Just like Jeremiah, we have been formed by God, we are known by God in an extremely intimate way, we have been set apart and consecrated as holy, and we have been appointed to be the instruments used by God’s holy hands.
Through this lesson students should:
Understand that we have all been called by God to do his will in our world.
Discuss what it means for us to be formed by God, known by God, consecrated by God, and appointed by God.
Catching up on the story:
The book that bears Jeremiah’s name is an account of the prophet’s lifelong ministry to various nations of the world. We are told at the outset that Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin. It is unlikely that Jeremiah himself was a priest, although it appears that his father probably was. Anathoth was not very far from Jerusalem, around 3 miles north (Thompson, 140).
We are given significant historical markers that help us place Jeremiah in the flow of Israel’s history. The first name we read is that of King Josiah, who made significant religious reforms within Israel. His reign began around 640 B.C. and ended when he was killed in a battle with the Egyptians in 609. Jeremiah’s ministry goes from around 627 B.C. to around 538 B.C. during the reign of King Zedekiah. Over the course of his ministry, Jeremiah will proclaim many things and witness many tragic events, including the beginning of Exile. Unlike other prophets whom God sends, Jeremiah’s ministry will not be limited to just Judah or Israel; it will cover a vast range of nations.
The Initial Call: Jeremiah 1:4-5
Jeremiah’s call begins, as all calls do, with God revealing himself to the one whom he calls. The “word” of the Lord came to Jeremiah. In Hebrew, the word which all of the major English translations translate as “word” (davar) carries with it more than just the auditory sensation of hearing someone speak. Rather, for Israel, davar carried with it the idea of the event as well. Hearing something or someone speak, and the event that those words described were closely linked. “What a person thinks or plans, what he says and what he does are all part of the same event.” (Thompson, 145). In other words, Jeremiah hears the call of God in his life and, as a result, is now caught up in the ongoing events that God’s words describe. In hearing and (perhaps begrudgingly) accepting God’s call, Jeremiah cannot escape becoming an important part of God’s concrete actions in the world.
There are four verbs in verse five that are important for helping us understand Jeremiah and his call. The first verb comes at the beginning of verse 5, “formed.” Jeremiah understands that his existence is not merely an accident but that his coming together in his mother’s womb has been divinely orchestrated. The one who forms an object, be it out of clay or wood, always gets to determine what that object’s purpose and use will be. The imagery of a potter reworking stubborn clay will feature prominently in Jeremiah’s ministry later in the book (18:1-11; 19:1-15). Jeremiah has been and will be, formed for God’s purposes throughout this book.
The second of the four verbs come just a bit later, “I knew you” (yada). Often today we place a heavy emphasis on intellectual knowledge. I can know about math or about cars in a very abstract way. I can even know a person in an intellectual kind of way: I know their name, birthday, favorite food, etc. In the Old Testament, however, yada was used to describe more than just this intellectual knowledge. It was used to describe the deep personal connections that come from considerable time and effort on a person’s part. I can “know” a car by its make and model, but I only can truly yada a car when I’ve spent time under the hood, exploring its inner workings, fixing what’s broken, and seeking to make it run the best that it can. For this reason, yada was often used in the Old Testament to describe the kind of relationship that occurs between a man and a woman who have become sexually intimate. It’s with intimate knowledge that God speaks about Jeremiah. As the one who has formed Jeremiah, who knows his inner workings, God knows Jeremiah. Jeremiah is not being called on to represent God without God having a good idea of what Jeremiah can do and stand.
The third verb moves from the intimate to the deeply holy, “consecrated/set apart” (hiqdish). Not only does God form and know Jeremiah, but he has also consecrated or set him apart as holy to be used for God’s holy purposes. For Israel, if something (a place, person, day, or season) was set apart to be holy for God, its sole use was to be for God. It was a grave sin, blasphemy indeed, to keep that which had been set apart for God from being used by God (Thompson, 146). Jeremiah’s call was not just a call to partake in a vocation of prophetic ministry. Jeremiah’s call consecrated him to be used by God for God’s holy purposes. Jeremiah, in the dark days that will follow this call so early in his life, will need to draw on the knowledge that the one who had formed him, the one who knows him, has also set him aside as a holy instrument. The knowledge that God does not abandon that which he consecrates must have been reassuring, even though Jeremiah will have plenty of occasions to doubt God’s calling!
The final verb, “appoint” (nettati), is used in a number of important places throughout the Old Testament that describe a special sort of appointment by God (cf. Genesis 1:17; 17:5; Exodus 7:1; Isaiah 49:6) (Thompson, 146). Here we learn to whom Jeremiah will minister. It will not be like some of his prophetic colleagues, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, and Habakkuk, who were called to only one nation. Jeremiah has been appointed to be a prophet not just to Judah or Israel, God’s people, but to the nations at large. The scope of Jeremiah’s ministry will be larger than any other. For a young boy or man as Jeremiah was when he came to understand God’s call on his life, this must have been a daunting task. The job description just seems too large!
I’m Only a Boy! Jeremiah 1:6-10
God has spoken, and now it’s time for Jeremiah to respond. Jeremiah’s response leads us to remember Moses’ call story. Jeremiah responds as Moses did, and maybe like we often respond, by pointing out why he cannot do as God has said. Jeremiah is only a boy! Add to that; he is not eloquent or wise in the words that he should say. What does a boy say to the leaders of great nations? Jeremiah seems to forget or not truly understand the consequences of his formation and appointment at the hands of God.
The conversation between God and Jeremiah continues with a rebuke. Jeremiah is told to put away his excuse of youth and inexperience. He will indeed go where God tells him to go, and he will do what God tells him to do. He is not to be afraid of those to whom he will speak because the one who has created him, the one who now calls him, will sustain him and deliver him. We should never use our own human inadequacy and lack of experience as a reason to run from the call of God. “Human inadequacy and inexperience provide the occasion for divine enablement” (Thompson, 148). In other words, God will always accomplish what God wants to accomplish through us, even when we think we are not qualified or able to accomplish it.
Jeremiah then tells us that God reaches out his hand and touches his mouth. As God does this, he declares that his words are now in Jeremiah’s mouth. A formal appointment is then offered. Today, Jeremiah is told, he has been appointed to the nations to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant. It is not that Jeremiah will actually rise to a level of power so as to be able to physically pull down nations. He will, however, issue the words (davar) of God, which are as good as the events they describe.
This part of Jeremiah’s call has particularly important ramifications for us today. While we may not all experience God’s call in our life in the same way as Jeremiah did, those four verbs we examined above, formed, known, consecrated, and appointed, force us to take stock in how we understand our place in this world, and they force us to ask ourselves some critical questions.
We are all formed in our mother’s womb, in mysterious and wonderful ways, by the hand of God. While the circumstances of our individual conceptions may not have been ideal, the fact remains that we would cease to exist if it were not for the sustaining hand of our creator. God has formed us and will continue to form us our whole life through. What are the ramifications of this knowledge that we are wonderfully made by the hand of our creator God?
We are all known, in a very intimate way, by the God who formed us. All of our potential, God knows. All of our strengths, God knows. All of our deficiencies, God knows. God knows what we need so that we will run our best. God knows what we need to fix our brokenness. What are the ramifications of this knowledge that God knows us so intimately?
We are all set apart as holy. God has consecrated us, by virtue of our baptism into the Lord Jesus Christ, to be a royal priesthood and a holy people (1 Peter 2:9). We are to be used for God’s holy purposes in our very broken world. We are set apart; we are holy. What are the ramifications of this knowledge that we are a people set apart, a people consecrated as holy?
Finally, we have been appointed as God’s instruments, not just to our neighborhoods but to the nations. God has formed us, as individuals in our mother’s wombs and as a gathered up body of believers who confess that Jesus Christ is Lord so that we might be made a holy people who are sent out to the nations to speak the words that God has given us, words of challenge and conviction, but also words of hope, words of love, words of life. What are the ramifications for us of this kind of appointment?
Because God has formed us and because he knows us in an intimate way, he gets the right to shape what we should be and do. What we are is consecrated and set apart as holy instruments for God’s holy purposes. By virtue of our baptism into Jesus Christ, we have been made and are being made holy. We have thus been appointed as God’s holy workers, just like Jeremiah, to the nations.
You and I, while we may never be the kind of prophet that Jeremiah was, are called and consecrated nonetheless to do the will of God in our world. We are all formed by God. We are all known by God. We are all consecrated as holy for God’s use. We are all appointed to take God’s word, his words of life and hope and love, to the nations.
Specific Discussion Questions:
Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
God tells Jeremiah that he was formed by God in the womb of his mother. Even though we may know a lot of the science behind how a baby comes to be born, what significance might there be in our confessing that we have been formed by God in our mother’s womb? How might that affect how we see and value life?
Jeremiah is also told that before he was formed by God, God knew him. The Hebrew word for “know” carries with it the idea of more than just intellectual knowledge but of knowledge of an intimate sort. Why do you think God wanted to tell Jeremiah that he knew him in that manner? What are the implications for us, as surely God knows us in the same way?
The third thing that God did before Jeremiah was born was to consecrate or set Jeremiah apart. In Israel, to be consecrated as holy before God was to be used only for God’s holy purposes. What does this mean for Jeremiah? What is the significance for us as we are consecrated by virtue of our baptism into Christ Jesus?
The final thing that God does before Jeremiah was even born was appointed him as a prophet and messenger to the nations. Because we know about Jeremiah’s life and ministry, it’s easy to answer what that looked like for him to be appointed by God to be a prophet and messenger to the nations. What might it look like for us who have been formed, known, and consecrated, to be appointed as messengers and prophets to the nations?
In Verse 7, Jeremiah seeks to decline God’s call because he is young and inexperienced, and the job just seems too big. What is God’s response to Jeremiah? Have you ever responded to God calling you by using an excuse rooted in your own human weakness? If so, what was it?
In verse 10, God declares that Jeremiah has been appointed “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” What do you think God means by that?
As a church, we have also been formed, known, consecrated, and appointed to be God’s holy instruments to the nations. What are the implications for us as a church as we understand that we have been formed, known, consecrated, and appointed? How does it affect the way we use our time, our energies, and our resources?
J.A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 1980).