Jeremiah 35-36

Selective Hearing.

“Each time Jehudi finished reading three or four columns, the king took a knife and cut off that section of the scroll. He then threw it into the fire, section by section, until the whole scroll was burned up. Neither the king nor his attendants showed any signs of fear or repentance at what they heard. Even when Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah begged the king not to burn the scroll, he wouldn’t listen.” ­– Jeremiah 36:23-25 NLT

Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of our nation, believed that the ethical system of Jesus was the finest the world has ever seen. The only problem was that he did not believe in much of what was in the Bible. So he decided to create his own version, and called it “The Jefferson Bible.” In it, he sought to separate the ethical teachings of Jesus from the religious dogma and other supernatural elements that were added to the account by the four Gospels. He presented these teachings, along with the essential events of the life of Jesus, in one continuous narrative. In essence, Jefferson cut out what he didn’t like and left in those elements he agreed with. Which is exactly what we find King Jehoiakim doing in our passage in Jeremiah today. Jeremiah had been instructed by God to write down every single prophesy God had given him over the years on a single scroll. Then Jeremiah had his servant, Baruch, read the contents of that scroll in the hearing of all the people at the Temple. Eventually, the scroll made its way to the throne room of the king where it was read to Jehoiakim. His reaction? As each section was read, he would use a knife to cut it up and burn it on a fire, until the entire document was consumed. Jehoiakim, unlike Jefferson, found NOTHING he could agree with in the words of God. He refused them all. But he was going to find out that rejecting the words of God did not eliminate their power. God was still going to do what He said He would do. Jehoiakim’s little show of rebellion did not remove the consequences for his sin.

It’s amazing how easy it is for us to ignore or blatantly reject the words of God because we don’t like what they have to say. There are probably certain books of the Bible that you shy away from because you find them convicting or difficult to read. You may even choose to read only those passages that you find encouraging or non-convicting. That’s a big reason most people stay away from the Old Testament. It presents a God who is too harsh and demanding. There is too much talk about rules and obedience to commands. So we gravitate to the New Testament, and particularly the Gospels. Even the letters of Paul can be a bit intimidating, requiring way too much effort and energy for our tastes. So we develop selective reading, and therefore, selective obedience. Our Bible may be intact, but like Jefferson, we only read and respond to those parts we find agreeable.

God was looking for commitment. He even used the Recabites as an example. These were a group of Jews who had made a covenant with the patriarch of their family not to drink wine, buy land, plant crops, but to live in tents all the days of their lives. And for over 200 years they had faithfully kept their word. God had Jeremiah attempt to get them to break their vow by offering them wine. God knew they would refuse – and they did. He used them as an illustration of the kind of commitment He was looking for from His own people. The Recabites could have easily accepted Jeremiah’s offer of the wine, justifying their actions by saying that they had been faithful for 200 years, so what would a little sip hurt now. They could have excused their actions by saying that they would continue to keep the other aspects of their covenant, refusing to buy land and plant crops, and they would keep on living in tents. They could have compromised. But they didn’t. They knew that to break one aspect of their agreement was to violate it all. Jehoiakim could burn the scroll in an effort to do away with God’s word, but it would not change a thing. He could have buried the scroll, refused to listen when it was read, or killed the one who wrote it. But none of that would have changed the outcome. God’s Word stands. We can ignore it, refuse to read it, selectively obey it, or try to interpret according to our own standards, but none of that changes the content. God wants commitment and obedience. He wants repentance and dependence. Jefferson’s Bible was just that – his Bible. It was no longer the Word of God, because Jefferson had removed the words of God. But God’s Word remained unchanged. His commands and claims were undiminished. God’s Word is unchanging.

Father, forgive me for the times in which I attempt to ignore Your Word or twist it to say what I want it to say. Give me the strength to obey it faithfully. May I read it all and obey it all. May I see it all as divinely inspired and applicable to my life today. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

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