Home > Jeremiah Was a Dragon-Man, Romans 9 > Jeremiah Was A Dragon Man: The Potter Reshapes the Clay

Jeremiah Was A Dragon Man: The Potter Reshapes the Clay

In our last post, we focused on the way YHWH consistently talks about the inevitability of the coming destruction. YHWH has said repeatedly to this point that He is going to bring judgment on Jerusalem. And of course if YHWH says He is going to do something, then He’ll do it, right? So then, for those Israelites in the meantime, what’s the point of giving up their idols and loving God above all else if they will be destroyed anyway? That implicit question is what God is about to answer…

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intentioned to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’

– Jeremiah 18:1-11

While the way YHWH talks about Israel’s judgment gives the reader the sense the judgment is unavoidable, the previous passage makes it pretty clear that God’s plans for the future of Israel (or any nation), are flexible and dependent on how that nation responds to His Word.* It would seem, based on this passage (there are other verses like it throughout Jeremiah but none quite so descriptive), when YHWH talks about what He will and shall do in a prophetic context, He means He absolutely will do what He said if the status quo remains the same.

In these circumstances, Israel is practicing idolatry, injustice, and loveless and heartless offerings to YHWH. They are doing this and have been doing this consistently with no indication that they will change, so, on their current path, God will inevitably destroy Jerusalem and exile them. However, if their path changes, if they give up their idol adultery and return to their Bridegroom, He will not divorce them and send them to the house of their other lovers, but will again protect and love His bride. When considering the text this way, God’s words and phrasing continue to remain true. The way the sons of Judah were living, destruction of Jerusalem was inevitable, but if they choose to live differently, then God will respond to them accordingly.

Now that we’ve spent a brief time on that, I think we can revisit an aging series on Romans 9 where we used OT context to enrich our understanding of Paul’s words on who the true people of YHWH are. Romans 9:19-21 says:

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

Often at first glance this verse seems to be saying: “God does whatever He wants and it’s His prerogative to make some people to experience His wrath and others His mercy. Don’t question His will to bring destruction on some and not others.” When we look at how the metaphor of a potter functions, we find that the meaning of this passage is more nuanced than it might first appear.

Isaiah 29:16** more readily lends itself as on OT passage Paul’s words reflect, and certainly looking at the context of the Isaiah verse would be enlightening and help build an understanding of Romans 9, but I’m going to focus in on the image of the potter in Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s description of the potter and the clay and explanation of the metaphor is the most extensive and detailed in Scripture. The detail of Jeremiah provides illumination of the potter in Romans 9.

In Jeremiah, the potter can take spoiled clay and make it into a beautiful pot (I’m also presuming that the potter, or any idiot, can take good clay and spoil it). God can take Israel, whose sin, idolatry, and rejection of Him has spoiled them, and make them into a perfectly functioning vessel. The indication in Jeremiah is not that YHWH will whimsically shape Israel into whatever He happens to feel like at the time. He’s not going to arbitrarily decide to either let Israel be destroyed or protect Jerusalem. What YHWH does with clay in His hands (Israel) depends on whether the clay turns to Him or continues in its rejection of Him.

In Romans 9, the potter can make the clay into whatever he wants, but He does not make random arbitrary decisions about shaping some clay into shitpots** and some into wine vessels. Certainly the clay has no power over what the potter makes of it, but our loving potter actually gives the clay a say in how it is shaped! With Israel, the thing that determined how they would be shaped was whether they turned from evil and toward YHWH. In Romans, it’s the same concept, but more specific. The precondition of being shaped for mercy is made very clear: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

In Jeremiah, God says that if a nation that is being built and blessed by God and turns away from Him it will be destroyed and if a nation that is about to be destroyed by God turns toward Him, it will be saved and blessed. With the coming of Jesus, the Jews in Romans 9 are experiencing a similar topsy turvy flippy floppy situation. The Jews were the nation who were objects of God’s mercy, but with many Jews’ rejection of Jesus, those Jews were now objects of God’s wrath. The Gentiles were the nation who were objects of God’s wrath but who, through believing and living with Jesus as Lord, had become objects of God’s mercy. Like many of our posts on Romans 9, when looking at the OT context, we find a central point of this passage is a message that the kingdom of God has been recentered around Jesus. Jews cannot rely on their ancestry or cultural history to get them right with God, and Gentiles ancestry and cultural history does not count against them. How the clay is shaped in this recentered world depends completely on how the clay responds to Jesus Messiah.

*I’m really not trying to make this into a post about the open future, but I’m having a hard time finding the words as I interpret to make it not sound like it’s about an open future.

** You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
“He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”?

***Anyone know if this is at all close to what Paul meant when talking about clay shaped for “dishonorable use?” It strikes me as likely, but I don’t know nothing.

  1. January 23, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    Very helpful. Thanks bro!

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