John T. Willis

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Potter and Clay, Melting Snow, Jeremiah's Fifth Complaint--Jeremiah 18:1-23

Jeremiah 18 describes three conflicts between Jeremiah and his opponents. These opponents are not foreign nations, but leaders of God's people: the priests, the wise, the prophets of God's people. We will briefly discuss these three conflicts.

I. The first conflict: the potter and the clay. Jeremiah 18:1-12.
a. Yahweh tells Jeremiah to go to the potter's house to hear Yahweh's words.
b. So, Jeremiah went to the potter's house, and the potter was working at his wheel. The vessel the potter was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand. Then the potter reworked the clay into another vessel, as seemed good to the potter. 18:3-4.
c. Then Yahweh's word came to Jeremiah: Just as the clay is in the potter's hand, so the people of Israel are in Yahweh's hand. 18:5-6.
d. If at any time Yahweh declares to a nation or a kingdom that Yahweh will pluck it up and break it down and destroy it, if that nation or kingdom turns from its evil, Yahweh will change his mind about the disaster [Hebrew--evil; that is, punishment] Yahweh had intended, and deliver that nation or kingdom. 18:7-8.
e. Conversely, if at any time Yahweh declares to a nation or a kingdom that Yahweh will build and plant it, but that nation or kingdom does evil and not listen to Yahweh's voice, Yahweh will change his mind about the good [that is, blessing and prosperity] Yahweh had intended at first. 18:9-10. Notice that these verbs "pluck up, break down, destroy, build, plant" appear in the call of Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1:10.
f. Then, Yahweh makes the application in the days of Jeremiah. Because of the "evil"=sin of Judah over many centuries, Yahweh is shaping "evil"=punishment against his sinful people. He beseeches the people of God to turn from their evil way. But they respond: "It is no use! We will follow our own plans and act according to the stubbornness of our evil will." 18:11-12. Hence, Yahweh is about to bring the Babylonians against God's people to punish them severely.

II. The second conflict: the metaphor of the melting snow. Jeremiah 18:13-18.
a. Yahweh proclaims through Jeremiah: The snow on the mountains of Lebanon in North Israel does not leave the crags of Sirion=Mount Hermon [see Deuteronomy 3:9], and the cold flowing streams do not run dry. BUT [in bold contrast to this] MY PEOPLE [the people of God] have FORGOTTEN=forsaken=abandoned Yahweh, burning sacrifices to the Baals and other gods on the high places, and have stumbled in the ancient roads, and have gone into byways, not God's highway=the law of Moses [see this same metaphor in Jeremiah 6:16]. 18:13-16.
b. In response, Yahweh declares that he will scatter the people of God before the enemy=the Babylonians "like the wind from the east." BUT, Yahweh's opponents: the priests, the wise, the prophets, of Judah, make plots against Jeremiah to bring charges against him, and not heed any of Yahweh's words through Jeremiah. 18:17-18.

III. The third conflict: Jeremiah's fifth complaint. Jeremiah 18:19-23.
a. In response to the plot of Jeremiah's opponents, Jeremiah turns to Yahweh in complaint. He begs Yahweh to listen to what his enemies say. 18:19.
b. Jeremiah declares that Jeremiah has returned "good for evil" toward his enemies. In the past, Jeremiah stood before Yahweh to speak good for his enemies to turn away Yahweh's wrath from them. But now, they are plotting to destroy Jeremiah. 18:20.
c. Accordingly, Jeremiah asks Yahweh to give the children of his enemies to famine, hurl them out to the power of the sword, let their wives become childless and widowed, and may their men meet death by pestilence and their youths be slain by the sword. 18:21-22. The terms "famine, sword, and pestilence" are common terms throughout the book of Jeremiah to announcement the impending punishments of God's people--see Jeremiah 14:13; 15:2; 16:4; 21:7,9; 24:10; 27:8, 13; 28:8; 29:7; 32:36.
d. Jeremiah repeats: O Yahweh, know all the plotting of my enemies to kill me. Do not forgive their iniquity. Deal with them while you are angry. 18:23.

There is no way to know how Yahweh responded to this fifth complaint of Jeremiah. BUT, in light of his similar complaint in Jeremiah 11:18-23 and the overall account of the book of Jeremiah, it is very likely that Yahweh responded POSITIVELY to this complaint of Jeremiah.

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John Willis