1The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord saying,
2 “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.”
3 Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel.
4 But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me saying,
6 “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.
7 “At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it;
8 if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.
9 “Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it;
10 if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.
11 “So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.” ’
12 “But they will say, ‘It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’
These events probably occurred during the reign of Jehoiakim, the king who burned Jeremiah’s prophetic scrolls. Unlike his father King Josiah, Jehoiakim had no love for either the Lord or His prophet. He wasn’t the least bit interested in what Jeremiah had to say about things political or spiritual.
Over thirty words in the Hebrew vocabulary relate directly to pottery, because the manufacture of pottery was a major industry in the Near East in that day. No doubt Jeremiah had passed the potter’s house many times, but this time God had a special message for him that, after he preached it, would put him in jail. When you follow the Lord, you never know what will happen to you next.
“He did not get his flash of insight while he was praying, but while he was watching a potter engaged in his daily work,” wrote Charles E. Jefferson. “God reveals Himself in strange places and at unexpected seasons. For instance He once revealed Himself in a stable.”
The potter sat before two parallel stone wheels that were joined by a shaft. He turned the bottom wheel with his feet and worked the clay on the top wheel as the wheel turned. As Jeremiah watched, he saw that the clay resisted the potter’s hand so that the vessel was ruined, but the potter patiently kneaded the clay and made another vessel.
The interpretation of the image was national, relating to the house of Israel, but the application was individual, calling for a response from the people of Judah and Jerusalem. It also calls for a personal response from us today.
As the potter has power over the clay, so God has sovereign authority over the nations. This doesn’t mean that God is irresponsible and arbitrary in what He does, even though He is free to act as He pleases. His actions are always consistent with His nature, which is holy, just, wise, and loving. God doesn’t need any advice from us, nor do we have the right to criticize what He does. This holds true, regardless of circumstances.
The Lord presented two scenarios that illustrated His sovereign power over. If He threatened to judge a nation and that nation repented, then He would relent and not send the judgment. He did this with Nineveh when Jonah’s preaching brought the city to repentance (Jonah 3). On the other hand, if He promised to bless a nation, as He did Israel in His covenants, and that nation did evil in His sight, then He could withhold the blessing and send judgment instead. God neither changes in character nor needs to repent of His actions but He has the sovereign freedom to alter His actions depending on the responses of the people.
Each day, you choose what kind of clay you will be in the hand of God the potter, which choice will you make today, tomorrow, this week, this year?