Jeremiah Was a Prophet, Part 3

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Beginning with chapter 17:19, the prophet Jeremiah performs various symbolic acts designed to teach his people certain lessons and elicit certain reactions from them.  These symbolic acts were meant for everybody, citizens and kings alike.

This is what the Lord said to me: “Go and stand at the gate of the people, through which the kings of Judah go in and out; stand also at all the other gates of Jerusalem.  Say to them, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah and all people of Judah and everyone living in Jerusalem who come through these gates.’”  (Jeremiah 17:19, 20  TNIV)

When you read chapters 17:19 – 20:18, you’ll understand why Jeremiah was not very popular with anybody at this time.  His message was one of doom and gloom, and his pleasure-loving friends didn’t appreciate his candor.

Jeremiah’s visit to the potter’s house was the second symbolic act, with the potter standing in for God.  But this visit took place following the prophet’s admonition to the people to be obedient to God and keep the Sabbath.

“’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  TNIV)

In spite of the people’s familiarity with God’s command to rest on the Sabbath, they didn’t.  They worked on the day of rest as though it were any other day.  God warned them that such blatant disobedience and materialism must stop or an invading army would bring an end to Jerusalem’s unrelenting greed.   To give you an idea of how little the people thought of God’s threats, here’s what they said to Jeremiah:

They keep saying to me, “Where is the word of the Lord? Let it now be fulfilled!”  (Jeremiah 17:15  TNIV)

You just know that scoffing at the Lord like that won’t result in good things happening to the scoffers!  But God is patient, so He took His prophet to the potter’s house.  It was a visit full of symbolism which the people of the day would have easily understood.  The people of Israel were used to their prophets speaking of God in a variety of ways.  Often God was pictured as a good Shepherd, or a Farmer who tended His vines.  A less familiar metaphor was God as a potter.  Isaiah wrote this:

No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins.  Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.  (Isaiah 64:7, 8  TNIV) 

Whenever the Bible uses the God-as-a-potter metaphor, two things could be going on: (a) judgment on the wicked, or (b) restoration of the righteous. When God renders His judgment, He destroys a clay pot, sometimes by smashing it on the ground:

You will break them with a rod of iron ; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.  (Psalm 2:9  TNIV)

But, when God displays His restoration, it comes by way of creating a pot of clay. In Jeremiah 18, God the Potter is constructive and purposeful. He’s at His potter’s wheel, making a vessel.

Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.”  So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel.  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.”  (Jeremiah 18:2 – 4  TNIV)

The people of Jeremiah’s day paid a certain amount of lip service to God’s Word, but that was about it.  The way they treated the Sabbath was just the tip of the iceberg of their rampant disobedience.  They were living as though God were irrelevant.  So the image of the potter working on the pot was startling.  It showed how involved in the lives of His people God really was.  Most people today have a lot in common with the ancient Israelites, acknowledging a belief in God yet living as though He really doesn’t exist.  How surprised these people will be when they discover how intently interested God is in how they are living their day-to-day lives.  As the potter noticed how a pot he was working on was marred or deformed, so God notices when people’s lives are similarly marred and deformed by sin.

The encouraging part of the visit was that the potter didn’t toss out the marred pot, preferring to work on it some more, hoping to make a useful pot out it.  The symbolism can’t be missed, and God’s interpretation leaves no room for doubt.  First, He was absolutely sovereign over the nation of Israel:

He said, “Can I not do with you, house of Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.”  (Jeremiah 18:6  TNIV)

The doctrine of God’s sovereignty isn’t a popular one among most people.  Non-Christians hate it because they prefer the illusion that they are in charge of their lives; that they shape their own destinies.  To acknowledge the sovereignty of God would mean that He’s real and they’re not in charge of anything.  And Christians seem to have a love/hate relationship with God’s sovereignty.  We like it when it appears to work for us.  Just think about the many times during a rough patch in your life you remembered this verse:

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. But God’s sovereignty isn’t passive, it’s active.  (Romans 8:28 TNIV)

But we hate it when what we want to do conflicts with what God wants us to do.  When our will bumps up against God’s will like that, we hate God’s sovereignty and do our best to ignore it by finding a work-around – a clever way to justify our sin – to soothe our guilty consciences.  However, God’s sovereignty isn’t passive, it’s active.  Notice –

If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.  (Jeremiah 18:7, 8  TNIV)

God not only “announces,” but He “inflicts.”  That’s a very active sovereignty!

Second, God’s sovereignty doesn’t eliminate man’s free will – his ability to choose righteousness.  Yes, God can and often will “uproot,” “tear down,” and “destroy,” but if a man chooses to repent, then God will “relent.”  In the case of Israel, proclamations of judgment or blessing could be completely reversed depending on the people’s actions.

Our lessons from Jeremiah’s visit to the potter’s house

Jeremiah’s visit to the potter’s house and its attendant meaning for Israel means it has nothing to do with us, except for the lessons we, as 21st century Christians may draw from it.  In all, there are probably four lessons we can take away from Jeremiah 18.

Lesson One:  We are not pots!

That’s right.  You and I are not pots, we’re clay.  You may say that pots are made of clay, and you’d be correct.  But, a pot is the finished product; it’s clay that has been fixed into a certain shape for a certain purpose.  But you aren’t dead yet, and God isn’t finished with you yet.  God is still working on you, shaping and molding your character, gradually re-creating you into the image of His Son.

That brings up another character of clay:  It’s malleable while a pot is breakable.  As a Christian, you’re not fragile, though at times you may think you are.  You’re pliable.  God is able to work with you and work on you to make into what He wants you to become.

Lesson Two:  Life is rough

There’s a verse in Isaiah that gives us the tiniest of glimpses into the life of clay.  It’s not pretty.

“I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes—one from the rising sun who calls on my name. He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay.”  (Isaiah 41:25  TNIV)

Did you see what the potter does to the clay?  He “treads it.”  That’s right, the potter would throw the clay onto the hard ground and then walk all over it.  Then he took it into his strong hands, mixing it with water to soften it up.  After that, he slapped that hunk of clay onto his wheel, spinning it ‘round and ‘round, using his fingers and palms to squeeze and kneed that clay into some kind of vessel.

Once the newly formed clay pot had hardened in the sun, it was placed into a blazing hot kiln.  How blazing hot?  How about 2700 degrees?  And there it would sit, spinning ‘round again until that clay-turned-pot was baked through.

Your life isn’t so different from that of a hunk of clay.  Your life isn’t an easy one.  Nobody’s is.  We encounter all kinds of difficulties and hardships, many times they aren’t even of our own making!  Job experienced this and he lived to tell about it:

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.  (Job 23:10  TNIV)

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him…  (Job 13:15  TNIV)

Job was a man who got what God’s sovereignty was all about!  Sometimes he wasn’t happy about it, but he accepted it.  Do you?  When you face illness or abandonment or discouragement, how to you deal with it?  James tells us how:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  (James 1:2, 3  TNIV)

Ellen White said this:

The fact that we are called upon to endure trial shows that the Lord Jesus sees in us something precious which He desires to develop…. He does not cast worthless stones into His furnace. It is valuable ore that He refines.

She was right.

Lesson Three:  The hotter the furnace, the stronger the pot

Fancy, delicate, brightly colored earthenware chips easily if it is baked at lower temperatures. These kinds of dishes have none of the inner strength needed to withstand getting knocked about in the kitchen sink. Stoneware, on the other hand, is much stronger because it is baked in a furnace nearly twice as hot as that for earthenware. But porcelain, baked between 2400 and 2700 degrees Fahrenheit, is the finest and most expensive type of pottery.

But God is not some kind of crazy potter. He knows His clay and He has a purpose for each piece of clay.  In the potter’s house, not every pot was fine china.  Not every pot was made for daily use, some were made for decorative purposes.  So it is for the believer.  We are tested and tried for a purpose, and sometimes only God knows what that purpose is or will be.  Regardless of what we face in life, we know this:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to us all. 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 endure it.  (1 Corinthians 10:13  TNIV)

Lesson Four:  We need the Holy Spirit!

Clay needs water if it is to be made into a useful article, like a pot.  The water mixed in with clay allows the clay to bond to itself.  Without water, all you have is dust.  Look at what Jesus said in John 7:37 – 39:

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.  (TNIV)

The Holy Spirit will help us during our time as clay.  He will give us wisdom and strength and He will help us keep the events of our lives in perspective.  And then there’s this:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  (Ephesians 4:3  TNIV)

The church isn’t made up of a bunch of dust particles, blowing around, making a mess.  We’re like clay held together by water!  We believers are bound together by the water of God’s Holy Spirit.

Such are the lessons take from one prophet’s visit to the potter’s house.

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