Judgment came against King Jehoiakim not simply because he acted foolishly in burning the Scriptures (Jer 36:22-23) but because of the condition of heart which that action revealed. This is given to us in one flaming sentence in Verse 24: “Yet they were not afraid, nor did they tear their garments, the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words.” These men had lost the fear of God.
When a nation or a people or an individual loses the fear of God, they are on their way to destruction. For the fear of God is based upon the sovereign power which He exercises in life. These men were shown to be stupid and senseless men who had lost their sense of reality entirely, because they had lost the fear of God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov 1:7)
There is one great fact everywhere revealed — in Scripture, in history, and even in nature — which has been called “the law of retribution”. There is an inevitable consequence for doing wrong, and there’s no way to escape it. Even an atheist must admit that when he examines the laws of nature he is faced with the conclusion that you either obey the laws of nature and live, or disobey them and die; and man is helpless to change that. For instance, you don’t fool around with 10,000 volts of electrical potential, thinking you are going to make up the laws as you go along. You had better find out what they are first, for you disobey them to your peril and death.
This is what God has implanted in every part of life. How foolish and utterly stupid is the person who seeks to ignore that fact. God requires of every nation that there be the recognition of His sovereign government of men, and the law of retribution for evil. “And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding.'” (Job 28:28)
History has testified repeatedly that God always accomplishes what He says He is going to do: “remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose'” (Is 46:9-10)
God rules in the affairs of men. Napoleon, at the height of his career, once very boldly said, “God is on the side that has the heaviest artillery” — his cynical answer to someone who asked if God was on the side of France. “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” (Gal 6:7)
Then came the Battle of Waterloo, where he lost both the battle and his empire. Years later, in exile on the island of St. Helena, chastened and humbled, Napoleon said, “Man proposes; God disposes”. This is the lesson with which life seeks to confront us. God is able to work His sovereign will — despite man. Therefore the basic, elementary knowledge of life with which everyone ought to start is the fear of God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who practice it. His praise endures for ever! Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments!” (Ps 111:10-112:1
Dear Lord, these words sober me. I pray that I will not point the finger of self-righteousness at others, but rather will acknowledge the times I have not shown You the fear worthy of Your name, which in fact dishonored Your name. Lord, You are my God, and I am one of Your people. May You remind me when I forget that my purpose here is to glorify Your name and to spread the good news about Your kingdom and Your salvation based on faith in Jesus according to the riches of Your grace and mercy. In the precious name of Jesus, amen.