Jeremiah 18:1-12 – The Potter and the Pots
SummaryGod is imaged as a potter who works with clay (people). God wants the best possible vessel to emerge, but the quality of the clay will give shape to the results of God's work.
AnalysisThe image of a potter who works with clay is used to depict God's work with Israel and Israel's response to that work. Though God always wants the best possible product, the story does not assume a situation in which the potter's work always turns out well (18:4). The quality of the clay has some effect on the ability of the potter to do what he wishes, and that in turn would affect the quality of the product. The issue for the potter, then, is to make the best pottery possible with the ingredients with which he has to work. The focus is not on God's control over the people (as some interpreters think), but on God's initiative, creativity, and responsiveness in relation to the possibilities inherent in the situation. God will work with what is available, yet with God's good purposes always in mind.
This understanding coheres well with the openness of the future that follows in Jeremiah 18:7-10, which has all nations in view, and the call to Israel to repent in Jeremiah 18:11. Israel's particular history is placed in the context of the wider creation. God's way of working with Israel has significant continuities with God's ways with the world at large. In all cases, the future of the people is shaped at least in part by the human response to God's word. The nations and Israel can repent of their evil and turn to God, or they can turn away from God and suffer the consequences.