An eye for detail equipped me for a scribe’s career, which involves much repetition and little physicality. Critics may call us “quill-pushers,” but still expect their title deeds, contracts or inheritance details to be accurate.
To ensure this accuracy we need clear working light, so big windows make us visible even if people can’t see our work.
I vividly recall one stallholder’s little joke. With customers enjoying his one-liners as much as his prices; he gave me my grapes, then winked and called out: “Know why these scribes never look out their windows in the morning?”
Puzzled silence erupted with laughter at his explanation: “Because if they do; they’ll have nothing to do in the afternoon!”
Much of our records, copies and files relate to the temple, but freelance work takes us in unexpected directions.
Like when a living enigma stopped me: “Are you Baruch the scribe?”
I nodded; surprised that Jeremiah the prophet actually knew my name. He’d captured attention for stunts like wearing a yoke to signify our impending conquest by Babylon; and for rebuking any prophets who assured the king of our strength because the Great Temple was God’s home.
“Please seal this title deed for posterity,” he said.
“I will be honoured, sir,” I replied, “but would not buying land contradict your prophecy of Babylon’s victory?”
“The land is my inheritance in Anathoth. Babylon will beat us Baruch, but Yahweh plans security and prosperity beyond seventy years of exile; plans for good and not for evil.”
And he was gone.
Years later he called for me to come to his hideout.
“Baruch, the Lord wants me to recount my service since Josiah’s reign, with you as my scribe!”
“That’s twenty-five years!” I thought; breathing thanks that the Egyptians had given us light, easily-transportable papyrus. For I did not fancy having to hammer all of Jeremiah’s details into stone; or carving them onto clay tablets!
It still took months, working in the minimal light of oil lanterns. But our hearts and minds shared an illumination that no window could have matched. God’s Spirit anointed us with his words, and Jeremiah’s transparency was captivating as God spoke through him. I caught his challenges, his hopes and his heartaches in being God’s messenger; and his deep desire for the people’s welfare.
With my manuscript finally complete, he urged me to read it publicly during a Temple fast. So, one year after we’d started, I began reading to the crowds near the New Gate. But officials quickly drew me aside, nervously asking to hear it privately.
Detecting Jeremiah as the author, they asked me to give it to them. Yet they were also concerned for me: “The king must hear this, but you and Jeremiah must stay out of sight!”
With his customary oily smile, the king’s secretary Elishamah received them and the scroll, assuring them that King Jehoiakim would love to hear it all.
Watching them speed away, he arranged for a special reading by Jehudi, the court reporter.
In the packed court, Jehudi began reading…
“What a heart-warming message from Jeremiah…” purred Jehoiakim. “But more than my heart needs warming! Jehudi! Show me how far you have read!”
Jehudi hesitantly held out the scroll, his finger marking his progress, but the flash of a blade made him rapidly let it go.
Jehoiakim’s knife had slashed the parchment, above where Jehudi’s hand had been, before it could hit the floor! Scowling, he scooped up the fragment and, in a reverential charade, lightly placed it on the glowing coals of the brazier beside him.
Watching the manuscript explode into flame, some officials tried to protest. But murmuring approval from the sycophants clustered around the throne silenced them.
Jehoiakim beckoned to Jehudi: “Read on. I don’t want to miss anything from that God who gives old Jeremiah so many crazy ideas!”
Jehudi’s throat was drying with fear but he resumed, sure of another strike but not knowing when it would come.
The slicing and burning continued, but the room grew colder in Jehoiakim’s arrogant self-delusion: thinking he could silence the Lord of Hosts and a heartsick prophet who was his mouthpiece.
Learning of the scroll’s destruction, Jeremiah called me again.
We produced our second scroll, which took as long as the first, but knowing that God’s word outlasts tyranny and strikes home with correction and healing. Our manuscript stands as testament to the God who lets nothing stand against his purpose for his word.
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