The Potter and The Clay

Romans 9

1 I am speaking the truth in Christ. I am not lying, my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit – 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  3 For that I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.  4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.  5 To them belongs the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever.  Amen.

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed.  For not all who has descended from Israel belong to Israel. 7  And not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year, I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”  10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls – 12 she was told “The older will serve the younger.”  13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 “What shall we say then?  Is there injustice on God’s part?  By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”  16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.  17 For the scripture says of Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed throughout the earth.”  18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault?  Who can resist his will?”  20 But, who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”  21 Has the potter have no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?  22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory – 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also for the gentiles?  25 As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people. I will call my people,

And her who was not my beloved, I will call beloved.”

26 “And in the very place it was said to them, you are not my people, there they will be called sons of the living God.”

27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.”  29 And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would be like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.”

30 What shall we say then? That gentiles that did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel that pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in attaining that law.  32 Why?  Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.  They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

This is a very controversial piece of scripture.  I do not want to get into Calvinism – although if anyone cares, I fall in the moderate Calvinist category.  And, I promise you that I am not embarrassed or ashamed about it.  I just want to get into what bothers me about this scripture and what God has shown me (through prayer and research) in the past year.

I, personally, feel that everyone has issues with their faith and if we don’t deal with them head on, we aren’t giving God a chance to prove his faithfulness.

I have read this piece of scripture probably 500 times.  It’s funny how you can read something so many times without really reading it.  In my opinion, that is one of the disadvantages of being raised in church and being taught what to think instead of how to think.  Before you are really old enough to question scripture – you already have a predisposition to believe certain things you have been taught, that may or may not be based on solid scripture.  Anyway, for at least the past decade, I have grappled with what these verses actually say.

The first thing that I had to realize is that Paul is not talking about personal salvation.  He is discussing nations and is pointedly discussing the Jewish nation.  It drove me crazy reading “Isaac I loved but Esau I hated.”  In the reference it’s clearly saying those feelings are not based on human action.  So, I really could not understand why the God I know who loves everyone (2 Peter 2: 8-9, 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Romans 2:11 and etc.) would say this.  It goes back to the nation thing.  This scripture is quoting Micah 1:1, which is obviously referring to the nations of Esau and Isaac.

The next issue I had was the whole potter and clay thing.  That was a big issue for me.  I absolutely acknowledge God has supreme power and authority.  I have no trouble with that.  I also, however, believe that in his supreme power that he can give beings free choice.  I don’t think it is close minded or uneducated to come to that conclusion.  The problem I had with this was that, in all honesty, it implies that God creates people for destruction.  That is contradictory to scripture (1 Timothy 2:6, John 3:15 and 16, and etc.).  So, of course, it helped to realize that Paul is still talking about nations here, not individual people.  It still troubled me though.  I couldn’t be at peace about it.  I was doing my bible study one night last year when I ran across this scripture:

Matthew 22:29

“For you are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.’

If you aren’t familiar with this verse, this is where Jesus is telling the Sadducees (those who only knew the Pentateuch and didn’t care about the rest of the sacred books) – who were trying to trap him in a spiritual problem.  That kind of hit me because I, honestly, know little of the Old Testament, except Genesis and the life of David.  I have noticed since then, so much of the New Testament is referring to different parts of the Old Testament.  How are we supposed to fully understand the new if we don’t know the old?  It wasn’t long after that when I was studying a book, “Chosen but Free,” and was directed to some scripture that I had never read before.

Jeremiah 18 & 19

The word that came from Jeremiah from the Lord 2 “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So, I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel.  And the vessel he was making out of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as the potter has done?” declares the Lord.  Behold , like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, Oh house of Israel.  7 If at anytime I declare concerning a nation or kingdom, that I will pick up, pluck down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent from that disaster that I intended to do to it.  9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good I had intended to do to it.  11 Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: “Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you.  Return, every one of you, from your evil way and amend your way and your deeds.”

12 But, they say, “That is in vain!  We will follow our own plans, and will everyone act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.”

13  “therefor this says the Lord: Ask among the nations, who has heard the like of this?  The virgin Israel has done a very horrible thing.

14  Does the snow of Lebanon leave the crags of Sirion?  Do the mountain waters run dry, the flowing streams?

15  But my people have forgotten me, they make offerings to false gods, they made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient roads, and to walk into side roads, not the highway,

16  Making their land a horror, a thing to be hissed at forever.  Everyone who passes by it is horrified and shakes his head.

17  Like the east wind I will scatter them before the enemy.  I will show them my back, not my face in the day of their calamity.”

18  Then they said, “Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet.  Come, let us strike him with the tongue, and let us not pay attention to any of his words.”

19 Hear me, O Lord, and listen to the voice of my adversaries.

20 Should good be repaid with evil? Yet, they have dug a pit for my life.  Remember how I stood before you to speak good for them, to turn away your wrath from them.

21  Therefore deliver up their children to famine; give them over to the power of the sword; let their wives become childless and widowed.  May their men meet death by pestilence, their youths be struck down by swords in battle.

22  May a cry be heard from their houses, when you bring the plunderer suddenly upon them!  For they have dug a pit to take me and laid snares for my feet.

23  Yet, You O Lord, know all their plotting to kill me.  Forgive not their inequity, nor blot out their sin from your sight.  Let them be overthrown from before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.

19:1 Thus says the Lord, “Go, buy a potter’s earthenware flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests, 2 and go out to the valley of the Son of Hinnom at the entry of the potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you.  3 You shall say, “Hear the word of the Lord, Oh kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing such disaster upon this place that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle.  4 Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, 5 and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind – 6 therefore, , behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the Sin of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.  7 And in this place I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem, and will cause their people to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hand of those who seek their life.  I will give their dead bodies for food to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the earth.  8 And I will make this city a horror, a thing to be hissed at.  Everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its wounds.  9 And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and their daughters, and everyone shall eat the flesh of his neighbor in the siege and in the distress, with witch their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them.

10 “Then you shall break the flask in the sight of the men who go with you, 11 and shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: So I will break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so that it can never be mended.  Men shall bury in Topheth because there will be no place else to bury.  12 Thus will I do to this place, declares the Lord, and to its inhabitants, making this city like Topheth.  13 The houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah – all the houses on whose roofs offerings have been offered to all the hosts of heaven , and drink offerings have been poured out to other gods – shall be defiled like the place of Topheth.” 14 Then Jeremiah came from Topheth, where the Lord had sent him to prophesy, and he stood in the court of the Lords House and said to all the people:  25 “Thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, behold, I am bringing upon this city and upon all its towns all the disaster I have pronounced against it, because they have stiffened their neck, refusing to hear my words.”

Wow!!!!!

This is basically a visual picture of how God has tried to make what he wanted out of the nation of Israel (that nation thing again) and they would not conform to his will, so he started over with a different goal in mind. This is not only a picture of his sovereignty or our choice to allow his will, but also a picture of his judgment.  I love how he shows their God-given responsibility in the making of the pottery and I love even more how he shows that he gave them a second chance.  Now, to understand this scripture fully, you have to realize that Jeremiah is speaking in this scripture in the final days of the southern Kingdom before they are conquered by the Babylonians (the day of their destruction).  I also want to point out that 19 is an echoing prophecy.  19:6 – 9 is a prophecy that was fulfilled around 70ad and will likely repeat itself in the end times. (Matthew 24:21)

Back to Romans 9 – It is very clear to see the potter and clay imagery is referencing Jeremiah 18 and 19. What else is interesting is when you think of the context in which Paul is discussing the Jews; he is discussing the Jews, their unbelief, and he is sharing their prophecy.  Don’t forget that this is being written around 64ad – not long after Jesus’ crucifixion.  In Matthew 27:25 The Jewish mob choose to crucify Jesus and proclaim, “Let his blood be on us and on our children.”  So, God’s punishment is upon them and Paul knows it.  It is also worth noting that around 70ad, the Jewish nation leads their last revolt against the Romans.  Their city, along with the temple, is destroyed.  The Romans virtually slaughter the Jews.  I found in Josephus, a horrible description of the quelled rebellion. There were so many bodies lying around Jerusalem that there was nowhere to put them.  Their blood was so much that it ran in streams.  They were starved – some to death and others to eating their children.  I will stop there, but it is a horrendous account.  This is also when the Jewish dispersion occurs. (Another biblical prophecy fulfilled).  The Jews that were found still alive were rounded up and sent to all ends of the Roman Empire as slaves.  Which is why, after the Second World War, the United Nations reclaimed some of the historical Israeli land so that the Jews could once again have a home. (This also fulfills biblical prophecy)

So, I hope I made an accurate picture of what God has shown me about Romans 9.  Ask and you shall receive.  I still don’t get the whole predestination thing, but I have a much greater understanding of what these verses are actually saying.  I know that there are many scriptures that speak of predestination; there are several scriptures that speak of it in regards to foreknowledge, and there are many scriptures that speak of God’s love for everyone – (honestly, there are! And there are no word plays or mistranslations.  I bought a Greek bible and have researched that stuff enough to satisfy myself – hahaha.)  I know that the character of God is loving and just, and I trust him.  I love this quote my sister-in-law shared with me –

“If we could understand everything about God, He would never be larger than our intellect.”

Sometimes, we just have to say, “That’s a mystery of God.”

Romans 11:33

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”

35 “Or has given a gift to him what can be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever, Amen.

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