Image courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Happy Pentecost! This is being posted on Pentecost, a day that commemorates Jesus sending the Holy Spirit to His Church. The Holy Spirit, of course, reminds me of the “rod of iron”. What’s that? It doesn’t remind you of the “rod of iron”? Perhaps it should!
When Jesus returns, He will rule with a “rod of iron”. What does that mean, anyhow? Have some softened it to the point of making it meaningless? What does the Holy Spirit have to do with clay? Why post this topic on Pentecost?
I will submit to you that God is anti-war but not anti-punishment. God has and will again use war as a means of punishing nations. Jesus Himself will rule with a “rod of iron” (Rev 2:27; 19:15). Viewing the entire verse in context shows He is referring to punishment.
It seems that people want to soften the “rod of iron” rule. Notice that it is NOT a shepherd’s rod. It is a potter’s rod that will break vessels “to shivers”. The word for “rod” is “rhabdos” and simply implies the shape. However, the words “rod of iron” form an idiom when applied to kings according to Strong’s G4464, “with a rod of iron, indicates the severest, most rigorous rule”.
What is implied is that the “rod”, which can be a synonym for “scepter”, starts off with iron, a heavy hand, but can be transformed into a scepter of gold to provide grace (see Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Revelation 2). However, keep in mind that is an interpretation of the verse rather than what it says. The reality is that Jesus will deal harshly with His enemies and deal kindly to those who align themselves with Him!
We Are Clay, Not Vessels
That may seem harsh, but what is important to remember is that we are still clay in the Master Potter’s hands (Isa 29:16; 64:8) and so are the wicked (41:25). Jeremiah was told to go down to the potter’s house and watch the potter work with the clay.
Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.
And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.
~ Jer 18:3-6
Pottery making has only changed slightly with electric motors and modern ovens. The clay is put on wet and shaped, while each change and the speed of the wheel is still controlled by the potter.
Clay scrap pieces are cut off or otherwise set aside during the process. About.com has a nice series of articles on pottery. Let’s see what they tell us:
As you work, you are likely to have a number of scrap pieces of clay accumulate. This is true of hand building, and even truer of throwing. In hand building, if the scraps haven’t dried out too much you can re-work them without having to do much more than compress them back together and work the air out. If you are throwing, however, your scraps are likely to be quite wet and will include slurry.
Don’t throw these scraps away; you can recycle them back into usable clay again.
…When your scrap bucket is half way full, discontinue putting new scrap into it (switch to a new bucket for new scraps). Allow the scrap clay to dry completely, which may take several days to over a week. Make sure that any large pieces are broken into bits. Smaller pieces will slake down faster and more thoroughly than large chunks.
~ Peterson, Beth. (2008). How to Recycle Clay Scraps. Retrieved 29 May 2009 from http://pottery.about.com/od/diyclaybodies/ss/recycle.htm.
Note that the scraps are left to completely dry. So, even if clay has hardened from exposure to the air, it can be reused. Smaller pieces dry faster than larger pieces. The act of smashing the pottery is to create small enough pieces to allow them to thoroughly dry and be reused!
Potter, Clay, Water
Hopefully, it is obvious that God is the Potter and we are literally made of clay. God formed Adam from the ground. “Adam” means “red”, which is also a common color for clay.
However, we are not just clay. God did give us a spirit so we can think and reason. Even physically, though, we are somewhere around 90% water.
Let that sink in a moment. A potter requires both clay and water to do his work. We are physically made of clay and water.
There is a more spiritual application, of course. But first, let us consider what it means for our character and nature to be finished.
Character Being Set
The Church used to talk a lot more about how as a person ages, their character becomes more set. It was sometimes likened to cement. When you are young, it is easy to form your character. As long as the proportions of the ingredients were correct, you can pour the wet concrete into a mold, allow it to set and have a long lasting object.
The problem with that analogy, though, is that people are not concrete. Concrete is a modern invention. People are more like natural clay. Once clay sets, it is hard, but it is also still fragile. Pottery must be tried in the ovens. Pottery must be put into the fire.
If I form a clay bowl, but I do not put it into a kiln to fire it, then it is easily broken. It is not finished. That is why you can take a piece of unfired pottery, smash it, water it down and reuse the clay. It wasn’t finished in the first place.
A Christian should be finished when Christ returns. The fiery trials of life burn out the impurities and create a finished vessel. A non-Christian may be subject to other adversities, but they are not yet finished in the oven of righteous living.
Isn’t it interesting that the Bible often warns of hardening our hearts?
Reviving the Clay
The analogy to the 2nd resurrection should be obvious. The clay that was is revived. However, there still is one detail to go over. Even our character was being set before we were called. Yet, we were changed at some point.
Jesus worked with the somewhat malleable clay of His disciples before His ascent into Heaven. However, they were still very fragile pieces of work. Then, something changed.
On the day of Pentecost, they were given the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is analogized in the Bible as fire, but more commonly as air and water. Our baptism in water should symbolize the work of the Holy Spirit in washing away our sins. Water is added to the hardening clay so it can be shaped and molded accordingly.
So, what does the Holy Spirit have to do with clay? Like water, it softens the clay before it becomes too hard to shape and form correctly. It allows the Potter to shape and mold His vessels today. Other vessels are not put into the ovens yet, but they are to be smashed with a little rod of iron so that the clay can be reused when the time is right. When the time is right, the Holy Spirit will be added to those scraps of clay as well and they too will be molded and shaped by the Master Potter.