What is the meaning of Jeremiah’s parable of the potter and clay?

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Jeremiah 18:1-12

“Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear My words.”  Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel.  And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make.

Then the word of the Lord came to me, 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!  The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it,  if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.

“Now therefore, speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you. Return now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good. And they said, “That is hopeless! So we will walk according to our own plans, and we will every one obey the dictates of his evil heart.”

The meaning of the parable

The date of this God’s message to Jeremiah would probably be 605/04 BC (Jeremiah 19:1). In this message, God speaks to Israel, as a nation about His covenant relationship with them (v. 7). All God’s transactions with Israel in the past had been based on calling them to be guardians to His will and to share His message with the world (Romans 3:1, 2). Thus, they were to be His special tool to save the other nations (Genesis 12:1–3; Deuteronomy 4:6–9, 20; 7:6–14).

God had openly set before His chosen people the truth that full obedience on their part was the condition to receiving His blessing and making them a blessing to others (Deuteronomy 28:1–14). He showed them that disobedience would unavoidably bring upon them a curse and His final rejection (Deuteronomy 28:15, 63–66).

God’s covenant with Israel in the wilderness

And through the prophet Jeremiah, God confirmed what He had already given through Moses. For He gave them a warning that disobedience will annul His promises of blessing. However, if they repent, He will receive them back (Jeremiah 18:7–10).

As a nation, Israel in the wilderness of Sinai had willingly made a covenant with God (Exodus 19:3–8). They received Him as their Lord (1 Samuel 8:7), to guide and lead them to preach His salvation (John 4:22). Thus, by their own decision, they were as clay in the hands of the potter.

Blessings are conditional on obedience

However, in the days of Jeremiah the “clay was marred in the hand of the potter” (Jeremiah 18:4). Therefore, as a master Potter, God had the right to reject them as a nation. But in mercy He was willing to reform the worthless clay vessel and to make “it again another vessel” (v. 4). His pledge might still come to pass if they would only love and obey Him (Zechariah 6:15; Isaiah 54:7).

God holds the destiny of all nations is in His hands (Psalm 103:19; Daniel 2:20, 21). They are blessed or destroyed based on their relationship to His moral law. If a nation obeys God’s Commandments and practice justice and mercy, it “shall prosper” (Psalm 1:3). If, on the other hand, it does wickedness and follows greed and injustice, it “shall perish” (Psalm 1:6). So, there was still time for Judah to repent. Sadly, in Jeremiah’s time, God’s chosen people rejected His love (Jeremiah 2:25).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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