STARTING NOW

 

Week of February 5, 2006

 

Bible Passages:  Jeremiah 1:4-19.

 

Biblical Truth:  God calls believers to serve Him, and He equips and directs them for service.

 

Discover Your Destiny:  Jeremiah 1:4-10.

 

[4] Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, [5] “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” [6] Then I said, “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.” [7] But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, I am a youth, because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak. [8] Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord. [9] Then the Lord stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. [10] See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant .  [NASU]

 

[4-5] God did wonderful things for Jeremiah before he was even born. He knew him. He formed him. He set him apart and appointed him as a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah had biological parents, of course, but God himself fashioned him and knit him together in his mother’s womb. If you want to know who you are, you have to know whose you are. When did Jeremiah start belonging to God? When did God choose him? The prophet was set apart before he was born. To set something apart is to sanctify it or to dedicate it to holy service. Long before Jeremiah was born, God chose him and consecrated him for ministry.

 

With the second before to underline God’s deliberate choice, the words, I knew, are amplified with I consecrated and I appointed, relating Jeremiah first to his Lord and then to his world. I knew you. Before God began to form Jeremiah, he knew him, took an interest in him, lovingly considered him. I consecrated you. Because God was interested in Jeremiah, God decided to separate, segregate him, put him in a class into which not all children of men belong. The exact nature of this consecration is stated in the third clause: I have appointed you a prophet. To this prophetic office God had appointed Jeremiah before He had formed him in his mother’s womb. God was determined to have a prophet to the nations, and with that in mind, He formed and shaped Jeremiah’s body and soul. God gave to this child the character, the temperament, the gifts and talents which would qualify him for his high and important office.

 

There is a general call, of course, to believe in Jesus Christ. But everyone who believes in Christ also has a special calling to a particular sphere of obedience and ministry. Jeremiah was not just set apart for salvation, he was set apart for vocation. God had work for him to do. Jeremiah’s unique appointment was to be a prophet to the nations. But to be a prophet to the nations also includes announcing God’s judgment. Jeremiah’s calling is not for everyone. The first chapter of Jeremiah is mainly about his call for his times, not your call for your times. But you do have a call. As F. B. Meyer writes: “From the foot of the cross, where we are cradled in our second birth, to the brink of the river, where we lay down our armor, there is a path which he has prepared for us to walk in.” Perhaps you are still trying to figure out what God’s plan is for you. Many Christians long to know what God is calling them to do. If you are not sure, there are at least two things you ought to do. The first is to do everything you already know God wants you to do. You cannot expect to be ready for God’s call, or even to recognize God’s call, unless you are obeying what God has already revealed to you. This includes the obvious things, such as spending time in prayer and Bible study, serving the people with whom you live, remaining active in the worship of the church, and being God’s witness in the world. Second, ask God to reveal his will for your life. If you ask, he has promised to answer: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him [James 1:5].

 

[6] Jeremiah knew what God wanted him to do. Yet even after he received his divine call, he was still a dubious candidate: Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth. Jeremiah had two main objections to becoming a prophet: his lack of eloquence and his lack of experience.

 

[7-8] God did not disqualify Jeremiah on the basis of his youth and inexperience. Jeremiah may have had reasonable doubts. But God exposed his false humility for what it really was: a lack of faith. Jeremiah had forgotten that God is not limited by human weakness. God himself possesses everything Jeremiah needs to answer his call. In fact, enabling weak tools to do strong jobs is God’s standard operating procedure. When God calls someone to do a job, he gives him or her all the gifts needed to get the job done. With God’s calling comes God’s gifting. Once God had issued his divine call and dealt with his dubious candidate, he gave him a dangerous commission: Everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you. What a marvelous promise! What a burden did that lift off the young man’s shoulders! The reason Jeremiah did not need to be afraid was that he had the promise of God’s presence. God’s reply has something for others besides Jeremiah, for it is typical of his approach to human misgivings. What Jeremiah had said about himself might well be true (God did not deny it) but it was not the point. The proper question was not, “Who am I to do this?” but “What are my instructions? Where am I posted? And will God be with me?” God’s reply put the whole matter on the right footing and related it to its true center: the master, not the servant. And this is true for all believers. Our focus needs to be on our Master and His instructions; not on ourselves and our weaknesses.

 

[9] I have put indicates God’s putting his word in the mouth of Jeremiah as a completed act. How useless for Jeremiah to worry about his inexperience now that he has God’s word in his mouth. Jeremiah’s prophetic activity is comprehended in this symbolic act of dedication and consecration. Not only did Jeremiah have God’s presence at his side, he also had God’s words on his lips.

 

 [10] The Hebrew term translated have appointed means to seek, visit, inspect, supervise. God is the ruler of the universe. He shapes the destinies of the nations and he appoints Jeremiah as his representative on earth, places him over the nations and over the kingdoms. The prophet’s job description includes six tasks, and four of them are negative. Two to one, his words to the nations will be words of judgment. To pluck up [to uproot] is to dig up nations by the roots and turn them under. It is a word that Jeremiah uses more than all the other biblical writers combined, often to describe the uprooting of idols [e.g. 12:14-17]. To break down (tear down) is to tear down a standing structure, like knocking down a city wall or toppling a tower. To destroy is another word for knocking things down. To overthrow is to demolish, to bring to complete ruin. Once the Lord plucks up, breaks down, destroys and overthrows a nation, there is not much left. There is a great deal of that kind of judgment in the rest of Jeremiah’s book. But grace will have the last word. When the cities of evil have been torn down and plowed under, God will start afresh. He will begin a new work. He will build and plant. He will bring renewal out of demolition. Jeremiah’s commission set the pattern of his calling, with its four verbs of demolition and its two of renewal. He would stand on the brink of the Exile, that great divide of Israel’s history, and would call the nations to accept the yoke of Babylon. But in God’s name, too, he would announce the shortness of the years allotted to that empire [25:11-14; 27:7; 29:10-14], and the mercy in store for Israel and for the teachable among the nations [12:14-17]. 

 

God Will Equip You:  Jeremiah 1:11-16.

 

[11] The word of the Lord came to me saying, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” And I said, “I see a rod of an almond tree.” [12] Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over My word to perform it.” [13] The word of the Lord came to me a second time saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.” [14] Then the Lord said to me, “Out of the north the evil will break forth on all the inhabitants of the land. [15] For, behold, I am calling all the families of the kingdoms of the north,” declares the Lord; “and they will come and they will set each one his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all its walls round about and against all the cities of Judah. [16] I will pronounce My judgments on them concerning all their wickedness, whereby they have forsaken Me and have offered sacrifices to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands.  [NASU]

 

The second half of Jeremiah 1 consists of three object lessons. First God shows the prophet an almond tree [11-12], a boiling pot [13-16], and an iron pillar [17-19]. Then God tells Jeremiah what the tree, the pot, and the pillar mean: His word will blossom forth, his judgment will be poured out, and his prophet will stand firm.

 

[11-12] In Jeremiah’s region of Judea the almond tree is always the first tree to blossom in springtime. When the almond tree blossoms, the promise of spring is about to be fulfilled, and warm weather is on the way. God used a play on words to teach Jeremiah the spiritual significance of the almond branch. The word for watching is the Hebrew shoqed. It sounds very much like the Hebrew for almond: shaqed. In fact, those two words are different forms of the same word, the word for waking or watching. The almond tree was the waking-tree. It was the first tree to wake up after a long winter’s nap. It was also the watching-tree, the tree one watched for in the spring. God showed Jeremiah the almond tree to teach him that he is wide awake, watching and waiting. What God is watching for is to make sure that everything God has promised comes to pass. He is watching to see that his Word is fulfilled. Like the almond tree, God’s word is starting to blossom. One can no more prevent God’s promise from being fulfilled than one can keep the almond tree from blossoming in springtime.

 

[13-14] Once again, God used something common to teach Jeremiah. First it was an almond branch. This time it is a plain, old, ordinary cooking pot. The prophet must have seen this pot on an open fire. Imagine the pot resting on logs or coals and heating to a rolling boil. The fire is being stoked, the flames are being fanned, and the embers are bursting into flame. As the pot resettles in the fire, it tips to one side, the boiling water bubbles over the side of the pot, and steam goes hissing up from the flames. The Bible does not yet identify the northern peoples who will come spilling down toward Jerusalem. But the real point is that God himself will do the judging. God is summoning the northern kingdoms. God is the one who will tip the boiling pot and pour it out over Judah.

 

[15-16] In these verses Jeremiah is given a panoramic view of the world events during the next four decades, the outpouring of the seething waters of God’s wrath upon the apostate nation of Judah. In vivid, lifelike colors the prophet portrays the chief actors in one of the great crises in the history of the nation of Israel. We see the enemy from the north, as yet unnamed; we see Judah and Jerusalem, the object of his attack; we see Jeremiah, the prophet, his activity, the opposition he must endure. And over and above all we see the Lord God of Hosts directing the history of His world and His people according to His wise and just and gracious will. There is a hint in verse 15b that the boiling pot of divine judgment will cause Jerusalem to be a city under siege. Enemy armies will camp around her walls, waiting for the people of God to starve. But here is the real kicker: they will set each one his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem [15b]. When an ancient king wanted to show his complete domination over vanquished foes, he would set up his throne in the gates of their capital city.

 

I will pronounce My judgments. The Lord is the supreme Judge, who is at the same time the testifying Witness, the prosecuting Attorney, the Executor of His judgment. He it is who institutes, conducts, and carries into effect the legal proceedings. The enemies from the north wreaking their vengeance upon Judah are merely pawns in His hands. They have forsaken Me. That is the wickedness of which Judah has become guilty. All their apostasies throughout the centuries are comprised in that one word: forsaken. They have offered sacrifices … and worshiped. These two verbs are in the imperfect tense indicating repeated acts as the consequence of their apostasy. Israel, the nation to whom God had revealed Himself in so marvelous a manner, whom He had chosen as His own people, runs away from their God, casts Him off. And having forsaken the Lord, they sink deeper and deeper into sin and superstition.

 

Get Busy Serving:  Jeremiah 1:17-19.

 

[17] “Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you, Do not be dismayed before them, or I will dismay you before them. [18] Now behold, I have made you today as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as walls of bronze against the whole land, to the kings of Judah, to its princes, to its priests and to the people of the land. [19] They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord..  [NASU]

 

[17] Before the next object lesson, God repeats Jeremiah’s call: speak to them all which I command you. What is new here is the sense of urgency. By telling the prophet to gird up your loins and arise, God was telling him to brace himself. The time to begin his work was here. To gird up your loins was a symbol of preparation and signified getting ready for work. Jeremiah is to be ready, prepared for anything that might happen. His life’s work is now described in two short words: Stand! Speak! Against all opposition he is to stand calm and fearless, firm and steadfast.

 

The other thing that is new is the warning: Do not be dismayed before them, of I will dismay you before them. Dismayed means to be downcast, broken, to tremble with fear. The prophet is never to permit himself to break down before his audience, never to show any signs of fear, nor let his fear of the people induce him to change any one word of the Lord’s message. If the prophet breaks down at seeing the faces before him distorted with rage and fury, at hearing their angry shouts, at seeing their hands stretched out to grasp him, to murder him, then God will cause him to break down utterly and completely! The point is that if Jeremiah loses his nerve in front of mere human beings, God will unnerve him. John Calvin writes in his commentary on Jeremiah: “This passage contains a useful doctrine, from which we learn that strength shall never be wanting to God’s servants, while they derive courage from the conviction that God himself is the author of their calling … for God will then supply them with strength and courage invincible, so as to render them formidable to the whole world: but if they be unhinged and timid, and turn here and there, and be influenced by the fear of men, God will render them base and contemptible, and make them to tremble at the least breath of air, and they shall be wholly broken down.” If Jeremiah is going to be bold in his work as God’s prophet, he will need supernatural strength, which is exactly what God promised to give him in verses 18-19.

 

[18]  God will supply to His prophet all that is necessary to do his duty. He asks much, and gives more. Courage and strength come from the Lord. Notice that he speaks to Jeremiah in the past tense: I have made you. Right from the beginning of his calling, God equipped Jeremiah with the courage he needed to finish his calling. He made Jeremiah a fortified city which denotes something inaccessible, as a well-fortified, impregnable city, against which even great multitudes battle in vain. God also made him a pillar of iron, a steel beam. The word for pillar is not the word for a free-standing column; it is the word for a prop or foundation-post that supports a building. Jeremiah will be a tower of strength. And God made Jeremiah like walls of bronze. Bronze was the toughest metal known to the ancients. The plural pictures vividly the impossibility of overthrowing him. Even if one wall has fallen, there are others just as strong, exhausting the strength of the enemy. Jeremiah needed that kind of strength. God commanded him to take his stand against the whole land; against Judah’s kings, its princes, priests, and the people of Judah, which did not leave him with many allies.

 

[19] The Lord does not deceive His prophet, He tells him that the future history of his life is that of an uninterrupted warfare. But once again the Lord gives Jeremiah the promise of certain deliverance [see verse 8]. Yet in this verse the Lord adds the additional promise that all Jeremiah’s enemies will not overcome him. A fortified city might be stormed, an iron pillar might be smashed, even bronze walls might be broken down. But God gives Jeremiah the promise that I am with you. The great I AM THAT I AM, the invincible covenant Lord, is with you. And with this promise the Lord sends out His prophet to complete His mission.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.     What did God require from Jeremiah, and what did He promise him? How can this apply to us?

 

2.     Jeremiah thought he was too young and inexperienced to be God’s spokesman to the world. How did God respond to Jeremiah’s fears? Do you have the same type of fears when you sense God calling you to a particular task which you do not believe you are qualified to perform? How does God’s response to Jeremiah apply to your situation?

 

3.     What aspects of God’s character and activity are brought before us in this chapter?

 

4.     What opposition will Jeremiah face in his ministry? What does he need to do to overcome it? What things does God command Jeremiah to do? What things does God promise to do for him?  What can we learn from verses 17-19 that can be applied to our own efforts to follow God’s specific call of service for us?

 

 

References:

The Message of Jeremiah, Derek Kidner, Inter-Varsity Press.

Jeremiah, Theo Laetsch, Concordia Publishing.

Jeremiah & Lamentations, Philip Ryken, Crossway Books.