing now before Babylon, now again before Egypt.
In the swirl of insanity, prophets at court multiply like sarcoma, all, to a man, urging patriotism and victory, and a league with Egypt against Nebuchadnezzar. All condemn Jeremiah and Baruch as traitors. Undaunted, Jeremiah continues speaking, Baruch continues writing. They urge an unpopular message: It's no use resisting Babylon, my countrymen, for this is of the Lord, and the purpose of it so set that "even if you should defeat the whole army of Chaldeans who are fighting against you, and there remained of them only wounded men, every man in his tent, they would rise up and burn this city with fire" (Jeremiah 37:10).
Baruch is the scribe of Jeremiah the prophet, the loneliest man in the country. And more than a scribe, a friend. For what scribe is so identified with his dictations that the king has him arrested as he burns up the scroll? And what mere amanuensis, in the final siege, stands with his master as, in a last incomprehensible gesture, Jeremiah buys his relative's field in Anathoth (for there will be a future), even as the sound of the Babylonian horses' hoofs thunder in the distance?
But wait. Does Baruch, that man of noble birth, who could have amounted to something in this world, who gave up everything to cast his lot with the only true prophet, harbor in his secret thoughts the same unspoken heresy as I? Has he been thinking all along that after such and such a quantity of misfortune, one is entitled-yea, one is overdue-for blessings and reward? Baruch brings his complaint to the Lord for redress.
Hark, the Lord now answers: "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: You said, 'Woe is me! For the Lord has added sorrow to my pain. I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest.' . . . Thus says the Lord: Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up-that is, the whole land. And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the Lord. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go" (Jeremiah 45:2-5).
What, does the Almighty have pain? Does He weep because what He has built He is breaking down, and what He has planted He is plucking up? Does He grieve like a man "over the ruin of Joseph" (Amos 6:6)? Over the modern-day ruin in Darfur, Sudan, where the UN cut food rations to starving refugees? And was I seeking things for myself? Had I great expectations of wretched happiness, and a niche in the American dream?
These are the days of Baruch-the towers are on fire, battlements teeter, the self-lit torches fail. But as for me, I have been spared with my life. And blessed are those who wait for the Lord, who comes on the clouds with reward for His overcoming ones, someday. But not yet. Not yet.