Explore The Bible Study: Shapes

7:00 AM

Have you ever visited a place that makes pottery, or have you personally made pottery? What happens if, while you are shaping the clay, it gets a flaw or crack, or fails to conform to the shape that you desire? You start over with the lump of clay. The potter is in control of the outcome for the piece of clay. God teaches a very important lesson to Jeremiah in the Explore the Bible Study: Shapes.

If you have trouble imagining how the potter works to shape the clay perhaps the following video will help:

The Lord instructed Jeremiah to visit the potter’s house to learn an important spiritual lesson about God as the Potter.  Jeremiah 18:1-12 describes Jeremiah’s visit and the lessons he learns regarding God being in control of shaping His people for His purposes. The lessons God provided as he watched the potter at work were valuable for the people of Judah—and for us. 

The Master Potter doesn’t give up on a flawed lump of clay—Jeremiah 18:1-4

Who was in control of the clay in this passage? What kind of vessel did the potter make? How does this relate to how God works with us and with our flaws?

When Jeremiah followed God’s instruction and arrived at the “potter’s house,” God immediately began to teach Jeremiah a special lesson. Jeremiah noticed the potter’s clay had become “flawed” as he shaped it. The word translated “flawed” indicates the state of being corrupted or ruined. Something in the clay was not right. Instead of throwing out the clay, though, the potter simply restarted his project. Because the clay wasn’t dry yet, he could put it back into its original shape and begin something new. As long as the clay stayed in the potter’s hand, he could shape it for his purposes.

What would be the inclination of someone who isn’t a skilled potter, when a piece of clay develops a flaw? What does the skilled potter’s response communicate about the character of God and His relationship with His people?

Imagine your life is a piece of pottery clay in the hands of God. What kind of vessel do you believe He is shaping, and how would that vessel illustrate how God is working in your life?

God used the picture of the potter working the clay to show Jeremiah how He was working to shape His people for His plans and purposes. Next, He reminded Jeremiah that He was (and still is) in complete control of our lives.

We are in the hands of the Master Potter—Jeremiah 18:5-10

The Lord asked a question all mankind, especially believers, must answer, “Can I not treat you as this potter treats his clay?”

What are possible responses people might give to this question? Why would many be inclined to respond with “no”? Does answering “no” change the fact that everyone is still in the hands of the Master Potter?

The question was rhetorical and anticipated an affirmative response. Naturally, God is God and can do whatever He pleases. 

The Lord answered His own rhetorical question: just like clay in the potter’s hand, so you are in my hand. Jeremiah had seen the potter’s hand rework the clay. Likewise, God could refashion His people for His purpose. 

God then elaborates on what it means to be a lump of clay in His hands in verses 7-10.

God affirmed His sovereignty over everything and everyone. The verses stress the thoroughness of God’s judgment. He remained true to His righteous character, even when executing judgment on those who oppose Him.  As sovereign, God can also change the course of His actions if a nation turns from its evil. The word translated turns also can mean “repents.” In context, it carries the basic idea of coming back to God. Sadly, verse 10 announced the consequences if a nation does what is evil and rejects Him.

God was showing Jeremiah that His sovereignty gives Him the right and power to forgive those who repent and to judge those who do not. However, we will see that some clay is just not pliable. This is when the potter must determine what happens next.

The Master Potter determines what happens to the clay—Jeremiah 18:11-12

Just as the potter fashioned his clay, the Lord was fashioning His plan against His people. Their flaws were just too much to continue. Yet, God still offered them a choice: “Turn now.” The wording expresses a special urgency to God’s command. The people needed to repent quickly! 

When a potter begins to see a flaw in a vessel, his first inclination might be to just stop and start over. But usually, the potter will work to remove the flaw before starting over, even though, an experienced potter will know that the flaw most likely won’t correct itself. God knows our future and knows when or if we will repent. Yet He still works with us as the Master Potter. Yet, at a point, it’s time and His discipline and judgment will come in order to correct the flaw and restore the vessel.

Notice, though, how Judah responded to God. As Judah’s circumstances deteriorated, the people yielded to despair rather than turning to the God who could rescue them. They chose to follow their own plans. The people determined to stay with their own futile ways and to act according to the stubbornness of their evil heart. God warned His people of disaster, and the hope of restoration was always present. Sadly, most residents of the nation were determined to choose their own course, even if that course inevitably led to ruin. 

In what ways might believers react as the Israelites did? Why is it so hard to repent?

It’s hard for people to admit they have fallen short of God’s standard. Regardless, God stands ready to forgive anyone who confesses their sins and puts their faith in Jesus. When we do, the sovereign God will shape us for His purpose and use our lives to the fullest.

What Kind of Vessel are You?

Would you say you are a lump of clay, a vessel on the potter’s wheel, a vessel in need of being remade, or one that is complete?

Recall an occasion when you refused to do what you knew God wanted you to do and you experienced consequences as a result. Consider the actions you will take this week to conform more completely to God’s purposes? Take time this week to reflect on how God might be shaping you for His purposes, and ask God for the strength to remain pliable in His hands.

The downloadable teaching helps provide more details for this study, along with some tools you can use in guiding a group Bible study. 

Download PDF Version

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LifeWay Explore The Bible Resources

These teaching helps are intended to be used as a supplement to your study of Lifeway's Explore the Bible curriculum resources. Portions of this material are taken directly from content copyrighted to Lifeway Christian Resources Explore the Bible and is used with permission.  This material has not been reviewed by Lifeway Christian Resources. 

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