299 - In the Potter’s Faithful Hand (Jeremiah 16–20)
How satisfying it is to serve our purpose on earth by serving God. And what a joy it is to know, as Jeremiah did, that when we experience rejection and confusion, we can take our concerns honestly to God.
In the Potter’s Faithful Hand
These next few chapters in the book of Jeremiah are like riding a roller-coaster. Jeremiah is about to deliver some powerful lessons to his nation; he is also going to experience some pretty raw emotions along the way. This will be no bed of roses for Jeremiah.
For one thing, as chapter 16 opens, the Lord tells Jeremiah that he is not to get married and have any children. His life will be a living illustration for the nation, for God is going to judge the nation in exile, and they will lose their families. This command from God to Jeremiah that he is not to marry will be a blessing in the long run, because Jeremiah will be spared the future grief of losing his wife and children in the coming devastation.
The Lord has more instructions for Jeremiah in verses 8-9:
“You shall not go into the house of feasting . . . For thus says . . . the God of Israel: Behold, I will silence in this place, before your eyes and in your days, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.”
There will be no wedding receptions or weekend barbecues or concerts in the park. The sounds of laughter and happiness will cease when the people are taken away into captivity.
And if they question why such judgment is coming, Jeremiah is to give them the answer from the Lord here in verse 12: they are “stubborn . . . refusing to listen to [the Lord].”
Now amazingly, in the midst of this horrible picture, the Lord gives some reassuring words of hope. This judgment is not going to be the end of them. God looks far out into the future of this nation and declares in verse 15, “I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.” This points prophetically to the Messiah’s future kingdom on earth.
Now in spite of the fact that judgment on Judah is irreversible during the days of Jeremiah, there is a personal invitation here to individuals. The Lord says in Jeremiah 17:5. “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.” But note the contrast in verses 7-8: “Blessed is the man . . . whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water.”
So, why would anybody choose to turn away from the Lord as the people of Judah did? Why would anybody trust themselves instead of the Lord?
Well, the answer is right here in verse 9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick [wicked]; who can understand it?” The truth is, our sinful nature would rather trust in how we think and how we feel than in the word of the Lord.
Our hearts are deceitful, Jeremiah says. We can convince ourselves that we are right even when we are wrong; we can justify anything. We say to ourselves things like this:
- I’m not proud and arrogant; I’m just self-confident.
- I’m not an angry person; I just wear my emotions on my sleeve.
- I’m not a gossip; I just speak my mind.
- I’m not materialistic; I just have good taste in things.
- I’m not immoral; I’m just being free to be who I am. If I’m happy, then I must be right!
Well, the Bible tells us who we really are; and happy or not, our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked. My friend, you ought to look in the mirror and tell that person you see there, “You are not to be trusted.” How we view ourselves and the choices we make in life must be determined by the Word of God.
Now in chapters 18 and 19, we find Jeremiah presenting two object lessons, both involving pottery. I have read that there are more than thirty words in the Hebrew vocabulary that relate to pottery. The manufacture of pottery was a major industry in the Near East during the days of Jeremiah. He has passed by the potter’s workshop many times during his lifetime. But this time, God sends him down there to take a closer look.
Chapter 18 begins this way:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went 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.” (verses 1-4)
The Lord makes His application crystal clear here as Jeremiah preaches it to his nation, in verse 6:
“O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? . . . like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.”
Well, the people don’t like the message that God is in charge. So just like the nations of our world today, they decide to silence the messenger. Verse 18 records their words:
“Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah . . . let us strike him with the tongue, and let us not pay attention to any of his words.”
They are going to mock Jeremiah; they will try to shame him into silence. The world is doing that to this day. They are saying, “Let’s silence the messenger because he is interrupting our party. We love our sin, and we don’t want to hear about consequences; we don’t want to hear that God is in charge. We want to live for the moment, for the weekend, for the next sinful pleasure.” You see, people of the world don’t think about their morality in light of their mortality and what that will mean one day.
In chapter 19, Jeremiah presents another object lesson. He takes a flask made of pottery, and he invites civil and religious leaders to join him in the Valley of Hinnom, where the people were practicing idolatry and even child sacrifice. Jeremiah smashes the flask and says in verse 11:
“Thus says the Lord . . . So will I break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter's vessel, so that it can never be mended.”
In other words, judgment is now irreversible.
Jeremiah then goes to the temple and repeats his message. Only this time, here in chapter 20, the temple security arrest him, and a leading priest named Pashur has Jeremiah beaten and imprisoned overnight. In verse 6, Jeremiah prophesies to Pashur that he will die in Babylonian captivity because of his rebellion against God.
Now this is a fearless prophet of God. Courage is one thing Jeremiah certainly has! But although Jeremiah’s public ministry is fearless, he is now personally discouraged. He says to the Lord in verse 7, “I have become a laughingstock . . . everyone mocks me.” He even reaches the point down in verse 18 that he wishes he had never been born to see such “toil and sorrow.” Jeremiah didn’t appear to be bothered by it, but he was indeed personally crushed by the nation’s rejection of his ministry.
Beloved, Jeremiah was not some super saint who lived above normal feelings and emotions. In fact, the more you get to know him, the more you can identify with him. He trusted the Lord, but he did not understand the Lord at times. Now that he has been rejected and persecuted, he has become discouraged and feels defeated.
This is a good time to remember—as Jeremiah will—that God is the Potter and you are the clay. Even when you don’t understand, He is in control; even when you get discouraged or you fail, you are still in the Potter’s hands. He is fashioning your life, ultimately into the vessel He planned all along.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Decisive (Victor Books, 1995), 84.
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