I don’t do a lot of reading in the book of Jeremiah. I was surprised, then, to find myself led to Jeremiah 18. The particular aspect of the passage that caught my attention was the eloquence with which God describes a thought-and-action process…an example of His own thought-and-action process, in fact.
God’s lesson to Jeremiah involved using visual imagery to explain how He often used His people, Israel, to accomplish specific goals (18:5-10), but it struck me that He is consistent in His ways and they are very often being repeated in the lives of each of us,today – we who bear His name, His ownership, who carry His Spirit.
In The Message translation, Jeremiah 18 reads: “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.” (Jeremiah 18:1-10, The Message)
Jeremiah 18:1-2 almost makes me laugh….or cry. Clearly, God has taken the time to wake Jeremiah, focus his full attention…only to abruptly change their “appointment” and direct him to a totally different location before He shares what is on His mind.
If you were Jeremiah….would your eyes have ever beheld the inside of that potter’s shop?
Would mine? Hmm. I’m guessing that a typical first reaction would be exasperation or annoyance, quickly followed by internal questions weighing the “pros and cons”…well, if it’s really God….did I hear that right, should I really go?….is He really going to speak to me there? Why isn’t He just talking to me right here, right now? Why would God send me there?
If Jeremiah had a similar internal wrestling, it is not recorded. Rather, it appears that he knew and trusted the voice of the Shepherd, and he knew and trusted that God was not sending him on a wild-potter’s chase, but into a divine appointment. He trusted God to…well…be God, knowing exactly what He was doing and why He was doing it.
Therein, I think, is one of the pitfalls that we each encounter…maybe even on a regular basis. We have such a strongly preconceived idea of how God is going to accomplish something – or what He has on His mind, before it is revealed – we often become satisfied in looking for signs of the how-and-what, and are distracted from the greater purpose, His down-the-road plan that is unfolding before us and within us.
Another point to notice: upon Jeremiah’s arrival, God did not greet him with a booming, “There you are!”, followed immediately by the promised revelation. There is an indication that Jeremiah was surprised to see an ordinary potter going about his ordinary day; nevertheless, Jeremiah patiently waited for quite awhile in the location God had specified. He watched the potter both successfully and unsuccessfully work with his clay at the wheel, and noted that the potter simply took the pot that “turned out badly” and lumped it back into unformed clay so that it was re-utilized in a different way. A way that was different from the original intention….but no less valued, no less utilized, no less the work of the same pair of hands.
I personally find the implications of that one simple process to be pretty astounding…no hint of a predestined, only-one-path for that one particular pot; but rather, the constant forming, re-forming, separating and re-molding into another well-formed creation. In this allegorical image, the issue is never whether or not the clay had remained clay, or whether the Potter had remained the Potter, or whether the Potter had given up on molding the clay, or was about to angrily discard it into a hot fire.
We are meant to be “earthen vessels,” sometimes shaped and re-shaped so that more of the Potter may be fully revealed.
This is only half the story about Jeremiah in the potter’s house. Next week, God reveals more of His process and His ways.