broken pottery July 31 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Jeremiah 18:1–19:13

Useful or Useless?

Who hasn’t gone through their cupboards and thrown away old cracked, broken, and chipped dishes? Why do we do it? We do it simply because they are unsightly, and we do not believe they are very useful.

We probably never saw those dishes being made. Some clay or ceramic dishes, cups, or bowls may have been crafted from a pottery factory. While we may not do things the same as potters did in Biblical times, still the image of a potter working with clay is useful; it demonstrates how God works in the lives of His people in any age in time. The prophet Isaiah declares, “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8, NIV). In today's Bible reading from the book of Jeremiah, God expands on that thought. Much later in history, the Apostle Paul identifies Gentile Christians (non-Jewish believers) as also being a people of God, moldable as He sees fit (Romans 9:19-26).

In an old fashioned way, when a potter molds clay he puts a lump of it on a potter’s wheel. As it is kept spinning by a foot pedal and string (or by electricity in today’s world), he adds small amounts of water to the clay and forms it with gentle hands and fingers into the shape he desires. If he does not like what he is making, he starts over until it is just right. Then he hardens it in a kiln. Afterward, he holds the pottery up to the light. If there are no cracks, he can then paint it and finish it. If there are cracks, despite his best efforts, he throws it away.

The LORD is the potter and we are the clay. Will we yield to the gentle hands and fingers of God in our life, or will we, in our hard hearts, crack and be useless as vessels?

Israel became a worthless cracked vessel, and God pitched her. She was now in exile. Assyria threatened to destroy her sister nation, Judah, but her armies were destroyed by God; He was not ready to pitch her. He wanted to give her another chance to repent and be useful to Him. Now Assyria is weak and Babylon destroys her capital city, Nineveh. Babylon will soon control all Mesopotamia, Palestine, Egypt, and Jordan.

Judah does not repent for long. She becomes a cracked and worthless vessel, not worth saving. She will not listen or respond to God’s molding hands. God tells Jeremiah to warn the people,

“Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the LORD says: “Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.”

“But they will reply, ‘It's no use. We will continue with our own plans; each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart’” (Jeremiah 18:11-12, NIV).

God asks, “Who has ever heard of anything like this?” (Jeremiah 18:13, NIV). Judah has rejected its maker, its savior, in favor of worshipping lifeless idols which cannot help her. She prefers to die rather than cry out to God for mercy. Does this describe us or anyone we know? Let’s not be foolish—only in the LORD is there salvation. We must cry out to Him for mercy. He is the only true hope for any of us (more...)

Jeremiah is then told to call together some of the elders and priests of the people and lead them to Topheth, their place of idol worship and child sacrifice. Topheth is located in the valley of Ben Hinnom, southwest of the city of Jerusalem and also serves as the community dump. There, the people toss their broken clay pottery and refuse to burn them. Later, this place of burning is named Gehenna, an illustrative name for hell (Matthew 5:22, 29-30; 2Peter 2:4; The Bible Knowledge Commentary of the O.T., edited by Walvoord and Zuck, ©1985, pp. 1140 and 1154).

The prophet is then instructed to take a clay jar from the potter with him. In front of their eyes, he is told to smash it. This object lesson is a visual illustration to get their attention, and it accompanies Jeremiah’s message: because they will not stop doing evil, God will soon smash Judah. Those outside the city will be slaughtered. Those who seek refuge in the city will resort to cannibalism in their extreme hunger during the coming siege. All Judah will be destroyed by Babylon, and they will exile survivors (Jeremiah 19). The people at Topheth do not like Jeremiah's message of judgment, so they persecute him.

In our next Bible study, we will see what the LORD does to get Judah’s attention and punish her for persecuting Jeremiah. God defends His servants.

Lessons to Live By

  • Like Judah and Israel, God says we are also like pottery (Romans 9:19-26). Will we yield to the gentle hands and fingers of God in our life, or in our hard hearts, will we crack and be useless vessels?
  • Like the lessons of the potter and the clay, object lessons can be very effective to visually illustrate messages, especially for those who are not listening.
  • Let’s not be foolish by rejecting the LORD; in Him is our salvation. We must cry out repentance. He is the only true hope for any of us (more...).
  • We may suffer if we warn people about their sins, but God will still be our help and defense. (2Timothy 3:12; 2Peter 2:9; Revelation 2:10c)

Focus Verses

2Timothy 2:20-21 (NASB ’95)

Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these [latter] things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.

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A Look Ahead: How do we know When We Shouldn't Help?

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