Jeremiah 18:1-10 At the potter’s house

Finding good illustrations can embed the truth firmly in the memory.  A striking picture can stay with us when words might well be forgotten.  The Lord often provides visual reinforcement for the truth he is teaching his people.  One example comes from the ministry of Jeremiah.  This episode may come from early in the reign of Jehoiakim, when there seemed still to be hope for a spiritually declining nation.  We consider Jeremiah 18:1-10 At the potter’s house.

1. Divine revelation

It is vital to see that the insight Jeremiah gained at the potter’s house is not merely the result of his own thinking: we are dealing with divine revelation.  ‘This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord’ (v1).  At the potter’s house ‘the word of the Lord came to me’ (v5).  How the word came to Jeremiah we do not know.  There is an element of mystery and perhaps these things are beyond our understanding.  What is crucial is that this message has its source in the Lord.  Note 2 Peter 1:21 ‘prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit’.  The agent of revelation is the Holy Spirit, working in such a way that the faculties of the prophets were not suppressed but were used by God.  The result is that Scripture is ‘God-breathed’ (2 Timothy 3:16).

2. Divine rule

What is the Lord’s message?  The work of the potter was familiar to Jeremiah’s readers.  A common event: ‘the clay was marred’ (v4).  The pot is not satisfactory and is not coming out as the potter wishes.  The situation is not irretrievable – ‘so the potter formed it into another pot’.  His plan is not frustrated, but will be produced, ‘shaping it as seemed best to him’ (v4).  We are not left to interpret what the prophet has seen.  The words are addressed to the ‘house of Israel’, the covenant community.  God reminds them of his sovereignty in relation to their very identity – ‘can I not do with you as this potter does?’  These people ought to be living in obedience to God’s covenant law but (by and large) are not.  The Lord has a design and purpose for his people, and their sins will not ultimately frustrate his plan.  This is a truth to encourage us regarding his work of grace, but this does not guarantee all members of the covenant community will prove genuine.

3. Divine responses

The remainder of the message is heart-searching.  The attitudes of individuals and communities are included in God’s working and call forth different responses from the Lord:

            (i). Judgment averted (v7):  When a nation hears the announcement of judgment, perhaps it ‘repents of its evil’ (v8).  The Lord’s attitude then changes: ‘I will relent and not inflict…’.  This is the reality of grace.  The illustration cannot portray the sinner’s repentance.

            (ii). Judgment imposed (v9):  The promises of blessing are not unconditional.  Some will not obey (v10) and so ‘I will relent of the good I had intended’ (ESV).  We can never presume on God’s blessing.  Our repentance or rebellion are included in his decrees, but our belief and obedience are essential to receiving blessing and avoiding judgment.

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