Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
In the first prophecy of the series Jer. 18, the fate of Jerusalem was still undetermined; a long line of kings might yet reign there in splendor, and the city be inhabited forever. This was possible only so long as it was still undecided whether Josiah's efforts would end in a national reformation or not, and before Jehoiakim threw the weight of the kingly office into the opposite balance. In the present prophecy mercy is still offered to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but they reject it Jer 18:11-12. They have made their final choice: and thereupon follows the third prophecy of "the broken vessel" Jer 19:1-15 in which the utter overthrow of city and kingdom is foretold. We should thus place this prophecy of the potter very early in the reign of Jehoiakim; and that of the broken vessel at the commencement of his fourth year. This internal evidence is confirmed by external proof.
House - i. e., workshop. The clay-field where the potters exercised their craft lay to the south of Jerusalem just beyond the valley of Hinnom. Compare Zac 11:13; Mat 27:10.
The wheels - literally, "the two wheels." The lower one was worked by the feet to give motion to the upper one, which was a flat disc or plate of wood, on which the potter laid the clay, and moulded it with his fingers as it revolved rapidly.
So are ye in mine hand - When a vessel was ruined, the potter did not throw it away, but crushed it together, dashed it back upon the wheel, and began his work afresh, until the clay had taken the predetermined shape. It was God's purpose that Judaea should become the proper scene for the manifestation of the Messiah, and her sons be fit to receive the Saviour's teaching and carry the good tidings to all lands. If therefore at any stage of the preparation the Jewish nation took such a course as would have frustrated this purpose of Providence, it was crushed by affliction into an unresisting mass, in which the formative process began again immediately.
At what instant - literally, "in a moment." Here, "at one time - at another time."
I will repent of the evil ... I will repent of the good - All God's dealings with mankind are here declared to be conditional. God changeth not, all depends upon man's conduct.
The word rendered "frame" is a present participle, and is the same which as a noun means "a potter." God declares that He is as free to do what He will with the Jews as the potter is free to shape as he will the clay.
Devise a device - "I am purposing a purpose."
And they said - Better, But they say.
Imagination - Or, stubbornness, see Jer 3:17.
The contrast between the chaste retirement of a virgin and Judah's eagerness after idolatry, serves to heighten the horror at her conduct.
Rather, "Will the snow of Lebanon fail from the rock of the field?" The meaning probably is, "Will the snow of Lebanon fail from its rocks which tower above the land of Israel?" The appeal of the prophet is to the unchangeableness of one of nature's most beautiful phenomena, the perpetual snow upon the upper summits of Lebanon.
Shall the cold ... - literally, "shall the strange, i. e., foreign, "cool, down-flowing waters be plucked up?" The general sense is: God is Israel's Rock, from whom the never-failing waters flow Jer 2:13 : but men may and do abandon the cool waters which descend front above to seek their happiness in channels of their own digging.
Because - "For." Jeremiah returns to, and continues the words of, Jer 18:13.
Vanity - A word meaning "falsehood," which signifies that the worship of idols is not merely useless but injurious.
They have caused them to stumble - Judah's prophets and priests were they who made her to err Jer 5:31. The idols were of themselves powerless for good or evil.
In their ways ... - Or, "in their ways, the everlasting paths, to walk in byways, in a road not cast up. The paths of eternity" carry back the mind not to the immediate but to the distant past, and suggest the good old ways in which the patriarchs used to walk. The "road cast up" means one raised sufficiently to keep it out of the reach of floods etc.
Hissing - Not derision, but the drawing in of the breath quickly as men do when they shudder.
Way his head - Or, "shake his head," a sign among the Jews not of scorn but of pity. The desolation of the land of Israel is to fill people with dismay.
I will shew them the back - The hiding of God's face is the sure sign of His displeasure Isa 1:15; Isa 59:2.
The Jews were only hardened by the foregoing prophecy, and determined to compass Jeremiah's death.
Let us devise devices - i. e., "deliberately frame a plot" for his ruin (see Jer 18:11 note).
The law shall not perish ... - As the Law of Moses was imperishable, the people probably drew the conclusion that the Levitical priesthood must also endure forever, and therefore that Jeremiah's predictions of national ruin were blasphemous (compare Act 6:13-14).
Let us smite him with the tongue - Their purpose was to carry a malicious report of what he had said to king Jehoiakim, and so stir up his anger against him.
The voice - i. e., the outcry and threats.
Jeremiah had been laboring earnestly to avert the ruin of his country, but the Jews treated him as farmers do some noxious animal which wastes their fields, and for which they dig pitfalls.
Pour out ... sword - literally, "pour them out upon the hands of the sword, i. e., give them up to the sword."
Put to death - Rather, slain of death. The prophet's phrase leaves it entirely indefinite in what way the men are to die.
The sack of the city follows with all the horrible cruelties practiced at such a time.
Yet, Lord - Better, But, Lord. They conceal their plots, but God knows, and therefore must punish.
Neither blot out ... - Or, "blot not out their sin from before Thy face that they may be made to stumble before Thee."
Thus - Omit this word. Since there is an acceptable time and a day of salvation, so there is a time of anger, and Jeremiah's prayer is that God would deal with his enemies at such a time, and when therefore no mercy would be shown. On imprecations such as these, see Ps. 109 introductory note. Though they did not flow from personal vengeance, but from a pure zeal for God's honor, yet they belong to the legal spirit of the Jewish covenant. We must not, because we have been shown a "more excellent way," condemn too harshly that sterner spirit of justice which animated so many of the saints of the earlier dispensation.