“Parables That Pack a Punch” Sermon Series
Sermon #4 Jer. 18:1-12 “The Potter, the Prophet, and God’s Prophecies” March 9, 2014
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Take a lump of Playdough into your hands, and make it into whatever you want to. Who decides what’s going to happen with that lump of Playdough in your hands? Does the Playdough direct your shaping of it? Did it talk back to you? Consider that as we look at Jeremiah 18:1-12:
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 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of 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; each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart.’ ”
I. The Big Picture: God is the Master Potter
The potter at work is one of God’s favorite pictures of Himself. Even as early as Gen. 2:7 (“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground…”) the word “formed” uses the same root word as “potter.” So we start with the Lord as the sovereign potter, shaping and creating as He wills. (Implications for us, made in His image, as creators, artists, designers, etc.)
This image of God as the master potter puts us in our place, even as the clay has no right to speak back to the hands who have formed it. The potter has complete power over the clay, just as God has complete control over each one of us. Yet at the same time, we know that the Sovereign Potter works in us His good pleasure and creates us with love!
So we need to think about God’s sovereignty over us not merely as His control over us, but also as God expressing His creativity in us and displaying His craftsmanship through us!
To see it from God’s point of view, put yourself in the shoes of a potter. For each piece of pottery that you shape on the wheel, you have a clear purpose in mind: “this one will be a tea cup; this one will be a bowl for soup; and that one will be a large clay pot for holding water or wine.” That’s God’s sovereignty: exercising His control; expressing His creativity, and displaying His craftsmanship.
Isaiah 43:7 “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
Isaiah 60:21 “Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor.”
Eph. 2:10 “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
So think about God as the Master Potter, shaping you, for the display of His glory!
II. A Closer Look: Understanding God’s Pottery Making
vv. 1-2 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.”
Sometimes the Lord has to move us to be in a certain place in our life (geographically, chronologically, or spiritually) before we can fully appreciate the message that He wants to get across to us. God directed Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house, for it was only when the prophet saw what the potter was doing with the clay on the wheel that Jeremiah could fully grasp the truth that God was imparting to him.
In our lives, the Lord may first bring us to a valley of sorrow and loss before we can fully appreciate the message of His comfort and mercy. Or He may move you from a position of comfort and security and turn your world upside down, so that you can really grasp the truth that God alone is your Rock, the Anchor of your soul.
So when the Lord says to you to go somewhere, then go! When God sends you to places and situations you don’t want to be in, just submit and see what He will show you the message he has for you, and for you to give to others.
v. 3 “So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel.”
Let’s think about what Jeremiah saw in the potter’s house. He sees the clay, the wheel, the tools, water, finished clay pots, and of course, the potter. Likely the potter says to Jeremiah, “Would you like to buy a clay pot?” The prophet answers, “No, I’m here because the LORD said to come here, and he would have a message for me.” The potter answers, “Sorry, the Lord didn’t leave any messages here for you. Look, I need to throw some pots on the wheel.”
Jeremiah asks the potter, “Mind if I just hang out and watch? I’m positive that the LORD told me He had a message for me here.” The potter replies, “Whatever!”
It’s likely that Jeremiah sat watching the potter at work for some time. He observes him wedging the clay, so he can get all the air pockets out of the clay. He sees him centering the clay on the spinning wheel in front of him. Jeremiah watches as the potter applies steady but gentle pressure to the revolving clay, with the both hands, and then as he opens up the clay with his thumbs and raises the walls of the pot with his knuckle. But then Jeremiah notices that after all that careful work, the pot which the potter was shaping “was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”
And it was perhaps at that point, after quite a bit of time of watching the potter at work that God delivers His message to Jeremiah, a message that has just come to life before the prophet’s eyes on the potter’s wheel.
So here in vv. 1-6, we see God’s sovereignty, His total control, over that which He shapes with His own hands. As the clay is shaped by the potter, and has absolutely no say in the matter, so too all of creation and all of us are shaped by our Creator, and we cannot complain to God. God has no need of a suggestion box outside his office!
(See Job chapters 38-42:
Job 40:1-4 The LORD said to Job: 2 “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!” 3 Then Job answered the LORD: 4 “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.
Look at Jer. 18:6: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”
God can do whatever he desires with any of us, with any nation, and with the entire universe!
Or in the New Testament:
Matt. 20:15 “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?”
Romans 11:34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”
So God is completely in control of our lives! Stop and think about that. Every “accident” you are in is under God’s control. Every “chance happening” you encounter is part of His sovereign plan for you. Every plan and decision you make and every action you take is regulated by the Lord’s love for you. He is sovereign over everyone and everything! Do you believe that?
Yet, at the same time, in vv. 7-10 we see how we are expected by God to respond to God’s Word! We are not merely inert lumps of clay; we are not robotic slaves to some cosmic kismet; nor do we have our destinies determined by divine fate! No! Rather, God has created us with a will to respond to His Word, His warnings, and His promises.
In one sense, vv. 7-10 are very unexpected here, for this reason: in vv. 1-6, God has been driving home the point that He alone is in control of all nations; he can do whatever He pleases with them. But in vv. 7-10, we hear God saying that He will “relent” and “reconsider” what he planned to do, if the people change their minds and hearts!
We might wonder: Is there a disconnect between God as sovereign and God at the mercy of what we do? No. I think there’s another way to look at this passage as a whole that fits together much better.
Please notice that in vv. 7-10, God is not being wishy-washy; He is not saying that he can’t make up His mind, and that His plans are dependent upon man’s plans. God is not waiting upon us in heaven, saying “Please, make the first move so I can go.” (like a chess game.)
What God is telling us in vv. 7-10 is that He gives people an opportunity to be re-made. He is still the one who is shaping the nations on his wheel. He is addressing the House of Israel as a lump of clay on His potter’s wheel, and appealing to them to repent and turn back to Him, so that He can make something good out of them; but if they refuse, He will bring disaster upon them.
The focus is on the master potter re-making the clay vessel. v. 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.”
Indeed, our Lord is a master at taking material that is deeply flawed and re-making it into a magnificent work of art that brings Him glory! Think about how He re-made Simon Peter, and Levi, and Saul of Tarsus, and Augustine and Chuck Colson… and how He graciously re-made you and me!
As the potter is patient with the clay, so much more patient is God with sinners!
Furthermore, in trying to bring together the ideas of God’s sovereignty and our response to God’s Word, we might say that God’s sovereignty is so deep and detailed that it even encompasses the response of men and women, of kings and rulers.
We get a touch of this truth in Proverbs 16:1-9:
Prov. 16:1 “To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the reply of the tongue.”
Prov. 16:4 “The LORD works out everything for his own ends— even the wicked for a day of disaster.”
Prov. 16:9 “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”
Consider two examples of God’s sovereignty being so deep and detailed that it even encompasses the response of men and women:
Genesis 3:15 “And I will put enmity between you (the serpent) and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
God’s plan of salvation is so great that it even encompassed the rebellious response of Adam and Eve, leading to a great salvation in their eventual offspring, Jesus Christ.
Luke 22:22 “The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” God’s plan of salvation is so great that it even encompassed the traitorous response of Judas, when he betrayed Jesus into the hands of His enemies.
So you see that Jer. 18:7-10 help us to understand God’s prophecies (and God’s sovereignty). We see how His prophecies, from our perspective, are often “conditional,” removing them from the realm of fatalism. That is, however dire the prediction, God’s prophecies of doom are generally open to revision, if the people will but repent. For example, consider Jonah’s preaching of 40 days and then destruction to the people of Nineveh (and because they did repent, God relented.)
On the other hand, God’s promises of blessings are usually subject to God’s people remaining faithful to Him. For example, 1 Samuel 2:30, regarding God’s promise to the house of Eli: “Therefore, this is the declaration of the LORD, the God of Israel: ‘Although I said your family and your ancestral house would walk before Me forever, the LORD now says, “No longer!” I will honor those who honor Me, but those who despise Me will be disgraced.”
So God holds His warnings and His promises in either hand, and there is still time for those who hear His message to repent and be blessed.
However, in Israel’s case, there was no reconsidering of God’s warnings through Jeremiah. Rather, they chose to dishonor God and harden their hearts: v. 12 “But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart.’
God presents His challenge, his loving appeal, in v. 11, but stubborn Israel refuses Him in v. 12.
Each person, and each nation, by its response to God, determines his/its destiny.
How are you responding to God’s deep, detailed, and loving sovereignty over your life?
I close with the testimony of Dr. Jack Miller, my seminary professor and the founder of the New Life Churches. When he was confronted by the truth of God’s complete and utter sovereignty over him, including the doctrine of election, he thought about it, and then God gave him and grace to respond this way: “If that’s who God is, then I better bow down before Him and surrender my life to him completely, right now!” May you do the same.
I. Isa. 45:7-12, esp. v. 9: “The Potter and the Parent”
7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things. 8 “You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down.
Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up,
let righteousness grow with it; I, the LORD, have created it.
9 “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground.
Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’
Does your work say, ‘He has no hands’?
10 Woe to him who says to his father, ‘What have you begotten?’
or to his mother, ‘What have you brought to birth?’
11 “This is what the LORD says— the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker:
Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children,
or give me orders about the work of my hands?
12 It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it.
My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts.”
(Paraphrase: “Please feel free to give me your orders! After all, I am only the Creator!”)
God is saying to His people who are complaining about the hand he has dealt them, “Look, I am your God, not your short order cook. I want to be your God and for you to be my people, not my judge and jury. How can you experience the love of God if you won’t allow me to be God?”
And even as a pagan king, Cyrus, would be God’s plan to set Israel free, so too God would send them a greater Liberator, His own Son, and they would reject that plan and that person as well, as if they knew better than God!
II. Romans 9:19-33
To better understand divine sovereignty and human responsibility, look at Romans 9:19-24
One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?”
20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
The question that frequently arises from any discussion of God’s sovereignty is this: “How can God blame people, if He is sovereign?” Paul helps to answer that question in Romans 9:19ff.
1. Consider our Lowly Position:
20 – what is formed
21 – the same lump of clay… pottery
22 – the objects of His wrath
23 – the objects of His mercy
Bottom Line: We have no bargaining chips with God; we have no leverage, nothing we can offer Him to barter with. We are low, sinful, weak, and utter helpless.
2. Look to God’s Sovereign Mercy:
16 – it depends on God’s mercy
18 – God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy
23 – to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy
Bottom Line: We are totally dependent upon God’s mercy to us, in Christ.
3. God’s Great Purpose:
17 – That I might display my power
22 – What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known,
23-24 – What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
Bottom Line: God sovereignly works all things for His glory, and in His great love and mercy, he has chosen to elect us, to call us, to save us, and to sanctify us, so that we might be trophies of His grace, for his everlasting glory and honor!
4. Therefore, We are in No Position to Challenge God :
God’s Position Our Position:
He is God We are man
He is the Craftsman We are the crafted object
He is the Potter We are lumps of clay.
God alone is in the position to display His wrath, power and mercy (9:22-26)
God’s sovereignty does not abolish our responsibility (9:27-33)
– Because Israel is responsible for her unbelief and her disobedience, she deserves her punishment.
– Because God is sovereign over Israel, He mercifully saves some, a remnant, while He is under no obligation to save any.