“As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words were afraid, nor did they tear their garments.”
In Jeremiah 36 there is an amazing account of Jehoiakim, the wicked king of Judah, actually burning the Word of the Lord. Without getting into too much of the back story, Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, did evil in the sight of the Lord (2 Kings 23:36), he “filled Jerusalem with innocent blood (2 Kings 24:5), and he even rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, leading to his capture and imprisonment. Throughout the writings of Jeremiah, we also see that Jehoiakim had a strong dislike for the prophet of God.
Jeremiah had been threatened with death, banned from the house of the Lord, he had been ordered not to prophecy, all under Jehoiakim’s authority. It is surprising then, that in chapter 36, the Lord tells Jeremiah to write down all the words that the Lord had spoken against Israel and Judah, so that the house of Judah would hear, “so that everyone may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and sin” (Jer. 36:3). After all the rebellion, after all the idolatry, after all the wickedness, God is still merciful and sends His word that they may turn from their sins and be healed.
We are told then that Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe, writes down all of the Lord’s words that Jeremiah had spoken, and takes the scroll to the house of the Lord. When the scroll is read before the people, I believe the kings officials are grieved for their sins. They are overcome with fear (Jer. 36:15), and they make plans to read the word to the king, after ensuring that Baruch and Jeremiah are safely hidden away.
However, as the scroll was read to Jehoiakim, “the king would cut (the columns) off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire… Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words were afraid, nor did they tear their garments” (Jer 36:23-24). In an ultimate act of defiance and rebellion, Jehoiakim destroyed the very word that was meant to give him life. Though the word of the Lord convicted him of his sin, it was only so that he and all the nation could turn from sin and be forgiven.
As the chapter concludes, Jeremiah has Baruch write another scroll with all of the words of the Lord. This time, however, there is no promise of forgiveness given to Jehoiakim, only one of judgment and doom.
I highly doubt that anyone reading this would ever be so defiant as to cut passages out of the Bible and burn them. But there are more subtle acts of defiance that are still as damning.
- We bury our Bibles – not in the ground – but under layers of dust, under piles of other books. Which is worse, to hear the word and throw it into the fire, or to simply stop listening to the word at all? An old adage that I heard long ago says, “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.” We know that when we read it, the Bible will convict us of our sin, and call us to the righteousness of Christ, and so we don’t even pick it up to read it.
- We edit the word – In order to justify ourselves, we often find ways to change the meaning of words or to relegate whole arguments to “cultural context.” We’ve come to point where whole denominations can read “therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh…” (Gen 2:24), and, with a straight face, say that marriage can be between two people of any gender. Is this not a greater sin? Jehoiakim didn’t try to twist the words of God, he just threw them in the fire. Selectively reading or editing God’s word is the practice of the Devil, who first asked, “Did God really say…?”
The word of God comes to us to show us our sin, not that we would be overcome with guilt, but that we would be saved through our redeemer Jesus Christ. Do not neglect His word, but daily read it, hear it, and let Him put to death in you the sin that separates you from God. Do not try to justify yourself in the light of Scripture by twisting or overlooking God’s word, but allow His word to cut to the very core of your being (Heb 4:12), revealing your sin, but also cleansing you by His grace in Jesus Christ. Come to the living Word, Jesus Christ, and know the forgiveness He freely gives to all who receive Him by faith.