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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 18

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-2

The Lord told Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house, where He would give him further instructions.

Verses 1-12

The lesson of the potter’s vessel 18:1-12

There are indications in this message that God might yet avert judgment (Jeremiah 18:7-8; Jeremiah 18:11), so Jeremiah evidently delivered it sometime before the Babylonians invaded Judah.

Verses 3-4

The prophet observed the potter making a vessel on his wheel. As he worked, the vessel became damaged, so he made it into a different vessel. Ancient potter’s wheels consisted of two disc-like stones with a connecting vertical axle. The potter spun the one below by kicking it with his feet, and the stone on top served as a rotating table on which he formed his art (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:18-23; Ecclesiastes 8:17; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Ecclesiastes 10:8-9; Ecclesiastes 11:6). [Note: See R. H. Johnston, "The Biblical Potter," Biblical Archaeologist 37:4 (1974):86-106.]

Verses 5-6

The Lord’s message to Jeremiah for the nation was that He had the right to deal with Judah as the potter dealt with his clay (cf. Romans 9:20-21). Judah was like clay in Yahweh’s hands. Yahweh was also like a potter (Heb. yoser) in that He created and shaped (Heb. yasar) His people.

Verses 7-8

The Lord might purpose to destroy Judah, but if the people changed by repenting, He could change His mind concerning how He would deal with them. The Lord has done this with countless individuals throughout history when they turned to Him in faith (e.g., Ruth, Simon Peter, Saul of Tarsus, et al.).

Verses 9-10

Conversely, if He purposed to bless a nation, and then it did evil and was disobedient to Him, He could change His mind and not bless it. God does not repent as humans do, but He does relent. That is, He does not abandon evil ways for good ways, nor does He change His mind about everything, but He does become less severe (or more severe) in dealing with people. [Note: See Thomas L. Constable, Talking to God: What the Bible Teaches about Prayer, pp. 149-52.] The character of the clay determined to some extent what the potter would do with it. People who broke the covenant and rejected Yahweh’s sovereignty over them were not material through which He would fulfill His purposes.

"The principle is simply the working out of covenant stipulations. Treaties and covenants regularly included conditions for the covenant. For the keeping of covenant, the lord promises blessings on the vassal; but for breaking covenant, the lord promises punishment for the vassal. What was true in the political arena was also true for God and his relationship with his creation. The closest biblical parallel to a working out of this principle is the case of the Ninevites in the Book of Jonah." [Note: Drinkard, p. 245.]

"This is a statement of first-class importance for our understanding of all prophecy, removing it entirely from the realm of fatalism. However stark the prediction (except where God has expressly declared it irreversible), it is always open to revision . . ." [Note: Kidner, pp. 76-77. See also Robert Chisholm, "When Prophecy Appears to Fail, Check Your Hermeneutic," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 53:3 (September 2010):561-77.]

Verse 11

The Lord told Jeremiah to tell the people that He was planning to bring calamity on them and that they should repent.

Verse 12

However, the people would respond that repentance would not bring any change. The situation was hopeless from their viewpoint. Actually, they did not want to change.

"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." [Note: Thompson, pp. 435-36.]

Verse 13

Yahweh indicted the people of Judah through His prophet, asking if any other nation had ever done what Israel had done. 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.

Verses 13-17

Israel’s unnatural behavior and its consequences 18:13-17

In this message, Jeremiah contrasted the unnatural apostasy of the people with the constancy of nature (cf. Jeremiah 2:10-13).

Verse 14

Israel’s conduct was unnatural, contrary to nature. Jeremiah cited examples of how nature behaves. The snow perpetually covered the Lebanon mountains to Israel’s north, especially Mount Hermon. For there to be no snow would be unnatural. And cold water ceaselessly flowed from those same mountains (cf. Jeremiah 2:13; Jeremiah 15:18). The headwaters of the Jordan River are four springs that well up near the base of Mount Hermon, which is in the Lebanon range, and they never run dry. Another possible reading of the first illustration is that Palestinian fields always have rocks in them.

Verse 15

Israel had abandoned Yahweh and had worshipped worthless idols instead. His people had stumbled off the safe, well-established highway of God’s will that they had been traveling on, and had turned aside to walk in pathways that were not roads (cf. Jeremiah 6:16).

Verse 16

This action would result in their land becoming desolate. Onlookers and passersby would whistle to themselves in amazement over its terrible condition, and shake their heads in astonishment at what had happened to it-because of Israel’s foolishness.

Verse 17

Yahweh would scatter His people from their land before the enemy, as when the strong east wind (the sirocco, cf. Jeremiah 4:11; 13:34) blew the tumbleweeds in the windy months. Their enemy would also come from the east, specifically Babylon, though the soldiers would descend on them from the north. Yahweh would turn His back on His people when this calamity fell; He would offer them no help or favor (cf. Jeremiah 2:27; Numbers 6:24-26).

Verse 18

Some of the Judahites plotted to kill Jeremiah. They justified their action by noting that even if they killed him, the Mosaic Law and the counsel of other wise men and other prophets would still remain. Thus they rationalized their sin.

"The proverb suggests that nothing can shut up a prophet-he always has a word (the last word?)." [Note: Drinkard, p. 253.]

They did not believe that their lives would change radically because of their failure to repent. They did not really believe that they were heading for exile. They believed Jeremiah’s prophecies were false.

"To disturb a complacent leadership or a misguided populace was only to invite serious repercussions. Human society in every age bears eloquent testimony to the fact." [Note: Thompson, p. 441.]

Verses 18-23

Jeremiah’s reaction to a plot against his life 18:18-23

This is another section that contains one of Jeremiah’s "confessions." Evidently there were several separate plots against the prophet’s life (cf. Jeremiah 11:18-23; Jeremiah 12:1-6). People hated him because he brought bad news and called them to repent and to return to Yahweh and His covenant, which most of the people did not want to do. But really the people were rejecting Yahweh (cf. 1 Samuel 8:7).

Verse 19

Jeremiah became aware of the plot and went to the Lord in prayer about it. He asked God to listen to him and to what his opponents were saying (cf. Jeremiah 11:18-20).

Verse 20

Would Yahweh allow evil to happen to him, after he had done good to these opponents but telling them what was good for them? He had urged them to repent-with the promise that they could avoid calamity by turning back to the Lord.

Verses 21-22

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. [Note: See Keil, 1:304-5, for further explanation of these and similar imprecations in the Old Testament.]

Verse 23

The Lord knew all that they were planning. Jeremiah believed that God should not forgive them, but allow them to experience His vengeful wrath in the coming invasion.

What Scripture commands us elsewhere regarding loving and blessing our neighbors rather than cursing them does not contradict Jeremiah’s practice here (cf. Proverbs 25:21-22; Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:20). While his motivation may have been wrong-we cannot evaluate that-what he said was appropriate. He was really asking God to fulfill His promise to curse those who departed from His covenant in the ways the Lord had said He would.

"If Jeremiah seems too angry to us, perhaps some of us today aren’t angry enough at the evil in this world. Thanks to the media, we’re exposed to so much violence and sin that we tend to accept it as a normal part of life and want to do nothing about it. Crusading has given way to compromising, and it isn’t ’politically correct’ to be dogmatic or critical of ideas that are definitely unbiblical." [Note: Wiersbe, pp. 105-6.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 18". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/jeremiah-18.html. 2012.
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