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Go to Bible: Jeremiah 18
|Jer 18:1||- (top)|
“Get up.” The verb is imperative, so we might well understand the verse as “Get up! And go down to the potter’s house.” God had something he wanted to show Jeremiah and the potter was currently working, which was important for God’s lesson to Jeremiah, so He commanded Jeremiah to get up and go right then.
“I will tell you my message.” The literal Hebrew is “I will cause you to hear my words,” but it means I will tell you my words.(top)
“wheels.” This verse highlights one of the biblical customs involving pottery. The literal Hebrew text is “at the two stones.” The reason that there were “two stones,” actually, two stone wheels, is that in biblical times the potter worked at a wooden table with a hole in it. Thus, the table looked much like many of the small tables many people have on a deck or patio that has a hole in it that an umbrella goes through so the table will have shade.
Up through the hole in the table came a shaft, like the shaft that connects two wheels of a cart or wagon except thinner, and there was a stone wheel under the table and a stone wheel on top of the table that were both connected to the shaft. The potter put the clay on the wheel that was on top of the table and began to work it as he turned the wheel under the table with his feet. Although a number of English versions try to make the English easier to understand by saying “wheel” instead of “wheels,” it is helpful in building the scene in our mind if we understand what Jeremiah saw and the actual biblical custom of the two stone wheels.(top)
“Whenever.” The Hebrew verbs indicate repeated action (cp NET text note). As Jeremiah watched, there must have been a number of times the clay could not be made to form the pot the potter wanted, so he simply made that piece of clay into another kind of vessel. This is not unusual; every potter experiences this.
“came out ruined.” The Hebrew verb translated “ruined” is shachath (#07843 שָׁחַת), and here it is in the Niphal aspect and its meanings include, to be ruined, spoiled, corrupted, injured, marred, rotted. As the potter worked the piece, the clay would not form the shape the potter wanted and the pot became ruined, so the potter had to start over and make something else.(top)
|Jer 18:5||- (top)|
“can I not do with you as this potter.” The record of the potter and the clay here in Jeremiah 18 has been terribly misunderstood in traditional Christianity. It is generally taught that God is the potter and we humans are the clay and God can do anything He wants to with us. But that is not true, as a careful reading of Jeremiah shows, and especially if reading Jeremiah is coupled with knowledge of clay and pottery. For example, in Jeremiah 18:4, the clay vessel became “ruined” in the potter’s hand. The potter did not want to ruin the pot, he wanted to make the pot, so what went wrong?
Every potter knows that certain types and consistencies of clay are good for making some vessels but not others. Successfully making a clay vessel involves a kind of teamwork between the potter and the clay. A potter cannot just take “generic clay” (of course there is no “generic clay”—every clay is different) and make anything they want to. And sometimes what the clay will or will not do surprises the potter. Sometimes clay that should have worked for making a certain vessel simply doesn’t work, and sometimes clay that should not have worked to make a certain vessel works wonderfully. Ultimately, however, the fate of the clay is in the hands of the potter. The clay may not cooperate and let the potter make the vessel that he or she wanted to make, but the potter will then make another vessel from the clay, and that vessel may be a “vessel of dishonor” (Rom. 9:21), a vessel that the clay is not happy being made into.
It is the teamwork between the potter (God) and the clay (humans) that God wanted Jeremiah to see. God, like a master potter, was trying to make Judah into a glorious vessel, a great nation. But Judah did not cooperate and obey God, instead, they defied God, so He had to do something else with Judah, and they became a vessel of dishonor. This was the lesson that God gave Jeremiah in Jeremiah 18:6-10: God has plans for people and nations, but what He can do is often limited to what the person or nation is willing to do.
There are dozens of verses in the Bible that show that things do not always turn out the way God wanted them to. God did not create a spiritual and physical world full of mindless robots who simply always do what God wanted. God created spirit beings and humans with free will, which is the freedom to love and obey Him, or the freedom to disobey and defy Him. Sadly, lots of people make the freewill choice to disobey God, which is why there are so many verses in the Bible telling people to obey God and confronting people over their disobedience. It is also why there are verses that show that God has to change and adjust His plans when people ignore or defy them, which is the subject of Jeremiah 18:6-10. There are dozens of verses that show that God does not always get what He wants (cp. Gen. 6:6; 1 Chron. 21:15; 2 Chron. 36:15-17; Jer. 15:6; 26:13; 35:15). A major lesson we are to learn from Jeremiah 18:1-10 is that if we want God to make us into a glorious vessel, we need to obey Him and follow His guidance. If we do not, we will still be made into some kind of vessel, but it may be a vessel of dishonor.
[For more about free will and how it affects the war between Good and Evil, God and the Devil, see commentary on Luke 4:6].(top)
“At one moment.” In this context, the Hebrew can be understood as “at the moment,” or “suddenly.” Some versions use “moment,” as does the REV (CSB; DBY; NAB; NASB; NRSV; YLT); some use “instant” (ASV; JPS; KJV); some use “suddenly” (Douay-Rheims; Geneva Bible). William Holladay, who translates the word “suddenly,” writes in the commentary Hermeneia: Jeremiah, “The point of the passage is clearly not that Yahweh makes a judgment for some nations and against others, almost as if it were a matter of whim; the point is that whatever decision Yahweh has made about a nation, he is able ‘quickly’ or ‘suddenly’ to reverse the decision if the conduct that of that nation merits it.” Holladay goes on to explain, “indeed the ‘suddenly’ may refer to the nation’s change of heart as much as to Yahweh’s change of plan, but the main emphasis is on Yahweh’s sudden change.”
Holladay points out, and rightly so, that God will suddenly change when people change. We also see in scripture that God will be patient with people, but His patience does come to an end if people continually defy Him. We see this with King Saul, who defied God for years until there came a day when God took the kingdom from Saul (1 Sam. 15:28).(top)
“change my mind.” The Hebrew word translated “changed his mind” is nacham (#05162 נָחַם), and the range of meanings of nacham include to be sorry, repent, regret, change one’s mind, have compassion, be comforted, console oneself (Strong’s lexicon; BDB).
When speaking of humans, along with “comfort” and other meanings, it can mean to change one’s mind (Exod. 13:17) or “repent” (to be sorry, regret, and have a change of heart; Jer. 8:6). When speaking of God it does not mean “repent” as if God had done evil, but depending on the context means “change His mind” (Exod. 32:14; 1 Sam. 15:29; Ps. 110:4; Jer. 18:8; 26:3, 13; Jonah 3:10); “relent” (2 Sam. 24:16; Ps. 106:45); “to be moved to pity or to compassion (Judg. 2:18; Ps. 135:14; Hos. 13:14); to “regret” (1 Sam. 15:11).
Historically, theologians have thought that God never changes, and so they assert that God does not actually change his mind. For example, in the text note on Exodus 32:12, the NET says, “The verb ‘repent, relent’ when used of God is certainly an anthropomorphism. It expresses the deep pain that one would have over a situation. Earlier God repented that he had made humans (Gen 6:6). Here Moses is asking God to repent/relent over the judgment he was about to bring, meaning that he should be moved by such compassion that there would be no judgment like that. J. P. Hyatt observes that the Bible uses so many anthropomorphisms because the Israelites conceived of God as a dynamic and living person in a vital relationship with people, responding to their needs and attitudes and actions” (NET First Edition text note).
It must be pointed out that there is no solid evidence that God changing His mind or having emotions of anger, joy, disappointment, etc., are not real but are anthropomorphisms, that is, God saying He feels or thinks like a human but actually does not. God created humans in His image, and we change our minds and have emotions, so it makes sense that God does too, and the Bible certainly says that He does. Although J. P. Hyatt speaks condescendingly of the Jews when he says they “conceived of God as a dynamic and living person in a vital relationship with people, responding to their needs and attitudes and actions,” there is no solid evidence that Hyatt and other theologians are correct and the ancient Israelites are wrong.
A large number of the ancient people in the Bible had very personal and intimate interactions with God, interactions on a personal level that are only the thing of legends today. Given that, it seems to be hubris and arrogance to say those ancients, and the Bible itself, are wrong in the way they portray God but we know better today. Besides, there are plenty of verses that say God changed His mind. If those statements are not true, what are we to make of them?
In Jeremiah 26:13, Jeremiah told the people that God could change His mind about His prophecies of Jerusalem being destroyed if they would repent and change their evil ways. So even though prophets such as Micah had foretold the destruction of Jerusalem (Micah 3:12), that prophecy was not set in stone and God would change if the people did.
[For more on the conditional nature of prophecy, see commentary on Deut. 18:20.](top)
|Jer 18:9||- (top)|
“change my mind.” The Hebrew word translated “change my mind” is nacham (#05162 נָחַם), see commentary on Jeremiah 18:8.(top)
|Jer 18:11||- (top)|
|Jer 18:12||- (top)|
“Virgin, Israel.” The Hebrew reads, “the virgin of Israel,” but the genitive is appositional. The translation could be something such as, “the Virgin, namely Israel,” or “the Virgin, that is to say, Israel.” But simply saying, “The Virgin Israel” catches the sense well.(top)
|Jer 18:14||- (top)|
|Jer 18:15||- (top)|
|Jer 18:16||- (top)|
|Jer 18:17||- (top)|
|Jer 18:18||- (top)|
|Jer 18:19||- (top)|
|Jer 18:20||- (top)|
|Jer 18:21||- (top)|
|Jer 18:22||- (top)|
“Deal with them in the time of your anger.” Jeremiah is asking Yahweh to not put off dealing with the evildoers, but deal with them now, while He is still angry about it.(top)