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Jeremiah 18


(The parentheses represent poetic literary units)

The Potter and the Clay The Potter and the Clay Jeremiah Visits the Potter Jeremiah at the Potter's House The Allegory of the Potter
18:1-4 18:1-4 18:1-12 18:1-4 18:1-4
18:5-12 18:5-10   18:5-12 18:5-11
  God's Warning Rejected      
  18:12     18:12
    About Israel's Repudiation of Yahweh The People Reject the Lord Faithless Judah is Condemned to Endless Walking
  Jeremiah Persecuted A Plot Against Jeremiah A Plot Against Jeremiah Jeremiah's Fourth Personal Lament
18:18 18:18 18:18 18:18 18:18
18:19-23 18:19-23

READING CYCLE THREE (see introductory section)


This is a study guide commentary,which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



1The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord saying, 2"Arise and go down to the potter's house, and there I will announce My words to you." 3Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. 4But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.

18:1 See note at 7:1.

18:2 The potter is a metaphor for YHWH (cf. Isa. 29:16; 30:14; 41:25; 64:8; Zech. 11:13; Rom. 9:21; Rev. 2:27). The verbal for "formed" is often used of YHWH's creative activity (cf. Gen. 2:7,8,18; Isa. 43:1,21; 44:21; 45:9,11,18). YHWH's covenant people were part of a larger purpose (see Special Topic at 1:5), but their covenant disobedience caused that plan to be damaged (cf. Ezek. 36:22-38). Therefore, the potter starts over again to make a new piece of the wheel (cf. v. 4). The theological question is "who/what" is the new piece?

18:4 The problem is defective clay not a poorly skilled potter! The clay is fallen (cf. Genesis 3), even with all of YHWH's benefits (cf. Rom. 9:4-5).

The JPSOA translation adds "if," which denotes that not all vessels were "spoiled." But the context suggests YHWH is depicting Judah as a corporate entity.

5Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, 6"Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?" declares the Lord. "Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. 7At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; 8if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. 9Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; 10 if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it. 11So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, 'Thus says the Lord, "Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds."' 12 But they will say, 'It's hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.'

18:7 The actions of YHWH are the very actions given to Jeremiah at his call (cf. 1:10). YHWH exercises interest and control over all nations (cf. Deut.32:8; all the judgment chapters are addressed to them in the prophets).

1. to uproot - BDB 684, KB 737, Qal infinitive construct

2. to pull down - BDB 683, KB 736, Qal infinitive construct

3. to destroy - BDB 1, KB 2, Hiphil infinitive construct

The actions of renewal and rebuilding mentioned in 1:10 are conditionally stated in vv. 8-9. Faith and faithfulness have consequences, as do idolatry and disobedience (cf. v. 10).

18:8,10 "if. . ." There are some unconditional promises based on YHWH's desire to redeem mankind. However, they are addressed to nations and individuals on conditional bases (i.e., 7:3-7; 12:16). This is where the doctrine of "God's Sovereignty" and "Human Freewill" meet!

SPECIAL TOPIC: Predestination (Calvinism) Versus Human Free Will (Arminianism)

SPECIAL TOPIC: Election/Predestination and the Need for a Theological Balance

18:11 YHWH, like the potter, made and destroyed a piece of pottery. The verb (BDB 427, KB 428) translated "fashioning" is the same Qal participle translated "potter" (vv. 2,3,4 [twice],6 [twice],11). It is also used of God's activity in forming Adam (cf. Gen. 2:7,8) and Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5) and a nation from Abraham's seed (cf. Isa. 27:11; 43:1,21; 44:21; 45:9,11; 64:8).

▣ "I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you" The OT asserts the full sovereignty of YHWH. His control of "all" events (i.e., one causality in the universe) was a theological way of asserting monotheism (see Special Topic at 1:5). This "one causality" can be seen in II Chr. 20:6; Eccl. 7:14; Isa. 14:24-27; 43:13; 45:7; 54:16; Jer. 18:11; Lam. 3:33-38). For a good brief discussion of this see Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 305-306. This in no way is meant to assert that YHWH is the source of evil!

There are two imperatives which describe YHWH's message to Judah.

1. "turn back" - BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal imperative, see Special Topic at 2:22

2. "reform" (lit. "make good") - BDB 405, KB 408, Hiphil imperative

Notice that true repentance is not only a turning from evil, but a turning to good!

18:12 This is YHWH's understanding of the unrepentant heart of Judah (cf. 2:25; 17:1). They will not, they cannot change (cf. 13:23). They have passed the time of repentance. They walk in open-eyed rebellion (cf. 7:24; 9:13; 13:10; 16:12)!

13"Therefore thus says the Lord,
'Ask now among the nations,
Who ever heard the like of this?
The virgin of Israel
Has done a most appalling thing.
 14Does the snow of Lebanon forsake the rock of the open country?
Or is the cold flowing water from a foreign land ever snatched away?
15For My people have forgotten Me,
They burn incense to worthless gods
And they have stumbled from their ways,
From the ancient paths,
To walk in bypaths,
Not on a highway,
16To make their land a desolation,
An object of perpetual hissing;
Everyone who passes by it will be astonished
And shake his head.
17Like an east wind I will scatter them
Before the enemy;
I will show them My back and not My face
In the day of their calamity.'"

18:13-17 This strophe describes the horrible and unique situation of a nation changing her god/gods (cf. 2:9-13). YHWH formed/created them but now they have "forgotten" (BDB 1013, KB 1489, Qal perfect, cf. 2:32; 3:21; 13:25) Him, the only true God (see Special Topic at 1:5), the One who brought them into existence, protected them, provided for them, was personally present with them!

How could this happen?

1. They burned incense to worthless gods.

2. They stumbled from God's clearly revealed way (i.e., ancient paths, cf. 6:16; Ps. 16:11; 139:24).

3. They walked in bypaths that were not YHWH's path.

What are the consequences of their choices/actions?

1. The land of promise will be a desolation.

2. It will be a sign of shame and scorn (lit. "shake the head," cf. 48:27).

3. They will be scattered (cf. Lev. 26:33; Jer. 9:16; 13:24; 31:10).

4. YHWH will show them His back and not His face (this is a revocalization of the MT).


18:13 "a most appalling thing" This phrase is used of nation changing gods. The word "appalling" (BDB 1045 III, KB 1619 III) has several forms.

1. שׁערור = horrible things, cf. 5:30; 23:14

2. שׁערורי = something horrible, cf. 18:13; Hosea 6:10

3. שׁער = rotten figs, cf. 29:17


18:14 This verse (a parenthetical statement) is difficult to translate. It obviously describes that which normally or expectedly occurs. Here apparently, the snow stays on Mt. Hermon and its melted waters continually flow down. Nature can be predicted with regularity, but not the seed of Abraham!

18:15 "not on a highway" Verse 15 resumes the theme of v. 13. The theme of a special highway is recurrent in Isaiah.

1. a highway for the exiled Jews to return, Isa. 11:16; 57:14

2. a highway for Gentile worshipers to come, Isa. 19:23

3. a highway of holiness, Isa. 26:7; 35:8; 43:19; 49:11; 51:10

4. a Messianic highway, Isa. 40:3; 42:16


18:16-17 This is exactly opposite of what YHWH wanted to do for His covenant people who He settled in His land. They were to be a light to the nations, but they became an object of scorn and astonishment (cf. Ezek. 36:22-23).

18Then they said, "Come and let us devise plans against Jeremiah. Surely the law is not going to be lost to the priest, nor counsel to the sage, nor the divine word to the prophet! Come on and let us strike at him with our tongue, and let us give no heed to any of his words."

18:18 This verse is an introductory strophe to the poem of vv. 19-23. Jeremiah's enemies plan their attack (cf. 20:10).

1. come - BDB 229, KB 246, Qal imperative

2. let us devise plans - BDB 362, KB 359, Qal cohortative

3. come - same as #1

4. let us strike at him with our tongue - BDB 645, KB 697, Hiphil imperfect used in a cohortative sense

5. let us give no heed to any of his words - BDB 904, KB 1151, Hiphil cohortative

a. stop listening, MT, Peshitta, JPSOA, NRSV

b. listen and try to find faults, LXX, JB

This is the only verse in the OT where all three means or genres of YHWH's revelation are mentioned together.

1. the priest - the Law (question about how to apply the law)

2. the sage - counsel (i.e., Wisdom Literature)

3. the prophet - the divine word

These are mentioned to assert their belief that Jeremiah's messages are not from YHWH. He is a false prophet (cf. Deut. 13:1-5) and should be killed! Because these false leaders have done this to Jeremiah; YHWH will remove all of His revelation from Judah!

The three groups of leaders are mentioned several times in Jeremiah (cf. 2:8,26; 4:9; 5:31; 8:1; 13:13; 26:16; 28:1).

1. kings, princes

2. priests

3. prophets


19Do give heed to me, O Lord,
And listen to what my opponents are saying!
20Should good be repaid with evil?
For they have dug a pit for me.
Remember how I stood before You
To speak good on their behalf,
So as to turn away Your wrath from them.
 21Therefore, give their children over to famine
And deliver them up to the power of the sword;
And let their wives become childless and widowed.
Let their men also be smitten to death,
  Their young men struck down by the sword in battle.
22May an outcry be heard from their houses,
When You suddenly bring raiders upon them;
For they have dug a pit to capture me
And hidden snares for my feet.
23Yet You, O Lord, know
All their deadly designs against me;
Do not forgive their iniquity
Or blot out their sin from Your sight.
But may they be overthrown before You;
Deal with them in the time of Your anger!

18:19-23 Jeremiah answers their plans with a prayer to YHWH (another of his laments/confessions). It starts out with the same verb that ends v. 18 ("heed"). Notice his requests (hyperbolic prophetic imperatives, see D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks).

1. Do give heed to me - BDB 904, KB 1151, Hiphil imperative. His enemies will not heed/hear, but YHWH will!

2. Listen to what my opponents are saying - BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal imperative

a. MT - listen to opponents

b. LXX - listen to me

3. Remember how I stood before You for them - BDB 269, KB 269, Qal imperative

a. to speak good on their behalf (i.e., 14:13-16)

b. to turn away Your wrath from them (cf. 15:1)

4. Therefore, YHWH, respond to them.

a. give over their children to famine - BDB 678, KB 733, Qal imperative

b. deliver them to the power of the sword - BDB 620, KB 669, Hiphil imperative

c. let their wives become childless - BDB 224, KB 243, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

d. let their wives become widows - same as c

e. let their men also be smitten to death ("by pestilence," BDB 560) - BDB 246, KB 255, Qal passive participle

f. let their young men be struck down by the sword - BDB 645, KB 697, Hophal participle

g. let an outcry be heard from their homes - BDB 1033, KB 1570, Niphal imperfect used in a jussive sense. For the noun "cry out," see 20:16; 48:4,34; 50:46; 51:54; Isa. 15:5

h. do not forgive their iniquity - BDB 497, KB 493, Piel imperfect used in a jussive sense

i. Do not blot out their sin from Your sight - BDB 562 I, KB 567, Hiphil imperfect used in a jussive sense

j. may they be overthrown before You - BDB 224, KB 243, Qere, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

k. deal with them in the time of Your anger - BDB 793 I, KB 889, Qal imperative


18:20 "Should good be repaid with evil" Apparently this refers to Jeremiah's prayers ("I stood before You") for Judah (cf. 17:16), but they responded by trying to kill him.

▣ "they have dug a pit for me" This is an allusion to a hunting technique (cf. Ps. 57:6; 119:85). It may be literal (i.e., they will try to kill him) or figurative (they will try to ruin his reputation, cf. v. 22, i.e., his prophecies have not occurred, cf. Deut. 13:1-5).

18:23 Is Jeremiah being vindictive? He seems to want justice for Judah's repeated covenant violations. His own circumstances bothered him but Judah's sin bothered him more! There will be justice. There will be a day when humans give an account to God for the gift of life (i.e., Matt. 25:31-46; Rev. 20:11-15). It will be an especially bad day for covenant, informed people (cf. Luke 12:48)!


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