Jeremiah 18 Commentary

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We’re entering a section that consists of Jeremiah 18, 19, and 20. Previously I’ve given you three nouns that begin with the letter p to help us remember this three-chapter section.

They are:

  1. A Potter (Jeremiah 18)
  2. A Pot (Jeremiah 19)
  3. Passhur (Jeremiah 20)

Jeremiah 18 Commentary | The Potter

In Jeremiah 18 we’ll hear about the Potter.

Basically, what happens in this chapter is this. God tells Jeremiah to go to a potter’s house. So, he goes and he sees the potter making and re-making clay vessels. God then explains why he sent Jeremiah to see that. Then the Lord gives a message to Judah based on the potter’s activity. But Judah doesn’t want to hear it. Actually, they plan once more to kill Jeremiah. And the chapter ends with Jeremiah praying that God would go ahead and carry out the judgement that he’s promised to send to his rebellious people.

So, let’s study Jeremiah 18 and consider the Potter.

Jeremiah 18 Commentary |  Command to Jeremiah

First comes the command from God to Jeremiah to visit the house of a potter in Jeremiah 18:1-2.

Jeremiah 18:1 ¶ The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,

2 Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words.

Jeremiah 18 Commentary |  Jeremiah’s Observation

And as we’ve seen every time that God gives a command, Jeremiah obeys more-or-less immediately.

In addition, in Jeremiah 18:3-4 we’re told what Jeremiah experiences when he obeys the Lord by going to the potter’s house.

3 Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he [wrought/was making] [a work/something] on the wheels.

Let me explain that phrase “the wheels” at the end of Jeremiah 18:3. Apparently, in Old Testament times people who made pottery would make their vessels on a larger upper wheel that was closer to their hands. And that was connected by maybe a wooden log to a second wheel that was closer to the potter’s feet. So, that’s what Jeremiah means when he refers to “the wheels”. The potter is spinning the clay using his feet on the lower wheel and he’s shaping the clay with his hands on the upper wheel.

OK, so Jeremiah sees the potter working with some clay on his wheel. What happens next?

4 And the vessel that he made of clay was [marred/spoiled] in the hand of the potter: so he made it again [i.e., into] another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.

Alright, so the potter is making something on the wheel with his lump of clay. But then it becomes “marred” or “spoiled”. That word “marred” has been used of Judah several times already in this book, by the way. And that kind of foreshadows what’s to come in this chapter.

Well, now, what happens when the clay becomes “marred”? The potter remakes it however it seems good to him to make it. It’s literally in his hands as to what he does to the marred clay.

Now, of course, God isn’t really concerned that Jeremiah and his hearers go see a pottery demonstration in action. Just like other symbolic actions in this book that Jeremiah’s been exposed to, this pottery demonstration had a message.

So, in Jeremiah 18:5-10 the Lord explains to Israel through Jeremiah what he intended by calling attention to the work of this potter.

5 ¶ Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,

6 O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD.

And what is the answer to that question? God asks a question of Israel. Can’t he act toward Israel like the potter acts toward his clay? Well, whatever Israel might answer, God answers in the affirmative.

Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.

Now, think about it. How much say does clay have in the hand of a potter? That’s a ridiculous question. And that’s just the point. The clay has no say, no rights, no choice. It’s at the mercy of the potter.

But let’s allow the Lord to shape how we ought to think of his relation to Israel as related to the relation of a potter to his clay.

7 At [what/one] [instant/moment] I [shall/might] speak concerning a nation, [and/or] concerning a kingdom, to [pluck up/uproot], and to pull down, and to destroy it;

8 If that nation, against whom I have [pronounced/spoken], [turn from their evil/stop doing wrong], I will [repent/relent/cancel] of the evil that I [thought/planned] to do unto them.

OK, so, there are times when God declares judgement against a nation. He did this with Nineveh in the days of Jonah. And what happened with Nineveh during Jonah’s ministry? They repented! Amazingly! What was God’s reaction? Well, we could say – because he says it here – that when that wicked nation repented, so did he. God turned from his plans for destroying them when they turned from their sin which was provoking him to destroy them.

It’s strange to say that God “repents”. And yet, he says it himself. Now, his repentance is of course different than that of sinful men. We need to turn from sin. God never sins and so he never needs to turn from it. But he will, according to his will, turn from his plans to destroy people from time to time.

So, when people turn from their sin, God will often turn from his plans to destroy them.

But there’s another side to that coin. We see that in Jeremiah 18:9-10.

9 And at [what/another] [instant/moment] I [shall/might] speak concerning a nation, [and/or] concerning a kingdom, to [build/build up] and to [plant/establish] it;

10 If it do [evil in my sight/what displeases me], that it obey not my voice, then I will [repent/think better/cancel] of the good, wherewith I said I would [benefit/bless] them.

So, if God promises to bless a nation, but then that nation turns against the Lord, the Lord will turn against that nation.

God, the Divine Potter, is sovereign. He is in total control. He can do what he wants. And he always does what’s just and right and appropriate. Always. No one is ultimately going to be able to question his doings. I mean, they can question, but it won’t do them any good.

And all of this was intended for rebellious Israel – the nation about whom the Lord made some wonderful blessed promises to bless them. But they’d turned from him. And so, now they were in serious danger of having the Lord turn from them.

Jeremiah 18 Commentary |  Message for Judah

The Lord issues a call to repent in Jeremiah 18:11.

11 Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying,

Thus saith the LORD;

Behold, I [frame/am fashioning/am preparing] [evil/calamity/disaster] against you,
and devise a [device/plan] against you:

[return/oh, turn back] ye now every one from his evil way,
and [make/reform/correct] your ways and your doings [good/(blank)].

Jeremiah 18 Commentary | Judah’s Response

What could be more merciful than the Lord offering Judah an opportunity to repent? And yet, they reject the Lord’s gracious offer in Jeremiah 18:12.

12 ¶ [And/But] they [said/will say/just keep saying],

[There is no hope/It’s hopeless!/We don’t care what you say!]: (“There is no hope: no; for I have loved strangers, and after them will I go.” Jeremiah 2:25 – dismissive and rebellious)

but we will [walk after/follow] our own [devices/plans], [We’ll do what we want to do]
and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart. [We’ll keep behaving wickedly]

So, Judah’s response to God’s gracious and merciful call to repent is stubborn rejection of the offer.

Jeremiah 18 Commentary | God’s Response

And so, God gives a further response to Judah in Jeremiah 18:13-17.

13 Therefore thus saith the LORD;

Ask ye now among the [heathen/nations], who hath heard such things:

the virgin of Israel hath done a [very horrible/most appalling/utterly revolting] thing.

14 [Will/Does] [a man leave the snow of Lebanon/the snow of Lebanon leave] which cometh from the rock of the field?

or shall the cold flowing waters that come from another place [be forsaken/cease to flow]?

OK, the images used in Jeremiah 18:14 can be a little confusing. So, let’s consider them.

Let’s start with snow falling in Lebanon. When snow does fall in Lebanon, it’s typically going to be falling in higher elevations. I think it’s likely that the Lord is thinking of Mount Hermon, which has seasonal winter and spring snow and the peaks of which are covered in snow for most of the year. Well, when that snow falls on rocks in higher elevation, it doesn’t leave those rocks very soon. Naturally, when the snow falls on a rock that’s cold and dry and hard the snow is going to stay there for a while. The snow, of its own volition, is not going to grow feet and carry itself off of the rock.

And yet, it does eventually melt. And that melting snow creates rivers. And those rivers, as is stated in Jeremiah 18:14, aren’t going to be forsaken – they aren’t going to stop flowing. This is a natural occurrence. Both of these realities are natural. It’s just the way things work.

Now, contrast that with the unnatural behavior of Judah in forsaking their God. Nations don’t forsake and change their gods! And yet, that’s just what Judah was doing with their true and living God.

15 [Because/Yet] my people hath forgotten me,
they have burned incense to [vanity/worthless gods],
and they have caused them to stumble [in/from] their ways
from the ancient paths,
to walk in [paths/bypaths],
[in a way not cast up/not on a highway/in roads that are not smooth and level];

And this is the result of their unnatural abandoning of their God and turning to idolatry.

16 To make their land desolate,
and a perpetual hissing;

every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished,
and [wag/shake] his head.

17 I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy;

I will shew them [the/my] back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity.

So, again, exile is the punishment for Judah’s rebellion.

In Jeremiah 18:18 the people of Judah plot to slander and ignore Jeremiah.

18 ¶ Then said they,

Come, and let us devise [devices/plans] against Jeremiah;
for the law shall not perish from the priest,
nor counsel from the [wise/sage],
nor the word from the prophet.

And the idea there is if Jeremiah is off the scene, the people will still have their priests and wise men and prophets. Now, almost all of those figures seem to be corrupt and false at this point in the history of Judah. But the people don’t mind that. They don’t mind hearing falsehood from any of these so-called holy men. But what they do mind is hearing the hard truth from Jeremiah. And they’d be happy to be rid of him and to rather heap to themselves false religious leaders who will tickle their ears and give them things they want to hear rather than giving them the truth.

And so, the people continue with their plans. They say…

Come, and let us smite him with the tongue,
and let us not give heed to any of his words.

So the people of Judah plan to, as I said, slander (“smite with the tongue”) and ignore (“let us not give heed to”) Jeremiah.

How discouraging for a prophet of the Lord. Jeremiah’s life work was to communicate to the people on behalf of the Lord. But now he’s understanding that these people to whom he’s been sent are purposing not only to totally ignore him but beyond that to slander him and say things about him that aren’t true.

In Jeremiah’s discouragement, he does what we should all do. Take it to the Lord. And so, we see Jeremiah’s prayer to the Lord in Jeremiah 18:19-23.

19 [i.e., Unlike the Judeans who won’t listen] Give heed to me, O LORD,
and hearken to the voice of them that contend with me.

So, hear both me and them, Lord! Listen to what they just said!

20 Shall evil be [recompensed/repaid] for good?
[for/yet] they have digged a pit for [my soul/me].

So, that’s the evil. They’re seeking to do evil to Jeremiah – digging a pit for his soul. But he’s done only good for them. And here’s the good.

Remember that I stood before thee to speak good for them,
and to turn away thy wrath from them.

And this is totally accurate. Remember that the Lord actually had to turn away Jeremiah several times already. Jeremiah was praying for the Lord to not punish these very people. And it was the Lord who had to tell him to stop. Jeremiah has truly loved these people – the very ones who are seeking to at least ignore him, and to slander him, and even to kill him. Jeremiah has done good for his people. And that good has been repaid to him with evil.

And so, Jeremiah in his own heart as it were delivers them over to the Lord’s previously-stated punishment.

21 Therefore deliver up their children to [the famine/starvation],
and pour out their blood by the [force/power] of the sword;

and let their wives be bereaved of their children,
and be widows;

and let their men be put to death;
let their young men be slain by the sword in battle.

22 Let a cry be heard from their houses,
when thou shalt bring a troop suddenly upon them:

for they have digged a pit to take me,
and hid snares for my feet.

So, in other words, I think that instead of interceding for these people anymore, Jeremiah is actually now handing them over to the fate that God has already proclaimed against them.

It’s like, if I’m putting in all this effort to try to turn away God’s wrath against them and they’re going to repay me by trying to kill me, then Lord let fall on them the judgement that I’ve been trying to prevent.

23 Yet, LORD, thou knowest all their [counsel/plots] against me to slay me:

forgive not their iniquity,
neither blot out their sin from thy sight,

but let them be overthrown before thee;

deal thus with them in the time of thine anger.

Now, I’m not at all prepared to say that Jeremiah’s prayer is inappropriate.

Because really he’s first of all bringing his frustration to the Lord. He’s not venting on the people. He’s not seeking his own vengeance. He’s putting it in the Lord’s hands.

And secondly, Jeremiah is praying for the Lord to do only what the Lord has said that he would do. He’s praying God’s will to be done.

Jeremiah 18 Commentary | Jeremiah vs. Jesus

And so, I’m not going to indicate that Jeremiah was wrong.

I’d like to highlight the differences between Jeremiah as an adequate – even faithful – human intercessor and our Lord Jesus Christ as the perfect intercessor.

Jeremiah

Jesus Christ

Ministered under the Old Covenant Inaugurated and now ministers under the New Covenant
People broke it People can’t break it
People needed to repent and wouldn’t People in it have repented
Human only Human and divine (he intercedes according to the will of God)
Intercession limited by himself, his people, and the Lord’s desires Intercession unhindered by himself (being divine as well as human), his people (who have all repented and who cannot break their covenant with God), or the Lord’s desires (since he and the father are one)
Result: destruction Result: eternal salvation
People’s reaction: animosity People’s reaction: the love of Christ constrains me…

The author of Hebrews tells us that we have a faithful high priest in Jesus Christ. And part of his being a high priest is his interceding for his people. Hebrews tells us that Jesus Christ ever lives to make intercession for us. And because that’s the case, he is able to save us to the end.

With Jeremiah, God himself was set on destroying his so-called people. They had broken the Old Covenant and at some point the intercession of a frail human like Jeremiah wasn’t going to get the Lord’s attention. It wasn’t going to change his mind. Only repentance on the part of his people could turn the Lord from his wrath and planned destruction of his people.

But, brothers and sisters, in the New Covenant, we first of all have a perfect intercessor who is both human and divine. He is able to bridge the gap between holy God and sinful man.

But in addition to that, the Lord has not destined us for wrath but for salvation. Related to that, we have a covenant which cannot be broken. All those the Father gives to his Son cannot be taken out of the Son’s hand. We will never perish. We are sheep who hear his voice and we follow the Shepherd.

By the very nature of the New Covenant, we’ve entered into it through repentance and faith – but don’t miss the repentance. That was key in Jeremiah’s day. If the people would only repent, God would turn from his judgement of them. But they wouldn’t repent! The only way you can enter into the New Covenant is through repentance. So, we are by nature repenters.

So, my fellow New Covenant saints, you have a perfect intercessor who will not cease praying for you. And because of that, you are secure in his love. He brought a better covenant which is unbreakable. Rejoice in this.

And let me ask – does this knowledge that you’re secure make you more or less likely to love Christ and to obey him? Really, if you’re thinking right, knowing that you are eternally secure won’t make you love the Lord less. It won’t make you desire to serve him less and to live for his glory less. The love of Christ constrains you to live for him and not for yourself.

May the Lord help us to do just that.

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