AS THE CLAY IN THE POTTER’S HAND
BY OLUWASEGUN ODULE
TEXT: Jeremiah 18:6
“O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this Potter? Saith the Lord, Behold, as the clay in the potter’s hand so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel”.
In order for us to understand the theme before us this day, it is expedient to note that throughout the pages of the Scriptures, it is clear that the Bible uses symbolism to deepen the message God has for His people. We saw how prophets and preachers paint portraits of God; David, Ezekiel, John and Paul all wrote of our shepherding Lord, while Jesus pictures God as sowing seeds and tending vines. As a nation of shepherds and farmers, Israel understood these images, which show God working in, for and through His people.
However, amidst all these portraits used in describing God, the most outstanding portrait remains the analogy of the Potter and the Clay which pervades the pages of both the Old and the New Testament (Job 10:8-9, Isaiah 29:16; 45:9, Isaiah 64:8, Jeremiah 18, Romans 9 etc.).
The background of Jeremiah 18 evinces how the nation of Judah in the days of Jeremiah the prophet neglected God and forgot His miraculous dealings with them from inception. All through the scope of this prophecy, across forty years or more that Jeremiah ministered to this stiff-necked people, they refused to heed his warnings or his instructions. As a result of their rebuff, the nation was plunged into chaos, corruption was widespread in government, morality was constantly declining, and wickedness and evil deeds became the trend among the people.
It was during this period, that God decided to instruct Jeremiah on what to tell the nation of Judah. God commanded him to go down to the potter’s house in order that he may see a visual aid that would communicate a lasting impression of God’s message upon his heart, for himself and for the people of Judah.
When Jeremiah went down to the potter’s house, he saw three things; the Potter, a potter’s wheel and clay, these three things are replete with deep instructions showing Jeremiah the relationship between God and Israel.
However, before delving into our subject matter “as the clay in the Potter’s hand”, it is important to note that whenever God gives us specific analogy in the Bible, we have to carefully delve into seeking the revelation of that analogy, in order to pick up what God is trying to tell us. This behooves that we must find out exactly how the potter works on the clay in order to produce the pottery, if we will have any chance of fathoming what God is trying to tell us through this incredible analogy.
This process whereby the potter works on the clay in recent times is known as Pottery. Pottery is one of the oldest human inventions, originating before the Neolithic period, it is made by forming a ceramic (often clay) body into objects of a desired shape and heating them to high temperatures in a bonfire, pit or kiln, which induces reactions that leads to permanent changes including increasing the strength and rigidity of the object.
What then is the process of making pottery?
In order for the potter to make pottery, a lump of clay will be gotten which is intended to be used to make the piece of pottery, before this piece of clay can be placed on a potter’s wheel or electric wheel to start the actual molding process in order to make the kind of pottery the potter wants, he will first be mandated to add enough water into it, so that the clay will become pliable and soft enough for use. If the water is not added well and it is not enough in the clay, the clay will remain too hard and rigid for the potter to use.
Furthermore, after enough water has been added into the clay to make it soft and pliable so as to be usable, the next step is to place or put the piece of clay on the potter’s wheel (used by the ancient) or the electric wheel (used in recent times). This wheel will then start to spin, so as to allow the potter use his hand to start the molding and shaping process with the clay as it is spinning on the wheel. However, if the piece of the clay is not “properly centered” or “placed in the center” in the middle of the wheel, the potter will not be able to work with it and make the pottery he desires to make.
This means that having the lump of clay perfectly centered in the middle of the potter’s wheel is the second step in being able to actually make a piece of pottery. This is because if the potter tries to make a piece of pottery with a lump of clay that is not properly centered in the middle of the wheel, it will eventually tear apart before the potter can finish the process.
Now, once the piece of clay has been appropriately centered in the middle of the potter’s wheel, the potter ensures that the wheel is made to move “steadily” and “slowly”, so that he can be able to use his hands to mold the lump of clay into the pottery the he (the potter) desires. At this stage, patience is crucial, for if the potter speeds up the wheel to any faster degree, the lump of clay being worked upon will again tear completely apart, before the potter can get it to the finish line. This then portends that if the clay will get to the finish line in the hands of the potter, it has to be worked upon on the wheel slowly and steadily.
Once this has been done, it is now time for the potter to begin the molding process with his hands. As the piece of clay is spinning slowly and steadily on the wheel, the potter will take his hand and push it down on the top of the clay to create an opening in it, once this opening has been made at the top of the clay, the potter’s hand then goes down deep inside the middle of the clay, while it is forming out, houses his hands to properly shape the piece of clay as it is building up during this spinning process on the wheel.
By this time, the potter’s hands are thus working both the inside and the outside of this original shapeless clay to mold, to shape and to transform it into the pottery he has in mind, as it continues to spin on the wheel.
Moreover, in the process of handling the shapeless clay on the wheel, he has to apply a good amount of pressure with his hands as he is molding and shaping this lump of clay. When he does this, the lump of clay begins to respond to the workings of the hands of the potter as it starts to grow taller and expand bigger while it continues to spin on the wheel. By this time, the original kind of pottery in the mind of the potter before he starts working on the lump of clay begins to find shape and get balance as he guides it carefully with his hands and gives it his undivided attention, so that the clay does not stretch beyond its limit and tear apart again.
Finally, the potter then brings out his knife and start cutting the off the excess clay that has accumulated around the pottery as he was molding and shaping it on the spinning wheel. This process will require an amount of focus and patience so that the clay will not be marred and as the potter meticulously guides his knife to smoothen the areas that needed smoothening, the pottery assumes its full potential and beauty.
Having explored the process of making pottery just as Jeremiah saw in the potter’s house in Jeremiah 18, what does it now means to be “as the clay in the potter’s hands”?
Before dealing with this cogent issue which has become the burden of this meeting, we must first address the following questions that needed urgent answers;
- Who is or are the clay?
- And who is the Potter?
From our explanations so far, it is very glaring that we, are the clay and God Almighty is the Potter, who works upon us to create the picture He has in mind for our lives. Moreover, to say that we are as the clay in God’s hands, denotes that we acknowledge God’s handiwork as the Master Potter or creator and also recognizes His authority or sovereign power to shape us inwardly, outwardly and to spiritually fashion us into a vessel fit for His use.
We learn from Bible Dictionary that clay becomes increasing miry and workable as water is added and more fixed as the mixture dries. It is the nature of the clay to change when it had been touched by water, for without water the clay would not cohere and if it would not stick together, the potter cannot shape them.
Brethren, from the explanation of the processes for making pottery above, the following deep lessons can be derived;
- We, as the clay in the potter’s hands are at the mercy of God, the Master Potter, we can never amount to anything outside Him, He has a plan in mind for us and He is willing to take His time to ensure that the picture in His mind is reflected in our lives.
- We, as clay in the hands of God need to be touched by the water of the Word of God; it is expedient for us to give due and consistent attention to God’s word if we will be prepared enough for God, the Master Potter to work upon. If we lack the Word of God in us, we remain rigid; it will be difficult for God to work upon and through us. It is from this perspective that Paul was speaking in Romans 12:1-3, that we should present our bodies as a living sacrifice, refuse to be conformed to the world but to be TRANSFORMED by the RENEWING of our mind. Just as the water transforms the hard clay and makes it pliable, so also the Word of God “transforms us” and make us ready for God to work upon. Other example of this in scriptures is Psalms 119:9, 105, Ephesians 5:26, John 17:17 etc.
- Also, just as the potter cannot begin to mold or shape the clay unless it is properly centered in the middle of the wheel, so also God cannot mold and shape us aright, unless we are properly centered in Jesus Christ. We have to fully surrender our entire life to Him, such that He becomes the one who controls it; He must be both the “Savior” and the “Lord” of our lives, before God could effectively begin to mold (guide) and shape (teach) us into what He wants us to become. Until we surrender fully to Christ, we cannot be molded and if we are not shaped and molded, we will eventually not be able to impact our world or make something meaningful out of our lives.
- The clay in the hands of the potter requires patience as the potter takes his time to work on the lump of clay when it is placed on the wheel. And just as the potter slows down and steadies the speed of the spinning wheel in order to be able to work on it, in the same manner, God usually work with on us with and in His own timing, if we do not learn to go with His seemingly slower flows and timing, we could end up getting frustrated and impatient to the extent that we eventually end up losing our peace and joy in Him. His timing for your marriage, travelling abroad, getting an appointment and for the next steps of your life might not be now, but if you become hasty in your decisions and run ahead of God, there will be grave consequences. Remember John was in the wilderness until the day of his showing unto Israel (Luke 1:80) Are you sure the decisions you are making now is approved by God? Why not wait for God the Potter to sort you in life? (May we not suffer great loss in life as a result of impatience in Jesus name).
- Moreover, in the process of molding and shaping our lives, God will also have to apply serious pressure around us as the potter will do for the lump of clay on the spinning wheel, this will look unpleasant and painful to us, as toxic substances like pride, arrogance, bad temper, lust, hatred, malice, impatience, ego, gossips and all manner of the work of the flesh will be taken away from our lives. How many times has God used various situations, storms, trials or events around us to put pressure upon us and smoothen us, so that we can become better in His hands? We must know today that some delays in our lives are some of the pressures God uses to cut various excesses out of our lives and He is waiting to see if we will bulge, deny Him or still trust Him with our lives? (cf. Psalms 37:5-7, Hebrews 12:5-11)
- Also, as clay in the hand of the potter, it is important that we allow God take us as far as He will want to take us in this life. Once we start this process by surrendering totally to Him, we should let Him decide how far He wants to take us or stretch our abilities and horizons in the divine plan that He has already mapped out for our individual lives. A lot of times, many have dropped out from the hand of God, many have run out of the room of making because they seemed carried away by the pressures of the world and those around them, some lose focus, some stop trusting God and began to set the course of their lives themselves. Friends, one thing is certain, the moment the clay rebel against the potter and hinder him from working upon it, it tears apart and becomes unusable. Demas in 2 Timothy 4:10 ran out of the making room and became unprofitable (may we not get to that stage in Jesus name).
- When clay surrenders fully to the Potter, the potter gives his due and undivided attention towards it until he fashions out a beautiful pottery out of it. When we allow God to work on us as His desire, He will make something beautiful out of our lives. In John 2, at the marriage of Cana, they never knew there was a better and sweeter wine until Jesus was beckoned upon to save the day, the five loaves of bread and two fish in Matthew 14:17 was limited until Jesus handled it and blessed them. Do you remember that Simon was transformed to Peter, it is out of Saul that Paul came out to become the great Evangelist, out of a cobbler, Smith Wigglesworth was transformed to a great faith and healing preacher and the once fearful disciples of Jesus Christ became a courageous company after the Lord had met with them and history has it that they turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6)? Your potential is known only to God; it is until when you allow Him work fully upon you, that you know and assume your true worth or value in life.
- Also, it is important to state at this moment that different kinds of pottery require different doses of heat or fire to make them durable, your dealings may not be the same as that of your friends. In the Master’s potter house, no vessel receives more heat that they need.
In Conclusion, we saw that a careful exploration of the analogy of the Potter and clay in Jeremiah 18, has really unveiled to us that although, God allows Human being freedom to make moral choices, He also demonstrates often that He is still the sovereign God and is in control of His universe. As a potter works at will on the clay, so also God has the final say over our lives (cf. Psalms 135:6, Daniel 4:35, Isaiah 46:9-11, Romans 9:20-21).God, as the potter has created each of us the way He wants and He is still molding us to His state (Exodus 4:11, Psalms 139:13-16), it is then our responsibility to take what He has given us and use it for His glory and pleasure.
And just as the clay finds it highest purpose when it remains pliable in the hands of the potter, so our lives fulfill their utmost purpose when we let our potter (God) have His way with us.
- Have you really surrendered your totality to God yet?
- Are you sure you are cooperating with His molding and shaping processes in your life?
- Have you been marred in His hands due to sins, disobedience and hardness of heart? Friends, God is still available to mold and shape your life aright if you will only come to Him today and surrender fully to Him, He says in Revelations 3:20;
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if any man hears my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and He will be with you”
What will your response be?