By David Faust
In biblical times working with clay was serious business. Pottery making required strength and dexterity. A skilled craftsman would place a lump of clay on the ground and tread on it with his feet until it reached the right consistency, then toss the clay onto a wheel made from two circular stones on an axle. Some potters had assistants who turned the stone by hand, but more often the potter himself would turn the wheel with his feet while his hands smoothed and shaped the clay into a cone. Then he would press his thumb into the middle and form a hole, gradually shaping the clay into a pot, pitcher, or vase.
Ancient potters knew how to vary the color of the clay, control the temperature of their furnaces, decorate the surface of the pots, and add a lustrous glaze to the finished product.
At the Potter’s House
Prophets and potters might not seem to have much in common, but the Lord sent Jeremiah to a potter’s house. As the potter worked at his wheel, “the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him” (Jeremiah 18:4).
The potter had in mind a particular design, and when his creation didn’t develop as desired, the potter squashed the clay back into a shapeless blob and started over again. When imperfections emerged, the potter didn’t throw away the clay; he made something new out of it and continued to fulfill his plan.
God told Jeremiah, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does? . . . . Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel” (v. 6). Here the Lord was speaking about his sovereignty over nations and kingdoms (vv. 7-10), but the destinies of entire people groups hinge on the actions of individuals. That’s why the Lord said, “So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions” (v. 11).
The prophet Isaiah used a similar metaphor. “Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’” (Isaiah 45:9). “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (64:8).
Shaped by God’s Hand
A friend taught me the Yiddish term bashert, a word used in Jewish culture for destiny or fate. Men and women use the word when they find their soul mates and fall in love. “We didn’t meet by chance,” they say. “It was bashert!” More broadly, bashert can mean a turn of events that appears coincidental, but it’s actually part of God’s plan.
Our lives aren’t shaped by blind chance. I don’t believe in fate; I believe in the Father. Even when we don’t understand all the details, the divine Potter works “for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
Like the ancient Jews, sometimes we’re not very pliable. We’re inflexible and stubborn. Thankfully even when imperfections mar his design, the artist who created humanity from the dust of the earth reaches down with loving hands and forms something new. That’s why we pray:
“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.”
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for October 11, 2015
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
Jeremiah 14, 15
Jeremiah 30, 31