30 Jan 2020

Baruch and the God of Mercy: Treasure in the Apocrypha

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Apocrypha, Bible, Bobby's World, Christian hope, Faith, Grace, Jewish Backgrounds, King James Version, Prayer, Septuagint
Baruch, ch. 3 in 1611 King James Version

Baruch, An Old Little Treasure

The little book of Baruch is one of the oldest books in the “Middle Testament” (my “term of endearment” for what Protestants call “the Apocrypha”) dating, according to many, as far back as before 300 BC. Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah are almost always together and attached to the Book of Jeremiah itself in the manuscript tradition. This is true in ancient Greek, Latin, Armenian, Ethiophic versions. This means Christians everywhere were reading this little treasure.

The Letter of Jeremiah was discovered in Hebrew among the Dead Sea Scrolls, we do not know if it contained Baruch as the piece is not complete but in most manuscripts the two are together. Many Jews continued to value Baruch highly and used it in worship as it directs (cf. 1.3, 14). According to the fourth century A.D. Apostolic Constitutions, Jews read from Baruch (at least in Syria) on the Ninth of Ab. The text reads,

For even now, on the tenth day of the month Gorpiæus, when they [= Jews] assemble together, they read the Lamentations of Jeremiah, in which it is said, The Spirit before our face, Christ the Lord was taken in their destructions; [= Lamentations 4:20] and Baruch, in whom it is written, This is our God; no other shall be esteemed with Him. He found out every way of knowledge, and showed it to Jacob His son, and Israel His beloved. Afterwards He was seen upon earth, and conversed with men [=Baruch 3.35-37]. And when they read them, they lament and bewail, as themselves suppose, that desolation which happened by Nebuchadnezzar; but, as the truth shows, they unwillingly make a prelude to that lamentation which will overtake them. (Apostolic Constitutions 5.20, Gorpiæus is from the Macedonian calendar and corresponds to Ab).

Baruch was regarded as Scripture among many in the early church. Among the Fathers it was typically regarded, along with the Letter of Jeremiah, as part of the greater book of Jeremiah.

Discovering a Small Treasure

Baruch contains some wonderful passages. Both chapter 4 and 5 have been used in Eucharistic (communion) liturgies for many centuries in various Christian traditions. Though I had read through Baruch numerous times previously, it was in 2013 that I discovered “treasure” in Baruch. I had gone through an unexpected and painful divorce. I spent a week at Santa Rita Abbey in Kentucky Canyon not far from the Mexican border in AZ. Baruch was included with a Psalm reading. I talked with Sister Margarita after and asked where this passage was. She encouraged me to read 4.30-5.9 for the rest of the day. It was powerful. I had been rejected and humiliated like the lady in the text (Jerusalem) but the voice of God comes through with amazing comfort and promise of renewal, salvation and the return of joy.

Take courage, O Jerusalem,
for the one who named you
will comfort you
” (4.30)

For God will lead Israel with joy,
in the light of his glory,
with the mercy and righteousness
that come from him
” (5.9)

I have since learned 4.30-5.9 was part of readings associated with the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper for many ancient Christians. On that day in the southern Arizona desert it was a powerful word of grace.

Baruch, Paul, and the Fathers

Baruch 3.29 shows up in Paul in Romans 10.7. Baruch 3.29 reads,

Who has gone up into heaven, and
taken her,
and brought her down from the clouds

New Testament scholar, Richard Hays calls this a “filtered citation of Deuteronomy.” Filtered through what? the wisdom traditions contained in Baruch and Sirach. Christ is the answer to the “who.”

Another passage that Church Fathers such as Origen, Cyprian, Lactantius and Tertullian quoted as Messianic and fulfilled in the Incarnation. It is in 3.35-37 (this text was cited also in the Apostolic Constitutions in the quote above).

This is our God;
no one can compare to him.
He found the whole way to knowledge,
and gave her to his servant Jacob and to
Israel, whom he loved.
Afterward she appeared on earth and lived with humankind.

(Baruch 3.35-37).

Baruch, the Geneva Bible, 1560 edition

Discovering Great Treasure: Gracious Prayer

Chapter 2 contains a beautiful prayer of penitence, pleading with God for salvation. This is typical, honest, praying in Spirit and Truth. Prayer, someone has said, reveals our true doctrine of God. If that is true then what a wonderful doctrine Jesus, James, Mary, etc inherited with their Jewish ancestors. I will quote the whole.

And now, O Lord God of Israel, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and with signs and wonders and outstretched arm, and made yourself a name that continues to this day,

we have sinned,
we have been ungodly,
we have done wrong,
O Lord our God,
against all your ordinances

Let your anger turn away from us, for we who are left, are few in number among the nations where you have scattered us. Hear, O Lord, our prayer and our supplication, and for your own name sake deliver us, and grant us favor in the sight of those who have carried us into exile; so that all the earth may know that you are the Lord our God, for Israel and his descendants are called by your name.

O Lord look down from your holy dwelling, and consider us, Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord and see, for the dead are in Hades, whose spirit has been taken from their bodies, will not ascribe glory or justice to the Lord; but the person who is deeply grieved who walks bowed and feeble, with falling eyes and famished soul, will declare your glory and righteousness, O Lord.

For it is not because of any righteous deeds of our ancestors or our kings that we bring before you our prayer for mercy, O Lord our God.”
(Baruch 2.11-19)

The prayer ends with the forthright confession that,

we did not obey your voice … which you spoke by your servants the prophets.

The prayer is offered simply so the Lord God will show mercy. Neither we nor our ancestors are righteous. But God is full of “kindness and compassion” (an echo of Ex 34.6-7 in v.27).

For “your own sake delver us” is the plea. This is a plea for GRACE pure and simple.

If a person did not know any better, and read this prayer, they would think it was in the Book of Psalms. This is a Spiritual treasure. And it was quoted by the Church Fathers, the Desert Fathers, included in congregational worship to this day in churches across the Middle East and the ancient Mar Thoma Christians in India.

This prayer can and will feed your spirit. It cultivates humility before our God. It exudes no self righteous claim. It models what our own stance before God should be:

God is right.
We are wrong.
God is merciful.

We are grateful for his “kindness and compassion” given to us in spite of our sin. There is no conception here of salvation by precision obedience, earning standing before God by works of righteousness or any other such heresy. That God hears our prayer is an act of grace, of Steadfast love, we do not demand. But Israel is driven by powerful, trusting, faith in the God who will hear our prayer in mercy.

O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, the soul in anguish and the wearied spirit cry out to you. Hear, O Lord, and have mercy, for we have sinned before you” (Bar 3.1-2).

Mercy, the Discovered Treasure

God is the God of all comfort. God is the God of all mercy. God is the One who disciplined but refuses to caste off. God hears our prayers even as we are “guilty as sin.” “This is our God; no other can be compared to him” (3.35). God is merciful in spite of our sin. What a treasure for me!

So the Gift of the Apocrypha here, is not only understanding the world in which Jesus was born. It literally feeds our souls. And we learn that God has never been without witness. God has worked, and continues to work, even in the anonymous author of Baruch … when we go around the museum in the renewed earth and find all the treasures that God has kept that were made by his people, I will not be surprised in the slightest to find Baruch on display. I may utter underneath my breath, “Well, I’ll be!”


If you enjoyed this then you May Be Interested in …
Spiritual Treasures of the Old Testament Apocrypha

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