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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Jeremiah 36

Verses 1-32

Jehoiakim's Penknife

Jeremiah 36:22-25

Jehoiakim sends for the roll; it is brought; he commands it to be read. But when only two or three columns have been read to him, he takes it from the reader, and deliberately cuts it into pieces with his penknife, and throws it into the fire, so that all is destroyed. And that was the answer of Jehoiakim to the Lord and His prophet.

I. This was an act of peculiar and intolerable wickedness, burdened with every aggravation possible.

1. It was committed in defiance of luminous evidence that the prophecies of Jeremiah were indeed the word of the living God.

2. The act of the king was the worse, in that the Word which he so treated was a word not only of threatened wrath and judgment, but also of tender entreaty and still proffered grace.

3. It was committed despite earnest remonstrance from some of those that stood by.

4. To make the deed as bad as possible, this was done on a public fast day, when professedly the king and people were confessing their sins, and imploring the grace and help of God in the nation's extremity!

This destruction of the roll of the book of Jeremiah was not only very wicked, but no less foolish and useless. The Word of the Lord could not be hindered from fulfilment because the roll on which it was written was burnt.

II. The reasons which probably moved Jehoiakim in his treatment of God's Word are undoubtedly still in operation in the case of many who, like him, reject the Word of God. Primarily, Jehoiakim's reason for his treatment of Jeremiah's prophecy was that there was in the message so much which to him, a fast young man, bent on luxury and display, and endeavouring to combine wickedness with an easy and popular form of religion, was not-pleasant.

The true reason for the most of scepticism is not found in inability of the understanding of the intellect. It is not found in the head at all, but in the heart in the will.

And then the young king was proud. He was filled, apparently, with an egregious conceit of his own importance. He was a cultured young man; he was a connoisseur in architecture as Jeremiah tells us, he was striving to excel in fine building in the precious cedar. But Jeremiah took no account of this. He dealt with him just as with any common, uncultivated, unpolished sinner. And this made the king angry.

III. To reject God's Word is both wicked and foolish. (1) It is wicked because, as it comes to us Today, it comes supported by the most overwhelming evidence of its Divine authority. (2) Because if in the Word of God is announcement of wrath and warning, there is also in it an expression and a revelation of the tenderest love and grace. (3) Because all who hear these words have, like Jehoiakim, again and again been warned against rejecting it. (4) Because most if not all of us are like Jehoiakim at that time in this also, that we profess to give the Lord a certain degree of outward honour. We profess to be, at least in a general sense, Christians.

To reject the Word of God is as foolish as it is wicked. For with us, as with Jehoiakim, that Word will go on to fulfilment.

S. H. Kellogg, The Past a Prophecy of the Future, p. 219.

References. XXXVI. 22-24. S. Wilberforce, Sermons Preached on Various Occasions, p. 12. XXXVI. 23. J. Thain Davidson, The City Youth, p. 225. T. De Witt Talmage, Sermons, p. 41. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, part iv. p. 254. XXXVI. 23, 24. E. Fowle, Plain Preaching to Poor People (1st Series), p. 15. XXXVI. 24. "Plain Sermons "by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. i. p. 177. Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, p. 222. XXXVI. 26. C. Jerdan, Pastures of Tender Grass, p. 161.

The Writing on the Roll

Jeremiah 36:28

Jehoiakim was one of the wickedest of the kings of Judah. God ordered Jeremiah to write words of warning in a book or roll, and send it to the king, so that even yet he and his people might repent, and the terrible calamity be averted. Jehoiakim, when he had heard a small part of the message, took this roll and cut it in strips and threw them into the fire. But God will save him and the nation, if possible, in spite of themselves; and so, in the text, we find God ordering Jeremiah to take another roll and write in it all the former words of warning and implied promise.

I. Some of the Rolls in which God Writes His Will:

a. Nature. 'Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge.' 'Doth not: nature itself teach you?' It tells of God's power and wisdom and goodness.

b. The history of the world. Its course speaks of the justice of its Almighty Governor. It speaks of the reign of law, of the punishment of sin, of the struggle and triumph of righteousness.

c. The human conscience. There are written in it, as in a roll, the eternal truths that God is angry at sin, that He approves and loves the good.

d. The experience of men. Looking back upon past experience, every man knows and feels that he has been goaded by an unseen power into what was just and right and merciful, and that his kicking against the goads has pierced him with sorrows, and left him scarred with sad reminders of the conflict.

e. The Word of God. God's law is perfect, and converts the soul. The other rolls from their very nature could only be written in a few large and general characters. They are hieroglyphs rather than words or letters, or, at best, are like some rude and simple language, capable only of expressing the very simplest thoughts. But the Bible is preeminently a word, drawing, as from a deep, exhaustless well, the very thoughts and purposes of a gracious Father.

f. The life and death of the Lord Jesus. There we see the very heart of God revealed.

II. Many Burn the Rolls. Every one of the ways in which the truth and will of God and His very existence have been declared has been gainsaid. The books have been thrown into the fires of criticism and satire and passionate denial. Nature and the heart of man have been pronounced confused and contradictory in their teaching, or even utterly dumb. The history of the world and the success of Christianity have been entirely accounted for by secondary causes. The Bible has been scouted as old wives' fables, and a revelation from God has been pronounced impossible. Even our Blessed Lord is rejected, or, even as now, regarded as a teacher and reformer rather than as the Saviour and Lord.

III. Yet all God's Words are Preserved. 'I will turn aside,' said Moses, 'and see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.' It is a simple fact that God's words have not failed or been destroyed. The fires have burned fiercely, but 'the Scripture cannot be broken'; and the heart and conscience of man conies out of the fire with the finger of God more clearly and solemnly traceable in it than ever God writes again 'the former words' in the rolls of men's hearts. The crowning blessing of the Gospel is contained in the promise, 'I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be my people'.

The Fatal Barter

Jeremiah 36:32

A real parallel exists between the contemptuous rejection of the scroll by Jehoiakim and the rejection of revelation by many Today. Far from anything being gained by such rejection, all the old problems revive in exaggerated forms. We may decline the explanations, threatenings, and hopes of these sacred pages; yet the enigmas of life are still with us, and they appear in forms deeper and darker than ever.

I. The Genesis and Design of the World. These constitute one of the first problems pressing for solution. Revelation declares that the world in which we find ourselves, and wherein we must work out our destiny, is the creation of the living, intelligent, and omnipotent God; that in Him it lives, moves, and has its being; and that He governs it to a wise, just, and benevolent end. Many find this explanation entirely unsatisfactory, and reject it; but, having refused the interpretation of revelation, are we in any better position in relation to the question of the origin, meaning, and end of things? Can we discover any more reasonable explanation of the source of the world, of its government and design?

To conclude that this world of manifold wonder and beauty; this human race, with reason, science, love, and piety; these long ages of history, implying harmony and design that all has arisen like a vapour out of the fires of the sun, is surely to aggravate the riddle of the universe and not to dissolve it. To assume that the orb has given birth to so many things greater than itself is to assume the impossible.

To believe in a personal God as the fountain of life and thought, beauty and joy, is, we confess, to rest in a great mystery; but such faith is far more reasonable than that of the fire-worshipper. The problem of the world may not be put aside. It is the first of the obstinate questionings; we cannot escape it, it insistently demands consideration; and, refusing the explanation of revelation, we can only fall back on irrational and incredible theories.

Denying this sublime conception of the first Cause and sovereign Upholder of the universal frame, we 'cannot choose an object more worthy of our worship than the luminary adored by our ancestors'. Surely there is more luminary than luminousness; we have not gained anything, but lost much, by consigning the sacred writing to the brazier. The enigma of the world returns, the difficulties are greater than ever; 'many like words have been added unto it'.

II. The Question of Liberty. Revelation by many is renounced in the name of liberty. Our freedom, they hold, is arbitrarily narrowed by the sacred lawgivers. And these emancipated ones have placed on record the sense of enlargement and rapture they experienced when first they felt themselves free of the incubus of the righteous God and His commandments; yet, though we repudiate the throne, statutes, and government of God, we must still recognize the dominion of law, unrestricted liberty being simply impossible.

It may be argued, however, that if the necessity for law survives the destruction of revelation, we may create for ourselves a wider and worthier freedom. Let us, then, inquire whether this is likely. Mark three points as characteristic of the law laid down by revelation for the regulation of human conduct.

1. It assures us of our freedom. From the beginning to the end it distinguishes between us and necessitated nature. Everywhere it upholds the liberty of the human spirit, regards the power of choice as the essence of our greatness, and invests us with responsibility for our character and action. That we are no part of the mechanical world is the fundamental assumption of revelation, therein agreeing with the universal consciousness.

2. The Divine law as expressed in revelation claims obedience as the law of reason, right, and love; and all may see that in keeping such law is liberty indeed. The higher law, as laid down in God's Word, contains nothing that does not commend itself to the understanding, the conscience, and the heart. But forswearing revelation, we must perforce turn to nature; and what now is the gain? It' modern science teaches one thing clearly, it is that nature does not furnish high laws of conduct. And if we turn from the material universe and seek the laws of conduct in our own ambiguous nature, we find no royal law of liberty. The book of the soul is as blotted and obscure as the page of nature.

3. Law as expressed in revelation is softened by Divine clemency; it expresses a gracious element elsewhere lacking. Mommsen writes concerning Roman law: 'It seemed as if the law found a pleasure in presenting on all sides its sharpest spikes, in drawing the most extreme consequences, in forcibly obtruding on the bluntest understanding the tyrannic nature of right'. This is not the characteristic of the legalism of revelation. The severe claims of the Old Testament are yet mellowed by the sentiment of consideration, sympathy, and tenderness.

A great love glows through all the austerity of the Mosaic dispensation. And the burden of the New Testament is God's grace to a world of sinners; it is one incomparable proclamation of pity, forgiveness, and salvation.

On the score of freedom, then, how much advantaged are we by the repudiation of the sacred canon? No better; only infinitely worse. Having before been beaten with whips, we are now chastised with scorpions. The freedom of the soul, the righteousness of law, the reality of grace, are precious doctrines surrendered. We dethrone the just and gracious Lawgiver, and, having broken His golden sceptre, proceed to occupy His place with blind, dark, capricious shapes, or shapelessnesses, called Fate, Force, Chance, Nemesis, Necessity, Destiny. The writing comes back, and many words, many terrible and painful words, are added to it.

W. L. Watkinson, The Fatal Barter, pp. 1-19.

References. XXXVI. 32. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah and Jeremiah, p. 353. XXXVII. 1. Ibid. p. 357.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Jeremiah 36". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/jeremiah-36.html. 1910.