I take comfort in the fact that the characters in the Bible — people from thousands of years ago — are a lot like us. They’re massive screw-ups, filled with pride and villainy and impure thoughts and destructive tendencies. Who among us can’t sympathize with Thomas, who had trouble believing Jesus had really been resurrected? Or Peter, who cursed and denied Jesus not long after cutting off a guy’s ear in defense of his friend and Messiah? Or Moses, who found himself making excuses (“I’m not a good public speaker”) when God asked him to liberate the Jews from the oppressive Egyptians? Granted, Moses was having a conversation with God at the time, and God was speaking to him through a burning bush, and neither of these situations happen very often in my experience.
But I can definitely sympathize. If God spoke to me audibly, through flaming vegetation, and wanted me to stand up to a powerful nation in order to free hundreds of thousands of captives…well, I could come up with a lot of good excuses, too. Like, “I have asthma.” Or, even better, “But I have volleyball on Thursday nights.” And also: “Who will feed my dogs?”
In fact, there are a number of places where biblical characters make excuses for failing to do the right thing, and they’re excuses I’ve actually used. In Exodus 32, Aaron explains how the whole jewelry-melting idolatry thing with the golden calf happened. Moses calls him on it, and Aaron defends himself with the time-tested “these people made me do it” approach. (In fact, he even adds a “this just kind of happened” twist to it by saying he tossed the gold into the fire and it came back out in the shape of a calf. Like magic!) In the New Testament book of Acts, Felix, the governor of Judea, hears the message of the Gospel from Paul during a trial. Instead of coming to faith — and judging Paul innocent of the sedition charges levied against him — Felix refuses to make a decision and makes himself the procrastination poster boy for the next two millenia. “This isn’t the most convenient time,” he tells Paul. “Let me get to this later.” Again, a familiar excuse.
But not all biblical excuses translate that well to modern times. Below is another bit from the last chapter of Pocket Guide to the Bible: A Little Book About the Big Book, recycled here for your enjoyment.
Four Biblical Excuses That No Longer Work Very Well
1. “A talking serpent deceived me” (Gen. 3:13) Eve, when God questions her and Adam about eating from the forbidden tree.
2. “I might be overtaken by evil in the mountains” (Gen. 19:19) Lot, trying to think of a good reason to stay in the doomed, decadent Sodom.
3. “Giants” (Numbers 13:31-33). Ten of the Israelite spies, explaining why the thought of fighting their way into the Promised Land gives them the shivers.
4. “I just bought five yoke of oxen and need to test them” (Luke 14:19). A character in the parable of the great supper, on why he can’t make it to a wedding feast.
Maybe my experience has been limited, though. Can you think of a scenario where “giants” is still a workable explanation? Have oxen ever kept you away from a good party? Have you ever been overtaken by evil in the mountains? (Extra points if you have, and the story involves a Sasquatch.) Did I miss any good, weird biblical excuses?