My brother had emergency surgery recently to remove an infected aortic aneurysm. I drove to Florida after, because I wanted to help with his recovery. But once there, I realized the real reason I went was so I could be with him. Seeing my brother alive and moving was relieving. We almost lost him.
I had 7 hours to fill on the way home and grew tired of my podcast, so I turned it off and prayed my thoughts. And what I thought was disturbing. I had a lot more questions than I knew were bubbling.
The next morning, I wrote them down, and then I just sat with them–the sadness, the why’s, the whining. I wondered if I needed to take some kind of action to change my situation, only I didn’t know exactly what, and I was exhausted just thinking about it.
I looked out my window across the front porch and told God I wanted a sign that he saw me and heard me and was with me, because I was feeling so low, “like right now,” I said, not believing.
And just as I said a snarky, “like right now,” a crow flew across my window, and then another, and another, and another, and before I could think to count them all, even more crows had flown across the air space and settled in the oak tree across the yard, a crow convention.
I don’t know what to call it, but what I felt was heard and cared about. I had a rare moment to see God respond to me, and it pulled me right out of misery. The crows brought no answers, so why the relief? It was the same way I felt being with my brother—knowing God was with me was all I really needed.
This is like what Baruch, the scribe, experiences.
Baruch’s mentioned only a handful of times in Jeremiah, but his time-to-shine finally comes in chapter 45, which is all about him. Since he wrote down the book of Jeremiah from Jeremiah’s dictation, he didn’t get to choose what to include, but he would’ve had his hand in organizing it.
Baruch’s story is about wanting a bigger, better life than the one he’s got, and what God has to say about it. This is not the kind of legacy you’d want to leave behind, especially considering it’s your one shot, but here it is in just five verses, regardless.
Baruch’s stuck in the grief of nixed plans for his life. Maybe his brother who works in the king’s palace has more opportunity than Baruch does. Maybe he’s more prosperous. Maybe Baruch dreamed of becoming a famous writer, but here he is, stuck writing someone else’s prophecies. Maybe his choice to help Jeremiah has cost him financially or he’s lost relationships with friends and family, like Jeremiah has.
God’s got words for Baruch, “Look around. What I’ve built I’m about to wreck, and what I’ve planted I’m about to rip up. And I’m doing it everywhere–all over the whole earth!” God understands about plans that don’t work out. God gets it about dashed dreams. If Baruch’s worn out from suffering personal problems, imagine how troubled God must feel everyday since Adam and Eve, Je 45:4, MSG.
I’m guessing God isn’t callous to Baruch’s complaint, or he wouldn’t bother giving Jeremiah words for him. But he wants Baruch to look at more than his own perspective. He wants Baruch to zoom out and see his.
God is orchestrating all events to lead to the salvation of everyone who responds to him. But people keep mucking up the works, and God lets them. In Baruch and Jeremiah’s day, he’s having to scrap blessing as the way to relate to his people and bring in judgment to get their attention.
At the time of this event with Baruch, Jerusalem wasn’t under siege yet, but they would be dying of starvation and dysentery and eating one another soon. But already, Baruch is whining about the bad times he’s having and being worn out, blaming God for “piling on the pain” while in his service, Je 45:2-3, MSG, NIV.
Maybe God’s thinking Baruch needs an attitude adjustment, because he says life will get much worse than it already is. God says straight up, “Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not. For I am bringing disaster on all people.” Now’s not the time for self-care and pursuing one’s interests. God wants Baruch to get a grip on the reality God’s living in, and do the job God gives him, and be grateful he won’t die while doing it, Je 45:5.
Maybe Baruch had started down the woe-is-me trail and couldn’t find his way back. If so, God’s rebuke was the wake-up call he needed. But it was more than that. God also told him he wasn’t unknown and unsung. God knows Baruch and will remember him. “When all hell breaks loose, and it will,” God told him, “You’ll be saved out of it,” 45:5, paraphrased. That’s a retirement plan the bank downtown didn’t offer.
God weans Baruch off his personal comfort, his whining and blaming, his dream of destiny and importance. And he says, “I see you. I’ve got you. You won’t die. Trust me,” (Je 45:4-5, paraphrased). I’m thinking that was enough for Baruch. He didn’t need answers to his why questions. All he really needed was to know God was there and watching out for him.
God sees. God knows. God saves. These are the truths that made Baruch’s heart light that day, that provoked trust in God rather than despair. How do I know? Because he places this scene in chapter 45 out of chronological order with chapters 44 and 46.
Here’s why it’s significant:
Chapter 44 tells what God said to the ragtag bunch of refugees who fled for safety to Egypt after Jerusalem fell, which was “Don’t go!” But they go anyway, and here’s the bad news: while they’re hoping to avoid “swords and famine” by hiding out in Egypt, the truth is, they’re bringing these upon themselves by going, “…the Jews in Egypt will perish by sword and famine until they are destroyed. Then the whole remnant of Judah who came to live in Egypt will know whose word will stand…,” Je 44:11-14, 27-30, MSG.
It’s alarming. They’ve just witnessed unheard of atrocities in Jerusalem—women raped in the streets, people killed for a piece of bread, families eating one another—and God says he’s bringing more of the same, because they’re determined to live life without him. (We know these details because Jeremiah and Baruch go with the remnant to Egypt and keep delivering God’s words and writing them.)
Two chapters later, we read the dismal details of what Babylon will do to Egypt when it comes to town. Sandwiched between the memories of Judah’s destruction in chapter 44 and the prophecy of Egypt’s coming destruction in chapter 46, Baruch wedges his five-verse chapter 45 about what steadied him nearly 30 years earlier, when he complained and God said, “I’ve got you!”
Believing he was seen by God, trusting him in the clutch, made all the difference then. It will be the same knowing trust that God is with him that makes all the difference again. These are words for any of us who are tempted to freak out over bad news, whether worldwide or in our own backyards. God sees. God knows. God saves.
Baruch puts his promise from God between disastrous events on purpose, as if to say, “Look how great God is! He’s the God who saves people like me—a doubter, a blamer, a moper, a whiner—and says, ‘I’ll never leave or forget you. You’re mine!’”
It would take a man of strong faith to admit the truth of who he is in his only chapter, his one shot at greatness, of the many he writes for Jeremiah and God. If yearning to be well thought of was his passion, the only way he could have laid his passion down would have been because he got caught up in passion for God.
Baruch set aside his desire for greatness because he decided God’s was better. And God shared his glory back (see “The Rest of the Story” below). There’s no out-giving God. What God wants is best for us, and it turns out to be what we most want for ourselves. It’s a circle of blessing he invites us into.
And only God could bring it about.
Here’s “The Rest of the Story” on Baruch, Paul Harvey style:
Baruch’s whine for “great things,” quite possibly a more notable profession or fame, is ironic because Baruch is famous, as far as ancient writers go. Everyone who reads Jeremiah knows him. That’s a piece of acclaim even the NY Times bestseller’s list can’t give. God gave Baruch a nudge out of self-pity in 605 BC, and then gave him more than his wildest dreams. Baruch couldn’t have guessed that his writing would still be impacting people and changing lives 2,417 years later.
Paul writes more about paying attention to what God says and finding his best for us.
2 Timothy 3
“Don’t be naive,” Paul tells Timothy. As the end of the world approaches, people will be unruly, “self absorbed, money hungry, self promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God,” 2 Ti 3:1-4, MSG.
What’s more, they’ll pretend to be religious, checking all the boxes, but “behind the scenes, they’re animals. Stay clear of these people,” 3:5, MSG.
How do we live with people like this, in a culture gone wild? Paul tells Timothy that anyone who wants to follow Jesus will suffer, but our safeguard is this: God’s words in Scripture that make us wise, 2 Ti 3:12, 14-15.
The Bible keeps us from showing up in the list above. It shows us the truth about ourselves, exposes our rebellion, corrects our mistakes, trains us to live God’s way, and makes us fit for the tasks he gives us, 2 Ti 3:16-17, MSG.
What else can do all this?
The psalmist seems to have gotten the same memo about sharing what’s essential.
I love how God’s word, written down by different people, has a kind of built-in validation system, as if there’s really just one author who says the same thing with different voices. Because, well, there is.
Something of what Paul said to Timothy about God’s word instructing us and being a safe-house against evil is heard in Psalm 94:12-13, “How blessed the one you train, God, the one you instruct in your Word, providing a circle of quiet within the clamor of evil, while a jail is being built for the wicked,” MSG.
And what Jeremiah said about God watching over us and never quitting (Je 46:27-28) is like what the psalmist says, “God will never walk away from his people, never desert his precious people. Rest assured that justice is on its way, and every good heart put right,” Ps 94:14-15, MSG.
God instructs us and protects us through his words, the “circle of quiet within the clamor.” It’s this circle of trust when the rest of the world is rocking that he extends through Jeremiah to Baruch, through Paul to Timothy, and through the psalmist, straight to us.
God will never desert us. God will never abandon. God knows what’s up, and he’s got us, regardless of the news, regardless of the groceries on the shelves, regardless of the fluctuating market, regardless of our whiny selves.
God’s presence with us is what we most need, and we have it by faith in Jesus.
“Grant me the honesty to ask heartfelt questions. Grant me also the humility to realize that what I need isn’t so much an answer but an embrace. Embrace me, God. Lift me from the ash heap and gather me in your loving arms. Hold me close. Wipe my tears…make me whole,” Eugene Peterson, The Devotional Bible, p. 553.
Jeremiah 45-47, 2 Timothy 3, and Psalm 94 are selected for today in The One Year Bible.