29 July 2010

Jeremiah 18:1-6

"Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so you are in my hand, O house of Israel." (v.6)


There is a lovely irony offered within the opening of this chapter of Jeremiah. God sends the prophet off to the local pottery with the promise that there he will hear God's words. In fact he 'hears' nothing at all. Instead, he sees the potter in action. He reflects upon what he sees - and only then understands what God is saying to him: that God's people can be re-made. God, like the potter, is persistent. There is always potential within the people, as there is in the clay.

It is typical of Jeremiah that he learns about God's hopes and intentions from a visual experience. "What do you see?" God asks as soon as Jeremiah has been appointed a prophet (Jeremiah 1:11). First, Jeremiah sees the branch of an almond tree - a symbol of God's continual watchfulness. Then, he sees a boiling pot upturned away from the north - an image of powerful nations turning their fire power upon Judah, and a classic case of a picture being worth a thousand words.

However, this image of the potter and his clay is not one of unalloyed hope and potential. God's clay creation has a shocking fate in store. In the next chapter, Jeremiah (ever the amateur actor) takes a potter's earthenware jug and smashes it on the ground - a sign of what the people of Israel can expect for deserting God and making offerings to idols. The image is all the more unsettling if we bear in mind the second creation story, inGenesis chapter two, in which God forms humankind out of dust from the ground, rather as a potter might.

In Jeremiah's mini-drama, God's word is seen before it is heard, reinforcing God's disturbing proclamation in Jeremiah 18:11 - "I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you".

To Ponder

The idea of God's judgement is not peculiar to the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus delivers some dire warnings through his parables in Matthew chapter 21, for example. How should we, as Christians, respond to the idea that God will do harm to those who don't do what is right? Or is that a topic some of us prefer to avoid?

God spoke to Jeremiah through a potter and his clay. Can you think of times when God has spoken to you not through spoken words or a book but through an image or event?

How can we practise glimpsing God in our physical environment, becoming aware of God's presence within us, between us and in the world?

Bible notes author

Laurence Wareing

Laurence Wareing is a Methodist local preacher and works as a freelance writer and media producer. He was editor of the Methodist publication Momentum from 2005 until 2010 and currently edits the website Singing the Faith Plus.