Neglected Books of the Old Testament: Baruch
Many people can relate to the experience of hearing God’s word most clearly in time of desperate need and apparent disaster. This certainly seems to be the case of the prophet Baruch, a figure who appears elsewhere in the Old Testament as an assistant or secretary to the prophet Jeremiah, but who here delivers the prophecy he personally received from God. The message is one of hope, but a hope born of trust and repentance.
The hope offered is born firstly from trust in the providence of God, even in suffering and trial. Baruch writes from Babylon, living there among the first generation of exiles after the conquest of Judah, surrounded by the displaced people and the son of the deposed king. Despite this apparently bleak situation he has complete trust in the providence of God. He gives what initially seems a very strange proclamation that the people will faithfully serve Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, and pray that he will have a long life. Why would they pray for the wellbeing of the man whose armies had conquered the promised land and ransacked the temple? The reason, according to Baruch, is because all that has befallen them is in accordance with the promises of God for his people. Baruch quickly acknowledges that the people had sinned and failed to live up to the covenant God made with them, and thus the disaster that befell them is not an abandonment by God, but rather an expression of His righteousness, His lawfulness. Because God had forewarned this would be the consequence of sin then God must still be with the people even in the events of their fall. Baruch finds comfort in this perfect faithfulness of God to his promise. God is bringing all things on earth, even the great enemy Nebuchadnezzar, to his service, to work for the fulfilment of his promises. When this is witnessed and appreciated by the people they have reason for faith in God’s providence, even through times of suffering.
To further remind the people of the righteousness of God Baruch harks back to the covenant the people made with God, he praises God’s wisdom and then gives us a long and wonderful hymn of hope. He declares hope that the hearts and minds of the people will be open to God, hope that the kingdom will be restored and the temple and holy city will be rebuilt. This hope is not however founded simply on a blind expectation. The restoration they hope for can only come about if they are reconciled to God, and are loyal and lawful where they had previously failed. God may desperately desire to restore the kingdom of Israel, and the people find hope in that, but the people must cooperate by living according to the law, by respecting the covenant. (In particular it seems Baruch is worried about the danger of adopting idolatrous worship in Babylon so a long letter at the end of the book is dedicated to refuting the value of idols.) The hope the people are exhorted to cling to carries with it the necessity of a change of heart and action, so that God’s love and providence can be affective in them.
Here we find a message we must draw upon each time we turn back to God for forgiveness. He desperately desires to forgive us, and in time to welcome us to the kingdom, not a restored earthly kingdom but a heavenly one. However just like the people that Baruch appeals to we need a change of heart, desiring not to repeat our sins, so that that hope will be concretised. This is why in confession we need to make, and mean, our act of contrition: so that the hope being expressed even by Baruch in the Old Testament can be fulfilled in Christ.