Controlling the Narrative

Controlling the Narrative (CaD Jer 36) Wayfarer

It was the ninth month and the king was sitting in the winter apartment, with a fire burning in the firepot in front of him. Whenever Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll, the king cut them off with a scribe’s knife and threw them into the firepot, until the entire scroll was burned in the fire.
Jeremiah 36:22-23 (NIV)

It’s popular to think of the prophet’s words as primarily religious in nature, but in the time they were written they were acutely political. It’s easy to gloss over the mention of dates in these ancient texts, but they provide critical context that adds meaning.

Jeremiah’s dictation of his prophetic messages to the scribe, Baruch was done in the the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah. Scholars place that date as the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign in Babylon. Neb’s defeat of the Egyptian army at Carcemish is one of the critical battles in human history. It shifted the balance of power in the region from Egypt to Babylon. The Babylonian’s subsequently demanded tribute from all of the city states in the region, including Jerusalem.

The historic record reveals that one city, the city of Ashkelon, refused the Babylonians demand. Ashkelon is not very far from Jerusalem. It was a Philistine city that played a part in the story of Samson hundreds of years earlier. The Babylonians attacked the city, completely destroyed it, and burned it to the ground as a mafia-like reminder to all the other city-states of what happens when you refuse to pay for “protection.”

Today’s chapter goes on to share that Baruch read Jeremiah’s words publicly in Solomon’s Temple in the ninth month of the fifth year of Jehoiakim when a time of fasting had been declared. Jeremiah couldn’t do it because he had been barred from the Temple. He was already a suppressed voice, unpopular with the current political and religious establishment. Fasting was not a regular part of the Hebrew’s ritual worship and was generally reserved for times of grief and spiritual need. This time of national fasting appears to coincide with Babylon’s destruction of Ashkelon. It is a time of fear and uncertainty as there’s a new Empire threatening their very existence.

Jeremiah’s words proclaim captivity, exile, destruction, and death at the hands of the Babylonians if the people don’t repent of their idolatry and give themselves wholeheartedly to God.

This is not the narrative King Jehoiakim wants proclaimed publicly. He wants his people to feel safe and secure under his administration. He needs prophets proclaiming Babylon’s downfall and Jerusalem’s survival. So, King J personally burns Jeremiah’s scroll (which would have been a very expensive and. time-consuming undertaking for Jeremiah) column by column and seeks to have both Jeremiah and his scribe arrested (read: silenced).

Sound familiar?

In my lifetime, I have never observed such a time as the one in which we are living, when political, media, educational and business institutions work hard to suppress and control anything contrary to the narrative they want publicly proclaimed. And, for the record, it happens on both sides of our divided political spectrum.

In the quiet this morning, I realize that I have the benefit of historical hindsight. Jeremiah was right. He was speaking the truth that the political and religious powers of his day didn’t want proclaimed. They considered Jerry’s religious editorials to be politically incorrect because they were critical of the current political and religious administrations. The leaders of the institutions didn’t want people stirred up against them. They wanted to control the narrative in order to control the people and maintain their political power.

Today, like everyone else, I wonder where things are headed in the months and years ahead. I’m no Jeremiah. Sorry.

I do, however, recognize patterns of human behavior throughout history. Whenever institutional leaders of any kind or political persuasion control what is said, suppress free speech, ignore factual evidence that contradicts their desired narrative, silences dissent, punishes or cancels dissenters, and refuses honest, open, and fair debate, it is not a good thing. It wasn’t a good thing in Jeremiah’s day, and it’s not a good thing today.

I don’t know what the future holds in the short run, but I know how the Great Story ends. I’m trusting the Story, and its Author. And, I’m committed to continue proclaiming it, as I have been called to do, all the days of this life journey.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

One thought on “Controlling the Narrative”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.