Jeremiah 18:3
Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.
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(3) He wrought a work on the wheels.—Literally, the two wheels. The nature of the work is described more graphically in Ecclus. xxxviii. 29, 30. The potter sat moving one horizontal wheel with his feet, while a smaller one was used, as it revolved, to fashion the shape of the vessel he was making with his hands. The image had been already used of God’s creative work in Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 45:9; Isaiah 64:8.

18:1-10 While Jeremiah looks upon the potter's work, God darts into his mind two great truths. God has authority, and power, to form and fashion kingdoms and nations as he pleases. He may dispose of us as he thinks fit; and it would be as absurd for us to dispute this, as for the clay to quarrel with the potter. But he always goes by fixed rules of justice and goodness. When God is coming against us in judgments, we may be sure it is for our sins; but sincere conversion from the evil of sin will prevent the evil of punishment, as to persons, and to families, and nations.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. 3. wheels—literally, "on both stones." The potter's horizontal lathe consisted of two round plates, the lower one larger, the upper smaller; of stone originally, but afterwards of wood. On the upper the potter moulded the clay into what shapes he pleased. They are found represented in Egyptian remains. In Ex 1:16 alone is the Hebrew word found elsewhere, but in a different sense. Jeremiah yields a present and free obedience to the command of God, though he did not know God’s meaning in it, and findeth the potter at work upon

wheels or frames which he formed his clay upon, to bring it into that form which he desired. For the true form of those frames or instruments it is hard to assert any thing, such kind of instruments differing not only according to several countries, but according to the several fancies of workmen, getting frames or engines made fitted to their own fancies and purposes.

Then I went down to the potter's house,.... He did as the Lord commanded him; he was obedient to the divine will; he went to hear what the Lord had to say to him there, and to observe such things, from whence he might learn instruction for himself and others:

and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels; the Targum renders it "upon a seat"; or "his seats", as Junius and Tremellius; but it signifies not the instrument on which the potter sat while he worked, but that on which he did his work. The Septuagint version renders it, "on stones" (n); and R. Jonah (o) says, that in some countries the potter's instrument is in the likeness of two millstones, the lowermost is the greatest, and the uppermost is the least. Or rather the word may signify "frames", or "moulds" (p), made of stone, in which the potter put his clay, and fashioned it: though I see no reason to depart from the signification of "wheels", which are used in the potter's work, even two of them; and so the word here is of the dual number; though one is more properly called the "wheel", and the other the "lathe", and are described as follows:

"The "potter's wheel" consists principally in its nut, which is a beam or axis, whose foot or pivot plays perpendicularly on a free stone sole, or bottom; from the four corners atop of this beam, which does not exceed two feet in height, arise four iron bars, called the spokes of the wheel; which forming diagonal lines with the beam, descend, and are fastened at bottom to the edges of a strong wooden circle, four feet in diameter, perfectly like the felloes of a coach wheel; except that it hath neither axis nor radii; and is only joined to the beam, which serves it as an axis, by the iron bars. The top of the nut is flat, of a circular figure, and a foot in diameter. On this is laid a piece of the clay, or earth, to be turned and fashioned. The wheel thus disposed is encompassed with four sides of four different pieces of wood, sustained in a wooden frame: the hind piece, which is that whereon the workman sits, is made a little inclining towards the wheel: on the fore piece are placed the pieces of prepared earth: lastly, the side pieces serve the workman to rest his feet against; and are made inclining, to give him more or less room, according to the size of the vessels to be turned; by his side is a trough of water, wherewith from time to time he wets his hands, to prevent the earth sticking to them.----The potter having prepared his clay or earth, and laid a piece of it suitable to the work he intends on the top of the beam, sits down; his thighs and legs much expanded, and his feet rested on the side pieces, as is most convenient. In this situation he turns the wheel round, till it has got the proper velocity; when, wetting his hands in the water, he bores the cavity of the vessel, continuing to widen it from the middle; and thus turns it into form, turning the wheel afresh, and wetting his hands from time to time.----The potter's "lathe" is also a kind of "wheel", but simpler and slighter than the former; its three chief members are an iron beam or axis, three feet and a half high, and two inches in diameter; a little wooden wheel, all of a piece, an inch thick, and seven or eight in diameter, placed horizontally atop of the beam, and serving to form the vessel on; and another larger wooden wheel, all of a piece, three inches thick, and two or three feet broad, fastened to the same beam at the bottom, parallel to the horizon. The beam, or axis, turns by a pivot at bottom, in an iron stand. The workman gives the motion to the lathe with his feet, by pushing the great wheel alternately with each foot; still giving it a lesser or greater degree of motion, as his work requires (q).''

Thus Jeremiah saw the potter work, or somewhat like this; for, no doubt, pottery, as other things, has been improved since his time.

(n) , Sept. "super lapide, vel typo", Calvin. (o) Apud Kimchi & Ben Melech in loc. (p) "Lapideos typos", Calvin; "super formas", Montanus. (q) Chambers's Cyclopaedia, in the word "Pottery".

Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.
3. the potter’s house] The likening (as in Jeremiah 18:6) of man to the clay and God to the potter was familiar. See on Jeremiah 18:4. The trade was a very early one. Thomson (The Land and the Book, p. 520) thus describes what he saw at Jaffa (Joppa): “There was the potter sitting at his ‘frame,’ and turning the ‘wheel’ with his foot. He had a heap of the prepared clay near him, and a pan of water by his side. Taking a lump in his hand, he placed it on the top of the wheel (which revolves horizontally) and smoothed it into a low cone, like the upper end of a sugar-loaf, then thrusting his thumb into the top of it, he opened a hole down through the centre, and this he constantly widened by pressing the edges of the revolving cone between his hands. As it enlarged and became thinner, he gave it whatever shape he pleased with the utmost ease and expedition.”

the wheels] Two discs, the upper smaller than the lower, were placed on the same vertical axle, and the lower one turned by the foot. Cp. description in Sir 38:29 f.

Jeremiah 18:3The emblem and its interpretation. - Jeremiah 18:2. "Arise and go down into the potter's house; there will I cause thee to hear my words. Jeremiah 18:3. And I went down into the potter's house; and, behold, he wrought on the wheels. Jeremiah 18:4. And the vessel was marred, that he wrought in clay, in the hand of the potter; then he made again another vessel of it, as seemed good to the potter to make. Jeremiah 18:5. Then came the word of Jahveh to me, saying: Jeremiah 18:6. Cannot I do with you as this potter, house of Israel? saith Jahveh. Behold, as the clay in the hand of the potter, so are ye in mine hand, house of Israel. Jeremiah 18:7. Now I speak concerning a people and kingdom, to root it out and pluck up and destroy it. Jeremiah 18:8. But if that people turns from its wickedness, against which I spake, the it repents me of the evil which I thought to do it. Jeremiah 18:9. And now I speak concerning a people and a kingdom, to build and to plant it. Jeremiah 18:10. If it do that which is evil in mine eyes, so that it hearkens not unto my voice, then it repents me of the good which I said I would do unto it."

By God's command Jeremiah is to go and see the potter's treatment of the clay, and to receive thereafter God's interpretation of the same. Here he has set before his eyes that which suggests a comparison of man to the clay and of God to the potter, a comparison that frequently occurred to the Hebrews, and which had been made to appear in the first formation of man (cf. Job 10:9; Job 33:6; Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 45:9; Isaiah 64:7). This is done that he may forcibly represent to the people, by means of the emblem, the power of the Lord to do according to His will with all nations, and so with Israel too. From the "go down," we gather that the potteries of Jerusalem lay in a valley near the city. האבנים are the round frames by means of which the potter moulded his vessels. This sig. of the word is well approved here; but in Exodus 1:16, where too it is found, the meaning is doubtful, and it is a question whether the derivation is from אבן or from אופן, wheel. The perfecta consec. ונשׁחת and ושׁב designate, taken in connection with the participle עשׂה, actions that were possibly repeated: "and if the vessel was spoilt, he made it over again;" cf. Ew. 342, b. עשׂה , working in clay, of the material in which men work in order to make something of it; cf. Exodus 31:4.

(Note: Instead of בּחמר several codd. and editt. have כּחמר, as in Jeremiah 18:6, to which Ew. and Hitz. both take objection, so that they delete כחמר (Ew.) or כּחמר בּיד היּוצר (Hitz.) as being glosses, since the words are not in the lxx. The attempts of Umbr. and Nag. to obtain a sense for כּחמר are truly of such a kind as only to strengthen the suspicion of spuriousness. Umbr., who is followed by Graf, expounds: "as the clay in the hand of the potter does;" whereto Hitz. justly replies: "but is then the (failure) solely its own doing?" Ng. will have כ to be the כ verit.: the vessel was marred, as clay in the hand of the potter, in which case the כחמר still interrupts. But the failure of the attempts to make a good sense of כחמר does in no respect justify the uncritical procedure of Ew. and Hitz. in deleting the word without considering that the reading is by no means established, since not only do the most important and correct editions and a great number of codd. read בּחמר, but Aquila, Theodot., the Chald, and Syr. give this reading; Norzi and Houbig. call it lectio accuratiorum codicum, and the Masora on Jeremiah 18:6 and Job 10:9 confirms it. Cf. de Rossi variae lectt. ad h. l. and the critical remarks in the Biblia Hal. by J. H. Michaelis, according to which כחמר plainly made its way into the present verse from Jeremiah 18:6 by the error of a copyist; and it can only be from his prejudice in favour of the lxx that Hitz. pronounces כחמר original, as being "the reading traditionally in use.")

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