Sunday, September 18, 2022

“Go Down to the Potter’s House” [Matt's Messages]

“Go Down to the Potter’s House”
Uprooted - The Words of Jeremiah
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
September 18, 2022 :: Jeremiah 18:1-19:15 

It’s time for another prophetic field trip.

Actually, in chapters 18 and 19, the LORD sends Jeremiah on two different prophetic field trips.

We’ve seen in the last few months how weird it was to be a prophet like Jeremiah in the Old Testament. How weird and often painful it was because of how different he was called to be and how painful his message was to deliver and receive.

Like the time Jeremiah was sent to buy a linen belt and then travel 700 miles roundtrip to bury the belt and then travel 700 miles roundtrip back to unbury the belt and then parade it around town just to make a prophetic point about how the nation of Judah was ruined.

Well, this time, Jeremiah is not sent to the clothing store, but to the pottery barn, to the workshop of the craftsman there. 

Chapter 18 verse 1. “This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message.’”

“Go Down to the Potter’s House.” I wonder what we’re going to learn there. In this first field trip, in chapter 18, Jeremiah is not called to do anything except watch the work of this potter and learn a lesson from it about Who God is.

Now, a potter, a craftsman who makes pottery out of clay, was not an unusual thing in those days. It was common and normal.

You and I often have to go to a special event like an arts festival to see someone make pottery with their hands. But back in Jeremiah’s day, this was the main way you could get items to hold things like a jar or a cup or a bowl. You didn’t buy them at Target. You went to the home of a craftsman who made them by hand out of clay.

It took special skill, but everybody had seen someone do it. And Yahweh now sends Jeremiah (we’re not exactly sure what year, probably early in his ministry) to visit a potter’s house, watch him do his work, and wait for the LORD’s message. And that’s exactly what he does. V.3

“So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the 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.”

Now, from what I understand, this wheel is actually two round stones with a vertical post up the middle of both of them. And the potter used his feet to move the bottom stone around in a circle which moved the top stone where he put his wet clay and shaped it and formed it, as the top-stone, “the potter’s wheel,” turned on it. Can you see it in your mind?

The clay is wet. It is moldable, shapable, pliant. And the potter has something nice that he intends to make out of it. But, something goes wrong in the process. Verse 4 says, “the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands...”

The word for “marred” is the same word as he used in chapter in 13 to describe how the linen belt was “ruined.” It was defective, malformed, spoiled. It had gone bad. It was not right.

And how did that affect the potter?

Did it stop him? Did it foil him? Was that the end of his day? Was that the end of his career? Was he forced to just finish the pot with that glaring problem sticking out there unfixed?

No. Verse 4 says rather nonchalantly, “ the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”

Well, right then and there, Jeremiah saw what he was supposed to prophesy. V.5 “Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?’ declares the LORD. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

All of a sudden the picture becomes focused. There is a deep symbolism going on. The clay stands for the people of Israel. And potter is the LORD Himself.

Wow! That could go in a lot of different directions! In fact, it does in different parts of the Bible. This is not the only time when the LORD is likened to a potter and people are likened to pottery.

In the second chapter of the Bible, in Genesis 2, it says that the LORD God “formed” a man from the dust of the ground. And that word “formed” is the same word as in verse 4. God was acting like a potter when He made the first man. And it just goes from there. Throughout the Bible the LORD is likened to a potter and people are likened to pottery.

And different parts of the Bible emphasize different parts of that analogy. But all of them put us in our place and place Him in His. He is the potter. We are the clay.

We are not equals. 
We are not rivals.
We are in His hands.

If it makes you feel kind of small to think of yourself as clay and Him as the potter, then you’re reading it right. V.6 again. “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?’ declares the LORD. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

This emphasizes the power of God.
It emphasizes the position of God.
It emphasizes the sovereignty of God.
It emphasizes the freedom of God.

The power and freedom of God to bring about justice.

Because you know what justice is? 

Justice is fixing what is broken in the world.
Justice is making things right again.
Justice is doing what is right and fixing what is un-right in our broken world.

Like when that potter saw how the pot was going wrong while it was still wet in his hands, and he pushed it down and bunched it all up and started again.

“...shaping it as seemed best to him.”

I have three points this morning, and they are all about the LORD and His relationship to justice, doing what is right and fixing what is wrong. Here’s the first one:


Because He is the potter.

In verses 7 through 10, the LORD presents a couple of case studies to show us what He means by saying that He’s like a potter. He emphasizes that He’s free to change direction based on the situation. Look at verse 7.

“If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.”

See what He’s saying there? Does that language sound familiar?

“Uprooted?” That’s the title of our whole sermon series on Jeremiah.

In the very first chapter, the LORD put these words in Jeremiah’s mouth, “See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jer. 1:10 NIVO).

And the LORD says that if he announced that a nation or a kingdom (that’s Israel, Judah, or even a foreign pagan nation in these days!) were to repent of its evil, then He would be free as the potter to pull back His judgment.

And we know that He did that in the Old Testament. Remember the Prophecy of Jonah? “Forty days and Nineveh will be overturned!” And then Nineveh repented, and the LORD relented. He didn’t change. They did! And that meant everything was fixed, so the potter could take the clay in a different direction.

But the opposite is also true. Verse 9. “And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.”

Like if the clay has a mind of its own, so to speak, and starts to become an evilly defective pot, then the potter is free and able to smash it down and start all over again.

And the clay cannot object. “Hey, wait! Hey, wait! Wait! You said that you were going to plant us and build us up! You gave us the covenant! You made us promises! You gave us the ten commandments. You gave us the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD. You said you were going to make a certain kind of pot out of us. You can’t change your plan now. We are the clay, and we demand our rights!”

That’s not how it works. If they go wrong, the LORD is able to bring justice. He is able to fix things, as He sees best. And He certainly sees best.

So this is a warning. Judah should not presume on anything. Instead, they should repent while they still can. Verse 11.

“Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, 'This is what the LORD says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.'”

That word translated “devising” in verse 11 is the same word as “shaping” or “forming” from verse 4.

The potter is forming up a disaster to strike the people of Judah as a judgment on their wicked ways. He is able to bring to justice. And He’s warning them to repent while they still have time. While the clay is still wet.

And that’s true for you and me today, as well. We should repent while we still can. Have you turned from your sins and put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? If you have not, I challenge you to do so right here and right now. Because the LORD is able to bring justice, and you and I, on our own, will not survive His justice.

And do not think He won’t. Do not presume upon His mercy. Do not think that you have some kind of an inside track that goes around repentance. And do not think you that you will argue your way out of this. You and I are just clay. We are not the potter. We do not have a say. V.11 again.

“So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.”

While the clay is still wet. 

I love how it says, “each one of you.” The nation may go one direction, but the individual person can still go the LORD’s way. And even if we have repented of our sins and trusted in Jesus as our Savior, He is still calling us to keep repenting and keep reforming our ways and our actions. By faith, we are called to cooperate with His re-shaping work in our lives. In what ways are you repenting these days?

Sadly, the people of Judah were committed to their evil ways and refused to repent Look at what they said after the LORD called them to Himself. Verse 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.' [The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?(Jer. 17:9)] Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘Inquire among the nations: Who has ever heard anything like this? A most horrible thing has been done by Virgin Israel. Does the snow of Lebanon ever vanish from its rocky slopes? [No.] Do its cool waters from distant sources ever cease to flow? [No. That would be weird and unnatural.] Yet my people have forgotten me; they burn incense to worthless idols, which made them stumble in their ways and in the ancient paths. They made them walk in bypaths and on roads not built up.”

He’s pointing out how illogical and ridiculous Judah’s sin is. The clay has gone bad. But the Potter is able to fix it. He is able to bring justice. Verse 16.

“Their land will be laid waste, an object of lasting scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will shake their heads. Like a wind from the east, I will scatter them before their enemies; I will show them my back and not my face in the day of their disaster’” (vv.16-17).

How scary is that?

"The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24-26 NIVO).

That was the plan! That was what was on the potter’s wheel from the beginning. But now, He says, “I will show them my back and not my face...” Repent while you still can.

I’ve been talking recently about my wrestling with gluttony. But my wife has put her finger on a different (v.15) “worthless idol” which has been causing me to stumble in recent days, and that’s the idol of productivity.

I love to get things done. I love to produce things. To be productive. And that’s a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with getting things done or wanting to get things one or enjoying getting things done. And yet it still can become an idol, can’t it? Productivity can become a false god that you begin to bow down to and worship. 

When getting things done is everything.
When not getting things done ruins everything.
When you take it out on others when you aren’t productive.

These are signs that productivity has become an idol.

It’s been hard for me during this season of our church’s life when we don’t have that many programs any more. We used to have something for everyone, and three programs for some people! 

But that’s not what the Lord has called us to right now as a church. And I’m having to learn to rest and wait and watch Him do His work in His way and His timing.

What idols are you wrestling with right now? What changes are you allowing the Potter to make in your life right now as He desires to re-shape you?

In verse 18, the people of Judah decide they are tired of hearing Jeremiah’s message and conspire to harm him. V.18

“They said, ‘Come, let's make plans against Jeremiah; for the teaching of the law by the priest will not be lost, nor will counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophets. So come, let's attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says.’”

Again, the defective clay presumes that they can get away with whatever they want.

“Obviously, the LORD is not going to take away all of the priests or the sages or the prophets just because we get rid of Jeremiah. Of course not! Let’s get him in trouble with the law. Let’s attack him with our mouths and disregard him with our ears.”

And, man, does that hurt Jeremiah. All of this is just compounding his pain. He’s not just doing weird things or being the odd man out. He is being attacked left and right. By the very people he’s trying to help! So, Jeremiah takes it to the LORD in prayer. And what he prays, once again, sounds a lot like a psalm.

It’s a song about justice. Verse 19.

“Listen to me, O LORD; hear what my accusers are saying! Should good be repaid with evil? [No!] Yet they have dug a pit for me. Remember that I stood before you and spoke in their behalf to turn your wrath away from them. [So go ahead.] So give their children over to famine; hand them over to the power of the sword. Let their wives be made childless and widows; let their men be put to death, their young men slain by the sword in battle. Let a cry be heard from their houses when you suddenly bring invaders against them, for they have dug a pit to capture me and have hidden snares for my feet. But you know, O LORD, all their plots to kill me. Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.”

Ok. Let me ask you. Is that a good prayer? We’ve seen that Jeremiah can go too far.

How about this one? Is this a good prayer? Should we pray like it ourselves?

Well, there’s a lot that’s good about this prayer. For one, Jeremiah does not hold his heart back. He tells the LORD exactly what he’s feeling and thinking. He acknowledges the pain and the injustice that he feels. “You know, O LORD!”

And it’s also good that he doesn’t say, “Watch this, LORD. I’m going to get those guys. Hold my beer. Here goes my vengeance.” Jeremiah does not go in for vigilante justice. He doesn’t take things into his own hands. He takes this request for justice to the One Who can do something about it and will do the right thing about it. He goes to the potter who is able to bring justice. To fix what is broken.

And that’s what’s especially good about this prayer. This is a prayer for justice. Let’s make it point number two.

Point number one was: The LORD is able to bring to justice.

Point number two is:


If justice is fixing what is broken in this world, then Jeremiah is saying, “These actions of my accusers are what is broken in this world, Lord. Please fix it!”

This is a cry for justice, and that is good and right. Jeremiah has been pouring out his life for his neighbors, and what he has gotten is just evil in return. So, here he is deciding to go ahead and change what he’s asking for. “Go ahead, Lord, bring the disasters that you said were on the way. Bring them down on their heads.”

It’s not wrong to pray for justice to be done. In fact, it’s good and right. There are many psalms that sound like this, and they give us a example of how to pray for justice (see Psalm 140 for example).

And there are New Testament prayers kind of like this, too. For example in the Book of Revelation, the souls of the martyrs that are under the altar pray, “‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed” (Rev. 6:10-11 NIVO). It is good and right to pray for justice.

But there is also something better.

And Jesus showed us the way to that. When He was attacked, He prayed, “Father, forgive them...” (Luke 23:34).

And He taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. So this is a good prayer, but there is an even better way to pray, perhaps on top of it. Ask the Lord, if they will not repent, to bring justice on your enemies, but keep praying that they will repent. Keep praying that they will find what you have found–mercy.

And whatever you do, do not repay evil for evil. Remember what we learned in 1 Peter. Return beatings with blessings.

Remember what Paul said in Romans 12. “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord...Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:19-13:1 NIVO). That’s the way of the Christian.

But, yes, also cry out to the LORD for justice. Because we know that He is able to bring justice, and that He will certainly do so!

And that’s our last point, point number three.


The LORD is able.
The LORD has been asked.
And the LORD will most assuredly bring justice. That’s Who He is.

He is the potter.

And that brings us to Jeremiah chapter 19, and his second prophetic field trip down to the potter’s house. Look at verse 1.

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Go and buy a clay jar from a potter. Take along some of the elders of the people and of the priests and go out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. There proclaim the words I tell you, and say...” 

Stop there for a second.

This is another occasion. Might have been soon after the first, but my guess is that it was much later. The first one was when the clay was wet and was probably earlier in his ministry. From the sounds of what happens in chapter 19, this is later. This closer to the end of Jeremiah’s forty years of being a broken record about a broken covenant.

Jeremiah is sent to a potter’s house again. This time to buy a finished jar. This one is hard, it’s been fired, and maybe has a nice glaze over it. It’s set to go.  It’s ready to be used.

The Hebrew for “clay jar” is “baqbuq.” And it’s probably named for what it sounds like. When the liquid is poured out, it goes, “baqbuq, baqbuq, baqbuq, baqbuq.”

And Jeremiah is not to go alone this time. He’s to bring a bunch of leaders with him. I’m sure they did not want to go. I don’t know how he talked them into it. But the LORD wants witnesses for what he’s about to say with this baqbuq.

So Jeremiah drags them out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom. Later called “Gehenna.” Modern day Wadi ar-Rababi on the western and southern end of Jerusalem. To the gate called the Potsherd Gate. In other words, the town dump. This is where they put the shards of pots that are ruined and unusable. A great big pile of broken pottery. 

And Jeremiah brings them out to that spot with his baqbuq. And, in my mind, it’s full of liquid. Maybe wine. Maybe water. And he begins to preach. And you know by now what he’s going to say. Verse 3.

“Hear the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah and people of Jerusalem. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods [They’ve Canaanized the land of Judah! (CJH Wright)]; they have burned sacrifices in it to gods that neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal–something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind. [It’s unthinkable!] So beware, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when people will no longer call this place Topheth [place of fire] or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter [Not only did you slaughter the innocents in this place, but you will be slaughtered there, too]. In this place I will ruin the plans of Judah and Jerusalem” (vv.3-7). Stop there for second.

The word for “ruin” in Hebrew here is “baqaq.” And it means to empty or spoil or run out. It sounds a lot like the word for clay jar, “baqbuq.”

Some scholars think and I would not be surprised to find out that at this moment in his message, Jeremiah poured out the liquid from this jar, dramatically symbolizing the judgment that was going to be poured out on Judah.

“I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, at the hands of those who seek their lives, and I will give their carcasses as food to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth. I will devastate this city and make it an object of scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff because of all its wounds. I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another's flesh during the stress of the siege imposed on them by the enemies who seek their lives.' (vv.7-9).

And that all happened. Read the Book of Lamentations. All of that was going to happen.

Babylon was coming.
The siege was coming.
Exile was coming.
They were going to be uprooted.

And then the LORD said (v.10):

“Then break the jar while those who go with you are watching [just imagine!], and say to them, '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. They will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. This is what I will do to this place and to those who live here, declares the LORD. I will make this city like Topheth. [The whole place will become the Dump.] The houses in Jerusalem and those of the kings of Judah will be defiled like this place, Topheth–all the houses where they burned incense on the roofs to all the starry hosts and poured out drink offerings to other gods.' 

Jeremiah then returned from Topheth, where the LORD had sent him to prophesy, and stood in the court of the LORD's temple and said to all the people, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'Listen! I am going to bring on this city and the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.'”

Those words are going to get Jeremiah into big trouble. We’ll read about it, Lord-willing, next week in chapter 20. There will be fallout and Jeremiah may hit a new bottom with how it makes him feel. But everything he says as he smashes that clay jar from the potter’s house is absolutely true.

The LORD will most assuredly bring justice.

Judah has done all of those things and refused to repent of them. They have become set in their ways like hardened clay. And the potter here will throw them out on the potsherd pile of history. And that will be right. That is justice.

And so, yes, that’s scary. But it’s also wonderful. Isn’t it? Isn’t it wonderful to know that God will always do what is right? Isn’t it wonderful to know that God will bring justice and fix everything?

I don’t know about you, but I think there is a lot of injustice in this world right now. Am I right? Things are not as they should be. Think about everything that is wrong right now in the world, and not just physical evil like earthquakes and famines and things like that.

Think about unjust wars.
Think about racism.
Think about child abuse.
Think about fraud, about robbery.
Think about domestic violence.
Think about abortion on demand.
Think about human trafficking.

Think about how you have been wronged by others. And right now the best of justice is just approximation at best. There is so much injustice in the world.

But the the LORD is a perfect potter. He is able to bring justice. He is free and sovereign and wise and in a position to make things right. And He has been asked to bring justice. And we continue to ask Him to bring justice. It’s right to do so. And He has promised that He will bring perfect justice.

He will right every wrong.
He will balance every scale.
He will fix every thing that is broken.

Which includes bringing the smash on the things that need smashed. Read the Book of Revelation!

So, yes, this is a call to repent because justice is surely coming. But it’s also a call to rest because justice is surely coming. That’s how we can love our enemies. Because we know that vengeance is the Lord’s and He will repay! Nobody gets away with anything. 

If it seems like your enemy is getting away with it, don’t worry. They won’t. You can rest. Leave it in the Lord’s hands. Pray for justice. Work towards justice. But don’t take justice into your own hands. Love your enemies!

Because the LORD will most assuredly bring the smash to things that need smashed. Just wait.
And also rejoice. This truth is worth rejoicing in because we know that God will bring ultimate justice to our broken world. And we know that because we saw what Jesus did for us on the Cross.

In case you’re worried because you know how many injustices you have caused your own self. The Lord Jesus was smashed in your place. The Lord Jesus was shattered in my place. At the Cross, Jesus took on Himself the just wrath of God that you and I deserved.

The potter became clay. And He allowed Himself to be “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5 NIVO).



Previous Messages in This Series:

01. "The Word of the LORD Came to Me" - Jeremiah 1:1-19
02. "I Bring Charges Against You" - Jeremiah 2:1-3:5
03. "Return to Me" - Jeremiah 3:6-4:4
04. “Oh My Anguish, My Anguish!” - Jeremiah 4:6-5:31
05. "Ask for the Ancient Paths" - Jeremiah 6:1-30
06. “This Is the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD!” - Jeremiah 7:1-8:3
07. "Is There No Balm in Gilead?" - Jeremiah 8:4-9:22
08. "Boast About This" - Jeremiah 9:23-24
09. "Like a Scarecrow in a Melon Patch" - Jeremiah 9:25-10:25
10. "Conspiracy" - Jeremiah 11:1-12:17
11. “My People For My Renown” - Jeremiah 13:1-27
12. "I Can No Longer Show Compassion" - Jeremiah 14:1-15:21
13. "I Have Withdrawn My Blessing, My Love and My Pity" - Jeremiah 16:1-21