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Make No Excuses

 

Jeremiah 1:4-14, 17-19
Bible Studies for Life, August 5

 

The new birth in Christ is a call to action. From the moment that Jesus challenges those first disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mk. 1:17) to the literary moment when Paul writes, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (1 Cor. 12:7), the believer’s life is one that is engaged in the task of serving God. However, too many make excuses for their inactivity in the church.

A culture of excuses engulfs today’s society. We hear them all the time. Some are legitimate, some are not. Everybody else is doing it. At least I’m not as bad as some people. I can’t help it; it’s just the way I am, the way that I was born.

Excuses for tardiness and excuses for absenteeism fill the workplace. I had car trouble. I was sick. The alarm clock was broke. I overslept. There was a lot of traffic.

Excuses echo in the classroom. I lost my book. I couldn’t remember the assignment. My mother needed me. I didn’t feel good.

Shirking responsibility fills our comic strips. In Beetle Bailey, the main character is considered an expert in making excuses. “Garfield’s Big Book of Excellent Excuses” is a bestseller.

What is an excuse? An excuse is an alibi or an apology, an attempt to justify or defend a fault or misdeed. On the positive side they seek to reveal a justifiable motive for a fault. Often, however, they are ploys for shirking duties, justifying wrongs, or avoiding unpleasant situations.

“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one,” asserted George Washington. Benjamin Franklin, also no fan of the excuse, published, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” George Washington Carver soberly maintained, “Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.”

Tony Evans writes that men need to hear God saying, “Get up from your excuses. Get up, get up, you bum. Why? Because Jesus loves you” (“No More Excuses: Be the Man God Made You to Be,” 2006, 319). Pastor Michael Stevens agrees, “This Sunday, more than six million wives will attend church faithfully – without their husbands” (“No More Excuses: Creating a Culture in the Church That Reaches African-American Men,” 2008, xi).

The excuse game begins in the Bible with Adam pointing the finger at Eve. Adam calls her “the woman whom thou gavest to be with me” (Gen. 3:12). Hence, God is in fact the guilty party! (Calvinists agree with Adam, pointing the finger at God as the one who behind the scenes directed every deed in history. This, however, rejects any notion of man’s free will.)

 

God calls - Jeremiah 1:4-8

God knows Jeremiah better than he knows himself. Nothing is surprising about God’s acknowledgement of Jeremiah’s suitability as a prophet. His Hand forms or shapes Jeremiah in the womb of his mother just as the potter shapes the clay. The preposition before jumps out from the verse and then the phrase I chose you. God’s perspective is eternal, although His Hand works within history.

The phrase “the word of the Lord came to me” highlights God’s initiative (v. 4). Jeremiah’s background as the son of a priest in Anathoth, a town three miles from Jerusalem, is providential. For 40 years he will declare the sin of Judah and the coming destruction by Babylon. He will be called a traitor and pro-Babylon (37:11-16).

The coming destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple with the consequent loss of the priesthood was not a far-fetched idea for the priests of Anathoth as they lived in the village where David’s priest, Abiathar, had been exiled by Solomon after he had backed Adonijah as king (1 Kings. 1:7; 2:26-27).

Abiathar had been the priest at Shiloh. From the time of Joshua to the time of Jeroboam I and the prophet Ahijah (Josh 18:1; 1 Kgs. 11:29; 12:15; 14:2-4) some 500 years Shiloh had been a sacred site and now it was no more. Jeremiah warns that Jerusalem will become another Shiloh (Jer. 7:12-14; 26:5-10).

Jeremiah, however, can only see his inadequacies and not his strengths. “I would not even know what to say and I am only a lad.” He was perhaps 18-21 years of age.

 

God equips - Jeremiah 1:9-10

Jeremiah is told that he will go only where he is sent and will say only what he is told to say. He is promised God’s presence and then God’s hand touches his mouth with God commenting that already He is putting His words in his mouth.

Jeremiah is commissioned a prophet to the nations (vv. 5, 10). Six powerful verbs represent the actions that will proclaim: pull up, tear down, destroy, and overthrow (four violently destructive verbs), and build up and plant (two verbs of hope).

 

God affirms - Jeremiah 1:11-14, 17-19

To legitimize Jeremiah’s sense of call, he is given two visions. He is asked, “What do you see?” A stick of almond wood and a boiling pot tipping over is the reply. These visions rely on no miraculous act, only common things.

There is a play on words with the verb “watching” and the word “almond” containing similar sounds (Huey, “Jeremiah, Lamentations,” 53). As the almond tree declares the coming of spring, so God’s vigilance will ensure the fulfillment of His Word. The boiling pot repeats the judgment from the north. Both visions authenticate the Word of God.

God again assures Jeremiah of His Presence and that God will “cause him to become a strong city, an iron column, and a bronze wall.” God is preparing Jeremiah for coming hostility.