Study of Jeremiah, Chapters 17-18 The Potter and the Clay, Plot

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 sin

Why is it so difficult, sometimes, to steer ourselves away from sinful activities?  Even someone who has been raised in a God-fearing family may find themselves in situations that are not pleasing to God.  We know better, but we just can’t seem to resist.  But what about those who are not raised in a family that teaches about God’s Word?  Do they know what the eternal consequences are?  At some point in their life, they will be witnessed to, and they will be faced with the decision of either accepting Christ, or rejecting Him. We see this very situation happening in Judah during the time of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 17:1-4Jeremiah 17:1-4
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

17 1 The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars; point: Heb. nail 2 Whilst their children remember their altars and their groves by the green trees upon the high hills. 3 O my mountain in the field, I will give thy substance and all thy treasures to the spoil, and thy high places for sin, throughout all thy borders. 4 And thou, even thyself, shalt discontinue from thine heritage that I gave thee; and I will cause thee to serve thine enemies in the land which thou knowest not: for ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever. thyself: Heb. in thyself  

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1 “The sin of Judah
is inscribed with an iron chisel –
engraved with a diamond point on their stony hearts
and on the corners of their altars.
2 Even their children go to worship
at their pagan altars and Asherah poles,
beneath every green tree
and on every high hill.
3 So I will hand over my holy mountain –
along with all your wealth and treasures
and your pagan shrines –
as plunder to your enemies,
for sin runs rampant in your land.
4 The wonderful possession I have reserved for you
will slip from your hands.
I will tell your enemies to take you
as captives to a foreign land.
For my anger blazes like a fire
that will burn forever.”

God is saying that his people’s heart were cold and of stone, and that their sins had been engraved on their hearts and their altars.  God is acknowledging that even the children were being taught to worship the false gods. Our tendency to sin is so deeply seated in our heart, that God’s redemption is the only option for deliverance.  But, the people of Judah continued their stubbornness and would not repent.  They recognized their sin, but didn’t want to change.  God tells them that because of sin running rampant in the land, He will hand everything over to their enemies, and the people will be taken as well and be held captive in another land other than their own.  God was angry!  He had no other choice.
**Asherah, if you remember, was the fertility mother goddess of the Canaanites.  They would elevate their altars along with carved wooden objects, representing their false gods, high up on mountains.

Jeremiah 17:5-10Jeremiah 17:5-10
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

5 Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD. 6 For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited. 7 Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. 8 For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit. drought: or, restraint 9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? 10 I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.  

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5 This is what the LORD says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
who rely on human strength
and turn their hearts away from the LORD.
6 They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
with no hope for the future.
They will live in the barren wilderness,
in an uninhabited salty land.
7 “But blessed are those who trust in the LORD
and have made the LORD their hope and confidence.
8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.
9 “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
and desperately wicked.
Who really knows how bad it is?
10 But I, the LORD, search all hearts
and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
according to what their actions deserve.”

faith

God is talking about two kinds of people here: those who put their trust in earthly, human beings and rely on human strength, and those who have put their faith and trust in God, and look to Him for guidance.  Those who depend on humans are cursed, and have no hope for their future.  Those who believe and put their trust in God are blessed; their roots of faith are deep, making them strong, allowing nothing to bother them.
God goes on to explain how deceitful and wick the human heart is.  We can’t possibly know what’s in each other’s heart; their true motives, but God does.  Everyone will get their ‘due rewards’, exactly poised against their actions.
To me, things do not sound like they have changed very much from Jeremiah’s day.  We continue to have people of faith, and people who would rather trust their own fleshly abilities.  Our hearts remain wicked and deceitful, and only God knows what each of us does and why we do it.

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dishonesty

Have you ever cheated on an exam in order to get the ‘good’ grade?  Have you ever been dishonest in order to get a promotion?  There has always been a right way and a wrong way to do anything in life.  Many times, we find ourselves taking unjust measures just to get ahead in life, and then we rationalize why it isn’t necessarily wrong.  We can do that all we want to make it right in our minds, but God knows the truth, and it is unacceptable to Him.  Jeremiah had a great trust in the LORD and recites a beautiful prayer for deliverance.

Jeremiah 17:11-18Jeremiah 17:11-18
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

11 As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool. sitteth...: or, gathereth young which she hath not brought forth 12 A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary. 13 O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters. 14 Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise. 15 Behold, they say unto me, Where is the word of the LORD? let it come now. 16 As for me, I have not hastened from being a pastor to follow thee: neither have I desired the woeful day; thou knowest: that which came out of my lips was right before thee. to...: Heb. after thee 17 Be not a terror unto me: thou art my hope in the day of evil. 18 Let them be confounded that persecute me, but let not me be confounded: let them be dismayed, but let not me be dismayed: bring upon them the day of evil, and destroy them with double destruction. destroy...: Heb. break them with a double breach  

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11 Like a partridge that hatches eggs she has not laid,
so are those who get their wealth by unjust means.
At midlife they will lose their riches;
in the end, they will become poor old fools.
12 But we worship at your throne –
eternal, high, and glorious!
13 O LORD, the hope of Israel,
all who turn away from you will be disgraced.
They will be buried in the dust of the earth,
for they have abandoned the LORD, the fountain of living water.
14 O LORD, if you heal me, I will be truly healed;
if you save me, I will be truly saved.
My praises are for you alone!
15 People scoff at me and say,
“What is this ‘message from the LORD’ you talk about?
Why don’t your predictions come true?”
16 LORD, I have not abandoned my job
as a shepherd for your people.

Jeremiah is saying that a person who becomes rich by undeserved means will end up poor and foolish.  This is not what earns the favor, or blessing from God.
Jeremiah acknowledges that he needs God to heal his heart, and save his soul.  He shares with God the ridicule he is receiving and confirms that he will continue the job that God called on him to do.
Are we trustworthy?  Are our motives pure?  Do we listen attentively and follow what God calls us to do?

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Sabbath

The majority of people who attend church, go on Sundays.  They may attend both morning and evening sermons, or just go in the morning.  And then there are those who don’t attend any type of church, and have a variety of reasons.  I used to be one of ‘those’ people.  Actually, for 15 years, or longer, I stayed out of a church.  But, why is it that it is so hard to take one day a week and dedicate it to our Lord?  Is it that we don’t believe it is necessary?  Do we think we can do it better on our own at home?  Are we so busy that we are afraid that we will fall behind in what needs to be done if we take just one day to do nothing but praise and worship God?
In Jeremiah’s time, people disregarded the Sabbath Day, which was to be a day of rest, and continued to work.  They were afraid they were going to lose income.

Jeremiah 17:19-27Jeremiah 17:19-27
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

19 Thus said the LORD unto me; Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, whereby the kings of Judah come in, and by the which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem; 20 And say unto them, Hear ye the word of the LORD, ye kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that enter in by these gates: 21 Thus saith the LORD; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; 22 Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers. 23 But they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction. 24 And it shall come to pass, if ye diligently hearken unto me, saith the LORD, to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but hallow the sabbath day, to do no work therein; 25 Then shall there enter into the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their princes, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: and this city shall remain for ever. 26 And they shall come from the cities of Judah, and from the places about Jerusalem, and from the land of Benjamin, and from the plain, and from the mountains, and from the south, bringing burnt offerings, and sacrifices, and meat offerings, and incense, and bringing sacrifices of praise, unto the house of the LORD. 27 But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.  

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19 This is what the LORD said to me:  “Go and stand in the gates of Jerusalem, first in the gate where the king goes in and out, and then in each of the other gates.  20 Say to all the people, ‘Listen to this message from the LORD, you kings of Judah and all you people of Judah and everyone living in Jerusalem.  21 This is what the LORD says: Listen to my warning!  Stop carrying on your trade at Jerusalem’s gates on the Sabbath day.  22 Do not do your work on the Sabbath, but make it a holy day.  I gave this command to your ancestors, 23 but they did not listen or obey.  They stubbornly refused to pay attention or accept my discipline.
24 “But if you obey me, says the LORD, and do not carry on your trade at the gates or work on the Sabbath day, and if you keep it holy, 25 then kings and their officials will go in and out of these gates forever.  There will always be a descendant of David sitting on the throne here in Jerusalem.  Kings and their officials will always ride in and out among the people of Judah in chariots and on horses, and this city will remain forever.  26 And from all around Jerusalem, from the towns of Judah and Benjamin, from the western foothills and the hill country and the Negev, the people will come with their burnt offerings and sacrifices.  They will bring their grain offerings, frankincense, and thanksgiving offerings to the LORD’S Temple.
27 “‘But if you do not listen to me and refuse to keep the Sabbath holy, and if on the Sabbath day you bring loads of merchandise through the gates of Jerusalem just as on other days, then I will set fire to these gates.  The fire will spread to the palaces, and no one will be able to put out the roaring flames.'”

Money had become a false god in their life.  It has become more important to make money than in keeping God’s law.  God instructed Jeremiah to go to each gate, beginning with the gate that the kind used to go in and out, and tell the people that they were doing wrong, and if they stopped and repented, placing God first in their life, He would give them honor over the nations.  But, if not, God would bring fire to the gates and palaces of Jerusalem, and no one would be able to stop it.
Is there a day each week that you keep holy?  Everyone is busy, and even our jobs may require that we work on Sundays, but is there another day that you set aside for just you and God?

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sharing

We have all had bad experiences in our lifetime.  Sometimes, we see our family or friends headed for the very same bad experience, so what do we do?  We speak up, of course! We share our consequences of the bad choices we have made and hope that they listen to what we are saying.  But, in reality, that choice is up to them, isn’t it?  We can always share, but we have no power to ‘make’ someone follow our advice.  In some instances, we will even see that family member, or friend, turn their hatred on the one who was trying to help them. We see this exact situation unfold upon Jeremiah in chapter 18.

Jeremiah 18:1-17Jeremiah 18:1-17
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

18 1 The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, 2 Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. 3 Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. wheels: or, frames, or, seats 4 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. of clay...: or, was marred, as clay in the hand of the potter made it...: Heb. returned and made, etc 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 6 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. 7 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; 8 If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. 9 And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; 10 If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them. 11 Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good. 12 And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart. 13 Therefore thus saith the LORD; Ask ye now among the heathen, who hath heard such things: the virgin of Israel hath done a very horrible thing. 14 Will a man leave the snow of Lebanon which cometh from the rock of the field? or shall the cold flowing waters that come from another place be forsaken? the snow...: or, my fields for a rock, or for the snow of Lebanon? shall the running waters be forsaken for the strange cold waters? 15 Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up; 16 To make their land desolate, and a perpetual hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished, and wag his head. 17 I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy; I will shew them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity.  

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1 The LORD gave another message to Jeremiah.  He said, 2 “Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.”  3 So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel.  4 But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.
5 The the LORD gave me this message:  6 “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay?  As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.  7 If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, 8 but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned.  9 And if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, 10 but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would.
11 “Therefore, Jeremiah, go and warn all Judah and Jerusalem.  Say to them ‘This is what the LORD says:  I am planning disaster for you instead of good.  So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.'”
12 But the people replied, “Don’t waste your breath.  We will continue to live as we want to, stubbornly following our own evil desires.”
13 So this is what the LORD says:
“Has anyone ever heard of such a thing,
even among the pagan nations?
My virgin daughter Israel
has done something terrible!
14 Does the snow ever disappear from the mountaintops of Lebanon?
Do the cold streams flowing from those distant mountains ever run dry?
15 But my people are not so reliable, for they have deserted me;
they burn incense to worthless idols.
They have stumbled off the ancient highways
and walk in muddy paths.
16 Therefore, their land will become desolate,
a monument to their stupidity.
All who pass by will be astonished
and will shake their heads in amazement.
17 I will scatter my people before their enemies
as the east wind scatters dust.
And in all their trouble I will turn my back on them
and refuse to notice their distress.”

potter

The use of the parable of the potter in this chapter reveals that God has power over Israel as the clay, and although He continues to work the clay, the people must repent before the clay hardens in the wrong shape, being worth nothing.  The only thing that God was asking was for repentance!  But the people would not hear of it and even said ‘Don’t waste your breath’.  They wanted to continue to live their lives full of sin; the clay had been molded poorly.  God’s only option was to destroy the defected nation.
When we look at our life, we are a clay pot in progress.  Are we resistant to the call of God, or do we yield and submit to God, allowing Him to shape us?

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praying/pleading

How do you feel when someone that you have tried to help turns away from you?  Jeremiah seemed to be in a bind.  He pleaded for his people and tried to help and protect them, but all he got in return was the people planning a plot against Jeremiah.  They wanted to get rid of him.  He had challenged their social and moral behavior.

Jeremiah 18:18-23Jeremiah 18:18-23
English: King James Version (1611) - KJV

18 Then said they, Come, and let us devise devices against Jeremiah; for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, and let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words. with...: or, for the tongue 19 Give heed to me, O LORD, and hearken to the voice of them that contend with me. 20 Shall evil be recompensed for good? for they have digged a pit for my soul. Remember that I stood before thee to speak good for them, and to turn away thy wrath from them. 21 Therefore deliver up their children to the famine, and pour out their blood by the force of the sword; and let their wives be bereaved of their children, and be widows; and let their men be put to death; let their young men be slain by the sword in battle. pour...: Heb. pour them out 22 Let a cry be heard from their houses, when thou shalt bring a troop suddenly upon them: for they have digged a pit to take me, and hid snares for my feet. 23 Yet, LORD, thou knowest all their counsel against me to slay me: forgive not their iniquity, neither blot out their sin from thy sight, but let them be overthrown before thee; deal thus with them in the time of thine anger. to slay...: Heb. for death  

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18 Then the people said, “Come on, let’s plot a way to stop Jeremiah.  We have plenty of priests and wise men and prophets.  We don’t need him to teach the word and give us advice and prophecies.  Let’s spread rumors about him and ignore what he says.”
19 LORD, hear me and help me!
Listen to what my enemies are saying.
20 Should they repay evil for good?
They have dug a pit to kill me,
though I pleaded for them
and tried to protect them from your anger.
21 So let their children starve!
Let them die by the sword!
Let their wives become childless widows.
Let their old men die in a plague,
and let their young men be killed in battle!
22 Let screaming be heard from their homes
as warriors come suddenly upon them.
For they have dug a pit for me
and have hidden traps along my path.
23 LORD, you know all about their murderous plots against me.
Don’t forgive their crimes and blot out their sins.
Let them die before you.
Deal with them in your anger.

Jeremiah had never minced words when it came to speaking against the king, officials, priests and prophets, teachers, and wise men.  Why is it so difficult for people to hear the truth about themselves?  Is it because God is laying a conviction on our heart, that we want to reject?  The further we move into living a sin-filled life, the easier it becomes to reject the message of God.  Sometimes, it seems, that it is easier to remove the messenger from our life, than to face the message and repent.  When hearing what we ‘want’ to hear becoming more and more the norm, why would anyone want to listen to the truth?  It is uncomfortable for us.  Let’s face it…no one likes to change.  With false teachers popping up all over, and people being told what they want to hear, it is easier to rationalize our thoughts, actions, and behavior.  But, Jeremiah’s message was clear – God was trying to tell His people something important:  repent, or God would deliver His punishment.  Is God trying to tell you something?  Are you listening?

Written by Mary Hudak-Collins

Mary Hudak-Collins

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