The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah faced immense opposition, and in Jeremiah 36:20-25 is recorded an interesting story of King Jehoiakim’s attempts to destroy the prophet’s words, and by extension, God’s words. The king was unable to get his hands on Jeremiah, whose allies helped him to hide, so the king takes a different approach:
“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.”
This wasn’t an impulsive, knee-jerk reaction to God’s word, but a deliberate, sustained act of rebellion. This took time, and there’s almost a ceremony to it, as if daring God to stop him. Many Christians today would be outraged if they witnessed something like this. People in positions of authority disrespect God regularly, but imagine if the head of your country burned the Bible publicly on TV, and nobody stopped them, or even objected? Sure, in modern times, people might object on their blog, on social media, or even on smaller TV and radio outlets, but in Jehoiakim’s example, nobody was able to challenge him. He “got away with it.”
This brings up the question of: why does God allow things like this to happen? I’ll suggest a question in response: Would it be a stronger testimony of God’s sovereignty if He had struck King Jehoiakim dead on the spot, or is it a stronger testimony that Jeremiah’s words still exist today all around the world? If the second option is better, the next question is why do we sometimes feel such outrage and lash out (perhaps on our own blog or Facebook page) at such acts? Do we trust God to deal with it, or do we worry that Jehoiakim is right – maybe God doesn’t care?
Part of the scroll Jehoiakim burned may have included these words of Jeremiah about the king himself: “With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried, dragged and dumped beyond the gates of Jerusalem.” And “He shall have none to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night.” Therefore God knew both that justice would be done to Jehoiakim, and also that his burning of the scroll had only symbolic and temporary effect. In contrast, God’s justice and God’s word are eternally immutable and effective. As Isaiah said: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
There’s also another question for us: if God had chosen in His sovereignty to redeem Jehoiakim, would we be angry like Jonah at the repentance of Nineveh, or would we praise God for His profound and measureless grace? The same grace that brought Jeremiah’s words back from the futile fire pot of King Jehoiakim. The grace that was purchased by Christ on the cross.
This word of God will stand as well: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:19-21
Do we believe it?