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How Not to Hear when God speaks to you: Use King Jehoiakim’s Exegetical Tool (Jeremiah 36)

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14 March 2010

Last Sunday we heard the Parable of the Sower – the story about four kinds of soil (Luke 8.1-21). They all receive the seed in different ways with different results.

The seed is the word of God. 12Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

Therefore consider carefully how you listen

The story reminds us to take heed how we hear. God speaks, it is like good seed.
If we don’t hear, or won’t hear, the seed can’t grow. If it can’t put down deep roots in our personalities and if it can get no space in our living, it won’t flourish and bear fruit.

This story is not the only place in the Bible where we are told:

Listen, and take heed how you listen.

Hear this story, in

A Congregational Play on Jeremiah 36:
King Jehoiakim’s Exegetical Tool

Peter Porter comes in carrying a brazier (a wire mesh waste paper basket will do) and dumps it in the middle of the floor, straightens up and looks around.

“It’s bad; very bad. In fact you could say, it’s diabolical”

Voices from the audience

“What’s bad? …. Sounds interesting…… What are you talking about? ”

PP “You don’t know? You walk around with your eyes shut, do you? You irreligious lot, you didn’t go to the temple to keep the general fast, to pray the Lord to rescue Jerusalem from Nebuchadnezzar?”

Voices “No, we didn’t go. Life is too dangerous to bother with religious mumbo-jumbo. What has God ever done for us? This trouble’s been getting worse for years, from before king Josiah’s time. That Jeremiah, who can’t make up his mind whether he is a prophet or not, is forever bleating on, wailing and criticising, but it makes no difference. The priests in the temple are just in it for what they can make out of it – so we don’t waste time on that…. What happens is a matter of fate, Que sera sera, Whatever will be, will be, so we didn’t go to the fast”

PP “You didn’t go, so you don’t know what is happening. You don’t care, so why should I tell you? Anyway I can’t stand wasting time, talking to you lot, I’ve got work to do.”

He stumps out (genuine porters always stump and harrumph)
The people chatter and argue amongst themselves
PP comes back with a companion. They carry a big chair and put it down besides the brazier.

PP “You’d better smarten yourselves up and behave: King Jehoiakim is coming to his winter house here to get warm. We’d better get a bit of fire going. There’s hardly any coal left in the whole city, thanks to the Babylonian blockade. What have you got, Joe?”

Joe “Not much. He puts in the brazier two or three red pebbles, or balloons blown to a 2 inch diameter or some red plums. That’s all I could get. It’s not much, but the king will be warmer than the rest of us. I don’t see why he should get it though – what has he ever done for me?”

PP “Watch your tongue, Joe. That sort of ungrateful, traitorous talk got Jeremiah into prison more than once. Even now, he’s barred from going to the Temple. Quite right, I say – mad trouble maker.”

Joe “Don’t talk to me in that tone. I thought you were a mate – and here you are, sounding as though you’d shop me. Any road, did you hear young Baruch read out that letter from Jeremiah the other day?”

PP “What letter? Who is Baruch? shouldn’t you say Barak anyway?”

Joe “Weren’t you in the Temple when they called the general fast? No one who was there missed it. Baruch, – he is very particular about being Baruch, not Barak – he has a very loud voice. He’s Jeremiah’s secretary. And Jeremiah has a message like a sharp fearful sword. …. I don’t see how you could be there and not hear it….”

The audience begins to mutter and heckle. “Peter, weren’t you there then? Preach to us about going to the temple and didn’t go yourself?”

PP stumbling “Of course I was there, but I … don’t take no notice of tittle-tattle – I saw through Jeremiah long ago”

Joe “That letter from Jeremiah was spot on. If anyone has got a clue about how to get us out of this crisis, it’s him. And that letter got noticed in high places. We haven’t heard the last of it – you watch.”

PP “You watch out – the king is here, just do your job….”
“Your Majesty, we have your throne and a fire: come and have a comfortable rest”

King Jehoiakim “Call that a fire? How am I supposed to get warm with a miserable smoulder like that? Get some more coal, and save your breath to blow on it.”

PP “I am sorry, Your Majesty, we have scoured the city, and this is all we can find.”

King “What do you mean? There must be more. Find some quickly or I’ll have you sent to the mines to dig it for me with your own lazy chiselling hands….”

PP quails but does not reply, as a crowd of princes and court officials come in, looking very worried.
There is Micaiah, Elishama a secretary, Delaliah, Elnathan, Gemariah , Zedekiah, and others

Elishama “Your Majesty, we have to report to you.”

King “What? Are the the Babylonians breaking their agreement and demanding more?”

Elishama “No, there was trouble in the temple the other day.”

King “Call that trouble? Don’t waste my time.”

Elishama “Your Majesty, Jeremiah”

King “Jeremiah? He is banned. He is under house arrest. We’ve done for him: he’s finished.”

Elishama “Your Majesty, he is devious. The more traitorous a person, the more devious he will be. He wrote a letter. He dictated it to his secretary Baruch, who is not banned. And Baruch read it to all the people in the Temple on the fast day. They are excited. We would be failing in our duty if we kept you in the dark about it. The Today programme will do a big piece on it as soon as their research is finished.”

King “That wretch. Writing a letter – that’s more than I know how to do. And speaking to all the people, that’s my job. The people belong to me. Who does he think he is?
What’s his game? What did he say? Where’s this letter?”

Elishama “It’s in my office, it’s safe.”

King “Jehudi, get it here, at once. I want to hear it – I’ll pay him back for every word in it.”
Jehudi and a couple of others run out in great haste, round the church a couple of times, stop and pick up the letter and run back, out of breath.

King “Right, get on with it”

Jehudi opens the first bit of the scroll and reads
“From Jeremiah, the commissioned prophet of the Lord, in agony of compassion for the people, and reverence for God’s judgment, to the king and people of Judah in the present crisis.”

King “Just a minute. I need my exegetical tool. Where did I put my penknife?”
He searches through the pockets of his robe – he takes out all sorts of things. He feels down through a hole in his pocket into the lining, and pulls out his favourite Swiss army knife.
“Now give me that scroll. Where have you got to? Right, we’ve had enough of that. He cuts it off with his knife and throws it into the fire. Go on, go on!”

Jehudi “I have given you messages from God, our God, the God who wants to save us from our sins, but won’t save us just to let us go on sinning. For a long time, I have been giving you messages, lots of messages, which God has given me. I remind you first of what I said in King Josiah’s reign…”

King “No, I won’t be reminded: Jeremiah was no use then, and anyway, all that’s in the past now, utterly irrelevant. Give me the scroll”
He cuts the part the Jehudi points out to him and throws it on the fire.
“See, what a rotten thing this prophetic letter is: it gives me no support or encouragement, and I can’t even get any warmth from it.”

Gemariah “Your Majesty, please don’t: book burning is not a good response to a message that might be prophetic – let’s have a workshop to talk about these issues carefully”

Delaliah “Your Majesty, if there’s just a small chance God is speaking to us here, shouldn’t we be a bit more open, even a bit more afraid?”

Elnathan “Your Majesty, remember the good traditional spiritual practices. Is is not time to fear the Lord and to tear our garments to show we humbly repent? Your knife could be used that way.”

King “You…bird-brain, is that how you counsel me? You will get my knife in your gizzard if you carry on talking like that, old friend or no old friend.
“Now, What next?

Jehudi “The letter goes on: Today, the Lord says again: You, king and people of Judah, have not listened in the past, but perhaps today, if I appeal to you afresh, you will take seriously what I say. I will not tolerate your evil as a people. I will bring disaster upon you, destroying Jerusalem and your state, deporting your leaders and leaving the people to their enemies. All this will happen if you do not turn from your evil ways – that means all of you together and each one of you in particular.”

King “Stop! this is intolerable, outrageous, I will not have it. My knife will settle it, it is more powerful than his pen. He cuts the scroll. And the fire, there, the word goes up in smoke. Well, that’s settled that. Now just find Jeremiah and Baruch for me: cut them off and feed them to the fire. And I’m going to bed, I can’t get warm here.”

The king and princes leave disorderly.

PP “Well, didn’t I tell you it was bad? It is bad. But exciting. Isn’t his majesty kingly, wielding the penknife like that? Cut Jeremiah down to size, didn’t it?
“But you know, Joe, I didn’t have a clue what he meant when he said his penknife was an exegetical tool. Do you know what he was talking about?”

Joe “Don’t try to show me up with your clever questions, especially when you don’t know what you’re talking about. But whatever you say, I thought that letter from Jeremiah was talking sense. I’d like to hear it again, but it’s gone and soon Jeremiah will be dead too – the king has him on his list.”

PP “No, it was a rotten letter, I’ve forgotten it already. But I would like to know what an exegetical tool is. I don’t think we’ve got one in our palace workshop. It might be useful. I wonder who could tell me what it is. You lot out there, is there any one who can tell me?”

Joe “Hey, Peter, I’ve just had a kind of idea, a sort of dream. Suppose Jeremiah escapes the king. Suppose he writes his letter again. Then I might get to hear it once more. I wouldn’t put it past him: he’s devious, you know.”

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