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Jeremiah 18

March 13, 2017

Jeremiah feels led by God to observe a potter at work. While watching, Jeremiah receives a spiritual insight: A potter making a pot is like God forming a people or a nation. God, like the potter, intends to make a good pot, but sometimes the pot becomes spoilt; sometimes there is a malformation, or a mistake in the firing, or a poor mix of clay. In such cases God, like the potter, breaks the pot and uses the pieces to start over again, making a better pot.

I remember watching a demonstration by a potter in which he displayed pots that outwardly looked beautiful. But he told us that the appearance of the pots was deceiving since the composition of the clay was such that the pots would soon disintegrate. However, if he smashed the pots, he could use the pieces to remake the pots. He then covered the beautiful pots in fabric, took a hammer, and began smashing them. We all shuddered at the destruction. One audience member was so alarmed, he rushed forward and “rescued” one of the pots, not allowing the potter to break it and reform it. I sympathized with the audience member, but I thought his act of mercy to be foolish. He was doing the pot no favor. If the pot was to truly survive, it needed to be re-made.

This is, I think, Jeremiah’s point. It distressed him greatly to see the coming destruction of his nation, but it needed to happen in order for God to make or re-make something better.

But even Jeremiah’s prophetic pronouncement of coming doom is not absolute. If there is repentance, if there is fundamental change in attitude and action, even God’s mind and God’s word can be changed. 18:8 is very similar to a line in the Book of Jonah where God, after Nineveh’s repentance, has a change of mind and does not destroy the city as Jonah had predicted would happen. In other words, the Books of Jeremiah and Jonah are denying a hard and fast concept of fate or divine determination; rather, the future is open, and it depends on our responses. Even God’s pronouncement of blessing on a nation may change if the nation changes for the worse. The potter has an intention, a plan in mind; but the potter also responds to the clay, to what actually emerges. The Bible as a whole teaches neither absolute divine predestination nor absolute human freedom and unpredictability; rather, divine design/purpose and human freedom are in an integrated system moving us toward a fulfillment that is dependent on our behavior and responsibility.

In 18:18 we hear a report of those conspiring against Jeremiah. He has predicted the demise of the priests, the counselors and the prophets of Judah–the destruction of the nation; but these political leaders don’t believe it, and they consider his words treasonous. They bring a charge of sedition against Jeremiah.

Jeremiah’s response is a curse on his enemies (vv. 19-23). Jeremiah claims in this lament to God that he had tried to protect his adversaries from God’s wrath, “to speak good for them.” But the response of his adversaries was to continue to plot evil against him. So now Jeremiah feels no mercy toward his enemies. He wants God’s wrath to come down on them hard: give their children over to famine, hurl them over to the power of the sword, let their wives become widows, let the men die of pestilence, and their children die in battle. Jeremiah explicitly calls on God not to forgive them, and to “deal with them while you are angry.”

No one can accuse of Jeremiah of hiding his bitterness. One can only hope that God is indeed more forgiving than Jeremiah. When we punish or react in the heat of anger, we often regret it later when we have calmed down. But Jeremiah doesn’t want God to take a breath and calm down–destroy my enemies now while you’re still at maximum fury! I suppose it is therapeutic to vent one’s anger with God (rather than at others!); and I am sure God does not enact our curses just because we want God to. I suppose this was a way for Jeremiah to get the fear and distress out of his system so he could continue to do his work as a prophet in the midst of death threats.

How do we deal with our anger toward our enemies and adversaries? Do we deny having enemies? Do we deny feeling anger? Or do we vent our anger directly at them? Or do we gossip against them behind their backs? Or is there another, better way?

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From → Jeremiah

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