Jeremiah 36=An Arrogant King Burns the Scroll
Bible Background: The book of Jeremiah has been through quite a few edits and additions. Chapters 30-31 are nicknamed “the Book of Comfort”. We’ll get to them in Week 6 (and end on a ‘high’ note!) Chapter 36 is where Judah’s fate is sealed-by the King’s arrogant refusal to take to heart the words of Jeremiah and God’s calll to repentance. Things are tense and bleak, here.
Digging Deeper: 1. We start on an interesting note about the writing down of God’s words on a scroll! That helps us understand how books of the Old Testament came to be written! Prior to the time of Jeremiah, stories/truths/teachings were mainly shared orally. (Most people could not read and write, and there were few materials to write on!) So here, God instructs Jeremiah to write everything on a scroll (sheepskin ‘pages’ sewn together and rolled up.) And then, since Jeremiah has been banned from speaking at the Temple, his assistant Baruch will go in his place, and read the scroll publicly.
2. Baruch reads the scroll on a day of “fasting”, when the people are supposed to be showing their humble devotion to God, and their sorrow for sins. He has a wide audience, and the message is that people should turn from their evil ways and turn to God! (Most of chapter 36 describes the drama around the scroll being read…to the crowd, to the King’s court, and finally to the King. We don’t really get much of the actual content!)
3. Somebody goes and tells the King’s officials about this scroll, this message. So Baruch is summoned to read it to the King’s officials. They are alarmed! They ask how he got these words. They tell him that he and Jeremiah need to go into hiding (for their safety.)
4. Now the scroll is read in the presence of King Jehoiakim. And he responds in the most callous, arrogant way someone could: He cuts off each column of scroll after it is read, and throws it into the fire. Some of his advisors ask him not to do that! But the King will not hear what he doesn’t want to hear. He puts out an arrest warrant for Jeremiah and Baruch. But now we’re told that “God hid them!”
5. Later in the chapter, God instructs Jeremiah and Baruch to write another copy of the scroll. And they add words to it. Scholars think the first scroll likely contained most of the words of warning and judgement of Jeremiah 1–25, and that the second scroll re-wrote those words and added other sayings to them (like Jeremiah 39–52). One obvious lesson here, is that the Word of the LORD cannot be stopped, burned, silenced. And all generations must learn to listen to God’s message, spoken through the prophets, through the written word, and through the living Word-Jesus!
6. How do these ancient words speak to us and our world 2600 years later? Think of those things we do not want to hear: We don’t really like to hear our doctor say: “You really need to do….”. We don’t like to hear our significant other say: “Unless you do thus and so, I’m outta here!” In this nation, many of us do not like to hear hard questions about our history, our present, our party, our policies. (And Presidents and others in power do not like their authority or their truthfulness to be questioned!) And most of us do not want to hear “you really must change your ways!”
How do we feel about truth-tellers? Do we listen to people who come off sounding like Jeremiah? Do we believe Jesus who is quoted as saying “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free?”
What’s one subject affecting life in this church/nation/world that you really don’t want to hear about? What would it take to open your ears, mind, and heart a bit?