The scroll of God is inspired
Jeremiah 36:1-3 – “And it came about in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, that this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, ‘Take a scroll and write on it all the words which I have spoken to you concerning Israel, and concerning Judah, and concerning the nations, from the day I first spoke to you, from the days of Josiah, even to this day. Perhaps the house of Judah will hear all the calamity which I plan to bring on them, in order that every man will turn from his evil way; then I will forgive their iniquity and their sin.’”
There is great power in the written word. Some things simply hold more weight when they are printed – a law, a will or covenant, a love letter, and especially a command. Paul makes it clear in Ephesians 3:4 that reading the Bible helps us understand greater insight into the divine will. Not only that, but the reading of scripture is also commanded in 1 Timothy 4:13, as it leads to “eternal life.” The Bible is literally the Word of God written down for us, so it is only natural to assume that great things are contained therein. In our text, we find an interesting story about the different ways that we can approach the Word. Either we will accept it and be obedient to it, or we will reject it and abuse it!
Notice, first, that this story makes it clear that the Bible is specifically inspired by God. “Take a scroll and write on it all the words which I have spoken…” There is no room for misinterpretation here, for it is clear that voice of God spoke to Jeremiah and gave a direct command to write certain precise commands. Clearly, if this is the pattern used by God to write down the words of scripture, then it is absolutely true that “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will” (2 Peter 1:20-21). Jeremiah did not estimate the words of God, or take “guesses,” but wrote down exactly what God wanted him to write. This does not, however, negate the fact that Jeremiah’s writing is his own. “His style, mode of thought, experience, general knowledge, spiritual condition, etc., all mould his utterances of inspired truth. Jeremiah’s prophecies are characteristic of Jeremiah” (Pulpit Commentary, Vol. XI, 105). In the same way, Paul wrote in his own style, as did Luke, Peter, Moses, James, and every other prophet. Style does not necessarily change content, though, and the fact that all of these different writers produced such unique works simply shows the ability of God to use any tool He deems fitting.
“Perhaps the house of Judah will hear…” The message of God is for everybody, but it is important to see the “perhaps” in all of our lives. We do not have to obey the Gospel, just as the Judeans did not have to listen to the prophecies of Jeremiah. They had the choice between hearing and ignoring – “Today if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the day of the wilderness” (Psalm 95:7-11). How many people do we know who choose not to listen to the voice of the Lord? Perhaps we ourselves have not heeded the message, and have drifted into quiet ignorance. There is, however, hope, for the Lord Himself is hopeful that we will all choose to listen and be saved. If not, then why would He have even offered the Word to us? If God did not believe that we could hear, then why does He say, “Perhaps they will hear”? All of us have the capacity to understand the message found within the wonderful Words of the scroll of God! Also, we need not worry when our listeners choose to ignore our message, for God does not ever blame the messenger when he has done his job to the best of his ability. Relatively, Jeremiah was a terribly ineffective prophet in his time – he never could persuade the people of Judah to remain faithful for long, he failed at convincing them to stay in Judah (Jeremiah 42), he considered himself a failure at times (Jeremiah 20:14-18), and he ended his life in exile in Egypt – yet God never blamed Jeremiah for the problems of Judah. It was not Jeremiah’s fault that the people died in their sins. Rather, it was their own fault for not heeding the scroll of the Lord!
Jeremiah 36:4-8 – “4Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the LORD which He had spoken to him. 5Jeremiah commanded Baruch, saying, ‘I am restricted; I cannot go into the house of the LORD. 6So you go and read from the scroll which you have written at my dictation the words of the LORD to the people in the LORD'S house on a fast day. And also you shall read them to all the people of Judah who come from their cities. 7 Perhaps their supplication will come before the LORD, and everyone will turn from his evil way, for great is the anger and the wrath that the LORD has pronounced against this people.’ 8Baruch the son of Neriah did according to all that Jeremiah the prophet commanded him, reading from the book the words of the LORD in the LORD'S house.”
Baruch is an interesting character because he reminds us that people of every talent are needed in the work of God. For whatever reason, Jeremiah is unable to write down the prophecies himself – perhaps he is imprisoned at the time, or suffering from ill health – and needs a scribe to print his words for him. Baruch’s job is not glorious, prestigious, or even terribly memorable in the grand scheme of the scriptures, but it is absolutely necessary. We must remember that there is a necessity in God’s kingdom for the Baruch’s of this world – people with very simple, practical talents that may not be recognized in the same way as preachers, teachers, and elders. The Lord’s church needs handymen to help repair the church building, accountants to manage the church treasury, deacons who are willing to fulfill mundane tasks for the congregation, as well as good, humble wives to support their husbands in public ministry. Simply consider the analogy of the functional body in 1 Corinthians 12 and will become clear that we all cannot fulfill the same function in the kingdom. We are all important, and God loves us for the work that we can do, whether it is with ten talents or one (Matthew 25:14-30).
“And Baruch… did according to all that Jeremiah the prophet commanded him…” What a heart of humility and obedience that Baruch must have had. Not only was he relegated to the role of scribe, but he was also told to take this message of impending doom and present it to the people. Surely this is no small task for any person – he faced a possibly hostile audience with a message that condemned them in very plain words, and was expected to read from the scroll with boldness and fortitude. According to the text, Baruch did exactly that when the time was right (Jeremiah 36:9-10).
The scroll of God can produce a change of heart
Consider Jeremiah 36:11-14 now, and notice the way that the Word affects the hearts of the Jewish religious leaders. Micaiah, first of all, hears the message and feels the need to tell it to others. He was so spiritually influenced by the reading of Baruch that he could not hold the message within himself and ran to the other officials. Does the Gospel ever have that effect on us? When we hear a great sermon, one that convicts us powerfully, do we just want to leap from our seats and tell somebody about it? Do we have a difficult time holding it in? Do we race to our friends and family, our neighbors and coworkers and declare to them the message of salvation? Indeed, we ought to have the same attitude toward evangelism that Paul had, as discussed in 1 Corinthians 9:16, lest we are compelled to preach like Jeremiah in Jeremiah 20:8-9! It is also interesting to see the audience to which Micaiah explains the message. He is not speaking to people lower than him, but to people with much more power and authority. This is not just a crew of random Jews, but some of the most powerful religious leaders in the country, including “all the officials.” What kind of courage do we have when it comes to telling others about the Gospel? Would we be able to walk into the oval office and preach the Gospel to the joint chiefs of staff? While I understand that this will most likely never be a realistic opportunity for any of us, we are presented with opportunities every single day to preach to our bosses, our unbelieving parents, or wealthier neighbors and friends – and even for some of us still in school, our professors. The point is that we should be preaching to everybody, even those people who we think have an advantage over us. Let us never fear the audience, but with all boldness teach the Gospel to everybody. Paul preached to kings and governors (Acts 25-26), so how hard is it for us to preach to people around us?
Jeremiah 36:15-19 – “15They said to him, ‘Sit down, please, and read it to us.’ So Baruch read it to them. 16When they had heard all the words, they turned in fear one to another and said to Baruch, "We will surely report all these words to the king.’ 17And they asked Baruch, saying, ‘Tell us, please, how did you write all these words? Was it at his dictation?’ 18Then Baruch said to them, ‘He dictated all these words to me, and I wrote them with ink on the book.’ 19Then the officials said to Baruch, ‘Go, hide yourself, you and Jeremiah, and do not let anyone know where you are.’”
What kind of response do we have when we hear the message of the Bible? “They turned in fear to one another…” When we read verses like Mark 16:16, do we turn in fear to one another and see that this verse applies to us? When we read about heaven and hell, do we turn in fear to one another? When we read about apostasy, false teachers, and being led astray by every wind of strange doctrine, do we turn in fear to one another? How much of the Bible do we have to read before we finally see that it is written to us? Indeed, we must give credit to the Jewish officials for the way they responded to the message – they not only wanted to hear it, but they understood that it was about themselves and had a great desire to find an appropriate response to the call of God! All too often, we try to preach the Gospel to people who do none of those things, neither listening to nor acknowledging the application of the Bible.
Furthermore, the officials recognize that the message of Jeremiah was one that would most likely anger the king, so they suggest that both the prophet and his scribe hide themselves for the time-being.
The scroll of God can anger some people
Jeremiah 36:20-26 – “20So they went to the king in the court, but they had deposited the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the scribe, and they reported all the words to the king. 21Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it out of the chamber of Elishama the scribe. And Jehudi read it to the king as well as to all the officials who stood beside the king. 22Now the king was sitting in the winter house in the ninth month, with a fire burning in the brazier before him. 23When Jehudi had read three or four columns, the king cut it with a scribe's knife and threw it into the fire that was in the brazier, until all the scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the brazier. 24Yet the king and all his servants who heard all these words were not afraid, nor did they rend their garments. 25Even though Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah pleaded with the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. 26And the king commanded Jerahmeel the king's son, Seraiah the son of Azriel, and Shelemiah the son of Abdeel to seize Baruch the scribe and Jeremiah the prophet, but the LORD hid them.”
It is shame that men of power are often corrupted by their positions, which leads them to reject the call of God to repentance. In Jeremiah 36:20-26 we see an example of the kind of arrogance that can make some people believe they are indestructible and not amenable to the Lord. After receiving the scroll from Baruch, the officials bring the message to the king, who, at first, seems both curious and receptive to the word of God. Unfortunately, we may know many individuals like this today – people who seem to be very interested in the Gospel for a short time, but lose interest or allow themselves to be distracted by cares and concerns of the world. Truly, they are the ones who end up like the rootless sprouts of Matthew 13:20-21. It is sad to preach the Gospel to a person who seems momentarily enthusiastic, but then seems to disappear from the face of the planet when the cost of Christianity gets to be too expensive!
“And when Jehudi had read three or four columns…” How much of the prophecy did the king actually hear before he rejected the message? Once again, it seems like Jehoiakim is no different than so many people throughout history. How many of our unbelieving friends had said that they gave the Bible a chance, or have read a little bit of it and decided that it was not for them? How many people from the denominations really know their Bibles front to back? It is peculiar that so many people will read a few verses and base their entire opinions of God, religion, Christianity, morals, ethics, and faith on an incomplete understanding of the Word! And yet Jehoiakim does just that, and is unable to even finish the entire scroll before he decides that he does not like it. “The king cut it with a scribe’s knife and threw it into the fire that was in the brazier, until all the scroll was consumed in the fire.” “His action was one of folly and rage. He would have no more of the prophet’s dreadful words for himself; he would prevent them from further influencing others; he would vent his rage upon the record, though he could not touch the truths contained in it. Are there not many who inwardly sympathize with this violence?...There are things in [the Bible] which testify against them so strongly that they would keep them forever out of sight” (Pulpit Commentary, Vol. XI, 107). The motivation behind hatred for the Bible is not because it makes the world worse, but because it begs the world to be better. It reveals our sins and requires repentance. It calls for purity and a rejection of evil. People hate the Bible because they know that it is speaking to them, and they do not want to change.
“Yet the king and all his servants who heard all these words were not afraid, nor did they rend their garments.” And why would they? Anybody who is insolent enough to burn the words of God would have no problem going about his business with no regret! Jehoiakim probably felt much better after taking his anger out on the scroll. But what a sad day it will be when all of the haughty, arrogant people of this world will finally realize that they are nothing – and it will all be too late! One day, Jehoiakim will have to face God and on that day, to be sure, he will be afraid and will rend his garments! Will we be caught in the same way? Will we face God one day with a lifetime of pride and stubbornness to explain?
The scroll of God cannot be destroyed
Jeremiah 36:27-32 – “27Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah after the king had burned the scroll and the words which Baruch had written at the dictation of Jeremiah, saying, 28 ‘Take again another scroll and write on it all the former words that were on the first scroll which Jehoiakim the king of Judah burned. 29And concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah you shall say, “Thus says the LORD, ‘You have burned this scroll, saying, “Why have you written on it that the king of Babylon will certainly come and destroy this land, and will make man and beast to cease from it?”’ 30Therefore thus says the LORD concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah, ‘He shall have no one to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat of the day and the frost of the night. 31I will also punish him and his descendants and his servants for their iniquity, and I will bring on them and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the men of Judah all the calamity that I have declared to them--but they did not listen.’”’ 32Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch the son of Neriah, the scribe, and he wrote on it at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire; and many similar words were added to them.”
Though Jehoiakim may have accomplished something for the time-being, there is no reason why the scroll of God could not simply be re-written. Indeed, consider Jeremiah 36:27-32 and see that this evil king did nothing but make his situation worse by burning the scroll. Consider the situation now: first, the scroll cannot be completely abolished, for it is God’s word, and He has promised that not a single word from His law would be taken away (Matthew 5:18-19). Not only that, but when a judgment is pronounced prophetically, God has promised that He will fulfill it no matter what happens (Isaiah 55:11). It is fruitless for any of us to think that we can avoid the penalty of disobedience. Second, Jehoiakim made his situation worse by bringing even more prophecies on himself. He thought he was destroying the scroll, but he was, in fact, making it longer by burning it. Along with every single word that was contained in the first scroll, God commands Jeremiah to add to the second scroll judgments against the house of Jehoiakim (Revelation 22:18-19).
“But they did not listen…” The people of Judah suffered and died because they did not treat the scroll of God with care. Instead of cherishing it, they abused it and killed the prophets who tried to save them (Acts 7:52). Rather than keep the words of the scroll, they flung them into the fire and ran further into apostasy. The nation of Judah was consumed by the invaders of Babylon for its evil, but a much greater punishment awaits the person who does not heed the Gospel message. “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. But he who does not believe shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16).