Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
Jeremiah 18:1-6 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Potter and the Clay
18 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
Have you ever watched a potter throwing pottery? As the lump of clay spins on the wheel, it responds immediately to the slightest movements of the hands of the potter. It is fascinating to watch.
In our scripture reading for today, we hear the young prophet Jeremiah tell of his experience in the potter’s house. The word of the Lord came to him and prompted him to “go down to the potter’s house”—literally to go down to “the place of shaping” or “the place of making” or “the place of molding”—and watch and wait for a word from the Lord. The potter’s house was an important place. In Jeremiah’s day, you couldn’t cook a meal, carry water from a well, light a lamp to dispel the darkness of the night, or even place flowers in a vase without going down to the potter’s house. You couldn’t carry on commerce with accurate measures without going down to the potter’s house. And God’s message to Jeremiah was, “If you want to understand who I am and who you are, Jeremiah, you have to go down to the potter’s house.”
I can imagine Jeremiah walking out of Jerusalem through the Potsherd Gate and down into the Hinnom Valley, just south of Jerusalem. He walked past the pools of Siloam, past the field for storing and treading clay, past the kiln for firing the clay vessels, past the dump for discards and into the workshop of the potter. The potter’s house was called, literally, the “place of making” or the “place of molding” because the potter would take the clay and mold it and make it, and give form to that which had no form. There he found the potter at work at his wheel.
Young Jeremiah watched as the potter reached into the container of clay, pulled out a lump of it, sprinkled it with water, and began to pound it on the wheel. He watched as the potter twisted it, pulled it apart, and pushed it together. He watched as the potter pounded the clay, rolled it out again and, wetting his hands, started the wheel turning with his feet. From that round lump of clay, a beautiful, useful vessel started to emerge, shaped by the careful and skillful hands of the potter. Jeremiah was surprised, then, when suddenly the potter stopped the wheel. When he did, the vessel sagged a little to one side and the potter then broke off a section of the clay and threw it into a pile of discarded clay. The vessel was once again just a lump of clay. The potter’s sensitive hands had felt an imperfection in the clay that would never have withstood the fire of the kiln or the rigors of daily use. Jeremiah must have thought to himself, “Well, that vessel is ruined.” But, the potter didn’t discard the whole vessel. Instead, he immediately went to work on the clay and fashioned another vessel—perhaps one that looked different than the first or one that had a different kind of usefulness—this time, however, one that could withstand the kiln and the rigors of use.
I can picture Jeremiah, standing there watching the spinning clay and meditating on the plight of his people and their lack of faithfulness to God. After watching for a while, it occurred to Jeremiah that that is what God has been doing all along. God, like a potter at the wheel, is at work in his world, shaping, forming, stretching, pushing, pulling us into shape. And not just any shape. Into God’s shape. God’s form. God’s image. (See Genesis 2:7.) In the creation story in Genesis when it says that “…the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground …” the Hebrew words suggest a potter forming or molding clay.
As he watched and meditated, the word of God came to him: “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter had done? Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” What God told Jeremiah was, “My people are just like that clay. They have been marred and broken, and they refuse to be remade.” But the potter can take old clay and make a new thing. God’s message to the people of God, the people of Judah, was that God is the potter and they are the clay. Even in their brokenness, they can be remade, if they will yield themselves to the strong, skillful hands of the Potter. If the clay is still soft and formable—that is, if there is repentance and a willingness to be shaped by the Potter—then the Maker can still fashion the clay into a useful vessel. The fingers of the Maker, Jeremiah knew, were pressing hard on Judah to re‑form the people and to mold them after the will of the Maker.
God was calling the people to allow their lives to be shaped by God’s grace, God’s love and God’s will. God created us like a potter creates a clay vessel. And the remarkable thing is that God continues to work in our lives like a potter continues to shape a vessel on the wheel. God, like a potter at the wheel, takes hold of our lives and smoothes and presses and removes the flaws and imperfections that can weaken us and make us less fit for the kiln—those fiery times in our lives that have the possibility of making us stronger. Sometimes the Potter presses hard and we feel the pressure more keenly. Sometimes the Potter gently smoothes and we experience that healing and shaping touch of those strong hands. The process of shaping can be rough. It can seem like the vessel will be destroyed when, in fact, the vessel is made stronger to face fire and daily service.
Here’s a question for us to ponder today: Are we able to “to the potter’s house”—to go to the place of shaping, the place of making, the place of molding?
Placing our lives in God’s hands and yielding our lives to God as clay in the hands of a potter requires one main thing: TRUST.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster