Jeremiah 18:6
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.
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(6) Cannot I do with you as this potter?—The question implies a theory of the universe, which is neither (as some have thought) one of absolute fatalism, crushing man’s freedom, nor, on the other hand, one which merges God’s sovereignty in man’s power of choice. The clay can resist the potter, or can yield itself willingly to his hands to be shaped as he wills. Its being “marred” is through no fault of the potter, but—in the framework of the parable—through the defect of the material, and, in its application, through the resistance of the human agents whom God is fashioning. And when it is so marred one of two courses is open to the potter. He can again re-mould and fashion it to his purpose, to a new work which may be less honourable than that for which it was originally designed; or, if it be hopelessly marred, can break it and cast it away, and with fresh clay mould a fresh vessel. The history of nations and churches and individual men offers many examples of both processes. They frustrate God’s gracious purpose by their self-will, but His long-suffering leads them to repentance, and gives them, to speak after the manner of men, yet another chance of being moulded by His hands. Here the prophet invites the people, as the clay, to accept the former alternative. St. Paul, taking the same analogy, looks forward to the time when the marred vessel of Israel shall be restored to the Master’s house and be honoured in His service (Romans 9:21; Romans 11:26). The closing verses of Browning’s poem, “Rabbi Ben-Ezra,” in Men and Women, may be referred to as embodying the same thought :—

“But I need Thee, as then,

Thee, God, who mouldest men;

And since, not even while the whirl was worst,

Did I—to the wheel of life,

With shapes and colours rife,

Bound dizzily—mistake my end, to slake Thy thirst,

“So take and use Thy work!

Amend what flaws may lurk,

What strain o’ the stuff, what warpings past the aim!

My times be in Thy hand;

Perfect the cup as planned!

Let age approve of youth, and death complete the same.”

Jeremiah 18:6. Cannot I do with you as this potter? — Have I not as absolute an authority and power over you? Nay, God has an infinitely clearer title to dominion over us than the potter has over the clay, for the potter only gives the clay its form; whereas we have both matter and form from God. As the work of his hands, made and preserved by him, and yet more as sinners redeemed by him, we are entirely in his hands, and at his disposal, and he has an undoubted right to do with us what he pleases. But as a being infinitely holy, just, and gracious, in all his conduct toward his intelligent, free, and immortal offspring, he acts by fixed rules of perfect equity and infinite goodness. He frequently dispenses favours, indeed, to individuals, families, and nations, in a way of sovereignty, but never punishes by arbitrary power. Strong is his hand, and high is his right hand, (Psalm 89:13,) but, as it there follows, justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne. He asserts his absolute power, and tells us what he might do; but at the same time assures us that he will act as a merciful and righteous judge.

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.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. 6. Refuting the Jews' reliance on their external privileges as God's elect people, as if God could never cast them off. But if the potter, a mere creature, has power to throw away a marred vessel and raise up other clay from the ground, a fortiori God, the Creator, can cast away the people who prove unfaithful to His election and can raise others in their stead (compare Isa 45:9; 64:8; Ro 9:20, 21). It is curious that the potter's field should have been the purchase made with the price of Judas' treachery (Mt 27:9, 10: a potter's vessel dashed to pieces, compare Ps 2:8, 9; Re 2:27), because of its failing to answer the maker's design, being the very image to depict God's sovereign power to give reprobates to destruction, not by caprice, but in the exercise of His righteous judgment. Matthew quotes Zechariah's words (Zec 11:12, 13) as Jeremiah's because the latter (Jer 18:1-19:15) was the source from which the former derived his summary in Zec 11:12, 13 [Hengstenberg]. God now expoundeth to the prophet his design in bidding him go to the potter’s house, it was to instruct or confirm him in the power that he had over his creatures. For, saith he, as is the clay to the potter, so is the house of Israel (and indeed so are all the sons and daughters of men) unto God; God hath the same power over them that a potter hath over the clay, and a greater right to do what he pleaseth with them, than any potter hath relating to the clay; the clay is but the potter’s purchase, not his creature, but man is God’s creature. God, by his prophet Isaiah, made use of the same similitude, Isaiah 45:9. So doth the apostle, Romans 9:20. That God hath an absolute sovereign power to do what he pleaseth with the work of his hands, can be denied by no men of sense, whether God useth this his sovereignty in the eternal punishment of sinners, that is another thing; he hath a sovereign power, but he acteth as a just judge, rendering to every man according to his works.

O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord,.... Make, and mar, and remake at pleasure? certainly he could. God is a sovereign Being, and has a sovereign and uncontrollable power over his creatures; he has an indisputable right unto them, and can dispose of them as he pleases; he has as good a right to them, and as great power over them, as the potter has to and over his clay, and a better and greater; since they are made by him, and have their all from him, their being, life, and motion; whereas the clay is not made by the potter; it is only the vessel that is made of the clay by him, which has its form from him; if therefore the potter has such power over the clay, which he did not make, as to cast it into another forth as it pleases him, and especially when marred; the Lord has an undoubted power over men, and a just right to change their, state and circumstances as he pleases; nor have they any reason to complain of him, especially when they have marred themselves by their own sins and transgressions; which was the present case of the house of Israel, or the Jews; see Isaiah 29:16;

behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand; and he can form and fashion it as he pleases, and it is not in the power of the clay to resist and hinder him:

so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel; and I can dispose of you as I please, and put you in what circumstances it seems good unto me, drive you from your land, and scatter you among the nations; nor can you hinder me from doing this, or whatever else is my pleasure. And this his sovereign power and pleasure, and as exercised in a way of mercy and equity, are exemplified in the following cases.

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.
6. “First of the prophets, Jeremiah proclaims distinctly what had been more or less implied throughout, that predictions were subject to no overruling necessity, but depended for their fulfilment on the moral state of those to whom they were addressed; that the most confident assurance of blessing could be frustrated by sin; that the most awful warnings of calamity could be averted by repentance.” Stanley’s J. Ch. II. 445. Cp. the story of Jonah, and in Ezekiel (Jeremiah 18:21 ff., Jeremiah 33:12 ff.) the application of the same thought to individuals.

Jeremiah 18:6In Jeremiah 18:6-10 the Lord discloses to the prophet the truth lying in the potter's treatment of the clay. The power the potter has over the clay to remould, according to his pleasure, the vessel he had formed from it if it went wrong; the same power God possesses over the people of Israel. This unlimited power of God over mankind is exercised according to man's conduct, not according to a decretum absolutum or unchangeable determination. If he pronounces a people's overthrow or ruin, and if that people turn from its wickedness, He repeals His decree (Jeremiah 18:7.); and conversely, if He promises a people welfare and prosperity, and if that people turn away from Him to wickedness, then too He changes His resolve to do good to it (Jeremiah 18:9.). Inasmuch as He is even now making His decree known by the mouth of the prophet, it follows that the accomplishment of Jeremiah's last utterances is conditioned by the impression God's word makes on men. רגע, adv., in the moment, forthwith, and when repeated equals, now...again. Ng. maintains that the arrangement here is paratactic, so that the רגע does not belong to the nearest verb, but to the main idea, i.e., to the apodosis in this case. The remark is just; but the word does not mean suddenly, but immediately, and the sense is: when I have spoken against a people, and this people repents, then immediately I let it repent me. נחם על as in Joel 2:13, etc. With "to pluck up," etc., "to build," etc., cf. Jeremiah 1:10. "Against which I spake," Jeremiah 18:8, belongs to "that people," and seems as if it might be dispensed with; but is not therefore spurious because the lxx have omitted it. For הרעה the Keri has הרע, the most usual form, Jeremiah 7:30, Numbers 32:13; Judges 2:11, etc.; but the Chet. is called for by the following הטּובה and מרעתו. להיטיב הטּובה, to show kindness, cf. Numbers 10:32.

The emblematical interpretation of the potter with the clay lays a foundation for the prophecy that follows, Jeremiah 18:11-17, in which the people are told that it is only by reason of their stiffnecked persistency in wickedness that they render threatened judgment certain, whereas by return to their God they might prevent the ruin of the kingdom.

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