January 4, 2017
I’ve read and heard many comments about how awful the year 2016 was due to the bitter presidential elections, celebrity deaths, terrorists attacks, and so on. I find great hope in reading the Book of Jeremiah, as did Christian Science Bible scholar Elaine Follis who wrote the following testimony:
I was particularly struck by the eighteenth chapter of the book, which describes Jeremiah’s vision of a potter. The text indicates the vision is based on an experience he had while struggling with despair over the impending doom of his nation. God told Jeremiah to take a walk to the part of the city where potters’ shops were located. He obeyed, and became absorbed in watching a craftsman at work. Just as a lovely design was emerging from the clay, the potter suddenly stopped the wheel and pressed the clay back into a lump. Initially startled, Jeremiah continued to watch as the potter turned the wheel again and eventually produced a piece even more beautiful than before.
Jeremiah realized the meaning of the vision as a parable for his own day. Even as the potter brought fresh creativity out of what appeared to be destruction, so God was working something new in the hearts of the people Israel. God told Jeremiah, “Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hands, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel” (18:6). I began to think: Perhaps that is what is happening to me, as well. Perhaps the foundations of my previous concepts of life are being torn away to make way for new perspectives, based on a better foundation.
I decided to believe that might be possible, and, accordingly, to take hope and heart. Every time I felt tempted to despair, I thought of God as the potter and me as the clay, safe in His hands. I reasoned, “If this can work for Jeremiah—and if Scripture includes basic principles as to the nature of God and humanity—it ought to work for me as well.” (“The Spirit in the Word,” by Elaine Follis, from the September 1, 2003 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel)
Jeremiah pleaded with the besieged people to accept a way out — instead of facing death in Jerusalem, they could surrender to the Babylonians and live. What a shock this message must have felt like to the citizens of Jerusalem! Was God treating them like he threatened to do to the Ninevites in the story of Jonah a century earlier? Yet the Jews’ captivity in Babylon forced them to progress spiritually; and in a short time, the Babylonians were defeated by the Persians who allowed the exiled Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem.
Bible Notes from The New Oxford Annotated Bible:
Jeremiah 17:1-4: Israel’s intransigence is likened to an engraver writing on rock. 1: Diamond point, the term usually refers to sharp thorns, but can be used also of sharp hard stone, probably flint. Tablet of their hearts, combining the images of the Torah being written on the human heart and on tablets of stone. But now it is their sinfulness that is so engraved. The human heart represented the center of resolve and will. Its hardening was a common metaphor for human stubbornness. Horns of their altars, protrusions at each of the four corners of a cut-stone altar, symbolizing divine strength and functioning to hold in place the wood and animal parts. Sanctuary could be gained by seizing the horns.
Jeremiah 18:12: Although God may have a “plan,” the people can only follow their own. The people express their fatalistic sense of doom, their inability to be “reworked.”
Jeremiah 19: This section continues the theme of pottery as a symbol of divine judgment. . . .No time reference is given, but by 605 BCE Jeremiah had been barred from the Temple, perhaps as a result of his confinement by the priest Pashhur, the chief officer of the Temple personnel.
Jeremiah 21: Zedekiah was the last of Judah’s kings who reigned from the first deportation in 597 until the final fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. . . .In the face of the people’s confidence, the Lord warns that he will fight against Judah, and Jerusalem and Zedekiah will fall to Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah repeatedly sent envoys to Jeremiah for divine guidance and information, always with similar results: Zedekiah should capitulate to the Babylonian armies. The historical setting is apparently 588 BCE, after Zedekiah had committed himself to a rebellion against Babylon. . . . 8: Jeremiah offers the people the opportunity to choose, but their choices do not include the option of avoiding the Babylonian onslaught. The only possibility for life is surrender to the enemy besieging the city; Jerusalem, however, will be destroyed.