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Jeremiah 18-20 belong together. In these chapters we have pictorial teaching about a potter and his workpiece, a vessel. This imagery is used more often in Scripture (Isa 29:16; Isa 64:8; Rom 9:21).
The Message of the Potter
Jeremiah receives a command from the LORD through the word that comes to him (Jer 18:1). He is sent to the potter’s house. That house is in the lowlands, for he is to go down there. It is not a potter’s house, but the potter’s house. It is a particular house known to Jeremiah. There are potters in the service of the king. They enjoy his protection. In the house where the king’s authority is and his protection is enjoyed, vessels are made (1Chr 4:22-23). Potters are held in high esteem in those days.
In the potter’s house, the LORD will let Jeremiah hear His words (Jer 18:2). Jeremiah obeys and goes to the potter’s house. When he gets there, he describes what he sees (Jer 18:3). Before he is told the words of the LORD, he first takes in what he sees. It is likely that Jeremiah does know how a potter works. Yet he must see the work done up close and fill his mind with it, so that from a renewed acquaintance with it he can deliver his message. Likewise, we must always be fresh in the application of everyday things as we bring the message of God’s Word.
He sees the potter busy making something on the wheel. These are two discs connected by a spindle. They are set in motion by setting the lower wheel in motion with the foot. On the upper wheel, which rotates simultaneously, a lump of clay is worked.
Jeremiah sees the potter at work. Then he describes what the potter does to a vessel that is spoiled (Jer 18:4). The potter’s hand has worked the clay, but the result is not good in his eyes. He does not throw the clay away, but makes another vessel from the same piece of clay, which is good in his eyes.
The potter works according to a plan. He has something in mind to make that meets the goal he has set himself. If the pot does not meet it, he makes another vessel from the same lump of clay. That is his freedom as a potter. He can do with the clay whatever he wants. The point is not that the vessel is not beautiful, but that it does not meet the goal.
We can think of the wheel as the circumstances of our lives. With these, God, the great Potter, forms us. We are like the clay in His hand. We can have joy or sorrow, wealth or poverty, prosperity or loss. All are touches of His hand by which we are formed. Sorrow is the pressure of His hand so that He may come to His goal with us. Thus we are formed like earthen vessels (2Cor 4:7-8).
When Jeremiah has seen the potter busy and has noted what he does with the clay when the vessel is spoiled, the word of the LORD comes to him (Jer 18:5). The LORD, through Jeremiah, addresses Israel directly. In what He says, His unquestionable right to and His irresistible power over peoples and kingdoms are evident (cf. Job 12:23; cf. Isa 40:15).
He points out that as the sovereign Former He can do to them what the potter did to the vessel (Jer 18:6; Isa 64:8; Isa 29:16; Isa 45:9; Rom 9:20-23). Israel is in His hand as the clay is in the hand of the potter (cf. Job 10:9). The main idea is that the potter has complete power over the clay. We also see here both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. We humans cannot combine the two, God can.
We err if we think that everything in God’s plan is immutably fixed. He can go back on a purpose if He is given cause to do so. For example, He tells the sinner that His anger is on him. But if the sinner repents, He turns His anger away from him. He is also a God Who answers prayers and thereby comes to a change of His original purpose.
However, we also err when we think that nothing is fixed with God and that He lets Himself be led by the current situation. He has control over everything and nothing is out of His hands. We must let God be Who He is: God; and we must remain aware of who we are: puny, little creatures who cannot call God to account (Rom 9:19-21).
The example of the potter does not mean that the LORD did not work skillfully. Israel is not a spoiled pot because the LORD is an incompetent potter. The clay has become unsound. The vessel has come forth from His hand well, but has rebelled against its Maker. We should not extend the picture and say that the people, like the clay, are passive. Through repentance a person can become a new vessel.
Therefore, the LORD must pronounce upon that people and that kingdom, which is Israel, that He will uproot it and pull it down and destroy it (Jer 18:7). Israel has forsaken the LORD and no longer fulfills His purpose. However, there is a way back, there is a way to become a vessel again that fulfills His purpose and that is the way of turning from evil (Jer 18:8; cf. 2Chr 7:14).
When the people turns from their evil, the LORD will relent concerning the calamity He planned to bring on them. Then the Maker will change His mind and build and plant that people and kingdom (Jer 18:9). Then He will make a vessel out of that same piece of clay to His glory. Thus He spares Nineveh when the city repents, after He has made her announce judgment. But if the people do what is evil in His sight by not listening to His voice, then that good will not come (Jer 18:10).
The potter’s house is a house of comfort for Jeremiah. There he sees in picture what the LORD will do to Israel. He is discouraged by what he has had to announce about Israel, but now he is told that the LORD can make another vessel out of the spoiled Israel that does fulfill His purpose.
In Jer 18:11, the assignment for Jeremiah comes in connection with what he has seen and what the LORD has said about it in connection with Israel. He is to go to Judah and Jerusalem with a message from the LORD and tell them of the calamity the LORD is fashioning against them and the plan He is devising against them. The word “fashioning” in Hebrew is jasar. From that the word joser, which is potter, is derived. The imagery continues in these words.
On the announcement of the calamity, Jeremiah must let the call to repentance follow. The people must repent of their evil ways, not continue in them, but turn toward God. They must also prove their repentance by making good their ways and deeds, that is, start doing in their comings and goings what the LORD asks of them. God’s will over Jerusalem is a will for good, for salvation. He wants nothing more than for them to repent, so that He does not have to carry out His decree of disaster and misery. We hear here what the heart of God is after.
The reaction of the people is astonishing (Jer 18:12). There is not just indifference, but a deliberate choice of evil (cf. Jer 2:25; Jer 6:16). They point out to Jeremiah that he should not count on them to repent. Any hope of that they declare as futile. They have their own plans. The plans of God do not interest them. The people live for themselves and according to their own stubborn, wicked hearts. For a people with such an attitude, there is indeed no hope.
The Fickleness of Judah
The LORD expresses His amazement at how a people can react like that (Jer 18:13). He wants them to ask among the nations if they have ever heard anything so horrible there as what Judah did. In any case, the nations are consistent in their idols and do not change idols constantly. It is therefore unheard of, even among the nations, what Israel has done. Israel is here called “the virgin of Israel”. That is how the LORD intended her, but she played the harlot with the idols and declared her love to them.
Even nature, under God’s command, is consistent in its behavior, in this case in providing refreshment (Jer 18:14). Has the snow of Lebanon ever ceased to supply cold, flowing water? In other words, did His gracious provision for their refreshment fail, that they forgot Him and offered incense to a nullity?
Despite all God’s care for them, His people forgot Him (Jer 18:15). This ‘forgetfulness’ is a guilty forsaking of the LORD. This sin is immediately followed by a second sin, that of idolatry. Their religion has degenerated into idolatry. To those useless idols they brought their incense offerings, the sacrifices that smell good.
By this course of action they have stumbled from their ways. Their walk is not steadfast, even though they walk in ancient paths, which are the paths of the covenant of the law. Old religion is worthless if it is no more than tradition and the heart is outside of it. Then the old paths are no longer pleasing. Then the people go in bypaths, that God has not appointed, paths that are not according to His Word.
A “bypath” is a path that seems attractive but is unknown. It is a path fraught with dangers of stumbling and even perishing on it. It is the way of a self-willed religion, a religion adorned with all kinds of nice things. We must be on the highway of the Word.
By leaving the ancient paths of God’s law and going their own ways, the land has become a desolation (Jer 18:16). There is also no blessing to be expected and no attraction for others. No one wants to live there. That is what they have made of God’s land. This is where God must bring His discipline.
He will send the enemy as an east wind (Jer 18:17; cf. Jer 4:11-12; Jer 13:24). The east wind chases up the sand and scatters it. So will the enemy chase up and scatter His people. They will have to flee from Him. The LORD will show them His back. They have hardened their back against Him, now He is turning His back on them, that is, His determination to punish them for their rebellious and apostate behavior. That will be the day of their ruin.
The Conspiracy Against Jeremiah
In this verse we hear the reaction of the people. They turn against the man who brings them God’s words to persuade them to return to the source of blessing. However, they do not want that. They want to get rid of him, the preacher of doom (cf. Jer 11:18-19). Instead of him a lot of others. With him, the last priest, sage or prophet really does not die. There are plenty of priests who teach the law and sages who counsel and prophets who speak the word. These are all priests, wise men and prophets they love to hear.
They will be so opposed to him that he will not speak. And if he does say something, they will pay no attention to it, no matter what he says. It may also be that this means that they want to use what Jeremiah says to set up an accusation against him in order to shut him up. In this he resembles the Lord Jesus, Whose enemies also sought to trap Him in a statement (Mt 26:59; Mk 12:13).
Thus, even today there is a call to silence the man who brings God’s Word. After all, there are plenty of classified theologians, men of repute, who know and who tell what people like to hear. People who call for repentance should shut up. People who say pleasant things are allowed to open their mouths.
The Plea of Jeremiah
The people of Judah call one another to disregard the words of Jeremiah (Jer 18:18). Now Jeremiah asks the LORD to heed to him by listening to the voice of those who accuse him (Jer 18:19). He presents his case to the LORD. Surely the LORD cannot repay the good he did with the evil the opponents plan against him, can He (Jer 18:20)?
That his opponents seek his evil is evident from the fact that they have dug a pit for him, literally for his soul. That is, they want to destroy him spiritually so that he gives up his service. But surely he is in the service of the LORD, and surely his service is to speak good on their behalf and to seek good for them by turning away His wrath from them, isn’t it?
If the matter stands like this and they cast off good in his person, he must plead against the people. They do not deserve to grow as a people (Jer 18:21). Children must perish from hunger or by the sword. The women must lose their most precious possession. They must also become widows, for their husbands must perish. Even the young men, the hope of the nation, must fall by the sword.
The safe dwelling places, the houses, must become places of fear and terror because of the sudden intrusion of a band of robbers (Jer 18:22). That band of robbers must be sent by the LORD. It must come upon them all because they are out to capture Jeremiah in a pit and snares, to deprive him of his freedom to preach (Psa 141:9-10).
Jeremiah knows that the LORD knows all the deliberations of his enemies to kill him (Jer 18:23). He does not have to seek his own justice, but can place it in the hand of the LORD. He also presents Him with the requirement of justice because he knows His justice. It is not about seeking vengeance for what has been done to himself. It is about the dishonor done to the LORD.
What he asks for is consistent with the age in which he lives. If there is such stubborn resistance to the Word of God, there can be no reconciliation of iniquity and sin cannot be blotted out from before God. Such people cannot stand before God’s face. Jeremiah asks the LORD to so deal with them “in the time of Your anger”, leaving to Him the time of the exercise of judgment.
If Jeremiah seems to us as too harsh in his judgment of evil, perhaps it is because we do not judge the evil that surrounds us today harshly enough. Thanks to the media, we see so much evil and sin today, without doing anything about it, that we tend to see it as a normal part of life. More and more often and in more and more areas, evil is called good. We get so used to it that we no longer have feelings of revulsion or have them only about the very worst forms of it. We may pray earnestly, however, that the Lord will keep us from getting used to evil.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Jeremiah 18". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19