Tuesday, 4 January 2011

But was that God's last word?

I am reading in the prophecy of Jeremiah and have arrived at Chapter 18. It is famous for its metaphor of the Potter's Wheel. The imagery is beautiful but the goal of the illustration is both encouraging and daunting.

Jeremiah sees a potter working at his potter's wheel. Jer 18:3–4 Although preachers have made some interesting conjectures there is no real explanation as to why this pot 'went wrong'. If we read further on we shall see the implications. The illustration and the accompanying prophecy is aimed at Israel. Jer 18:6; Israel in this context is the northern kingdom of Israel, as distinct from Judah. Israel had been broken and dispersed over a hundred years before Jeremiah's prophecy. Its peoples had been merged into the empire of Assyria and had 'vanished off the radar'.

The was the pot which even while it had been in the potter's hands had been spoiled. For a time I worked as the labourer for a very skilled potter in the Wedgwood factory in Staffordshire. Clay is a pretty cheap commodity. If a pot was 'spoiled' it would be much more cost-effective to 'bin it' and start again. But this is not what this potter does; he simply remakes it as something different;
And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. Jer 18:4 NKJV
again and another... perhaps it is important to note that this spoiled pot is not 'repaired', it is remade and to another design. It is the same clay but it now has an entirely different destiny.

It was a word of hope for the scattered remnants of 'Israel', the northern kingdom. Their situation must have seemed utterly hopeless, ruined beyond repair and yet God gives this amazing picture. Even when God has pronounced judgement and that judgement is in process of being worked out, God has not given up.
The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. Jer 18:7–8 NKJV
If ever a nation had been plucked up out of its land, pulled down and left as a ruin, and destroyed as far as any might judge, that nation was Israel, the northern kingdom. And yet God's last word seems to have a post script; if this plucked up, pulled down, destroyed nation will only hear God's word and turn from its headlong flight to destruction, God will step in yet again and 'make it again into another vessel'.

There is an even deeper tragedy than their exile later in this chapter. In spite of this wonderful and generous offer Israel refuse to accept it;
And they said, “That is hopeless! So we will walk according to our own plans, and we will every one obey the dictates of his evil heart.” Jer 18:12 NKJV
and then it really will be the last word.

For the Romans January was named after their two faced god Janus who stood on the threshold of the year and looked both backwards and forwards. It is a practice many of us repeat without a consciousness of how old the pattern is. What of 2010? Was it a year in which you were plucked up, pulled down and destroyed? That is not necessarily the last word. There is a Potter who is still willing to remake it into a new design, just as long as we return to him and reject our obstinate hopelessness.

For each one of us as we stand on the threshold of a year past and another begun God holds us still in his hand and is ready to work a miracle, are you ready to receive one?