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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 18

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verses 1-4

Jer 18:1-4

Jeremiah 18:1-4

GOD’S PROMISES ALWAYS CONDITIONAL

Henderson’s chapter divisions are: (1) the analogy of the potter and the clay (Jeremiah 18:1-4), (2) deductions drawn from the analogy (Jeremiah 18:5-10), (3) Judah’s place in the analogy revealed and the warning to repent given (Jeremiah 18:11), (4) Judah’s obstinate rejection of God’s call to repentance (Jeremiah 18:12), (5) the folly of Judah’s choice (Jeremiah 18:13-14), (6) the consequences of that choice (Jeremiah 18:15-17), (7) the conspiracy against Jeremiah (Jeremiah 18:18-20), and (8) Jeremiah reveals the judgment of God against his enemies (Jeremiah 18:19-23). F1 These last two divisions (Jeremiah 18:18-23) are also classified as Jeremiah’s Fourth Personal Lament by Ash. F2

Jeremiah 18:1-4

ANALOGY OF THE POTTER AND THE CLAY

The word which came to Jeremiah from Jehovah, saying, Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he was making a work on the wheels. And when the vessel that he made of the clay was marred in the hand of the potter, he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.

The ability of inspired men of God to see eternal truth and significance in the ordinary things of every day life was a special mark of their genius; and it pertained especially to our Lord Jesus Christ, who found such eternal lessons in the lilies of the field, patching old clothes, putting new wine in new wineskins, the sower scattering seeds in a field, dealing with the tares in the wheat, the devices of a dishonest steward, the hypocritical prayer of a Pharisee, finding a treasure hidden in a field, a lost (stray) sheep, a lost coin, a slighted invitation to a wedding, and dozens of other ordinary experiences of life.

This prophecy of the vessel marred in the hand of the potter refers to the moral and spiritual ruin of Israel; and it stands in close proximity to the prophecy of the broken vessel of the potter in Jeremiah 19; but this proximity is based upon the relation of both prophecies to the analogy of the potter’s house, and not upon their chronology.

"In this chapter, mercy is still offered Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, which, of course, they rejected; but it came early in the reign of Jehoiachim while there was still hope of their repentance; but in Jeremiah 19, the parable of the broken vessel depicts the final and utter overthrow of the kingdom; and this would have been about the fourth year of Jehoiachim."

Go down to the potter’s house...

(Jeremiah 18:2). This was located in a clay-field to the South of Jerusalem, just beyond the valley of Hinnom. This potter’s field was made eternally famous by Zechariah 11:13 who named this field as the place for which the blood-money for the Christ would be used as a purchase price, a prophecy remarkably fulfilled when the thirty pieces of silver which Judas received for betraying Christ were actually used to buy a plot therein for the burial of strangers (Matthew 27:9-10).

Many scriptures refer to the potter, the potter’s house, the clay, the vessels, and other features of the potter’s industry. Among them are the following: 1 Chronicles 4:23; Isaiah 41:25; Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:1-4; @@i19:lff; Daniel 2:41; Zechariah 11:13 ff; Matthew 27:7-10, and Romans 9:21. The most applicable of all these verses to the situation here in this and the succeeding chapters is the remark of Paul, who make it clear what kind of vessel it was that the Potter (God) finally made out of the marred clay (Israel); it was a "vessel unto dishonor." (Romans 9:21)

He was making a work on the wheels...

(Jeremiah 18:3). Ash gives this description of ancient potter wheels: There were two round flat stones, called wheels, set at right angles to a vertical shaft, one placed low under the table where it was propelled by the worker’s foot, and the other extending above the table where the worker could use it to fashion the vessels out of clay. The lower stone was heavier to provide momentum.

This is the first in a series of prophecies extending through Jeremiah 25, according to Cheyne; but some would end the series in Jer. 20.

THE POTTER AND HIS VESSELS

Jeremiah 18:1 to Jeremiah 20:18

Chapters 18–20 are composed of various types of literature centering around the common theme of the potter’s vessels. The first seventeen verses might be captioned “the marred vessel.” In the prose section Jeremiah 18:1-12 God’s sovereignty over His creatures is compared to a potter’s sovereignty over his clay. The passage Jeremiah 18:13-17 is a poetic expression of the unnaturalness of Israel’s sin. The passage Jeremiah 18:18-23 might be entitled “the human vessel” for it records Jeremiah’s prayer for vengeance upon those who were plotting against him. The breaking of a potter’s vessel as a symbol of divine judgment and the consequences of this action for Jeremiah personally are recorded in Jeremiah 19:1 to Jeremiah 20:6. In the final paragraph of this section (Jeremiah 20:7-18) the spotlight is back on the human vessel again as Jeremiah records the saddest and most bitter of his “confessions.”

It is impossible to date with precision the events of this section. These chapters are probably to be assigned to the early years of Jehoiakim for it is hard to imagine that Jeremiah would have been arrested and mistreated (Jeremiah 20:1-2) during the reign of good king Josiah.

THE MARRED VESSEL Jeremiah 18:1-17

In Jeremiah 18:1-17 Jeremiah learns an important theological truth through visiting the workshop of a potter. The first twelve verses are prose narrative and relate (1) the observation of the prophet (Jeremiah 18:1-4), (2) the interpretation of the Lord (Jeremiah 18:5-10); and (3) the proclamation to the people (Jeremiah 18:11-12). To this narrative is appended a poetic oracle in which the prophet makes an accusation against the people (Jeremiah 18:13-15) and then announces that the nation will be destroyed (Jeremiah 18:16-17).

The Observation of the Prophet Jeremiah 18:1-4

Jeremiah received instructions from the Lord to go down to the house of the potter where God would reveal to him something of vital significance for His people (Jeremiah 18:1-2). The verb “go down” suggests that the potter’s workshop was located in the lower part of the city. When Jeremiah arrived the potter was at work on his wheel—two circular stones connected by a vertical axis. The lower disk was worked by the foot. This in turn set in motion the upper disk upon which the potter worked the clay. Thompson has given the classic description of the operation:

Taking a lump in his hand he placed it on the top of the wheel and smoothed it into a low cone; then thrusting his thumb into the top of it, he opened a hole down through the center, and this he constantly widened by pressing the edges of the revolving cone between his hands. As it enlarged and became thinner, he gave it whatever shape he pleased with the utmost ease and expedition.

As Jeremiah observed the potter at work he noticed that the emerging vessel developed some imperfection which displeased the eye of that artisan. The potter rolled the clay into a lump again and reshaped it into an object that met with his approval (Jeremiah 18:4). The narrative does not reveal the cause of the ruination of the original vessel. This is not the point. The major lesson here is that the potter can do with the clay as he pleases. When the wet clay becomes marred he can finish that vessel in its imperfection, cast it aside or create a new vessel out of the clay. The new vessel might be similar to the original vessel or it might be something entirely new. It is all in the potter’s hands to do as he sees fit. If he so desires he can crush that emerging jar or vase into a shapeless mass of mud and then begin the whole process all over again.

Verses 5-10

Jer 18:5-10

Jeremiah 18:5-10

GOD’S PROMISES ARE ALWAYS CONDITIONAL

Then the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith Jehovah. Behold, as the clay in the potter’s hand, so are ye in my hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to break down and to destroy it; if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if they do that which is evil in my sight, that they obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.

Note that the deductions which were made from the analogy of the potter were not Jeremiah’s deductions, but those of God himself. Therefore, these are the true deductions that should be seen here; and they deal exclusively with the proposition that all of God’s promises, or prophecies, whether of punishment and destruction, or of blessing and honor are absolutely and eternally conditional.

We consider this little paragraph to be one of the most important in the entire Bible. All such erroneous theological nostrums as beings "saved by faith only," or "once saved, always saved," "the irrevocable promises of God." or "Palestine belongs to racial Jews forever" are eternally refuted and cancelled by what is declared in this little paragraph.

The great New Testament commentator on the parables, Bishop Richard Trench noted that: "Nor may we leave out of sight that all forgiveness, short of that crowning and last act, which will find place on the day of judgment, and will be followed by a blessed impossibility of sinning any more, is conditional, in the very nature of things so conditional, that the condition in every case must be assumed, whether stated or not; that condition being that the forgiven man continues in faith and obedience."

Upon the authority of the apostle Paul, we find another analogy in the potter’s house, namely, that if the potter cannot make the vessel he intended out of the clay, he has the power to make another vessel, a vessel unto dishonor, instead of a vessel of honor; and that is exactly what is represented here (Romans 9:21).

God had intended great honors for Israel. They were intended to be a nation of priests unto God, a devoted, faithful and obedient people who would lead all the world to a knowledge of the true God, who, in time, would deliver through their flesh the Holy Messiah and Redeemer of Mankind, and who would challenge the whole world to accept and obey that Messiah, and who would be the vanguard of his Holy Religion throughout the world. What a vessel of honor they could have been!

But, through their low preference for the sensuous indulgence of their shameful worship of the old Canaanite gods, they made it impossible for God to fashion such a vessel of honor from the disobedient people; and, therefore God made of them a vessel of dishonor who would indeed continue to serve God, and who would, in time, deliver the Christ to a manger in Bethlehem, but who would never be of any use whatever in the nobler purposes God had intended.

I will repent... I will repent...

(Jeremiah 18:8; Jeremiah 18:10). This never means the same thing when spoken by the Lord or in reference for what God does, that it means in the case of men. In the same sense that men repent, such a thing is impossible for God who never does wrong. Yes, God’s treatment of men can and does change; but it is never due to any change of the mind of God but always results when human conduct is so changed that it merits a different relationship with God.

The classical example of such a change is recounted in the Book of Jonah, where it is stated that, "God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he said he would do unto them; and he did it not" (Jonah 3:10).

The corollary of this is seen in the history of Israel, that "When God saw the evil of their way, he repented of the good that he said he would do unto them and did it not."

A nation. that nation ... a nation .....

(Jeremiah 18:7-10). These expressions in this context actually speak of any nation. Some scholars, always anxious to discover a reason for denying a passage to Jeremiah, would reject this as un-Jeremiahic; but Since Jeremiah was appointed to be ’a prophet to the nations’ (Jeremiah 1:5), this objection is unjustified.

The Interpretation for the Prophet Jeremiah 18:5-10

The nation of Israel is but clay in the hands of the divine Potter. He can dispose of them as he wills. If the nation yields and submits to the working of the divine hand, He will produce from it a beautiful and useful vessel. But if Israel refuses to allow the Potter to have his way then Israel will be discarded and God will start all over again with a new creation.

A word of caution is in order on this passage. Analogies when pressed beyond their intended purpose yield bad theology. One should not conclude from this episode that in God’s dealing with Israel He has been at fault in the ruination of the vessel. The potter which Jeremiah watched may have made an error of judgment in the amount of clay he selected or in some other respect that caused the first vessel to be inadequate. But no one should attribute such errors of judgment to the master Potter. The analogy breaks down in another respect. Clay is inanimate and material. The human heart possesses the power to willfully rebel against the Potter. Man can choose to be pliable in the hands of the Creator or to be a hard as sun-baked clay. Every child of God should be praying: “Have Thine own way Lord, Have thine own way. Thou are the potter, I am the clay.”

A most important principle of Biblical interpretation emerges in Jeremiah 18:7-10. Simply stated the principle is this: Neither God’s threats nor His promises are unconditional. The attitude of God toward any people depends entirely upon their response to Him. He is not an arbitrary God ruled by whims or fancies. He is the God of unchanging justice and mercy. God may decree the destruction of a nation and give no hint that the nation can survive. Yet if that nation repents of its sin God will rescind the execution order. One thinks immediately of Jonah’s mission to Nineveh. “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” he cried. The message was absolute and unequivocal without any hint of hope. Yet Nineveh repented and Nineveh found forgiveness. The threat was not executed and Jonah’s prophecy of doom went unfulfilled. The principle enunciated by Jeremiah in these verses helps to explain why some prophecies in the Bible have not been fulfilled. Biblical prophecies must be interpreted as conditional even though the conditional element may at times be missing.

Verses 11-12

Jer 18:11-12

Jeremiah 18:11

JUDAH’S PLACE IN THE ANALOGY

Now therefore, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith Jehovah: Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

This verse confirms absolutely the paragraph we have just written above it.

I frame evil against you. devise a device against you .....

(Jeremiah 18:11). Henderson rendered this, I am meditating a calamity against you, and forming a plan against you. This shows that the status of God’s Israel at this time was that of a nation which God had purposed to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy. This accounts for the accompanying demand that Israel repent and turn from their wickedness. It is still not too late for them to avert the wrath of God, but the time is growing short indeed.

Jeremiah 18:12

JUDAH REFUSES TO REPENT

But they say, It is in vain; for we will walk after our own devices, and we will do every one after the stubbornness of his evil heart.

"Alas, it was too late; they had gone too far in following the stubbornness of their evil heart; they could only reply, We will follow our own plans."

The clay simply would not conform to the Potter’s will; and the only options he had were: (1) to cast them off altogether, or (2) design them as a vessel unto dishonor. It was an act of mercy that God chose the second option.

Why will men deliberately reject God’s call to repentance? The obvious answer lies in their unwillingness to be restrained in any manner. They will live free lives, they say; but, like the prodigal son of the parable, they will inevitably find that there are restraints also in that evil world they have chosen, where some evil master will assign them their portion in the swine pens of this world. How free are they? "They call it liberty; but the man who is slave to his lusts and appetites is held in the worst of slaveries!"

The Proclamation to the People Jeremiah 18:11-12

Great theological truths are not to be jealously guarded but freely shared with all who will receive them. So it is that Jeremiah is told to proclaim the great truth that he has discovered at the potter’s house. The Lord is in the process of forming (Hebrew participle) and planning the destruction of the nation. The verb translated “form” is identical with the word translated “potter” in the preceding verses. No doubt the verb has been deliberately selected here to suggest the connection between what is now said and the episode of the potter just described. Just as the potter crushed the marred vessel in his hand and began anew, so God is about to destroy Judah and start all over again. In view of this impending disaster God pleads through his prophet for the people to repent (Jeremiah 18:11). It is not too late if they will only turn to God. The men of Judah respond to this last-ditch effort to secure their repentance in the same language which they used in Jeremiah 2:25. “It is hopeless,” they say. The mood here is not one of despondency but one of defiance. The leaders are warning the prophet that it is useless for him to continue trying to convert them. They are saying in Jeremiah 18:12, “We have chosen our path and we will continue to walk in it regardless of what you say the consequences will be.”

Verses 13-17

Jer 18:13-17

Jeremiah 18:13-14

THE FOLLY OF JUDAH’S CHOICE

Therefore thus saith Jehovah: Ask ye now among the nations, who hath heard such things; the virgin of Israel hath done a very horrible thing. Shall the snow of Lebanon fail from the rock of the field? [or] shall the cold waters that flow down from afar be dried up?

"The willfulness of Israel in forsaking Jehovah their God was without parallel in the ancient world, as Jeremiah had already mentioned in Jeremiah 2:9-13; Jeremiah 5:20-25, and in Jeremiah 8:7. The horror is heightened by calling her a virgin. She had indeed been a virgin hedged about by the Lord to protect her sanctity."

There are no known examples of where ancient peoples ever forsook their ancestral or tribal gods; but Israel indeed had denied the very God who delivered them from slavery and made a mighty nation of them.

Israel had forsaken her status as a virgin and had prostrated herself abjectly before the sensuous fertility gods of ancient Canaan, the worship of which was a key factor in God’s proscribing and displacing the Canaanites in order to give the land to Israel! It was not merely horrible, but incredible as well. "Their sin was as irrational as it was tragic."

With reference to Jeremiah 18:14, Thompson said: "All translations of this verse are conjectural; but while certainty is not possible the main thrust of the passage is clear." The view preferred by this writer is that God is here comparing the irrational and almost incredible behavior of Israel to that of a foolish farmer who would desert a farm watered by the melting snows of Lebanon’s Mount Hennon, in favor of an arid, rocky desert farm! Feinberg accepted this same understanding of the passage, saying that, "Nature does not change its course, but Judah has. Nature’s reliability puts to shame Israel’s instability."

Jeremiah 18:15-17

CONSEQUENCES OF JUDAH’S CHOICE

For my people have forgotten me, they have burned incense to false [gods]; and they have been made to stumble in their ways, in the ancient paths, to walk in bypaths, in a way not cast up; to make their land an astonishment, and a perpetual hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished, and shake his head. 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.

The ancient ways...

(Jeremiah 18:15). These were the way of loyalty to God’s covenant, the ’good way’ mentioned in Jeremiah 6:16. The false prophets, false priests, false rulers and false gods of Israel had mined the nation; and, as a consequence, God would scatter the nation as with an east wind; their land shall be destroyed, deserted, and an astonishment to all who see it! These were terrible words of denunciation, and such a prophecy as this was well calculated to arouse fierce and implacable opposition and hatred from the false community leaders.

The back, and not the face...

(Jeremiah 18:17). This signifies God’s withdrawal of his favor from the people at the very time when their calamity would come and their need of him would be the most acute; but, after all, the people themselves had given their God this very same treatment (See Jeremiah 2:27). Now it would be God’s turn to turn his back upon them.

The Accusation Against the Nation Jeremiah 18:13-15

In Jeremiah 18:13-15 Jeremiah presses the point that the nation has a serious flaw of which the divine Potter is acutely aware. Judah’s horrible sin, unheard of among foreign nations, is that she has rejected her God. A virgin should keep herself undefiled for her future husband; but the virgin of Israel has defiled herself with the worship of heathen deities (Jeremiah 18:13). That this national apostasy is unnatural is brought out by two rhetorical questions in Jeremiah 18:14. “Does the snow of Lebanon depart from the rock of the field?” The summit of Lebanon is snowcapped the year around. The snow does not leave the mountain even in the hottest weather. “Shall the strange, cold flowing waters be dried up?” The reference here is probably to the mountain streams which perpetually flow down the slopes of the Lebanon mountains. These waters are called strange or foreign because they are not of Israel. The basic implication of the two questions is that nature pursues her course unchanged whereas Judah has unnaturally changed her course. They have offered incense to vanities or nothingness, i.e., nonentities. These idols have been major stumbling blocks in the paths of the men of Judah. The people of God have forsaken the old paths (cf. Jeremiah 6:16) to walk in by-paths. A great deal of effort went into preparing a first class roadway in antiquity (see Isaiah 40:3-4). But the people of Judah preferred to travel “a way that is not built or cast up.” i.e., a road that was not properly constructed but just carelessly trodden down. Instead of the ancient, well-marked paths of righteousness the people of God had chosen rather to walk in footpaths which were not clearly defined and led to no place. Such paths are unfit for any child of God to trod!

The Devastation of the Land Jeremiah 18:16-17

The inevitable result of abandoning the God-ordained way is desolation and destruction. All who pass by will be amazed, shocked and astonished at what has befallen the once proud little nation of Judah. They will wag their heads in a scornful sneer at the wicked and stupid folly of the people who had forsaken their God (Jeremiah 18:16). God will scatter the men of Judah before their enemies just as men scatter and seek refuge when the torrid east wind, the so-called sirocco, begins to sweep in from the desert. God will turn his back upon them in that day of calamity and he will not listen to their cries for help (Jeremiah 18:17) An alternate translation of the last Part of Jeremiah 18:17 is: “On their back and not their face I w1ll look in the day of calamity.” In this case the meaning would be: When they flee before their enemies I will see their backs and will not intervene to save them.

Verses 18-23

Jer 18:18-23

Jeremiah 18:18-20

THE CONSPIRACY AGAINST JEREMIAH

Then said they, Come, and let us devise devices 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 smite him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words. Give heed to me, O Jehovah, and hearken to the voice of them that contend with me. Shall evil be recompensed for good? for they have digged a pit for my soul. Remember how I stood before thee to speak good for them, to turn away thy wrath from them.

In this first part of Jeremiah’s Fourth Lament, the plot against him is, revealed in Jeremiah 18:18; and Jeremiah pleaded with God not to allow the good which Jeremiah has been doing for the people by his preaching God’s Word to them to be recompensed with evil.

The law shall not perish from the priest. the wise ... the prophet .....

(Jeremiah 18:18). These words imply that the people were quite satisfied with the depraved leadership given by their false priests, wise men, and prophets. This trust in false leaders enabled them to accuse Jeremiah of treason, despite the truth that they themselves were the traitors.

Payne Smith’s comment on this passage is: "They said, What need have we of this Jeremiah? Have we not priests with the Torah, the Law of Moses, wise statesmen to give us counsel, and prophets to declare to us "the word?" Not indeed the word of Jehovah, which was too disagreeable for them to wish to have more of it, but that pleasant word the smooth things of Isaiah 30:10, which false teachers knew so well how to flavor to suit human appetites ... The people had the false impression that since the Torah was imperishable, so also were the Levitical custodians of it; and thus they concluded that Jeremiah’s prophecy of national ruin was blasphemous."

Thus Jeremiah was a victim of the same satanic charges that were later directed against the Christ himself, and by the same satanic instruments, namely the false Jewish leaders. In fact, it was upon a false charge of blasphemy that Christ finally was sentenced to the Cross (John 19:7).

Cheyne thought that, "They were satisfied with their false prophets, but that they were still afraid of Jeremiah, as Balak was afraid of Balaam (Numbers 23:25), and that therefore they would smite him with the tongue,’ that is, with slanderous accusations."

This first paragraph of Jeremiah’s Fourth Lament is a plea of innocence and of the truth that his good should not be rewarded with evil, but the next paragraph (Jeremiah 18:21-23) appears to pour out God’s wrath upon his enemies.

Jeremiah 18:21-23

JEREMIAH’S PRAYER AGAINST HIS ENEMIES

Therefore deliver up their children to the famine, and give them over to the power of the sword; and let their wives become childless, and widows; and let their men be slain of death, [and] their young men smitten of the sword in battle. Let a cry be heard from their houses, when thou shalt bring a troop suddenly upon them; for they have digged a pit to take me, and hid snares for my feet. Yet, Jehovah, thou knowest all their counsel against me to slay me; forgive not their iniquity, neither blot out their sin from thy sight; but let them be overthrown before thee; deal thou with them in the time of thine anger.

It is somewhat tiresome to note how many commentators deplore the un-Christian attitude of Jeremiah in this passage toward his enemies. Did not Christ pray for his enemies, even upon the cross? Yes, yes, indeed; but the sons of the devil who were here arrayed against God’s prophet with the avowed purpose of murdering him were not exactly in the same class as the soldiers who fixed the nails in Jesus’ hands. "For they know not what they do," Jesus said; but these hardened enemies of God’s Word and of his kingdom knew exactly what they were doing; and there is a strong conviction here that they deserved exactly the same kind of prayer Jeremiah prayed against them.

Feinberg pointed out that: (1) these were not merely Jeremiah’s personal enemies but enemies of God and of his truth; (2) Jeremiah prayed merely that those evil men would reap the reward of their own deeds, "delivering them judicially to the consequences of the course they had deliberately chosen for themselves"; (3) also, "These imprecations were not leveled against the whole nation, but only against Jeremiah’s enemies."

Such persons as these here, who were the object of Jeremiah’s prayer for their destruction, were like those of whom our Lord said, "These enemies that would not that I should reign over them, bring hither and slay them before me!" (Luke 19:27). Yes, these words were spoken by the gentle and merciful Jesus! There is a false idea in the world today that God is never really going to bruise any wicked sinner, no matter what may be his crimes of blood and lust; but that is not a true picture of what the Bible reveals about God.

Let it also be remembered that the cry of the saints of God for justice and vengeance against their vicious enemies is represented in the Holy Bible as a legitimate emotion, as expressed by those redeemed souls of them that had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held; and upon the opening of the fifth seal, "They cried with a great voice, saying, O Master, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" (Revelation 6:10). We believe that the prayer of Jeremiah in this passage is one in spirit with that of the slain martyrs in heaven and that it does not deserve the censure which some Christian writers have seen fit to assign to it.

Thompson pointed out that God gave no answer to this prayer of Jeremiah, despite the fact that God had given a response to the first three of these laments in Jeremiah 11:20; Jeremiah 12:1-4, and Jeremiah 15:14-18. There was no response to the fourth in Jeremiah 17:14-18, nor in the lament before us (Jeremiah 18:18-23). "Once God responded with a word of encouragement (Jeremiah 11:21-23), and twice with words of rebuke and instruction (Jeremiah 12:5-6, and Jeremiah 15:19)."

The saints in glory who uttered such a lament received a response, as follows: "And there was given to each of them a white robe, and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet a little time, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, who should be killed even as they were, should have fulfilled their course" (Revelation 6:11).

Such an answer requires us to see that the ultimate reward of the wicked will be at that Final Day of Reckoning, the Final Judgment.

THE HUMAN VESSEL Jeremiah 18:18-23

In Jeremiah 18:18-23 Jeremiah experiences the third personal crisis of his ministry. These verses contain (1) the plan of the adversaries (Jeremiah 18:18), and (2) the prayer of the prophet (Jeremiah 18:19-23).

The Plan of the Adversaries Jeremiah 18:18

Any man of God who preaches the word of God with boldness will inevitably make enemies. Their patience exhausted, the enemies of Jeremiah secretly began making plans to rid themselves of the prophetic pest. After all, they had the priests, the wisemen and other prophets so why should they tolerate a dangerous preacher like Jeremiah. They seemed to fear that if left alone Jeremiah might gain a popular hearing and the regular leaders of the nation might loose their positions of influence. Thus the enemies plan to “smite Jeremiah with the tongue” i.e., to slander him and make lying accusations against him. By twisting his words they hoped to turn the masses against him and perhaps lay the ground work which would result in legal action against the prophet.

Jeremiah 18:18 is instructive in pointing to the three groups within ancient Israelite society from which one might receive divine instruction. It was the special duty of the priests to give instruction based on the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 33:10; Deuteronomy 17:9-11). The priests of Jeremiah’s day had not been mindful of their high mission. The second class of religious instructors were the wise men. In the period of the United Monarchy Ahithophel and Hushai were prominent members in the court of David. Some of the wise men of ancient Israel, being gifted by the Holy Spirit, produced the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. But the wise men in Jeremiah’s day had become worldly wise. They were strictly political counselors or statesmen who judged matters purely from the standpoint of logic and not faith. The third class of religious teachers were the prophets who were to deliver to the people the word or oracle which was revealed to them by God from time to time. Throughout his ministry Jeremiah seems to have been in constant conflict with the prophets. These men had not received a heavenly call to the prophetic office nor did they receive genuine revelations from God. They were mere professionals who maintained their positions by giving oracles which were pleasing to both the general populace and the ruling powers.

The Prayer of the Prophet Jeremiah 18:19-23

The text does not indicate how Jeremiah became aware of the plot against him. But when he hears what his enemies have planned for him he cries out to God asking Him to take note of the threat against His messenger (Jeremiah 18:19). Jeremiah cannot understand why he is the object of such a vicious plot. He has preached bluntly but always with the ultimate good of his people at heart. He had wept for his people, pled with them and interceded for them at the throne of grace. He was the only true friend that the nation really had. When the people should be honoring him for what he has been doing, they are instead plotting against him. Jeremiah is both perplexed and perturbed by this turn of events. Borrowing the terminology from the Psalmist he cries, “They are digging a pit for my soul!” (Jeremiah 18:20). See Psalms 57:6; Psalms 35:7.

The prayer moves from narrative to petition and the petition takes the form of bitter imprecation. He prays that the sons of his enemies might experience famine and that they might be delivered over to (literally, poured out to) the power of the sword. The same terminology occurs also in Psalms 63:10 and Ezekiel 35:5 and the meaning is that the young soldiers would be thrust upon the sword until their life-blood had been poured out. He prays that the wives of his enemies will become childless and widows (Jeremiah 18:21). He prays that the homes of his enemies might be plundered by a troop of enemy soldiers (Jeremiah 18:22). He asks God not to pardon these men and to deal with them in the time of divine anger (Jeremiah 18:23).

Several points need to be considered in interpreting this difficult prayer.

1. The imprecation is not hurled at the nation as a whole but at those enemies who plotted his death.

2. “The prophets were neither vegetables nor ma chines but men of like passions with ourselves” (G. A. Smith).

3. This outburst does not represent Jeremiah at his best and is uttered in a moment of exasperation.

4. The anger of the prophet is aroused not so much because he personally is being attacked as because God was being rejected in the person of His prophet. To blaspheme the Lord’s messenger is to blaspheme the Lord Himself.

5. The particular blasphemy which the enemies hurled at Jeremiah was that his prophecies had not been fulfilled and that consequently he was a false prophet. Jeremiah now is calling upon God to execute those threats which he has so boldly proclaimed (Jeremiah 4:6-31; Jeremiah 9:17-22; Jeremiah 14:15-18; Jeremiah 15:2-9).

6. The prophet does not pray for these hardened people because the Lord has already indicated His unwillingness to forgive. Cf. Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 14:10; Jeremiah 14:12; Jeremiah 15:1; Jeremiah 15:6; Jeremiah 16:5 b.

7. Precedents for such prayers of imprecation can be found in the Psalms. Jeremiah may have been borrowing the language of the Psalms in formulating this prayer.

At the Potter’s House - Jeremiah 18:1 to Jeremiah 19:15

Open It

1. What is the most arrogant statement you’ve ever heard?

2. What are some things that, when broken, are impossible to repair?

Explore It

3. Where did God send Jeremiah to receive a message from Him? (Jeremiah 18:1-2)

4. What was the potter doing as Jeremiah watched? (Jeremiah 18:3-4)

5. How did God liken His power over the nations to the decisions of the potter? (Jeremiah 18:5-10)

6. What unthinkable deed had Judah done against God? (Jeremiah 18:13-15)

7. Where did the people of Judah begin to walk when they left God’s ways and began to worship idols? (Jeremiah 18:15)

8. What did God say He would do because Israel worshiped idols? (Jeremiah 18:16-17)

9. What was being said about Jeremiah by the people who resisted his message? (Jeremiah 18:18)

10. Of which past deeds did Jeremiah remind God? (Jeremiah 18:19-20)

11. How did Jeremiah ask God to deal with his enemies? (Jeremiah 18:21-23)

12. Where did God instruct Jeremiah to take the elders and deliver a prophecy? (Jeremiah 19:1-2)

13. What practices (carried out in the Valley of Ben Hinnom) would bring God’s judgment on the people? (Jeremiah 19:3-5)

14. Why would the name of the valley where Jeremiah stood be changed? (Jeremiah 19:6-9)

15. What was the meaning of the symbolic action the Lord told Jeremiah to carry out? (Jeremiah 19:10-12)

16. Whose houses would become defiled like the city dump? (Jeremiah 19:13)

17. What message did Jeremiah take to all the people in the temple because of the reaction of the elders to whom he had delivered the prophecy? (Jeremiah 19:14-15)

Get It

18. What is significant to you about the image of God as a potter?

19. Why did the people think Jeremiah was expendable?

20. Even after God has pronounced a judgment, what might make Him relent or reconsider, either for good or ill?

21. What comes to mind when you think of the image of God turning His back instead of showing His face?

22. What are some ways in which you have avoided the unpleasant in the past?

23. What do you think will become of people who abuse or neglect children, unless they repent?

Apply It

24. What is a practical way in which you can demonstrate God’s concern for a child in need in the coming weeks?

25. What God-fearing person in a position of leadership could use your encouragement today?

Questions On Jeremiah Chapter Eighteen

By Brent Kercheville

1 What is the message of the potter and the clay (Jeremiah 18:1-11)?

2 What is the response of the people and what was God’s response to them (Jeremiah 18:12-17)?

3 What were the people saying (Jeremiah 18:18)? What do we learn from this?

4 What is Jeremiah’s response to the plots of the people (Jeremiah 18:19-23)? What do we learn from this?

TRANSFORMATION:

How does this relationship change your relationship with God?

What did you learn about him?

What will you do differently in your life?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Jeremiah 18". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/jeremiah-18.html.
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