broken pottery July 31 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading: 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 that? 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 was done in Biblical times, still the lesson of a potter working with clay is a good imagery of how God works in the lives of his people. The prophet Isaiah declares of Israel, “but now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand,” (Isaiah 64:8, NIV). Romans 9:24 identifies Gentile Christians (non-Jewish believers) as also being a people of God, moldable as He sees fit.

In the old fashioned way, when a potter molds clay he puts a lump of clay on a potters’ wheel. As it is kept spinning by a foot petal and string (or by electricity in today’s world), he adds small amounts of water to the lump of 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. After it hardens, 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.

God says Israel and Judah were like pottery. God also says we are like pottery (Romans 9:19-26). Will we yield to the gentle hands and fingers of God in our life, or will we in our hard hearts crack and be totally useless as a vessel? 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. Now Assyria was weak as Babylon destroyed Nineveh, her capital. Babylon would soon control all Mesopotamia, Palestine, Egypt and Jordan.

At this time in history Judah had also become a cracked and worthless vessel. She would not listen or respond to God’s molding hands. God said to Jeremiah,

“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 had rejected its maker, its savior, in favor of worshipping lifeless idols which could not help her. She preferred to die rather than cry out to God for mercy. Does this describe you or anyone you know? Let’s not be foolish - only in the LORD is there salvation. We must cry out to him in repentance. He is the only true hope for any of us (more...)

Jeremiah was 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 was located in the valley of Ben Hinnom, southwest of the city of Jerusalem and also served as the community dump. There people would toss their broken clay pottery and refuse and burn them. Later, this place of burning was named Gehenna, an illustrative name for hell (Matthew 5:22, 29-30; 2Peter 2:4; The Bible Knowledge Commentary of the O.T., by Walvoord and Zuck, ©1985, pp. 1140 and 1154). Jeremiah was instructed to take a clay jar from the potter with him. In front of their eyes he was told to smash it. This object lesson was a visual illustration to get their attention, and it accompanied Jeremiah’s message: God was now going to smash Judah. Those outside the city would be slaughtered. Those who sought refuge in the city would result to cannibalism during the coming siege. All Judah would be destroyed by Babylon and her people taken into exile (Jeremiah 19). Of couse the people at Topheth did not like Jeremiah's message of judgment, so they persecuted him.

In our next Bible study we will see what God did to get Judah’s attention and punish her for persecuting his servant.

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 will we in our hard hearts, crack and be totally 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.
  • All who do not turn to God from their sins will die in hell, no matter what their heritage is.
  • Let’s not be foolish by rejecting the LORD; in Him is our salvation. We must cry out to him in repentance. He is the only true hope for any of us (more...).
  • We will likely 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)

Today’s Bible memory verses: 2Timothy 2:20-21

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. (NASB ’95)

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