“He’s not a very good preacher.” “I didn’t get anything out of that sermon.” “Those points of application weren’t relevant.” If words like these haven’t actually come out of your mouth after church, you’ve likely heard them from someone else or thought them yourself. Although sometimes our concerns are valid, we are often sidetracked by personal preferences, and if we aren’t careful, our critiques will inhibit us from responding appropriately to the truth.
We aren’t the only ones who struggle with hearing and receiving the Word of God. A theme in the book of Jeremiah is the failure of God’s people to pay attention to His Word and act accordingly. For example, Jeremiah 35:17 says, “I have spoken to [Judah] and they have not listened, I have called to them and they have not answered.” Elsewhere God explains, “They did not pay attention to my words…that I persistently sent to you by my servants the prophets” (Jeremiah 29:19). Similar accusations were made repeatedly throughout Jeremiah’s ministry.
For better or for worse, the Judeans’ response to God’s Word was often a direct reflection of their kings’ willingness or refusal to heed it. When Josiah became king as an eight-year-old, the Book of the Law – likely a portion of Deuteronomy – was nowhere to be found. Providing a detailed account of Josiah’s time as king, 2 Chronicles says that in the middle of his reign, the temple was under construction, and this lost section of God’s Word was rediscovered. A messenger read the scroll’s contents to the king, who then “tore his clothes” as a sign of grief, recognizing that Judah’s ancestors had “not kept the word of the Lord, to do according to all that is written in this book” (2 Chronicles 34:19, 21). Josiah’s response to a difficult truth was admirable. In fact, because his heart was tender and he humbled himself before the Word of God, he was spared from seeing the disaster God would later bring on Judah (34:27-28). With his expanded understanding of God’s Word, Josiah continued to lead the nation in extensive religious reforms until his death.
Josiah’s son, Jehoiakim, had a different attitude toward Scripture than his father. Jeremiah was directed to record God’s Word of judgment against Judah so that when they realized the consequences of their sin they would repent and be forgiven (Jeremiah 36:2-3). When the words were read to King Jehoiakim, he cut the scroll into pieces and threw them into the fire he was using to heat his house. Jeremiah pinpointed the contrasting responses of Josiah and Jehoiakim when he wrote, “Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments” (36:24). The king’s outright rejection of God’s Word prevented him from experiencing the grace and mercy God longed to extend.
I hope it’s safe to assume none of us have ever ripped and burned our Bibles, but that doesn’t necessarily mean our hearts are tender and humble. While Jehoiakim’s actions were extreme, they are a powerful reminder that ignoring Scripture has negative repercussions and inhibits us from receiving all that God offers.
Our dismissal of God’s Word is often much more subtle, and in my personal experience, happens when I focus more on the messenger than the message. When I don’t like a preacher’s style, I am prone to tune out altogether. When a sermon comes from a difficult part of the Bible, I often write it off as boring or irrelevant. When a speaker’s point is especially convicting, I try to forget what I heard. In these situations, my attitude is no better than that of the Judeans who were notorious for persecuting the prophets and consistently “did not listen or incline their ear” to the truth (44:5).
We should be astounded that the One who “upholds the universe by the word of his power” has chosen to make Himself known through Scripture (Hebrews 1:3). When His Word is opened – whether in personal study or corporate worship – we should be on the edges of our seats to hear from Him. If He spoke through a donkey, He can certainly use other unlikely messengers – even ones who stumble over their words or who aren’t the most charismatic communicators (Numbers 22:28). Regardless of whose mouth is moving, as long as the truth of the Bible is being proclaimed, God is the One speaking. Thus, the question isn’t if God will speak, it’s whether we’ll pay attention to what He’s said.