Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 38. Jeremiah (3)
Jer 18:6 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.
In this longest book of the Bible we first saw Jeremiah’s calling, particularly noting the implied warnings that were there that this would not be an easy ministry. In the second study we saw how that worked out and particularly observed the perseverance and faithfulness of this man who so often had self-doubts but kept on going, being the mouthpiece of the Lord to this unfaithful people. But what stands out, what highlight is there when it comes to his prophesying?
Well we could focus on the many warning he brought of coming destruction in the face of the ongoing apostasy of the people of Jerusalem and Judah, but that can be taken as read and is fairly negative reading at best. We could take any of the visual prophecies that the Lord put before Jeremiah, for example the linen belt that was spoilt (Jer 13:1-11), or the two baskets of figs (Jer 24:1-10), but undoubtedly the most famous of such prophecies is that in the Potter’s house (Jer 18:1-6).
The Lord tells Jeremiah to go to the Potter’s house (v.1,2), which he does and sees the potter working the clay and when it didn’t work out as he wanted, he simply rethrew it on the wheel and remade it (v.3,4). It was at that point the Lord spoke the words of our verse above. The words of verse six are both simple and dramatic and staggering in their meaning. It is incredibly simple. Everything that Jeremiah has been talking about in his prophecies is summed up in this simple verse.
It is both scary and devastating and terrifying AND hope bringing. The scary part is that the Potter takes the pot that is not working out and dashes it on the wheel again. Judah is going to be ‘dashed on the wheel’. Jerusalem is going to be ‘dashed on the wheel’; the existing is going to be brought to an end. The way that that will happen – through the coming of Nebuchadnezzar – will be devastating and utterly terrifying. That is the bit that will consume the minds of all of Judah and yet there is a hope-bringing second part: the Potter remakes the pot. God will remake Israel and Jerusalem. There IS a future for Israel. This side of the events we take it all for granted, we are ‘wise after the event’, but for Israel at the time of the siege all they saw was destruction. It took faith to believe the occasional words of hope from Jeremiah – but they were there – but this people were not a people of faith.
We have already made brief reference to Jeremiah’s prophecy about the Branch (Jer 23:5,6) but that prophecy concluded, “So then, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when people will no longer say, `As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ but they will say, `As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ Then they will live in their own land.” (23:7,8) There it is, a clear promise of restoration, the future of Israel back in their land.
Then there was the picture prophecy that we referred to earlier, of two baskets of figs, one bad and one good (Jer 24:1-3). The interpretation of what they mean is surprising. “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” (24:5-7) You can’t get any more clear than that. The exiles who are already in Babylon will come back under God’s blessing and they will be a transformed people, a pot remade! The bad figs are the people and king still in Jerusalem who refuse to repent and they will be destroyed.
In chapter 25 we find Jeremiah prophesying in 605BC with the destruction of Jerusalem still some nineteen years off, but there he prophesies destruction of Jerusalem and Judah by Nebuchadnezzar and warns of a seventy year period before restoration. (Although Israel started to return within some 40 years, from the time of the destruction of the Temple to the time of its rebuilding completion was exactly seventy years. While it was absent the Lord obviously did not consider Jerusalem His).
Now we have noted the clear warning that the Lord is remaking Israel and it will take a number of years. What we now find is Jeremiah writing to the exiles in Babylon who the Lord says He will bless and bring back in due season. Observe: “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jer 29:4-7)
What does He say? Settle down guys, you’ve got to wait this one out. Build your own houses, plant gardens and grow your own produce (all these things take time and are a commitment to the future). If you’re not married, get married and have children and increase in numbers. Oh yes, and seek to be a blessing to the people of Babylon because as much as you bless them, you will be blessed. Wow!
I find here one of the most poignant messages to Christians in the West today who are becoming a minority people. Pray for revival by all means, but while you wait for it to come, settle down in the midst of this pagan society, be established, plan for the future AND bless the world around you! There is no room here for enclave Christianity, ghetto Christianity. This is a call to shine in the darkness, to hold firmly to the word of God, to seek to be filled with the power of God and always be obedient to the leading of God – despite the darkness around you. We may live in unsettling times, but the call is still the same: “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) We will do that, not by being arrogant and isolated, but by being part of the community shedding God’s love and goodness wherever possible.
The message of Jeremiah? God has a long-term plan and it is to restore His transformed people in due season. As He does that they will be a light to the rest of the world, revealing His power and His might. In this ‘alien land’ we must break free from ‘words Christianity’, a faith that just utters words. We are called to be a people who DO what Jesus did (Jn 14:12) and that means we must seek Him, know Him, obey Him, receive His power and His wisdom and His revelation, and live and work with it. When the world sees this, they will believe. Thank you for the message Jeremiah!