Forming Faith Blog

Prophets and Kings (November 22, 2020)

A fire in a brazier. As Jehoiakim rejected the prophecy of Jeremiah, kings often rejected the call to repent from prophets.
Prophets Are Not

Prophets in the Bible are not fortunetellers. They are not around to tell people what’s going to happen. That is not to say that they don’t speak about the future, because they do. God issues the prophetic call because God has something to say to the people. Prophets are God’s megaphones.

Prophets Are

Biblical prophets “tell the future” in a similar—but much grander—way as parents do. Parents (and other authority figures) often tell what will happen.

  • “If you do that again, you will go to your room.”
  • “Don’t worry, honey, we will be right here when you come back.” 

These statements (and all the others like them) are not predictions. They are promises. Sometimes, they are promises of bad things to come (warnings or threats). Other times, they are promises of comfort. They can be conditional—dependent upon the recipient’s behavior—or unconditional—dependent only upon the love of the one promising. There are differences between human parents and God. Not only does God work on a much grander scale, but the fulfillment of God’s promises is not vulnerable to the uncertainty that we humans exist within. God can—and will—keep God’s promises.

Jeremiah’s Warnings

To my understanding, we don’t know exactly what was written on the scroll where Baruch recorded Jeremiah’s prophecies. But Jeremiah 36:7 gives us the gist:

“It may be that their plea will come before the Lord, and that all of them will turn from their evil ways, for great is the anger and wrath that the Lord has pronounced against this people.”

God, through Jeremiah, through Baruch, is giving the people of Judah a warning. Repent. Turn around. Change your ways. If you don’t, bad things are going to happen.

The King’s Response

The king of Judah, Jehoiakim, had an odd response. When some of his officials had heard the contents of the scroll, they informed the king. The king was curious enough to request one official read the scroll to him aloud. And that official, Jehudi, did. But every few sentences, the king took his penknife, cut off a piece of the scroll, and threw it into the fire. Why? Why not just wait until he hears the whole thing to burn it all? Or throw a fit and not even wait until it’s over? Regardless of this oddity, the king clearly rejected the word of God written there.

The King’s Repentance

King Jehoiakim heard God’s warning, and he rejected it. He had the opportunity to repent, and he threw it into the fire. This contrasts with another king we heard two weeks ago. This king ruled over a gentile town, an enemy of Israel, Nineveh. This gentile king heard the warning the prophet Jonah proclaimed, and he repented (along with everyone else, including the cows). Now, the Jewish king—the descendant of David—rejected God, a stark contrast to the repentant gentile king. Because of these two responses, Nineveh was saved, and Judah was sent into exile.

Another King

This reading in the Narrative Lectionary falls on Christ the King Sunday. This provides an opportunity to really contrast Jehoiakim with Jesus (both descendants of David). Jehoiakim refused to listen to God, but Jesus heard and was obedient. Jehoiakim (and his sons) were punished by the hand of God through the Babylonians. Jesus, though he was killed at the hands of authorities, was blessed by God and elevated. Jehoiakim burned the word of God, Jesus was the Word of God. Jehoiakim is long dead and buried. Jesus is alive forever, ruling over all creation.

Free Resource

We can learn from Jehoiakim’s sins. We can reject his example and listen to the word of God and obey. We can repent day after day as we try to follow God’s way. We can learn—of course—from Jesus as well. We can follow the King of All and hold onto the sure promises of God. In all of this, prayer is a great way to start. This week, we are providing a litany for intergenerational worship based on our readings from Jeremiah. This comes from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Worship resource. It can be easily used in online worship; all you need to do is to provide the words to the worshippers.

May we all follow the ways of King Jesus, not King Jehoiakim.


Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

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