Jeremiah 18


This is an excellent chapter for preaching. This is the parable of the potter and the clay. That marvellous hymn, ‘Have Thine Own Way Lord’ is based on this text. And the language of the Hebrew here is very interesting. We can probably identify with the picture that we see here.

There is moulding going on. The potter isn’t simply working at the wheel, messing around. He is working with a definite aim in mind. He has a shape in mind. He is using his skill with the clay to produce its shape. To the onlooker, what it will be is not immediately obvious. Then a spoiling happens. What Jeremiah sees is not unusual. Suddenly the clay starts to flop. In his hands is the opposite of his planned shape. The clay spoiling could be caused by many reasons, such as:

Human error, or the wheel is off-centre, or there is a fault in the clay itself. Whatever the reason, the potter is going to have to remake it. In starting again, he has a new shape in mind. Carefully he works out the flops and bumps to make sure that the same mess doesn’t happen again.

What is the spiritual significance here? The potter is God. So, what has happened to the clay is no error on His part. What is the wheel? Whatever God is using. It could be other nations. But whatever it is, God is manipulating. What is the clay? Judah. The problem lies with the clay. Judah has not been shaping up because of her own unfaithfulness. So, they are to be re-shaped.

Jeremiah was to take this message to the people. Unless they change they will become a mess, a worse mess. What is the relevant lesson here? God will always be a potter, and it is up to you and me to show how manageable we are.

But the people would not heed God’s word. So, God says, go and ask this question, among the nations on earth, who has heard of a people who forsake their God for another one? None of them had. Babylon or Persia employed a policy that would embrace somebody else’s religion, i.e., those of captured nations. But they did so for their own benefit. It was only Judah who had forsaken their God to take on somebody else’s.

‘This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.’ So, I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 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.’ Jeremiah 18:1-4

Inspired men of God seemed to have an ability to see eternal truth in ordinary everyday things. And this was so with Jesus Christ. He found lessons in the lilies of the field, patching up old clothes, pouring new wine into new wineskins, the sower scattering seeds in a field, dealing with the weeds in the wheat, showing the devices of a dishonest steward, relating the hypocritical prayer of a Pharisee, finding treasure that was hidden in a field, the lost sheep, the lost coin, invitation to a wedding. There were dozens of experiences in life that Jesus related to.

In this story in Jeremiah 18 we see the pot, in the hands of the potter, being marred, referring to the spiritual and moral decay of God’s people. We find a similar story in the next chapter, where Jeremiah is told to go to the potter and buy a clay jar, which he must break before various witnesses.

In this chapter, mercy is still offered to Judah, and especially to the people in Jerusalem. Of course, they reject it. Many scriptures refer to the potter, to the potter’s house, to the clay, to vessels or jars, to other features of the potter’s work. If you want to make a note of them, here are some. 1 Chronicles 4:23 / Isaiah 12:25 and Isaiah 64:8.

This one in Jeremiah 18 and one in Jeremiah 19:1ff, this chapter we will look at next. Daniel 2:41 / Zechariah 11:13ff / Matthew 27:7-10 / Romans 9:21. Paul’s remark in Romans 9:21 is interesting. He says, ‘Does not the letter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?’

‘Then the word of the LORD came to me. He said, ‘Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?’ declares the LORD. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 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.’ Jeremiah 18:5-10

It should be noted that it is God who likens the potter’s clay to wicked Judah, it is not Jeremiah’s deductions. This is one of the most important sections in the whole Bible. Erroneous teachings such as ‘saved by faith only’, ‘once saved, always saved’, are refuted, cancelled, by what is said in this section.

As I have said, we find another analogy of the potter’s house in Romans 9:21, where Paul says that if the potter cannot make the jar he intended to…out of the clay, he has the power to make another jar, a jar of dishonour rather than a jar of honour. And that is exactly what God is doing herein Jeremiah 18.

God had intended great honours for His people. They were intended to be a nation of God’s priests. To be devoted, faithful, obedient people. People who would lead the world to a knowledge of the true God. People who, in due time, would deliver the Messiah to the world. People who would challenge the world to accept the Messiah.

What a jar of honour they could have been! Instead, because of their preference for sexual pleasures, and their shameful worship of idols, God couldn’t fashion them into a jar of honour, He had to make them into a jar of dishonour. They would never serve the nobler purpose that God had intended for them.

‘Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the LORD says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So, turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’ But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; we will all follow the stubbornness of our evil hearts.’ Jeremiah 18:11-12

God says, turn from your evil ways. The people say, ‘We will continue with our own plans.’ Unfortunately, it is too late. They had gone so far with their evil hearts, they couldn’t turn back. Instead, they would follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts.

Why is it that men deliberately turn their backs on God? They did so in Jeremiah’s day, they do so today. They reject God’s call for repentance. I suppose it is because they like freedom in their lives, freedom to do what they want to do. But how free are they? Matthew Henry says, ‘They call it liberty, but the man who is slave to his lusts and appetites is held in the worst of slaveries.’

‘Therefore, this is what the LORD says: ‘Inquire among the nations: Who has ever heard anything like this? A most horrible thing has been done by Virgin Israel. Does the snow of Lebanon ever vanish from its rocky slopes? Do its cool waters from distant sources ever stop flowing?’ Jeremiah 18:13-14

There are no known examples, in history, of people who turned their backs on their own gods. So why did God’s people have to be the first? Why did they deny the very God who took them from slavery and made them a mighty nation, took them to be His own people?

The virgin had forsaken her status, and accepted the sensuous fertility gods of the neighbouring nations. Wasn’t it because these nations were worshipping idols, that God replaced them, these people of Canaan, with the Israelites in the first place? Wasn’t that why God gave the land to the Israelites? How incredible, that they, God’s people, should take on the worship of the very idols that God had tried to destroy.

‘Yet my people have forgotten me; they burn incense to worthless idols, which made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient paths. They made them walk in byways, on roads not built up. Their land will be an object of horror and of lasting scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will shake their heads. Like a wind from the east, I will scatter them before their enemies; I will show them my back and not my face in the day of their disaster.’ Jeremiah 18:15-17

The false prophets, the false priests, the false rulers, the false gods, they had ruined the nation. So, God would scatter them, ‘like a wind from the east.’ Their land would be deserted, destroyed.

‘I will scatter them before their enemies.’ ‘I will show them my back and not my face.’ God withdrew His favour from His people, at a time when their need was at its greatest. They had turned their backs on God, now He would turn His back on them.

‘They said, ‘Come, let’s make plans against Jeremiah; for the teaching of the law by the priest will not cease, nor will counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophets. So, come, let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says.’ Listen to me, LORD; hear what my accusers are saying! Should good be repaid with evil? Yet they have dug a pit for me. Remember that I stood before you and spoke in their behalf to turn your wrath away from them.’ Jeremiah 18:18-20

Deep down the people probably understood all that Jeremiah was saying. They knew that his words would put them out of business. So, their plan was, every time he goes to speak God’s word, they will shout him down. Not only that, we will tell the people the direct opposite of what he says. ‘Let’s attack him with our tongues.’

In this first part of Jeremiah’s Fourth Lament we see the plot against him. So, Jeremiah pleads with God not to allow the good that he is doing for the people, by preaching God’s word, be repaid with evil. Because of all of this Jeremiah pleads to God to punish them. Don’t forgive them. Deliver their families into their enemies. Psalm 109:6-20 is like this, and is worth reading.

‘So, give their children over to famine; hand them over to the power of the sword. Let their wives be made childless and widows; let their men be put to death, their young men slain by the sword in battle. Let a cry be heard from their houses when you suddenly bring invaders against them, for they have dug a pit to capture me and have hidden snares for my feet. But you, LORD, know all their plots to kill me. Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.’ Jeremiah 18:21-23

Many people say that this is an unchristian attitude of Jeremiah towards his enemies. They say that Jesus Himself prayed for His enemies whilst hanging on the Cross. That’s true. But Jesus said that these people didn’t know what they were doing. God’s people in Jeremiah’s day knew that they were doing. These people were not only Jeremiah’s enemies, they were God’s enemies, and God had promised to punish them in this way. They were enemies of the truth.

Jeremiah prayed that these enemies would reap the reward of their deeds. The people that Jeremiah was praying for, for their destruction, were like those that Jesus spoke about in Luke 19:27, when He said, ‘Those enemies of mine who did not want me to be a king over them, bring them here and kill them in front of me.’

These words were spoken by our gentle Jesus! There is a false opinion in today’s world that God will never ‘bruise the wicked sinner’, no matter what his crimes may be. But that is not the picture that the Bible reveals about God.

God To Jeremiah 19



"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."

John 5:24