Does the Clay Challenge the Potter?

I keep thinking about God’s words in this chapter, words that remind us who we are and who God is.

Woe to those who strive with their Maker,
    earthen vessels with the potter!
Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, “What are you making”?
    or “Your work has no handles”?

Woe to anyone who says to a father, “What are you fathering?”
    or to a woman, “With what are you in labor?”

Isaiah 45:9-10 (NRSV)
Babylon old city, Hillah, Iraq – February 2022 – Photo by: Safa Daneshvar شهر قدیم بابل، آثاری بازسازی شده از قدیمی ترین تمدن های بین النهرین، حله، عراق – بهمن ۱۴۰۰ – عکس از صفا دانشور | By Safa.daneshvar – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

In what ways might you and I be challenging God concerning God’s methods? Maybe we are thinking God’s plan is kind of a bad one. Honestly, maybe God’s methods seem messy and illogical. From our vantage point, it may seem as though there has been undue suffering. From our perspective, random bad things seem to be happening that could so easily have been avoided, with perhaps a better outcome.

Maybe not all the time, but often these feelings come from

  • a perspective that has our own intelligence and sense of deservingness placed higher than probably where it ought to be.
  • Or, maybe it is someone else’s deservingness that we have inflated,
  • or perhaps a certain theology, or philosophy, or set of values feels threatened.
  • Sometimes, what we have actually been relying upon for a sense of fulfillment and security is the very thing God seems to be thwarting, or endangering.

It can seem empowering to feel like you and I are entitled to better treatment, but we can never know the whole story, it is simply too vast.

So, how willing are you and I to look at our circumstances with a new perspective, a new interpretation? 

As I thought about that question, a number of suggestions came to mind for finding a new interpretation.

Ashurbanipal inspects booty and prisoners from Babylon, 645-640 BCE British Museum, London. Ashurbanipal inspect booty and prisoners from Babylon after a two years siege, in 648 BC. Inscription: ” I, Ashurbanipal, king of the universe, king of the land of Ashur, who, at the command of the great gods has attained the desires of his heart: the garments and ornaments – the royal insignia of Shamash-shum-ukin, the faithless brother – his harem, his officials, his battle troops, his (battle) chariot, his processional chariot – his state vehicle, all the provisions which were in his palace, the people, male and female, great and small – they made to pass before me.” Wall panel; relief British Museum (in en)The British Museum. | By Anthony HuanCC BY-SA 2.0

Personal Choice

God has given every person the power to choose what we will do and how we will act. You and I are free to make moral decisions. This freedom of choice is the highest expression of love that an all-knowing God could give us. But there are risks involved.

Personal Accountability

The world reaps what it sows. Sometimes the innocent suffer because people make choices contrary to God’s word and ways. Freedom of choice is a great gift, but it comes with great responsibility. Using it for wrong, or for evil, will cause suffering. That is just the way it is, the hard truth.

Personal Responsibility

God is not to be blamed for the sins of others. As the prophet Ezekiel explained, every person is completely responsible for the choices they make.

Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins who shall die.

Ezekiel 18:4 (NRSV)

Personal Guarantee

God is not the author of evil, instead God is fully capable of bringing good out of evil, that is why the apostle Paul could promise that God will work for the good in all things for those who love the Lord and have been called by God.

Personal Destiny

All evil will one day be judged. No one gets away with anything. God has promised that all sin comes under the judgment of God’s wrath. Either we will accept the rescue and restoration Jesus holds out to us, or we will be swept up in the cleansing action of God as the cosmos is scoured of all that corrupts and kills.

Personal Cross

Until that time, God is making sure that everyone has every chance to be saved, even the mean and awful people in your story, and my story, right now.

גולי בבל במנורת הכנסת | By Tamar HaYardeni – Own work by the original uploader, Attribution

The Lord’s Appeal For Salvation

When God’s people were led into exile, Jeremiah reassured them it would only last for seventy years.

Now that is a long time.

Most everyone who went into exile died in exile. But seventy years is a lot shorter than forever. Those in exile did not have to despair. They could plan for a future, for their children and grandchildren, a future that had hope in it, where they would come back into their inheritance from God, the land, the temple, and God’s presence among them.

And they had even further reassurance from Isaiah, that one day they would be a great nation showing forth God’s righteous rule, finally fulfilling their calling of displaying what a beautiful life it is to live for God, to live by God’s word.

All the nations of earth would come to them,

They will make supplication to you, saying,
    “God is with you alone, and there is no other;
    there is no god besides him.”

Isaiah 45:14 (NRSV)

Isaiah marveled over this mystery.

Truly, you are a God who hides himself,
    O God of Israel, the Savior.

Isaiah 45:15 (NRSV) 
By Bazil Amin – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

This is the same mystery Paul kept marveling over, the amazing mystery that had previously been hidden, but was now revealed to him, that all people will be offered the same salvation as the Jewish people. According to Isaiah, other nations will discover their gods cannot save them, but God will save God’s people. Idols and false gods will be put to shame, but God will never be put to shame.

God intended that all the earth should be filled with people who enjoy God’s blessing.

God did not hide from God’s people.

I did not speak in secret
    in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
    “Seek me in chaos.”
I the Lord speak the truth;
    I declare what is right.

Isaiah 45:19 (NRSV)

The Lord spoke openly to God’s people with the promise they would find God if they looked for God. Then, God sent the exiles into Babylon with words of love and reassurance through the prophet Jeremiah.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel,

to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 

For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel:

Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to your dreams that you dream,for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.

For thus says the Lord:

Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 

  • Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 
  • When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord,
  • and I will restore your fortunes
  • and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord,
  • and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
 Jeremiah 29:4-14 (NRSV, modifications mine)
By Abodi98o000 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Though God gave this specifically to the people of Judah, with instructions and a promise that, thousands of years ago, came to pass, there is still something in this for you and me today. We, too, are in exile. We, too, long for our true home. Certainly, in a spiritual sense, these instructions, and these promises, are for us.

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