Jeremiah 18: The Potter's Wheel
On another day, the Lord has sent Jeremiah to the potter's house to learn a lesson. The potter makes all kinds of pots and jars and dishes of clay which can be baked hard and are then ready for use. The story says that the potter "wrought a work on the wheels." Our little picture takes us to a potter's house in Nazareth, and we see him working at his wheel. The clay that he is shaping rests on the post that comes up through the table, and he turns it with his foot on the wheel under the table. The potter becomes very skillful and can make beautiful and delicate jars. If the jar is hurt in the making, it can still be changed and be made right by the potter, for the clay is still soft. The Lord is like the potter working to make each one of us beautiful and useful. If we injure His work, He will not cast us aside, but asks us to repent and works again to make us beautiful. Read Jer. 18:1 10.
Often, in connection with the prophecy, the prophets were commanded to make something or to do something which was a sort of picture or parable illustrating the message that they were to speak. In our chapter today, the Lord used in this way the dish in the potter's hand that he was making on his wheel. As you read the chapter, you see the special lesson which Jeremiah was to draw from the potter's work for the people of Judah, the lesson that if they would repent and be obedient, the Lord would set them free from the fate of destruction and captivity which had been predicted to come upon them. But they did not repent, and you find the same figure of the potter's earthen bottle taken up again in the next chapter, where Jeremiah is commanded to get such a bottle and to break it in the sight of the people as a token of what would come upon Jerusalem.
You will think also how the lesson is for us. I wish before we read the chapter that we could go down to the house of the potter and see him or her shape the clay while turning it swiftly on the wheel. It is wonderful how it grows under the potterís hand, almost like a living thing, a beautiful symbol of the work of the Lord, the Divine Potter, shaping us day by day into forms of heavenly use and beauty; and if we will let Him do so, making again the vessel when it is marred.
Read what I have told the younger children about the potter and the wheel. We read in Isa. 64:8, "O Lord, Thou art our Father; we are the clay and Thou art our potter; and we all are the work of Thy hands." This pictures the Lord as our Creator. Is the lesson of Jeremiah the same, or does it add something more? It adds the even more tender thought of the potter's patience and power to remake the vessel that has been marred. It is the thought of the Lord as Redeemer and Savior when we are repentant and accept His help.
The words of Isa. 64:7, "We are the clay and Thou our potter," and the lesson of the potter in Jeremiah are both interpreted in A. 6609 as describing the formation or re-formation of a person by means of charity and faith, and it is added, "Elsewhere, also Jehovah or the Lord is called the potter, and the man who is being reformed the clay." Prophets and Psalms says of the passage, "It is represented that those who are in falses and evils can be reformed by the Lord, verses 1-4; wherefore those who after repentance convert themselves, notwithstanding they are in falses and evils, are accepted by the Lord, verses 5-8; on the other hand, that those who are in truths and in good, and do evil, perish, verses 9, 10; it is said to those who are in the church, that they ought to repent and convert themselves, but that they are unwilling, verses 11-13; because they love falses of every kind, and thereby annihilate the church in themselves, verses 14-16; wherefore they will be destroyed, verse 17; that they lift themselves up against the Lord, and consequently against His Word, by despising Him and falsifying it, verse 18; a lamentation thereon, verses 19, 20; that they have no truth of the church, and that they act craftily, verses 21, 22; that they cannot be forgiven, verse 23."
In other passages of Swedenborg, a slightly different lesson is drawn from the vessel marred in the potter's hand, which was made again another vessel. This making again may mean the reforming of an unlovely character by the mercy of the Lord when one is repentant. But in the case of the Jewish nation, which did not repent, the making again of the vessel is said to mean the taking of the Divine truth from them and giving it to people who would make better use of it. (E. 177; A. 6669)
We take especially from the remaking of the vessel that was marred, the thought of the remaking of an unlovely character by the mercy of the Lord when one is repentant. The idea of reformation is often associated with the potter in the Scriptures, as when the money returned by Judas and spurned by the priests was given for the potter's field to bury strangers in. The Lordís redemption was rejected by the Church, but simple gentiles would accept it and be reformed. (A. 2276, 2966)
The translation of verse 14 is difficult. Swedenborg in E. 411 translates: "Shall the snow of Lebanon from the rock leave my fields? Shall the strange cold waters flowing down be snatched away?" and the snow of Lebanon is interpreted to mean, truth of the church, the rock from which it comes being the Lord's Word. But thee snow is cold truth, because a cold church is here treated of. The strange cold waters are explained to mean, falsities in which there is no good. The verse then seems to mean, Shall truth from the Lord's Word fail? Can the falsities which have taken its place be removed?
In verse 17, notice the east wind as the type of the Lord's Divine influence, scattering before it what is false and evil. You will remember the east wind with the same meaning in other places; for example, the east wind which divided the sea before the children of Israel. (Exod. 14:21)
The closing verses of the chapter, from verse 18 on, tell of the plotting of the people against Jeremiah, and Jeremiah's prayer that they may receive their deserts. What they did against the prophet is representative of what false and evil people at all times do against the Lord and His Word. They reject the Lord's Word and try to destroy it. As you read in verse 20, "They have digged a pit for my soul," you will remember also the story of casting Jeremiah into a pit in the hope that he might die. (Jer. 38:6) You are reminded of what Joseph's brothers did to him in the effort to be rid of him. In both cases is represented a rejection of the Lord and denial of His Word. (A. 4728; E. 537)
The prayer of Jeremiah seems to breathe of revenge; but spiritually as expressing the Lord's thought toward His children, it is simply a statement of the inevitable consequence of rejecting the Lord and His Word. One who so rejects the Lord cannot be held guiltless, because he is rejecting his only means of help.