“BURN THE BOOK”
King Josiah was a restorationist king of Judah. He was only eight years old when he began to reign in Jerusalem (2 Kg 22:1). “And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kg 22:2). In the eighteenth year of his reign, the book of the law of God was found during some reconstruction work on the temple. The message of the book was one of doom if Judah continued on its present moral course of rebellion against the law of God. The words of the book struck the young Josiah so deep in his heart that he set Judah on a radical course of national restoration to the word of God (2 Kg 23). It was a restoration so radical that all places of worship to pagan gods were destroyed throughout the land. This all transpired because one leader responded to the power of the written word of God. Unfortunately, this radical restoration through repentance because of a reading of a “Bible” was not passed on to Josiah’s son, Jehoiakim.
I. Burning the Bible:
Jehoiakim did not respond to the written word of God as his father. At the beginning of his reign, God instructed Jeremiah, “Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you concerning Israel and concerning Judah …” (Jr 36:2). Jeremiah subsequently called Baruch, his scribe, and he “wrote all the words of the Lord” (Jr 36:4). Jeremiah then instructed Baruch to go to Jehoiakim and “read from the scroll that you have written from my mouth, the words of the Lord in the ears of the people in the Lord’s house on the day of fasting. And you will also read them in the ears of all Judah who come out of their cities” (Jr 36:6). Baruch was to do this because “great is the anger and the fury that the Lord has pronounced against this people” (Jr 36:7).
Everything went well with the reading of the words that Jeremiah wrote, until the matter came to the king’s court. The king’s men had enough sense to fear when they heard the reading of the words of the scroll (Jr 36:16). They then instructed Baruch that he and Jeremiah should go and hide themselves, for they knew what the reaction would be from the king when the scroll (“the Bible”) was read to him. And they were right. “So it came to pass when Jehudi had read three or four columns [of the scroll], he [Jehoiakim] cut it with a penknife and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the scroll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth” (Jr 36:23). Why this response to the reading of the word of God? “Yet the king and all his servants who heard all these words were not afraid, nor did they tear their garments” (Jr 36:24).
When people in sin read of the eternal destruction that will eventually come upon them, but do not fear, then they are beyond response. They react with rage. When there is no longer any fear generated in the hearts of men to what the Bible says, then we know that people are long past restoration to obedience of their Creator. We live in such a world today. The reason why so few people study their Bibles today lies in either one or more of the following truths: (1) They are so traditionally set in the ways of their own religiosity that they are afraid to discover that their religious traditions might be contrary to the word of God. (2) They are traditionally set in their own behavior that is contrary to the word of God, and thus, do not want to change their ways. (3) They have handed their brains over to a religious leader who knows little or nothing about the Bible, but with a gifted tongue of smooth and fair speech is able to charismatically lead them astray through his crafty speaking. In the case of Jehoiakim, it may have been all the preceding. But whatever the case with any individual, one can know if he has any respect for the word of God by the level of fear that is in his heart when he reads his Bible.
II. Obedience to the word of God:
As time progressed after Israel appointed her first kings, the kings themselves led the people into a disrespect for the word of God. As these kings began to trust in their own power, they trusted less in the power of God. Uzziah was such a king. “When he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his own destruction, for he transgressed against the Lord his God …” (2 Ch 27:16).
When religious leaders start trusting in their own skills, their hearts are often lifted up against God. We have witnessed that those preachers who are blessed with a gift to speak often start trusting in their ability to persuade people with their words, rather than with the word of God. We live in a time wherein there are thousands of churches that are built around some gifted speaker or personality to whom everyone has given their allegiance. People come before the altar, not to hear the word of God, but to have their hearts excited by a cheerleading preacher, who, in ignorance of the word of God, has the ability to exhort the people with his own words.
When Uzziah lifted his heart up against God, he did that which was contrary to the word of God. He “went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Ch 27:16). But Azariah the priest went in after him, “with eighty priests of the Lord who were valiant men” (2 Ch 27:17). What Uzziah was doing was that which only the priests could do according to the law of God. But at this point in Uzziah’s arrogance, he cared nothing for the law of God. Azariah said to Uzziah, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests the sons of Aaron who are consecrated to burn incense” (2 Ch 27:18). Then Azariah rebuked Uzziah by saying, “Go out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed. You will have no honor from the Lord God” (2 Ch 27:18).
In his arrogance, Uzziah “was angry with the priests” (2 Ch 27:19). But then God stepped in and took control of the matter. As a result, “the leprosy broke out on his [Uzziah’s] forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, from beside the incense altar” (2 Ch 27:19). Then the priests “threw him out from there. And he himself also hastened to get out because the Lord had smitten him” (2 Ch 27:20). Because of his disrespect for the law of God, Uzziah “was a leper to the day of his death” (2 Ch 27:21). We can learn a great lesson from the rebellion of Uzziah. The lesson is that God is serious about us keeping His law. We often deceive ourselves into believing that a little rebellion will be overlooked through the grace of God. But in Uzziah’s case, God intends that we follow His law. God seeks obedience, for it is through obedience to His will that we manifest that we are His children.
When religious leaders allow themselves to become ignorant of the word of God, they will sin. The point is this: If one would assume to be a spiritual leader for the people of God, then he must be a student of the word of God. He cannot lead people to follow God if he does not know where God wants His people to go. Willfully ignorant leaders of God’s children will lead them to destruction. The scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of Israel, were judged by Jesus to be such leaders. Jesus said of them, “They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the ditch” (Mt 15:14). Religious leaders who do not study their Bibles manifest their arrogance and rebellion against God. They know they should be Bible students for the sake of the people they lead. But because they, as Uzziah, trust in the strength of their own abilities, they are rebellious against the word of God by leading them to be ignorant of their Bibles. When the blind lead the blind, the ditch is their destiny.
We must not think that the followers of misguided religionists will sidestep the ditch of destruction because they were innocently led astray by the biblically ignorant. Jesus said that the followers will also fall into the ditch of destruction because they did not seek after those who were preachers of the Bible, nor did they study of their Bibles. They allowed themselves to be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of teaching, by the trickery of men in cleverness to the deceitfulness of error” (Ep 4:14). The time is always present when the audience “will not endure sound teaching. But to suit their itching ears, they will surround themselves with teachers who will agree with their own desires” (2 Tm 4:3). Those who preach in ignorance of the word of God will be judged for their failure to preach the truth of God’s word. Those who listen to preaching that is not the word of God will be judged because they did not seek the word of God. Both have burned their Bibles, for they have no thirst for what God seeks to reveal. There are more ways to burn a Bible than by throwing it into fiery flames. An unread Bible is as worthless to the owner as a Bible in ashes.