Summary: A simple jar of clay was bought and then broken. God used something as simple as this for an object lesson.
Introduction: clay jars, or “earthen vessels (KJV)” have been in use for thousands of years. These jars came and still come in various sizes, colors, and so on. Even when these jars were broken (they’re just clay, after all) the pieces could be and were used for notes, receipts, and the like (according to several books on Bible study, customs and manners, e,g,).
The LORD told Jeremiah to buy a clay jar. He did so, but then the LORD told him to do something rather unusual.
The text gives more details:
1 The command to buy the jar
Text, Jeremiah 19:1-2, KJV: 1 Thus saith the LORD, Go and get a potter's earthen bottle, and take of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests; 2 And go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the east gate, and proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee,
How many of us have received a command from the Lord to do something unusual? Jeremiah had at least three of these during his ministry. The first one was to buy a new linen waistband, wear it, then take to the Euphrates River and basically bury it in a hole near that river! Now he’s told to purchase a clay jar (“earthen bottle”, KJV) and bring it along with some of the elders (“ancients”, KJV) to a strange location—then, while there, preach to them!
The location for the message was the “valley of the son of Hinnom”, which was outside the walls of Jerusalem itself. Later this valley became known as “Gehenna”, and by extension a picture of everlasting fire and destruction. Worse, some years before during Manasseh’s reign, he burned some of his children to death even as Ahaz had done about 100 years before. How many other parents did this to how many other children, we may never know. One would be too many. The thoughts of each elder, as they walked to this place, are not described, either.
Now, then, Jeremiah seems to have bought the clay jar, then took the jar and the elders of the people and priests out towards the valley of the son of Hinnom. God had told Jeremiah that He would give Jeremiah a message once they got there. Verses 3 and following contain this message that Jeremiah was to declare to the people.
2 The command to bring God’s message
Text, Jeremiah 19:3-9, KJV: 3 And say, Hear ye the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, the which whosoever heareth, his ears shall tingle. 4 Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents; 5 They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind: 6 Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter. 8 And I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place; and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hands of them that seek their lives: and their carcases will I give to be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth. 8 And I will make this city desolate, and an hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished and hiss because of all the plagues thereof. 9 And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they shall eat every one the flesh of his friend in the siege and straitness, wherewith their enemies, and they that seek their lives, shall straiten them.
The LORD once again told it like it was in these verses. Every one of the people there with Jeremiah knew all this. They all knew about the burning of incense to other pagan deities and it would have been difficult to avoid the smell of burning human flesh from the children burned in the fire to other deities. After this brief review, the LORD told them about what was going to happen in the future. As gruesome as verse 9 might have seemed to the people, this very thing had happened before, in Samaria, capital of the Northern Kingdom.
Jehoram, king at the time, heard a woman complain that she and another woman had agreed to kill and eat each other’s son. This first woman gave her child, and the two “mothers” ate. But the second woman reneged on the deal, hiding her son (2 Kings 6:24-29). That may not have been the only situation even though no other such occasions are recorded. Of note, this is one of the curses the LORD promised would happen to Israel if they ever “forgot” or abandoned Him (Deuteronomy 28, verses 52-53 in particular). In just a few years, Jerusalem would truly be surrounded, this time by Babylon, and this time there would be no escape.