The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,
In the first prophecy of the series Jeremiah 18, the fate of Jerusalem was still undetermined; a long line of kings might yet reign there in splendor, and the city be inhabited forever. This was possible only so long as it was still undecided whether Josiah's efforts would end in a national reformation or not, and before Jehoiakim threw the weight of the kingly office into the opposite balance. In the present prophecy mercy is still offered to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but they reject it Jeremiah 18:11-12. They have made their final choice: and thereupon follows the third prophecy of "the broken vessel" Jeremiah 19:1-15 in which the utter overthrow of city and kingdom is foretold. We should thus place this prophecy of the potter very early in the reign of Jehoiakim; and that of the broken vessel at the commencement of his fourth year. This internal evidence is confirmed by external proof.
Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words.
House - i. e., workshop. The clay-field where the potters exercised their craft lay to the south of Jerusalem just beyond the valley of Hinnom. Compare Zechariah 11:13; Matthew 27:10.
Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.
The wheels - literally, "the two wheels." The lower one was worked by the feet to give motion to the upper one, which was a flat disc or plate of wood, on which the potter laid the clay, and moulded it with his fingers as it revolved rapidly.
And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.
So are ye in mine hand - When a vessel was ruined, the potter did not throw it away, but crushed it together, dashed it back upon the wheel, and began his work afresh, until the clay had taken the predetermined shape. It was God's purpose that Judaea should become the proper scene for the manifestation of the Messiah, and her sons be fit to receive the Saviour's teaching and carry the good tidings to all lands. If therefore at any stage of the preparation the Jewish nation took such a course as would have frustrated this purpose of Providence, it was crushed by affliction into an unresisting mass, in which the formative process began again immediately.
At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;
At what instant - literally, "in a moment." Here, "at one time - at another time."
If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
I will repent of the evil ... I will repent of the good - All God's dealings with mankind are here declared to be conditional. God changeth not, all depends upon man's conduct.
And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it;
If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good.
The word rendered "frame" is a present participle, and is the same which as a noun means "a potter." God declares that He is as free to do what He will with the Jews as the potter is free to shape as he will the clay.
Devise a device - "I am purposing a purpose."
And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart.
And they said - Better, But they say.
Imagination - Or, stubbornness, see Jeremiah 3:17.
Therefore thus saith the LORD; Ask ye now among the heathen, who hath heard such things: the virgin of Israel hath done a very horrible thing.
The contrast between the chaste retirement of a virgin and Judah's eagerness after idolatry, serves to heighten the horror at her conduct.
Will a man leave the snow of Lebanon which cometh from the rock of the field? or shall the cold flowing waters that come from another place be forsaken?
Rather, "Will the snow of Lebanon fail from the rock of the field?" The meaning probably is, "Will the snow of Lebanon fail from its rocks which tower above the land of Israel?" The appeal of the prophet is to the unchangeableness of one of nature's most beautiful phenomena, the perpetual snow upon the upper summits of Lebanon.
Shall the cold ... - literally, "shall the strange, i. e., foreign, "cool, down-flowing waters be plucked up?" The general sense is: God is Israel's Rock, from whom the never-failing waters flow Jeremiah 2:13 : but men may and do abandon the cool waters which descend front above to seek their happiness in channels of their own digging.
Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up;
Because - "For." Jeremiah returns to, and continues the words of, Jeremiah 18:13.
Vanity - A word meaning "falsehood," which signifies that the worship of idols is not merely useless but injurious.
They have caused them to stumble - Judah's prophets and priests were they who made her to err Jeremiah 5:31. The idols were of themselves powerless for good or evil.
In their ways ... - Or, "in their ways, the everlasting paths, to walk in byways, in a road not cast up. The paths of eternity" carry back the mind not to the immediate but to the distant past, and suggest the good old ways in which the patriarchs used to walk. The "road cast up" means one raised sufficiently to keep it out of the reach of floods etc.
To make their land desolate, and a perpetual hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished, and wag his head.
Hissing - Not derision, but the drawing in of the breath quickly as men do when they shudder.
Way his head - Or, "shake his head," a sign among the Jews not of scorn but of pity. The desolation of the land of Israel is to fill people with dismay.
I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy; I will shew them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity.
I will shew them the back - The hiding of God's face is the sure sign of His displeasure Isaiah 1:15; Isaiah 59:2.
I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy.
Then said they, Come, and let us devise devices against Jeremiah; for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, and let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words.
The Jews were only hardened by the foregoing prophecy, and determined to compass Jeremiah's death.
Let us devise devices - i. e., "deliberately frame a plot" for his ruin (see Jeremiah 18:11 note).
The law shall not perish ... - As the Law of Moses was imperishable, the people probably drew the conclusion that the Levitical priesthood must also endure forever, and therefore that Jeremiah's predictions of national ruin were blasphemous (compare Acts 6:13-14).
Let us smite him with the tongue - Their purpose was to carry a malicious report of what he had said to king Jehoiakim, and so stir up his anger against him.
Give heed to me, O LORD, and hearken to the voice of them that contend with me.
The voice - i. e., the outcry and threats.
Shall evil be recompensed for good? for they have digged a pit for my soul. Remember that I stood before thee to speak good for them, and to turn away thy wrath from them.
Jeremiah had been laboring earnestly to avert the ruin of his country, but the Jews treated him as farmers do some noxious animal which wastes their fields, and for which they dig pitfalls.
Therefore deliver up their children to the famine, and pour out their blood by the force of the sword; and let their wives be bereaved of their children, and be widows; and let their men be put to death; let their young men be slain by the sword in battle.
Pour out ... sword - literally, "pour them out upon the hands of the sword, i. e., give them up to the sword."
Put to death - Rather, slain of death. The prophet's phrase leaves it entirely indefinite in what way the men are to die.
Let a cry be heard from their houses, when thou shalt bring a troop suddenly upon them: for they have digged a pit to take me, and hid snares for my feet.
The sack of the city follows with all the horrible cruelties practiced at such a time.
Yet, LORD, thou knowest all their counsel against me to slay me: forgive not their iniquity, neither blot out their sin from thy sight, but let them be overthrown before thee; deal thus with them in the time of thine anger.
Yet, Lord - Better, But, Lord. They conceal their plots, but God knows, and therefore must punish.
Neither blot out ... - Or, "blot not out their sin from before Thy face that they may be made to stumble before Thee."
Thus - Omit this word. Since there is an acceptable time and a day of salvation, so there is a time of anger, and Jeremiah's prayer is that God would deal with his enemies at such a time, and when therefore no mercy would be shown. On imprecations such as these, see Psalm 109 introductory note. Though they did not flow from personal vengeance, but from a pure zeal for God's honor, yet they belong to the legal spirit of the Jewish covenant. We must not, because we have been shown a "more excellent way," condemn too harshly that sterner spirit of justice which animated so many of the saints of the earlier dispensation.