Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,
Jer 18:1-23. God, as the Sole Sovereign, Has an Absolute Right to Deal with Nations According to Their Conduct towards Him; Illustrated in a Tangible Form by the Potter's Moulding of Vessels from Clay.
Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words.
2. go down—namely, from the high ground on which the temple stood, near which Jeremiah exercised his prophetic office, to the low ground, where some well-known (this is the force of "the") potter had his workshop.
Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.
3. wheels—literally, "on both stones." The potter's horizontal lathe consisted of two round plates, the lower one larger, the upper smaller; of stone originally, but afterwards of wood. On the upper the potter moulded the clay into what shapes he pleased. They are found represented in Egyptian remains. In Ex 1:16 alone is the Hebrew word found elsewhere, but in a different sense.
And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
4. marred—spoiled. "Of clay" is the true reading, which was corrupted into "as clay" (Margin), through the similarity of the two Hebrew letters, and from Jer 18:6, "as the clay."
Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.
6. Refuting the Jews' reliance on their external privileges as God's elect people, as if God could never cast them off. But if the potter, a mere creature, has power to throw away a marred vessel and raise up other clay from the ground, a fortiori God, the Creator, can cast away the people who prove unfaithful to His election and can raise others in their stead (compare Isa 45:9; 64:8; Ro 9:20, 21). It is curious that the potter's field should have been the purchase made with the price of Judas' treachery (Mt 27:9, 10: a potter's vessel dashed to pieces, compare Ps 2:8, 9; Re 2:27), because of its failing to answer the maker's design, being the very image to depict God's sovereign power to give reprobates to destruction, not by caprice, but in the exercise of His righteous judgment. Matthew quotes Zechariah's words (Zec 11:12, 13) as Jeremiah's because the latter (Jer 18:1-19:15) was the source from which the former derived his summary in Zec 11:12, 13 [Hengstenberg].
At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;
7. At what instant—in a moment, when the nation least expects it. Hereby he reminds the Jews how marvellously God had delivered them from their original degradation, that is, In one and the same day ye were the most wretched, and then the most favored of all people [Calvin].
If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
8. their evil—in antithesis to, "the evil that I thought to do."
repent—God herein adapts Himself to human conceptions. The change is not in God, but in the circumstances which regulate God's dealings: just as we say the land recedes from us when we sail forth, whereas it is we who recede from the land (Eze 18:21; 33:11). God's unchangeable principle is to do the best that can be done under all circumstances; if then He did not take into account the moral change in His people (their prayers, &c.), He would not be acting according to His own unchanging principle (Jer 18:9, 10). This is applied practically to the Jews' case (Jer 18:11; see Jer 26:3; Jon 3:10).
And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it;
If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good.
11. frame evil—alluding to the preceding image of "the potter," that is, I, Jehovah, am now as it were the potter framing evil against you; but in the event of your repenting, it is in My power to frame anew My course of dealing towards you.
return, &c.—(2Ki 17:13).
And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart.
12. no hope—Thy threats and exhortations are all thrown away (Jer 2:25). Our case is desperate; we are hopelessly abandoned to our sins and their penalty. In this and the following clauses, "We will walk after our own devices," Jeremiah makes them express the real state of the case, rather than the hypocritical subterfuges which they would have been inclined to put forth. So Isa 30:10, 11.
Therefore thus saith the LORD; Ask ye now among the heathen, who hath heard such things: the virgin of Israel hath done a very horrible thing.
13. (Jer 2:10, 11). Even among the heathen it was a thing unheard of, that a nation should lay aside its gods for foreign gods, though their gods are false gods. But Israel forsook the true God for foreign false gods.
virgin of Israel—(2Ki 19:21). It enhances their guilt, that Israel was the virgin whom God had specially betrothed to Him.
horrible thing—(Jer 5:30).
Will a man leave the snow of Lebanon which cometh from the rock of the field? or shall the cold flowing waters that come from another place be forsaken?
14. Is there any man (living near it) who would leave the snow of Lebanon (that is, the cool melted snow water of Lebanon, as he presently explains), which cometh from the rock of the field (a poetical name for Lebanon, which towers aloft above the surrounding field, or comparatively plain country)? None. Yet Israel forsakes Jehovah, the living fountain close at hand, for foreign broken cisterns. Jer 17:13; 2:13, accord with English Version here. Maurer translates, "Shall the snow of Lebanon cease from the rock to water (literally, 'forsake') My fields" (the whole land around being peculiarly Jehovah's)? Lebanon means the "white mountain"; so called from the perpetual snow which covers that part called Hermon, stretching northeast of Palestine.
that come from another place—that come from far, namely, from the distant lofty rocks of Lebanon. Henderson translates, "the compressed waters," namely, contracted within a narrow channel while descending through the gorges of the rocks; "flowing" may in this view be rather "flowing down" (So 4:15). But the parallelism in English Version is better, "which cometh from the rock," "that cometh from another place."
be forsaken—answering to the parallel, "Will a man leave," &c. Maurer translates, "dry up," or "fail" (Isa 19:5); the sense thus being, Will nature ever turn aside from its fixed course? The "cold waters" (compare Pr 25:25) refer to the perennial streams, fed from the partial melting of the snow in the hot weather.
Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up;
15. Because—rather, "And yet"; in defiance of the natural order of things.
forgotten me—(Jer 2:32). This implies a previous knowledge of God, whereas He was unknown to the Gentiles; the Jews' forgetting of God, therefore, arose from determined perversity.
they have caused … to stumble—namely the false prophets and idolatrous priests have.
ancient paths—(Jer 6:16): the paths which their pious ancestors trod. Not antiquity indiscriminately, but the example of the fathers who trod the right way, is here commended.
not cast up—not duly prepared: referring to the raised center of the road. Calvin translates, "not trodden." They had no precedent of former saints to induce them to devise for themselves a new worship.
To make their land desolate, and a perpetual hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished, and wag his head.
16. hissing—(1Ki 9:8). In sign of contempt. That which was to be only the event is ascribed to the purpose of the people, although altogether different from what they would have been likely to hope for. Their purpose is represented as being the destruction of their country, because it was the inevitable result of their course of acting.
wag … head—in mockery (2Ki 19:21; Mt 27:39). As "wag … head" answers to "hissing," so "astonished" answers to "desolate," for which, therefore, Munster and others rather translate, "an object of wonder" (Jer 19:8).
I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy; I will shew them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity.
17. as with an east wind—literally, "I will scatter them, as an east wind (scatters all before it)": a most violent wind (Job 27:21; Ps 48:7; Isa 27:8). Thirty-two manuscripts read (without as), "with an east wind."
I will show them the back … not … face—just retribution: as "they turned their back unto Me … not their face" (Jer 2:27).
Then said they, Come, and let us devise devices against Jeremiah; for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, and let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words.
18. (Jer 11:19). Let us bring a capital charge against him, as a false prophet; "for (whereas he foretells that this land shall be left without priests to teach the law, Mal 2:7; without scribes to explain its difficulties; and without prophets to reveal God's will), the law shall not perish from the prophet," &c.; since God has made these a lasting institution in His church, and the law declares they shall never perish (Le 6:18; 10:11; compare Jer 5:12) [Grotius].
the wise—scribes and elders joined to the priests. Perhaps they mean to say, we must have right on our side, in spite of Jeremiah's words against us and our prophets (Jer 28:15, 16; 29:25, 32; 5:31); "for the law shall not perish," &c. I prefer Grotius' explanation.
with … tongue—by a false accusation (Ps 57:4; 64:3; 12:4; 50:19). "For the tongue" (Margin), that is, for his speaking against us. "In the tongue," that is, let us kill him, that he may speak no more against us [Castalio].
Give heed to me, O LORD, and hearken to the voice of them that contend with me.
19. Give heed—contrasted with, "let us not give heed" (Jer 18:18). As they give no heed to me, do Thou, O Lord, give heed to me, and let my words at least have their weight with Thee.
Shall evil be recompensed for good? for they have digged a pit for my soul. Remember that I stood before thee to speak good for them, and to turn away thy wrath from them.
20. In the particulars here specified, Jeremiah was a type of Jesus Christ (Ps 109:4, 5; Joh 15:25).
my soul—my life; me (Ps 35:7).
I stood before thee … to turn away thy wrath—so Moses (Ps 106:23; compare Eze 22:30). So Jesus Christ, the antitype of previous partial intercessors (Isa 59:16).
Therefore deliver up their children to the famine, and pour out their blood by the force of the sword; and let their wives be bereaved of their children, and be widows; and let their men be put to death; let their young men be slain by the sword in battle.
21. pour out their blood by the force of the sword—literally, "by the hands of the sword." So Eze 35:5. Maurer with Jerome translates, "deliver them over to the power of the sword." But compare Ps 63:10, Margin; Isa 53:12. In this prayer he does not indulge in personal revenge, as if it were his own cause that was at stake; but he speaks under the dictation of the Spirit, ceasing to intercede, and speaking prophetically, knowing they were doomed to destruction as reprobates; for those not so, he doubtless ceased not to intercede. We are not to draw an example from this, which is a special case.
put to death—or, as in Jer 15:2, "perish by the death plague" [Maurer].
men … young men—Horsley distinguishes the former as married men past middle age; the latter, the flower of unmarried youth.
Let a cry be heard from their houses, when thou shalt bring a troop suddenly upon them: for they have digged a pit to take me, and hid snares for my feet.
22. cry—by reason of the enemy bursting in: let their houses be no shelter to them in their calamities [Calvin].
digged … pit—(Jer 18:20; Ps 57:6; 119:85).
Yet, LORD, thou knowest all their counsel against me to slay me: forgive not their iniquity, neither blot out their sin from thy sight, but let them be overthrown before thee; deal thus with them in the time of thine anger.
23. forgive not—(Ps 109:9, 10, 14).
blot out—image from an account-book (Re 20:12).
before thee—Hypocrites suppose God is not near, so long as they escape punishment; but when He punishes, they are said to stand before Him, because they can no longer flatter themselves they can escape His eye (compare Ps 90:8).
deal thus—exert Thy power against them [Maurer].
time of thine anger—Though He seems to tarry, His time shall come at last (Ec 8:11, 12; 2Pe 3:9, 10).