Have you ever made something from clay like a clay pot? You have to work the clay with your hands and keep it moist. You can throw a pot on a potter’s wheel and as long as the pot stays moist and pliable you can keep working with it and if it doesn’t look right you can smash it down and remake it, as long as it stays pliable. But what happens once the clay is dried, hardened in a kiln or other fire? What if, after it’s hard you discover that it is defective, that it doesn’t hold water? At that point it becomes worthless. You can’t rework it, you can only smash it into pieces.
In this section of Jeremiah, God again uses graphic imagery to reveal to His people their sin. Like a potter, God has worked and worked with His people Israel and Judah. He has shaped them and molded them and worked them thoroughly to craft a useful vessel. What was God’s purpose for creating Israel? Why did he create a special nation? He wanted them to be a light to the rest of the world. He wanted all people to come to know Him as the only true God. He said to Abraham that he would bless the whole world through Abraham and his descendants. Israel was to shine the light of God’s word and God’s truth to the rest of the world. God spent years patiently and carefully crafting his people. From Abraham and the patriarchs to Moses, through the many judges of Israel, then through Kings David and Solomon. He worked and worked with the clay to make a suitable vessel. They built a temple as a place of worship. Under Solomon Jerusalem became a great and prosperous city with a Temple to the one true God and became the talk of the nations as royalty came to see the city of God in all of its splendor.
But God’s vessel wouldn’t hold water. The pot was cracked. Israel kept turning away from the one true God who created them and worshipped idols. They worshipped the pagan gods of Baal and Molech. God tried to reshape and reform His deformed pot, His disobedient, covenant breaking people. But every time they were restored, they would once again return to their idol worship. To get their attention, God had Jeremiah take a pot and symbolically shatter it to the ground. This is a sign of what God is going to do to His people if they do not repent and turn from their wicked ways.
Jeremiah enacted this ritual shattering in a place called the Valley of Ben Hinnom or Topheth. A quick reading of Jeremiah 19:4 might cause one to miss the point here. “For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent.” It was at Topheth they worshipped foreign gods, a.k.a. idols, they burned incense to those gods… that sounds bad, worshipping false gods and burning incense to those gods, not a good look. But why is God so mad about this that He’s ready to smash their kingdom? It’s the last part: “they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent.” Let’s look a little more closely at that. Who exactly are the innocent?
The worship of Molech involved offering sacrifices to the god. So what’s the big deal, didn’t God also demand sacrifices of sheep and goats, ox and doves? A lot of blood was shed in the temple of Jerusalem. True, but the worship of Molech didn’t involve killing sheep and goats. These were human sacrifices. Lot’s of cultures did that too – the Mayans and Aztecs and other Mesoamerican religious groups did a lot of human sacrifices. (Just watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom… or Apocalypto and you’ll see the grisly story of human sacrifice). But Molech was even worse. The humans they were sacrificing were truly innocent… they sacrificed children. In that very spot, in the valley of Hinnom in the place called Topheth, God’s covenant people Israel did what God never told them to do, burn their innocent children on the altar to Molech.
A nation that would sacrifice the most innocent to the gods of the age cannot survive. But when that nation, the Nation of Israel was set apart by God to be a light to the darkness, when that light goes out and the nation plunges into darkness, God has no choice but to smash it, to bring it crashing down, to stop the heinous practice of child sacrifice.
Jesus would later tell his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” The Church was to complete the task that Israel had begun but failed to complete.
1500 years later when the first pilgrims and puritans crossed the Atlantic in the Mayflower and established the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the first governor, John Winthrop, borrowed such imagery as he spoke of these Christians who helped begin what was to become the United States of America: “for we must Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world, we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God and all professors for Gods sake; we shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into Curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whether we are going.”
That was in 1630, 343 years later, January 1973, the US Supreme Court ruled in the case of Roe V. Wade that laws preventing abortion must be struck down. Since that time over 60 million unborn humans have been sacrificed, not to Molech, but to the gods of choice and sexual liberation.
When Israel allowed their innocent children to be sacrificed to Molech and refused to repent, God had Jeremiah smash a clay pot to show that he was about to smash them. That spot where the blood of the innocent was shed, in the Valley of Hinnom or Topheth, was later the place where Israel’s dead were piled up after the Babylonians smashed Jerusalem and Judah. Later that spot became the garbage pile where not only the dead were disposed but all the refuse of Israel was burnt up. It became known as Gehenna or the Lake of Fire, the place of destruction, the place of God’s judgment against sin.
If God did such judgment against Israel for their horrific crimes of child sacrifice, can the United States expect any less judgment? I know that might make some of you angry at me, just as in the time of Jeremiah the people were furious with him and threw him into a pit. Jeremiah couldn’t keep his mouth shut because God’s word was in his heart like a fire 20:9. God used Jeremiah to warn the people of the “terrible plague” of judgment that was coming to punish their pride. He said that later people would look and ask “why did God do this?” 22:9. John Winthrop would later say the same thing about the US. As we look at where the US has come since 1630, how far we’ve drifted from being a God fearing nation, might we ask the question: Why wouldn’t God do this? If we refuse to let God remold us, if we become hard and brittle why wouldn’t he smash us?
PS- to throw a bit of good news after all this bad… even after a pot is smashed, a true artist can take those smashed pieces and remake it into a beautiful mosaic. God isn’t finished with us quite yet no matter how brittle or unyielding we may be.
Pastor Jeff Fletcher
Today’s Bible passage, Jeremiah 18-22, can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+18-22&version=NIV
Tomorrow we will continue with Jeremiah 23-25 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan