The Potter’s Vessel.* 1This word came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2Arise and go down to the potter’s house; there you will hear my word. 3I went down to the potter’s house and there he was, working at the wheel. 4Whenever the vessel of clay he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making another vessel of whatever sort he pleased.a 5Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done?—oracle of the LORD. Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.b 7c At one moment I may decree concerning a nation or kingdom that I will uproot and tear down and destroy it; 8but if that nation against whom I have decreed turns from its evil, then I will have a change of heart regarding the evil which I have decreed.d 9At another moment, I may decree concerning a nation or kingdom that I will build up and plant it; 10but if that nation does what is evil in my eyes, refusing to obey my voice, then I will have a change of heart regarding the good with which I planned to bless it.e
11And now, tell this to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am fashioning evil against you and making a plan. Return, all of you, from your evil way; reform your ways and your deeds.f 12But they will say, “No use! We will follow our own devices; each one of us will behave according to the stubbornness of our evil hearts!”g
13Therefore thus says the LORD:
Ask among the nations—
who has ever heard the like?
Truly horrible things
virgin Israel has done!h
14Does the snow of Lebanon*
desert the rocky heights?
Do the gushing waters dry up
that flow fresh down the mountains?
15Yet my people have forgotten me:
they offer incense in vain.
They stumble off their paths,
the ways of old,
Traveling on bypaths,
not the beaten track.i
16Their land shall be made a waste,
an object of endless hissing:*
All passersby will be horrified,
shaking their heads.j
17Like the east wind, I will scatter them
before their enemies;
I will show them my back, not my face,
in their day of disaster.k
Another Prayer for Vengeance. 18“Come,” they said, “let us devise a plot against Jeremiah, for instruction will not perish from the priests, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophets. Come, let us destroy him by his own tongue. Let us pay careful attention to his every word.”l
19Pay attention to me, O LORD,
and listen to what my adversaries say.
20Must good be repaid with evil
that they should dig a pit to take my life?
Remember that I stood before you
to speak on their behalf,
to turn your wrath away from them.m
deliver them to the power of the sword.
Let their wives be childless and widows;
let their husbands die of pestilence,
their youths be struck down by the sword in battle.
22May cries be heard from their homes,
when suddenly you send plunderers against them.
For they have dug a pit to capture me,
they have hidden snares for my feet;
23But you, LORD, know
all their planning for my death.
Do not forgive their crime,
and their sin do not blot out from your sight!
Let them stumble before you,
in the time of your anger act against them.o
* [18:14] Lebanon: here apparently including Mount Hermon, whose snow-capped peak can be seen from parts of Palestine all year round. The prophet contrasts the certainties of nature with Israel’s unnatural desertion of the Lord for idols (v. 15).
* [18:16] Hissing: in some ancient Near Eastern cultures hissing was not only a sign of derision but a magical means of keeping demons away; people hissed in order to ward off danger, like whistling in a cemetery.
* [18:21] Give their children: often an extended family is meant, to be rewarded or punished as a unit.