Is God fair to His people?
One common stereotype about the God of the Old Testament is that He’s vengeful and capricious, quick to unleash punishment on straying sinners. But a closer look at the Old Testament suggests that the real story is different. In Jeremiah 18, God presents His side of the story—and challenges us to think carefully before using words like “unfair” or “wrathful” to describe God.
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down at once to the potter’s house; there I will reveal My words to you.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, working away at the wheel. But the jar that he was making from the clay became flawed in the potter’s hand, so he made it into another jar, as it seemed right for him to do.
The word of the Lord came to me: “House of Israel, can I not treat you as this potter treats his clay?”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “Just like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, house of Israel. At one moment I might announce concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will uproot, tear down, and destroy it. However, if that nation I have made an announcement about turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the disaster I had planned to do to it. At another time I announce that I will build and plant a nation or a kingdom. However, if it does what is evil in My sight by not listening to My voice, I will relent concerning the good I had said I would do to it. So now, say to the men of Judah and to the residents of Jerusalem: This is what the Lord says: I am about to bring harm to you and make plans against you. Turn now, each from your evil way, and correct your ways and your deeds. But they will say, ‘It’s hopeless. We will continue to follow our plans, and each of us will continue to act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’”
Therefore, this is what the Lord says:
Ask among the nations,
Who has heard things like these?
Virgin Israel has done a most terrible thing.
Does the snow of Lebanon ever leave the highland crags?
Or does cold water flowing from a distance ever fail?
Yet My people have forgotten Me.
They burn incense to false idols
that make them stumble in their ways
on the ancient roads
and walk on new paths, not the highway.
They have made their land a horror,
a perpetual object of scorn;
everyone who passes by it will be horrified
and shake his head.
I will scatter them before the enemy like the east wind.
I will show them My back and not My face
on the day of their calamity. — Jeremiah 18:1-17 (HCSB)
Questions to Consider
- What picture of God’s personality do we get from this passage? Does it fit the stereotype of an angry, wrathful deity?
- This passage correctly notes that throughout the Old Testament, God’s people often continued to do evil even after being repeatedly warned of the coming consequences. Why do you think they were so stubborn in their disobedience, even having heard God’s offer of forgiveness? Can you relate to their counter-productive stubbornness?
- Does the image of a potter deciding what to do with a pot challenge your sense of fairness and justice?
- Does this passage comfort you? Do you think it’s meant to be comforting?