In Chapter 36, Jeremiah is commanded by God to write down on a scroll everything that is about to happen to Israel. God’s never-ending love is never far from the surface, and he hopes that at last, given the crushing weight of Jeremiah’s prophecy, Israel might repent and be restored:
“It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin” (36:3, ESV).
The disaster is that the army of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon will overrun Jerusalem and destroy it. Anyone remaining in the city of Jerusalem will die; it is better for Israel to go into exile, where saving each person’s life is called a prize of war.
Jehoiakim is so arrogant that, when all the people of Jerusalem who have heard Jeremiah’s earlier prophesies come to him begging for a time of fasting and repentance, the king ignores them. So the people declare the fast themselves!
Once again, God’s never-ending love is revealed through Jeremiah, who hopes the time of fasting will be convicting:
“It may be that their plea of mercy will come before the Lord, and that every one will turn from his evil way, for great is the anger and wrath that the Lord has pronounced against this people” (36:7).
God would give anything to cancel judgment of his beloved children! (Even, perhaps, his Son?)
Yet Jehoiakim boycotts the fast. His top officials, while complicit in doing whatever the king tells them, right or wrong, fear the Lord and especially Jeremiah’s words read at the time of fasting. So they inform the king by seizing the scroll, but they have hearts true enough to warn Jeremiah and his secretary Baruch to hide.
Jehoiakim slowly and deliberately slices the scroll bit by bit and burns it in the fire. Perhaps these were the original Pentagon Papers that Richard Nixon tried desperately to hide, even though they indicted his predecessor John Kennedy, not himself?
Do we not see scandals this very day in Washington of cover-ups that would make even Nixon blush?
But before we get too arrogant in our judgment of Nixon and Jehoiakim, we should take this personally. Isn’t it true that all of us, at one time or another, have created a web of deception, only to be exposed and humiliated – something as small as gossip, or something much greater?
Why does our fallen human nature fall into these traps so easily?
“Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. Even when [his closest advisers] urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them” (36:24-25).
You can recognize a non-believer when he or she does not fear God.
About 300 years ago, Sir Walter Scott penned these famous words: “O the tangled webs we weave, when we practice to deceive.”
We cannot deceive God, any more than Jehoiakim could - Jeremiah simply re-dictated the burned scroll, which lives on today in this book of the Bible.
Its message is clear – fear of the Lord leads not to abuse by God, but rather repentance, restoration, and unity with God.
The only web that should be spun is the one God spins to destroy Satan!
And I guarantee that God’s web is not tangled.