Jeremiah, a prophet of God, is instructed by God to go see the potter. God says to him in chapter 18, “Arise, go down to the Potter’s house and I will cause you to hear my words…”
God wanted to show him something—throughout the Bible, you see God, through prophets, apostles, or Jesus, relaying messages or guidance through the telling of stories. The Bible says in v 3, “Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. “ It says that when the vessel the potter was making was marred because of a rock or lump, that it pleased the potter to re-form the vessel into something beautiful.
Have you ever used a pottery wheel or watched someone use it? It is a fascinating process, and God uses it to describe his process for our lives. Our life is a process of formation on the potter’s wheel, and depending on how we allow Him to shape us will determine how we look when he is done. God wants our lives to be a vessel in which to transport his Gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ. Just how useful of a vessel we will be is up to us.
A potter, when forming a vessel, first of all, has a picture in his mind of how the vessel will look, then he goes about forming it. In the same way, God has a vision for our lives and attempts to form us into that beautiful, useful vessel.
Understand that clay cannot form itself—as it yields itself to the potter’s hand, the potter forms it. As it is with the clay and the potter, we have no control on our final shape. Don’t try to “help” God out with the shaping of your life, allow him mold you into that shape by seeking his will through prayer, meditation, and walking in fellowship with him. During the formation of a vessel, it can be marred, it can be misshapen. A rock, or a hard spot in the clay can cause this. When using a wheel, if a rock surfaces during the formation and the potter’s hands hit it, it will tear a giant hole in the vessel or bend it out of shape, to the point where it is unusable. In the same way, we can have rocks or lumps of sin and disobedience in our lives, which cause our shape to become marred. But notice that in v4 that the clay was marred, and it seemed good for the potter to make it…meaning it pleased the potter to re-shape it. God is pleased when we allow him to re-shape us into the vessel he wants us to be. And just as a potter can make something beautiful after the vessel is marred, God can still turn our marred lives into something beautiful if we allow him to.
The final process of the formation of the vessel is the furnace. The heat causes the vessel to harden and become useful. Trials in our lives are the furnaces. As we go through trials (or tests), our vessel of life is solidified. I believe it is possible (but unlikely) for a Christian to live a sheltered life, and never have a trial, but remember that a vessel simply dried and not fired is much more susceptible to damage than those vessels which have been through the furnace a couple of cycles.
The Outcome for Disobedience
Jeremiah was directed by God to go to the valley of Hinnom, a place Jews dedicated to the worship of idols. This is a place where some of the most vile, vulgar, and sinful acts were performed. On these alters were sacrificed the sons and daughters of the Hebrew people. Jeremiah told them that they have forsaken God and turned to idols, and further told them that judgment would be coming to Judah. God told Jeremiah to then take a potter’s vessel and to break it in front of all of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to tell them “Even so will I break this people, and this city, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel, that cannot be made whole again: and they shall bury them in Tohpet, till there be no place to bury.”
1 John 5:16 says, “…There is a sin unto death…” and a nation or individual can get to a point where they are of no earthly use. The Greek says “…There is sin unto death…” indicating this is not a single sin, but a series of intentional sins—those sins which are done in defiance, and each time we do it, it gets easier and easier, to the point where we are comfortable with it. We see examples of sin leading to death throughout the Old Testament, and even in the New [Acts 5:1-11, I Cor. 11:27-32].
Going back to the potter and vessel analogy, the clay, as long as bathed in water, can continue to be molded. So it is with us, as long as we are bathed in the water of the Spirit of God, we can be molded by God. Without the water, the clay hardens to a point where it cannot be molded, and as God says at the end of Jeremiah’s message to Judah, this impending judgment was because they have “…stiffened their necks, so as to not hear my words.”
The Outcome for Obedience
God’s will is for us to form us into a beautiful vessel, useful for his service. Understand that a vessel does not create anything, it simply receives, holds, and dispenses. In the same way, our job as vessels is to receive the gospel of Christ, hold his truths in our hearts, and dispense and share his love and blessings with others.
In 2 Tim 2:19-21, Paul states in his second letter to Timothy, “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.” Our life is a vessel…we choose what goes in it. Paul tells the church at Ephesus to be “…filled with the Spirit..” This word “filled” in the Greek literally means to be filled up, reinforcing this concept. We choose how much of the Spirit of God we want in our lives, and how much “us” we want in there.
He shows Jeremiah this potter to have him make Judah know that he is not only able to re-shape them, but that it would please Him to do so. In v6 God says, “O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.”