The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

The Potter & the Clay

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God does not treat us all the same.  There are some people who He gives an extra measure of blessing to, and others who He inflicts extra miseries upon.  There are nations which He favors, and other nations which He rips apart.  We find this pattern laid out in the Bible, and when we don’t read the full message of Scripture, it’s easy to walk away with the erroneous idea that God has certain “chosen favorites” who can do no wrong with Him.  The nation Israel seems an obvious member of this camp, and in the Church today, we’re constantly told that God favors Israel more than anyone else.  But is this really true?  Naturally Israel would like to think so, yet as we read the Bible, we don’t find much blessing of Israel going on.  Certainly there are moments when God really backs her up and gives her victory over her enemies.  But far more often we find God bringing in her enemies to stomp all over her because of her rotten attitude.

It turns out that the “chosen” label isn’t the guarantee of eternal blessing that we try to say it is today.  God certainly does choose individuals and nations to serve Him in some special way—He does pass out high honors and special callings.  But that’s just the beginning.  If those chosen people then go on to treat God with disdain, He revokes the blessings and protection He gave them.  Consider the sad mess Samson degraded into through his unceasing rebellion.  He ended his life at a young age: an imprisoned freak with gouged out eyes who the Philistines gawked at for entertainment.  Sure, he pushed over pillars and crushed his enemies—but he crushed himself along with them because God was done with Samson’s constant defiance.

The same principle is also true in reverse.  Perhaps we start off full of defiance and rebellion.  In response, God pours down unceasing misery and pain on our heads.  But then suppose the day comes when we finally decide to repent of our foul attitude and start treating God with the reverence He deserves.  What happens?  God’s punishments cease and He responds to our change of heart with great delight and blessings.  It turns out God’s “cursed” label isn’t permanent, either.  No matter which side of God we start off on, we can always change by changing our heart attitude towards Him.  Rebels are invited to repent, and favorites are never allowed to spit in God’s face without consequences.  So while Satan tries to tell us we’re stuck on one side of God forever, God tells us that change is very possible—at least as long as we are still alive on this earth.

In Jeremiah 18, Yahweh is in the mood for a visual metaphor, so He sends His prophet off to a potter’s shop.  As Jeremiah stands there watching the potter working his clay, he can see the general shape of the pot the man is intending to make.  But then it becomes obvious that the clay has a flaw in it, so the potter suddenly changes plans and works the clay into a different type of pot instead.

Then the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “House of Israel, can I not treat you as this potter treats his clay? Just like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand.” (Jer. 18:5-6)

Israel has always considered herself to be Yahweh’s favored child—the one He is supposed to love and bless more than anyone else.  But Israel has also been treating Yahweh like dirt, and He is now using this potter metaphor as a wake-up call.  Just as the potter had a specific pot in mind when he began his work, so also God had originally planned for Israel to be His shining star on earth. But just as the clay turned out to be marred, so also Israel’s attitude towards God has been quite foul for centuries, so He has revised His plans for her several times.

At this point in Israel’s history, her northern kingdom has been completely destroyed in an act of Divine wrath and now God is gearing up to destroy what’s left: the southern kingdom of Judah with its capital city of Jerusalem and the glorious Temple.  The Jews in Jerusalem have been listening to Jeremiah rant and rave about the coming destruction for quite a while now, but they keep telling themselves that he’s full of hot air.  Nothing bad could ever happen to the city where God’s very Presence dwells.  Destruction is for all those icky nations around Israel who she doesn’t like—they are the ones God will surely destroy, but never His chosen people.

“If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey Me, I will not bless it as I said I would.” (Jer. 18:7-10)

Israel’s assumptions are all wrong.  Using the potter as an example, God explains through the mouth of His prophet that His promises of future doom or glory can and will be altered if heart attitudes change towards Him.  This message applies to Israel two ways: she is not only a nation that has lost her special blessing, she is now a hardened rebel for whom God is predicting terrible disaster.  Yet God is telling her that there is still time to repent.  Even all of His graphic descriptions of Jerusalem being destroyed and the Jews being ravaged could be altered if the people will just repent.

“Therefore, Jeremiah, go and warn all Judah and Jerusalem. Say to them, ‘This is what Yahweh says: I am planning disaster for you instead of good. So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.’” (Jer. 18:11)

Yahweh would much rather bless Israel than thrash her, yet even as He urges them once again to repent, He already knows how they will respond.

But the people replied, “Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, stubbornly following our own evil desires.” (Jer. 18:12)

This is total insanity.  Israel is God’s chosen nation.  Her devotion to Him ought to be as predictable as snow on frozen mountain peaks or as cool water flowing from natural springs.  But instead, she’s gone and done something incomprehensible: she’s thrown her glorious Yahweh over for dumb, lifeless idols.

So this is what Yahweh says: “Has anyone ever heard of such a thing, even among the pagan nations? My virgin daughter Israel has done something terrible! Does the snow ever disappear from the mountaintops of Lebanon? Do the cold streams flowing from those distant mountains ever run dry? But My people are not so reliable, for they have deserted Me; they burn incense to worthless idols. They have stumbled off the ancient highways and walk in muddy paths. Therefore, their land will become desolate, a monument to their stupidity. All who pass by will be astonished and will shake their heads in amazement. I will scatter My people before their enemies as the east wind scatters dust. And in all their trouble I will turn My back on them and refuse to notice their distress.”  (Jer. 18:13-17)

Since Israel has turned her back on God, He will now turn His back on her.  So much for being the favored nation—and yet it is only in Israel’s deluded imagination that God ever promised to bless her unconditionally.  He was clear from the very beginning that He would punish willful rebellion and foul attitudes.

So what can we Christians learn from this today?  We live under a different Covenant than Israel did, and like ancient Israel, many Christians today like to think that God has promised us unconditional blessing.  Well, He hasn’t.  Under both Covenants, rebellion is punished—the main thing that’s changed is how extreme God will go with His retribution.  Under the New Covenant, He has chosen to limit Himself to never taking back His eternal covenant of peace with us.  This means He won’t ever revoke our salvation, reject us as His children, and cast us into Hell.  This is a huge sigh of relief, yet we make a grave mistake when we think that Hell is the only form of discipline that matters.

We are only in the first stage of a relationship that will last for all of eternity.  If a woman treats her husband poorly, how joyful will their marriage be?  The fact that God has promised never to divorce His new Bride the way He divorced Israel doesn’t mean He has promised our relationship with Him is guaranteed to be a honeymoon.  If we treat God with disrespect, He has many ways of disciplining us.  If we refuse to repent, He will distance Himself from us in eternity.  Let’s not fall for the delusion that we can spend our lives on earth kicking dirt in God’s face and then have Him act like everything’s peachy in eternity.  God will not be receiving those who dishonored Him with the same enthusiasm as those who honored Him.  Not everyone is going to hear “Well done.”

God is not a doormat, nor is He indifferent to our treatment of Him.  He is a very sensitive Being who has been very forthcoming about what He wants from us.  He wants hearts that are devoted to Him.  He wants us to sincerely care about Him, to take delight in pleasing Him with our lives.  He wants to be worshiped, revered, and cherished.  If we just can’t be bothered, we will feel the effects of our choices in eternity.  God will never abandon us, but He never promised to be intimate with those who despise Him.  Do we want a cold, distant marriage or rich, intimate communion with our Maker?  We are deciding what we will have in eternity by how we are treating God on earth now.  How we respond to God in this life is critical.  We want to make the most of our time here.

How did the people respond to God’s metaphor of the potter revising his plans for his clay?  Just as God predicted, their hearts remained hardened.  And then they decided to attack God’s messenger—the usual response of people who are trying to shut out the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

Then the people said, “Come on, let’s plot a way to stop Jeremiah. We have plenty of priests and wise men and prophets. We don’t need him to teach the word and give us advice and prophecies. Let’s spread rumors about him and ignore what he says.” (Jer. 18:18)

How did God respond to this?  By coming up with a second pottery metaphor.  This time He sent Jeremiah to buy a clay jar, gather together the leaders of Jerusalem, and smash the jar in their presence as a metaphor for how God would soon be smashing all of them because of their foul attitudes.

“This is what Yahweh of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will bring disaster upon this city and its surrounding towns as I promised, because you have stubbornly refused to listen to Me.’”  (Jer. 19:15)

We do not want to be found among those Christians who are stiffening their necks and intentionally tuning out the Voice of the Spirit.  We don’t want to fall into delusions about the tenants of God’s Covenant with us, thinking that He is some grace dispensing doormat who has no problems blessing children who willfully defy Him.  Instead, we want to treat God with honor.  If we’re not there right now, we can get there by simply acknowledging the error of our ways and asking the Holy Spirit to get us back in alignment with Him.

Our lives are like clay in God’s hands, and as He molds and shapes us, we are either cooperating or resisting.  If we resist too long, He will revise His plans and start making us into something that is less than what He originally intended.  Why go there?  We want to experience God’s best for us and grow into the beautiful designs He originally planned for each one of us.  He says that is what will happen if we sincerely submit to Him.  Even if we’ve wandered off course, there is still time to get back on track.  God generously gives us many chances to get back in alignment with Him.  He offers to redeem our mistakes and bring good out of evil—but these offers are temporary.  At some point, He will decide that we have rebelled too long and too hard and He will stop offering us the chance to experience His best plan for us.  At some point, His revised design for us becomes a course which He will no longer depart from.

FURTHER READING:
Cancelled Invitation (Isaiah 6)
The Eternal Cost of Defying God: A Warning for Christians
Choosing Our Futures With God

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