18 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 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.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me. 6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. 7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted,10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.
11 “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’ 12 But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; we will all follow the stubbornness of our evil hearts.’”
(Jeremiah 18:1-12 NIV)
As we begin chapter 18, the Lord uses an everyday illustration to provide a message to His people. The Lord sends Jeremiah to the local potter to observe. Out of that observation the Lord brings His message to Jeremiah.
In Jeremiah’s day, clay objects were ordinary. Some were for distinctive use, some ornamental only, and others for common everyday use. In all cases, they were breakable and in constant demand.
As Jeremiah observed the potter, he noticed that the potter was both a craftsman and an artist, as he understood the properties of the clay and for what it was best suited. In fact, Jeremiah observed the potter starting over several times to find the correct use of the clay.
Verses 5 – 10 are the Lord’s words to Jeremiah. The Lord is the potter, and the nations are the clay. The Lord is the one who decides what to do with each lump of clay, whether it will be used for everyday use or set aside for specific purposes.
In verses 11 – 12, the Lord gives a particular message to the people of Judah and Jerusalem and forewarns Jeremiah what their answer will be.
The illustration of the potter and the clay appears multiple times throughout the Scriptures. In Genesis 2:7 Moses used the word “formed” to describe the process God used to create Adam. And what did God use to make Adam? The dust of the ground (and water, of course, since our bodies are roughly 2/3 water). Hmmm – sounds like the recipe for clay, doesn’t it?
Isaiah, the Apostle Paul, and others use the potter and clay illustrations to show the relationship between the two. In all cases, the potter is the one who decides what to make of the clay. Likewise, the Lord is saying that the nations exist to serve Him, not for Him to serve the nations. The same goes for us as individuals.
Sometimes batches of clay can be easily molded into the potter’s desired shapes and uses. Other lumps of clay are resistant to forming, and will not hold a shape in the potter’s hand. In some cases, the clay can be formed into bricks that can be used on the outside of a building. Other clay can be formed into bricks that can stand the heat of a fire and are used to line the inside of a furnace, chimney, fireplace, or oven.
May we be lumps of clay that are easily moldable in the Master’s hands, to be used for His glory and His purposes.