Moroccon potter making cooking pots
Used under CCA license
18 The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying,
2 Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words.
3 Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.
4 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.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
6 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.
7 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;
8 If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
I’ve been busy trying to fix a few things, and I came across the article “Reflections: Pentecost and The Rod of Iron“. I realized that there is so much more that could be written about it. A lot of this is sort of a stream of consciousness but with a common theme.
Pottery and Parchment
For a long time, archaeologists were fond of saying that ancient civilizations weren’t literate. They would claim this, as they often do, upon the lack of evidence. This is the good old argument from silence fallacy.
At the Bible History Online, we are told in “Potters and Pottery in the Ancient World” that parchment was expensive so peasants would use clay tablets and pottery instead of parchment to write things down.
That is probably somewhat true, but I think it assumes that parchment wasn’t more prevalent. It has been said before that understanding the Bible requires a level of literacy within a society. The entire notion that every man would be able to sit under his own vine and fig tree went much farther than the idea of ownership and living off of the land prosperously. It also had the connotation of sitting under the shade of the fig tree studying the Scriptures.
Clay tablets have little permanence. Pottery has much more permanence. However, parchment has the least of all. It is more likely that the “lack of writing”, which has been largely disproven by the pottery containing writing, is actually do to the impermanence of parchment rather than lack of literacy.
Perhaps the main thoughts that came together while looking over the available material:
- The Bible mentions pottery a number of times. One online commentary said there almost was a “fascination” with pottery.
- God has set up nature in such a way that nothing goes to waste. When something dies, it is used by some other organism, which then becomes food for something else. Literally, nothing goes to waste.
- Pottery in ancient cultures rarely went to waste. Broken pottery was repurposed for other things. Potters often had pieces of pottery lying about, and sometimes children would use them to carry live coals home in order to warm the evening meal.
I believe that it goes beyond the ability to shape and to mold peoples and nations that God uses the imagery of pottery so many times. God has the ability to reshape, remold and even reuse the broken pieces of our lives to make us into new vessels.
Pottery Is Easily Broken
Pottery seems hard, and to a degree it is. However, there is a degree of fragility to it. Again, relying upon the Bible History Online article, we are told:
The Fragile Pottery The fragility of pottery. Eastern pottery is indeed very brittle, especially when modern methods of glazing are unknown. Many times the young woman going for the family water supply has had to come home without it, because she put down her water pitcher too suddenly. The writer of Ecclesiastes has this in mind when he says: “The pitcher be broken at the fountain” (12:6). When only a slight blow will break pottery into pieces, intentional dashing of a vessel of clay to the ground will result in complete ruin, and this is the picture often used by Biblical writers of divine judgment upon GOD’s enemies, or upon His people who disobey Him. “Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalm 2:9). “He shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers” (Revelation 2:27). “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel, that cannot be made whole again” (Jeremiah 19:11). [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
We do not live in paradise. Some of the results of the sin of Adam and Eve are pain, suffering and death. Life is fragile.
As a result of sin, we are all broken pottery.
Phases of Finished Pottery
Pottery passes through different phases before it is finished. It starts out as raw clay that must be kneaded and wedged before it can be used. Wikipedia lists the “Physical stages of clay” as greenware, leather-hard, bone-dry, biscuit and glaze fired. Each step makes it harder and more difficult to be repurposed.
There is a spiritual parallel. The longer people live, the more “set” they are, to borrow an expression from HWA. After a time, character becomes set, and if left alone for long enough, it becomes impossible to change.
This is how we know that Satan will never change, in spite of a patient God giving him every opportunity to do so. If you don’t believe this, re-read the first two chapters of the Book of Job. Is God busy chewing out Satan? Or, is God trying to show him something?
However, the angels have been around for billions of years. Their character is “set”. That is, it has been glazed and fired. Angels such as Gabriel and Michael have it set on righteous, whereas Satan and the demons have it set on wicked.
20 There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.
We recognize that this is probably talking about the Great White Throne Judgment, aka the second resurrection. Like us, people will have their minds opened and an opportunity to accept and live God’s way of life.
However, there will come a time when there will be time no more, at least not as we know it. The setting will happen, and the chance to accept Christ’s sacrifice will pass. Either the person will be set on righteous, or they will be incorrigible and thrown into the Lake of Fire.
Hardening Leads to Brokenness
For the majority who do not become incorrigible, it still is evident that before firing, it is still easy to be broken.
In this age, there is a lot of kneading and wedging going on. The air bubbles need to be eliminated, and the softness must be worked throughout the lump of clay.
For the Christian, a man or woman might be shaped and left to dry. Then, cracks begin to form. Sometimes, the cracks can be repaired, but sometimes the entire vessel must be crushed. It is struck with a rod of iron, ground into powder and reused.
From Brokenness to Strength
Bible Hub has an interesting article on “A Pottery Mound“. It points out that ancient civilizations reused pottery pieces for other things.
One of the most curious objects in Rome is a huge artificial mound called Monte Testaccio. It stands near the gate of St. Paul’s, between the Aventine Hill and the Tiber…It is a conspicuous object, being nearly one-third of a mile in circumference, and about a hundred and fifty feet high, commanding from its top an extensive view of the most desolate and historical parts of the Eternal City, and the Campagna a beyond. It is an easy task to climb it, for on different sides there are well-worn tracks from the base to the summit. The … mound is almost entirely composed of fragments of broken earthenware. Specimens of ancient pottery of all kinds may be found lying loosely on the surface of the heap, or by digging a little way into the mass…Not one vessel was whole, nor could the broken pieces be united to form even the least important part of any vessel. … we should expect to find in the mound only vessels of one kind, fitted for storage purposes. But it contains, as I have said, fragments of the most varied assortment of vessels for household use and for ornamental and even for sepulchral purposes…It became, in fact, the general receptacle for the broken pottery of the whole city. That this was carefully collected into this one spot, instead of being thrown out anywhere, and that no other rubbish was allowed, except accidentally, to ruing o with it, shows clearly that the heap was intended for some economical use. We have indeed reason to believe that this broken earthenware, ground into smaller fragments and pulverised, formed an ingredient in the famous Roman cement employed in the construction of buildings whose hardness and durability were proverbial. But it is not in Rome only that such ancient mounds of broken pottery are found. Similar heaps of potsherds, not on quite so large a scale, may be seen outside the walls of Alexandria and Cairo.
However, that’s not the only thing I found. For even today, there is a process of “…Adding Temper to Clay” to control both shrinkage and thermal shock.
I have made temper from aquarium gravel that I crushed down to an appropriate size, crushed shells, old broken pottery that I have pulverized down into little pieces, sometimes even coarse sand. The one material that I do not recommend using is beach sand, as it is most often too round. Temper must be “edgy”, so that the clay can stick into it. The most important thing, no matter what you use, is to ensure that your temper is a consistent particle size, of a consistent material, added in known proportions….
Have you ever wondered why a rod of iron was used to break the pottery? I have, and now I know. The iron rod is not simply to break the pottery, for ancient pottery was fragile and wouldn’t require iron to break it. Rather, it was for crushing the pottery into fine powder in order to add it to new clay in order to temper it!
So, now you know too.
The interesting thing about this is that it is from brokenness that God creates strength.
We Don’t Remain Cracked Pots
Consider then, we aren’t supposed to remain broken, but rather we are to be ground up and mixed with new clay and become a new creature! Sound familiar? I hope so!
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
~ 2Co 5:17
God does not want us to remain in our old broken character mindset, but He wants us to be renewed in our minds (cf. Ro 12:2). The old man with his old ways will not work! We must all become new creations.
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
If anyone went through the grinder, it was Paul. He was stoned, shipwrecked, ridiculed, imprisoned and more. Like the prophets of the OT, he was often ignored by the very people who should have listened to him.
Yes, he was ground up into powder so he could be reshaped into a new creature. He was perhaps the best qualified to write about the topic.