DON’T BLAME GOD OR HIS PROPHET WHEN THE CLAY GETS SMASHED FOR REFUSING TO YIELD TO ITS POTTER
Who do you choose to control your life? Will you grasp control into your own hands and think that you can forge a favorable destiny by your ingenuity and hard work? Or will you acknowledge your depravity and weakness and thankfully submit to the designs of the Master Potter who alone can fashion you into a trophy of His grace and glory? The age-old lessons of the Potter and the Clay that were communicated here to God’s stubborn and rebellious nation of idolaters still hold true for us today – both individually and as a community, as a nation, and as a church.
DON’T BLAME GOD OR HIS PROPHET WHEN THE CLAY GETS SMASHED FOR REFUSING TO YIELD TO ITS POTTER
I. (:1-10) THE RIGHT OF THE CREATOR TO DETERMINE DESTINY COUPLED WITH MORAL RESPONSIBILITY
A. (:1-2) Setting the Stage for Visual Object Lesson
“The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD saying, ‘Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I shall announce My words to you.’”
B. (:3-4) Scenario of the Potter Fashioning Clay Vessels to Achieve Desired Product
1. (:3) Engaging in His Craft = Working to Make a Finished Product
“Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel.”
Parunak: “Wheels” – the double potter’s wheel. The lower is a stone flywheel turned with the feet. The upper is a wooden platform on which the pot is formed. Spins quite fast.
2. (:4a) Evaluating His Product = Worthless
“But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter;”
Parunak: It got too thin, or too tall, or the wrong shape.
3. (:4b) Exercising His Creative Prerogative = Wanting a Different Outcome
“so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.”
Parunak: Because the clay is pliable, he can bend it where he wants it, and even lump it up and start over. Cf. Rom. 9:21 – not speaking of separate lumps of clay, but of one and the same lump.
C. (:5-6) Sovereign Right and Power = Point of the Visual Object Lesson
“Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?’ declares the LORD. ‘Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.’”
Parunak: God as the sovereign creator – Isa. 29:16; 45:9; Rom. 9. We have no basis to complain of what he has done to us. . .
God is able to respond quickly to people, as they respond to him. . . The point is not that God’s promises are conditional, but that he interacts with man, as the potter does with the clay, in order to accomplish his sovereign purpose. . .
– Lessons from the Potter
– Lessons from the Clay
– Lessons from the Wheel
J. Wilbur Chapman: The clay is not attractive in itself, but when the hands of the potter touch it, and the thought of the potter is brought to bear upon it, and the plan of the potter is worked out in it and through it, then there is a real transformation.
D. (:7-10) Scenarios of Different Destinies Based on Repentance vs. Rebellion
1. (:7-8) First Scenario: Decreeing Destruction But Will Respond to Repentance
a. (:7) God’s Plan
“At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it;”
b. (:8a) Change of Behavior
“if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil,”
c. (:8b) God’s Response
“I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.”
2. (:9-10) Second Scenario: Decreeing Edification But Will Respond to Rebellion
a. (:9) God’s Plan
“Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it;”
Feinberg: Verses 7-10 show that in his rule over the nations, God treats all of them with grace. He does not exercise his omnipotence arbitrarily or capriciously but conditions everything ethically
b. (:10a) Change of Behavior
“if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice,”
c. (:10b) God’s Response
“then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.”
God does not act arbitrarily and independently of the heart response of his creation.
God sovereignly determines destiny; But moral accountability and responsibility are not denied or compromised.
Parunak: We must not presume on God’s purposes of blessing toward us, or despair of his promises of judgment. He does not wind the world up and let it go. Like a potter working with a clay pot, he is constantly pushing, pinching, watching how the clay responds to his actions and in turn taking the next appropriate action.
Theological Note: Note how the same image emphasizes two ideas that at first seem to be mutually contradictory: God’s sovereignty over us, and his ability apparently to change our destiny in the midst of our lives. This is the crux of the great mystery of God’s sovereignty – how it can coexist with our responsible and causative actions. Can’t understand it, but both are true. This is why we speak, not of eternal security, but of the perseverance of the saints. The saved are those who die saved. Those who turn away and reject God, however intense their initial faith may seem to have been, are like a pot that started out for a vase and ended up a garbage pail.
Guzik: The lesson of the potter’s house was not primarily, “God can do whatever He want.” The main lesson is that God is free to respond to His people according to their own moral conduct and choices and previous promises do not restrict the exercise of His correction or justice. “Man is never at the mercy of an unfeeling deity; it is in his power to repent and align himself with God’s beneficent purposes.” (Cundall)
Mackay: The people had to grasp that there is no guaranteed connection between previous enjoyment of divine blessing, or awareness of divine promises, and future blessing unless there is ongoing obedience. If the people are recalcitrant, then the divine potter will be responsive to the way they are shaping up and, if need be, will undo the good he has already bestowed on the nation and leave aside the blessing, starting out all over again until what is found conforms to what he wants.
II. (:11-17) THE REJECTION OF THE PLEA FOR REFORMATION BRINGS DIVINE REJECTION AND SCATTERING
A. (:11) Plea for Reformation
1. Identification of the Audience
“So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying,”
“Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you.’”
“Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.’”
B. (:12) Stubborn Rejection of Divine Offer
“But they will say, ‘It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’ “
Thompson: Here is a sad reflection on the end result of evil-doing and of continuous breach of covenant. A state is reached where all desire and hope of repentance is lost and men are content to follow the uninhibited promptings of their own rebellious and wicked hearts. At this point judgment is inevitable.
Feinberg: With the issues so clearly presented, what was the nation’s reaction? The people claim it was hopeless to try to dissuade them from their ways (v. 12; cf. 2:25). Having gone too far to turn back, they condemned themselves. Their obduracy showed how deep-seated their love of idolatry was. What a disheartening response for Jeremiah to receive after all his pleading!
C. (:13-17) Unimaginable Apostasy Results in Astonishing Desolation
1. (:13) Unparalleled Unfaithfulness
“Therefore thus says the LORD, ‘Ask now among the nations, Who ever heard the like of this? The virgin of Israel Has done a most appalling thing.’”
Constable: As a virgin, she had done something appalling. She had polluted herself with the practices of pagan religion-including sexual immorality. She had played the harlot.
2. (:14) Dependability of Nature vs Surprising Adultery of Virgin Israel
“Does the snow of Lebanon forsake the rock of the open country?
Or is the cold flowing water from a foreign land ever snatched away?”
Adam Clarke: Lebanon was the highest mountain in Judea. Would any man in his senses abandon a farm that was always watered by the melted snows of Lebanon, and take a barren rock in its place? How stupid therefore and absurd are my people, who abandon the everlasting God for the worship of idols!
Longman: The unexpected should not happen. Snow is always on the rocky slopes of the high mountains of Lebanon. Cool water always flows from distant sources. And Israel should repent and worship the one true God, but it doesn’t!
Wiersbe: Water in nature is consistent: On the heights, it becomes snow; at lower levels, it flows in the streams. God’s people, however, were totally inconsistent, willing to enjoy God’s blessings but not willing to obey the laws of God that governed those blessings.
Feinberg: Nature’s reliability put to shame Judah’s instability.
3. (:15-16) Disgraceful Idolatry
“For My people have forgotten Me,
They burn incense to worthless gods And they have stumbled from their ways, From the ancient paths, to walk in bypaths, not on a highway,
To make their land a desolation, An object of perpetual hissing; Everyone who passes by it will be astonished And shake his head.”
Thompson: The term seriqot, ‘hissing’ or ‘whistling,’ denotes that the land would become a spectacle so shocking as to cause passers-by to whistle in awe. The verse is remarkable for its striking assonance, with its s-sounds conveying the impression of hissing.
4. (:17) Divine Rejection and Scattering
“Like an east wind I will scatter them Before the enemy;
I will show them My back and not My face In the day of their calamity.”
A. C. Gaebelein: If a nation is threatened with destruction and that nation turns to the Lord, He will repent of the evil pronounced upon them. This is fully illustrated in the case of Jonah’s prediction, God-given as it was, of Nineveh’s overthrow. Nineveh repented and the judgment was not executed upon that generation. But if the Lord has promised a nation good and that nation does evil in His sight, He will repent of the good He had promised unto them. Thus the potter’s action is used to convey a great lesson, the lesson of God’s sovereignty, to do as He pleaseth, yet always in perfect righteousness. If Israel had owned then the sin and guilt and turned to the Lord, He would have acted in sovereign grace towards them. Their answer was: “There is no hope; but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imaginations of his evil heart.” What depravity and wicked boldness these words reveal! They refused to believe the message of the Lord. They pushed aside the hand which would snatch them out of the fire. They acknowledged the evil heart and deliberately declared to continue in wicked defiance of Jehovah. And is it any better in professing Christendom today? The answer of the Lord, an answer of kindness and long-suffering follows.
Mackay: The attitude of turning one’s back on someone was a gesture of displeasure with their conduct, and of estrangement from them, no longer having a desire to associate with them or be in their company.
Thompson: In a brief but powerful statement Yahweh’s judgment on a covenant-forsaking people is declared. Like the sirocco, the hot dry wind blowing from the eastern deserts (cf. 4:11; 13:34) Yahweh would come as an east wind (the Babylonian armies). He would scatter them before their enemies, a reference to the impending invasion of the Babylonians and the dispersion of many of the people into exile far to the east (Babylon). In that day, he day of their disaster, Yahweh would offer no help to deliver them, for he would show them his back and not his face.
III. (:18-23) THE DEVIOUS REPRISALS AGAINST FAITHFUL JEREMIAH AND THE DIVINE RETRIBUTION
A. (:18) Reprisals Against the Unpopular Prophet
Definition of Reprisals: “acts of retaliation”
1. (:18a) Conspiracy to Attack Jeremiah
“Then they said, ‘Come and let us devise plans against Jeremiah.’”
2. (:18b) Confidence in Alternative Spiritual Leadership
“Surely the law is not going to be lost to the priest, nor counsel to the sage, nor the divine word to the prophet!”
Parunak: They believe that their religious institutions (priest, wise man, and prophet) are sound, and that Jer. Is just a fanatic whom they can safely ignore.
Longman: Their reasoning is fascinating and often commented on because it seems to list three functionaries who are pivotal in teaching the people the will of Yaweh. These three groups include the priest, the wise teacher, and the prophet. Of further interest is the association between these three and their respective media of divine revelation. The priest is associated with the law, charged to teach the people the law from the moment of its and their inception (Deut. 33:10). The wisdom teacher is associated with counsel. This description of the wise is consistent with that we get in the book of Proverbs. They are able to give advice to others. Finally, the prophet has the word, short for the word of God. The prophets speak oracles given to them by God. As the people reject Jeremiah and his message, they encourage each other by saying that they still have these vehicles of divine revelation. Get rid of Jeremiah and there will still be a conduit to the divine.
3. (:18c) Call to Action
“Come on and let us strike at him with our tongue,
and let us give no heed to any of his words.”
B. (:19-20) Record of Jeremiah’s Faithful Prophetic Ministry
1. (:19) Playback the Tape
“Do give heed to me, O LORD, and listen to what my opponents are saying!”
– Replay the faithful prophetic ministry of Jeremiah (“give heed”)
– Replay the unjustified treacherous scheming of his enemies (“listen”)
2. (:20a) Pull Off Another Haman
“Should good be repaid with evil? For they have dug a pit for me.”
Execute him on the gallows he had unjustly prepared for me
3. (:20b) Picture My Previous Intercession On Their Behalf
“Remember how I stood before Thee to speak good on their behalf,
So as to turn away Thy wrath from them.”
Kidner: His wound would have hurt less had he cared less and, paradoxically, prayed less for his people.
Longman: Since they have responded to Jeremiah’s good with such evil, his prayer of intercession on behalf of the people turns into an imprecatory prayer, asking for God’s judgment against them.
C. (:21-23) Retribution Against Jeremiah’s Treacherous Enemies
1. (:21) Specific Calamities for Specific Groups
“Therefore, give their children over to famine,
And deliver them up to the power of the sword;
And let their wives become childless and widowed.
Let their men also be smitten to death,
Their young men struck down by the sword in battle.”
2. (:22) Shocked Cries as They are Attacked for Their Treachery
“May an outcry be heard from their houses, when Thou suddenly bringest raiders upon them; For they have dug a pit to capture me and hidden snares for my feet.”
3. (:23) Sovereign Compensation for Their Treachery
“Yet Thou, O LORD, knowest All their deadly designs against me; Do not forgive their iniquity Or blot out their sin from Thy sight. But may they be overthrown before Thee; Deal with them in the time of Thine anger!”
Constable: The prophet asked the Lord to bring calamity on them for the calamity they planned to bring on him. Since they refused to repent and had tried to kill Yahweh’s messenger, let the invasion and all its horrors overtake them. Jeremiah was not requesting some special visitation of judgment on the people. He was asking the Lord to allow the threatened judgment, which he had been urging the people to avoid by repenting, to descend. They refused to repent. His strong request probably did not spring from wounded pride as much as from his identification with Yahweh and the demands of the covenant (cf. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). The Judahites had rejected God, and for this they deserved judgment.
Adelaide Pllard (1862-1934) wrote a hymn for willing clay, the kind of clay that stays on the wheel to be shaped in the Potter’s hands:
Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Thou art the potter; I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Hold o’er my being absolute sway!
Fill with thy Spirit till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me!