It’s an image with familiar Biblical overtones. One that strongly demonstrates the dominion that God has over His creatures and over all circumstances. And Jeremiah was going to take a little field trip to see it. The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD (vs.1) said, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear My words” (vs.2).
The potter’s house was more than simply a house owned by a potter; it was a place where pottery was fashioned and made. And apparently that simple designation was familiar enough to Jeremiah to know where God wanted him to go, so that he could see what God wanted him to see and hear what God wanted him to hear (vs.2b).
So Jeremiah did as the LORD commanded. He said, “Then I went down to the potter’s house” (vs.3a). Granted, the potter’s house was by no means Nineveh, but Jeremiah again demonstrated the kind of hasty obedience that Jonah did not. So Jeremiah went and there he was, the potter, making something at the wheel (vs.3b). It was a normal sight. The potter had a lump of clay on his wheel and as he spun the wheel with his feet he would use his hands to shape the malleable clay into a pot or a bowl or a dish. But there was a problem: the vessel that he made of clay was marred (vs.4a). So, because of some kind of problem with the clay, the potter deftly shifted gears and made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to him (vs.4b).
That was the sight the LORD wanted Jeremiah to see. But remember, God didn’t send Jeremiah to the potter’s house just to see a pottery-making exhibition. He sent him there to hear His words. And that’s what happened – the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah (vs.5), saying:
“O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” says the LORD. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!” (vs.6)
There’s the point that the LORD was driving at. As outlined in the verses that follow, the destiny of nations is at His disposal (vs.7-10). God could take a nation, previously appointed to blessing, and, due to the wickedness of that nation, appoint it for destruction. Likewise, God could take a nation marred by sin, even as Judah was, and still fashion it into something beautiful and useful upon their repentance. Our nation would do well to understand both sides of that coin.
So whereas in Romans 9 the metaphor of the potter and clay deals with God’s sovereign predetermination of whether or not a vessel (i.e. a person) will be a vessel unto honor or a vessel unto dishonor (Rom. 9:21), and how God has the freedom to make such decisions before a person is even born (vs.9-13), decisions to show mercy to one and give justice to another (vs.22-23), not contingent upon man’s performance but according to His will and good pleasure (vs.15-18), Jeremiah 18 deals with God’s freedom to deal with rebellion and repentance as He wishes, apart from previous declarations of judgment or blessedness (Jer. 17:7-10). And at this point for Israel, particularly the house of Judah, God was “fashioning” a disaster against them (vs.11). Their previous history and the former covenant blessedness that they had known did not restrict the potter from dealing with this marred vessel in such a way. Just like the linen sash that was to be for the LORD’s praise, renown, and glory (Jer. 13:11) but became unprofitable and worthless, so the pot that ought to have been one kind of vessel was now to be another because of its evil.
But again, at this point in time, because remember Jeremiah’s book does not follow a strict chronology, there is an implicit invitation for the marred vessel to repent. Something they were not willing to do (Jer. 18:12). They were indeed sinners in the hands of an angry potter – a point further built upon in the next chapter (Jer. 19:10-13).
That’s what Jeremiah was to learn from being at the potter’s house. What about us? Well, there’s good news for marred clay – the potter is able to form that marred clay into something beautiful and useful. The condition outlined for nations also applies to individuals – if a person repents of their sin and places their trust in the person and work of Christ for forgiveness, the potter will make that clay into a new creation. Then the potter will continue His sanctifying sculpting all the days that the clay lives and moves. And then, at the return of Christ, the potter will complete the transformation process by way of glorification. And if that weren’t enough, it gets better. The believer does not have to worry that the potter’s intentions will change – that’s the beauty of the pottery metaphor from Romans 9. Yahweh has exercised His freedom and He has determined to turn His marred, elect vessels into something beautiful and useful.