A Trip to the Potter's House
Jeremiah 18:1-12

(c) Copyright 2005 Rev. Bill Versteeg

At the Potter’s House (NIV)
18 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, Jeremiah, a priest in Anathoth called by God to be a compassionate mediator, a gracious and merciful peace keeper, between God and Judah, had prophetic visions of what was to come. I, Jeremiah, a priest made prophet saw these visions, visions of horror, my people dying in the streets of the city from starvation, my congregation dying in the fields by the sword. I had to speak, tell them that their confidence for the future was not in alliances with foreign powers but in the Lord himself. But they would not listen. The prophets had “different” visions of the future. The priests would not hear the word of the Lord. The four kings of Judah I served, well Josiah listened somewhat, but the next three did not. I saw these visions and knew the pain that was coming and I cried for my people, my eyes a river of tears, but God said “Stop your crying!” They deserve it. I wanted to pray for my people, intercede for them but God said “Do not pray for them!” They deserve what’s coming!
I didn’t understand. How could this terror be from God? But God told me to go down to the potter’s house to see for myself. Today, what I have to say about the potter’s house not only applied to Israel, it applied to me, and it applies to you.

I, Jeremiah, went to the potters house. There I saw him, his mud coloured apron draping his stomach as he sat on the stool beside the wheel. He took the clay and he smashed it down on the wheel again and again, taking what was hard and making it softer, and then with strong forceful palms and fingers he began to knead it, making it plastic, with power forcing is shape. Again and again, he would smash it to the heavy stone wheel, and then knead it again. Each time he did, the clay became a little softer, more plastic, something he could work with. His words were few, his attention focused on the clay, eyes keen for inconsistencies. Finally, he placed the lump of clay on the center of his heavy stone wheel and with his feet he started the rotation. With amazement I watched. With a press of his thumbs and the alignment of his fingers, from his wheel sprung a pot with beautiful shape, I could see its potential, I could picture it even in the temple, a treasure to God. But as he was moulding it, his finger caught a hard lump in the clay, instantly the pot distorted, he picked up the pot, once again smashed the clay into the turntable and started his forceful kneading. Having worked the clay again he started his wheel and slowly, carefully with intense devotion to touch and care.  Once again he started making a new pot.

I, Jeremiah saw this. I trembled with both fear and awe. Fear and awe, because when I saw this clay, I saw my people Israel and Judah, I saw myself, I saw you.

And God spoke. Can I not do with you as this potter does? “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.”

All my questions: “How can you do this to your own people?” “How can you do this to me?” Why the trouble, why the suffering, why the confusion and pain? Why the struggle?  Why the grief?  Why the pain in relationships?  Why will they not listen?  Why do my friends forsake me? Why the trouble with the very ones I love?  Why this broken body? His answer - he showed me the potter at work at the wheel, master over the clay, over Israel, over me, over you.

And so I trembled with fear. For what flaw might the potter smash out next? If all of this is the potters work, if all of this pain is in the end divine sovereign activity, all this smashing and kneading God at work at the wheel, what will happen next? I trembled desiring that God finish his work of breaking the bonds of settlement in the clay, that God finish the painful work of making us plastic, mouldable in his hand. I trembled at the deformation that the potter was working to cure the hardening of my spiritual sloth. But it is the Potters work. It must be done. And it is his Sovereign choice to do it. This the potters privilege.

But at the same time, fear was overwhelmed with awe. Awe that the potter would choose something as low as clay, the dust of the ground, to be worked, smashed, marred, kneaded.  Again I was awed that he would take me, this dust of the ground, to make something he choose to call “beautiful,” something to the praise of his glory, his workmanship, the mystery of his beauty and wisdom to be displayed throughout the universe, even shown to rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms...

In awe, it struck me. Would a potter use anything but clay. Would a potter use anything but the dust of the ground to make something so beautiful? If dust is turned to beauty, the glory must go to the potter for dust in itself can never attain beauty. Though it has great potential, it only has that potential in the hands of the Potter. By itself, dust remains dust. A clump of clay remains what it is. The potter chooses us carefully for what we can become in his hands.

Fear and awe were mixed, trembling and wonder together, as I watched the Divine potter. And even though I was filled with awe at the mystery, the fear of kneading work, making Israel, me, you, plastic, I watched as he began to spin his wheel, slowly increasing its speed.
As I watched, my wonder deepened. For under his careful attention, with mysterious magic the pot began to form again, taking shape under just the right pressures, the right stresses, from his wheel sprang another pot, and I saw as this pot arose from the wheel, that everything he was doing was done with purpose.

In all my confused questions, I had wondered why God would play with Israel, capriciously play with lives, painfully play with emotions, play manipulatively with relationships. That kind of sovereign play I could not tolerate. But there at the potters house, I discover the potter works with intense and focused purpose. This was not play, this was work demanding his every attention, every nerve in his fingers and thumbs aware of what was passing by his fingers, every focus of sight. This was work with purpose - purpose to turn dust to beauty, purposeful divine work lavished upon the clay to accomplish the pot that would give him joy in its beauty.

And there at the potters house I saw another truth, a realization that I had not seen in all of my pain, all of Israel’s pain. I saw the Potter.  As he worked, I saw a tenderness in his touch, hands that were wonderfully divinely sensitive to the clay it shaped. I saw a potter who loved, not only loved, took great joy in his work, with his strong forceful hands and then his gentle, exquisite touch, he loved the clay he was working, moulding, marring, remaking, shaping until it was a beautiful pot in his hands.

I had so many questions that started with “Why?” And his answer was to see the Potter, the Potter at work at the wheel. 3 This is what I saw when 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.

Oh Israel, oh Immanuel church , I know your questions: Why? I know the pain and difficulties you have endured. Do you see the purpose, his beauty, his glory displayed? Do you see with me the Potter, forcefully, gently, intentionally, lovingly working you, the clay?

Before I, Jeremiah, close, I must tell you one more story about the potter. I saw it coming (Jeremiah 19). It would happen after my time, some 700 years later. The Potter set to work to make a perfect, absolutely perfect pot, the beauty of which exceeded all others, the glory of which, it could only be said - when you saw the wonder of the pot - it so resembled the greatness of the Potter that to see the pot was to see the Potter himself.

The perfect pot was placed on display for all to see. We beheld its glory, the glory of the one and only. Only some saw its beauty, others hated its beauty, it was rejected, sold to be broken, destroyed, for 30 pieces of silver. When the seller saw what he had done, overwhelmed with irremovable guilt, he returned the 30 pieces of silver, and those 30 pieces of silver were used to purchase the Potters field (Matthew 27:6-10), the place where the potter’s rejects were tossed, broken, marred beyond recognition.

But what they forgot is the Potter’s privilege!  The Potters privilege to take what is marred, broken, to rework it, and make something totally new - a new creation, formed under his tender care. One pot rejected, so that the others, formed like him in beauty under the potters careful touch, could be accepted.  The Pot resurrected was the first of many that will portray the beauty of God - radiant, without spot or blemish, holy and blameless in His sight (Eph 5:27).

I Jeremiah, you Immanuel, we are but dust, the clay, being reworked under the careful, loving hand of God.

Songs of response, Have your own way Lord.
I’m alive and well....

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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