The Hands of the Potter Jer 18 4 19June05AM
The Hands of the Potter
18 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.
We turn this morning to what is possibly the most well known analogy of Jeremiah – that of the POTTER.
First a little history
· Learning from the skills of others : God the Master Craftsman
· Subject to the possibility of failure
· Submitting to the will of God
As we have seen in our short study in Jeremiah, he was a prophet who was always learning from observing. God would often say to him: “What do you see, Jeremiah?” and Jeremiah would describe what he saw and learn from God a deep spiritual lesson.
Against the background of siege and inevitable defeat at the hands of the Babylonians Jeremiah is constant in his ministry. God sends him to observe the potter as he works in his shop.
In the short description there are certain phrases that stand out:
“Marred in the potter’s hands”
“Another pot as seemed best to him”
“so are you in my hand”
And God applies the message to Jeremiah’s times and to ours:
8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.
The bottom line is submission to the will of the Lord – whose amazing grace is able to reform and reshape that which was spoiled into that which pleases Him.
So let us go with Jeremiah to the potter’s house and watch and listen and learn, for this is a lesson that Paul certainly learnt as well and shares with us in 2 Cor 4 (a thought to which we shall return this evening).
1. Learning from the skills of others: God the Master Crafstman.
When I was at LBC, in the days when the college was in Marylebone Road there was a village feel about Marylebone and nearby there was a workshop where surgical instruments were made. Often in a lunch time I would go and watch as chunks of stainless steel were beaten into the delicate refined shapes of clamps and forceps. The craftsman would have a prototype beside him on a piece of soft leather – and from time to time he would compare what he held in his hand and on his anvil with what the finished article was to be.
(Some of you may just remember that when Mark died I used this passage to illustrate how God had taught Mark lessons and how some of those lessons were passed on to us by the paintings – the craft – that he left behind.)
I believe it is one of the marks of the Divine Image in us that we are creative. So Jeremiah watching a potter – at the place of technology – learns how God can graciously transform those who surrender to His will.
(a) This is an ESSENTIAL WORK
As Paul will mention elsewhere – there are pots that are made for display and for the sacred functions of worship – and there are pots made for the ordinary and everyday.
19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
Romans 9 19-21
Some for noble purposes and some for common use…
I have no doubt that most of what Jeremiah saw was ceramic technology of a humbler kind.
The handiwork of the potter is still essential – and so of course is the Handiwork of God.
10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2 10
(b) This is a sensitive work
As Jeremiah watched he realised that the fingers that moulded the clay detected the minute irregularities and blemishes in the clay.
If you have visited the potteries you will be familiar with the sale of “seconds” and to an untrained eye the mistakes are of no significance.
But the Divine Potter knows the imperfections as they are in His hands – in need not of discarding – but reworking.
F.B. Meyer tells how Wilberforce had his portrait painted by a famous painter who told him about his own father:
Herkomer was born in the Black Forest, his father a simple wood-chopper. When the artist rose to name and fame in London, and built his studio at Bushey, his first thought was to have the old man come and spend the rest of his years with him. He came, and was very fond of moulding clay. All day he made things out of clay, but as the years passed he thought his hand would lose its cunning. He often went upstairs at night to his room with the sad heart of an old man who thinks his best days are gone by. Herkomer's quick eye of love detected this, and when his father was safe asleep his gifted son would come downstairs and take in hand the pieces of clay which his old father had left, with the evidences of defeat and failure; and with his own wonderful touch he would make them as fair as they could be made by human hand. When the old man came down in the morning, and took up the work he had left all spoiled the night before, and held it up before the light, he would say, rubbing his hands: “I can do it as well as ever I did.”
(c ) It is a work that bore His mark
Perhaps not so much in Jeremiah’s day – but potters of distinction leave a mark on their produce to show they are proud of it.
The potter made it “as is seemed best to Him”
The works of God – especially His spiritual work with us is like that:
2. Subject to the possibility of failure v4
I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands;
God delights to take unlikely material and transform it. He has been doing this since the garden of Eden!
Clay has become proverbial for its inherent weakness
Feet of clay as in Daniel’s statue
Earthen vessels as in 2 Cor 4 7
Clay is easily mis-shapen
“the pot was marred in his hands”
Like common clay we too are subject to failure – we disappoint ourselves and it is likely we disappoint our Lord!
From what Jeremiah goes on to say about Judah the marks of such failure are clear:
a. A disregard for God’s law
b. An unjustified confidence in religious practice without real spirituality
c. A misplaced confidence in past spiritual victories
d. An unwillingness to listen to God’s word – especially when its message was unpopular
In the end judgement came for the nation and Jerusalem fell and the exile began.
No – we don’t have to look far in our own spiritual lives for evidence of WEAKNESS and FAILURE
We are just clay
But that clay CAN BE IN THE HANDS OF THE POTTER HIMSELF.
4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
The wonder of what God can do with unlikely material is a recurring theme in Scripture – but there is another strand to the lesson Jeremiah learned.
3. Submitting to the will of God and His grace
the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
….. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
Then Jeremiah continues to listen as God lays down the conditions for His transforming work.
7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.
There is a sense in which God has us in His hands already – we are subject to His sovereign power
The RIGHT to shape us
The POWER to shape us
The DESIRE to remake us
But there is another sense in which – unlike clay – we are stubborn and unyielding and refuse to listen to what God says.
Jeremiah’s prophecy and his lesson at the pottery was a lesson tied to the NATION of Judah – and what happened to Judah historically is evidence that they would not allow Him to reshape them willingly – and therefore came judgement and destruction.
What applied to the nation applies to us INDIVIDUALLY
V 8 if they repent .. I will relent
V 10 if they do not obey … I will judge.
God’s intention (as we shall see in more detail this evening) is to DO GOOD to His people – but stubbornness and pride and unyielding spirit results only in spoiling now and judgement later.
F. B. Meyer tells in his writings how Hudson Taylor and CT Studd came to see him:
I was a minister in a Midland town in England, not at all happy, doing my work for the pay I got, but holding a good position amongst my fellows. Hudson Taylor and two young students came into my life. I watched them. They had something I had not. Those young men stood there in all their strength and joy.
I said to Charles Studd: “What is the difference between you and me? You seem so happy, and I somehow am in the trough of the wave." He replied: “There is nothing that I have got which you may not have, Mr Meyer." But I asked: “I How am I to get it?"
"Well," he said, "have you given yourself right up to God?"
I winced. I knew that if it came to that, there was a point where I had been fighting my deepest convictions for months. I had lived away from it, but when I came to the Lord's Table and handed out the bread and wine, then it met me; or when I came to a convention or meeting of holy. people, something stopped me as I remembered this. It was the one point where my will was entrenched.
I thought I would do something with Christ that night which would settle it one way or the other, and I met Christ. You will forgive a man who owes everything to one night in his life if to help other men he opens his heart for a moment. I knelt in my room and gave Christ the ring of my will with the keys on it, but kept one little key back, the key of a closet in my heart, in one back story in my heart.
He said to me: “Are they all here?"
And I said: “All but one."
"What is that?" said He.
"It is the key of a little cupboard," said I, “in which I have got something which Thou needest not interfere with, for it is mine."
Then, as He put the keys back into my hand, and seemed to be gliding away to the door, He said:
"My child, if you cannot trust Me with all, you do not trust Me at all."
I cried: "Stop!" and He seemed to come back; and holding the little key in my hand, in thought I said: “I cannot give it, but if Thou wilt take it Thou shalt have it."
He took it, and within a month He had cleared out that little cupboard of things that had been there for months. I knew He would.
I looked up into the face of Christ and said: “Now I am thine.” It seemed as if that was the beginning of a new ministry. The Lord got me on His wheel again, and He has been making me again ever since.
We have a similar responsibility to surrender to the gracious transforming power of the Lord. What holds us back?
HAVE THINE OWN WAY, LORD
1. Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me After Thy will,
While I am waiting, Yielded and still.
2. Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Search me and try me, Master, today! Whiter than snow, Lord, Wash me just now, As in Thy presence Humbly I bow.
3. Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Wounded and weary, Help me, I pray! Power all power Surely is Thine!
Touch me and heal me, Saviour divine!
4. Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Hold o'er my being Absolute sway! Fill with Thy Spirit Till all shall see
Christ only, always, Living in Me!