Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentJEREMIAH 18
GOD'S PROMISES ALWAYS CONDITIONAL
Henderson's chapter divisions are: (1) the analogy of the potter and the clay (Jeremiah 18:1-4), (2) deductions drawn from the analogy (Jeremiah 18:5-10), (3) Judah's place in the analogy revealed and the warning to repent given (Jeremiah 18:11), (4) Judah's obstinate rejection of God's call to repentance (Jeremiah 18:12), (5) the folly of Judah's choice (Jeremiah 18:13-14), (6) the consequences of that choice (Jeremiah 18:15-17), (7) the conspiracy against Jeremiah (Jeremiah 18:18-20), and (8) Jeremiah reveals the judgment of God against his enemies (Jeremiah 18:19-23).F1 These last two divisions (Jeremiah 18:18-23) are also classified as Jeremiah's Fourth Personal Lament by Ash.F2
ANALOGY OF THE POTTER AND THE CLAY
The word which came to Jeremiah from Jehovah, saying, Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he was making a work on the wheels. And when the vessel that he made of the clay was marred in the hand of the potter, he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
The ability of inspired men of God to see eternal truth and significance in the ordinary things of every day life was a special mark of their genius; and it pertained especially to our Lord Jesus Christ, who found such eternal lessons in the lilies of the field, patching old clothes, putting new wine in new wineskins, the sower scattering seeds in a field, dealing with the tares in the wheat, the devices of a dishonest steward, the hypocritical prayer of a Pharisee, finding a treasure hidden in a field, a lost (stray) sheep, a lost coin, a slighted invitation to a wedding, and dozens of other ordinary experiences of life.
This prophecy of the vessel marred in the hand of the potter refers to the moral and spiritual ruin of Israel; and it stands in close proximity to the prophecy of the broken vessel of the potter in Jer. 19; but this proximity is based upon the relation of both prophecies to the analogy of the potter's house, and not upon their chronology.
"In this chapter, mercy is still offered Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, which, of course, they rejected; but it came early in the reign of Jehoiachim while there was still hope of their repentance; but in Jer. 19, the parable of the broken vessel depicts the final and utter overthrow of the kingdom; and this would have been about the fourth year of Jehoiachim."F3
Go down to the potter's house
(Jeremiah 18:2). This was located in a clay-field to the South of Jerusalem, just beyond the valley of Hinnom.F4 This potter's field was made eternally famous by Zech. 11:13 who named this field as the place for which the blood-money for the Christ would be used as a purchase price, a prophecy remarkably fulfilled when the thirty pieces of silver which Judas received for betraying Christ were actually used to buy a plot therein for the burial of strangers (Matthew 27:9-10).
Many scriptures refer to the potter, the potter's house, the clay, the vessels, and other features of the potter's industry. Among them are the following: 1 Chr. 4:23; Isa. 12:25; 64:8; Jer. 18:1-4; @@i19:lff; Dan. 2:41; Zech. 11:13ff; Matt. 27:7-10, and Rom. 9:21. The most applicable of all these verses to the situation here in this and the succeeding chapters is the remark of Paul, who make it clear what kind of vessel it was that the Potter (God) finally made out of the marred clay (Israel); it was a "vessel unto dishonor." (Romans 9:21)
He was making a work on the wheels
(Jeremiah 18:3). Ash gives this description of ancient potter wheels: There were two round flat stones, called wheels, set at right angles to a vertical shaft, one placed low under the table where it was propelled by the worker's foot, and the other extending above the table where the worker could use it to fashion the vessels out of clay. The lower stone was heavier to provide momentum.F5
This is the first in a series of prophecies extending through Jer. 25, according to Cheyne;F6 but some would end the series in Jer. 20.F7
GOD'S PROMISES ARE ALWAYS CONDITIONAL
Then the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith Jehovah. Behold, as the clay in the potter's hand, so are ye in my hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to break down and to destroy it; if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if they do that which is evil in my sight, that they obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
Note that the deductions which were made from the analogy of the potter were not Jeremiah's deductions, but those of God himself. Therefore, these are the true deductions that should be seen here; and they deal exclusively with the proposition that all of God's promises, or prophecies, whether of punishment and destruction, or of blessing and honor are absolutely and eternally conditional.
We consider this little paragraph to be one of the most important in the entire Bible. All such erroneous theological nostrums as beings "saved by faith only," or "once saved, always saved," "the irrevocable promises of God." or "Palestine belongs to racial Jews forever" are eternally refuted and cancelled by what is declared in this little paragraph.
The great New Testament commentator on the parables, Bishop Richard Trench noted that:
"Nor may we leave out of sight that all forgiveness, short of that crowning and last act, which will find place on the day of judgment, and will be followed by a blessed impossibility of sinning any more, is conditional, in the very nature of things so conditional, that the condition in every case must be assumed, whether stated or not; that condition being that the forgiven man continues in faith and obedience."F8
Upon the authority of the apostle Paul, we find another analogy in the potter's house, namely, that if the potter cannot make the vessel he intended out of the clay, he has the power to make another vessel, a vessel unto dishonor, instead of a vessel of honor; and that is exactly what is represented here (Romans 9:21).
God had intended great honors for Israel. They were intended to be a nation of priests unto God, a devoted, faithful and obedient people who would lead all the world to a knowledge of the true God, who, in time, would deliver through their flesh the Holy Messiah and Redeemer of Mankind, and who would challenge the whole world to accept and obey that Messiah, and who would be the vanguard of his Holy Religion throughout the world. What a vessel of honor they could have been!
But, through their low preference for the sensuous indulgence of their shameful worship of the old Canaanite gods, they made it impossible for God to fashion such a vessel of honor from the disobedient people; and, therefore God made of them a vessel of dishonor who would indeed continue to serve God, and who would, in time, deliver the Christ to a manger in Bethlehem, but who would never be of any use whatever in the nobler purposes God had intended.
I will repent... I will repent
(Jeremiah 18:8,10). This never means the same thing when spoken by the Lord or in reference for what God does, that it means in the case of men. In the same sense that men repent, such a thing is impossible for God who never does wrong. Yes, God's treatment of men can and does change; but it is never due to any change of the mind of God but always results when human conduct is so changed that it merits a different relationship with God.
The classical example of such a change is recounted in the Book of Jonah, where it is stated that, "God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he said he would do unto them; and he did it not" (Jonah 3:10).
The corollary of this is seen in the history of Israel, that "When God saw the evil of their way, he repented of the good that he said he would do unto them and did it not."
A nation. that nation ... a nation ..
(Jeremiah 18:7-10). These expressions in this context actually speak of any nation. Some scholars, always anxious to discover a reason for denying a passage to Jeremiah, would reject this as un-Jeremiahic; but Since Jeremiah was appointed to be `a prophet to the nations' (Jeremiah 1:5), this objection is unjustified.F9
JUDAH'S PLACE IN THE ANALOGY
Now therefore, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith Jehovah: Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
This verse confirms absolutely the paragraph we have just written above it.
I frame evil against you. devise a device against you ..
(Jeremiah 18:11). Henderson rendered this, I am meditating a calamity against you, and forming a plan against you.F10 This shows that the status of God's Israel at this time was that of a nation which God had purposed to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy.F11 This accounts for the accompanying demand that Israel repent and turn from their wickedness. It is still not too late for them to avert the wrath of God, but the time is growing short indeed.
JUDAH REFUSES TO REPENT
But they say, It is in vain; for we will walk after our own devices, and we will do every one after the stubbornness of his evil heart.
"Alas, it was too late; they had gone too far in following the stubbornness of their evil heart; they could only reply, We will follow our own plans."F12
The clay simply would not conform to the Potter's will; and the only options he had were: (1) to cast them off altogether, or (2) design them as a vessel unto dishonor. It was an act of mercy that God chose the second option.
Why will men deliberately reject God's call to repentance? The obvious answer lies in their unwillingness to be restrained in any manner. They will live free lives, they say; but, like the prodigal son of the parable, they will inevitably find that there are restraints also in that evil world they have chosen, where some evil master will assign them their portion in the swine pens of this world. How free are they? "They call it liberty; but the man who is slave to his lusts and appetites is held in the worst of slaveries!"F13
THE FOLLY OF JUDAH'S CHOICE
Verses 13, 14
Therefore thus saith Jehovah: Ask ye now among the nations, who hath heard such things; the virgin of Israel hath done a very horrible thing. Shall the snow of Lebanon fail from the rock of the field? [or] shall the cold waters that flow down from afar be dried up?
"The willfulness of Israel in forsaking Jehovah their God was without parallel in the ancient world, as Jeremiah had already mentioned in Jer. 2:9-13; Jer. 5:20-25, and in Jer. 8:7. The horror is heightened by calling her a virgin. She had indeed been a virgin hedged about by the Lord to protect her sanctity."F14
There are no known examples of where ancient peoples ever forsook their ancestral or tribal gods; but Israel indeed had denied the very God who delivered them from slavery and made a mighty nation of them.
Israel had forsaken her status as a virgin and had prostrated herself abjectly before the sensuous fertility gods of ancient Canaan, the worship of which was a key factor in God's proscribing and displacing the Canaanites in order to give the land to Israel! It was not merely horrible, but incredible as well. "Their sin was as irrational as it was tragic."F15
With reference to Jer. 18:14, Thompson said: "All translations of this verse are conjectural; but while certainty is not possible the main thrust of the passage is clear."F16 The view preferred by this writer is that God is here comparing the irrational and almost incredible behavior of Israel to that of a foolish farmer who would desert a farm watered by the melting snows of Lebanon's Mount Hennon, in favor of an arid, rocky desert farm! Feinberg accepted this same understanding of the passage, saying that, "Nature does not change its course, but Judah has. Nature's reliability puts to shame Israel's instability."F17
CONSEQUENCES OF JUDAH'S CHOICE
For my people have forgotten me, they have burned incense to false [gods]; and they have been made to stumble in their ways, in the ancient paths, to walk in bypaths, in a way not cast up; to make their land an astonishment, and a perpetual hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished, and shake his head. I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy; I will show them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity.
The ancient ways
(Jeremiah 18:15). These were the way of loyalty to God's covenant, the `good way' mentioned in Jer. 6:16.F18 The false prophets, false priests, false rulers and false gods of Israel had mined the nation; and, as a consequence, God would scatter the nation as with an east wind; their land shall be destroyed, deserted, and an astonishment to all who see it! These were terrible words of denunciation, and such a prophecy as this was well calculated to arouse fierce and implacable opposition and hatred from the false community leaders.
The back, and not the face
(Jeremiah 18:17). This signifies God's withdrawal of his favor from the people at the very time when their calamity would come and their need of him would be the most acute; but, after all, the people themselves had given their God this very same treatment (See Jer. 2:27). Now it would be God's turn to turn his back upon them.
THE CONSPIRACY AGAINST JEREMIAH
Then said they, Come, and let us devise devices against Jeremiah; for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, and let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words. Give heed to me, O Jehovah, and hearken to the voice of them that contend with me. Shall evil be recompensed for good? for they have digged a pit for my soul. Remember how I stood before thee to speak good for them, to turn away thy wrath from them.
In this first part of Jeremiah's Fourth Lament, the plot against him is, revealed in Jer. 18:18; and Jeremiah pleaded with God not to allow the good which Jeremiah has been doing for the people by his preaching God's Word to them to be recompensed with evil.
The law shall not perish from the priest. the wise ... the prophet ..
(Jeremiah 18:18). These words imply that the people were quite satisfied with the depraved leadership given by their false priests, wise men, and prophets.F19 This trust in false leaders enabled them to accuse Jeremiah of treason, despite the truth that they themselves were the traitors.
Payne Smith's comment on this passage is:
"They said, What need have we of this Jeremiah? Have we not priests with the Torah, the Law of Moses, wise statesmen to give us counsel, and prophets to declare to us "the word?" Not indeed the word of Jehovah, which was too disagreeable for them to wish to have more of it, but that pleasant word the smooth things of Isa. 30:10, which false teachers knew so well how to flavor to suit human appetites ... The people had the false impression that since the Torah was imperishable, so also were the Levitical custodians of it; and thus they concluded that Jeremiah's prophecy of national ruin was blasphemous."F20
Thus Jeremiah was a victim of the same satanic charges that were later directed against the Christ himself, and by the same satanic instruments, namely the false Jewish leaders. In fact, it was upon a false charge of blasphemy that Christ finally was sentenced to the Cross (John 19:7).
Cheyne thought that, "They were satisfied with their false prophets, but that they were still afraid of Jeremiah, as Balak was afraid of Balaam (Numbers 23:25), and that therefore they would smite him with the tongue,' that is, with slanderous accusations."F21
This first paragraph of Jeremiah's Fourth Lament is a plea of innocence and of the truth that his good should not be rewarded with evil, but the next paragraph (Jeremiah 18:21-23) appears to pour out God's wrath upon his enemies.
JEREMIAH'S PRAYER AGAINST HIS ENEMIES
Therefore deliver up their children to the famine, and give them over to the power of the sword; and let their wives become childless, and widows; and let their men be slain of death, [and] their young men smitten of the sword in battle. Let a cry be heard from their houses, when thou shalt bring a troop suddenly upon them; for they have digged a pit to take me, and hid snares for my feet. Yet, Jehovah, thou knowest all their counsel against me to slay me; forgive not their iniquity, neither blot out their sin from thy sight; but let them be overthrown before thee; deal thou with them in the time of thine anger.
It is somewhat tiresome to note how many commentators deplore the un-Christian attitude of Jeremiah in this passage toward his enemies. Did not Christ pray for his enemies, even upon the cross? Yes, yes, indeed; but the sons of the devil who were here arrayed against God's prophet with the avowed purpose of murdering him were not exactly in the same class as the soldiers who fixed the nails in Jesus' hands. "For they know not what they do," Jesus said; but these hardened enemies of God's Word and of his kingdom knew exactly what they were doing; and there is a strong conviction here that they deserved exactly the same kind of prayer Jeremiah prayed against them.
Feinberg pointed out that: (1) these were not merely Jeremiah's personal enemies but enemies of God and of his truth; (2) Jeremiah prayed merely that those evil men would reap the reward of their own deeds, "delivering them judicially to the consequences of the course they had deliberately chosen for themselves";F22 (3) also, "These imprecations were not leveled against the whole nation, but only against Jeremiah's enemies."F23
Such persons as these here, who were the object of Jeremiah's prayer for their destruction, were like those of whom our Lord said, "These enemies that would not that I should reign over them, bring hither and slay them before me!" (Luke 19:27). Yes, these words were spoken by the gentle and merciful Jesus! There is a false idea in the world today that God is never really going to bruise any wicked sinner, no matter what may be his crimes of blood and lust; but that is not a true picture of what the Bible reveals about God.
Let it also be remembered that the cry of the saints of God for justice and vengeance against their vicious enemies is represented in the Holy Bible as a legitimate emotion, as expressed by those redeemed souls of them that had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held; and upon the opening of the fifth seal, "They cried with a great voice, saying, O Master, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" (Revelation 6:10). We believe that the prayer of Jeremiah in this passage is one in spirit with that of the slain martyrs in heaven and that it does not deserve the censure which some Christian writers have seen fit to assign to it.
Thompson pointed out that God gave no answer to this prayer of Jeremiah, despite the fact that God had given a response to the first three of these laments in Jer. 11:20; Jer. 12:1-4, and Jer. 15:14-18. There was no response to the fourth in Jer. 17:14-18, nor in the lament before us (Jeremiah 18:18-23). "Once God responded with a word of encouragement (Jeremiah 11:21-23), and twice with words of rebuke and instruction (Jer. 12:5-6, and Jer. 15:19)."F24
The saints in glory who uttered such a lament received a response, as follows: "And there was given to each of them a white robe, and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet a little time, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, who should be killed even as they were, should have fulfilled their course" (Revelation 6:11).
Such an answer requires us to see that the ultimate reward of the wicked will be at that Final Day of Reckoning, the Final Judgment.
Footnotes for Jeremiah 18
1: E. Henderson, The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah (London: Hamilton, Adams, and Company, 1851), p. 110.
2: Anthony L. Ash, Psalms (Abilene, Texas: A.C.U. Press, 1987), p. 122.
3: Barnes' Notes (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), p. 196.
4: Scribner's Bible Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), p. 421.
5: Anthony L. Ash, Psalms (Abilene, Texas: A.C.U. Press, 1987), p. 158.
6: T. K. Cheyne, Jeremiah in the Pulpit Commentary, p. 442.
7: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody Press), p. 491.
8: Richard C. Trench, Notes on the Parables (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1953), p. 164.
9: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), p. 105.
10: E. Henderson, The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah (London: Hamilton, Adams, and Company, 1851), p. 111.
11: Matthew Henry's Commentary, p. 527.
12: J. A. Thompson, The Bible and Archeology (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972) p. 435.
13: Matthew Henry's Commentary, p. 527.
14: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody Press), p. 492. <15> The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 639.
16: J. A. Thompson, The Bible and Archeology (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972) p. 437.
17: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody Press), p. 492.
18: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 edition), p. 124.
19: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, p. 110.
20: Scribner's Bible Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), p. 424.
21: T. K. Cheyne, Jeremiah in the Pulpit Commentary, p. 444.
22: Charles Lee Feinberg in Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody Press), p. 494.
24: J. A. Thompson, The Bible and Archeology (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972) p.443.