Wisely Pondering the Potter's Work

Bible Book: Jeremiah  18 : 1-11
Subject: Potter's Wheel; Discipleship

Wisely pondering the Potter’s work beneficial to the body of Christ as we think of discipleship.

Several years ago at the Delta Woods & Water Expo at the 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center in Spanish Fort, Sharon and I watched a potter at work. My thoughts immediately went to the words of our text found in Jeremiah chapter 18, verses 1-11.

​In a message titled, “Not Yet”, Dr. Ben Haden (1925-2013) shared the following story passed on to him by his grandmother variously told by others:

​“There was a couple who used to go to England to shop in the beautiful stores. They both liked antiques and pottery, especially teacups.
​This was their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. They were in this one shop when they saw a beautiful teacup. They said, ‘We’ve never seen one quite so beautiful.’ As the lady handed it to them, suddenly the teacup spoke.

​‘You don’t understand,’ it said. ‘I haven’t always been a teacup. There was a time when I was just red clay. My master took me and rolled me and patted me over and over and I yelled out, 'Let me alone,' but he only smiled and said, 'Not yet.'’​

‘Then I was placed on a spinning wheel,’ the teacup said, "and suddenly I was spunaround and around and around. ‘Stop it! I’m getting dizzy?’ I screamed. But the master only nodded and said, ‘Not yet.’

"Then he put me in the oven. I never felt such heat. I didn’t understand why he wanted to burn me, and I yelled and knocked at the door. I could see him through the opening and I could read his lips as he shook his head, 'Not yet.'

‘Finally the door opened. He put me on the shelf and I began to cool. 'There, that’s better,' I said. But then he brushed and painted me all over. The fumes were horrible. I thought I would gag. ‘Stop it, stop it!’ I cried. ‘Not yet.’

​‘Then suddenly he put me back into the oven, but not like the first one. This was twice as hot and I knew I would suffocate. I begged. I pleaded. I screamed. I cried. All the time I could see him through the opening nodding his head saying, ‘Not yet.’ Then I knew there wasn’t any hope. I would never make it. I was ready to give up. ​‘But the door opened and he took me out and placed me on the shelf. One hour later He handed me a mirror, and I couldn’t believe it was me. ‘Wow. I’m beautiful.’’

‘‘I want you to remember, then,’ he said, ‘I know it hurts to be rolled and patted, but if I had left you alone, you would have dried up. I know it made you dizzy to spin around on the wheel, but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled. I knew it hurt and it was hot and disagreeable in the oven but if I hadn’t put you there, you would have cracked. I know the fumes were bad when I brushed and painted you all over, but if I hadn’t done that, you never would have hardened; and you would not have had all this beautiful color. And if I hadn’t put you back in that second oven, you wouldn’t survive for very long because the hardness would not have held. Now you are a finished product. You are what I had in mind when I first began with you."(Emphasis mine)

Jeremiah 18:1-11 reads, “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 of clay 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. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?’ says the Lord. ‘Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel! 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 nation and 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 men of Judah and 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.”’” (Emphasis mine)

​Notice three things in this passage.

I. Note the Spinning Wheel at the Potter’s House.

​“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.”

II. Note the Skillful Work of the Potter’s Hand.

​Isaiah 64:4 reads, “But now, O Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand.” Man is the crown of God’s creation. Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:4-7 reads, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth. . . . This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the Lord God had not caused it to rain on 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. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Lambert Dolphin explains, “[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!” Psalm 103:14 reads, “For He knows our frame; He remembers we are dust.” Psalm 139:13-18 reads, “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And thatmy soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, Andskillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them. How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; When I awake, I am still with You.”

​Job 10:8-9 reads, “‘Your hands have made me and fashioned me, An intricate unity; Yet You would destroy me. Remember, I pray, that You have made me like clay. And will You turn me into dust again?”

​Remember, as the gospel singer, Ethel Waters (1896-1977), used to frequently say, “God don’t make no junk.” In fact, if you are born again, you are royalty!

III. Note the Sovereign Will in the Potter’s Heart.

​One day someone observed a potter working at his wheel. He was putting the finishing touches on a vase. It was hard to believe he had started with a shapeless mass of clay. When he looked up the onlooker asked, “Where’s the pattern?” “In my heart,” he answered.” So it is with God, the Master Potter. His plan for you is in His heart. The phrase “as it seemed good to the potter” (Jeremiah 18:4) speaks of the sovereign will from the Potter’s heart. Romans 9:21-23reads, “Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering 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.”

​Isaiah 29:15-16 reads, “Woe to those who seek deep to hide their counsel far from the Lord, And their works are in the dark; They say, ‘Who sees us?’ and, ‘Who knows us?’ Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; For shall the thing made say of him who made it, ‘He did not make me’? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” Isaiah 30:12-14 reads, “Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel: ‘Because you despise this word, And trust in oppression and perversity, And rely on them, Therefore this iniquity shall be to you Like a breach ready to fall, A bulge in a high wall, Whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant. And He shall break it like the breaking of the potter’s vessel, Which is broken in pieces; He shall not spare. So there shall not be found among its fragments A shard to take fire from the hearth, Or to take water from the cistern.’”

​Maybe you have heard the statement: “Man proposes, God disposes”. It means, “People can make plans; God determines how things will turn out.”

​Dr. Kenneth W. Osbeck writes, “An elderly woman at a prayer meeting one night pleaded, ‘It really doesn't matter what you do with us, Lord, just have your own way with our lives.’

​At this meeting was Adelaide Pollard [1862-1934], a rather well-known itinerant Bible teacher who was deeply discouraged because she had been unable to raise the necessary funds for a desired trip to Africa to do missionary service. She was moved by the older woman's sincere and dedicated request of God.

​At home that evening Miss Pollard meditated on Jeremiah 18:3-4, our text verses. ​Before retiring that evening, Adelaide Pollard completed the writing of all four stanzas of the hymn, Have Thine Own Way, Lord, as it is sung today. The hymn first appeared in published form in 1907.

​Often into our lives come discouragements and heartaches that we cannot understand. As children of God, however, we must learn never to question the ways of our God but simply to say:

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.

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way! Search me and try me, Master, today! Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now, As in Thy presence humbly I bow.

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way! Wounded and weary, help me, I pray! Power, all power, surely is Thine! Touch me and heal me, Saviour divine!

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way! Hold o'er my being absolute sway! Fill with Thy Spirit till all shall see Christ only, always, living in me!”


​Dr. F. B. Meyer (1847-1929) writes, “Do not, therefore, seek to change, by some rash and wilful act, the setting and environment of your life. Stay where you are till God as evidently calls you elsewhere as He has put you where you are. Abide for the present in the calling wherein you were called. Throw upon Him the responsibility of indicating to you a change when it is necessary for your further development. In the meanwhile, look deep into the heart of every circumstance for its special message, lesson, or discipline. Upon the way in which you accept or reject these will depend the achievement or marring of the Divine purpose.”

​Oh Lord, apply our hearts to wisdom and may we pray in the words of that ancient prayer, “I am willing, Lord, to receive what Thou givest, to lack what Thou withholdest, to relinquish what Thou takest, to surrender what Thou claimest, to suffer what Thou ordainest, to do what Thou commandest, to wait until Thou sayest, 'Go'.” ​

​Are you wisely pondering the potter’s work?