Jeremiah 18:18-20

Wed, 11/03/2009 - 09:30 -- James Oakley

That Bible reading from Jeremiah chapter 18 was a very short one, so we don’t get any sense of where it comes in the book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah was asked to go and watch a potter at work. The vessel the potter was making went awry, and so the potter changed his plans and made something else. God explains to Jeremiah that he is a bit like that potter. He can plan to destroy a nation for its wickedness, but if the nation shifts and starts to fear God, he’ll change his plans and build it up instead. Conversely, he could plan to build up and prosper a nation, but if that nation goes awry and becomes wicked, he’ll change his plans and destroy it instead.

Jeremiah then applies this lesson to the people of Israel. They are a wicked nation, he says, and God’s plan is to destroy them. And yet, because God is like that potter, if they change and start to fear God again, they will be spared.

The people don’t like it. Here’s what they say: “That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.” They don’t want to know. And specifically: They don’t want to change.

And then our reading is where it gets personal: “Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us strike him with the tongue, and let us not pay attention to any of his words.”

They want to harm, even to kill Jeremiah. He told them how they could be spared from God’s anger; all they think about is the implication that there is something wrong and that they need to change. And they resent that.

Jeremiah is not alone, of course. A prophet far greater than Jeremiah would come and announce that Jerusalem needed to change or to face God’s anger, and you’ll remember what they did to him. He ended up on a cross.

This forces us to face up to the fact that human nature does not change. The people of Jesus’ day responded in the same way as the people of Jeremiah’s day. And that gives us something to guard ourselves against as well.

The Christian message is startlingly good news. We talk of how God himself came to earth so that we can turn back to him and find forgiveness and new life. That does imply that we are not fine the way we are. We do need to turn back to God; we do need to change.

But let’s be sure that we don’t focus on that implication so that our response is one of resentment. Because if we do that, we’re making the same mistake as the crowds that Jeremiah and Jesus faced. And far more importantly, if we do that, we are going to miss out on the wonderful God we’ve got, who wants to turn a misshapen piece of clay into something beautiful.

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