When I was a child there was a time in which ‘trick-birthday candles’ were all the rage. It was always somewhat interesting to watch someone’s face as they tried, tried, and tried again to blow out their birthday candles to no avail. Some of us tried with all of our might, and no a matter how hard we tried, the light we thought we snuffed out came back. And it’s been like that throughout history as it pertains to God’s Word. Whether it was Antiochus or Diocletian, philosophers, false religious systems, or Communist regimes, many have tried throughout history to either chain or cut off the Word of God. Some have tried to cut off translations, others have tried to prohibit transmissions, all have one thing in common – they have failed. And one of those men who stand in such a line of infamy is Jehoiakim. Granted, his attempt was on a small scale when compared with some of the aforementioned attempts at such things, but he attempted nonetheless.
It was while the king was sitting in his winter house in the ninth month with a fire burning before him that Jehudi came bearing the scroll that bore the words of Jeremiah the prophet (Jer. 36:22). You could say that it was somewhat of a foreboding scene. After all, the princes who heard these words, and were moved by fear (vs.16), and were desirous that the king hear them, told Baruch, “Go and hide, you and Jeremiah; and let no one know where you are” (vs.19b). They didn’t say that because they wanted to have a quick round of hide-and-seek, but because Jehoiakim had a history of not only hating the message but killing the messenger (Jer. 26:23). Although the message was a merciful measure that ought to have prompted repentance (Jer. 36:3), Jehoiakim’s propensity for persecution suggested he might not receive the word with meekness.
It was there that Jehudi came to the king, “read three or four columns” (vs.23a) of the scroll of Jeremiah, and in response, the king wrongly divided the Word – literally! Jehoiakim, in an act of jaw dropping defiance, took a scribe’s knife, cut the scroll – piece by piece, and threw those pieces into the fire until it was completely consumed (vs.23b). How could he do this? Unlike the princes of Judah who “looked in fear from one to another” when they “heard all the words” of the scroll (vs.16), and unlike King Josiah who tore his clothes when he heard the recently rediscovered Book of the Law read (2 Ki. 22:11), the text tells us that, “they were not afraid, nor did they tear their garments, the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words” (vs.24). The king had a seared conscience, blinded eyes, and deaf ears. And so, not surprisingly, although Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah implored him not to burn the scroll, “he would not listen to them” (vs.25).
And he wasn’t finished. As the princes suspected, the king commanded his men to “seize Baruch the scribe and Jeremiah the prophet” (vs.26b). But, with language that is beautiful in its brevity, the very next words read: “but the Lord hid them” (vs.26c). No big battle was waged. Not one ounce of metaphoric sweat dropped from the divine brow. Just as when the Nazareth crowd sought to throw Jesus over a cliff but He simply – “[passed] through the midst of them [and] went His way”(Lk. 4:30), or the way in which Revelation 19 takes all of three verses to describe the way the beast and his armies gathered together to be deftly and easily defeated (vs.19-21), so the simplistic language of verse twenty-six connotes the ease with which Yahweh can frustrate the plans of those who vainly attempt to frustrate His. Note the word vainly.
Even though Jehoiakim couldn’t get his hands on Baruch and Jeremiah, it looked like he had dealt a blow to the canon of Scripture, as though a portion of God’s inspired Word was lost to history because Jehoiakim took up a scribe’s knife against the sword of the Spirit. But the irony was – God’s words would be rewritten and Jehoiakim’s futility would likewise be recorded. God told Jeremiah, “Take yet another scroll, and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll which Jehoiakim the king of Judah burned” (vs.28). It’s as though all humanity is to take notice – Yahweh is not man’s equal; His purpose is unstoppable; and His Word is indestructible. You can cut it, burn it, censor it, outlaw it, trivialize it, and do everything humanly possible to eradicate it, but unlike the grass that withers and the flowers that fade, the word of God lives forever (Isa. 40:8; 1 Pet. 1:25).