Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
THE SMASHED POTTER'S VESSEL
The feature of this little chapter is the irrefutable and irremediable cancellation of the status of racial Israel as God's Chosen People, a status which, by their reprobacy, they forfeited to the New Israel in whom all the glorious prophecies of the fathers would be fulfilled.
Here is the parable of the smashed potter's vessel. The previous chapter showed God's patience and ability to accommodate to the imperfections of the clay; but this one stresses a far different lesson. It is no longer possible for even God to work with hardened Israel.
The symbol here is a potter's vessel; but one that has already been fired and hardened, a perfect symbol of the judicial hardening of Racial Israel, which, as Isaiah stated, had already taken place a full century before Jeremiah came upon the scene (Isaiah 6).
It was a new vessel, one just purchased, which means that it was empty. This symbolized the fact of the emptiness of the racial Israel and their complete failure to produce the righteous works which God desired.
The shattering of the vessel symbolized the divorce and casting off of racial Israel as God's wife and as God's chosen people.
There was no known way by which such a shattered vessel could be mended or repaired, and this symbolized the final, total, and irreversible nature of Israel's rejection, always with the exception of the "righteous remnant" destined to form the nucleus of the New Israel in the kingdom of Messiah.
Laden with such a terrible message, the events recorded here resulted in bitter persecution for Jeremiah; and Satan still releases his fulminations against what is written here: affirming that, "it is not written in Jeremiah's style"; "It was probably written by Baruch"; "It is conjectured that certain verses were added later by an editor"; (regrettably, Ash neglected to tell us whether this was his opinion or the opinion of unbelieving critics), stating that, "the reader can judge" the matter: Very well, this reader will judge such allegations; and the judgment is simple enough: such postulations are worthless.
(1) The claim that the style here is different actually refers to the fact that the third person is used instead of the first; and there's nothing unusual about that. Barnes declared that such an objection belongs to the "babyhood of criticism," and that, "It is the exception when any sacred writer refers to himself in the first person." In our introduction to Jonah (see the Minor Prophets, Vol. 1) we discussed this fully, pp. 261-263. Also, Jeremiah would, in a moment, quote verbatim from Moses the author of Deuteronomy; and since Moses invariably referred to himself in the third person, it was quite natural and should have been expected that Jeremiah would also use the third person here.
(2) Ash's reference to "an editor" comes from the assertion of some critics that "the Deuteronomic editor" has influenced this chapter, as if such an imaginary figure were in any sense a real person, which he was not. Moses wrote Deuteronomy, not some editor; and it is not that imaginary editor that influenced this chapter but Moses himself. "Jeremiah 19:9 is quoted almost literally from Deuteronomy 28:33." This fully accounts for the alleged influence of "some Deuteronomic editor," that influence pertaining to Moses the author of the Pentateuch.
(3) In a more positive attitude, the style of Jeremiah is most evident in this chapter and is seen in the scrambling of his subject matter, a characteristic of the whole prophecy. Green pointed out that, "Jeremiah 19:1,2,10,11 deal with the destruction of Israel, and Jeremiah 19:3-9 and Jeremiah 19:12-13 are portions of the sermon!" Nothing could be any more Jeremiahic than such an arrangement. This total lack of any usual type of organization requires us to look at the chapter only one or two verses at a time.
Before leaving this discussion of the allegations about `interpolations, etc.' in this chapter, we summarize it by this quotation from F. Cawley and A. R. Millard, who rejected all such changes, writing, "There is insufficient reason for treating Jeremiah 19:3-9 as insertions."
"Thus saith Jehovah, Go, and buy a potter's earthen bottle, and take of the elders of the people, and of the elders of the priests; and go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the gate Harsith, and there proclaim the words that I shall tell thee."
Other occasions when the actions of Jeremiah became a part of his message are: the Marred Girdle (Jeremiah 13), his Abstinence from Marriage (Jeremiah 16), the Potter's Clay (Jeremiah 18), the Bonds and Bars (Jeremiah 27), and his Buying a Field (Jeremiah 32).
See chapter heading above for the meaning of this symbol; but there are additional teachings evident here. The fact of the bottle's being "earthen" symbolized the humble beginnings of Israel; the delicate design and value of the bottle symbolized Israel's earlier glory; and, if, as some allege, it was a very cheap and fragile bottle, it symbolized the vulnerability of the nation of Israel. It would be difficult indeed to think of a metaphor as effective as this one.
Furthermore, the very place where this sermon would be preached and where the bottle would be shattered carry their own implications. The gate mentioned here is hard to identify.
"Two gates led to the valley of the son of Hinnom: (1) the Fountain Gate at the southeast corner, and the Dung Gate at the southwest corner of Zion. Keil could not decide which was meant here; and Kimchi thought it was neither, but a small, postern gate, used for throwing out rubbish, the valley having been put to this degrading use from the time when Josiah defiled it (2 Kings 23:10). And thus the mean symbol of a proud nation was carried out through the back door to be broken upon the heaps of rubbish already there."
"Of the elders ... of the priests ..." (Jeremiah 19:1). "These were probably prominent members of the Sanhedrin, representatives of the whole people."
"The valley of the son of Hinnom ..." (Jeremiah 19:2). Some scholars write this: "Valley of Ben-hinnom," which means the same thing. It was located south of Jerusalem and was the location of the shrine of Molech, where the infants were burned as sacrifices to that god; after Josiah defiled the place, it was used for burning garbage and cremating the bodies of dead criminals.
The potter's field was just a little southward, and it was there that Judas Iscariot who betrayed the Lord committed suicide.
"And say, Hear ye the word of Jehovah, O kings of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, which whosoever heareth, his ears shall tingle. Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, that they knew not, they and their fathers and the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons in the fire for burnt-offerings unto Baal; which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind."
"His ears shall tingle ..." (Jeremiah 19:3). This suggests such a shock as comes from a clap of thunder so close that the hearer's head rings and his ears tingle. The forthcoming destruction of Israel will be the kind of judgment that will get the full attention of the most indifferent.
"Ye have estranged this place ..." (Jeremiah 19:4). This means that the sins of the people had completely alienated Jerusalem from God's approval. They had destroyed the very charter of their existence as a nation.
"Ye have filled this place with the blood of innocents ..." (Jeremiah 19:4). This does not refer to the sacrifice of infants to Molech, but to the senseless murder of innocent people by Manasseh (2 Kings 21:16). "The sacrifice of children to Molech constitutes a new indictment, which comes in the next verse."
"Ye have built the high places of Baal ..." (Jeremiah 19:5). The purpose of those high places was stated in the next clause, "to burn their sons in the fire as burnt-offerings to Baal"; and that identifies the particular Baal here as the horrible Molech.
Keil enumerated the sins of Israel here as follows: "(1) their public practice of idolatry; (2) judicial murder of the innocents; and (3) burning their own children as sacrifices to Molech."
"Hear ye ... O kings of Judah ..." (Jeremiah 19:3). "The message was not merely to the reigning king, but to the whole dynasty responsible for the apostasy of Israel."
"These verses are said to be strongly Deuteronomic in style and phraseology; but the whole argument turns on the identification of this Deuteronomic style and phraseology." Amen! Amen! If they mean that Jeremiah was here quoting the true author of Deuteronomy, namely, Moses, very well, we agree with that; but if it is meant that some mythical "Deuteronomic editor" is meant, we reject that false notion altogether.
"Which I commanded not ..." (Jeremiah 19:5). This establishes a principle that any alleged worship which God did not command is an abomination to the Lord. May we point out some other things that God has not commanded in Christian worship: the playing of instruments of music, communion under one kind, the burning of sacred incense, the sprinkling of holy water, the lighting of blessed candles, etc., etc. Nothing is any more dangerous than the worship of God through the observance of forms and actions that God has not commanded.
"Therefore, behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, but The Valley of Slaughter. And I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place; and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hand of them that seek their life: and their dead bodies will I give to be food for the birds of heavens, and for the beasts of the earth."
"Tophet ..." (Jeremiah 19:6). The exact meaning of this word is not known; but, "It comes from an Aramaic root that indicates `fireplace.' " It was one of the names given to the valley of Ben-hinnom that contained the shrine of Molech.
"I will make void ..." (Jeremiah 19:7). The literal meaning of the Hebrew here is, "I will pour out"; and such writers as Cheyne and Barnes suppose that, "Jeremiah carried that bottle full of water and emptied it in the presence of the witnesses as he spoke these words." We are not inclined to accept this speculation because the flask was new; God had not commanded Jeremiah to fill it with water, and there's nothing in the text to support the speculation, interesting as it is.
"The Valley of Slaughter ..." (Jeremiah 19:6). "It was in this very valley that the Chaldean army encamped, making the very place where they looked for help from their idols to be the scene of their slaughter."
"And I will make this city an astonishment, and a hissing; everyone that passeth thereby shall be astonished and hiss because of all the plagues thereof. And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters; and they shall eat everyone the flesh of his friend, in the siege and in the distress, wherewith their enemies, and they that seek their life, shall distress them."
This terrible warning is an almost verbatim quotation from Deuteronomy 28:53, in which the Great Lawgiver Moses had warned Israel of their fate IF they should give up serving their true God. Israel had indeed defaulted in that very act of disobedience; and now Jeremiah warned that the Mosaic penalty would be enforced.
Did such an awful thing actually happen? Alas, the answer must be that it did. (1) In the siege of Samaria that led to the fall of the Northern kingdom in 722 B.C. (2 Kings 6:26ff); (2) again in 586 B.C. in the Babylonian invasion by Nebuchadnezzar; and (3) also in A.D. 70 preceding the total destruction of Jerusalem by Vespasian and Titus. The Biblical confirmation of these sad episodes is found in Lamentations 2:20; 4:10; 2 Kings 6:28-29; and the historical record of Josephus confirms that in 70 A.D.
"Then shalt thou break the bottle in the sight of the men that go with thee, and shalt say unto them, Thus saith Jehovah 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; and they shall bury in Tophet, till there be no place to bury. Thus will I do unto this place, saith Jehovah, and to the inhabitants thereof, even making this city as Tophet: and the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses of the kings of Judah, which are defiled, shall be as the place of Tophet, even all the houses upon whose roofs they have burned incense unto all the host of heaven, and have poured out drink-offerings unto other gods."
"Thou shalt break the bottle ..." (Jeremiah 19:10). What a perfect symbol of what would happen to Israel! "Not by accident, but by design it was broken. God intended it; man accomplished it; it was completely shattered; it was irresistibly effected; it was useless for Israel to resist; and no ingenuity could repair the damage."
Wiseman observed that "Because Jerusalem had made itself into a pagan altar, God made exactly that use out of them: (1) there was slaughter (Jeremiah 19:11); (2) burning (Jeremiah 19:12); and (3) offering up (Jeremiah 19:13)."
"Even all the houses upon whose roofs they have burned incense unto all the host of heaven ..." (Jeremiah 19:13) The destruction was destined to fall upon the city as a whole, and included in the destruction would be all of the houses upon the roofs of which the worship of pagan gods had been observed by the children of Israel. "The rooftops were apparently the normal places for the worship of astral deities such as Astarte. Cuneiform texts from Ras Shamra included a ritual to be used when offerings were made on rooftops to astral deities and celestial luminaries."
"In 2Kings 21:5,2 Kings 23:12, we learn that Ahaz and Manasseh introduced this pagan cult in Judah, probably from Mesopotamia, where it was practiced from remote antiquity."
"Then came Jeremiah from Tophet, whither Jehovah had sent him to prophesy; and he stood in the court of Jehovah's house, and said to all the people: Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, Behold, I will bring upon this city and upon all its towns all the evil that I have pronounced against it; because they have made their neck stiff, that they may not hear my words."
This was probably only a summary of what Jeremiah said in the court of the temple, because Pashhur, the chief officer of the temple, was greatly irritated and angered by it, as comes to light in the next chapter. It was this connection between the two chapters that led Barnes to declare that, "These verses (Jeremiah 19:14-15) should have been joined to the next chapter."
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