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Jehoiakim's Pathetic Rebellion in Jeremiah 36

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Will God go away if you pretend He's not there?

Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Jeremiah 36:19-31

Off the heels of last week's story of the faithfulness of the Rechabites, we read this horrifying story of the faithlessness of King Jehoiakim. Unlike his grandfather Josiah who repented at the hearing of the Word of God, Jehoiakim simply destroyed it (so he thought). And thus he would suffer fully for his sin. (His repentant great-grandson, on the other hand ...)

As soon as Jehudi would read three or four columns, Jehoiakim would cut the scroll with a scribe’s knife and throw the columns into the fire in the hearth (36:23)

Getting Started: Things to Think About

A Document You Couldn't Live Without

In this week's passage, a short-sighted king destroys the written copy of Jeremiah's prophecy. God had Jeremiah write another copy, so that worked out, but it got me thinking. What's a document that if destroyed would upset you greatly? (Imagine a world in which there is no internet and every printed copy is destroyed.)

  • The detailed instruction manual for specialized equipment at your workplace

  • A hand-written recipe collection from grandma

  • The constitution/by-laws for your church or organization

  • A personalized invitation to a very special event

  • Your favorite book

There are a few documents that I think I would verifiably panic if I found out they were destroyed. The follow up question: what would you do? Some documents you can try to recreate, but some are just lost forever. How will that affect you?

Symbolic Acts of Destruction

The king destroyed Jeremiah's scroll, but God had Jeremiah rewrite it, so the king's act was symbolic more than anything else. But guess what? That got me thinking. I can think of a lot of acts of destruction that are more symbolic than effective.

  • Burning a flag

  • Ripping up a contract

  • Spray-painting graffiti on a school

You might have seen the news that Sinead O'Connor died this week at 56. This first thing I think of with her is her cover of a Prince song. The second thing is when she ripped up a photo of the pope while performing on SNL (I think I was a junior in high school).

Why would somebody do that? What would be the point?

Perhaps you have committed some symbolic destruction in your lifetime? If so, what were you trying to accomplish? What was the action directed against? Did you ever come to regret that action? (Note: O'Connor remained an activist for the rest of her life; it would be decades before her accusations against the RCC were vindicated.) The king in this week's passage probably did not regret what he did, but he certainly paid for it.

God's Truth Not Welcome Here

In this week's passage, a man destroyed God's Word because he didn't like what it said. How does that happen today?

I was horrified to realize that this movie came out 15 years ago, but it's the one that came to mind. The point of the movie was to accuse areas of our society from rejecting certain ideas not because they're wrong but because they're associated with Judeo-Christian theology. It made me thing of a line from an earlier Michael Crichton book, "That's creationism, and that's just wrong."

It's safe to say that things haven't gotten better. [Admission: sometimes the messenger hasn't helped the cause. Counter: the messenger shouldn't matter if it's the message that's being evaluated.] Do you run into anything in your workplace or maybe your social circle in which a biblical truth is summarily rejected for no "good" reason? For our church members in medicine, in education, and in social policy, they see this happening all over the country. It's got to be discouraging.

(It also puts us in this weird place where we hope for a scientist to come along and acknowledge "maybe they have a point". Recent example: scientists in Sweden and Norway have restricted access to gender surgeries because they have noted long-term health problems, and Christians have appealed to this info in their efforts to shut down these treatments on minors. "You won't listen to us -- maybe you'll listen to these scientists from Europe." Do you think that tactic will work? Why not?)


This Week's Big Idea: Jehoiakim, Baruch

To make better sense of this week's passage, let me give you a quick bio of two of the people mentioned.

Jehoiakim. We introduced him last week with the promise of giving more details this week. Yay! Here's where readers get confused about Jehoiakim: he's a part of a rapid succession of kings with similar names all of whom had name changes. Here's a big picture. (Hezekiah was the good king who listened to Isaiah and saw the Assyrians miraculously defeated outside the walls of Jerusalem. What happened between Jehoiakim and Jeremiah is framed as the opposite of that.)

And here's more detail focused on the actual succession:

I downloaded those images from the web; there were no credits attached to either.

The king in this week's passage was born "Eliakim" (2 Ki 23:34), and Pharaoh Neco renamed him when he conquered Jerusalem and deposed Jehoiakim's brother.

  • 609 BC -- Neco installs Jehoiakim as puppet king

  • 605 BC -- Babylon defeats Egypt; Jehoiakim switches allegiance to Babylon after a brief siege

  • ~602 BC -- Jehoiakim rebels against Babylon and is attacked

  • ~597 BC -- Jehoiakim dies during the siege of Jerusalem

This week's passage takes place "in the fourth year" of Jehoiakim's reign which probably means the siege is happening, but it could also be that the siege has just ended and Jeremiah has reported the news that Babylon will one day destroy them anyway.

In any case, we just have to know that Jehoiakim was a bad king.

Baruch. This poor guy. Baruch was Jeremiah's follower and scribe, but we should think of him as more than that. Perhaps a Luke or a Mark. He helped Jeremiah in his ministry (like purchasing the field we talked about in Jer 32), and he compiled and edited Jeremiah's sermons. The beginning of chapter 36 gives us the setup:

  • V. 1: God tells Jeremiah to write down all of His prophecies.

  • V. 4: Jeremiah dictates these messages to Baruch to inscribe on a scroll.

  • V. 6: Jeremiah tells Baruch to read this scroll out loud in the temple.

  • V. 14: Some good officials interrogate Baruch, decide to take the scroll to the king, and tell Baruch to hide with Jeremiah.

After the king destroys that scroll, God tells Jeremiah to create another one. And Jeremiah calls on Baruch. This next scroll includes additional messages that had not been included in the first one. Note: the Hebrew grammar is clear that Jeremiah did not dictate every single word he had ever said verbatim. Baruch and Jeremiah did some editing. This is why many people believe that Baruch was a key figure in the final edited form of Jeremiah, which has some narrative and chronological jumps (to say the least).

This Week's Big Idea: Ancient Scrolls

Was the big deal about the king's destructive act just the symbolism against God? Well, that's obviously the most important part of it, but it must have also been extremely disheartening to the scribes present.

Scrolls were not easy to produce (no paper mills). The "Great Isaiah Scroll" of the Dead Sea Scrolls was made out of parchment -- stretched animal skin -- a preferred material to papyrus because it could be rolled and unrolled more times.

In other words, the "paper" they used was costly and not always easy to obtain, especially during wartime. The "good" priests would have been dismayed at the disrespect to God's Word, but even the "bad" priests would have wondered, "Did you have to destroy it?"

Perhaps it's like the kid who throws back the home run ball because it wasn't by his favorite player. "You didn't have to throw it back!"


Where We Are in Jeremiah

I've already given you a rough summary of this week's chapter. It's completely separate from last week's event in chapter 35. In fact, I think it's probably out of order -- I said that chapter 35 likely took place ~603 BC, when Jehoiakim rebelled against Babylon, and chapter 36 took place in 605-604 BC. So, it's not about the chronology, it's about the theme. Thematically, it serves as a clear example of what God was talking about in chapter 35 -- "My people disrespect My word, so I will bring destruction upon Jerusalem." Case in point: chapter 36.

Note that there's a time jump in chapter 36; I'll talk about it below,


Part 1: Hear the Word of the Lord (Jeremiah 36:19-21)

19 The officials said to Baruch, “You and Jeremiah must hide and tell no one where you are.” 20 Then, after depositing the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the scribe, the officials came to the king at the courtyard and reported everything in the hearing of the king. 21 The king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the scribe. Jehudi then read it in the hearing of the king and all the officials who were standing by the king.

There are a lot of names in these verses, and most of them are only mentioned in this passage (which means that we can't answer the questions you probably have; some of the first names are shared with other people in Jeremiah, but the "son of"s are different). All we know is that in verse 14, a bunch of royal officials sent this guy Jehudi to get Baruch to bring them the scroll. As far as we know, Jehudi was just a gofer.

In verse 16, the officials' reaction to the scroll is one of fear, which suggests that at least some of them were Godfearing men. This explains why in verse 19 they told Baruch and Jeremiah to hide from the king. They knew how "bad king Jehoiakim" would react to Jeremiah's prophecy (after all, Jeremiah had already been banned from the temple; this is why they "hid" the scroll in one of their rooms).

We know from 36:2 that this scroll contained all of Jeremiah's messages from the beginning of his prophetic ministry until then. (Note: this does not mean "Jeremiah 1-35" -- remember that the modern form of Jeremiah has been edited.) How did these guys know all of Jeremiah's messages well enough to share them with the king if they only heard the scroll once? Well, now it's time to mention the time jump:

  • 36:1 -- "in the fourth year of Jehoiakim" is when Baruch wrote the scroll

  • 36:9 -- "in the ninth month of the fifth year of Jehoiakim" is when Baruch was called to see the officials

Assuming that it didn't take 9 months to write down the prophecies, this suggests that Baruch had been reading the scroll in the temple for a while. If these are Godfearing officials, they would have likely heard Baruch more than once. Perhaps these prophecies were in the background of the city-wide fast that had been called (v. 9). In other words, at least one of these officials may have been very familiar with Jeremiah's prophecies.

[Note: if it took all of that time for Baruch to write the scroll, then throw my speculation out! It could also be that the officials called Baruch in the first time they heard him speak.]

Well, the king (like every good villain) wanted to see the scroll with his own eyes. I'm guessing that Elishama gave it up reluctantly. We are here introduced to a second group of officials -- those who were around the king. I'm taking all of this to mean that the earlier group of officials (who met with Baruch) are the "good guys", and this group of officials (who are with the king) are the "bad guys". We can call them the "bad guys" based on what happens in the following verses. Anyway, what matters is that we are supposed to "get a bad feeling about this". The king's interest in the scroll sounds like every trap in every story in history.

All you need to worry about in these verses is to establish the background. Don't get hung up on the names. The subsequent verses will drive the story along.


Part 2: Not a Great Decision by the King (Jeremiah 36:22-26)

22 Since it was the ninth month, the king was sitting in his winter quarters with a fire burning in front of him. 23 As soon as Jehudi would read three or four columns, Jehoiakim would cut the scroll with a scribe’s knife and throw the columns into the fire in the hearth until the entire scroll was consumed by the fire in the hearth. 24 As they heard all these words, the king and all his servants did not become terrified or tear their clothes. 25 Even though Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah had urged the king not to burn the scroll, he did not listen to them. 26 Then the king commanded Jerahmeel the king’s son, Seraiah son of Azriel, and Shelemiah son of Abdeel to seize the scribe Baruch and the prophet Jeremiah, but the Lord hid them.

This is classic-over-the-top-evil-villain stuff, and we should be extremely uncomfortable reading this. It's the sort of thing we would have a hard time believing a character could really do. Think of your most-hated villain, and yeah, that's Jehoiakim.

We're supposed to juxtapose this with the actions of his father. (2 Kings 22)

8 The high priest Hilkiah told the court secretary Shaphan, “I have found the book of the law in the Lord’s temple,” and he gave the book to Shaphan, who read it.
9 Then the court secretary Shaphan went to the king and reported, “Your servants have emptied out the silver that was found in the temple and have given it to those doing the work—those who oversee the Lord’s temple.” 10 Then the court secretary Shaphan told the king, “The priest Hilkiah has given me a book,” and Shaphan read it in the presence of the king.
11 When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. 12 Then he commanded the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, the court secretary Shaphan, and the king’s servant Asaiah, 13 “Go and inquire of the Lord for me, for the people, and for all Judah about the words in this book that has been found. For great is the Lord’s wrath that is kindled against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words of this book in order to do everything written about us.”

First, note the number of names brought up in just these few verses. It's not just Jeremiah. But second, note the incredible contrast. Josiah tears his clothes and repents. Jehoiakim destroys it. (In fact, Jeremiah specifically sys that Jehoiakim did not tear his clothes.)

Jehoiakim's actions are unnecessarily melodramatic.

And that's the point. That's how little Jehoiakim regarded God.

Good job that the "good guys" told Baruch and Jeremiah to hide? I'd say so. How could this guy be king? How could this guy be Josiah's son? We're supposed to be horrified at this, and we're also supposed to acknowledge that this could happen to anyone at any time. We must be vigilant against sin, especially in our own household.


Part 3: Wait, It Gets Worse (Jeremiah 36:27-31)

27 After the king had burned the scroll and the words Baruch had written at Jeremiah’s dictation, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 28 “Take another scroll, and once again write on it the original words that were on the original scroll that King Jehoiakim of Judah burned. 29 You are to proclaim concerning King Jehoiakim of Judah, ‘This is what the Lord says: You have burned the scroll, asking, “Why have you written on it that the king of Babylon will certainly come and destroy this land and cause it to be without people or animals?” 30 Therefore, this is what the Lord says concerning King Jehoiakim of Judah: He will have no one to sit on David’s throne, and his corpse will be thrown out to be exposed to the heat of day and the frost of night. 31 I will punish him, his descendants, and his officers for their iniquity. I will bring on them, on the residents of Jerusalem, and on the people of Judah all the disaster, which I warned them about but they did not listen.’”

Read this passage carefully and do some sleuthing -- why exactly did Jehoiakim burn the scroll? Do you think he understood what he was really doing?

You see, a lot changes when a person doesn't really think that God's the one talking.

The most pathetic thing about Jehoiakim's "rebellion" is that it was completely useless. It didn't change what was going to happen. It didn't prevent Jeremiah from simply writing another copy.

Your leader guide offers the illustration of "the warning":

  • a late notice on a bill

  • a bad report from your doctor

  • the check engine light

  • fire alarm

How many of you have ignored one of those warnings? I have, have to admit, when my expert judgment decided that the warning was false. Does ignoring a warning make it go away?

According to God, that's a hard no.

I showed you Josiah's "succession line" above. Jehoiakim's son reigned for three months and was killed. Jehoiakim's brother became king.

Jeremiah addressed this back in chapter 22:

24 “As I live”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“though you, Coniah [Jeconiah] son of Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would tear you from it. 25 In fact, I will hand you over to those you dread, who intend to take your life, to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and the Chaldeans. 26 I will hurl you and the mother who gave birth to you into another land, where neither of you were born, and there you will both die. 27 They will never return to the land they long to return to.”
... 30 Record this man as childless, a man who will not be successful in his lifetime. None of his descendants will succeed in sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah.

And Then It Gets Better

Things get interesting, though. You might have noticed this (or not). Look at Matthew's genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:

11 and Josiah fathered Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon. 12 After the exile to Babylon Jeconiah fathered Shealtiel, Shealtiel fathered Zerubbabel, ...

Wait, huh? No one to sit on David's throne? Jesus is one of his descendants!! What's going on here?

This is one of those brilliant reminders of what we've talked about throughout Jeremiah: God judges people for their own sin. If a person chooses to repent, God will forgive.

Well, guess who chose to repent?

Jeconiah had a son named Shealtiel. Shealtiel lived and died in Babylon, and he was not any sort of authority figure to the Jews. This certainly fulfills the prophecy in Jeremiah 22. But Shealtiel had a son who didn't want to be like his forefathers. He wanted to return to the Promised Land. You can read what he did in the book of Ezra.

But we still have this very clear prophecy about the line of Jehoiakim/Jeconiah. Well, God has something to say about this. We learn about Zerubbabel from the prophet Haggai (pronounced hag'-guy).

1:12 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak, and the entire remnant of the people obeyed the Lord their God and the words of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. So the people feared the Lord.

And then God specifically "undoes" the prophecy about Jeconiah/Jehoiachin:

2:20 The word of the Lord came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 21 “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah: I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. 22 I will overturn royal thrones and destroy the power of the Gentile kingdoms. I will overturn chariots and their riders. Horses and their riders will fall, each by his brother’s sword. 23 On that day”—this is the declaration of the Lord of Armies—“I will take you, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, my servant”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“and make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you.” This is the declaration of the Lord of Armies.

So, wow!

Zerubbabel dearly suffered for the sin of his grandfather Jeconiah, but he was not punished for it. Zerubbabel did not walk in the ways of his fathers. He repented and led the people back to the Lord, and the Lord responded with grace and mercy.

To me, that's the most important lesson from this week's passage: God punishes those who abandon Him, but God also restores those who return to Him! The final lessons from Jeremiah emphasize the hope God offers to the people, but I think it's important to realize that this hope extends even to the people who seem to be cut off from God -- like the descendants of a wicked king.

So, does this mean that God was wrong in Jeremiah 36? Well, of course I'm going to say "no"! A lot of people read the Old Testament prophets as "future-telling". But remember that a "prophet" is someone who delivers the Word of God, not someone who predicts the future. God's images of the future are always based on a condition. The prophecies of the fall of Samaria came to pass because the people did not repent of their sin. The prophecies of the fall of Jerusalem came to pass because the people did not repent of their sin. The prophecy of the end of the line of Jehoiakim did not come to pass because Jehoiakim's great-grandson chose to repent.

In other words, this is a picture of the standard Christian invitation: "If you don't repent, you will go to hell when you die.

To me, then, this passage is not all doom and gloom. King Jehoiakim and his wicked officials paid dearly for their rejection of God. The people did suffer the consequences for generations of rebellion. But it would not be forever. Even Jehoiakim's descendant, who repented and returned to the Lord, found his place in fulfilling God's earlier promise to David:

Your house and kingdom will endure before me[a] forever, and your throne will be established forever. (2 Sam 7:16)

God is able to keep all of His promises, even in spite of us. Let that be an encouragement to us.


Closing Thoughts: Verse 32

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

I'm sure Lifeway chose not to include this verse because it begs so many unanswerable questions, but let's not ignore it. This is the verse that gives us a peek into the composition of the books of the Bible. The word "dictation" it literally "from Jeremiah's mouth". It leaves room for Baruch to make edits. Did Baruch change any of the words that God spoke to Jeremiah? Probably not! But there are lots of comments in this book from Jeremiah. We've already talked about how it's not in chronological order. And most importantly, it clarifies that "complete" does not have to mean "exhaustive". If Jeremiah had absolutely written "everything" he had preached and experienced on that first scroll, then what would have been added here? Instead, when we think about the "complete" Word of God, we should realize that it is "everything we need to know".

We just talked about this at the end of John's Gospel:

21:25 And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which, if every one of them were written down, I suppose not even the world itself could contain the books that would be written.

Jeremiah and Baruch, under the superintention of God, made sure that we have the book today that God wanted us to have.


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