The Expository Files


Burning the Scroll

 Jeremiah 36:23

"The king cut it with the scribe's knife and cast it into the fire" (Jeremiah 36:23)

It was Judah's last hour. Destruction was coming because of their wickedness and idolatry, and God had sent Jeremiah to give His people one last chance to repent. Finally, He tells Jeremiah to "Take a scroll of a book and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel, against Judah, and against all the nations..."(Jer 36:2). Why did God try this last time? "It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the adversities which I purpose to bring upon them, that everyone may turn from his evil way, that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin"(v. 3). The scroll was one last chance for Judah.

Ultimately, the scroll gets to the king. It is read in his presence. Imagine a king hearing that his kingdom will be taken from him and his city destroyed. "And it happened, when Jehudi had read three or four columns, that the king cut it with the scribe's knife and cast it into the fire that was on the earth, until all the scroll was consumed in the fire that was on the heart" (Jer 36:23). He burned God's word!

King Jehoiakim had an unwillingness to receive God's word. It stung too bad and said things he didn't want to hear. Maybe he thought if he destroyed the words, they wouldn't come true. Perhaps he trusted that he could politically maneuver a way by which he could avoid such a fate. Whatever his reasoning, it resulted in him refusing to hear God. The problem of being unwilling to hear God did not end with Jehoiakim. Even today, we can burn the scroll of God's word by flatly refusing to submit to God.

Many in denominational error feel no need to change, no matter what God says. "I'm happy where I am." "You believe your way, I'll believe mine." "My parents belonged to ___ denomination, so it's good enough for me." In such a state, what good does Bible teaching do? Can't we just burn our Bibles? Great men of God are willing to change when wrong! Apollos, when he was explained "the way of God more accurately"(Acts 18:26), was willing to change his teaching and life. Paul, when confronted by the Lord on the road to Damascus, was willing to change his life completely (Acts 9:4-6). Just because we believe something doesn't mean we're right! Just because we don't like the truth doesn't change it! Was ignorance bliss for King Jehoiakim? To refuse to change at God's bidding is like burning the scroll, hoping it will make the truth disappear.

Often we begin to think we know better than God. In discussions about the Bible, often scriptural arguments are countered with statements like "I just believe..." Who cares what we believe if it contradicts God's word? When Peter was asked, "What shall we do?", he answered, "Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..."(Acts 2:37-38). Yet many teachers today, when asked the same question, give a radically different answer than Peter! They say "Receive Jesus into your heart and say a sinner's prayer." Should inspired Peter's answer win or should our answer? Why would we think we know better than God how to be saved? God says "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9). Hear Jeremiah: "O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jer 10:23). How about Solomon? "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Prov 14:12). God says He knows far, far better than us! Yet when we refuse to hear because we think we know better, we might as well burn the scroll!

Yet even if we understand we must change and humbly submit to God's law, we still must examine this principle closely. Don't we often refuse to face our sin because we like it? Perhaps our pleasure is to gossip, so we don't ever read passages that discuss talebearers and speaking evil. We get angry at the preacher who brings them up. When others mention it, we quickly change the subject. After all, gossip isn't the worst sin, is it? Sure, sin is bad, but this is my pet sin! Aren't we burning the scroll?

We also can shy away from difficult commands. Go to my sinning brother? (Gal 6:1, Matt 18:15-17) Forgive? (Eph 4:32) Visit the needy? (James 1:27, Matt 25:31-46) Those are hard! Surely someone else will just go see the sinning brother. Maybe that person will forget that mean thing I did. I'll go visit when I get some free time. Isn't making excuses not to do God's will the same as rejecting it outright? Wouldn't it be easier if we just cut those passages out of our Bibles and burned them?

In our reading of the Bible, we can often fall into the trap of reading to reinforce what we already believe rather than to find what God is saying. Every passage that tells of trouble and destruction is speaking to someone else! Only the comforting passages are for me! Perhaps we read to simply have more ammunition to defeat those in error. Is Bible knowledge as simple as finding passages that will win us arguments? "God...has in these last days spoken to us by His Son" (Heb 1:1-2). Don't we want to hear what He has to say to us? Can we even be reading the Bible and still not be doing anything more than burning the scroll?

King Jehoiakim was punished for his insolence. We can learn from his mistake. Ignoring the truth won't make it go away. Jesus said, "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him-the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). We must be brutally honest in our handling of the word of God. We must humbly submit to Him in everything (Eph 5:24). We must confront our own flaws and problems, do our best to obey even God's difficult commands, and handle God's word properly (2 Tim 2:15). May we ever listen to God and never burn the scroll!

By Jacob Hudgins
From Expository Files 14.9; September 2007