Jehoiakim Burns the Word of God
“As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire … until the entire scroll was consumed… . Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments” (vv. 23–24).- Jeremiah 36
Numbers 14:18 tells us that “the LORD is slow to anger,” and the ministry of Jeremiah is one of the best examples of this in Scripture. Prior to the prophet’s work, God had already been putting up with Judah for hundreds of years, disciplining the nation for its sin but not bringing it to an end (2 Kings 18:13–37; 2 Chron. 33:1–20). Jeremiah did not come on the scene until 627 B.C., just before Judah went into exile, but even then God was patient for a few more decades, not handing Jerusalem over finally to the Babylonians until 586 B.C.
Given passages such as Jeremiah 36, we are amazed the Lord waited that long. Even after the events recorded therein, God gave Judah further opportunities to repent. Zedekiah, not Jehoiakim, was the last king of Judah before the exile, which means that the episode recorded in today’s passage occurred prior to the events of chapters 32–33 that we considered yesterday. The year was 605–604 B.C. and Babylon had just reasserted itself as the dominant power in the region, forcing Jehoiakim and the kings of the surrounding nations to pay him tribute (2 Kings 24:1a). Jehoiakim would revolt against Babylon three years later (vv. 1b–7), which demonstrates his stubborn rejection of God’s Word because Jeremiah had long prophesied about the enemy from the north—Babylon (Jer. 1:14; 6:1). Yet Jehoiakim showed disbelief in the Lord even before then. While it was yet possible to turn back to the Lord, when God showed grace in 605–604 B.C. by proving His Word via bringing Babylon to Judah’s edge, Jehoiakim attempted to destroy the words of the Lord by fire (36:23).
Baruch the son of Neriah (see 32:12), Jeremiah’s faithful scribe, put Jeremiah’s prophecies into writing, as we read in today’s passage. He even read them aloud to the Judahites when the officials had banned “that troublemaker Jeremiah” from ministering openly (36:1–10). When Baruch did so during Jehoiakim’s reign, the king turned down his chance to repent. In fact, his burning of Jeremiah’s words marked a turning point in the history of God’s people. The Judahites had long been guilty of idolatry, which generally consisted of the worship of other gods alongside Yahweh—a great sin indeed. But from one perspective, it was not the worst rejection of the one true God possible because some attention was paid to Him. Jehoiakim, however, defiantly, fearlessly, and foolishly said that he wanted nothing at all to do with Yahweh by burning Jeremiah’s scroll (vv. 23–25). Despite the wickedness of Judah’s previous kings, none of them had rejected the Lord so brazenly.
Jehoiakim tried to destroy the Word of God, showing the hardheartedness of king and people that made the exile inevitable. He was not the first ruler to try and destroy the Bible, and he would not be the last. But the endurance of God’s Word is seen in that Jeremiah’s words were not lost but rather preserved by the Lord at His command (Jer. 36:27–32). The preservation of Scripture throughout history is one proof that our God reigns.
Passages for Further Study