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The Fatherly Nature of God - Jeremiah 18

God's immense willingness to forgive

Jeremiah 18:1-23; Ezekiel 33:11; Exodus 19:8,24:3&7; Deuteronomy 5:1-29; Psalm 81:10-13; Isaiah 48:17-18; Matthew 23:37; Jonah 3:1-10; 2 Peter 3:1-10.

Jan 27, 2013 12:00 PM

MP3 audio icon The-Fatherly-Nature-of-God_01-27-2013.mp3 — MP3 audio, 14032 kB (14369761 bytes)

Let’s begin today by turning to the 18th chapter of Jeremiah and reading it together.

1 The word that came to 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. 4 And the vessel he was making 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 this potter has done?  declares the LORD.  Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the 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 that 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 from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.'

12 "But they say, 'That is in vain!  We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.'

13 "Therefore thus 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 cold flowing streams? 15 But my people have forgotten me; they make offerings to false gods; they
[i.e. the false gods] 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."
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18 Then [i.e. after Jeremiah finished saying all this to them, the people at the potter’s house] 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 the sword 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 iniquity, nor blot out their sin from your sight.  Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.
(Jeremiah 18:1-23 ESV)

This chapter is a unit that hangs together quite nicely in the way the ESV has presented it.  The LORD speaks to Jeremiah in verse 2 and tells him to go to the potter's house where he will hear the LORD's words.

So Jeremiah goes there and witnesses how the potter changes his mind regarding his plans for a vessel he was making.  It is at that point the word of the LORD comes to Jeremiah again and God speaks through him to the people there at the potter's house ("O house of Israel . . . ") by pointing out to them what just happened (v6), and uses the potter as an illustration of how God works among the nations as it seems good to Him to do.  This is an illustration of the nature and character of God.

Here is what seems good to the LORD: To do good to people.  To bless them.  To reward faithfulness and obedience.  However, if God says to a nation that He intends to build them up and bless them, and they ignore Him and follow their own evil ways, He reserves the right, just as the potter did, to change course.  To change from His original purpose to bring blessing and bring disaster instead.  The opposite is also true. (Vs 7-10).

Once again, God here reminds the people that He is shaping disaster and devising a plan against them.  And He tells them so!  Why?  Why doesn’t He just get it over with and wipe them all out?  Because, if they would listen to His voice and repent, they would avert this catastrophe.  This is how God works!  This is why He has sent Jeremiah and all the prophets repeatedly to the house of Israel and the house of Judah: because He wants to do them good and not evil.

Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ezekiel 33:11 ESV)

But notice in verse 12, God is continuing to speak to and about the people of Judah by quoting them: "But they say . . . " And what they say is that in spite of how God desires to show mercy and how He longs to avoid bringing calamity upon them, in spite of the fact that God has once again sent Jeremiah to the with a warning of disaster to come, the people have convinced themselves it is futile to repent.  They do not believe God.  They do not trust Him to relent or to bring blessings upon them.  Regarding repentance for the sake of gaining God's favor and avoiding His wrath they say, "That is in vain!"

Not only do they think repentance is vain, they also see no reason to forsake their own evil plans concocted within their own evil and stubborn hearts.  What is remarkable is that God is speaking this about them to them, through Jeremiah, revealing His own knowledge of their absolute rebellion.  He is totally aware of their wicked schemes.  “It is vain to believe God and do what He says.”

8 All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord. (Exodus 19:8 ESV)

3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules.  And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (Exodus 24:3 ESV)

7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people.  And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” (Exodus 24:7 ESV)

27 Go near and hear all that the Lord our God will say, and speak to us all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’ (Deuteronomy 5:27 ESV)

In Deuteronomy 5, Moses is recounting to the people their experience at Mt. Sinai by reading the Ten Commandments to them again.

22 “These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more.  And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me. 23 And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders. 24 And you said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire.  This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. 25 Now therefore why should we die?  For this great fire will consume us.  If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived? 27 Go near and hear all that the Lord our God will say, and speak to us all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’

This is Israel at Mt. Sinai.  This was their covenant which they entered into with the LORD.  Repeatedly they said they would do ALL that the LORD commanded them.  

28 “And the Lord heard your words, when you spoke to me.  And the Lord said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you.  They are right in all that they have spoken. 29 Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever! (Deuteronomy 5:1-29 ESV)

10 I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. 11 "But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. 12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.13 Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! (Psalm 81:10-13 ESV)

17 Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go. 18 Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!  Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea; (Isaiah 48:17-18 ESV)

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37 ESV)

From the very first day when the people entered into this covenant with the LORD at Mt. Sinai, He was fully aware that they would habitually break the covenant.  There was no way they would keep it.  Because in spite of what they said, in spite of their good intentions, as Jesus said in Matthew 23, they were not willing to do ALL that the LORD commanded.  They were not willing to hear God’s voice and listen.

God desires to do good for His people.  That is what God is like.  He is benevolent and kind and good.  But He will relent of the good He wills to do if His people will not listen.  And if He warns a people of His wrath against them for their sin, and they listen and repent, then He will relent of the evil He intended.  That is what God is like.  For example:

1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you." 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.  Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey.  And he called out, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God.
[In other words, they did not say, “Repentance is futile!”  On the contrary,]  They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.

6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything.  Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God.  Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows?  God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish." 10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
(Jonah 3:1-10 ESV)

The amazingly evil Assyrians had more faith in God than the people of Judah in the days of Jeremiah.  “If we cry out to God and repent, maybe He will relent and not destroy us all!”  Yes!  That is exactly right.  That is exactly what God will do because that is the nature of God: to show mercy.

If there is ever a conflict in the mind and heart of God, this is it.  This is an illustration of the heart of God towards sinners.  God loves justice AND mercy.  His wrath is so slow in coming against Judah that it appears that He struggles with this.  He is like a parent who loves his kids but must punish them for their disobedience.  What parent WANTS to inflict pain upon their children?  If the kid would just fess up, if he would just admit he backed the family car over the neighbor’s ornamental fruit tree, if he would just show some heartfelt remorse and ask for forgiveness, THEN it would go much better with him.  And a good parent certainly wants to do good for their children because they love them.  Good parents always desire and intend to do good for their children.

But if the kid not only isn’t interested in admitting guilt, but also fully intends to back the family car through the neighbor’s fence and practice parallel parking between the bean poles in the neighbor’s garden!! . . . then what is a good parent supposed to do?  The good that the parent would do is now put on hold.  Blessings are forfeited while the good parent takes corrective measures to insure that this kid never sees any car keys again for the rest of his life.  More or less.

Judah is like the rebellious teen-aged kid who really doesn’t care what Dad thinks.  So Dad has to change Junior’s way of thinking, usually by means of some kind of affliction, in order to bring Junior’s thinking back in line with reality, and back in line with what he knows Dad expects of him.

This is the character of God.  He desires to bless and not curse, to show mercy and not bring disaster, to bring joy and not sorrow.  But all of that hinges upon the response of the people to whom He speaks.  If God says to a people, “I’m going to bring disaster and plague and pestilence and destruction against you”, and they repent, then He says, “Good!  I’m glad you were paying attention!  I won’t bring disaster and plague and pestilence and destruction against you like I was going to do.”  

But the opposite is also true.  If God says to a people, “I am going to raise you up and make you a mighty nation and none of your enemies will prevail against you, and you will be a blessing to the entire earth”, and they ignore Him, then He says, “Not good!  You really should have paid attention to Me.  Now I’m going to bring disaster and plague and pestilence and destruction against you.”  

•    In Jeremiah 18, after God has used the potter as an object lesson to illustrate His own willingness to relent of the good or evil He intends to do to a people based upon their response to His word . . .
•    And after He speaks yet another warning to the people saying He intends to bring disaster against them so that they might repent and avoid it,
•    And after God says to the people that He knows their hearts and He knows they have no intention of repenting,
•    And after He says to them in verse 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" . . .
•    THEN the people to whom Jeremiah has been speaking all these words from the LORD at the potter’s house say to one another, “We need to kill Jeremiah.  We have prophets and priests who will tell us what we want to hear."

And Jeremiah pretty much loses it at that point.  He is not only upset that they want to kill him, but he is indignant that they are once again shunning God!  They are being the very people God has just told them they are, the kind of people who bring God’s wrath upon themselves NEEDLESSLY.  Just repent!  You do not have to die!  But at this point, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea!!

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 the sword in battle.  Forgive not their iniquity, nor blot out their sin from your sight.  Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.

It is the stubborn wickedness of men that provokes a benevolent God to anger.  It is not an angry God who is looking for opportunities to squash innocent, decent human beings.  Turn with me please, to 2 Peter 3.

1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation." 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:1-10 ESV)

God is multifaceted.  He is not confused, or conflicted, or schizophrenic.  He is patient.  He is not in a hurry to bring about the destruction of the world and the judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But, the day of the Lord WILL come.  God is love.  He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. There is in God the desire that all men should repent and not perish.  Even so, that will not happen.  And the God who is love will also exercise His love for justice and bring the punishment of unrepentant sinners to bear upon them.

What will make judgment day more bearable on that day for those of us who have been redeemed, is the fact that those who are condemned will be condemned for their rejection of such a wonderful God as the LORD.  We will be indignant, like Jeremiah, that in spite of God’s many kindnesses and His nearly endless patience towards sinners, they will have stubbornly refused His warnings and His calls to turn from their sin and be blessed by Him.

Rather, they will have said along with the people of Judah, “We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.” That will make their condemnation easier to accept.  Because they stubbornly refused the love of a God who was willing to forgive.


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