The Story of a Penknife
Jeremiah 36:20-26
And they went in to the king into the court, but they laid up the roll in the chamber of Elishama the scribe…

I. JEHOIAKIM'S USE OR MISUSE OF THE PENKNIFE. Let us talk a little about this famous penknife. In itself it was a very insignificant article. Very unlike was it to its namesakes of to-day, which contain so many other things beside the knife blades that one feels as if one were carrying about an engineer's tool bag and a portable carpenter's shop. The knife Jehoiakim used was a rough specimen of workmanship, doubtless, even though, as it belonged to me king s confidential secretary, it is likely to have been the very best of its kind. Probably it was a straight bit of metal thickened at one end for a handle, flattened and sharpened for a blade at the other end. A pocket-knife it was not, being carried in the oblong writing-case or box along with the ink horn and reed pen. That rough bit of bladed iron was the instrument of the king's spiritual suicide.


1. He had formed a resolution against God. The message of the roll asserts the Divine authority over Jehoiakim and his kingdom. He would not permit such interference. He would manage his own affairs. How bright a day was it for some of us when we resolved that we would serve God! But what a black day it must be when the decision is taken that God shall not be served. That was what Jehoiakim meant. He doomed himself henceforward to follow his own will.

2. This resolution was avowed by a public act. Among our red-letter days, if the day of decision for Christ comes first, the day of professing Christ comes next in importance. As days are reckoned in heaven, that would be the exact order. But what a terrible thing to express the opposite decision! It may be quickly and easily done-by the tone of a laugh. Jehoiakim's courtiers would all know, as well as if he had said the words, punctuating each word with a slash of the penknife at the manuscript, "I will not serve God."

3. The decision and profession were impatient and hasty. The entire roll was God's message to the king. Only three or four columns — a very small portion comparatively, was read before the whole was destroyed. To decide against God without hearing Him out, is a madman's act. "Let our minds be open a while longer." Jehoiakim had committed himself, and all the greater part of his people.

4. This hasty action was an insult to God. To tear up a letter unread or in public — and Jehoiakim did both — can have but one meaning. "This letter ought never to have been written." But fancy acting like this towards God, and saying to your Maker, "You have no business to interfere with me!"

III. THE USE OF THE PENKNIFE BY IMITATORS OF JEHOIAKIM IN OTHER TIMES. In many ways it is possible to insult Almighty God by professing a hasty, half-conscious decision that we will let Him manage our life. The penknife is still at work in various ways.

1. One favourite kind of penknife is an insult or injury to God's messenger. God's message is often represented by the man who brings it, and pulling the servant to pieces, in one way or another, is a common expression of revolt against God. Herod's penknife was the sharp sword of his executioner, putting an end to the life of the prophet who had become an incarnate rebuke. Cruelty is not always necessary. A passing slight is quite enough.

2. Similar results may be effected by staying away from a meeting, or severing oneself from a society or class, breaking off an acquaintance with an earnest Christian, and so on. The Bible class is getting rather "warm," as you call it. Conversions are frequent, and it will be your turn soon. So you absent yourself.

3. A more or less sincere profession of scepticism will serve the purpose well. Are there some here ready to decide hastily against God and heaven? Have you listened to the entire message which, in various ways, God has spoken? Have some of us used the penknife in days gone by? Has the message of the Saviour no power to affect us now, because of certain action of ours in the past, which has torn up, as it were, the communication between God and ourselves? Are we on this account conscious of no desire or inclination to be better than we are? Let us humbly entreat the Lord we have insulted to speak again. Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth. No, I am not Thy servant; but I fain would be; nor am I sure that I can hear. I destroyed my hearing by my own act; but oh, for the sake of the dear Saviour, who bade the Gospel be preached to every creature, speak again, Lord, and make me listen.

(W. Carey Sage, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: They went in to the king into the court; but they had laid up the scroll in the room of Elishama the scribe; and they told all the words in the ears of the king.

The Rash Penknife
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