Anyone familiar with the art of pottery will recognize these terms as being materials with which the potter fashions and forms his work. The water and clay mixture produces a malleable substance which when turned on a wheel becomes a useful and often beautiful vessel. Clay is not a productive material in itself, as it does not accept seed as would a growing medium, but when formed and shaped by the skilled and loving hands of the potter, becomes a creation essential to carry water and food or whatever the user wants it to do to serve his needs.
This familiar and easily understood allegory is often used in scripture to remind us that we too are shaped and formed to become useful and beautiful creatures of our Creator/Father, God.
The word slip has several meanings as we all know. To the phrase “slip of the lip,” I have added for my computer, “slip of the finger,” and for my memory, “slip of the mind!” One occasion for regret is the unintentional slip we may make in conversation, for the Lord warns us that we will be held accountable for every idle word (Matthew 12:36). We may bitterly deplore a mistaken word or phrase hastily or carelessly uttered, or perhaps misconstrued by our listeners. We may deeply repent of a harsh tone or outburst to hurt or scold a fellow Christian or to chide a child. The Lord tells us that the indignation of man does not accomplish the will of God (James 1:20).
But to return to the slip and slurry of the potter. In Jeremiah 18, we find a potter at the wheel, marring a vessel he was working. He was able to reform the same clay to remedy the error, making it good. This was a parallel to God’s work with His nation Israel, marred, but reformable. Jeremiah tells us that God instantly speaks His intention to build, to plant or to destroy.
The scenario is then moved to God’s dealings with Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who were a mixture of many races and languages, as confirmed and illustrated when the Holy Spirit gave the disciples the power to speak, or to be heard, in many diverse languages by those gathered in Jerusalem. Now we read of a very different plan, where they are told to turn from their wicked ways but refuse to do so, leaving and forsaking God and pursuing idol-worship. Not liking the message of Jeremiah, they devise plots against him, and ignore his advice. Jeremiah’s strong pleading for justice is outlined in verses 10–23.
Chapter 19 begins with God’s command to Jeremiah to get a potter’s bottle and take it to the kings of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. After a tirade of condemnation against their wickedness, he is told to break the bottle before them and say “…I will break this People and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel that cannot be made whole again, and they shall bury them in Tophet (Gehenna) …because of all the houses upon whose roofs they have burned incense unto all the host of heaven and have poured out drink offerings unto other gods.”
The following chapter relates the resulting capture of Judah to be carried into Babylon, and many to suffer and die there. We are told that only 43,000 returned from that captivity with Ezra and Nehemiah. Mary’s ancestors must have returned then. Many of the descendants of that faithful remnant were welcoming Jesus as He rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, weeping as He trod the Via Dolorosa, and at the foot of the cross.
Those who persecuted Him, flogged Him and plotted His Crucifixion forever blotted and stained their escutcheon by crying “His blood be upon us and our children!” They were and are that bottle that can never be mended. Israel, though marred in the making, was and is reformed by the acceptance of Redemption by Jesus Christ’s shed blood. After the sins and transgressions of both Houses of Israel, only the blood of Jesus could atone and save them.
So the “clay pots” can be useful and beautiful, and used by the Lord to convey His wonderful Word. It is a glorious heritage that we can be brought to perfection, to be used in His service by the Master Potter. We are not to reproach nor complain against the Potter, but to be sweetly submissive as was Mary when she accepted her role as the vessel to form and nurture our precious Lord and Savior. Remembering also that Christians are told to submit to each other, not only wives to their own husbands. This is oftentimes forgotten in the heat and argument when we disagree with another.
Let us thank Him for forming us from the lowly clay and using us for His Divine purpose, praying always that we are fit vessels to be filled with His Holy Spirit from above, and for His continual guidance and blessing upon us, Amen.