Avoid “Seeking Great Things for Yourself”
BARUCH, the faithful scribe of Jeremiah, had grown weary. It was the fourth year of the reign of wicked King Jehoiakim, or about 625 B.C.E. Jeremiah told the scribe to write in a roll of a book all the words that Jehovah had spoken through the prophet about Jerusalem and Judah, utterances made over the 23 years of Jeremiah’s career up till then. (Jer. 25:1-3; 36:1, 2) Baruch did not read the contents of the scroll to the Jews right then. He would do that the following year. (Jer. 36:9, 10) But was something distressing Baruch?
2 “Woe, now, to me,” moaned Baruch, “for Jehovah has added grief to my pain! I have grown weary because of my sighing.” You have likely had occasion to make utterances of weariness, whether doing so audibly or just in your heart. Whichever way Baruch did it, Jehovah was listening. The Examiner of human hearts knew what caused Baruch’s troubled state, and through Jeremiah, God kindly corrected Baruch. (Read Jeremiah 45:1-5.) You might wonder, though, why Baruch was feeling so weary. Was it the assignment he had received or perhaps the circumstances in which he had to perform it? His feelings really bubbled up from the heart. You see, Baruch was “seeking great things.” What were they? What assurance did Jehovah give him if he accepted God’s counsel and direction? And what can we learn from Baruch’s experience?
WHAT WERE THOSE “GREAT THINGS”?
3 Baruch must have been aware of what the “great things” were. The scribe realized that God’s “eyes are upon the ways of man, and all his steps he sees.” (Job 34:21) The reason why Baruch felt that he had “no resting-place” while he transcribed Jeremiah’s prophetic utterances was not the assignment itself. It was his own view of what seemed great—what was in his heart. Engrossed in seeking “great things” for himself, Baruch lost sight of the more important things, those pertaining to doing the divine will. (Phil. 1:10) The New World Translation brings out the flavor of the verb used and renders it “keep seeking.” So it was not a momentary, passing thought. Baruch had already been seeking “great things” when Jehovah warned him to stop. Though Jeremiah’s faithful secretary had been sharing in the doing of God’s will, at the same time, he was yearning for “great things” for himself.
4 As to what Baruch’s concerns were, one possibility had to do with fame and prestige. Although Baruch served as a penman for Jeremiah, he might not have been just a personal secretary to Jeremiah. At Jeremiah 36:32, Baruch is referred to as “the secretary.” Archaeological evidence suggests that he held the position of a high royal official. In fact, the same title is used for “Elishama the secretary,” who was named among Judah’s princes. This suggests that Baruch too had access to “the dining room of the secretary” in “the house of the king” as one of Elishama’s colleagues. (Jer. 36:11, 12, 14) Baruch, then, must have been an educated official in the royal household. Seraiah, his brother, held the position of quartermaster to King Zedekiah and accompanied the king on an important mission to Babylon. (Read Jeremiah 51:59.) As quartermaster, Seraiah was likely in charge of supplies and lodging for the king when he was traveling, indeed a high-ranking position.
5 You can understand that a person accustomed to an elevated station might grow weary of recording denunciatory messages against Judah, one after another. In fact, supporting God’s prophet might have put at risk Baruch’s position and career. And think of the consequences if Jehovah tore down what he had built up, as we read at Jeremiah 45:4. The “great things” that Baruch had in mind—whether the gaining of additional honor in the royal court or material prosperity—might prove to be in vain. If Baruch was seeking a secure position in the doomed Jewish system of that time, God had reason to restrain him from that inclination.
6 On the other hand, Baruch’s “great things” might have included material prosperity. The nations around Judah relied heavily on possessions and wealth. Moab trusted in her ‘works and treasures.’ Ammon did likewise. And Jehovah had Jeremiah describe Babylon as “abundant in treasures.” (Jer. 48:1, 7; 49:1, 4; 51:1, 13) But the fact is, God condemned those nations.
7 Accordingly, if Baruch was seeking property and riches, you can appreciate why Jehovah warned him against that. When God ‘stretched his hand out against’ the Jews, their houses and fields would be turned over to their enemies. (Jer. 6:12; 20:5) Suppose you had been Baruch’s contemporary living in Jerusalem. Most of your fellow countrymen—including princes, priests, and the king himself—felt that they should fight against the invading Babylonians. Yet, you learned of Jeremiah’s message: “Serve the king of Babylon and keep on living.” (Jer. 27:12, 17) Would having a great many possessions in the city have made it easier for you to obey the divine direction? Would your feelings about those belongings have inclined you to heed Jeremiah’s warning or to follow the course of the majority? Actually, all the valuable things in Judah and Jerusalem, including those in the temple, were pillaged and taken to Babylon. So striving for material gain would have been of no use. (Jer. 27:21, 22) Is there a lesson in that?
How did Jehovah kindly correct Baruch’s inclination to seek “great things”? Why do you feel that accepting divine correction is wise?
“I WILL GIVE YOU YOUR SOUL AS A SPOIL”
8 Now consider this aspect: What would Baruch receive for obeying God’s instruction? Why, his soul! That was guaranteed “as a spoil” for him. (Read Jeremiah 45:5.) Relatively few people were spared. Who? Those who obeyed divine direction to fall away to, that is, surrender to, the Chaldeans. (Jer. 21:9; 38:2) Some may wonder, ‘Was that all they were given for their obedience?’
9 Well, imagine the state of Jerusalem during the Babylonian siege. Jerusalem was slowly seared in the heat of that siege. In contrast, Sodom was overthrown in a moment, so to speak. In a sense, Sodom’s destruction might be said to have been easier to bear. (Lam. 4:6) Baruch recorded the prophecy that the inhabitants of Jerusalem were to die by the sword, by famine, or by pestilence. Then he must have seen that fulfilled. The food supply in Jerusalem hit rock bottom. What a shock to be in a city where mothers, who are by nature “compassionate,” boiled and ate their own children! (Lam. 2:20; 4:10; Jer. 19:9) Yet, Baruch survived. Yes, amid such turmoil, life itself was a spoil, like a reward to victors after a battle. Clearly, Baruch must have accepted and followed the divine counsel not to seek “great things.” And he won Jehovah’s favor, as his survival testifies.—Jer. 43:5-7.
WILL YOU SEEK “GREAT THINGS”?
10 Although Baruch was busy doing God’s will, for a time he struggled with a desire for “great things.” Jehovah warned him of the danger, and he was saved from spiritual disaster and from physical death. Could we, like Baruch, be tempted and perhaps overwhelmed by desires deep down in our heart, even while we are active in serving Jehovah?
11 For Baruch, making a name for himself might have been a real temptation. Can you imagine him even wondering: ‘Will I be able to keep my job as “the secretary”? Might I achieve an even higher office?’ Now, how about us? Ask yourself, ‘Do I have “ambitions,” maybe ones securely guarded in my heart, to make a success of a worldly career now or in the near future?’ Some younger Christians might ponder the question, ‘Could the prospect of gaining prestige and financial security through scholastic achievements lure me into seeking “great things” for myself?’
12 A brother now serving at world headquarters was 15 when he was offered a scholarship to a university. To his teachers’ dismay, he did not accept that offer, preferring a career as a pioneer. Still, his love for learning never left him. He became a missionary on a remote island. There he had to learn a language spoken by a little over 10,000 people. There was no dictionary in that language, so he compiled a glossary on his own. He eventually mastered the language and was assigned to translate some of our Christian publications. Later, the glossary that he compiled was used as a basis for the first dictionary in that language. He once told a large audience at a district convention: “If I had accepted the university education, whatever academic works I accomplished would have been for my own glory. As it is, I have no secular qualification whatsoever. So I do not get the credit for what I have done. All the credit goes to Jehovah.” (Prov. 25:27) What do you think of the choice he made when he was 15? Over the years, he has enjoyed many privileges among God’s people. In your case, how do you want to use your talents? Rather than seeking your own glory, are you determined to use them to praise Jehovah?
13 There is a related danger: seeking “great things” for or through ones we love and may influence. You have likely seen worldly parents maneuver matters so that their child achieves more in life than they did or becomes someone about whom they can boast. Perhaps you have heard comments like these: “I don’t want him (or her) to have to work as hard as I’ve had to” or “I want my child to go to a university so that he’ll have an easier life.” Christian parents could have similar feelings. Granted, a person might say, ‘I’m not seeking great things for myself.’ But could he be doing so vicariously, that is, through someone else, a son or a daughter? As Baruch might have been tempted to seek prominence via his position or career, a parent might inwardly seek such through the achievements of his offspring. Yet, would not “the examiner of hearts” realize this, just as he did with Baruch? (Prov. 17:3) Should we not ask God to examine our innermost thoughts, as David did? (Read Psalm 26:2; Jeremiah 17:9, 10.) Jehovah might use various means, such as this discussion of Baruch, to alert us to the danger of seeking “great things.”
What was one possible way that Baruch was seeking “great things”? What lesson do you see in this?
THE TRAP OF “VALUABLE THINGS”
14 Consider the possibility that Baruch’s “great things” were material riches. As noted earlier, had Baruch been deeply attached to his possessions and properties in Judah, he would probably have had a hard time obeying the divine command to surrender to the Chaldeans. You have likely seen that the rich man often relies on his “valuable things,” but the Bible confirms that the protection provided by such things is “in his imagination.” (Prov. 18:11) All of Jehovah’s servants can benefit from reminding themselves of the balanced view of material things expressed in his Word. (Read Proverbs 11:4.) Yet, some may reason, ‘Why not enjoy a bit of what the world has to offer?’
15 Attachment to belongings could lead a Christian to have a longing for things that are part of a passing system of things. That did not prove to be so with Jeremiah or Baruch. Years later, Jesus gave a warning to people living “when the Son of man is to be revealed.” Jesus told them: “Remember the wife of Lot.” It would be just as valid to urge Christians: ‘Remember Jeremiah and Baruch.’ (Luke 17:30-33) If we were to cultivate a strong attachment to material things, it could be hard for us to apply Jesus’ words. But do not forget—Baruch took to heart God’s warning and stayed alive as a result.
16 Consider the situation of the brothers in Romania during the Communist regime. While raiding the homes of Witnesses, government agents sometimes seized personal belongings, especially things that they could sell. (Lam. 5:2) Many brothers and sisters under that regime were willing to lose their possessions. Some had to leave behind their belongings and property when they were relocated; still, they kept their integrity to Jehovah. If faced with such a test, will you allow your attachment to material things to get in the way of your maintaining loyalty to God?—2 Tim. 3:11.
17 It is noteworthy that Jeremiah and Baruch received support from some of their contemporaries. Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of Josiah, when Jeremiah was serving as a prophet. What would the latter have thought about the words we find at Zephaniah 1:18? (Read.) And can you not picture Jeremiah sharing that inspired insight with Baruch? Another contemporary was Ezekiel, who was taken captive to Babylon in 617 B.C.E. Some of his activities and messages related directly to the Jews who were back in their homeland, so Jeremiah likely learned what Ezekiel said or did and vice versa. That would include the words recorded at Ezekiel 7:19. (Read.) Just as Jeremiah and Baruch could benefit from those inspired words, so can we. People will call out to their gods to save them on Jehovah’s day. Still, neither their gods nor their wealth will save them.—Jer. 2:28.
WILL YOU RECEIVE “YOUR SOUL AS A SPOIL”?
18 We need to remember that what Jehovah has promised as a spoil is our “soul.” Even if a few of his servants perish in the persecution that may come during “the great tribulation” when the political horns of the wild beast turn against religion, those faithful ones will not really have lost out. Their “soul” is guaranteed to live again to enjoy “the real life,” in the new world. (Rev. 7:14, 15; 1 Tim. 6:19) We can rest assured, however, that most of God’s servants who prove faithful at that time will come out of the great tribulation. You can be sure that when God brings calamity against the nations, no faithful one will be among “those slain by Jehovah.”—Jer. 25:32, 33.
19 Some may find it sobering to think that they might survive with only their “soul” as a spoil, but that actually should be no disappointment at all. Recall that while people of Jerusalem were dying from the famine, Jehovah preserved Jeremiah alive. How? King Zedekiah put Jeremiah in custody in the Courtyard of the Guard and had him provided with “a round loaf of bread . . . daily from the street of the bakers, until all the bread was exhausted from the city.” (Jer. 37:21) And Jeremiah survived! Jehovah can use whatever means he chooses to sustain his people. But sustain his people he will, for their prospect of everlasting life is guaranteed. Baruch survived the destruction of Jerusalem by not “seeking great things.” Comparably, we can look forward to surviving Armageddon to praise Jehovah with our “soul” as a spoil that can be enjoyed endlessly.
Why is it the sensible course today, not to seek “great things,” but to look to receive our “soul” as a spoil?
1, 2. (a) In the fourth year of Jehoiakim, what problem did Baruch face? (b) How did Jehovah help Baruch?
3. What was at the root of Baruch’s spiritual problem?
4, 5. Why might Baruch’s “great things” have involved fame and prestige, and why was Jehovah’s warning appropriate?
6, 7. If Baruch’s “great things” centered on material possessions, what parallels could we consider?
8, 9. Why would you say that Baruch’s receiving his soul as a spoil was significant?
10, 11. How does the account of Baruch relate to our day and to us personally?
12. How did one brother seek great things for Jehovah, and what is your opinion of his choice?
13. Why should some parents ponder the challenge Baruch faced?
14, 15. How might riches become “great things” in our case?
16. Relate a situation in which God’s servants kept material things in their proper place.
17. How might some contemporaries of Jeremiah and Baruch have been of help to them?
18. Whose “soul” should we want to receive as a spoil, and how can we do so?
19. In what ways did considering the examples of Jeremiah and Baruch strengthen your determination to avoid seeking “great things” for yourself?
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Choose what is really valuable (Compare page 46.)