Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Broken

Week 19 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 19; 2 Kings 21:10-15 

Background

“Each generation comes up with its own ways to offend God.”[1] The Book of Jeremiah records the purpose of the prophet Jeremiah’s ministry which is to bring God’s message to Judah regarding her apostasy. So, what is apostasy?  it means “turning away”. “In a religious sense, apostasy indicates a turning from the truth.”[2] The word or concept is used more frequently in the Old Testament, meaning waywardness, backsliding, or faithlessness.

This rebellion or abandoning of belief in God is repeatedly told in the Old Testament. Much of the narratives in the OT books Judges, Samuel, and Kings document Israel’s falling away from God. The root cause, according to our study of Jeremiah, is an unrepentant heart.  Blackaby points out the recurrence often comes from “building on the sins of past generations.”[3] Certainly this pattern reveals itself over and over in the OT. 

Hosea, prophet to the Northern Kingdom/Israel from 753-715 BC, declares God’s message, “I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely.” (Hosea 14:4) This messages comes to the Northern Kingdom prior to 722 BC when Assyria conquers Israel. Blackaby says, “Receiving God’s word is our choice, but living in the consequences is not.”

“We must remember that God cares for us continually… when our shortcomings and our awareness of our sins overcome us, God’s love knows no bounds.”[4] In Hosea, this is Israel’s hope. In Jeremiah, this is Judah’s hope. Today, this is our hope. True repentance remains the road to reconciliation.  

Study 

Heading back to the potter, Jeremiah is told to go get a clay pot, then take it and a group of elders of the city and the temple to the Valley of Ben-Hinnom. These elders would be Jewish religious priests and leaders, as well as, civic leaders, likely political allies of the king. The mentioning of the ‘potsherd gate’ is where the broken pottery is thrown out. The gate overlooks the Valley of Ben-Hinnom, Jerusalem’s garbage dump. In verse 3, Jeremiah begins to share God’s message, “Behold I am about to bring a calamity upon this place.” Jeremiah must know that this will not be well received, delivering the message requires strength and courage from Jeremiah. These folks are tired of him.

Despite this same message being given during the reign of King Manasseh over 50 years prior, the people continue to ignore the consequences. Again, the same reasons echo - idol worship, sacrifices to false gods, turning from the One True God. Another name for Tophet or the Valley of Ben-Hinnom is the Valley of Slaughter, as this is where child sacrifices had been performed.

Consequences hit close to home with “I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place.” An image of fallen leaders is followed with the desolation of Jerusalem after disaster. (Vs 7-8) To better illustrate this, Jeremiah smashes the clay jar into pieces. This image is God’s message of how He will break the people and the city. In Proverbs 6:15 the image is given of a “calamity that will result in being broken beyond healing.” Isaiah 30:14 give the same example of “smashing a potter’s jar” into so many pieces, no fragment is useful.

Historically there exists many references for shattering pottery as ritual. For example, before going tin to battle, military leaders in the Near East perform this ceremonial act of smashing a piece of pottery as a  “symbolic [act] of their total defeat of their enemy.”[5] Another example is, “Egyptians of the Twelfth Dynasty (1963-1786 BC) inscribed the names of their enemies on pottery bowls and then smashed them, hoping in so doing to break their power.”[6]

The visual for Chapter 19 continues to use clay pottery, but a change to note is that in “Chapter 18, the clay is still pliable and worthy of being reshaped by the potter, but by now the vessel has been completed and baked hard in the oven.”[7] Verse 11 proclaims that the clay vessel “cannot be made whole again.”

From the valley, Jeremiah goes to the Temple and stands “in the court of the Lord’s house” and repeats  the message of judgment from verse 3, this time to the people. “Judgment is the only response to willful apostasy.”[8]

Reflection

The brokenness of the clay jar in this week’s lesson reminds me of my own brokenness, my fractured and flawed nature. No amount of self-effort or religious rituals or rule-following can ever completely heal my spiritual brokenness. I must ask Jesus to take all my broken pieces, all the fragments of my best intentions, all the shattered edges of my worst days, take my scraps of faith, take my remnants of doubt, and make me again, make me new in Him! This is Grace, both undeserved and unmeasured, anguished and amazing.

[Jesus to His disciplesAnd He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me. Luke 22:19 NKJV 

Common to Passover tradition, a blessing comes after a meal, after eating bread, a grace spoken to express gratitude for God’s constant and unchanging care. Until this night, the Passover meal involves a thanksgiving blessing of remembrance such as, “This is the bread of affliction our ancestors ate when they came from Egypt.” This night, Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks and says something new. The unleavened bread takes on a new meaning as Jesus establishes a new way of remembering. “This is My body, broken for you”.   

For now, the disciples do not fully grasp the underlying meaning of Jesus’ words, do not understand the implications of the symbol, and do not recognize the offering will come within hours. Soon, Jesus will be hastily arrested, falsely accused, and brutally afflicted. This celebrated bread of affliction will be remembered as the Bread of Life, as Jesus willing allows His body to be broken for the disciples in that room, for those who arrest and beat and crucify Him, for those who do not understand, for all people ~ then and now and to come,… for you… for me.

Application

Warren Wiersbe writes: Can nations and individuals sin so greatly that even God can’t restore them? Yes. As long as the clay is pliable in the hands of the potter, He can make it again if it’s marred (18:4), but when the clay becomes hard, it’s too late to reform it.

  • Do you see any parallels to these times in history and today? If so, what are they? Are we still pliable clay in The Potter’s hands? What are the consequences to our choices?

  • Do I find any parallels to these people in history and myself? If so, in what ways? Am I willing to be pliable clay in The Potter’s hands? What are the consequences to my choices?

 Donna Oswalt



[1] Blackaby Study Bible notes; Jeremiah Chapter 19

[2] Complete Word Study Bible Dictionary

[3] Blackaby Study Bible notes; Jeremiah Chapter 19

[4] Chronological Life Application Study Bible notes; Jeremiah 19

[5] Wiersbe Study Bible

[6] Archaeological Study Bible, notes on pottery

[7] Walking the Ancient Paths, A Commentary on Jeremiah; Kaiser, Walter C; p 242

[8] Wiersbe Study Bible

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