Friday, April 07, 2006

The Potter's House

People often use one typical excuse for being a certain way (fill in any sinful, evil, or God-rejecting mindset) or behaving (fill in accompanying sinful act) in a certain manner. They tend to blame God for "making them that way." Some Christian ministers/pastors/lay people have fallen into such a trap of belief; even when the Bible strictly prohibits particular behavior(s). They see themselves as being compassionate, tolerant, accepting and fair. These are all enormously good virtues to extent to the individual, but such attitudes should not condone what is clearly presented in the Bible as sinful behavior.

Take the case of a skeptic who disbelieves in, and/or hates the God of the Bible. In the past, I have had skeptics tell me that the Romans verse below tells us that God hardens them into unbelief. In other words, if there is a God, it's His fault that they are skeptics.

Let's look at the verse in question.

18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
19 You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?" 20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
- Romans 9:18-20

These verses clearly discuss the place of God in our lives verses the place of man and his attitude towards God. It also talks about the results of a hardened heart.

One might tend to ask, "If God makes me (my heart) hard, why does He blame me for being hard (having a hardened heart)?"

Perhaps you consider this is a good question. However, Paul answers this question with a question. "Who are you, a mere human being, to talk back to God? (v. 20). The analogy being used is of a clay pot talking back to the potter. Can a clay pot talk back to the potter whose skillful hands shape it into its best and highest use?

There are four main passages in the Word that illustrate the relationship of the pot and the potter in the Old Testament.

Surely you have things turned around!
Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay;
For shall the thing made say of him who made it,
"He did not make me"?
Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it,
"He has no understanding"? - Isaiah 29:16

Woe to him who strives with his Maker!
Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth!
Shall the clay say to him who forms it, "What are you making?" - Isaiah 45:9

But now, O LORD,
You are our Father;
We are the clay, and You our potter;
And all we are the work of Your hand. - Isaiah 64:8

In Jeremiah 18:1-11, God compares the pot in the hand of the potter to the nation of Israel.

The Potter and the Clay

18The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying: 2 "Arise and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause you to hear My words." 3 Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. 4 And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: 6 "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?" says the Lord. "Look, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel! 7 The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, 8 if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. 9 And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, 10 if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.
11 "Now therefore, speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, 'Thus says the Lord: "Behold, I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you. Return now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good."'"

In the book Jerusalem Countdown, John Hagee presents several points:

"Using these Old Testament examples of the pot and the potter, Paul makes several important points.

If all God wanted to do was to send people to hell, He would not have taken the time and sacrifice of human life to present us with the Holy Bible, filled with messages to influence us to "turn from your evil ways."

If all God wanted to do was to send masses of humanity strumbling into the darkness of eternity, He would not ordain that preachers and evangelists proclaim His glorious gospel. A loving and gracious God has sent us a Savior in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, calling all men to repentance. If you refuse repentance (free will), you will experience Jeremiah's warning: "I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you."

If you reject repentance, look at Pharaoh's bloated corpse floating face down in the Red Sea. The world's most powerful man was reduced to fish food because he, in his free will, refused repentance to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."


1. It is unthinkable that a pot can give advice to the potter. Hence, it is unthinkable that a human being can fault God for what He is doing in that person's life. You may not understand what God is doing, but please remember, you are the pot.

2. God has absolute sovereignty in your life. Sovereignty means that He can do what He wants, when He wants, if He wants, as long as He wants without explanation to you or anyone else, not ever.

3. You are given the opportunity to turn from your evil ways (choice), but if you don't, it is just for God to destroy you. Let me repeat two sentences from Jeremiah's illustration of the pot and the potter. "Thus says the LORD: 'Behold, I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you. Return now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good."

Think about what happens as the potter molds or shapes a clay pot on the potter's wheel. Defects would often appear and the potter had the power over the clay to either allow the defects to remain or to reshape the pot.

This parable doubles as an object lesson for Israel and for us. God had the power to reshape the nation of Israel to conform to his purposes. Individually, as we yield to God, he begins reshaping us into valuable vessels. Sometimes His reshaping of us (for our own good) is painful. But similarly to our action of yanking harshly on a child's arm when he is about to run into traffic directly in front of a speeding car that would kill him, God yanks us back into the reality of our need for Him in our lives, now and in eternity!

What does the world say about this? Take a look at Jeremiah 18:12 -

But they will reply, 'It's no use. We will continue with our own plans; each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart.'

Notice that pride, self-importance, stubbornness, defiance of authority, and refusal to listen or change was the people's reactions to Jeremiah's warnings. How little man's prideful heart has changed! Today, our society admires assertiveness and independence, (which can have good qualities in its proper place) but left unchecked such a mindset devolves into misguided tolerance, immorality, sexual licentiousness, greed, coveteousness, adultery, theft, gluttony, murder etc. which sends people into a way of life that is hostile towards God.

Jeremiah 18:13-17

13 Therefore thus says the Lord:
"Ask now among the Gentiles,
Who has heard such things?
The virgin of Israel has done a very horrible thing.
14 Will a man leave the snow water of Lebanon,
Which comes from the rock of the field?
Will the cold flowing waters be forsaken for strange waters?
15 "Because My people have forgotten Me,
They have burned incense to worthless idols.
And they have caused themselves to stumble in their ways,
From the ancient paths,
To walk in pathways and not on a highway,
16 To make their land desolate and a perpetual hissing;
Everyone who passes by it will be astonished
And shake his head.
17 I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy;
I will *show them the back and not the face
In the day of their calamity."

(bold mine)

Jeremiah's words and actions challenged the people's social and moral behavior. He had openly spoken against the king, the officials, the priests and prophets, the scribes, and the wise (see Jeremiah 4:9; 8:8,9) He wasn't afraid to give unpopular criticism. The people could either obey him or silence him. They chose the latter. They did not think they needed Jeremiah; their false prophets told them what they wanted to hear.

Have you noticed how this mirrors what is going on today? We have false prophets in the liberal churches who are telling people what they want to hear. There is no call for repentance; just that Jesus loves you and will forgive you. That is a false gospel! The book of Jude warns us against such heresies.

Notice the reactions of the people in Jeremiah's day:

18 Then they said, "Come and let us devise plans 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 attack him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words."

No matter the reactions given toward Christians today, it is our duty to warn others of the coming judgment if they do not repent and turn to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives.

Why must we press on? Because those who continue in their sinful ways are eternally doomed. Although we may feel discouraged at the lack of response, we must press on to tell others about the consequences of sin and the hope that God offers. Those who tell people only what they want to hear are being unfaithful to God's message.

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