God told the prophet Jeremiah to take a scroll and write on it all the words that God had spoken to him against not only the Jewish people but also against other nations (Jeremiah 36:1-2). Jeremiah carried out that assignment by having the scribe Baruch write out all the words that Jeremiah spoke to him (36:4). It is not known whether Jeremiah recited the words of his prophecies from memory or if he read them from scrolls on which they had previously been written. Whatever the details were, once the writing was completed Jeremiah told Baruch to go to the temple in Jerusalem and read the scroll in the hearing of the people during a day of national fasting (36:6). Jeremiah would have done the reading himself, but at that time he had been barred from the temple (36:5). By having the scroll read publicly, especially on a day when fasting was required, Jeremiah hoped that the people would turn from their sins and get right with God (36:7).
At least a year passed (compare 36:1 with 36:9) before the next day of fasting arrived, but on that day Baruch did as he was told by standing in a certain room above the temple’s courtyard and reading to the crowd of people who were gathered beneath him (36:10). A man named Michaiah heard that reading and went and told King Jehoiakim’s administrative officials what was read (36:11-13). Those officials then had Baruch come to them and personally read the scroll to them (36:14-15). The scroll’s prophetic words of doom concerning Judah threw a serious scare into those royal officers, and they instructed Baruch to go into hiding and to tell Jeremiah to do the same (36:16-19). As for the scroll, the officers kept it and placed it in the home of a scribe named Elishama (36:20).
Next, those officials went to King Jehoiakim, who was in the fifth year of his reign, and told him what the scroll said about the judgment that was prophesied to befall his kingdom (36:20). The king responded by having Jehudi, a member of his staff, fetch the scroll from Elishama’s home and read it out loud to the king (36:21). But Jehudi only got three or four columns into the reading before the king took Jehudi’s knife and started slicing up the sections of the scroll and tossing them into the fire that was burning in the hearth (36:22-23). The king himself showed no fear or remorse for this shocking act of literally burning the word of God (36:24). To the contrary, he commanded his son Jerahmeel and two other men to arrest both Baruch and Jeremiah (36:26).
And how did God respond to King Jehoiakim’s actions? He had Jeremiah and Baruch repeat the whole process of scroll writing, with Jeremiah again doing the speaking and Baruch again doing the writing to reproduce the destroyed scroll (36:27-28). The only difference in the second scroll was the fact that God added in a personalized word of judgment regarding King Jehoiakim. God’s added word of judgment was that Jehoiakim would be put to death, his body would lie unburied outside on the ground, none of his descendants would ever reign as king in Jerusalem, and those descendants would instead experience God’s hand of judgment (36:29-31). The demise of not only Jehoiakim himself but also his family and his kingdom of Judah was ultimately accomplished by the invading Babylonian army.
William MacDonald, in his Believer’s Bible Commentary, calls Jehoiakim’s burning of God’s word “a perfect picture of what liberals and rationalists have been doing with the Word of God ever since.” Harry Ironside, in his commentary, calls Jehoiakim “the first mutilator of the Word of God recorded in scripture.” Surely, however, scores of others have arisen throughout history to follow in Jehoiakim’s footsteps. Even now our modern-day Jehoiakims, in their blatant rebellion against God, are attempting to destroy what the Bible, God’s written word, teaches about abortion, homosexuality, gender, gender roles, and a whole host of other moral topics. As Jehoiakim found out, though, God’s written word cannot truly be denied. It will stand when everything else falls, and in the end those who try to destroy it will find that all they have really done is destroy themselves upon it.