Burning words

One Friday found me at Wendy's in Plainview (an appropriately named town) eating lunch, on my way to Aunt Teena’s farm near Sedan, New Mexico, to pick com. I was reading from my Daily Bible, from Jeremiah 36, about a time when God told Jeremiah to write down all his sermons and prophecies.

By this time in Jeremiah’s life he had been preaching for over twenty years; what a chore it must have been to recall everything he’d said. I doubt he had a folder of sermon notes in his file cabinet. Maybe he kept some form of journal through the years - that isn’t too farfetched since much of the book of Jeremiah is made up of his personal observations and analysis. Also, since he was following Gods direction to write it all down, maybe God helped him remember.

The story says Jeremiah asked another man, Baruch, to write down the words while Jeremiah dictated. Being a writer who edits a lot, I can’t imagine writing with pen and ink on a papyrus scroll without a word processor. Almost nothing that I write is readable on the first draft.

But they did it, and Baruch went to the temple to read Jeremiah’s words aloud. Some of the king’s officials got wind of the reading and had Baruch give them a private reading. What they heard scared them. It was obvious to them these were words from God, and they recognized Jeremiah’s hand in all of it. They knew that King Jehoiakim needed to hear it.

The next scene is one of those stories I have known since early childhood. I remember the picture from children's Bible class showing a regal-looking bearded king sitting in his throne beside an open fire while Baruch read the words.

The Bible says Jehoiakim used a scribe’s knife – I guess an early editing tool - to slice off the portion of the scroll after the words were read aloud and then burned those pieces in the fire. It was a dramatic scene, which is probably why I remember the picture so well even though I haven’t seen a copy in at least 45 years.

What did Baruch think as he was reading? The king was destroying months of work right before his eyes. Surely he was angry about that; yet he was reading aloud before the king himself, an honor few experienced. And what would happen when he read the last paragraph and it was burned up - would the king turn his scribe’s knife on Baruch? He must have worried about that as he read.

I wonder how often our work for God gets burned up by some contemptuous unbeliever after we’ve spent months or years working on it? Do we wonder why we did it all when the only remainder is smoke curling up to the ceiling?

And why did God expect Jeremiah and Baruch to go through all of this if he knew it would be burned up? Did God intentionally waste their time? Did he assign them a futile mission as a mean joke?

No, of course not. I think God was giving King Jehoiakim one more chance to repent before the hammer fell on him. Or maybe God’s intended audience that day was never the king himself but some member of his royal court. Preachers and teachers never know for certain which person in their class is the real target.

All we can do is speak what God gives us, when he asks us, and trust him with the outcome. After all, Jeremiah’s words were burned, but I still have a copy.

Cyndi likes to say, “It’s possible to become richer by giving away.” The problem with giving away – whether money or home-cooked food or talent and energy, or even written words directed by God – is that we don’t know what the recipient will do with the gift. If we worry about whether it will be used or appreciated, well, we haven’t really given it away, have we? We simply have to give ourselves and our stuff away and trust God to take care of it.

Jeremiah must have known the only way to preserve his words for all time was to give them away, even if that meant they might be destroyed by an unbelieving king. His gift certainly lasted longer than the arrogant King Jehoiakim. There I was, 2,600 years later, in Wendy’s, in Plainview, reading Jeremiah’s gift.



“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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Copyright 2009 Berry D. Simpson, all rights reserved.