John T. Willis

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Symbolic Act of Breaking the Potter's Earthenware Jug--Jeremiah 19:1-20:6

One way the prophets communicated God's message was to perform symbolic acts publicly to various audiences at different times. They did this silently to arouse the curiosity of the hearers. When the audience asked the meaning of a symbolic act, the prophet declared God's message. One example of this is Jeremiah's symbolic act of breaking a potter's earthenware jug. This account appears in Jeremiah 19:1-20:6, which naturally falls into three parts.

I. Jeremiah's Symbolic Act. Jeremiah 19:1-13.
a. Yahweh instructs Jeremiah to go and buy a potter's earthenware jug, then take some of the elders and senior priests to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the entry ofthe Potsherd Gate, located south of the city of Jerusalem. 19:1-2. It is noteworthy that the Hebrew phrase "the Valley of the Son of Hinnom" is Gey-ben-Hinnom, which became Ge-henna in Greek in the New Testament, the word for "Hell" in English.
b. Yahweh then instructs Jeremiah to proclaim to the elders and senior priests of Jerusalem that Yahweh is about to bring "evil"=punishment on Jerusalem and Judah because they worship other gods, shed the blood of the innocent child [child sacrifice], worship on high places, and burn their children in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal. 19:3-5.
c. Symbolically, Yahweh through Jeremiah will change the name of "the Valley of the Son of Hinnom" or "Topheth," but "the Valley of Slaughter." God's sinful people will fall by the sword before the Babylonians. Judeans will eat the flesh of their sons and daughters and neighbors because they are so hungry. 19:6-9.
d. Then Yahweh instructs Jeremiah to break the jug in the sight of the elders and the senior priests, and declare that Yahweh will break this sinful people and the city of Jerusalem to destroy the practices of worshipping Baal and other gods. 19:10-13.

II. Jeremiah proclaims this same message in the court of the Jerusalem temple. Jeremiah 19:14-15.
a. Then, Yahweh instructs Jeremiah to go to Jerusalem and stand in the court of the Lord's house=the Jerusalem temple. 19:14.
b. There, Jeremiah is to declare that Yahweh is bringing "evil"=disaster, punishment, on Jerusalem and all the towns of Judah because "they have stiffened their necks, refusing to hear Yahweh's words." 19:15.

III. Pashhur, the chief officer in the Jerusalem temple, puts Jeremiah inthe stocks, and Jeremiah changes Pashhur to "Magor-missabib," meaning "Terror on every side." Jeremiah 20:1-6.
a. Pashhur was one of the "senior priests" who heard Jeremiah's message. So, Pashhur struck Jeremiah and put him in the stocks. The next morning, Pashhur released Jeremiah. 20:1-3a.
b. Jeremiah responds: Yahweh has changed your name from Pashhur to Magor-missabib=Terror all around. 20:3b.
c. Jeremiah declares this means: Yahweh will make Pashhur a terror to himself and his friends, and they will fall by the sword. And Yahweh will give Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon, and carry them into captivity and kill them by the sword. Pashhur and his entire house will go into captivity, where they will die, because Pashhur has prophesied falsely. 20:4-6.

This message is very sobering. The leaders and people of God were very confident that they had a bright future. But Yahweh declares he will punish them because of their lack of trust and faithfulness in Yahweh.

Share YOUR insights and thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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