Conform to the Lord’s Purpose
Explore the Bible Series
April 10, 2005
Background Passage: Jeremiah 16:-20:18
Lesson Passage: Jeremiah 18:1-12 and 15-17
Introduction: The doctrine of the sovereignty of God brings great joy and comfort to the Lord’s people. God designed all things, has perfect knowledge of all occurrences, and works all things according to his own design and glory. Many Christians have pillowed their heads at night in the sweet consolation that the Lord has directs the paths of all those whom he loves. Nevertheless, there are times when this doctrine troubles the most mature saint.
At the turn of the twentieth century a woman from Iowa, Adelaide A. Pollard, deeply desired to go to Africa as a missionary. For years she tried to raise the money for such a venture, but her efforts failed, and, finally, she reached her mid-forties, and realized that she would never reach Africa. The poor woman felt confused and disappointed that God had not opened a way for her to become a missionary. One night, Pollard attended a prayer meeting, and she heard an elderly woman pray these words, “It’s alright, Lord. It doesn’t matter what you bring into our lives, just have your own way with us.” Later that evening, Pollard wrote the words to the beloved hymn, “Have Thine Own Way.” The first verse of this song reminds me of Jeremiah 18:1-10.
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.
Adelaide Pollard eventually wrote more than one hundred hymns, and she became so well known for her music that God began to open doors of ministry for her, doors that his providence had previously kept closed. In time, this dear servant of Christ traveled all over the Eastern United States, Great Britain, and, of course, Africa!
The Prophet Jeremiah struggled with the nature of the ministry to which God had called him. The experience at the potter’s house highlighted the difficulty of Jeremiah’s prophetic work. Judah, a marred piece of clay, would be broken and reshaped. At one point, the poor prophet slipped into such despair that he wished he had never been born (See 20:14 ff.). Calamity and scorn met him at every turn, and he staggered under the weight of the message entrusted to his stewardship. God forbid the prophet to marry and have a family (See 16:1); thus, the poor man did not even enjoy the simple pleasures of a warm heart and tender touch in his home. The political and religious leaders of Judah hated and persecuted him. Disappointment and depression overwhelmed his sensitive soul, and, at times, he bordered on blaspheme as he railed against the Lord’s sovereign control over his life.
How many faithful servants of Christ struggle with similar concerns? Life and ministry have not turned out as they anticipated. The youthful flush of anticipated success in the ministry has been replaced by hard realities. Service to Christ has not brought them affirmation or applause; indeed, disappointment and discouragement seem to greet every endeavor for the kingdom of God. May the Lord grant his faithful servants peace and comfort as they consider the life of this faithful, fallible servant of the Lord.
Outline of Background Passage
I. Jeremiah Forbidden to Marry, a Symbol of Judah’s Judgment (16:1-13)
A. God prohibited Jeremiah from having a family (v. 1).
B. The families of Judah would meet with a gruesome end (vv.1-3).
C. The prophet forbidden to mourn for Judah (vv. 4-9).
D. Judah’s ignorance of her own sin (vv. 10-13).
II. God’s Promise of Judah’s Restoration (16:14-21)
A. God will bring his people back to the land he gave to their fathers (vv. 14-15).
B. The Lord will punish Judah, but he will draw the Gentiles to his grace (vv. 16-21).
1. The iniquities of Judah will cause her enemies to hunt her down like a hunter tracks his quarry (vv. 16-18).
2. The Gentile nations will repent of their sins, and the Lord will reveal himself to them (vv. 19-21).
III. Various Warnings to Judah (17:1-27)
A. Judah’s sin could not be erased (vv. 1-4).
B. The Lord’s people must not put their trust in mankind (vv. 5-8).
C. The human heart is deceitfully and desperately wicked (vv. 9-13).
D. Jeremiah prayed for deliverance from persecution (vv. 14-18).
E. Judah’s broke the Fourth Commandment (vv. 19-27).
IV. The Parable of the Potter’s Vessel (18:1-12)
A. God sent Jeremiah to the workshop of a potter (vv. 1-3)
B. The vessel was marred and the potter reshaped the clay (v. 4).
C. God pledged to reshape Judah (vv. 5-10).
D. Also, God promised to fashion a disaster to fall on Judah because of her disobedience (vv. 11-12).
V. Judah’s Unnatural Behavior (18:13-23)
A. Judah’s disobedience was as unnatural as a man finding no snow on the mountain peaks or thirsty men forsaking cool streams for unknown waters (vv. 13-14).
B. Judah’s idol worship was unnatural to the people of God, and the Lord promised to judge their aberrant behavior (vv. 1-17).
C. Jeremiah chafed under the persecution he experienced as a prophet of the Lord (vv. 19-23)
VI. The Symbol of the Broken Clay Vessel (19:1-15)
A. God commanded Jeremiah to take the religious leaders of Judah to the Valley of Hinnom (vv. 1-3).
B. Jeremiah proclaimed the Lord’s catastrophic judgment on Judah (vv. 4-9).
C. The Prophet broke the clay vessel as a symbol that God planned to break the people of Judah (vv. 10-15).
VII. Jeremiah’s Struggle with his Prophetic Work (20:1-18)
A. Pashhur’s harshly persecuted the Lord’s prophet (vv. 1-6).
B. Jeremiah’s great resistance to his work as a prophet (vv. 7-12).
C. For a moment, Jeremiah gained some relief from his depression (v. 13).
D. Jeremiah reached the nadir of his depression as he wished he had never been born (vv. 14-18)
I. Jeremiah Told Go to the Workshop of a Potter (18:1-4)
A. The Lord’s command (v. 1): Characteristically, this section begins with “The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah…” God, as we have seen before, used a common aspect of Middle Eastern life, a potter at his wheel, to teach an important lesson. Jeremiah learned to view the common occurrences of life in a new way. The prophet, no doubt, had often seen potters hard at their task; yet, he probably never observed the potter’s work in the same way.
B. The work of the potter (vv. 2-4): When he arrived at the craftsman’s workshop, Jeremiah saw him at his wheel. The Hebrew indicates a two-stoned apparatus connected by a vertical post that ran through both stones. The potter turned the wheel by moving the lower stone with his feet. The clay was placed on the upper stone, and the potter fashioned the clay as the wheel turned. Different consistencies of clay were used for various kinds of vessels, and, at times, the clay proved unsuitable for the potter’s purpose. These skilled craftsmen often had to crush the marred vessels and start the fashioning process again.
II. The Meaning of the Symbol of the Potter (18:5-6)
A. The word of the Lord (v. 5): God did not leave the prophet to guess about the meaning of this symbol. The Lord’s word came to Jeremiah with unmistakable clarity and power.
B. Israel like clay in the Lord’s hands (v. 6): The application of this symbol extended beyond Judah; it included all the ancient people of God. The Lord asserted his utter sovereignty over the “clay” of Israel. He would do with his people as he saw fit, and they could not resist his purpose or power.
III. A New Analogy, God as a Husbandman (18:7-12)
A. Like a farmer who must cultivate fallow ground, God pledged that he would pluck up, pull down, and destroy the weeds and brush that encumbered the land (v. 7). The useless and destructive plants that grew naturally from the soil had to be thoroughly uprooted and destroyed before useful plants could grow.
B. God’s promise to forgive the nations (vv. 8-10): The situation of the nations was not completely hopeless. If they repented, God promised he would relent from his determination to bring judgment. Nevertheless, the repentant nation must continue to obey the Lord or the promise of calamity would come to pass.
C. Judah’s insistence on disobedience (vv. 11-12): Despite God’s warning that he was devising a plan against Judah, the people refused to amend their ways.
Conclusion: Verses thirteen through seventeen provide a fitting summary of the problems that Jeremiah encountered in his culture. It was unnatural for Judah to defy God, and, thus, they stood at the threshold of destruction. The prophet employed three analogies of this abnormal behavior.
1. A virgin who has done a very horrible thing (v. 13)
2. A man who forsakes the fresh waters of the snow-capped mountains (This is a very difficult verse to interpret). The sense seems to be that a man travel to the mountains of Lebanon and expect to finds no snow on the mountain peaks (v. 14a)
3. A man who leaves the mountain streams of cool, fresh water, and he turns to an uncertain source of water (v. 14b)
Judah had sinned against the Lord by turning to worthless idols, forsaking the ancient paths, and bringing desolation and shame upon themselves. God responded to Judah’s sin by scattering them before their enemies and warning that he would not heed their pleas for mercy (v. 17).