Messianic Prophecy in Baruch

Baruch Passage-3:36-4:4

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.
She is the book of the commandments of God,
the law that endures forever.
All who hold her fast will live,
and those who forsake her will die.
Turn, O Jacob, and take her;
walk toward the shining of her light.
Do not give your glory to another,
or your advantages to an alien people.
Happy are we, O Israel,
For we know what is pleasing to God.

Text Critical Issues

The entire book of Baruch is not extant in the Hebrew manuscript traditions. The Masoretic Text does not include this book. In the Greek Septuagint the book follows Jeremiah and is closely associated with it. Some manuscripts have Baruch attached to Jeremiah without break, as if Baruch is simply a continuation of Jeremiah. Chapter six, the last chapter in Baruch, is also known separately as the Epistle of Jeremiah. In some collections, the Epistle of Jeremiah is separately titled from Baruch. While Baruch is only extant in Greek, most scholars see the Greek as a translation of a Hebrew or Aramaic original. While this view of a Hebrew original is nearly universal for 1:1-3:8, there is a more divided opinion for the remainder of the book. Primary support of the Hebrew original of Baruch is found in Origen’s marginal notes in the Hexaplar. At two points in Baruch, Origen makes note that the Greek text is not the same as the Hebrew. This implies Origen had access to the Hebrew version. However, Jerome, who does show an extensive knowledge of Origen’s work, did not know the Hebrew version. Jerome does not touch the text of Baruch in his revision of scripture. He merely passes on the existing Old Latin translation.

The textual issues in Baruch revolve around two main issues: structure of the book and the relationship of Baruch to Jeremiah and Daniel. The major divisions of Baruch pose questions on both the literary and textual level. There are clear editorial moves in compiling Baruch to the current form. These editorial actions can also cast doubt on the authorship of any of these sections and the antiquity of the current compilation. Many see the present form of Baruch as the joining of related writings from different authors in this exilic period. Our pericope forms the closing verses of one of these poetic sub-sections. Many scholars see up to four authors contributing to this collection, three for the sections and a final redactor that weaves them into one.

  • Introduction 1:1-14 & Confession of Sin 1:15-3:8
  • Poetic praise of Wisdom 3:9-4:4 & Poetic address to Jerusalem 4:5-29 & Rhetorical Jerusalem 4:30-5:9
  • Letter of Jeremiah, Chapter 6

Much of the content of Baruch is quotation and allusion to other biblical material. Chief among those borrowed from are Jeremiah and Daniel. In the use of quotations from Jeremiah in Baruch, we find that the text of Baruch follows the LXX rather than the MT. One explanation of this textual dependence is that the same translator renders both books into Greek. Analysis of the translation equivalency vocabulary has tended to verify this theory.

The pericope in question does not have any significant internal textual issues or problems. The passage does stand at the close of the poem identified as the Hymn to Wisdom.

Historical Context

The Babylonian exile forms the backdrop for Baruch. Jeremiah’s prophetic career began prior to the defeat of the Israelites and their deportation in 587 BCE. His prophetic actions announce the coming exile, prepare the people for living in exile, and offer hope for eventual restoration. Thus Jeremiah operates before, during, and after the events for 598/587 BCE. Baruch served as his secretary among the followers, as outlined in Jeremiah chapter 36. He doubtless witnessed much of Jeremiah’s ministry. His work forms a logical extension of Jeremiah’s message.

In the years leading up to the deportation, Judah shifted from allegiance with Babylon against Egypt to open revolt against the Babylonian empire. The people uncritically accept the promise of perpetual rule of the house of David from the Temple Mount. The focus on the Deuteronomic Law from the early reform of Josiah has mutated into a simple promise of protection for the nation. This protection does not require any response in the moral life of the nation, simply a following of the temple cult.

The canonical prophets protest this attitude, but the official cult of prophets holds sway and the stage is set for disaster at the hands of the Babylonians. The coming invasion and deportation confirms the word of the canonical prophets over the official cult. During the first years in exile the prophets warn against hoping for an immediate return. They advise the community to settle in and build houses. But unrest in the Babylonian Empire emboldens the leadership in Judah to try again for freedom, against the advice of the prophets. When the unrest is settled in Babylon, they return to Judah and destroy the temple and city for a second time in 587 BCE.

The prophets explain this disaster in terms of Judah’s rejection of God’s covenant law. The exiles must become a purified remnant to return. An acceptance of the covenant law will prepare the way. They do become a successful community in Babylon. Hope for return is kindled. The people look for the restoration of the temple. The prophets accomplish this theological transformation. The nation moves from a view that God blesses them by visible success in national affairs by a simple promise to David, to the acceptance of Divine punishment alongside Divine reward. The defeat and deportation is that punishment.

The Persian Empire ultimately defeats Babylon. In 538 BCE, Cyrus provides this restoration of the exiles to their land with permission to rebuild the temple. Many return, most do not.

The editorial collection of this material into the book of Baruch is generally dated to the third century BCE with the original material from the late exilic period. The content of Baruch shows some dependence on the writings of second Isaiah. This places the original composition of the sections to after 550-540 BCE. The composition is a full generation after the actual deportation. By now the people are in need of explanations on what has happened, and on hope for future restoration.

Exegesis in Original Context

Baruch bridges the theological problem of the exile.  The book opens with the call for repentance and recognition of the just judgment of the Lord.  This plea is accepted and the virtues and benefits of the Deuteronomic relationship to the Lord are extolled.

In the third century BCE, when Baruch is compiled, the book is a plea to restore correct worship in the temple on Zion.  This portrays the hope of the people to renew the covenant relationship with God, which was built on this temple sacrifice.  There is a clear connection between right worship and right conduct.  The penitential prayer acknowledges the need for the covenant to affect daily life.

In this specific passage, wisdom is personified and becomes equated with the covenant law. “She is the book of the commandments of God, the law that endures forever.” Baruch 4:1 The personification of divine wisdom to teach the chosen people is woven throughout the Old Testament.  By the time Baruch is compiled, the entire Ancient Near East is participating in the wisdom literature tradition.  Egypt to the west and Mesopotamia to the east have preserved similar religious writings.

Wisdom literature involves the literary forms of proverb collections, allegories, fables and hymns, like the Baruch pericope.  This literature connects divinity with these truths of human existence in short instructions or contemplation of the big questions of human existence.  The crisis of faith caused by the exile of Judah to Babylon certainly qualifies as a big question in the life of Jews.  The wisdom literature genre provides a natural form to answer this question.

In the biblical tradition wisdom flows from the Lord and is connected with the very act of creation in Proverbs 8, becoming the instructor for the human race.  Lady Wisdom is equated with justice.  Speaking of wisdom Proverbs 8:20 reads, “I walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice.”  This wisdom as justice makes Baruch’s equation of wisdom with the Law itself only a short step.  In this light, one can almost see the Lady Wisdom present in Deuteronomy 4:5-8 where the Lord instructs his people in his statutes and ordinances. The wise of all the other nations will see how great the Lord is by the laws his people follow.

Early Christian tradition claims that this pericope was used in the synagogue for the Day of Atonement (Apostolic Constitutions).  The community coming to repentance receives this hope in the appearance of the law as the bride of the country.  They can be comforted in accepting responsibility for their sins by taking the law as a bride anew, agreeing to live by the law over the coming year.  In this annual event the community acknowledges its separation from God by not following the law in the fullest and agrees to take the law as its spouse again.

The lesson of the exile is acceptance of the Deuteronomic law.  When Jacob takes the book of the law and holds it fast, prosperity will follow.  The Baruch passage provides the instruction and hope to a community rebuilding the temple after the exile.  The Law ultimately becomes the center of Judaism to the point that the permanent loss of the temple in succeeding generations will not destroy the people.  This Baruch pericope helps lays the foundation for this transformation.

Christian Exegesis

In the Byzantine lectionary this pericope is used for Royal Hours on December 24 and vespers on the Feast of the Nativity. The mention of the law appearing on earth in verse 3:37 is seen as a reference to the incarnation, and earns this reading a place in the Nativity cycle. In Baruch 3:37 we read “Afterward she appeared on earth and lived with humankind.”  This reminds us of “And the Word became flesh and lived among us,” John 1:14 The mystery of the incarnation can be seen in this Old Testament passage by linking this appearance in Baruch to Jesus as the word in John.  Deuteronomy 30:11-18 justifies the equation of the word to the law by Christians that creates the framework for the association.

Several early patristic works weave the Baruch citation into these incarnation themes.  The progressive associations mentioned above become the foundation for explaining the theology of the incarnation.  Each of these early works approaches the subject from a slightly different perspective, but they hold in common this series of connections to the wisdom literature tradition.

Apostolic Constitutions

The Apostolic Constitutions Book V uses Baruch 3:35-37 as the launching point for prophetic announcements of the coming of Christ.  Lamentations is used to set the stage for this appearance.  Baruch 3:35-37 is quoted with the gender adjusted to masculine to make the reference to Christ even clearer.  Here the appearance is no longer she, but he.  The walking among men is the start of the promise.  This appearance of the law among men is then linked to the promise of Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, that God will raise up a prophet like Moses.

Here the Christian interpretation takes the metaphor of God’s presence walking among men to the next level.  It takes the Jewish interpretation as the launching pad and connect this to the central Christian teaching on the incarnation.  This fleshly appearance is then further connected to the Jewish hope of a new prophet like Moses.  The connection of these two Old Testament appearances is a natural blending and extension of both ideals.

Later, in Apostolic Constitutions Book VI, the concept of Christ as the Law is extended and completed.  The appearance in Baruch is the Law of the Lord; the Christian appearance of Christ is also the law of the Lord.  The argument culminates in Baruch 4:4 “Happy are we, O Israel, for we know what is pleasing to God.”  The Christian is happy in the law of the Lord revealed in Christ.  The power of the Romans demonstrates the goodness of God’s law in Christ.

Clement of Alexandria: The Instructor

Clement of Alexandria points out that Christ saves humanity by both threatening and exhorting.  The exhortation towards the good is supported by Baruch 4:4 “Blessed are we, Israel; for what is pleasing to God is known by us.”  The word, Christ, is the source of this knowledge according to Clement.  This Baruch passage is obviously seen as a description of Christ as the Word.  The Law of Baruch is equated with the Word of Christ in the Incarnation.  Other quotations from the Wisdom Hymn in Baruch support Clement’s suggestion.  Clement reminds Christians of the promises to Moses are fulfilled in the Word.  Moses gave the Law for the prosperity of Israel.  Baruch makes the Lady Wisdom and the Law one and the same.  Proverbs 8 connects Wisdom to the Word of God.  John’s Gospel makes the Word and Christ one and the same.  This series of equivalencies allows Clement to see the Baruch passage as a Hymn to Christ the Word.

The Baruch Hymn becomes another expression of Christ as the spouse for the faithful.  This closing blessing in Baruch 4:4 caps this hymn with an expression of consolation and hope for the faithful.

Cyprian: Treatises

Cyprian covers the Christological theology in Book II of his Treatises.  This Baruch passage is used as one of the proof texts in the section demonstrating that Christ is God.  With the incarnation in view, Cyprian cites Baruch 3:35-37 and links this appearance to Christ’s appearance on earth.  First connecting Christ to wisdom sets up this linkage of Baruch to Christ in the early portion of book II.  Using the logic of Proverbs 8 connecting wisdom with the creation account in Genesis, Christ is made the action of God in the creation account.

With Christ thus connected to the action of God in history, Cyprian can equate all those other forms of God’s action to Christ.  For example, the arm of God, the angels of God and the Word of God all become different descriptions of the same action of God in Christ.  Christ as the action of God in history allows Cyprian to use Baruch as a prophetic reference to Christ’s coming in the flesh.  These Old Testament references provide a firm foundation to support John’s claim in 1:1 that Christ is the word with go and is God.

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Twelve Topics on the Faith

In addition to advocating the Christian understanding of the incarnation of Christ, Baruch and these related passages become proof texts against heretical interpretations of these events.  Gregory Thaumaturgus uses Baruch to speak against those who deny the Divine aspect of the incarnation.

Baruch was used by heretical Christians to demonstrate that Christ’s appearance on earth was not a Divine presence but a shadow.  They would claim that Christ’s appearance in the flesh was but a “projection” or “shadow” like the Platonic image of the cave in “The Republic”.  Gregory points to Baruch 3:38 and the “conversation” with men as a clear demonstration of the reality of the flesh.  The image of conversation can only occur with real people in real communication.  He connects this physical existence with the Gospel stories of the suffering of Christ, that suffering can only occur in a fleshly existence.  The promise of conversation with the Law of God in Baruch finds fulfillment in the earthly life of Christ.  Gregory further supports this view with a paraphrase of Romans 5:12.  “And this He said, not as holding before us any contest proper only to God, but as showing our own flesh in its capacity to overcome suffering, and death, and corruption, in order that, as sin entered into the world by flesh, and death came to reign by sin over all men, the sin in the flesh might also be condemned through the selfsame flesh in the likeness thereof.”

Hyppolytus: Against the Heresy of One Noetus

A related use of Baruch is Hyppolytus’ work against the heresy of Noetus.  The heresy of Noetus was a denial of the Trinitarian formula of the Godhead.  Using Old Testament scripture quotations, Noetus points out the numerous passages where scripture insists there is but one God.  Therefore, according to Noetus, Jesus is what the Orthodox would call God the Father.  There is only one God to become flesh, not a Son in the Trinity.  Using this same passage in Baruch, Noetus would claim that God has appeared among men in the past and Christ is just another one of these appearances.  This argument likewise denies the Orthodox understanding of both the Divine and Human in Christ.

Hippolytus counters this interpretation of the texts by appealing to the Gospels of Matthew and John and Paul’s letter to the Roman’s.  The texts where God’s appearance on earth is in messengers called son cannot support the concept of God the Father’s appearance in these same instances.  These New Testament texts cannot support Noetus’ understanding of these texts in the Old Testament.  But understanding the texts of the Old Testament in a Trinitarian manner does fit with the readings of the New Testament.  Even if we restrict our scrutiny to the texts of the Old Testament, Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man is not consistent with Noetus’ reading.


Christian exegesis of Baruch 3:36-4:4 takes a series of equivalencies well supported by traditional readings of the Old Testament and applies them to the person of Christ.  The extension of these symbols to Christ is well established by the introductions of the canonical scriptures and the preaching of Christ in the same.  This Christian use of Baruch is not arbitrary, but does stand on the logic of the Old Testament texts themselves.  Their application in the New Testament to the Christian messiah provides a deeper more perfect understanding of the texts.  The Orthodox use of the same Baruch pericope against Christian heretics indicates the dangers of over zealous stretching of the Old Testament concepts and further verifies the legitimate scope of the Orthodox interpretation


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