In our response to God, there often seems to be a ‘point of decision’ in our lives. Leading up to that point are opportunities to think about and consider the decision but inevitably a crisis point arrives when the decision must be made. If one actively rejects God, it becomes increasingly difficult, perhaps almost impossible to reverse that decision.
Atheistic determinists disagree. They say that there is no such thing as moral choice. We are bound by the genes we inherit and the environment in which we are conditioned. There is no moral choice. Thus, there is no room for judgment. Some Christians are determinists too: they argue that no one can choose. Only God can choose, they say. The trouble with this view is that it is not what we find in the bible! As members of humanity, we may have inherited a sin nature from Adam, but we retain the capability to make moral choices. Jeremiah chapter 36 gives us an example of one who was confronted with a moral choice. When he reached his ‘point of decision’ he chose to silence the truth and turn away from all that was good. Jehoiakim’s tragic decision should serve as both a lesson and a warning to us all.
- An opportunity to decide
Once again, Jeremiah wants us to be clear as to the timing of this event. It is the fourth year of the reign of King Jehoiakim. This king had the benefit of a godly father. Josiah became king when he was just 8 years old, but he soon became known as the king who cared about the God of his forefathers. Recognising the past failures of his people, he set about refurbishing the temple and during that time the book of the law was discovered. Josiah valued the reading of the law and acted on it. His son, Jehoiakim was now on the throne. He had shown little interest in the truth, but now he was to be confronted with the truth by Jeremiah. The prophet was instructed to take a scroll and record on it all that God had been saying to Judah over the past decades. The scroll was to summarise the message that Jeremiah had repeatedly given to Israel, Judah and the nations. God had plans to deal with the sin of the people by bringing judgment upon them through an invasion by the Babylonians. The message given to Jeremiah was neither easy nor palatable – the judgment would be severe, and the options would be few; surrender or die, life or death! Despite the repetition of this message, it seems that the Lord had in mind to bring the king to a point of decision. He could not ‘sit on the fence’ any longer.
This was not a pointless effort. I notice that many Christians today think that the preaching of the gospel is not about convincing people. Taking the determinist view, they believe that there is no moral choice available. They seem to see the preaching of the gospel as limited to an exercise in obedience (to God’s instruction) rather than an effort to being people to a point of decision. Since God has already decided who will be rescued (they believe) then the preaching of the gospel becomes a somewhat pointless exercise. This makes a mockery of the gospel as being good news. Imagine throwing a life line to a drowning man when you believe that he is destined to drown anyway? What’s the point of that! In Jeremiah 36, God is throwing another lifeline to King Jehoiakim and to the people of Judah: verse 3: ‘perhaps when the people of Judah hear about the disaster I plan to inflict on them, they will each turn from their wicked ways; then I will forgive their wickedness and sin.’
Having received the instruction to write, Jeremiah calls his secretary, Baruch and begins to dictate the word of God. All was written a scroll. The Hebrew script would have been written in columns – the complete book of Isaiah is of 54 columns (as found in the Dead Sea Scrolls – you can have a look at the whole scroll via this hyperlink: Isaiah). Once the scroll was complete, it was time to deliver the message! The trouble was that Jeremiah’s freedom had been restricted. This is often the way. There always seems to be opposition to truth and that opposition often adopts the tactic of silencing and discrediting those who speak truth. But God will not be silenced! If Jeremiah could not go, then Baruch should go. He was to select a time when the temple was filled with people gathering for a fast. There would be maximum exposure to the message. Why? Because:‘7Perhaps they will bring their petition before the Lord , and each will turn from his wicked ways, for the anger and wrath pronounced against this people by the Lord are great.” There was still a chance to decide to do the right thing.
- The people hear
Baruch faithfully carried out Jeremiah’s request. He was not entirely without friends. He shouted out the contents of the scroll from the rooms of Gemariah. It was Gemariah’s dad, Shaphan who read out the book of the law to king Josiah when it was found during the temple refurbishment. And it was Gemariah’s brother Ahikam who supported Jeremiah and rescued him from a murderous mob (chapter 26). Another brother of Gemariah, Elasah was entrusted with Jeremiah’s letter, sent to the exiles in Babylon. These were men who remain true amidst a wicked people. Will we remain true in our day of denial of truth? Verse 10: The words of the scroll were read, and the people heard! Verse 10: ‘From the room of Gemariah son of Shaphan the secretary, which was in the upper courtyard at the entrance of the New Gate of the temple, Baruch read to all the people at the Lord ‘s temple the words of Jeremiah from the scroll.’
There was a young man listening to the message – he was the son of Gemariah! Perhaps he had shown Baruch into the rooms of his father, his name was Micaiah. When he heard the message, I suspect with a sense of urgency, he immediately went to tell his father and his associates. One can imagine the concern perhaps with optimism too expressed in his voice as he recited the words of the Lord spoken through the pen of Jeremiah. It was a serious message of coming destruction, but there was hope: perhaps the people would indeed each turn from their wicked ways; then they would be forgiven for their wickedness and sin! (verse 3).
One can imagine the group of godly man as they heard the report of young Micaiah (amongst whom was his father, Gemariah). They had heard the summary from Micaiah, now they wanted to hear the entire message. The scroll was brought to them and they listened as Baruch read. As they listened, fear overtook them – we must inform the king! It’s of great importance to understand the source of what we believe and act on it. They questioned Baruch: the words did indeed come from the faithful prophet Jeremiah. It was time for action, but there was great danger. The king could easily have both Jeremiah and Baruch killed. Baruch must return to Jeremiah and they must hide and keep their location secret.
- The king hears the message
The news that there was an important written message from Jeremiah soon reached the ears of king Jehoiakim. The timing was in the 9th month of Jehoiakim’s 5th year as king. Jehoiakim would go on to reign for 11 years – it was midway through his reign. Would he give the rest of his time to do what was right? Perhaps this was indeed Jehoiakim’s moment of decision. The 9th month of Israel’s calendar was in the winter – perhaps around December. The king sat in his winter palace with a fire for warmth. He sent for Jehudi to fetch Jeremiah’s scroll. Jehudi proceeded to read out the contents of the scroll to the king and his officials. What a responsibility! As Jehudi read the columns of the scroll, the king stopped him and taking a knife, cut off the part that had just been read and tossed in it the fire. What a contrast to his father! When Josiah heard the words of the Lord, he was distraught, tore his clothes and at that moment decided that things in Judah would change. Jehoiakim knew exactly what he was doing and ignoring the pleas of Gemariah and others to desist, he proceeded to cut and burn, cut and burn, cut and burn until all the words have been heard and the scroll was no more! An order to arrest Jeremiah and Baruch was made. Jehoiakim had reached his point of decision, her heard the truth, he had every opportunity to listen, but he would not. What a foolish man! He had made his choice. What about you? Will you choose life or death?
God would not be silenced! Jeremiah was under the protection of the great God of the universe! He was given new instructions: ‘28“Take another scroll and write on it all the words that were on the first scroll, which Jehoiakim king of Judah burned up.’ Jehoiakim wanted this message silenced, but here we are today reading the same words as those recorded on Jeremiah’s scroll! Perhaps God has preserved this for our benefit!
There was also new message for king Jehoiakim: ‘30Therefore, this is what the Lord says about Jehoiakim king of Judah: He will have no one to sit on the throne of David; his body will be thrown out and exposed to the heat by day and the frost by night. 31I will punish him and his children and his attendants for their wickedness; I will bring on them and those living in Jerusalem and the people of Judah every disaster I pronounced against them, because they have not listened.’
What a tragic day for Judah. The effect would be far reaching. Notice that Jehoiakim would have ‘no one to sit on the throne of David.’ We’ve met a similar phrase before: in chapter 33, we read these words, ‘David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel (verse 17).’ We have on one hand a promise of God that there would always be a member of David’s family to sit on Israel’s throne, but through the sin of Jehoiakim there would be no descendent of Jehoiakim to sit on David’s throne. How could this be? It would be tempting to say that since Jehoiakim had rejected God’s message that somehow God had withdrawn his promise. The promise of ‘never failing to have a man,’ was however emphatic to say the least and was not accompanied with conditions. In fact, the Lord likened the certainty of his promise to the certainty that we have that the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening! It doesn’t get much more certain that that! We thus, cannot simply claim that this promise was withdrawn as a result of Jehoiakim’s blatant rejection of God’s written word. Perhaps Jeremiah himself wondered how God could simultaneously reject Jehoiakim’s royal lineage and yet never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel: we know that some of the prophets did search the scriptures with great care to understand God’s plans (1 Peter 1:10). The simple answer to this conundrum is that we must have faith! People today talk about ‘blind faith’ and equate faith with believing something that we know not to be true! They say belief in God is like belief in fairies at the bottom of the garden or belief in Father Christmas. This thinking is not only shallow and uninformed, it’s an insult to our intelligence! Our faith is both an evidence-based faith as well as a faith in a person. Because God has been demonstrated to be reliable, we can have confidence in his promises and statements even when they seem hard to reconcile. Some 600 years after the curse on Jehoiakim’s royal line, we discover that a line from David was indeed preserved – and it was fulfilled in the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. He could trace his royal line all the way back to king David but not through the line involving Jehoiakim: remarkably God had preserved a line through David’s son Nathan. Thus, Jehoiakim would indeed have no one to sit on the throne of David but God’s promise to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel did not fail!
Jehoiakim reached his point of decision and tragically rejected truth and attempted to silence the words of God. What will we do with the words of God to us?