Jeremiah 18 and the depiction of God as a potter has been one of my favorite images of God in the Bible. As a teenager, I preached my second sermon on this passage. I came to a greater appreciation of the imagery of God as a potter through a presentation by a potter at a Passion play in Arkansas.
What does the imagery of God as a potter teach believers about God, the plan of God and the purposes of God?
The phraseology “the Word of the Lord came to me” functions as one of the key phrases in the Book of Jeremiah. Prior to Jeremiah 18, the phrase occurs in Jer. 1:4, 11, 13; 2:1; 7:1; 11:1; 13:3, 8; and 16:1.
God commanded the prophet to go at once to a potter’s house. The potter and his jar functioned as an object lesson of God’s plan, purposes and design for His people.
Like a potter, God has a design plan. He purposes to make His people into a beautiful and useful vessel. Sadly, God only has flawed clay with which to work.
In pottery, clay may become unusable because of a stone, a lump or an improper mix of clay and water. Unlike a human potter’s medium, all the clay God uses to accomplish His purpose is flawed by sin.
Ancient potters had to pick out small stones and other materials to make the clay usable. God may discipline His people by picking out the problem lumps and stones within our lives. He may need to remove the sinful flaws in His people’s lives in order to make us beautiful vessels.
Paul also used the imagery of common pottery to describe Christian service: “Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7). God’s goal is to make us beautiful jars of clay.
In Jeremiah, the imagery of the clay and the vessel represent God’s people. But the imagery applies to any nation or people group.
Like a potter that smashes his flawed pottery, God can uproot, tear down and destroy a nation or a kingdom. If people refuse to heed God’s Word, then God can change His plan regarding a nation or a people group from blessings to destructive judgment.
One aspect of the judgment of God is “I am about to bring harm to you and make plans against you” (Jer. 18.11).
While Jeremiah describes the sovereignty of God in terms of international relations, God says that if any nation turns from evil, He will relent (or repent) of His planned disaster. The promise also applies to individuals and churches as well.
God judges individuals at the end of history at the judgment seat. He judges nations and people groups within history.
God issued a negative and positive command. God commands evil nations, kingdoms and people to “turn now, each from your evil way, and correct your ways and deeds.” The commands include both a negative command and a positive command.
The word translated “turn” in our English Bibles is the Hebrew word for repent.
True repentance entails both a negative and a positive. Repentance involves a forsaking (negative) and changing of direction to one of obedience (positive).
By Mark Rathel
Professor at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Florida