So they went into the court to the king, having put the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the secretary, and they reported all the words to the king. Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary. And Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king. It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him. 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 was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. And the king commanded Jerahmeel the king’s son and Seraiah the son of Azriel and Shelemiah the son of Abdeel to seize Baruch the secretary and Jeremiah the prophet, but the Lord hid them. – Jeremiah 36:20-26 ESV
This section of chapter 36 provides a sharp contrast between Jehoiakim, the current king of Judah, and that of Josiah, his father. During the reign of Josiah, when the scroll containing the law of God was found during renovation work on the temple, he had reacted quite differently to its reading.
Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a scroll.” Shaphan read it out loud before the king. When the king heard the words of the law scroll, he tore his clothes. – 2 Kings 22:10-11 NLT
Then the king sent, and all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem were gathered to him. And the king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant. – 2 Kings 23:1-3 NLT
Quite a difference. Josiah had received the word of God with fear and reverence. He had recognized the sins of the people and understood the gravity of their rebellion against God. And he took full responsibility for it.
But what about Jehoiakim? How did he respond when he heard the words of God as spoken to Jeremiah the prophet and recorded by Baruch?
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. – Jeremiah 36:23 NLT
Arrogantly and fearlessly, he personally burned the scroll containing the words of God – piece by piece – until it was completely destroyed. And he did this even as Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah begged him to stop. But the king and his advisors were completely unmoved by the warnings of God contained in the scroll. Slowly but surely, the king threw them in the fire, to be consumed, and to illustrate his disdain for them. And the text makes it very clear that, “Neither the king nor his attendants showed any signs of fear or repentance at what they heard” (Jeremiah 36:24 NLT).
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. – Proverbs 9:10 ESV
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7 ESV
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. – Psalm 14:1 ESV
These verses provide a vivid description of what is going on in the winter room of the palace as Jehoiakim slowly destroys the words of God found on the scroll. He has no fear of God. He is a fool. And, in reality, he is acting as if there is not God. But he was not alone. The prophet Ezekiel was given a vision by God, in which he was able to see hidden things going on in Judah, that no one was aware of, but God.
“Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of pictures? For they say, ‘The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land.’” – Ezekiel 8:12 NLT
The elders of the people were guilty of committing sins against God, in secret, and justifying their actions because they believed that God was unable to see them. In essence, they were acting as if there was no God. They were fools. They were acting just like the wicked described in Psalm 10: “The wicked think, “God isn’t watching us! He has closed his eyes and won’t even see what we do!” You see this attitude reflected throughout the psalms, revealing a disturbing trend among God’s people.
“The Lord isn’t looking,” they say,
“and besides, the God of Israel doesn’t care.” – Psalm 94:7 NLT
But they were wrong. Their assessment of God’s sovereignty and omniscience was way off the mark. And God lets them know it.
Think again, you fools!
When will you finally catch on?
Is he deaf—the one who made your ears?
Is he blind—the one who formed your eyes?
He punishes the nations—won’t he also punish you?
He knows everything—doesn’t he also know what you are doing?
The Lord knows people’s thoughts;
he knows they are worthless! – Psalm 94:8-11 NLT
God was watching as Jehoiakim threw the pieces of the scroll on the fire. As each section containing the words of God was consumed, God’s righteous anger intensified. And the fate of Judah became more permanently sealed. Rather than repent, Jehoiakim sent men to arrest Jeremiah and Baruch. Not content with the destruction of the scroll, he wanted to get his hands on the ones who had produced it. He thought that, by eliminating Jeremiah, his problems would be over. He wrongly assumed that his nemesis was a man, but in reality, Jehoiakim was choosing to do battle with the Lord of Hosts, God Almighty. And that was a battle he was not going to win. He could refuse to listen to the words of God. He could even burn them in a fire. He could attempt to eliminate the prophet of God. But he could not make God go away. And none of his efforts would alter the plan of God one iota.
Think about it, you rebels!
Remember what I accomplished in antiquity!
Truly I am God, I have no peer;
I am God, and there is none like me,
who announces the end from the beginning
and reveals beforehand what has not yet occurred,
who says, ‘My plan will be realized,
I will accomplish what I desire,’
who summons an eagle from the east,
from a distant land, one who carries out my plan.
Yes, I have decreed,
yes, I will bring it to pass;
I have formulated a plan,
yes, I will carry it out. – Isaiah 46:8-11 NLT
Jehoiakim was a king. He had a palace. He had some semblance of power and authority. He could strike fear into the hearts of men. But he was not God. He was no match for God. While he could burn a scroll in a fire, God could consume an entire nation with a single word. He could bring destruction in the form of the Babylonians and reduce Jehoiakim’s palace and capital to ashes. But in his pride, Jehoiakim acted as if God didn’t exist. In his foolishness, he assumed God didn’t see and, even if He did, He wouldn’t act. He was wrong. Dead wrong. And God was about to let him know just how wrong he was.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.