An Object Lesson from the Making of Pottery
1 The Lord said to Jeremiah:#tn Heb “The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying:” This same formula occurs ten other times in Jeremiah. It has already occurred at 7:1 and 11:1. 2 “Go down at once#tn Heb “Get up and go down.” The first verb is not literal but is idiomatic for the initiation of an action. See 13:4, 6 for other occurrences of this idiom. to the potter’s house. I will speak to you further there.”#tn Heb “And I will cause you to hear my word there.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house and found him working#tn Heb “And behold he was working.” at his wheel.#sn At his wheel (Heb “at the two stones”). The Hebrew expression is very descriptive of the construction of a potter’s wheel which consisted of two stones joined by a horizontal shaft. The potter rotated the wheel with his feet on the lower wheel and worked the clay with his hands on the upper. For a picture of a potter working at his wheel see I. Ben-Dor, “Potter’s Wheel,” IDB 3:846. See also the discussion regarding the making of pottery in J. L. Kelso, “Pottery,” IDB 3:846-53. 4 Now and then#tn The verbs here denote repeated action. They are the Hebrew perfect with the vav (ו) consecutive. The text then reads somewhat literally, “Whenever the vessel he was molding…was ruined, he would remold…” For this construction see Joüon 2:393-94 §118.n and 2:628-29 §167.b, and compare the usage in Amos 4:7-8. there would be something wrong#sn Something was wrong with the clay – either there was a lump in it, or it was too moist or not moist enough, or it had some other imperfection. In any case the vessel was “ruined” or “spoiled” or defective in the eyes of the potter. This same verb has been used of the linen shorts that were “ruined” and hence were “good for nothing” in Jer 13:7. The nature of the clay and how it responded to the potter’s hand determined the kind of vessel that he made of it. He did not throw the clay away. This is the basis for the application in vv. 7-10 to any nation and to the nation of Israel in particular vv. 10-17. with the pot he was molding from the clay#tn The usage of the preposition בְּ (bet) to introduce the material from which something is made in Exod 38:8 and 1 Kgs 15:22 should lay to rest the rather forced construction that some (like J. Bright, Jeremiah [AB], 121) put on the variant כַּחֹמֶר (kakhomer) found in a few Hebrew mss. Bright renders that phrase as an elliptical “as clay sometimes will.” The phrase is missing from the Greek version. with his hands. So he would rework#tn Heb “he would turn and work.” This is an example of hendiadys where one of the two verbs joined by “and” becomes the adverbial modifier of the other. The verb “turn” is very common in this construction (see BDB 998 s.v. שׁוּב Qal.8 for references). the clay into another kind of pot as he saw fit.#tn Heb “as it was right in his eyes to do [or work it].” For this idiom see Judg 14:3, 7; 1 Sam 18:20, 26; 2 Sam 17:4.
5 Then the Lord said to me,#tn Heb “Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying.” 6 “I, the Lord, say:#tn This phrase (literally “Oracle of the Lord”) has been handled this way on several occasions when it occurs within first person addresses where the Lord is the speaker. See, e.g., 16:16; 17:24. ‘O nation of Israel, can I not deal with you as this potter deals with the clay?#tn The words “deals with the clay” are not in the text. They are part of an elliptical comparison and are supplied in the translation here for clarity. In my hands, you, O nation of Israel, are just like the clay in this potter’s hand.’ 7 There are times, Jeremiah,#tn The word “Jeremiah” is not in the text but it is implicit from the introduction in v. 5 that he is being addressed. It is important to see how the rhetoric of this passage is structured. The words of vv. 7-10 lead up to the conclusion “So now” in v. 11 which in turns leads to the conclusion “Therefore” in v. 13. The tense of the verb in v. 12 is very important. It is a vav consecutive perfect indicating the future (cf. GKC 333 §112.p, r); their response is predictable. The words of vv. 7-10 are addressed to Jeremiah (v. 5) in fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to speak to him (v. 2) and furnish the basis for the Lord’s words of conditional threat to a people who show no promise of responding positively (vv. 11-12). Verse six then must be seen as another example of the figure of apostrophe (the turning aside from description about someone to addressing them directly; cf., e.g., Ps 6:8-9 (6:9-10 HT). Earlier examples of this figure have been seen in 6:20; 9:4; 11:13; 12:13; 15:6. when I threaten to uproot, tear down, and destroy a nation or kingdom.#tn Heb “One moment I may speak about a nation or kingdom to…” So also in v. 9. The translation is structured this way to avoid an awkward English construction and to reflect the difference in disposition. The constructions are, however, the same. 8 But if that nation I threatened stops doing wrong,#tn Heb “turns from its wickedness.” I will cancel the destruction#tn There is a good deal of debate about how the word translated here “revoke” should be translated. There is a good deal of reluctance to translate it “change my mind” because some see that as contradicting Num 23:19 and thus prefer “relent.” However, the English word “relent” suggests the softening of an attitude but not necessarily the change of course. It is clear that in many cases (including here) an actual change of course is in view (see, e.g., Amos 7:3, 6; Jonah 3:9; Jer 26:19; Exod 13:17; 32:14). Several of these passages deal with “conditional” prophecies where a change in behavior of the people or the mediation of a prophet involves the change in course of the threatened punishment (or the promised benefit). “Revoke” or “forgo” may be the best way to render this in contemporary English idiom.sn There is a wordplay here involving the word “evil” (רָעָה, ra’ah) which refers to both the crime and the punishment. This same play is carried further in Jonah 3:10-4:1 where Jonah becomes very displeased (Heb “it was very evil to Jonah with great evil”) when God forgoes bringing disaster (evil) on Nineveh because they have repented of their wickedness (evil). I intended to do to it. 9 And there are times when I promise to build up and establish#sn Heb “plant.” The terms “uproot,” “tear down,” “destroy,” “build,” and “plant” are the two sides of the ministry Jeremiah was called to (cf. Jer 1:10). a nation or kingdom. 10 But if that nation does what displeases me and does not obey me, then I will cancel the good I promised to do to it. 11 So now, tell the people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem#map For location see Map5-B1; Map6-F3; Map7-E2; Map8-F2; Map10-B3; JP1-F4; JP2-F4; JP3-F4; JP4-F4. this: The Lord says, ‘I am preparing to bring disaster on you! I am making plans to punish you.#sn Heb “I am forming disaster and making plans against you.” The word translated “forming” is the same as that for “potter,” so there is a wordplay taking the reader back to v. 5. They are in his hands like the clay in the hands of the potter. Since they have not been pliable he forms new plans. He still offers them opportunity to repent; but their response is predictable. So, every one of you, stop the evil things you have been doing.#tn Heb “Turn, each one from his wicked way.” See v. 8. Correct the way you have been living and do what is right.’#tn Or “Make good your ways and your actions.” See the same expression in 7:3, 5. 12 But they just keep saying, ‘We do not care what you say!#tn Heb “It is useless!” See the same expression in a similar context in Jer 2:25. We will do whatever we want to do! We will continue to behave wickedly and stubbornly!’”#tn Heb “We will follow our own plans and do each one according to the stubbornness of his own wicked heart.”sn This has been the consistent pattern of their behavior. See 7:24; 9:13; 13:10; 16:12.
13 Therefore, the Lord says,
“Ask the people of other nations
whether they have heard of anything like this.
Israel should have been like a virgin.
But she has done something utterly revolting!
14 Does the snow ever completely vanish from the rocky slopes of Lebanon?
Do the cool waters from those distant mountains ever cease to flow?#tn The precise translation of this verse is somewhat uncertain. Two phrases in this verse are the primary cause of discussion and the source of numerous emendations, none of which has gained consensus. The phrase which is rendered here “rocky slopes” is in Hebrew צוּר שָׂדַי (tsur saday), which would normally mean something like “rocky crag of the field” (see BDB 961 s.v. שָׂדַי 1.g). Numerous emendations have been proposed, most of which are listed in the footnotes of J. A. Thompson, Jeremiah (NICOT), 436. The present translation has chosen to follow the proposal of several scholars that the word here is related to the Akkadian word shadu meaning mountain. The other difficulty is the word translated “cease” which in the MT is literally “be uprooted” (יִנָּתְשׁוּ, yinnatshu). The word is usually emended to read יִנָּשְׁתוּ (yinnashtu, “are dried up”) as a case of transposed letters (cf., e.g., BDB 684 s.v. נָתַשׁ Niph). This is probably a case of an error in hearing and the word נָטַשׁ (natash) which is often parallel to עָזַב (’azav), translated here “vanish,” should be read in the sense that it has in 1 Sam 10:2. Whether one reads “are plucked up” and understands it figuratively of ceasing (“are dried” or “cease”), the sense is the same. For the sense of “distant” for the word זָרִים (zarim) see 2 Kgs 19:24.sn Israel’s actions are contrary to nature. See the same kind of argumentation in Jer 2:11; 8:7.
15 Yet my people have forgotten me
and offered sacrifices to worthless idols!
This makes them stumble along in the way they live
and leave the old reliable path of their fathers.#sn Heb “the ancient path.” This has already been referred to in Jer 6:16. There is another “old way” but it is the path trod by the wicked (cf. Job 22:15).
They have left them to walk in bypaths,
in roads that are not smooth and level.#sn Heb “ways that are not built up.” This refers to the built-up highways. See Isa 40:4 for the figure. The terms “way,” “by-paths,” “roads” are, of course, being used here in the sense of moral behavior or action.
16 So their land will become an object of horror.#tn There may be a deliberate double meaning involved here. The word translated here “an object of horror” refers both to destruction (cf. 2:15; 4:17) and the horror or dismay that accompanies it (cf. 5:30; 8:21). The fact that there is no conjunction or preposition in front of the noun “hissing” that follows this suggests that the reaction is in view here, not the cause.
People will forever hiss out their scorn over it.
All who pass that way will be filled with horror
and will shake their heads in derision.#tn Heb “an object of lasting hissing. All who pass that way will be appalled and shake their head.”sn The actions of “shaking of the head” and “hissing” were obviously gestures of scorn and derision. See Lam 2:15-16.
17 I will scatter them before their enemies
like dust blowing in front of a burning east wind.
I will turn my back on them and not look favorably on them#tc Heb “I will show them [my] back and not [my] face.” This reading follows the suggestion of some of the versions and some of the Masoretes. The MT reads “I will look on their back and not on their faces.”sn To “turn the back” is universally recognized as a symbol of rejection. The turning of the face toward one is the subject of the beautiful Aaronic blessing in Num 6:24-26.
when disaster strikes them.”
Jeremiah Petitions the Lord to Punish Those Who Attack Him
18 Then some people#tn Heb “They.” The referent is unidentified; “some people” has been used in the translation. said, “Come on! Let us consider how to deal with Jeremiah!#tn Heb “Let us make plans against Jeremiah.” See 18:18 where this has sinister overtones as it does here. There will still be priests to instruct us, wise men to give us advice, and prophets to declare God’s word.#tn Heb “Instruction will not perish from priest, counsel from the wise, word from the prophet.”sn These are the three channels through whom God spoke to his people in the OT. See Jer 8:8-10 and Ezek 7:26. Come on! Let’s bring charges against him and get rid of him!#tn Heb “Let us smite him with our tongues.” It is clear from the context that this involved plots to kill him. Then we will not need to pay attention to anything he says.”
19 Then I said,#tn The words “Then I said” are not in the text. They are supplied in the translation for clarity to show that Jeremiah turns from description of the peoples’ plots to his address to God to deal with the plotters.
“Lord, pay attention to me.
Listen to what my enemies are saying.#tn Heb “the voice of my adversaries.”sn Jeremiah’s prayers against the unjust treatment of his enemies here and elsewhere (see 11:18-20; 12:1-4; 15:15-18; 17:14-18) have many of the elements of the prayers of the innocent in the book of Psalms: an invocation of the Lord as just judge, a lament about unjust attacks, an appeal to innocence, and a cry for vindication which often calls for the Lord to pay back in kind those who unjustly attack the petitioner. See for examples Pss 5, 7, 17, 54 among many others.
20 Should good be paid back with evil?
Yet they are virtually digging a pit to kill me.#tn Or “They are plotting to kill me”; Heb “They have dug a pit for my soul.” This is a common metaphor for plotting against someone. See BDB 500 s.v. כָּרָה Qal and for an example see Pss 7:16 (7:15 HT) in its context.
Just remember how I stood before you
pleading on their behalf#tn Heb “to speak good concerning them” going back to the concept of “good” being paid back with evil.
to keep you from venting your anger on them.#tn Heb “to turn back your anger from them.”sn See Jer 14:7-9, 19-21 and 15:1-4 for the idea.
21 So let their children die of starvation.
Let them be cut down by the sword.#tn Heb “be poured out to the hand [= power] of the sword.” For this same expression see Ezek 35:5; Ps 63:10 (63:11 HT). Comparison with those two passages show that it involved death by violent means, perhaps death in battle.
Let their wives lose their husbands and children.
Let the older men die of disease#tn Heb “be slain by death.” The commentaries are generally agreed that this refers to death by disease or plague as in 15:2. Hence, the reference is to the deadly trio of sword, starvation, and disease which were often connected with war. See the notes on 15:2.
and the younger men die by the sword in battle.
22 Let cries of terror be heard in their houses
when you send bands of raiders unexpectedly to plunder them.#tn Heb “when you bring marauders in against them.” For the use of the noun translated here “bands of raiders to plunder them” see 1 Sam 30:3, 15, 23 and BDB 151 s.v. גְּדוּד 1.
For they have virtually dug a pit to capture me
and have hidden traps for me to step into.
23 But you, Lord, know
all their plots to kill me.
Do not pardon their crimes!
Do not ignore their sins as though you had erased them!#sn Heb “Do not blot out their sins from before you.” For this anthropomorphic figure which looks at God’s actions as though connected with record books, i.e., a book of wrongdoings to be punished, and a book of life for those who are to live, see e.g., Exod 32:32, 33, Ps 51:1 (51:3 HT); 69:28 (69:29 HT).
Let them be brought down in defeat before you!
Deal with them while you are still angry!#tn Heb “in the time of your anger.”