And they went in to the king into the court, but they laid up the roll in the chamber of Elishama the scribe…
We have before us one of the most tragic acts of wickedness recorded in the history of the kings of Judah. It is in striking contrast with the act of the good King Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:15-33), who, when the lost book of the law was found, humbled himself and gave instant heed to its warnings and precepts; all the more so because the good king was father of this wicked and defiant one. Truly grace does not run in the blood. The chapter before us relates how Jeremiah had written out a summary of the prophecies concerning the impending captivity, and caused it to be read to the people assembled at a great and special fast in the Temple, and afterward to the princes in private, and finally to the king (vers. 1-19). The object of the special message was one of compassion and pity on the part of Jehovah (vers. 3, 7). It is wonderful how, in the midst of His wrath, God always remembers mercy. The reading of the prophecy to the people evidently made a deep impression, for the news of it was carried to the princes, who sent for Baruch and had him read it to them. They in turn were deeply affected, and said it must be brought before the king. They, however, knew his tyrannical temper, and took two precautions. First, after hearing from Baruch s lips how he came to write this prophecy of woe, they warned him to go with Jeremiah, and both to secrete themselves from the wrath of the king; then they laid the writing up in the house of the scribe (vers. 15-19), and lastly went in to report the matter to the king. These princes seemed favourable to the prophet and to the Word of God, but they feared the king. An evil king can suppress the good that is in his people and prevent a whole nation from repentance or reformation. Men in authority have great privilege, but also great responsibility.
I. THE WORD OF GOD DESTROYED. The burden of the word of Jeremiah, which was a summary of all his prophecies on this point, was that Judah should be carried away captive by the King of Babylon (ver. 29). This was not the first warning, but the gathering up of all past threats; it was God's final word to the king and the people. As it was read, he ordered it bit by bit to be cut away and thrown into the fire until all was consumed. In this action the following points may be noted —
1. The contempt of the king. The princes had put the writing away in the house of the scribe (ver. 20) before they went in to the king. This was a testimony of their respect for a message sent by a prophet of the Lord, and of their fear for its safety. The king, however, had no such feelings of reverence for God's Word. He did not even dignify the document by sending a proper official to bring it; but showed his contempt by telling a page or under-secretary to fetch it. This act was a suggestive prelude to what followed afterward. The Bible, of all books, is entitled to the place of highest honour, and it is a bad sign when this due respect ceases to be manifest.
2. The rage of the king. As the book was being read, the king overlooked the message, which undoubtedly was incorporated, that God hoped that the reading of it might induce them to turn from their sins and claim His promised mercy. Many people, who declaim against what they call the hard and bitter denunciation of sin and of the judgments of God, seem persistently to forget that the Book which condemns sinners to death and hell is mostly taken up with earnest and loving entreaties to repentance, with promises of life and salvation. God was beyond his reach, but" His Word being within his grasp, he poured out his wrath against that. He ordered it to be cut to pieces and burned with fire. This was not a hasty and impulsive action on the part of the king, but deliberate and premeditated. He perseveres in his evil work, notwithstanding the remonstrances of his princes. He was a "proud and haughty scorner, who dealt in proud wrath" (Proverbs 21:24). There are times when remonstrance ceases to be wise, and a wilful sinner must be given up to his chosen way. The reason for his wrath was the evil tidings which the prophet's words brought him. Yet how foolish was his wrath — how impotent his rage! For what did he destroy? Only the parchment on which the Word of God was written; not the Word of God itself. It is related of a heathen princess of hideous countenance, that on looking into a mirror which a missionary had, and seeing her ugliness, she destroyed the glass in rage, and ordered that no more mirrors should be brought into her kingdom. I once saw a man in a railway carriage to whom a leaf of the New Testament had been given, crumple it up in his hand, fling it on the floor, spit on it, and grind it under his heel. This action was as ridiculous as it was impotent. The rage of the hater of God's Word was evoked, but the Word of God was not destroyed.
3. The attitude of the witnesses. There were two classes of witnesses present.
(1) The king's servants; his pages and immediate attendants. "Yet they were not afraid, nor rent their garments, neither the king nor any of his servants that heard all these words." This implies that the message not only failed to bring about any repentance or desire that the evils threatened might be averted (compare 2 Chronicles 34:19), but that the servants were not even horrified at the action of the king in ordering the writing to be destroyed. They became parties to the act of the king in his wilful unbelief, in his contempt and deliberate defiance of Jehovah. When we join ourselves either in service or companionship with unbelieving men, we must be prepared either to go with them or break from them, when a crisis comes by reason of God's Word. We may serve an ungodly king, like Daniel, if we have the courage to take God's part when occasion comes, or we may have social and business relations with unbelievers, if we are prepared to act in a like loyal manner. But how often a timid Christian finds himself overborne by his wicked companions when they warm themselves at their fire, as with Peter in the High Priest's palace.
(2) On the other hand, there were three princes present who "made intercession to the king, that he would not burn the roll; but he would not hear them." They had, however, cleared their skirts and washed their souls from the iniquity. Are we as faithful in all such like emergencies?
4. The baffled king. Having destroyed the writing, the king began to reflect that he had not avoided God's Word or put himself beyond the further reach of it, so long as the scribe and the prophet were at large. He therefore sent to have them arrested. Probably he contemplated their murder, thinking thus he would get rid of the Word. This is an old method with the haters of God. "But the Lord hid them." Let us suppose he had succeeded in getting hold of the prophet and had killed him; would he next seek to destroy God too? This would be the logical course. How men forget that when they have destroyed the outward revelation they have not destroyed the Word of God; and when they have killed the prophets they have not baffled the Spirit by whom the prophets speak. God hid His prophet and His scribe. Man is immortal till God has no further need of him. Let all God s witnesses know of a truth that God can deliver His servants from any manifestation of the wrath of man, if it is best for them and for His cause; and let them know when He does not deliver, it is neither for want of love, faithfulness, nor power, but because all round it is best that they should seal their testimony with suffering or death.
II. THE INDESTRUCTIBLE WORD. The facts in this incident bring out clearly the truth, that man's hatred and rage against God's Word are as impotent as is the broken wave that falls back in spray from the rock against which it has spent itself. In this conflict of man against God's message, we see that it is neither a book nor a man against which the enemies of Christ fight. God can reproduce His Word, either by the same prophet, as He did in this case, or by another. Before the world can get rid of the Gospel it must kill all the believers in the world, and then they must not be too sure that God has not hidden His Word as He hid His prophet, to come forth unexpectedly, as the law came forth in the time of Josiah. Millions of Bibles may be destroyed, and the preachers and witnesses of the Word burned and put to the sword, but it only serves to both increase the Word of God and multiply the witnesses. When will the world learn that they cannot fight against God? Look only at the impotence of men in this conflict in the past. One Herod destroyed the little children, but God hid His Christ; another Herod beheaded John the Baptist, but failed utterly to destroy his testimony. The world crucified Christ; but God raised Him from the dead. The world imprisoned the apostles, stoned Stephen, put James to the sword, persecuted the young Church, but this only served to increase the number of believers and multiply the revelation. Paul wrote more Epistles while in prison than he would have if he had been free. John wrote the Revelation while he was exiled for the Word of God. "The Word of God cannot be broken," or defeated, — as this foolish and wicked king found out. Several points more may be noted in connection with this latter half of our study.
1. God takes note of our treatment of His Word. It is evident that the eyes of the Lord were upon the king while he was burning the roll, from the fact that, immediately afterward, He commissioned Jeremiah to rewrite it.
2. The Word rewritten. "Not one jot or tittle" of God's Word shall pass away till all be fulfilled. What was the king advantaged by his work? What are any of us advantaged by our unbelief? Suppose we say, "I do not believe God's Word," will that alter the fact that it will be carried out to the letter? Suppose instead of destroying God's Word, we keep it closed, never look into it and never go where it is preached, or, reading and hearing, do not heed it; will that prevent it from being fulfilled? Shall our unbelief make God's Word to be a lie? Did the unbelief of the antediluvians prevent the flood?
3. More words added. In the first message God had simply told the king that he and the people would be carried away captive, but now He adds more, saying that for this act of wickedness he himself should be deprived of a direct heir, and his body should be cast out and exposed to the heat of the day and the frost of the night. He would not only bring upon the men of Judah all that He had first declared, but would add an especial punishment to the. king. Cumulative unbelief brings cumulative punishment. With the burial of an ass shall he be buried; dragged and east out far from the gates of Jerusalem, and none shall mourn for him, either as brother, or kindred, or king (Jeremiah 22:19). To mutilate the Word of God, either by adding to it or destroying it, is to bring special additional plagues and sufferings upon the transgressor (Revelation 22:18, 19). Let us learn this solemn lesson in connection with the Word of God. His Word is eternal; it can neither be bound nor broken; that it will not cease in the world until all that is written therein be fulfilled. All the unbelief, neglect, and rage against it are utterly futile (Isaiah 40:6-8).
(G. F. Pentecost.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And they went in to the king into the court, but they laid up the roll in the chamber of Elishama the scribe, and told all the words in the ears of the king.