God told Jeremiah, “Up on your feet! Go to the potter’s house. When you get there, I’ll tell you what I have to say.”
So I went to the potter’s house, and sure enough, the potter was there, working away at his wheel. Whenever the pot the potter was working on turned out badly, as sometimes happens when you are working with clay, the potter would simply start over and use the same clay to make another pot.
Then God’s Message came to me: “Can’t I do just as this potter does, people of Israel?” God’s Decree! “Watch this potter. In the same way that this potter works his clay, I work on you, people of Israel.
At any moment I may decide to pull up a people or a country by the roots and get rid of them. But if they repent of their wicked lives, I will think twice and start over with them. At another time I might decide to plant a people or country, but if they don’t cooperate and won’t listen to me, I will think again and give up on the plans I had for them.”
“So, tell the people of Judah and citizens of Jerusalem my Message: ‘Danger! I’m shaping doom against you, laying plans against you. Turn back from your doomed way of life. Straighten out your lives.’”
“But they’ll just say, ‘Why should we? What’s the point? We’ll live just the way we’ve always lived, doom or no doom.’” Jeremiah 18:1-12 MSG
I wondered why God would tell Jeremiah to go watch the potter at his craft before he gave his warning message through Jeremiah to the people of Israel about the consequences of their continued rebellion against him. I don’t know much about making pottery (though I have some lovely pieces hand made by some friends), so I looked for information. I found a lot of tutorials on Youtube that won my appreciation of the time consuming process of preparing clay, the precision involved in centering clay on the wheel and the craft of shaping it with the careful pressure and movement of the potter’s hands.
However, for the purposes of this devotional, the best information I found was in these two books: Run With the Horses, Eugene Peterson’s book on Jeremiah (referring to Jeremiah 12:5), and A Layman Looks at the Lord’s Prayer by W. Phillip Keller. Each of them has chapters on the potter’s house, the potter, and the importance of pottery, and the value of the metaphor as it points to how God desires to shape and mold us into the image of Christ.
Eugene Peterson points out how revolutionary the invention of pottery was to the ancient way of life. For centuries nomadic people had to constantly move around in search of food and water for their families and herds, because they had minimal ways of carrying food and water with them. When pottery became available, it was possible to safely store grain and carry water. It also contributed to people being able to stay in one place near a source of water, and grow and store their own food.
In his chapter on “In Earth, as it is in Heaven”, W. Phillip Keller describes his visit to a primitive potter’s little house in Pakistan. He and a missionary friend were shown the complete process: from reaching down into a pit for a suitable handful of clay, kneading it into pliability, placing it precisely on a heavy round stone and shaping it as a beautiful goblet.
Keller was deeply impacted throughout the experience about how, in each part of the process, God brought to his mind scriptures from the Psalms, the Lord’s prayer, and Jeremiah, that searched his own heart and soul. Particularly telling was when the potter’s hands began to feel resistance in the clay from minute bits of sand which ultimately destroyed the original design and necessitated making something different from the same clay.
A question for each of us: how resistant am I to God’s molding and shaping process in my life? Join me as we each ponder this question and ask God what he desires to do in our lives. Also, I recommend both of the books as additional encouragement in the process.