Lecture Seventieth


Jeremiah 18:1-6

1. The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying,

1. Sermo qui fait ad Jeremiam a Jehova, dicendo,

2. Arise, and go down to the potter's house; and there I will cause thee to hear my words.

2. Surge, et descende in domum figuli, et faciam audire1 te verba mea.

3. Then I went down to the potter's house; and behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.

3. Et descendi in domum figuli, et ecce ipse faciens opus super lapide (super typo; alii vertunt, super rotam:)

4. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed god to the potter to make it.

4. Et corruptum fuit vas, quod ipse faciebat ex luto (lutum, ad verbum) in manu figuli; et reversus est, et fecit vas aliud sicut rectum fuit in oculis figuli ut faceret:

5. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying,

5. Et fuit sermo Jehovae ad me, dicendo,

6 O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.

6. Annon sicut figulus hic potero vobis facere, domus Israel? dicit Jehova: ecce sicut lutum in manu figuli, ita vos in manu mea, domus Israel.


The sum of what is here taught is, that as the Jews gloried in God's singular favor, which yet had been conferred on them for a different purpose, even that they might be his sacred heritage, it was necessary to take from them a confidence of this kind; for they at the same time heedlessly despised God and the whole of his law. We indeed know that in God's covenant there was a mutual stipulation -- that the race of Abraham were faithfully to serve God, as God was prepared to perform whatever he had promised; for it was the perpetual law of the covenant.,

"Walk before me and be perfect,"

which was once for all imposed on Abraham, and extended to all his posterity. (Genesis 17:1.) As then the Jews thought that God was by an inviolable compact bound to them, while they yet proudly rejected all his prophets, and polluted, and even as far as they could, abolished, his true favorship, it was necessary to deprive them of that foolish boasting by which they deluded themselves. Hence the Prophet was commanded to go down to the potter's house, that he might relate to the people what he saw there, even that the potter, according to his own will and pleasure, made and re-made vessels.

It seems indeed at the first view a homely mode of speaking; but if we examine ourselves we shall all find, that pride, which is innate in us, cannot be corrected except the Lord draws us as it were by force to see clearly what it is, and except he shews us plainly what we are. The Prophet might have attended to God speaking to him at his own house, but he was commanded to go down to the house of the potter -- not indeed for his own sake, for he was willing to be taught -- but that he might teach the people, by adding this sign as a confirmation to his doctrine.

He then relates what had been enjoined him, that he descended into the potter's house; and then he relates what he saw there -- that when the potter formed a vessel it was marred, and that he then made another vessel from the same clay, and, as it seems, one of a different form; for there is a peculiar emphasis in these words, as it seemed right in his eyes. The application is afterwards added -- cannot I, as the potter, change you, O house of Israel? Doubtless, ye are in my hand as the clay in the hand of the potter; that is, I have no less power over you than the potter over his work and his earthen vessels.2

We now see what this doctrine contains -- that men are very foolish when they are proud of their present prosperous condition, and think that they are as it were fixed in a state of safety; for in a single moment God can cast down those whom he has raised up, and also raise up on high those whom he has before brought down to the ground. This is even well known by heathens, for moderation is commended by them, which they describe thus -- "That no one ought to be inflated in prosperity, nor succumb in adversity." But no one is really influenced by this thought, except he who acknowledges that we are ruled by the hand of God: for they who dream that fortune rules in the world set up their own wisdom, their own wealth, and their own strongholds. It must then necessarily be, that they always delude themselves with some vain hope or another. Until then men are brought to know that they are so subject to God's power that their condition can in a single moment be changed, according to his will, they will never be humble as they ought to be. This doctrine therefore was entitled to special notice, especially when we consider how foolishly the Jews had abused the privilege with which God had favored Abraham and all his posterity; it was therefore an admonition altogether necessary. Besides, if we come to ourselves, we shall find that it requires a great effort to learn to humble ourselves, as Peter reminds us, under the mighty hand of God. (1 Peter 5:6.)

With regard to the words we must observe that Mynbah eabenim, is a word in the dual number. The Prophet no doubt meant the moulds, des moules; for they who render it "wheel" seem not to understand the subject.3 The Prophet evidently refers to the moulds, made either of stone, or of wood, or of white clay; and this the number sufficiently proves. He then saw the potter with his moulds, avec ses moules, so that when he had formed one vessel it was marred; then he took the same clay and formed another vessel, and that according to his own will. I have already stated why it was necessary for the Prophet to go down to the potter's house: he did so that he might afterwards lead the Jews to see their own case in a more vivid manner; for we know what a powerful effect a representation of this kind produces, when a scene like this is set before our eyes. Naked doctrine would have been frigid to slothful and careless men; but when a symbol was added, it had much greater effect. This then was the reason why God ordered the Prophet to see what the potter was doing.

Now, in the application, we must notice how things correspond: As the clay is at the will and under the power of the potter, so men are at the will of God: God then is compared to the potter. There is indeed no comparison between things which are equal, but the Prophet argues from the less to the greater. Then God, with respect to men, is said to be the potter, for we are the clay before him. We must also notice the variety in what was formed: from the same clay one vessel is made, then another different from the first. These three things that are compared ought to be specially observed. It is then said, cannot I, as the potter, do with you, O house of Israel? God includes here two of these comparisons, he compares himself to the potter, and he compares the people to clay. We know that God has much greater power over men than a mortal man over the clay; for however he may form it into vessels he is yet not the creator of the clay. Then much greater authority has God over men than the potter over the clay. But the comparison, as I have said, is of the greater with the less, as though he had said, "The potter can form the clay at his will; am I inferior to him? or, is not my power at least, equal to the power of the artificer, who is a mortal and of an abject condition?" Then he adds, with you, or to you, O house of Israel? as though he had said, "Trust ye in your own excellency as you please, yet ye are not better than the clay, when ye consider what I am and what I can do to you."

We have now seen two of the comparisons; the third follows--that God can turn us here and there, and change us at his will. Then how foolishly do men trust in their present good fortune; for in a single moment their condition can be altered, as there is nothing certain on the earth.

But we must bear in mind what I have already stated -- that vain was the confidence by which the Jews deluded themselves; for they thought that God was bound to them, and so they promised themselves a state of perpetuity, and, as though they could with impunity despise the whole law, they ever boasted that the covenant, by which God had adopted the seed of Abraham, was hereditary. Now the Prophet shews that the covenant was in such a way hereditary, that yet the Jews ought to have regarded it as it were an adventitious benefit, as though he had said, "What God gave you he can take away at any time; there is then nothing certain to you, except so far as God will be propitious to you." In short, he reminds them that the whole of their safety depended on God's gratuitous layout, as though he had said, "Ye have nothing as your own, but what God has conferred on you is at his will and pleasure; he can to-day take away even what he had yesterday given you. What meaneth then this foolish boasting, when ye say that ye are exempted from the common lot of men?"

The Jews might indeed have rightly disregarded all the dangers of the world, for God had gathered them under his own protection; they would indeed have been safe under his guardianship, had they observed mutual faithfulness, so as to be really his people as he had promised to be their God; but as they esteemed as nothing his whole law, and made void the covenant in which they foolishly gloried, the Prophet, as we see, did not without reason shake off that confidence by which they deceived themselves.

We may hence gather a useful doctrine: With regard to the whole race of man there is nothing certain or permanent in this life; for God can change our condition at any time, so as to cast down the rich and the eminent from their elevation, and also to raise up the most despised of men, according to what is said in Psalm 113:7. And we know this to be true, not only as to individuals, but also as to nations and kingdoms. Many kings have so increased their power as to think themselves beyond the reach of harm; and yet we have seen that God laid them prostrate as by a sudden whirlwind: so also it has happened to powerful nations. With regard then to the condition of mankind, God shews here as in a mirror, or by a vivid spectacle, that sudden changes are often in the world: which ought to awaken us from our torpor, so that no one of us may dare to promise himself another day, or even another hour, or another moment. This is one thing; but this doctrine has a peculiar application to us; for as God has by a peculiar favor separated us from the rest of the world, so he would have us to depend wholly on his mere good will. Faith indeed ought to be tranquil, nay, it ought to disregard whatever may bring on us any terror or anxiety; but faith, where has it its seat? In heaven. Then courage is required in all the children of God, so that they may with a quiet mind disregard all the changes of the world. But we must see that the tranquillity of faith be well founded, that is, in humility. For as we cast our anchor in heaven, so also, with regard to ourselves, we ought always to he low and be humble. Whosoever then flies in vain confidence boasts in vain of faith, and falsely pretends that he trusts in God. Let it then ever come to our minds, and constantly recur to us, that our condition is not through ourselves safe and secure, but through the gratuitous goodness of God. We now see the application of this doctrine. The Prophet proceeds, --

1 Both the Septuagint and the Vulgate improperly render the verb "thou shalt hear;" but the Targum retains the causative sense, "I will cause thee to hear." -- Ed.

2 The proper rendering of the former part of this verse, according to Gataker and Venema, is as follows, --

"And marred was the vessel which he made,
at the clay was in the hand of the potter."

Though there be readings, and many, which have b instead of k before "clay," yet the received text is the most suitable. The word "clay" is omitted in the Septuagint. The meaning is, that the vessel was marred, while it was yet as a soft clay in the hand of the potter, after he had formed it on the stones. As to "potter," the noun here is used instead of the pronoun, "in his hand," which is often the case in Hebrew. The pronoun "his" is what is given by the Septuagint and the Vulgate. -- Ed.

3 "On the stones," is the Septuagint; "on the wheel," the Vulgate and the Targum; "on the anvil," the Syriac.

"There can be no doubt," says Blayney, "that the machine is intended on which the potters formed their earthen vessels; and the appellation oiJ li>qoi, "the stones," will appear very proper if we consider this machine as consisting of a pair of circular stones, placed upon one another like millstones, of which the lower was immovable, but the upper one turned upon the foot of a spindle or axis, and had motion communicated to it by the feet of the potter sitting at his work, as may be learned from Ecclesiastes 38:29. Upon the top of this upper stone, which was flat, the clay was placed, which the potter, having given the stone the due velocity, formed into shape with his hands."


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