The Parable Of The Potter

Lloyd Cain

"Arise and go down to the potter's house and there I will cause thee to hear my words' (Jeremiah 18: 1). What is behind this most interesting passage? Was there no other place where God's voice could be heard? Are there precious lessons that are peculiar to the Preacher in the Potter's House? To get the answer we will begin by looking first at the four steps in the process of making pottery.

The Process of Making Pottery

Pottery is the making and shaping of a vessel from moist clay and its subsequent hardening by heat. The first step in the process was the preparing of the clay. In this preparation, the potter pressed the clay and squeezed it with his hands, thus making it soft and smooth and removing any air bubbles that if left would cause the clay to crack during firing. This was followed by the shaping of the clay, either through hand building in which the clay was pinched in the hands of the potter into the desired shape or with a wheel where a flat surface turned while the potter shaped the clay by pushing his thumbs and fingers into the spinning clay. The third step was the decorating of the newly created vessel. This was done by the potter pressing his fingers into the soft clay or by scratching lines on it. The pottery was not complete until it was fired in the kiln so as to make it hard and strong for it could not be strong until it had gone through the fire.

The Potter

Perhaps the reader is already jumping ahead in his mind as he sees the significance of this process of pottery as a picture of God's dealings with His people. Clearly God has stated that to Israel He is the Potter when He asks a rebellious people, "Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, 'What maketh Thou' Or thy work, 'He hath no hands'." Israel questioned His sovereign rights. They questioned His hands, the appropriateness of His dealings with them (Isaiah 45:9). When Paul was dealing with the nation of Israel and the sovereignty of God he took up this verse and added the question, "Hath not the Potter power over the clay?" (Romans 9:19-24). The passages teach us two lessons: the creativity of the Potter and the creative rights of the Potter.

The Pieces of Clay

Having identified the Potter, we can readily identify the clay as being those who belong to Him and with whom He has reserved the right to deal. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the he excellency of the power may be of God and not of us," wrote Paul, as he used the frailty of the clay vessel to show how God uses the weakness of the believer to glorify Himself (2 Corinthians 4:7). Again Paul wrote of the pottery when he said that "if a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified and meet for the Master's use and prepared unto every good work" (2 Timothy 2:20-21). The Master requires that His vessels be clean, set apart, and emptied of self. We are all then pieces of clay that are useful to God when we are pliable in His hands and the conditions of cleanliness and emptiness are met. Do we always have the malleability of the clay? Can we be molded into that which God wants for us?

As was mentioned earlier, when the clay is being pressed and squeezed in the Potter's hands, it is essential that any air bubbles be removed. The person who "does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine that is according to godliness, is proud (puffed up)" (1 Timothy 6:34). He had an "air bubble." Peter had an air bubble when in his self-confidence he said, "Though all shall be stumbled, yet will not I" (Mark 14:29). Diotrephes suffered from air bubbles and wanted to have the preeminence, the place reserved for the Lord Jesus. Paul was pliable in the hands of the Potter and was prevented from being exalted above measure by a gift from the Lord, a thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7). Those who might have had this problem in Philippi were told to have the mind of Christ, which would be an antidote to any potential haughtiness (Philippians 2:5).

Another interesting thought is that in Romans 6:17 we are told that we have "been delivered into that mold of doctrine which we have obeyed." God wants to mold us into the pattern of His Word. The world is a mold and the believer must not let the world "pour us into its mold" (Romans 12:2). There is another mold, not the world, but the mold of His Word and into that mold God wants to place a pliable people.

The Purposes of the Potter

Like the earthly potter, the Divine Potter has both creative rights and creativity. His purpose is the design and making of a vessel that has both function and form. The form is with a view not only to function but also to beauty. The believer is being prepared for a purpose and designed with a destiny. The thwarting of the purposes of the Master is a tragedy brought about by the self-will of the believer. The first Corinthian epistle shows us the individuality of the vessels. The second epistle shows us some of the molding processes through which God permits His people to pass in order to shape them into that which is consistent with His character and thus useful to Him. When the potter wanted to decorate the vessel, he pressed his fingers into it or scratched lines on it. This was the decorating and beautifying experience. job went through this process. He was decorated in the hands of the Potter and so at the end of the severest of trials he named his third daughter Karenhappuch, meaning "adorned." Is the Divine Potter adorning you today? Are you feeling that the process, the squeezing and the scratching, is too severe? Are you almost ready to say with Israel, "He hath no hands?" Trust Him and watch for the outcome as you leave yourself confidently in the hands of the Potter. The pottery had to be fired in order to make it strong and God may be strengthening you for a greater work. He may be removing air bubbles, for if these are not removed during the preparation of the clay, the vessel will crack when the heat is applied. God often allows His people to go through the fire. "Think it not foreign concerning the fiery trial that is to try you," wrote Peter to suffering saints. The Potter was strengthening the vessel. Can you say when you are in the midst of the trial, "The Heavenly Potter is making me strong today?"

The Patience of the Potter

"The vessel that he made was marred in the hands of the potter: so he made it again another vessel." He did not cast it off because of the discovery in the clay of some impurity. Even though the problem is never the result of failure of the Potter's hands, the clay is ever in His hands. Many pieces of clay were marred. However, they never left His hands, for our text says that even though it may not have been sufficiently malleable, it was nevertheless "in the hands of the potter." Peter was marred but was made again another vessel. David was marred but after recovery he said "that he would teach transgressors Thy ways and sinners would be converted unto Thee" (Psalm 51:12-13). John Mark was marred but was taken up as the failing servant to write the Gospel of the Unfailing Servant. Clearly the poet meant well when he wrote, "The bird with the broken pinion never soared so high again," but evidently he had never considered the heights to which Peter rose as he preached on the Day of Pentecost. God is waiting to take each believer up again, cleanse them and make them into .vessels unto honor, sanctified and meet for the Master's use and prepared unto every good work" (2 Timothy 2:20-21).