The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’
“But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’” – Jeremiah 18:1-12 ESV
God determined to provide Jeremiah with a visual lesson to help the prophet understand what was happening to the people of Judah. So, He sent Jeremiah on a field trip to a local pottery maker. There Jeremiah witnessed the potter crafting a pot out of clay, but something went wrong and the pot didn’t turn out quite like the potter had intended. The pot was not yet finished and had not been hardened in the sun, so, the potter simply began again. He took the still pliable clay, molding and shaping it into His original design. As Jeremiah watched this all unfold before his eyes, God spoke to him and gave him a message.
“O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.” – Jeremiah 18:6 NLT
The clay was subject to the plans of the potter. He had every right to do with it as he wished. He had a vision in mind for the clay. But it would require careful shaping and molding, according to the potter’s skilled hands, for the clay to be transformed into the final end product the potter had in mind. And the same was true for Judah. They had been chosen by God, but were still like unbaked clay in His hands. They were a work in process, with flaws and blemishes that the potter (God) was faithfully and patiently working out.
But unlike lifeless clay, the people of Judah had opinions. They felt they had a say in the matter. They weren’t content letting God have the only input into what they became. And the prophet Isaiah had a few choice words for them.
How foolish can you be?
He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!
Should the created thing say of the one who made it,
“He didn’t make me”?
Does a jar ever say,
“The potter who made me is stupid”? – Isaiah 29:16 NLT
The real issue at hand here is the failure of human beings to recognize and respect God’s position as the Creator-God. We tend to see ourselves as somehow more worthy and deserving of special treatment at the hands of God. We believe we should have a say in how our lives turn out. We should get to choose what we become and how we spend our days. But Isaiah would argue the case.
“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator.
Does a clay pot argue with its maker?
Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying,
‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’
Does the pot exclaim,
‘How clumsy can you be?’” – Isaiah 45:9 NLT
And the apostle Paul would pick up on Isaiah’s thoughts generations later.
Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? – Romans 9:20-21 NLT
The sovereignty of God is the primary issue here. He alone is God. He has the right to do with His creation as He sees fit. And Isaiah recognized God’s sovereign prerogative to determine the fate of Judah, especially in light of their open rebellion against Him.
Therefore, you have turned away from us
and turned us over to our sins.
And yet, O Lord, you are our Father.
We are the clay, and you are the potter.
We all are formed by your hand. – Isaiah 64:7-8 NLT
God reminded Jeremiah that there was an option for the people of Judah. It was called repentance. Unlike lifeless clay, they had been responsible for their flaws because of their sins. And God was going to “remake” them in order to eventually rid them of their glaring imperfections. But there was another way, an easier way.
“If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned.” – Jeremiah 18:7-8 NLT
Repentance. A change of mind that revealed itself through a change in behavior. That was the message of Jeremiah and all the other prophets. Return to God and renounce your evil ways. And God will spare you. But the people of Judah had treated that message with disdain. So, God reminds Jeremiah:
“…if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would.” – Jeremiah 18:9-10 NLT
Israel had been that nation. They had been chosen by God and told that they would be His possession. He would make them a great and powerful nation. And He had held up His end of the bargain. He had made them great. He had blessed them beyond measure. And they had responded to His grace and love with disobedience and unfaithfulness. So, He had determined to start over. But God gave them yet another change to repent. He told Jeremiah to give the people the following message:
“This is what the Lord says: I am planning disaster for you instead of good. So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.’” – Jeremiah 18:11 NLT
Rather than waste their time criticizing God for His craftsmanship, they could repent. they could confess their sins and return to Him in contrition. But God knew their hearts and was not surprised by their response to His compassionate call to repentance.
“Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, stubbornly following our own evil desires.” – Jeremiah 18:12 NLT
They rejected God’s call to repentance. They turned up their noses at His accusations of sin and wrongdoing. And in doing so they revealed that they had no understanding of God’s sovereignty over them. He was the Creator-God. He had made them. He had chosen them. And He could do with them as He saw fit. They were not the masters of their own fate. They were not in control of their own destinies. They could argue with or even ignore God, that did not change the outcome or make Him go away. His will was going to be accomplished, whether they liked it or not. They were like clay in His hands. He had a plan for them. He had a purpose in store for them. He had chosen them for a reason. And He would do what was necessary to accomplish His will for them – as it seemed good to the potter to do.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.