Pots, Potters, and Clay




Introduction

The Bible teaches truth "here a little, there a little, line upon line, precept upon precept." Unlike a textbook or encyclopedia, God reveals information on a given subject or topic in a distributed form - from Genesis through Revelation. Often truth is made known through stories of lessons from history, or is depicted by the use of symbols. The first use of a symbol or a theme in the Bible is always very important.

When the Bible discloses truth using symbols, the meaning of the symbol is never changed, but often amplified and expanded as one moves forward through the narrative of the Bible. For these reasons, one of the most profitable ways to develop a systematic Biblical world-view (weltaungshaung) is to follow the use of a given symbol through the entire Bible using a lexicon or word search program.

The theme of "the potter and the clay" in the Bible gives us one of the most beautiful, impressive, and awe-inspiring pictures of the Sovereignty of God over both men and history, and shows us vividly His constant, loving, artist's hand in all our affairs. The following study is brief and by no means exhaustive.

Man Created from the Clay of the Earth

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created (bara) man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." (Genesis 1:26-28)

"In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up---for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground---then the LORD God formed [Heb: yatsar ] man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath [ruach] of life; and man became a living being [nephesh]. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden [the word means "delight"], in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed." (Genesis 2:5-7)

[First use of the symbol of potter and clay. "Dust" and "clay" are often used interchangeably for soil or earth from the ground.]

Yatsar, translated in this version as "formed" means to mold as a potter molds the clay, [the term is also used in Jeremiah 18-19]. The account of man's creation in Genesis 1:27 says that God created [bara] man. Man was created, but also molded and fashioned. Bara is a word used in the Bible only for the creative activity of God. It implies something new has been brought into existence by divine command. Yatsar tells us how God formed and sculpted man (Adam/Eve). Man as created by God is the highest of all of God's artistic works, and God made man very much like Himself. God's creation of the first man was "hands-on" and God's involvement with all men ever since has been a personal one, whether individuals know this or not!

The fall of man affected body, soul and spirit. Death entered the world because of sin, man's connection with the Source of life caused mind and soul to languish and the physical body to begin to die. The genetic and spiritual damage causing death was passed on down to all of us who are the natural descendants of Adam.

The death of God's Son on the Cross was God's method of reconciling all things to Himself, making provision for man's restoration, rebirth and eventual physical, bodily resurrection. The new life imparted to all followers of Christ immediately renews soul and spirit. The body, however, remains unredeemed for the rest of one's life.

"Thus it is written, 'The first man Adam became a living being;' the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man [Adam] was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?'" (1 Corinthians 15:45-55)

The Biblical symbol of the potter and the clay when applied to man therefore makes references to man as created by God, man related to and linked to the physical world, and man the perishable and mortal. God as the great Potter, the Sovereign God has the right to create, or to remake any man, and the clay has little to say about the matter!

Job acknowledged this when he said,

"Remember that thou hast made me of clay; and wilt thou turn me to dust again?" (Job 10:9)

The Potter's Right over the Clay

In the days of the prophet Isaiah, Judah's repeated disobedience brought an alarm from the Lord,

"Woe to those who hide deep from the LORD their counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, 'Who sees us? Who knows us?' You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay; that the thing made should say of its maker, 'He did not make me;' or the thing formed say of him who formed it, 'He has no understanding'"? (Isaiah 29:15-16)

A lump of ordinary clay is chosen from the amorphous pile of the clay heaped on the floor. The potter has an end product in mind, a vessel that will be useful to its final owner and a credit to the potter's craftsmanship and experience. The potter labors over the clay forming and shaping and forming it until the final product is realized. The pot then can be fired and decorated - but if it cracks or turns out misshapen, it is no big deal to discard it altogether. Can we imagine a mere clay pot complaining to the potter? Does the pot have "rights" of it's own? No, it exists, and finds useful service as an ordinary kitchen pot or a beautiful vase, solely because the potter intended it for such an end.

Yet God allows both individuals and nations to cooperate with Him as He molds and shapes fallen men and women. While the clay is still pliable and wet, the Great Potter's desire is to make a work of beauty and utility out of that which is otherwise marred, flawed, and unsuited for His use.

For example, in his desperate prayer asking God for mercy for the rebellious nation of Israel the prophet Isaiah employs the very same image of the potter and the clay,

"Yet, O LORD, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou art our potter; we are all the work of thy hand. Be not exceedingly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity for ever. Behold, consider, we are all thy people. Thy holy cities have become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins. Wilt thou restrain thyself at these things, O LORD? Wilt thou keep silent, and afflict us sorely?" (Isaiah 64)

Isaiah begs God not to discard Israel as a worthless piece of pottery, but to reform and remake the nation while the clay still retains its pliability.

As we shall see, the situation had deteriorated 100 years later when Jeremiah was given a vivid picture of pottery that is useless and destined at this point in time to be shattered and thrown out with the potsherds into the rubbish heap.

God's Chosen Gentile Vessel, Cyrus the Persian

God's program for bringing the Jewish people home to the land of Israel from the Babylonian captivity involved Cyrus the Great of Persia (558-529 BC) whose identity, name and purpose in God's plan was announced by the same prophet Isaiah 150 years in advance!

"Who stirred up one from the east [Cyrus] whom victory meets at every step? He gives up nations before him, so that he tramples kings under foot; he makes them like dust with his sword, like driven stubble with his bow. He pursues them and passes on safely, by paths his feet have not trod. Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am He...

"I stirred up one from the north, and he has come, from the rising of the sun, and he shall call on my name; he shall trample on rulers as on mortar, as the potter treads clay. Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know, and before time, that we might say, 'He is right'? There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed, none who heard your words." (Isaiah 41:2-4, 25-26)

Although there is no evidence that Cyrus ever exercised faith or belief in God, he is a Gentile "type" of Christ in the Old Testament. In fact Isaiah 45:5 indicates that Cyrus "did not know me [the Lord]." Yet Cyrus is called a "shepherd" in Isaiah 44:28 and was chosen (well ahead of time) to be God's instrument for the rebuilding of Jerusalem,

"Thus says the LORD, your [Israel's] Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: 'I am the LORD, who made all things, who stretched out the heavens alone, who spread out the earth-- Who was with me?---who frustrates the omens of liars, and makes fools of diviners; who turns wise men back, and makes their knowledge foolish; who confirms the word of his servant, and performs the counsel of his messengers; who says of Jerusalem, "She shall be inhabited," and of the cities of Judah, "They shall be built, and I will raise up their ruins;" who says to the deep, "Be dry, I will dry up your rivers;" who says of Cyrus, "He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose;" saying of Jerusalem, "She shall be built," and of the temple, "Your foundation shall be laid."'" (Isaiah 44:24-28)

Chapter 45 of Isaiah further describes the program and plan God laid out for Cyrus before this king was ever born:

"Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and ungird the loins of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: 'I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut asunder the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I gird you, though you do not know me, that men may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I am the LORD, who do all these things.

"Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may sprout forth, and let it cause righteousness to spring up also; I the LORD have created it.

"Woe to him who strives with his Maker, an earthen vessel with the potter! Does the clay say to him who fashions it, `What are you making'? or 'Your work has no handles'? Woe to him who says to a father, `What are you begetting?' or to a woman, `With what are you in travail?'"

"Thus says the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker: 'Will you question me about my children, or command me concerning the work of my hands? I made the earth, and created man upon it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host. I have aroused him [Cyrus] in righteousness, and I will make straight all his ways; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward,' says the LORD of hosts... (Isaiah 45:1-13)

Pharaoh a Chosen Vessel of God

Cyrus is not the only non-believer chosen for God's special purposes in history---without that individual's consent or knowledge! In his wonderful teaching about the sovereignty of God among men, the Apostle Paul illustrates his teaching by naming the Egyptian pharaoh at the time of Moses as a "chosen vessel" of the Lord:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but upon God's mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, "I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth." So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills. You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me thus?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:14-24)

This passage clearly indicates that God's purposes for his own people, for those who know him, is mercy---to make them into beautiful, winsome, holy persons. It is the "great" men of the world, proud, arrogant, pretentious, powerful and impressive who seem to be the movers and shakers of the present generation. But in the end these "vessels of wrath" are afterwards discarded by our Sovereign God.

The Reforming and the Smashing of a Nation

Jeremiah the prophet (627-585 BC) lived somewhat later in time than Isaiah, it was his destiny to prophesy for 40 years in Jerusalem with no fruit for his efforts. In anguish and pain he witnessed the terrible invasion of Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC and the slaughter of the majority of the populace---men, women, and children. Jerusalem was destroyed before his very eyes. He himself was hauled captive to Egypt soon afterward by rebellious fellow-countrymen and there put to death.

One of the most vivid pictures of God the Potter and His people the clay is recorded in Jeremiah 18-19:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: "Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words." So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me: "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? says the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will repent of the evil that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will repent of the good which I had intended to do to it.

In the clearest imagery possible, God the Potter asserts His rights to reform, remodel, or even to discard an entire nation when His inspection reveals the pot on the wheel is "spoiled, marred, or ruined."

Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: `Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.' "But they say, `That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.' "Therefore thus says the LORD: Ask among the nations, who has heard the like of this? The virgin Israel has done a very horrible thing. Does the snow of Lebanon leave the crags of Sirion? Do the mountain waters run dry, the cold flowing streams? But my people have forgotten me, they burn incense to false gods; they have stumbled in their ways, in the ancient roads, and have gone into by-paths, not the highway, making their land a horror, a thing to be hissed at for ever. Every one who passes by it is horrified and shakes his head. Like the east wind I will scatter them before the enemy. I will show them my back, not my face, in the day of their calamity." Then they said, "Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not heed any of his words." Give heed to me, O LORD, and hearken to my plea. Is evil a recompense for good? Yet they have dug a pit for my life.

Remember how I stood before thee to speak good for them, to turn away thy wrath from them. Therefore deliver up their children to famine; give them over to the power of the sword, let their wives become childless and widowed. May their men meet death by pestilence, their youths be slain by the sword in battle. May a cry be heard from their houses, when thou bringest the marauder suddenly upon them! For they have dug a pit to take me, and laid snares for my feet. Yet, thou, O LORD, knowest all their plotting to slay me. Forgive not their iniquity, nor blot out their sin from thy sight. Let them be overthrown before thee; deal with them in the time of thine anger. (Jeremiah 18)

Ray C. Stedman offers a clear commentary on this passage in his book The Pot and the Potter, from Death of a Nation.

"What did Jeremiah see in this lesson? First there was the clay. And Jeremiah knew, as he watched the potter shaping and molding the clay, that he was looking at a picture of himself, and of every man, and of every nation. We are the clay. Both Isaiah and Zechariah in the Old Testament join with Jeremiah in presenting this picture of the potter and the clay. And in the New Testament we have the voice of Paul in that great passage in Romans 9, reminding us that God is the Potter and we are the clay. So Jeremiah saw the clay being shaped and molded into a vessel. Then some imperfection in the clay spoiled it in the potter's hand, and the potter crumbled it up, and began anew the process of shaping it into a vessel that pleased him.

"Jeremiah saw the wheel turning constantly, bringing the clay against the potter's hand. That wheel stands for the turning circumstances of our life, under the control of the Potter, for it is the potter's foot that guides the wheel. The lesson is clear. As our life is being shaped and molded by the Great Potter, it is the circumstances of our life, the wheels of circumstance, what Browning called "this dance of plastic circumstance", which bring us again and again under the potter's hand, under the pressure of the molding fingers of the Potter, so that he shapes the vessel according to his will.

"Then, Jeremiah saw the potter. God, he knew, was the Great Potter, with absolute right over the clay to make it what he wanted it to be. Paul argues this with keen and clear logic in Romans 9: "Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me thus?' Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use?" Of course he has. The vessel is shaped according to the image in the potter's mind.

"So Jeremiah, watching, learned that an individual or a nation is clay in the Great Potter's hands. He has a sovereign right to make it what he wants it to be. He has the skill and design to work with the clay and to bring it to pass. And if there be some imperfection in the clay, something which mars the design, spoils the work, the potter simply crushes the clay down to a lump and begins again to make it yet a vessel according to his own mind. In the verses which follow, this lesson is applied to the nation...

"In other, more direct terms, this is the same lesson Jeremiah learned at the potter's house, applied to the nation. When the pressure the potter applies is successful in turning the clay in the right direction, the potter seems to repent, the pressure is relieved, and the clay is allowed then to remain in the form it has taken. But when something in the clay resists, the potter then seems to repent of making a vessel at all, and he crushes it into a lump, and begins again to make it yet into the vessel he desires.

"And this is true of our individual lives. If some hard circumstance comes into your life---and it may be there right now, or it may be just around the corner, or you may just have passed through it---that circumstance is the wheel of God, to bring you against the pressure of the Potter's hand. If you do not resist, if your will does not spoil the work by murmuring, grumbling, or complaining, or feeling resentful and bitter, but you accept the working of the Potter, then the pressure is relieved, and the vessel takes shape. But if there is resistance, if the human will, like some imperfection in the clay, chooses something other than the Potter has in mind, then the Potter can do nothing else but crush it down to a lump once again and, beginning with the same lump, make it over into a vessel which suits his heart and mind. The great lesson Jeremiah learned at the potter's house was that of the sovereign control of God. He is the potter, and we are the clay...

"In Chapter 19, God sent Jeremiah back again to the potter's house:

Thus said the LORD, "Go, buy a potter's earthen flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the senior priests, and go out to the valley of the son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you.
"Back to the potter's house he went, this time not to watch the formation of a vessel in the hands of the potter, but to buy a potter's flask, a vessel already fired in the kiln, hardened, brittle. He was to take it outside the gates of the southern part of Jerusalem to the valley of Hinnom, which is called, in the New Testament, the valley of Gehenna. This was the garbage dump of Jerusalem, the place they threw all the refuse from the streets of the city. All the bodies of dogs and cats and other animals that died in the streets were left there to rot. It was the place where bodies of criminals were thrown after execution, to rot in the sun and be food for vultures---an evil, stinking place. There Jeremiah was to take the elders of the people and some of the senior priests and say these words to them:

"You shall say, 'Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon this place that the ears of every one who hears of it will tingle. Because the people have forsaken me, and have profaned this place by burning incense in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents [This was a place where altars were erected to the god Molech, a fearsome, grinning god inside of which was built a great fire, and then through whose mouth the people passed their living children to be burned alive.], and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind; therefore, behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when this place shall no longer be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter. And in this place I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem...'"

"There is the sovereignty of the Potter over the clay. Men make plans. God makes other plans. Napoleon had to learn that lesson. He once said, 'God is on the side of the army with the heaviest artillery.' There came a time in his life when, exiled on the island of St. Helena, he said, 'Man proposes; but God disposes.'

"'And in this place I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem, and will cause their people to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hand of those who seek their life. I will give their dead bodies for food to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the earth. And I will make this city a horror, a thing to be hissed [whistled] at; every one who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss [whistle] because of all its disasters. And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and their daughters, and every one shall eat the flesh of his neighbor in the siege and in the distress, with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them.'"

"These words came literally true. In but a few years the armies of Nebuchadnezzar surrounded this city, laid siege to it, and the resulting famine grew so severe, as we will see in this very prophecy, that the people resorted to cannibalism and killed and ate their own children, and one another, in order to live. Then the armies broke down the walls of the city and leveled them to the ground, so that later those passing by would whistle in amazement at the destruction which came upon this city.

"Now Jeremiah was told to do something with the flask he had purchased at the potter's house, beginning with verse 10,

"Then you shall break the flask in the sight of the men who go with you, and shall say to them, 'Thus says the Lord of hosts: " 'So will I break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter's vessel, so that it can never be mended. Men shall bury in Topheth because there will be no place else to bury. Thus will I do to this place, says the Lord, and to its inhabitants, making this city like Topheth. The houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah---all the houses upon whose roofs incense has been burned to all the host of heaven, and drink offerings have been poured out to other gods---shall be defiled like the place of Topheth.'"

"But Jeremiah was told, in the striking figure God employed for the benefit of these people, to take the potter's vessel he had bought and dash it to pieces on a rock. And as they watched it fly into smithereens, so that it was impossible to bring it back together, these people were taught that they were dealing with a God whose love is so intense that he will never alter his purpose---even if he has to destroy and crush and break them down again...

"You see, that is the way the world sees God right now. They see the hell which is coming into our nation, the hellish things which are taking place. And soon it will be worse, according to the prophetic Scriptures. There will be worse signs taking place, worse affairs among men, in which 'men's hearts will fail them for fear of seeing the things which are coming to pass on the face of the earth.' They will cry out against God as being harsh and ruthless and vindictive, filled with vengeance and anger and hatred. That is all the world sees.

"But the people of God are taught further truth. Jeremiah had been to the potter's house. He had seen the potter making a vessel, and he knew that it was love behind the Potter's pressures, and that when the vessel was marred, the Potter was capable of crushing it down again, bringing it to nothing but a lump, and then molding it, shaping it once again, perhaps doing this again and again, until at last it fulfilled what God wanted. That is the great lesson Jeremiah learned at the potter's house, and that we can learn at the potter's house, as well. In Paul's second letter to Timothy he says,

"In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and earthenware, and some for noble use, some for ignoble. If any one purifies himself from what is ignoble [those practices which appear just before this in the context ---wrongful attitudes, contentiousness, ungodliness, doctrinal aberrations, iniquity] then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work." (For a very relevant and helpful commentary on this passage see Ray C. Stedman, Fit to Be Used.)

"When we are in the Potter's hands, feeling his pressures, feeling the molding of his fingers, we can relax and trust him, for we know that this Potter has suffered with us and knows how we feel, but is determined to make us into a vessel "meet for the master's use". What a tremendous lesson, what a beautiful lesson Jeremiah learned at the potter's house---one which I hope will guide us and guard us under the pressures which are coming into our lives these days. Remember that the Potter has a purpose in mind, and the skill and ability to fulfill it, no matter how many times he may have to make the vessel over again. "

The Treasure in Earthen Vessels

After pruning down the volunteer army from 22,000 to 300, Gideon was given God's strategy for overcoming the Midianite oppressors in the Days of the Judges,

And the LORD said to Gideon, "With the three hundred men that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand; and let all the others go every man to his home..." That same night the LORD said to him, "Arise, go down against the camp; for I have given it into your hand. But if you fear to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant; and you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp." Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outposts of the armed men that were in the camp. And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand which is upon the seashore for multitude. When Gideon came, behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade; and he said, "Behold, I dreamed a dream; and lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian, and came to the tent, and struck it so that it fell, and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat." And his comrade answered, "This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; into his hand God has given Midian and all the host."

When Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped; and he returned to the camp of Israel, and said, "Arise; for the LORD has given the host of Midian into your hand." And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and put trumpets into the hands of all of them and empty jars, with torches inside the jars. And he said to them, "Look at me, and do likewise; when I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp, and shout, `For the LORD and for Gideon.'"

So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch; and they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. And the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars, holding in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow; and they cried, "A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!" They stood every man in his place round about the camp, and all the army ran; they cried out and fled. When they blew the three hundred trumpets, the LORD set every man's sword against his fellow and against all the army; and the army fled as far as Bethshittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abelmeholah, by Tabbath...(Judges 7:7-22)

Clay pots with lamps inside! Clay pots that are smashed and broken in order to let the inner light shine through! Perhaps this Old Testament story inspired the Apostle Paul to describe Christians as mere vessels of clay designed to hold and contain a priceless treasure,

"...if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.

For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, "I believed, and so I spoke," we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.

For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:3-18)

A Closing Promise for the Future

"He who overcomes and who keeps my works until the end, I will give him power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received power from my Father; and I will give him the morning star." (Jesus Christ to the Church of Thyatira, Revelation 2:26-28)

Summary

The Work of a Potter

"The most common way of making early pottery was by hand. This method usually was abandoned after the invention of the wheel. The former method commonly used coils of clay to form the shape of the vessel, which was then smoothed off into finished form. Most of the pottery used in Bible times was thrown on the wheel...The better vessels were finished off with a slip, which is an extra pure grade of clay that will produce the finest of colors. It was the consistency of cream and was applied to the vessel before firing. An additional technique, which produced one of the most pleasing patterns, was burnishing...To burnish a vessel the potter used a hard instrument, such as a piece of bone, and pressed against the original vessel or the slipped vessel, producing the desired pattern. This method gave a play of light and shadow to the fired vessel."

"Jeremiah 18:1-6 refers to the potter's house. This was not a reference to the home of the potter, but to his place of manufacture. The house would be near to a field where clay could be weathered and stored and where it could be prepared for fashioning. A kiln for firing the ware and a dump for the broken and discarded vessels would be a part of the potter's complex. the house would provide cover for the wheel upon which the potter would fashion his vessels in all kinds of weather. This building would also make possible the control of the drying process before the firing. It would be necessary to closely watch the evaporation of the newly fashioned objects since this would also influence the results of the firing process. Although most of the pottery in Biblical times was shaped on the potter's wheel, the one specific reference to the wheel in the OT is Jeremiah 18:3. There were two types of wheel. The hand-turned wheel consisted of two discs. The heavier wheel below gave momentum to keep the lighter one above turning, but the vessel was shaped on the upper wheel. The foot-turned wheel consisted of a large wheel which was turned below by the potter's foot. The small wheel above, connected to the lower wheel by a shaft, was the one on which the prepared clay was thrown and fashioned by the potter. The apocrypha includes a detailed account of the work of the potter at the wheel (Ecclus. 38:29-32). As the ball of plastic clay spun around rapidly, the centrifugal force upon the clay was controlled by the deft fingers of the potter so that any desired vessel could be obtained as long as the quality of the clay permitted the completion of the vessel. Jeremiah witnessed that factors can be present that defeat the original intention of the potter. The clay may be the wrong kind. It may have too many impurities. The treading may not have been properly done, or the potter may have failed to place the ball of plastic clay in the exact center of the wheel. If the clay does not yield the desired product, the potter can then reshape the clay into a ball and produce another vessel. It was this process that Jeremiah noted carefully." (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 1978).

Lambert Dolphin
lambert@ldolphin.org
June 27, 1996



spelling and punctuation checked 26June02 RPS