The images looked like scenes from an apocalyptic movie: the smoke looming dark and angry on the horizon, marching onward like an unstoppable army. Hungry flames devouring everything in their path, from the most modest of homes to the most palatial, form pricey furnishings to irreplaceable keepsakes.
As tragic as those images from the Colorado fires were earlier this summer, I found the recent Oklahoma fire even more devastating in a certain respect. It’s one thing for natural disaster to strike thorough the fault of no one in particular. But to see such a savage wake of destruction because someone intentionally threw a burning newspaper out of a car seems not only heartbreaking but utterly senseless.
When I read the story of King Jehoiakim of Judah in the book of Jeremiah, I had a similar reaction. The king received a special message from the Lord, intended just for him. The prophet Jeremiah had compiled all of God’s messages since the days of King Josiah and sent them directly to Jehoiakim, warning him to repent before God’s judgment came upon him and his country.
But instead of receiving this as a wakeup call and humbling himself before God, King Jehoiakim did something rather shocking. He had one of his officers read the scroll to him piece by piece, and each time he finished a section, the king took out his knife and burned up the very words of God.
Each time Jehudi finished reading three or four columns, the king took a knife and cut off that section of the scroll. He then threw it into the fire, section by section, until the whole scroll was burned up. Neither the king nor his attendants showed any signs of fear or repentance at what they heard.
He heard the truth, and he threw it in the fireplace.
When I talk to people who don’t know God and his Word, I ache for them, knowing what they’re missing out on. But it’s also understandable. After all, they don’t know anything different. But perhaps the more purposeless tragedy is when someone like me, who has direct access to God’s Word, cuts it apart, piece by piece, and sets it aflame.
Oh, I’d never burn the pages of my Bible, of course. But each time I decide that one little lie won’t hurt, I take a knife to what God says about truth. Whenever I deem his laws about gossip irrelevant for my particular situation, I might as well be tossing that part of Scripture into the fire. Every time I rationalize my worry, turn a blind eye to the poor, or act out of selfishness, I’m destroying God’s Word in my life, piece by piece.
Sometimes it seems inexplicable that any of us would choose God’s judgment instead of embracing grace. But as King Jehoiakim realized, grace, by its very nature, means that we have to change. We can’t stay where we are; we can’t stay who we are.
No matter how you look at it, Scripture must involve a knife and a fire. The question is, will I cut away and burn the parts I don’t like? Or will I allow the Word to cut away and burn the ugly parts of me?
I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.