The Apocrypha’s “The Book of Baruch”: Say It Often Enough, It Just Might Stick
As a kid, I had to be hounded to complete my chores. I don’t remember what my brother’s were, but I had to empty all the trash in the house once a week and clean up the dog poop in the back yard three times a week. There might have been a few more, though I can’t think of what they would have been, but at the time, these felt like an incredible imposition. I did, however, have zero problem asking for my allowance each week.
Dad was pretty good about reminding me about my unfinished chores yet still giving me my allowance (even though he’d used his bathroom every day and could clearly tell the trash was full). At some point, his frustration won and he cut off my cash: prove you can do your chores without being told a few weeks in a row and you’ll get your allowance.
Although I was clearly put off about losing my money, I finally had my incentive and did not have to be told again. I don’t know why I constantly ignored my father’s instructions—this wasn’t something I did in other areas of our home life—and I’ll give him credit: this was the one area where he demonstrated an awful lot of patience, and, looking back, I can see how justified he was in withholding my money. I do, however, wonder why he waited so long to do so.
The Israelites are in a similar situation in The Apocrypha’s “The Book of Baruch,” where the author speaks on behalf of the people being taken into Babylonian exile: Lord, have mercy; we understand how bad we’ve messed up and we will do better, we swear (3:1-19 and 4:1-21). As the author make clear, these people need to have faith in God and be patient, for although they will be captives in Babylon for seven generations (6:1), God will punish the Babylonians eventually (4:25).
It seems strange to punish the instrument you use to exact punishment, but that’s the deal. This makes God seem a bit underhanded. Perhaps if the Babylonians were wiser about the god(s) they worshiped, they might have better chances. But no, they’re bad like this, and the Israelites are warned against being tainted while under the Babylonians: don’t worship their gods or become materialistic like them (6:15). Apparently, their gods are about as useful as a scarecrow in a cucumber bed! (6:70). (I’m not sure why this last point amused me but it does.)
Given the refrain of the Israelite’s mea culpa throughout the Old Testament—and the fact that they eventually get their acts together—I can see why this book was cut from the Bible. There’s little (if anything) new in these chapters. But, perhaps as a reader, a believer would need the constant repetition in order to make sure they don’t stray from God’s belief system. As soon as I detected the tenor of the book’s ideas, I knew exactly where it was headed, and perhaps that’s the mark of good advice: it’s been repeated so many times you almost don’t need to hear it in order to understand what’s expected of you.