JEREMIAH AND THE BURNING WORD

jehoiakim-burns-scroll

Jeremiah 36

As we begin to look at Jeremiah 36, we note that it is yet another misplaced chapter; misplaced in the sense that its events actually occurred much earlier than the events of its surrounding chapters. The story in chapter 36 did not take place during the siege or the fall of Jerusalem, but years earlier.

This is an interesting and an important chapter in the Bible because we get a glimpse of how the book of Jeremiah came to be as we have it in our hands today. We learn how Jeremiah wrote his book, what he used to write it, how he selected a scribe and the actual dictation of the book. No other book in the Bible gives us insights like this.

One of the tragedies of Jeremiah’s life and ministry must have been his awful sense of rejection. He was a faithful preacher of God’s Word, yet that Word was constantly rejected by his people. Of course we know it was God they were really rejecting, but Jeremiah was only human and there is a reason why we call him “the weeping prophet.” But of all the rejection Jeremiah faced, none was as bad as the day the king burned the Word of God.

Chapter 36 also marks a turning point in the career of Jeremiah, on a positive note. Up until this chapter, Jeremiah was fairly well-known only in Judah. But with the recording of all his prophecies, the prophet Jeremiah would become a world-wide influence. Literally, with the events of chapter 36, Jeremiah became a prophet for the ages.

1. Jeremiah’s instruction

The incidents in this chapter took place during the fourth year of Jehoikim, meaning we know exactly when they happened: 605 BC, long before the events of the surrounding chapters. So what we are reading here is a sort of “flashback.” How far back? All the way back to chapter 25.

“Take a scroll and write on it all the words I have spoken to you concerning Israel, Judah and all the other nations from the time I began speaking to you in the reign of Josiah till now. Perhaps when the people of Judah hear about every disaster I plan to inflict on them, they will each turn from their wicked ways; then I will forgive their wickedness and their sin.” (verses 2, 3)

God had given Jeremiah some very specific instructions. The way the story unfolds, we are obviously reading an eye witness account, probably that eye witness was the ever-faithful Baruch.

God’s instructions were simple, and as you can imagine, would take a remarkable memory! From the day God called the prophet to prophesy until “now,” Jeremiah had to record on a scroll the messages God gave him. That’s a lot sermons to remember over at least a twenty year ministry. But God wouldn’t ask anybody to do something they are incapable of doing. Either Jeremiah had an extraordinary memory, or God would enable him to recall the messages. Perhaps it was a combination of both. Jeremiah was an amazing man who served an amazing God.

Like the Gospel of Jesus Christ, what we read in Jeremiah was a revelation from Heaven itself. And like the Gospel, it was given in mercy. It’s really amazing the lengths God went to in order to rescue His people from their destructive course. The eternal love God has for His errant people! It is stunning to read through the whole book of Jeremiah and consider the myriad of ways God used to reach them. It reminds us of another prophet’s words:

What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? (Isaiah 5:4)

2. The message heard, the message rejected

After they put the scroll in the room of Elishama the secretary, they went to the king in the courtyard and reported everything to him. The king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and Jehudi brought it from the room of Elishama the secretary and read it to the king and all the officials standing beside him. (verses 20, 21)

Normally hearing the Word of God is a privilege. This was a critical time for the king, if ever he needed the Word of God, it was right now. God’s time is always the right time. Jehoiakim needed a Word from the Lord.

But he did not receive it. In fact, he was openly hostile to it. The fact is, the king had absolutely no interest in spiritual reform. In this way, he was the antithesis to his father, King Josiah. His father was an immensely godly king. Not so his son. He was interested only in yoking up with Egypt against Babylon, a losing strategy if ever there was one. Jehoiakim’s officials seemed to know what his reaction would be to Jeremiah’s message, and so they tried to keep the scroll away from him. But the king wanted to hear what Jeremiah had written.

Whenever Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll, the king cut them off with a scribe’s knife and threw them into the firepot, until the entire scroll was burned in the fire. The king and all his attendants who heard all these words showed no fear, nor did they tear their clothes. (verses 23, 24)

The more the king heard the Word of the Lord, the more his anger burned within him. As the scroll unrolled, the king took his penknife, cut it up, and burned it. It was during the winter season, so he had a fire going in his quarters. He made himself comfortable by burning the Word of God.

This was a daring act of arrogant blasphemy and utter contempt for God’s Word. It seems as though the court officials were completely indifferent to the king’s burning of the scroll. They were obviously as far from God as the king was. It’s quite a contrast to what happened when a similar thing took place during the king’s father’s reign:

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. (2 Kings 22:11)

We find what Jehoiakim did to God’s Word deplorable. But how do we treat it? Probably no Christian would think to take a penknife to the Bible and cut out the passages he didn’t like. Of course, Thomas Jefferson did just that! But most of us don’t really cut out passages from the Bible that we don’t like or that make us uncomfortable. We often do it in our minds, though. We take a spiritual penknife to verses and teachings that we don’t like. The thing is, though, when we ignore parts of the Bible of we don’t like, we are, in fact, ignoring the God of the Bible. You cannot separate God from the Bible; God from His Word. The paper, or the preacher, may be cut to pieces, but nobody can silence the the Word of God!

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

People, even Christians, may ignore the Word of God, but it will always stand. It will always be vindicated.

3. The message received

So Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to the scribe Baruch son of Neriah, and as Jeremiah dictated, Baruch wrote on it all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them. (verse 32)

Sometime after the king had his way with the scroll, God instructed Jeremiah to get another scroll ready! The force of God’s message was only strengthened by the king’s resistance. God will never change His mind or methods just because of the opposition and hatred of men.

His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 5:40-42)

There is no more foolish a man than the one who opposes the Word of God! No human being can stop and silence God’s Word for very long. It will be heard. It will be proclaimed. God’s Word reveals God’s will, and who is so arrogant as to think they can change God’s will about anything? A man may ignore or destroy God’s Word, but that same Word will judge him. You can’t change the weather by ignoring a bad weather forecast. And you can’t make your life better by ignoring God’s Word. In fact, you do so at your peril. This is something the king learned the hard way:

Therefore, this is what the Lord says about Jehoiakim king of Judah: He will have no one to sit on the throne of David; his body will be thrown out and exposed to the heat by day and the frost by night. I will punish him and his children and his attendants for their wickedness; I will bring on them and those living in Jerusalem and the people of Judah every disaster I pronounced against them, because they have not listened. ‘ ” (verses 30, 31)

There is a terrible price to pay for opposing the Word of God. You don’t have to cut it up and burn it to oppose it. Jehoiakim was punished, not because he destroyed the scroll, but because he did not listen, he did not pay attention, to the words written on it. Ignoring God’s Word is a very subtle form of opposition.

You may not like parts of the Word of God, but you don’t have the luxury of ignoring them. In the end, you’ll come out much farther ahead if simply listen to and obey God’s Word.

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