“The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD saying: ‘Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear My words.’ Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. The the word of the LORD came to me, saying: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” (Jeremiah 18:1-6).
Jeremiah was told to take a field trip to the potter’s house (the definitive article seems to suggest a particular potter’s house). He did so. There, he saw the potter making something at the wheel [lit. wheels KJV, ASV. Wayne Jackson explains, “There were upper and lower discs connected by an axle; the lower was turned with the potter’s feet, while the upper wheel held the vessel for molding. (Jackson, Jeremiah and Lamentations, p. 44)]. When the vessel did not turn out as expected, he molded it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
The potter had sovereignty over the clay vessel. If it did not turn out as he desired, he could break down the wet clay and reshape it (Jeremiah 18:4). He could even shatter the finished product, if he wished (Jeremiah 19:1-2, 10-11). He could re-purpose the vessel.
Let us also consider, the potter worked with the clay that he had. Sometimes the quality and consistency of the clay was not good. Sometimes the clay was not pliable. Sometimes there were impurities in the clay (e.g. pebbles).
The point? God was likewise, sovereign over Israel. “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” (Jeremiah 18:6). “Thus says the LORD of host: ‘Even so I will break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel'” (Jeremiah 19:11).
Let us consider this: Is the clay responsible for its condition? Can it of its own volition decide to change? The answer is no, if we are speaking of clay. However, these people and this nation could change. God said, “The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a kingdom to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight, so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it. Now therefore, speak to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Behold I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you. Return now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good”‘” (Jeremiah 18:7-11). They were responsible for their condition, and they could change. Moreover, man can change (cf. James 4:8; Ezekiel 18:30-33; 2 Chronicles 30:18-19).
“Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” (Romans 9:21).
God is sovereign. This is the main point. Adam Clarke comments, “Hath not God shown, by the parable of the potter, Jeremiah 18..that he may justly dispose of nations, and of the Jews in particular …?” (Clarke, Vol 6, p. 114).
What about the clay? It is important to keep Jeremiah 18 and 19 in mind when interpreting this passage. Foy Wallace Jr. comments, “The simple truth… is that man makes his own clay – character – God uses it. So man may of choice be kind of clay molded into honor – or dishonor” (Wallace, Commentary on Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, p. 42). Robert Taylor Jr. comments, “The potter does have power over the clay relative to one vessel made unto honor and another unto dishonor. But the clay is not totally passive by any means. God, let it be stated reverently, can only work with the clay that is available. Look at two men in the Old Testament who were contemporaries – Moses and Pharaoh. Moses was of pliable clay and willingly became a vessel of honor in the Lord’s service. Pharaoh was of sorry clay – hardened in pride, selfishness and stubbornness – and was a vessel of dishonor” (Taylor, Studies in Romans, p. 169). David Lipscomb comments, “In this (Jeremiah 18 B.H.) it is clearly seen that the potter purposed to make of the clay a vessel unto honor, and it was only when the clay marred in his hand and showed its unfitness to be so made ‘that he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it'” (Lipscomb, Commentary on Romans, p. 179).
“What if God, wanting to show his wrath and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called…?” (Romans 9:22-24).
What if God allows a vessel worthy of destruction to survive for a while (e.g. Pharaoh)? What’s it to you? God is sovereign. He may tolerate such for a while to demonstrate something or to accomplish His purpose.
It seems, to me, that some may have misinterpreted Israel’s continued existence, as evidence that the nation of Israel was a vessel of honor. The continued existence of the nation was not proof of her future being one of honor.
It is the called (i.e. Those who have accepted the call of the Gospel. All are, in one sense, called by the Gospel 2 Thessalonians 2:14 cf. Mark 16:15-16) who are vessels of honor. The called are made up of both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 9:24).
Question: Are we allowing God to mold us into the kind of vessel He wants for honor and glory?
“Have thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way! Thou art the potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me after Thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still” (Song: Have Thine Own Way by Adelaide Pollard).