Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Aug 17 2019 - Jeremiah 19 – The shattered pot

Sometimes prophets were told to act out the message which the Lord had given them to take to his people. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this was when Hosea was told to take a woman to be his wife who would be unfaithful to him. God intended Hosea's domestic life to be a visible picture of his own relationship with, and love for, a faithless people. Jeremiah did not need to do anything quite so traumatic, but he also was called to dramatize his message by acting it out before the elders and priests of the people in Jerusalem.

In the previous chapter, Jeremiah 18, the Lord had told Jeremiah to go to the potter's house where he would be given a message for the people. Jeremiah went and watched the potter working at his wheel: "But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him" (18:4). Before he formed it into something else, the potter must have crushed it and moulded it afresh into a ball before centring it again on his wheel. Then the Lord told Jeremiah, "Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does? (18:6).

The Lord is preparing to crush his rebellious people. But beyond judgment there is the hope that God will take them again into his hands and will refashion them into something pleasing to him. This is the background to today's reading from Jeremiah 19.

Jeremiah was now told to buy a new clay jar from the potter and to summon the leaders of the people to meet him near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. Outside this gate seems to have been the place where old broken pottery was thrown. Unlike the clay in the potter's hand, the fired earthenware is no longer pliable and capable of being refashioned. This pot represents the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem who have hardened their hearts against Jeremiah's call for repentance and have even begun to plot against him.

Jeremiah declares that God is going to come in judgment against Judah and Jerusalem. He will judge them because of their detestable idolatry in burning incense to idol-gods and even burning "their children in the fire as offerings to Baal" (v.6). This valley which acted as a rubbish dump for the city would be filled with the bodies of those who would be slaughtered in the coming siege of the city. And in that siege, the people would even be forced to eat the bodies of their dead children!

Jeremiah then dashed the clay pot to the ground so that it shattered into pieces and was lost in the general mess of potsherds. Addressing the rulers of the city he declared, "This is what the Lord Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired" (v.11). He then re-entered the city, went into the temple and declared, "This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'Listen! I am going to bring on this city and all the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.'" (v.15).

We may not be eager to listen to passages of scripture which speak of God's judgments against his rebellious people, particularly when they are expressed in such violent terms. But this is a sign of our failure to understand the holiness of our God and the intensity of his anger against sin. It was also outside the city of Jerusalem that God's judgment fell on his own Son as Jesus died in our place. It was because he endured the fulness of God's wrath against sin that we are forgiven and need not fear the judgment to come; "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). For rebellious Judah also there was to be hope beyond judgment.

Father God we thank you that you are slow to anger and rich in mercy. Like a potter with the clay, you long to take what is spoilt and remould it into something beautiful and useful. Continue that remoulding work in our own lives as, by your Spirit, you make us more like your Son.

Peter Misselbrook