By Jay T. Robertson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, University of Mobile
The events of Chapter 36 took place in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim’s reign. It was the 23rd year of Jeremiah’s ministry and the year Babylon established its dominance in the region by defeating Egypt in battle at Carchemish. It was at this critical time that the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.
The Lord instructed Jeremiah to write on a scroll all the words he had spoken to the prophet since the beginning of his ministry to the present (627–605 B.C.). Jeremiah dictated the messages to his secretary Baruch, who carefully copied them on a scroll (v. 4).
Jeremiah then commanded Baruch to take the scroll on a certain day of fasting and read it to the crowd that would be present.
Baruch read the scroll at the temple in the ninth month of the fifth year of Jehoiakim’s reign, almost a year later. No explanation is given for the lapse of a year from the writing of the scroll to the time it was read.
When the king’s officials heard what Baruch did, they had him read the scroll to them. When they heard what he read, they notified the king and warned Baruch and Jeremiah to hide because they knew the king would be angry. Their concern was not unfounded. They knew Jehoiakim had sent men to Egypt to hunt the prophet Uriah, who had prophesied against Jerusalem and fled for his life. When apprehended, Jehoiakim had Uriah executed.
King Jehoiakim had his servant Jehudi read the scroll to him. As Jehudi read three or four columns at a time, the king used a scribe’s knife to cut off that section and then throw it into the fire, until the entire scroll was destroyed. In addition to showing his contempt for Jeremiah’s messages, Jehoiakim may have believed he could destroy the power of the prophecy by destroying the scroll.
Jehoiakim’s father — King Josiah — upon hearing the word of God, had torn his clothes and called his people to repent (2 Kings 22:11).
King Jehoiakim and his attendants responded with defiance and indifference. Although God had given Jehoiakim one more opportunity to hear his word and repent, he once again rejected God’s word.
King Jehoiakim refused to listen to the pleas of Elnathan, Delaiah and Gemariah not to burn the scroll. By challenging the king, they were putting their lives in danger. Their courageous action ought to inspire believers today to stand up and speak out for God’s word.
King Jehoiakim then ordered his son, Jerahmeel, along with Seraiah and Shelemiah, to seize Baruch and Jeremiah. The earlier concern of the officials for the safety of the two men was justified. The king was not satisfied with destroying the scroll. He wanted to destroy those who were responsible for it. God, however, hid his men.
After the king had burned the scroll, the Lord instructed Jeremiah to take another scroll and write on it all the words contained on the first scroll and other messages not included on the first one. Jeremiah was also commissioned to tell King Jehoiakim he would have no heir sit on David’s throne and that “his corpse will be thrown out to be exposed to the heat of the day and the frost of the night.” Every word of judgment previously pronounced would fall on Jehoiakim’s descendants, his servants, the residents of Jerusalem and the people of Judah.