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Lowell Brueckner

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Parable of the Potter and the Clay



 Chapter 18

 The parable

     1.     The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying: 

      2.     "Arise and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause you to hear My word

      3.     Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. 

     4.     And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. 

 The allegory of the potter and the clay, learned from this chapter of Jeremiah, is frequently referred to and commented upon by Bible teachers and preachers. It is now before us for our contemplation and we will attempt to learn more from it.

 Verse 1 tells us that the source behind the lesson is the Lord and the Holy Spirit will write with the pen of human lives and their daily occupations, in order to illustrate divine principle. (see 2 Co.3:3) He directs Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house to observe his work and hear the word of the Lord through it. Jeremiah will take his pen and record it for the benefit of his people first, and then the Lord will see that His word will come to all mankind through the Bible (2). I encourage you to pause and think for a moment of the loss and consequences to the world, if there had been unfaithfulness on his part

 So the servant of the Lord faithfully obeys, the ears of His heart open to hear vital instruction, by which all future mankind can benefit. The Hebrew will easily relate to the scene that he depicts, because it is commonly practiced throughout Judah. He finds the potter busy at work with his wheel (3). Isaiah already provided some background to this illustration, God sovereignly teaching the principle in various passages.


 In Isaiah 64:8, He established the basic fact that God as Creator is as the potter and we, as created beings, are as the clay: “We are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand.”  In Isaiah 29:16, the prophet showed how man’s thinking ridiculously turned the truth upside down, giving himself the honor belonging to the Creator: “Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter's clay. For shall the thing made say of him who made it, "He did not make me"? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, "He has no understanding"? It would be as absurd as a clay item, saying of the potter, ‘he never made me,’ or as a piece of pottery finding fault with its maker. These are very similar to the arguments offered in our day, denying the Creator and criticizing His wisdom.

 In verse 4, we are to observe a basic rule concerning parables. We are not to interpret every detail in them, but only bring out the main lesson that is being taught. We are to consider only the fact that the vessel was marred and that the potter reformed it to his pleasure.  It is totally contrary to the purpose of the text that the marring was caused by the work of the potter, but the imperfection needs to be found in the material itself. 


 The interpretation of the parable

 5.     Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: 

 6.     "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?" says the LORD. "Look, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel! 

 7.     The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, 

 8.     if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. 

 9.     And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, 

 10.  if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it. 

So similar to the teachings of Jesus, God follows the parable with its interpretation to Jeremiah. Here is the meaning: The clay is Israel as a nation, with which its Creator, as a Potter, has the absolute right to do as He pleases (6). He has proclaimed to them their fate of being literally plucked up, pulled down and destroyed (7). That is the just and literal sentence against his degenerate people.

 Verse 7 ends with a comma and continues the sentence in verse 8. It offers hope, upon repentance, in the expression, “turns from its evil.” God’s terms for man, in order to obtain reconciliation and restoration is repentance and nothing less. There is no change in this condition in the Old Testament or the New. Never is anything required on the Lord’s part to close the gap, but solely on the part of man. God need not change.

 Consider the words, turn from its evil… the condition for Israel to fulfill, and relenting of the disaster… the resulting response from God. The just thought in His mind is the righteous decree, which He has established against sin. The sinner is already under condemnation: “He who does not believe is condemned already” (Jn.3:18). God has spoken and His law demands a penalty. However, there is a place provided for pardon and grace in the God of Israel up to this present day.

 Now, on the other hand, the Lord declares His purpose of building and planting a nation; in the New Testament, the purpose of the Lord is to build and plant a church (9). Disobedience will nullify the opportunity for any person or people to be involved in His plan (10). This far, the parable and the meaning of the potter and the clay.


Yielding to hopelessness and abandoning snow water

 11.  "Now therefore, speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, 'Thus says the LORD: "Behold, I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you. Return now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good." ' " 

 12.  And they said, "That is hopeless! So we will walk according to our own plans, and we will every one obey the dictates of his evil heart." 

 13.  Therefore thus says the LORD: "Ask now among the Gentiles, Who has heard such things? The virgin of Israel has done a very horrible thing. 

 14.  Will a man leave the snow water of Lebanon, Which comes from the rock of the field? Will the cold flowing waters be forsaken for strange waters? 

 15.  "Because My people have forgotten Me, They have burned incense to worthless idols. And they have caused themselves to stumble in their ways, From the ancient paths, To walk in pathways and not on a highway, 

 16.  To make their land desolate and a perpetual hissing; Everyone who passes by it will be astonished And shake his head. 

 17.  I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy; I will show them the back and not the face In the day of their calamity." 

 It is time for Jeremiah to preach the word of the Lord to the citizens of His land in His name. He declares the particular law and the execution of judgment already conceived in the thoughts of their God. The verb that describes His action is molding… the work of the potter. In fact, it is the verb form of that noun. The divine plan, as a result of their sin, will bring disaster.

 However, the express design of the message is to warn of His just plan against them, already put in motion, in order to bring them to repentance. The basic word of God to all mankind continues in the same way throughout the Bible: “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk.1: 15). He has given an escape and His desire is that everyone will profit from it. I think, this book has made it clear that His intentions are compassionate and merciful (11).

 What can easily be termed the gospel of Isaiah, also clearly lays out the same in chapter 55:7: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” It is a revelation of a holy, but merciful, God and the consequent potential for salvation from His judgment.

 Verse 12 gives us an opportunity to consider a cause for man’s resistance to repentance, beyond his desire for sin. The cause is hopelessness and the temptation to lose hope is one of the devil’s most sinister tactics. Man must repent, but he must also trust totally in the ability of the Lord to fulfill His plan in him. In other words, there must be repentance and faith. 

 Because man is not willing to turn from his own ways and trust solely in the Lord, he determines to be his own master, which is a sure road to disaster and ruin. This is exactly what we witness all around us and often hear counsel given young people to plan their own lives. Many times, they are told to follow their dreams and this is exactly the direction that Judah took. Is the youth not also encouraged to follow or obey his heart? Jeremiah has already taught us that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” It is the way of the world and, terribly mistrusting his Creator, a person trusts in his wicked heart, severely insulting the Lord (12).

 The prostitute gentile world has not acted as foolishly as the virgin of Israel. The pagan world put themselves below their gods and revere them. Jesus pointed similarly to the harlots and the cheating tax collectors over the ‘law-abiding’ Jew. He said, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you” Why? “John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him” (Mt.21:31,32). John preached the baptism of repentance, but they did not repent, nor did they believe. Jeremiah made the comparison between the Gentile and the Jew. “The virgin of Israel has done a very horrible thing” (13). She has followed her own heart.

 Another comparison follows to show Israel’s departure from their God. The name Lebanon means white mountain and that snow-covered ‘rock’ that towered above the level field, brought cold waters to the people, who lived below it. The question is: Would they logically abandon this wonderful supply to seek water from another source? A reasonable people do not leave the best in search of something, which is less. The answer is that such a move would be ridiculous, but not as ridiculous as a people, who would abandon their kind Provider, Creator of heaven and earth, to believe in a strange god, worshiped by a foreign people, whose benefits are unknown practically to them (14).

 The Lord speaks directly to this sin of faithlessness. Judah has put Almighty God, infinitely worthy beyond compare, out of their minds and burned incense to worship totally worthless idols. It is the tendency of the flesh to go looking for new programs, methods, and teaching, in order to update the church and make it compatible to the world outside.  From the highways, well-traveled by their ancestors, they stumble along on unfamiliar, new trails. We return to Jeremiah 6:16, where the Lord introduced us to the spiritual principle of taking old paths: “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” I encourage you to go back to reread the comments about 6:16 and the surrounding verses. Here, I will simply repeat the simple, but pithy, statement of John Wesley: New doctrine is false doctrine! (15).

 Blessing on the people of God will be noticed by the outside observers and will give glory to Him. But, they will also see the outpouring of His judgment upon His people and give him glory, because it is the vindication of His infinite holiness. By the ways that they have chosen, they bring God’s judgment upon themselves, when He makes their land desolate. The expression of amazement by quickly drawing in breath, made a hissing sound, and may also have shown contempt. Wagging the head showed mockery or perhaps pity (16)

 Like a violent wind, the Lord’s judgment will scatter the people. As He shows them His back, so they will turn their backs and flee. His face will not shine upon them and, for this reason, they will not be able to face the enemy in battle (17).   


A time when it is too late

 18.  Then they said, "Come and let us devise plans against Jeremiah; for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come and let us attack him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words." 

 19.  Give heed to me, O LORD, And listen to the voice of those who contend with me! 

 20.  Shall evil be repaid for good? For they have dug a pit for my life. Remember that I stood before You To speak good for them, To turn away Your wrath from them. 

 21.  Therefore deliver up their children to the famine, And pour out their blood By the force of the sword; Let their wives become widows And bereaved of their children. Let their men be put to death, Their young men be slain By the sword in battle. 

 22.  Let a cry be heard from their houses, When You bring a troop suddenly upon them; For they have dug a pit to take me, And hidden snares for my feet. 

 23.  Yet, LORD, You know all their counsel Which is against me, to slay me. Provide no atonement for their iniquity, Nor blot out their sin from Your sight; But let them be overthrown before You. Deal thus with them In the time of Your anger. 

 The citizens will attempt to preserve their religious traditions. They refuse to hear Jeremiah and will rely on the contemporary priests to execute the law, the wise to give counsel, and false prophets to assume to relay the word of the Lord. They will wage open and concerted verbal attacks against Jeremiah and turn a deaf ear to his ministry.

 Jeremiah’s response is to pray to the One, who speaks His word to Him, confident that the battle is too strong for him, but that God will defend His own word and purposes. This is the wise act of the godly and one that ensures success. God cannot fail and the main activity of the church must be to gain His intervention through prayer (19).

 The idea of digging a pit for his life is largely a spiritual attack (20). However, God will not support a principle that returns evil for good? In prayer, we must walk in His ways and be sure that we are speaking to Him, according to His will. Jeremiah’s ministry is compassionate and conducted for the good of his people. He wanted to see them respond positively, so that God’s wrath would not be poured out against them. That fact has been made clear in these chapters.

 In order to understand this prayer in verse 21, we must know that the prayer warrior, must not pray for personal vengeance, but must know that his first obligation is to love God and His purposes. We have dealt with this principal previously. There is a time when His patience is at an end, the bowl of wrath is filled to the brim, and there is no other remedy, but judgment.

 The petition is very severe, but less than proportionate to the offense. Always remember that we are dealing with infinite holiness and no punishment is sufficient to pay for the crime. It is a five-fold request: 1) Let famine come upon the children. 2) Let the sword of the enemy spill blood. 3) Let the wives become widows and bereaved of their children. 4) Let the men be killed by the enemy, and 5) the young men, who are fit for battle, are to be destroyed in the war.

Also, according to the prayer of Jeremiah, the enemy will enter the homes and a cry of grief will be heard from within. There will be no time to escape, for the enemy will come suddenly. Jesus gave His Jewish followers time to flee for their lives, when a future army would invade Jerusalem: "Therefore when you see the 'ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand), "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes… For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. (Mt.24:15-18, 21).

We have been studying history, but the event above is prophecy and we must be informed concerning it, whether we be Jew or Gentile. However, in Jeremiah’s prophecy and prayer, which now has become history, those who opposed his message had to be dealt with. The same has happened during the history of the church, when God moved mightily to uphold His message and likewise, His wrath fell on many (22). 

As we near the end of Jewish time in their land, their removal will come drastically, but it is not the final word. We still have history and prophets who will return to the land and reestablish Jerusalem. Jeremiah knows that the Lord is well-informed of the threat on his life and  He takes it very seriously. The time of mercy has ended and the punishment is imminent. None of the tools of salvation will be used anymore to help them escape from the Babylonian Empire. There is no atonement anymore; the wrath of God will be outpoured, they will die in their sins and be destroyed. Let this verse cause us to meditate on the future time, when the gospel will no longer be preached, there will be no opportunity to repent, and the sacrifice of Christ, ignored for so long, will no longer be offered.

And oh, what a weeping and wailing,

As the lost were told of their fate;

They cried for the rocks and the mountains,

They prayed, but their prayers were too late.








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