Summary: Jeremiah’s visit to the potter’s workshop was the means of God’s giving him an acted-parable of what he could do with the marred nation of Israel and mankind in general.
MARRED AND MADE AGAIN
One of the pleasures of being away from home on holiday is to have the opportunity of just standing and staring at interesting sights, such as a craftsman at work - perhaps a potter. The prophet Jeremiah did this once. He tells us what he saw: "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" (Jer 18:4).
Jeremiah’s potter was having "one of those days" when the clay just wouldn’t come right - perhaps something we can sympathise with. He may have been tempted to give up for the day and hope that his skill would return next day. But we can be glad that he didn’t do that, but persevered because it was just the time when God wanted to give the prophet Jeremiah a fresh insight into his divine plan and purpose.
The potter was a familiar part of the Eastern scene, but on this occasion Jeremiah took special note of what happened because God told him that his message would be found in this common place setting. It’s not difficult to visualise the prophet watching the craftsman more purposefully than every before, anxious to grasp what God was saying to him. What struck him forcibly was the potter’s failure on his first attempt to fashion a vessel. We’re not told what went wrong so it can’t have any bearing on the message. Whatever it was, the potter persevered and eventually he moulded the stubborn clay into a vessel of such a quality worthy of the skill he knew he possessed. He had created something with which he could be satisfied.
Jeremiah wasn’t left to draw his own conclusions for he became aware of the divine voice speaking to his, "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does? … Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel" (6). In other words, God is dramatically telling Jeremiah that what has been marred can be made again. This is the glory of the Gospel.
The key to understanding this acted-out parable is found in God’s words: "Can I not do with you as this potter does?" It’s clear that the question expects the answer "Yes, what has been marred can be made again." What impressed Jeremiah in this little drama he’d witnessed was the fact that it was the potter, not the clay, who was in charge. When this is applied to the human life situation the inescapable conclusion is that God is the sovereign master of man’s destiny. "Can I not do with you as this potter does?" God asks of Jeremiah. What has been marred can be made again. Our God is the God of the "Second Chance".
The prophecy is addressed to the house of Israel, the people with whom God had a special relationship. Christians are now in that privileged position, but like Israel, all too often you and I fall short of God’s expectation of us. Christian - yes, but marred, so let’s hear what God has to say.
They were dark days for the nation of Israel when Jeremiah uttered his prophecy. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had already been devastated and her people taken into captivity. At this time the Southern Kingdom of Judah was under the threat of invasion. Why had such a sad state of affairs been allowed to come about, one might ask, in view of God’s special covenant with his people? The answer is that the people had forsaken the God of their fathers. Someone wisely said that God has "no grandchildren - only children". Relationship with God must be personal and first-hand.
It’s true that some religious observances were still being performed but they were merely an outward show and didn’t make a slightest difference in God’s sight. The people’s hearts were not right with God and in that condition all the sacrifices they offered were quite invalid. The nation, which had begun with such high hopes, was marred. "Marred" - it’s a word that conveys the impression of something spoiled and useless. When you call in at a pottery you sometimes see a shelf marked "Seconds" - pieces that aren’t quite perfect and so are being sold at a discount. But God isn’t in the business of producing "Seconds".
God’s standard is one of holiness. Jeremiah says this in terms of the Law written not on stone but inscribed on the people’s hearts. Under the New Covenant of Jesus we find God’s standard as taught in the Sermon on the Mount. But what does the all-searching eye of God find? In the book of the Revelation we see Christ pictured surveying seven of the churches of Asia Minor towards the close of the first century. The apostle John is instructed to write letters to the churches telling them of the results of Christ’s searching scrutiny.