The potter and the clay

Jeremiah 18:1–17

There was a faithful believer, a brother who sought God’s guidance for his life by reading the Scriptures and praying devotedly. This man asked God about his future wife, and God led him to a woman to become his bride. He must have felt so happy to find the wife that God wanted him to have, and he loved her deeply. She agreed to marry him, and so the ceremony went ahead and they became husband and wife.
There was a troubling problem though, because the woman was a prostitute. He was sure that it was God’s will that they marry, so I imagine that he thought the woman he loved would be changed into the ideal wife. He probably went into this relationship expecting that God had prepared a happy future for them together. Isn’t that how we think when God guides us? Don’t we automatically expect everything to work out well, for good and not for ill.
Please remember that this is a true story, and these things really happened. His wife didn’t change, instead she went off with other men and was disloyal and unfaithful. This faithful believing man had his heart broken and his faith tested. He loved his wife, but she disgusted him. Every time she went off with a man, he accepted her back into his life. He prayed to God and desperately asked his guidance what to do, and God answered. Go to the church and tell them all about your marriage, God said to the brother.
With mixed emotions, struggling to obey God’s instruction to him, this brother went to the church. In the middle of the worship service, in front of the elders and their wives, the deacons, the pastors and their wives, and the faithful members, he stood up. He told them how God had guided him to marry the woman he loved, and how she was a prostitute. They knew him as a faithful man, a true believer in the Lord. Some were shocked, and some embarrassed, and some confused as he told them how his wife continued to go with other men. In their hearts and in their minds they each thought how the brother should deal with this situation. Some thought he probably hadn’t heard from God, and others that he should divorce his wife. There was sympathy for him, and there was horror. What would you have felt, or thought?
Obedient to God, the man told his story. Perhaps he wondered how it would help anyone for him to describe the failure of his life, and how following God had landed him in such trouble.
God then spoke to him, and told him what to say next. With everyone united in their feelings of disgust at his unfaithful wife, the man said to the pastors and teachers and elders that they were all exactly like his wife. They were unfaithful, chasing after other gods, he told them.
This man’s name was Hosea, and his wife’s name was Gomer. God said, “This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the LORD and worshiping other gods.”
Hosea was a prophet, and God guided him to marry a prostitute as a way of showing the people of Israel what they were really like. They were all disgusting to God, running off with other men and betraying their husband the LORD God of Israel. And yet God still loved them deeply and wanted more than anything for them to return to the marriage.
Often God spoke through his prophets in this practical manner to emphasise his message in a way they would understand. In the case of Jeremiah, in our reading today, we see God speak through a practical action that was observed by the prophet.
The first point to note is that God has many ways in which he can communicate with us, and we therefore ought to be ready to hear him even in the simple activities around us. Jeremiah’s responsibility as God’s prophet was to interpret the actions of the potter so the rest of us are able to hear from God.
In this enacted sermon, the potter is God and the clay he works with is the people of God. We are the clay, and God is the potter, while Jeremiah is the prophet or messenger. Jeremiah first would appear to require an understanding of the art of pottery for his interpretation, and we need to prepare likewise with wisdom and knowledge.
Jeremiah notes in verse four that “the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped.” We see at once that the potter, meaning God, knew what he wanted to make with the clay. He had a plan and a design, but he failed to achieve it “so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.” This time he made a different pot than the one he had wanted to make.
God wants to shape you a certain way, a good and beautiful way, into a pot of exquisite beauty that will reflect God’s own beauty. God sees clearly how you could be and he determines to make you like that, but he fails and instead makes you into something else. The result is that although you have been shaped by God, you are not realising your full potential.
Jeremiah uses the Hebrew word shâchath to explain the problem that the potter has. This Hebrew word is normally translated in this verse as ‘spoiled’ (ESV) or ‘marred’ (NIV). Jeremiah is saying that the reason the potter has failed in making the pot he desired is because there is something wrong with the clay, not something wrong with the potter. There may have been a small stone in the clay, or some other flaw that made it impossible to work with as he desired.
In Genesis 6:11,12 we find this same Hebrew word used to describe the state of God’s creation when he decided to destroy it. Here it’s translated three times as ‘corrupt’. “Now God saw that the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. God observed all this corruption in the world, for everyone on earth was corrupt.” (Genesis 6:11,12)
Jeremiah explains that if the potter cannot make what he wanted, he will crush the clay and start again. He will make something else. It’s not the beautiful vase he envisioned, but perhaps an ugly yet functional item for daily use. We have in this observation a message of hope, because the potter doesn’t throw the clay away but still uses it. We are the barrier to the success of the potter’s work, and if we are able to get rid of our corruption the potter will be able to make us into the beautiful item he desired.
When you hear someone say that they are the way they are because that’s the way God made them, then show them this passage and explain to them. You are the way you are because you are corrupt. You are not the way God intended you to be, but instead you are the result of sin and corruption. This is reversible and curable, because God will remake you at his will when the corruption is removed. Jeremiah explains from verse seven how it works with God, and how it depends on our cooperation.
If God announces that a certain nation or kingdom is to be destroyed, but then it renounces its evil ways, he will not destroy it. God will change his plan. If God announces that he will build up a certain nation or kingdom, but it turns to evil and refuses to obey him, God will not bless it. God will change his plan.
God does not force his children into any particular shape or role, only doing what we will allow him to do with our lives.
Who decides what the clay will become, the potter or the clay? You want to say the potter, and you want to have the comfort of no responsibility for what you are like. Jeremiah says it is the clay that decides, and you are responsible for what you are like. The people of Israel heard this message and clearly understood it, for they said to Jeremiah: “Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to.”
What do you say to God this morning? Do you say to God that he is wasting his breath, and you want to stay as you are. Or do you admit that you are not perfect clay, you are spoiled by sin, and you want him to cleanse you and make you into the person he wants.
If you wait too long, the clay will harden and it will be too late to remake the pot. At that time, Jeremiah says in chapter 19, the pot will be smashed because it’s useless. The person who hardens their heart against God and refuses to be moulded by him will be broken and thrown away. The Israelites were doing things so bad that God said, “it never even crossed my mind.”
It might hurt when God crushes you into a new shape, kneading you and removing the small stones and other impurities. It may hurt to think of yourself as you really are in God’s eyes, and not as the beautiful person that you imagine. You are the clay and God is the potter, but only you can give him permission to make you into the beautiful creation he intends you to be.
Decide today to be real and honest, and ask Jesus to purify you so that God can remake you. Why settle for second best? Why take a chance on your own destruction?

Amen 아멘

About Pastor Simon

Pastor at Jinju International Christian Fellowship. Formerly of Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK. I am Simon Warner of Jinju Church. We speak English at Jinju Church, South Korea.
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