The Marred Pot

Jeremiah 18:1—6

“Determination” is an admirable character trait. According to the amazing Internet, “determination” means the following:

  1. Firmness of purpose; resoluteness.
  2. The process of establishing something exactly, typically by calculation or research.

We admire people who are “determined.” These are the creators; the producers; the people who win; the people who succeed where others fail. But “determination” cuts both ways. For example, as Jeremiah remained faithful and determined in his calling to preach repentance, the nation he was preaching to was equally as determined in their opposition to his message.

Judah as a nation was determined to continue walking away from their God; they showed no signs of knowing just how bad off they really were. Nowhere was their rebellious nature so clearly seen as in their treatment of the Sabbath. By Jeremiah’s day, Judah had had the Law for almost one thousand years. For almost a millennium, they possessed God’s command to rest on the Sabbath. In spite of the fact that everybody knew they were supposed to cease from work on the Sabbath, Jeremiah’s people failed to obey it. Instead, they continued to work as though that command was never given by God.

But if you do not obey me to keep the Sabbath day holy by not carrying any load as you come through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle an unquenchable fire in the gates of Jerusalem that will consume her fortresses. (Jeremiah 17:27)

This stark sermon did nothing to endear Jeremiah to his compatriots! He was preaching against their lifestyle. He was preaching against what they wanted to do in favor of what God wanted them to do. People never change. While Christians are under no obligation to observe the Jewish Sabbath, we are obliged to gather together for corporate worship and fellowship on the Lord’s Day. Yet how many Christians would rather wash their cars, go shopping, cut their grass, or do any other thing except spend time in the Lord’s House, with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s Day?

This wore the prophet out. Can you imagine trying get a whole nation to do the right thing, but day after day they just ignore you? So one day, Jeremiah took a break from his preaching and the Lord led him out into the country to a potter’s house. It was good for Jeremiah to rest, and God was going give the prophet a brand new idea for a sermon.

Some people who hear the Word of God all the time grow a little deaf to it and God has to find other ways to get His message across. This was why He led His prophet to visit a potter’s house. Jeremiah is not only going find a rest, but also an object lesson for Israel and for you and me.

1. The clay

O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord.

In this living sermon illustration, the clay represents the nation of Israel, or Judah. It was literally dug out of Egypt, planted in Canaan, the Great Potter’s House, where He wanted to work on molding His people into what He wanted them to be. Just as the potter, Jeremiah shaped and reshaped the pot as he saw fit.  And the Lord did that and was doing that to Israel.

Like Israel, God has also taken us out of where we were to we are for the purpose of creating for Himself a people.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13, 14)

The clay is the raw material. God in His sovereignty is able to fashion that raw material into what He wants. This is a wonderful picture of the what the Lord’s sovereignty is like. We, like Israel, are the raw material in His great hands.

2. The Wheels

So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. (verse 2)

The process of life is seen in the wheels. The process of life is God’s way of working with His creation; His will, purpose, promises, and providences all working together to shape Israel and His people. A New Testament commentary on this verse might well be Romans 8:28—

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

On the wheels of life, God works out His plan for our lives. Being in the kingdom of God as we are means we are in a special sphere of God’s favor and grace. He moves us along in a course marked out for us as individuals, and all the circumstances of our lives are the wheels God uses to move us; as we are moved along, our spiritual lives and character are being formed.

3. The Potter

Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

God Himself is the Potter. We can only imagine what He had in mind for Israel! Everything God creates is perfect, so Israel could have been something so majestic had the people been obedient.

What was true of Israel is true of you. If you are God’s child, then you are in the palm of His hand; He is making you into something beautiful! Now, some people—Christians even—cringe at the thought of being in God’s hand, but consider what happened to Nehemiah simply because he was in God’s hand:

And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests. (Nehemiah 2:8)

No Christian should ever fear being in God’s hand. No believer should ever be filled with anxiety at the thought of God’s sovereignty! Always remember this:

God Is light; in him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)

God would never allow anything to harm you. Even as His hands apply pressure to shape you, He will never hurt you.

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

The potter’s purpose is to make the best possible use of the material he has in his hands. God has called you into fellowship with Him, and He has only the best in mind for you. We don’t always know what God is working on for us any more than the clay knows what it is being molded into! But we have God’s Word—God’s promise—that He is on our side, and we need never fear being in His hands.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  (1 Peter 5:10)

4. The Pot

But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. (verse 4)

Don’t you find it odd that even in the hands of the expert potter, the pot wasn’t turning out right? This wonderful real life illustration and teaching isn’t just about the sovereignty of God. It’s also about the freedom of man. In the response of the clay—thwarting the potter’s purpose for it—we see the freedom of man in action. Some people don’t like to talk about this, but human beings are free to respond to the dealings of God. In the case of Israel, in spite of all the things God did for them, they responded wrong. They continually rebelled against Him, choosing instead to go their own way and do their own thing. Because they responded negatively, God’s work was marred.

If the Holy Spirit, who functions as the Hand of God in His people’s lives, is to remake us into the kind of people that glorify God and that He can use, we must yield every aspect of our hearts to Him; we can’t hold any part back.

The good thing is, the potter never gives up! If, on the wheel, the pot just won’t cooperate and is flawed, the potter breaks it and starts all over again. If, on the wheel of life, you refuse to cooperate with Him, God will break you begin to build you back up. This process is no more pleasant to the Potter than it is to the clay. But God wants you to be more than what you are, and He will do whatever it takes to get you there. The breaking process for us is unpleasant but it’s hopeful.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire —may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1Peter 1:6, 7)

Just how long this breaking or refining process will take is not known to us, but is hidden in the eternal purposes of God. Every backslider, every carnal Christian, is a marred pot. Many are like Saul; marred because they have disobeyed the Word of God. It is clear from the subsequent verses in Jeremiah, and from the Gospels, that people can cross the line, beyond which there is no hope or help from God.


Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand. (vs. 6b)

God can remake a marred pot into a new one. The regenerating Holy Spirit is more than able to restore a broken pot into something useful; He can restore a broken life. The pot may have been ruined by bad choices, horrible sins, continual rebellion, but it still belongs to the Potter; it is still in His hands.

The image of the potter’s house is not unique to Jeremiah; it is found other places in Scripture. It’s a powerful illustration of blending of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

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