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When Men Test God's Patience - Jeremiah 36

It is a great sin when someone rejects the Word of God. It is desperately dangerous to reject it with arrogance.

Jeremiah 36:1-32, 22:18-19; 1 Kings 12:10-11, 28; Psalm 2:10-12, 36:1; Isaiah 66:1-2; Exodus 34:1, 4-9.

Jul 21, 2013 12:00 PM

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I am certain we all have had this thought before: “If I were the President, I would _________ .”  OR maybe you have loftier thoughts: “If I were king of the world, I would _______ .”  Even loftier yet, “If I were God, I would _______ .”  And that last one can border on blasphemy, depending on the attitude with which it is spoken.  Even here we’ve said, “Why does God do things they way He does them?  If I were God, I’d do it this way.”  Then we all quickly agree it is very good that God is God, and none of us is God.

But suppose you could be king for a day.  King of the world.  You somehow were given the authority to sit on the throne to govern everyone everywhere for one day.  What would you do?

Even more important is the question, “How would you act?  How would you feel?  How would you conduct yourself as the sovereign ruler of the whole earth?”  It seems very few world rulers, none of whom have ever ruled the entire world, handle their positions of authority well.  How would you fare?  How would you make decisions?  Whom would you trust as your consultants?

How would you rule the masses?  Would you put a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot and immediately institute world peace?  Would you reign in wisdom and prudence and understanding and love?  Would you administer justice AND mercy faultlessly?  Would you be the answer to everyone’s prayers?  And speaking of prayers, how would your new position as king of the world change your relationship towards God?

Great power and great authority make great people do really dumb things.  When Solomon died and his son Rehoboam became king in Israel, the first thing he did was to consult with the old men who said, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.” So what did he do?  He abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. So what did they say?  How did they advise the new king?

Thus shall you say to [the people], ‘My little finger is thicker than my father's thighs. 11 And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke.  My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’” (1 Kings 12 ESV)

A little bit of power makes people do really dumb things!  And then we have Jeroboam who is made king over the the northern tribes and what does he do in all his wisdom and understanding and knowledge?

So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold.  And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough.  Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” (1 Kings 12:28 ESV)

Then, a couple of hundred years later we have Jehioakim, king of Judah.  He makes Jeroboam and Rehoboam look like John and Charles Wesley.  Let’s read Jeremiah 36.

I remember hearing the story of a prisoner who received a copy of a Gideon New Testament while he was incarcerated.  He was very happy to have it.  That little book supplied him with enough paper to roll hundreds of cigarettes.  The pages of the Word of God became fuel for his smoking habit.  Until one day he actually read one of the pages he had torn out to smoke.  It was in that moment that God spoke to his heart and saved him.

But it doesn’t always work that way.  It didn’t work that way in Jehoiakim’s life.  As the scroll of God’s word was unrolled and read in his presence, he cut off each portion and warmed himself with the flames it produced in his brazier.  He nonchalantly tossed section after section of God’s special revelation to Jehoiakim and to Jehoiakim’s people, into the flames.

The response of his officials when they heard the word of God was fear.  That’s why they took it to the king.  Then it was read in the kings presence and Jehioakim relieves their fears by showing them how trivial and insignificant and unimportant these words from this so-called prophet Jeremiah really are.  So it seems their fears are allayed, and everything is under control because the king has spoken.

23 As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. 24 Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. 25 Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. 26 And the king commanded Jerahmeel the king's son and Seraiah the son of Azriel and Shelemiah the son of Abdeel to seize Baruch the secretary and Jeremiah the prophet, but the Lord hid them.

What immediately gets our attention in this account is the utter arrogance of King Jehoiakim.  I have tried to picture in my mind how he must have done this awful deed, taking a knife to the scroll and casually slicing off piece after piece, tossing each one in the fire for the sake of his own comfort on a cold winter day.  I looked up the definitions of the words that came to my mind as I imagined him doing this:

Arrogant

1. Assuming; making or having the disposition to make exorbitant claims of rank or estimation; giving one's self an undue degree of importance; haughty; conceited; applied to persons.

Pride

1. Inordinate self-esteem; an unreasonable conceit of one's own superiority in talents, beauty, wealth, accomplishments, rank or elevation in office, which manifests itself in lofty airs, distance, reserve, and often in contempt of others.

Pride goeth before destruction. Prov.16.

Pride that dines on vanity, sups on contempt.

Those that walk in pride he is able to abase. Dan.4.

Haughty

1. Proud and disdainful; having a high opinion of one's self, with some contempt for others; lofty and arrogant; supercilious.

A haughty spirit goeth before a fall. Prov.16.

Insolent

Proud and haughty, with contempt of others; overbearing; domineering in power; as an insolent master.

Contempt

1. The act of despising; the act of viewing or considering and treating as mean, vile and worthless; disdain; hatred of what is mean or deemed vile.  This word is one of the strongest expressions of a mean opinion which the language affords.

I listened to Sam’s messages from several weeks ago and a couple of verses that he quoted got my attention:

Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. (Psalm 36:1 ESV)

1 Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool;

what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?

2 All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord.

But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:1-2 ESV)

Jehioakim was the king of Israel.  As such, he was worthy of some honor and respect.  But he was a wicked man.  There was no fear of God in him.  He was not humble or contrite nor did he tremble at God’s word.  The ruler of Israel did something infinitely stupid: he showed contempt for the Ruler of the Universe.  He despised God and His word.  In his contempt for God he became contemptible in the eyes of God: Worthy of scorn, or disdain; despicable; mean; vile.

So much so that God spoke directly to Jehoiakim by means of a second scroll.  In verse 30 we read what it said:

Therefore thus says the Lord concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah: He shall have none to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night. 31 And I will punish him and his offspring and his servants for their iniquity. I will bring upon them and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem and upon the people of Judah all the disaster that I have pronounced against them, but they would not hear.’” (Jeremiah 36:30-31 ESV)

We read this and are shocked at Jehoiakim’s behavior.  His advisors pled with him not to do this awful thing and bring God’s wrath upon them even more.  But because of his “inordinate self-esteem” and his contempt for God’s word, he like his fathers before him, made Israel to sin by not heeding what God so kindly and graciously revealed to him.  Consequently, we read these words concerning Jehoiakim:

18 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah:

“They shall not lament for him, saying,

‘Ah, my brother!’ or ‘Ah, sister!’

They shall not lament for him, saying,

‘Ah, lord!’ or ‘Ah, his majesty!’

19 With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried,

dragged and dumped beyond the gates of Jerusalem.”

So much for Jehoiakim.  But as shocking as his repulsive behavior is in chapter 36, I would submit to you that there is something in that chapter even more shocking:

27 Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words that Baruch wrote at Jeremiah's dictation, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 28 “Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned.

You know, if I were God, I don’t think I would have done that.

This is truly remarkable.  As despicable as Jehoiakim was, God’s grace was greater than that man’s sin.  God says, “Write another scroll.”  Write it all over again!  Write everything I said to you again, plus more.  Beloved, just how patient IS God?

I can think of numerous movie scenes that would describe what I would have done to Jehoiakim if I were God.  It would have been like the old Batman program: Zap!  Pow!  Boom!  Or like the Hulk when he’s really angry.  But probably the best one is the final scene from the first Indiana Jones movie when the Nazis presume in their superstition to use the power of the Ark of the Covenant.  So they open the box.  A very, very bad move if you recall.  What is depicted is the power of God that comes out of the ark like a white-hot flame of fire and incinerates them all.

Yeah.  That’s what I would have done.  If I were God.  Fire from the sky.

But it seems God is not fond of throwing His formidable weight around like that.  On numerous occasions in the Scriptures, we see God’s willingness to put on a display of His power.  You can recall many of them.  But the Bible concentrates those acts for us so that we sometimes get the feeling God must have been raining fire and brimstone on sinners on a fairly regular basis way back when.

But the fact of the matter is He seldom did so.  The plagues of Egypt were an exception to the rule.  The walls of Jericho falling down and the destruction of the 400 prophets of Baal and the annihilation of 185,000 of Sennacharib’s army by the Angel of the LORD in one night--those are all exceptions to the rule.

The rule is what we see in Jeremiah 36.  God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6 ESV).  Look at what the Lord says to Jeremiah to begin with in verse 2:

2 “Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today. 3 It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.”

What is most astounding in this chapter is not the stupid belligerence of a preening king.  What is most remarkable is that God says, “Write it again.”  “Warn them again.”  Call them to repentance, . . . Again.  So that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.”

32 Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah, who wrote on it at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire.  And many similar words were added to them.

Jehoiakim's destruction of Jeremiah's scroll is no different from atheists claiming God does not exist.  In neither case are the facts changed.  God does not cease to exist when someone refuses to acknowledge Him, nor does His word go away when someone destroys a Bible because he doesn't like what God has said.  God and His word stand.

What is truly amazing in all of this is that a holy God would continue to strive with sinful people like Jehoiakim.  And the people of Judah.  And us.  How patient, how longsuffering the LORD is.  How many times did you hear the gospel before you repented and believed?  How many years, how many decades did you persist in unbelief before the Lord finally opened your eyes to understand how guilty you really were?

The Lord said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.

4 So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first.  And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. 5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. 9 And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.” (Exodus 34:1, 4-9 ESV)

The Spirit of God will not always strive with perpetually stiff-necked people.  God is slow to anger, but He does become angry.  There is a very solemn warning spoken especially to kings and rulers like Jehoiakim who would presume upon the patience and mercy of God:

10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.

11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.

12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,

for his wrath is quickly kindled.  Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:10-12 ESV)


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