Each of these three chapters gives us a little vignette, each one different from the other but each one another step on the inexorable path to the destruction of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah. However, none of them – nor perhaps any other story in all of Jeremiah – gives us a more vivid portrait of the sheer stubbornness of the “bad” kings of Judah than chapter 36.
Here we have all of Jeremiah’s prophecies compiled into a single long scroll at God’s direction. Jeremiah is in hiding, but some of King Jehoiakim’s more sensible advisors realize the importance of the scroll and arrange to have it brought to the king’s attention. The king sits there in his winter palace before a comfortable warming fire pot, and as the words of the scroll – the words of God spoken through Jeremiah – are read aloud to him, he takes a knife and slices off pieces of the scroll every three or four columns and casts them into the fire:
Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary. And Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king. It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him. 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. Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. (v. 21-24, ESV)
The sheer insolence of this king is staggering. (And for the record, so’s mine. How about you?) One would not be surprised to read that God called down fire and brimstone on the winter palace, incinerating Jehoiakim and his cronies in a flash. But God simply directs Jeremiah to make… yet another scroll!
It seems that God is intent on making this a “teachable moment” one way or another. Destruction will come soon enough to Jerusalem, but God takes great pains here to ensure that everyone – there and then and here and now – will know exactly why that destruction came.