God's power over his creatures is represented by the potter. (1-10) The Jews exhorted to repentance, and judgments foretold. (11-17) The prophet appeals to God. (18-23)
Verses 1-10 While Jeremiah looks upon the potter's work, God darts into his mind two great truths. God has authority, and power, to form and fashion kingdoms and nations as he pleases. He may dispose of us as he thinks fit; and it would be as absurd for us to dispute this, as for the clay to quarrel with the potter. But he always goes by fixed rules of justice and goodness. When God is coming against us in judgments, we may be sure it is for our sins; but sincere conversion from the evil of sin will prevent the evil of punishment, as to persons, and to families, and nations.
Verses 11-17 Sinners call it liberty to live at large; whereas for a man to be a slave to his lusts, is the very worst slavery. They forsook God for idols. When men are parched with heat, and meet with cooling, refreshing streams, they use them. In these things men will not leave a certainty for an uncertainty; but Israel left the ancient paths appointed by the Divine law. They walked not in the highway, in which they might travel safely, but in a way in which they must stumble: such was the way of idolatry, and such is the way of iniquity. This made their land desolate, and themselves miserable. Calamities may be borne, if God smile upon us when under them; but if he is displeased, and refuses his help, we are undone. Multitudes forget the Lord and his Christ, and wander from the ancient paths, to walk in ways of their own devising. But what will they do in the day of judgment!
Verses 18-23 When the prophet called to repentance, instead of obeying the call, the people devised devices against him. Thus do sinners deal with the great Intercessor, crucifying him afresh, and speaking against him on earth, while his blood is speaking for them in heaven. But the prophet had done his duty to them; and the same will be our rejoicing in a day of evil.
Jeremiah 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.
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.
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 Exodus 1:16 alone is the Hebrew word found elsewhere, but in a different sense.
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 Jeremiah 18:6 , "as the clay."
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 east away the people who prove unfaithful to His election and can raise others in their stead (compare Isaiah 45:9 , 64:8 , Romans 9:20 Romans 9:21 ). It is curious that the potter's field should have been the purchase made with the price of Judas' treachery ( Matthew 27:9 Matthew 27:10 : a potter's vessel dashed to pieces, compare Psalms 2:8 Psalms 2:9 , Revelation 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 ( Zechariah 11:12 Zechariah 11:13 ) as Jeremiah's because the latter (Jeremiah 18:1-19:15') was the source from which the former derived his summary in Zechariah 11:12 Zechariah 11:13 [HENGSTENBERG].
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].
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 ( Ezekiel 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 ( Jeremiah 18:9 Jeremiah 18:10 ). This is applied practically to the Jews' case ( Jeremiah 18:11 ; see Jeremiah 26:3 , Jonah 3:10 ).
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.--( 2 Kings 17:13 ).
12. no hope--Thy threats and exhortations are all thrown away ( Jeremiah 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 Isaiah 30:10 Isaiah 30:11 .
13. ( Jeremiah 2:10 Jeremiah 2:11 ). 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--( 2 Kings 19:21 ). It enhances their guilt, that Israel was the virgin whom God had specially betrothed to Him.
horrible thing--( Jeremiah 5:30 ).
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. Jeremiah 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" ( Solomon 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" ( Isaiah 19:5 ); the sense thus being, Will nature ever turn aside from its fixed course? The "cold waters" (compare Proverbs 25:25 ) refer to the perennial streams, fed from the partial melting of the snow in the hot weather.
15. Because--rather, "And yet"; in defiance of the natural order of things.
forgotten me--( Jeremiah 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--( Jeremiah 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.
16. hissing--( 1 Kings 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 ( 2 Kings 19:21 , Matthew 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" ( Jeremiah 19:8 ).
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 , Psalms 48:7 , Isaiah 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" ( Jeremiah 2:27 ).
18. ( Jeremiah 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, Malachi 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 ( Leviticus 6:18 , 10:11 ; compare Jeremiah 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 ( Jeremiah 28:15 Jeremiah 28:16 , Jeremiah 29:25 Jeremiah 29:32 , 5:31 ); "for the law shall not perish," &c. I prefer GROTIUS' explanation.
with . . . tongue--by a false accusation ( Psalms 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].
19. Give heed--contrasted with, "let us not give heed" ( Jeremiah 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.
20. In the particulars here specified, Jeremiah was a type of Jesus Christ ( Psalms 109:4 Psalms 109:5 , John 15:25 ).
my soul--my life; me ( Psalms 35:7 ).
I stood before thee . . . to turn away thy wrath--so Moses ( Psalms 106:23 ; compare Ezekiel 22:30 ). So Jesus Christ, the antitype of previous partial intercessors ( Isaiah 59:16 ).
21. pour out their blood by the force of the sword--literally, "by the hands of the sword." So Ezekiel 35:5 . MAURER with JEROME translates, "deliver them over to the power of the sword." But compare Psalms 63:10 , Margin; Isaiah 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 Jeremiah 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.
22. cry--by reason of the enemy bursting in: let their houses be no shelter to them in their calamities [CALVIN].
digged . . . pit--( Jeremiah 18:20 , Psalms 57:6 , 119:85 ).
23. forgive not--( Psalms 109:9 Psalms 109:10 Psalms 109:14 ).
blot out--image from an account-book ( Revelation 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 Psalms 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 ( Ecclesiastes 8:11 Ecclesiastes 8:12 , 2 Peter 3:9 2 Peter 3:10 ).