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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 18

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Jeremiah 18:0


(The parentheses represent poetic literary units)

The Potter and the ClayThe Potter and the ClayJeremiah Visits the PotterJeremiah at the Potter's HouseThe Allegory of the Potter
Jeremiah 18:1-4Jeremiah 18:1-4Jeremiah 18:1-12Jeremiah 18:1-4Jeremiah 18:1-4
Jeremiah 18:5-12Jeremiah 18:5-10Jeremiah 18:5-12Jeremiah 18:5-11
Jeremiah 18:11
God's Warning Rejected
Jeremiah 18:12Jeremiah 18:12
About Israel's Repudiation of YahwehThe People Reject the LORDFaithless Judah is Condemned to Endless Walking
Jeremiah 8:13-17(vv. Jeremiah 18:13-17)Jeremiah 18:13-14(vv. Jeremiah 18:13-14)Jeremiah 18:13-17(vv. Jeremiah 18:13-17)Jeremiah 18:13-17(vv. Jeremiah 18:13-17)Jeremiah 18:13-17(vv. Jeremiah 18:13-17)
Jeremiah 18:15-17(vv. Jeremiah 18:15-17)
Jeremiah PersecutedA Plot Against JeremiahA Plot Against JeremiahJeremiah's Fourth Personal Lament
Jeremiah 18:18Jeremiah 18:18Jeremiah 18:18Jeremiah 18:18Jeremiah 18:18
Jeremiah 18:19-23(vv. Jeremiah 18:19-23)Jeremiah 18:19-23(vv. Jeremiah 18:19-23)Jeremiah 18:19-23(vv. Jeremiah 18:19-23)Jeremiah 18:19-23Jeremiah 18:19-23(vv. Jeremiah 18:19-23)

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-4

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 18:1-4 1The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD saying, 2”Arise and go down to the potter's house, and there I will announce My words to you.” 3Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. 4But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.

Jeremiah 18:1 See note at Jeremiah 7:1.

Jeremiah 18:2 The potter is a metaphor for YHWH (cf. Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 30:14; Isaiah 41:25; Isaiah 64:8; Zechariah 11:13; Romans 9:21; Revelation 2:27). The VERBAL for “formed” is often used of YHWH's creative activity (cf. Genesis 2:7, Genesis 2:8, Genesis 2:19; Isaiah 43:1, Isaiah 43:21; Isaiah 44:21; Isaiah 45:9, Isaiah 45:11, Isaiah 45:18). YHWH's covenant people were part of a larger purpose (see Special Topic at Jeremiah 1:5), but their covenant disobedience caused that plan to be damaged (cf. Ezekiel 36:22-38). Therefore, the potter starts over again to make a new piece of the wheel (cf. Jeremiah 18:4). The theological question is “who/what” is the new piece?

Jeremiah 18:4 The problem is defective clay not a poorly skilled potter! The clay is fallen (cf. Genesis 3:0), even with all of YHWH's benefits (cf. Romans 9:4-5).

The JPSOA translation adds “if,” which denotes that not all vessels were “spoiled.” But the context suggests YHWH is depicting Judah as a corporate entity.

Verses 5-12

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 18:5-12 5Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 6”Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. 7At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; 8if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. 9Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; 10 if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it. 11So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, 'Thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.”' 12 But they will say, 'It's hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.'

Jeremiah 18:7 The actions of YHWH are the very actions given to Jeremiah at his call (cf. Jeremiah 1:10). YHWH exercises interest and control over all nations (cf. Deuteronomy 32:8; all the judgment chapters are addressed to them in the prophets).

1. to uproot - BDB 684, KB 737, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT

2. to pull down - BDB 683, KB 736, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT

3. to destroy - BDB 1, KB 2, Hiphil INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT

The actions of renewal and rebuilding mentioned in Jeremiah 1:10 are conditionally stated in Jeremiah 18:8-9. Faith and faithfulness have consequences, as do idolatry and disobedience (cf. Jeremiah 18:10).

Jeremiah 18:8, Jeremiah 18:10 “if. . .” There are some unconditional promises based on YHWH's desire to redeem mankind. However, they are addressed to nations and individuals on conditional bases (i.e., Jeremiah 7:3-7; Jeremiah 12:16). This is where the doctrine of “God's Sovereignty” and “Human Freewill” meet!

SPECIAL TOPIC: Predestination (Calvinism) Versus Human Free Will (Arminianism)

SPECIAL TOPIC: Election/Predestination and the Need for a Theological Balance

Jeremiah 18:11 YHWH, like the potter, made and destroyed a piece of pottery. The VERB (BDB 427, KB 428) translated “fashioning” is the same Qal PARTICIPLE translated “potter” (Jeremiah 18:2, Jeremiah 18:3, Jeremiah 18:4 [twice],6 [twice],11). It is also used of God's activity in forming Adam (cf. Genesis 2:7, Genesis 2:8) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5) and a nation from Abraham's seed (cf. Isaiah 27:11; Isaiah 43:1, Isaiah 43:21; Isaiah 44:21; Isaiah 45:9, Isaiah 45:11; Isaiah 64:8).

“I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you” The OT asserts the full sovereignty of YHWH. His control of “all” events (i.e., one causality in the universe) was a theological way of asserting monotheism (see Special Topic at Jeremiah 1:5). This “one causality” can be seen in 2 Chronicles 20:6; Ecclesiastes 7:14; Isaiah 14:24-27; Isaiah 43:13; Isaiah 45:7; Isaiah 54:16; Jeremiah 18:11; Lamentations 3:33-38). For a good brief discussion of this see Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 305-306. This in no way is meant to assert that YHWH is the source of evil!

There are two IMPERATIVES which describe YHWH's message to Judah.

1. “turn back” - BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal IMPERATIVE, see Special Topic at Jeremiah 2:22

2. “reform” (lit. “make good”) - BDB 405, KB 408, Hiphil IMPERATIVE

Notice that true repentance is not only a turning from evil, but a turning to good!

Jeremiah 18:12 This is YHWH's understanding of the unrepentant heart of Judah (cf. Jeremiah 2:25; Jeremiah 17:1). They will not, they cannot change (cf. Jeremiah 13:23). They have passed the time of repentance. They walk in open-eyed rebellion (cf. Jeremiah 7:24; Jeremiah 9:13; Jeremiah 13:10; Jeremiah 16:12)!

Verses 13-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 18:13-17 13”Therefore thus says the LORD, 'Ask now among the nations, Who ever heard the like of this? The virgin of Israel Has done a most appalling thing. 14Does the snow of Lebanon forsake the rock of the open country? Or is the cold flowing water from a foreign land ever snatched away? 15For My people have forgotten Me, They burn incense to worthless gods And they have stumbled from their ways, From the ancient paths, To walk in bypaths, Not on a highway, 16To make their land a desolation, An object of perpetual hissing; Everyone who passes by it will be astonished And shake his head. 17Like an east wind I will scatter them Before the enemy; I will show them My back and not My face In the day of their calamity.'“

Jeremiah 18:13-17 This strophe describes the horrible and unique situation of a nation changing her god/gods (cf. Jeremiah 2:9-13). YHWH formed/created them but now they have “forgotten” (BDB 1013, KB 1489, Qal PERFECT, cf. Jeremiah 2:32; Jeremiah 3:21; Jeremiah 13:25) Him, the only true God (see Special Topic: Monotheism), the One who brought them into existence, protected them, provided for them, was personally present with them!

How could this happen?

1. They burned incense to worthless gods.

2. They stumbled from God's clearly revealed way (i.e., ancient paths, cf. Jeremiah 6:16; Psalms 16:11; Psalms 139:24).

3. They walked in bypaths that were not YHWH's path.

What are the consequences of their choices/actions?

1. The land of promise will be a desolation.

2. It will be a sign of shame and scorn (lit. “shake the head,” cf. Jeremiah 48:27).

3. They will be scattered (cf. Leviticus 26:33; Jeremiah 9:16; Jeremiah 13:24; Jeremiah 31:10).

4. YHWH will show them His back and not His face (this is a revocalization of the MT).

Jeremiah 18:13 “a most appalling thing” This phrase is used of a nation changing gods. The word “appalling” (BDB 1045 III, KB 1619 III) has several forms.

1. שׁערור = horrible things, cf. Jeremiah 5:30; Jeremiah 23:14

2. שׁערורי = something horrible, cf. Jeremiah 18:13; Hosea 6:10

3. שׁער = rotten figs, cf. Jeremiah 29:17

Jeremiah 18:14 This verse (a parenthetical statement) is difficult to translate. It obviously describes that which normally or expectedly occurs. Here apparently, the snow stays on Mt. Hermon and its melted waters continually flow down. Nature can be predicted with regularity, but not the seed of Abraham!

Jeremiah 18:15 “worthless gods” See Special Topic following.


“Not on a highway” Jeremiah 18:15 resumes the theme of Jeremiah 18:13. The theme of a special highway is recurrent in Isaiah.

1. a highway for the exiled Jews to return, Isaiah 11:16; Isaiah 57:14

2. a highway for Gentile worshipers to come, Isaiah 19:23

3. a highway of holiness, Isaiah 26:7; Isaiah 35:8; Isaiah 43:19; Isaiah 49:11; Isaiah 51:10

4. a Messianic highway, Isaiah 40:3; Isaiah 42:16

Jeremiah 18:16-17 This is exactly opposite of what YHWH wanted to do for His covenant people who He settled in His land. They were to be a light to the nations, but they became an object of scorn and astonishment (cf. Ezekiel 36:22-23).

Verse 18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 18:18 18Then they said, “Come and let us devise plans against Jeremiah. Surely the law is not going to be lost to the priest, nor counsel to the sage, nor the divine word to the prophet! Come on and let us strike at him with our tongue, and let us give no heed to any of his words.”

Jeremiah 18:18 This verse is an introductory strophe to the poem of Jeremiah 18:19-23. Jeremiah's enemies plan their attack (cf. Jeremiah 20:10).

1. come - BDB 229, KB 246, Qal IMPERATIVE

2. let us devise plans - BDB 362, KB 359, Qal COHORTATIVE

3. come - same as #1

4. let us strike at him with our tongue - BDB 645, KB 697, Hiphil IMPERFECT used in a COHORTATIVE sense

5. let us give no heed to any of his words - BDB 904, KB 1151, Hiphil COHORTATIVE

a. stop listening, MT, Peshitta, JPSOA, NRSV

b. listen and try to find faults, LXX, JB

This is the only verse in the OT where all three means or genres of YHWH's revelation are mentioned together.

1. the priest - the Law (question about how to apply the law)

2. the sage - counsel (i.e., Wisdom Literature)

3. the prophet - the divine word

These are mentioned to assert their belief that Jeremiah's messages are not from YHWH. He is a false prophet (cf. Deuteronomy 13:1-5) and should be killed! Because these false leaders have done this to Jeremiah, YHWH will remove all of His revelation from Judah!

The three groups of leaders are mentioned several times in Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 2:8, Jeremiah 2:26; Jeremiah 4:9; Jeremiah 5:31; Jeremiah 8:1; Jeremiah 13:13; Jeremiah 26:16; Jeremiah 28:1).

1. kings, princes

2. priests

3. prophets

Verses 19-23

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Jeremiah 18:19-23 19Do give heed to me, O LORD, And listen to what my opponents are saying! 20Should good be repaid with evil? For they have dug a pit for me. Remember how I stood before You To speak good on their behalf, So as to turn away Your wrath from them. 21Therefore, give their children over to famine And deliver them up to the power of the sword; And let their wives become childless and widowed. Let their men also be smitten to death, Their young men struck down by the sword in battle. 22May an outcry be heard from their houses, When You suddenly bring raiders upon them; For they have dug a pit to capture me And hidden snares for my feet. 23Yet You, O LORD, know All their deadly designs against me; Do not forgive their iniquity Or blot out their sin from Your sight. But may they be overthrown before You; Deal with them in the time of Your anger!

Jeremiah 18:19-23 Jeremiah answers their plans with a prayer to YHWH (another of his laments/confessions). It starts out with the same VERB that ends Jeremiah 18:18 (“heed”). Notice his requests (hyperbolic, prophetic IMPERATIVES, see D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks).

1. Do give heed to me - BDB 904, KB 1151, Hiphil IMPERATIVE. His enemies will not heed/hear, but YHWH will!

2. Listen to what my opponents are saying - BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal IMPERATIVE

a. MT - listen to opponents

b. LXX - listen to me

3. Remember how I stood before You for them - BDB 269, KB 269, Qal IMPERATIVE

a. to speak good on their behalf (i.e., Jeremiah 14:13-16)

b. to turn away Your wrath from them (cf. Jeremiah 15:1)

4. Therefore, YHWH, respond to them.

a. give over their children to famine - BDB 678, KB 733, Qal IMPERATIVE

b. deliver them to the power of the sword - BDB 620, KB 669, Hiphil IMPERATIVE

c. let their wives become childless - BDB 224, KB 243, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

d. let their wives become widows - same as c

e. let their men also be smitten to death (“by pestilence,” BDB 560) - BDB 246, KB 255, Qal PASSIVE PARTICIPLE

f. let their young men be struck down by the sword - BDB 645, KB 697, Hophal PARTICIPLE

g. let an outcry be heard from their homes - BDB 1033, KB 1570, Niphal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense. For the NOUN “cry out,” see Jeremiah 20:16; Jeremiah 48:4, Jeremiah 48:34; Jeremiah 50:46; Jeremiah 51:54; Isaiah 15:5

h. do not forgive their iniquity - BDB 497, KB 493, Piel IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

i. Do not blot out their sin from Your sight - BDB 562 I, KB 567, Hiphil IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

j. may they be overthrown before You - BDB 224, KB 243, Qere, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

k. deal with them in the time of Your anger - BDB 793 I, KB 889, Qal IMPERATIVE

Jeremiah 18:20 “Should good be repaid with evil” Apparently this refers to Jeremiah's prayers (“I stood before You”) for Judah (cf. Jeremiah 17:16), but they responded by trying to kill him.

“they have dug a pit for me” This is an allusion to a hunting technique (cf. Psalms 57:6; Psalms 119:85). It may be literal (i.e., they will try to kill him) or figurative (they will try to ruin his reputation, cf. Jeremiah 18:22, i.e., his prophecies have not occurred, cf. Deuteronomy 13:1-5).

Jeremiah 18:23 Is Jeremiah being vindictive? He seems to want justice for Judah's repeated covenant violations. His own circumstances bothered him but Judah's sin bothered him more! There will be justice. There will be a day when humans give an account to God for the gift of life (i.e., Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:11-15). It will be an especially bad day for covenant, informed people (cf. Luke 12:48)!

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Jeremiah 18". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/jeremiah-18.html. 2021.
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