• The BaptistWay lesson for March 16 focuses on Jeremiah 18:1-12; 19:1-15.
Scripture is replete with imagery depicting God as a potter and his creation as clay. The overall tone this has taken in our general understanding is positive. Consider the hymn Have Thine Own Way that freely offers up to God these words of submission: “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.”
When we yield our lives up to God in this way, the sovereignty represented in this analogy is a good and joyous thing. However, that is not the only time Scripture uses this analogy. Jeremiah uses it as an aid in pronouncing judgment on the nation of Israel, as commanded by God. This week’s texts focus on two images—the potter’s house and the clay jar.
The potter’s house (Jeremiah 18:1-12)
God tells Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house, and he will relay a message to him there. Upon his entrance, he sees a pot the potter had been shaping that was “marred in his hands” (v. 4). As a result, the potter reshaped the wet, moldable clay into a form he deemed appropriate.
The word translated “marred” is used in a slightly different form and translated “corrupt” in Genesis 6:11-12, in reference to creation after the fall of Adam and Eve and prior to the flood. In a sense, this affirms the same sense of corruption that existed when sin entered the world is still present, corrupting the creation God forms with his hands.
We need to remember this is an analogy, and all analogies break down at some point. For instance, if we take the illustration too literally, we can confuse the “marredness” of the pot to be the fault of the potter (God). While this would be the case in reality, it is not what is being communicated. Verses 5-10 demonstrate this. They make clear God shapes his creation in response to their actions. He relents from destroying nations that repent, and judges those that continue in evil.
Using the rubric mentioned above, specific application now is made to Judah and Jerusalem in verses 11-12. As a direct result of their disobedience, God declares he is preparing a disaster against them. Of course, this is with the understanding that repentance will bring reprieve. However, in keeping with what Jeremiah was told would happen in the very first chapter, God announces they will ignore this warning.
A complex and nuanced picture of God is portrayed in this scene. It is one that allows creation to make its own choice, while also knowing what it is going to choose. Our task is not to wonder why God would go through the trouble of providing a choice for his creation in situations where he knows it will choose disobedience; it is to be thankful for the grace demonstrated in this act and rejoice we are dealt with similarly.
The clay jar (Jeremiah 9:1-15)
Continuing the image of God as the potter established in the previous passage, the Lord provides further illustration of his judgment by telling Jeremiah to buy a finished clay jar from the potter and take it to the Valley of Ben Hinnom. This was a place infamous for child sacrifices offered to the god Molech. Simply being present there would have been a foreboding experience and communicated the grave and serious nature of what was about to be shared.
There is no longer a call for repentance or any offer of mercy, only a pronouncement of coming wrath. Among the sins listed as bringing this wrath is the sacrifice of children to Baal, perhaps explaining why Jeremiah traveled to the Valley of Ben Hinnom. The smashing of the jar in verse 10 underscores the finality of the words and sealing of Jerusalem’s fate. It sets in motion God’s destroying word, which at this point cannot be reversed.
The hands of the Potter
In spite of the stark images presented in this passage, we realize God does not desire us to be marred pieces of clay or shattered vessels beyond the hope of repentance. He wants us to be moldable in his hands as he shapes us into something of worth and value. Ultimately, he knows how we will respond and will shape us in the way that seems best to him. Daily submission and yielding our wills is necessary and can be done with joy when we keep in mind the character and grace of the One we are freeing ourselves to be shaped and molded by.
In Hands of the Potter, a contemporary song by Caedmon’s Call that also utilizes the imagery in today’s Scripture, this kind of submission and yielding is beautifully put on display. I invite you to give it a listen.