Refusing to listen to God doesn’t change what he says.
I love the image of Jehoiakim cutting off the columns of the scroll of Jeremiah’s words as they’re read, to burn each in turn in the brazier. Did he think that by destroying the physical words he would change what God had said? Or was he just saying, in the most emphatic way he could, that he didn’t care what Jeremiah said – that as King he was a higher authority than a prophet?
I heard that the writer and speaker Jim Wallis has a copy of what he calls the ‘American Bible’ from which all references to justice and care for the poor have been cut with scissors, leaving a tattered mess. Of course, the point he is making is that these words from God have indeed been spoken, and that they can’t be selectively cut from the text. In reality, we all ignore those parts of the Bible which we’re not ready to deal with – but at least we can have the honesty to acknowledge that we’re doing it, and to work at bringing them into our view of the world and of God.
Of course, Jeremiah simply dictated the same words again; what God has spoken through a prophet has a reality which is more than ink on parchment. Like the second carving of the Ten Commandments, the second writing of Jeremiah’s warning is from the same source as the first, and carries just the same weight.
Jeremiah’s opponents then try another way to silence him – by putting him in prison, then by dropping him down a well. But that doesn’t change anything either. God’s message doesn’t stop being sure just because there’s no-one to whom the prophet can speak it.
What are the words from God that I know have been spoken but which I try not to hear? And how can I hear them in a way that moves me to action?