The potter worked on a double wheel, which could be of wood or stone. The lower one was the larger, and this he spun treading it with his feet round its spindle which in turn operated the upper smaller wheel on which he threw the clay. Two wheels, one large, one small.. Together they both revolved in unison for the working of the clay, one for treading, one for moulding. The clay had first to be kneaded to remove bubbles of air, and as the wheels turned the potter deftly threw the mass at the very centre of the wheel. The whole purpose of both wheels centred in that clay now spinning and yielding to the varied pressures laid upon it by the potter's hand. At first little seemed to happen, and then gradually the vessel rose in response to the master's touch. It was fascinating to watch that formless mass take shape through countless revolutions, and rise upward in symmetry of ever changing stages of growth.
And THEN it HAPPENED! After working on the vessel some hidden flaw began to show in resistance to the potter's hand, and to the prophet's consternation, the vessel crumpled and fell about the wheel, some thrown to the lower treading wheel. The clay was scattered. One could almost hear the prophet groan in sympathy with the potter at the wasted time and effort. Surely he would now lose interest in that particular piece and take fresh clay to prepare something totally new. But, to the prophet's surprise, he saw the potter stoop and deftly scoop up that wasted clay scattered around the treading wheel, and, kneading it again to remove the flaw, he threw it again upon the wheel... "He made it again." This time he achieved his design, and a vessel was completed that would withstand trial by fire, a fire that would only serve to perpetuate that beauty which came from the potter's hand. It would show forth his praise.
A sermon in clay for at this point Jeremiah heard the word of the Lord, saying, (Jer 18:6) "O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel." As the wonder of this statement filters into our hearts, we begin to perceive something of the scope of the lesson before us. We note the precise timeliness which gives it such great impact. Two wheels, one large for treading, one smaller for moulding, together they both revolve in unison for the working of the clay. In the O.T. the Hebrew word for Creator is the same as the word for Potter!
The Lord is working His purpose out. To the tiny mind of His creatures 'born but for one brief day' The time cycles of the plan of God seem enormous, yet, from the moment of man's fall into sin the great irreversible process of salvation vibrated into action. The greatest time cycle alluded to in the Word of God is the year of years multiplied by the Sabbath cycle of seven, the "seven times", or 2520 years. The precise occasion that this sermon was given to Jeremiah by the Lord was immediately before the great seven times of the Gentiles commenced.
Around the time, Daniel, captive in Babylon, found himself called to consider a dream of Nebuchadnezzar, which the Spirit of the Lord enabled him to explain in terms of the forthcoming experiences of the great king. Like a tree he was to be cut down, brought low. His kingdom was to become depraved, and his appetite and ways and whole life was to become like that of the beasts. The condition is recognised by medical science as Zoanthropy, and there have been similar well authenticated cases.
What is not so well acknow-ledged is that the proud kingdoms of earth, the great Gentile powers, have all suffered this same malady, and while they have all been acting like beasts the Lord's people have been trodden down. Such is the language used in the Word to describe the course of history leading up to this day in which we live. When the great cycle of "seven times" ran out in 1914, the time became due for the truth to slowly dawn upon the minds of men, as yet it will, that "The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men.." (Dan. 4:32.) A new era had been reached in the out-working of the divine purpose. The description of Nebuchadezzar's kingdom in Daniel 4:11,12., and the downward fall, so aptly sums up the story of the world powers that were to develop. Like the writing of history before its time, it looks forward. It also looks back and describes a situation bearing remarkable resemblance to what had already been.
The first man, Adam, like Nebuchadnezzar, had been given a wonderful dominion. Genesis 1<26 & 28, depict for us the extent of that dominion, and the psalmist in Psalm 8 expresses the wonder of it all in language full of praise for that Creator Who condescended, having completed the myriads of orbs in space, to make a little tiny being called "man", and to entrust him with the dominion of this earth. Ps 8:6 "Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:" It was to be a wonderful kingdom arrangement, with man, God's prince on earth, ruling with God over the whole of earth's domain. A wise ruler, a caring prince, watchful over the welfare of every living thing on this earth. But something happened to apparently thwart this great design. A flaw appeared, and the vessel collapsed! The mind made like unto that of its Creator became degrade to that of the common beast, reacting more to the lower instincts of self-preservation and self-interest rather than the nobler qualities of God-likeness. Man had fallen from the position God had graciously given. Would the great potter now turn away from His original purpose with disgust? Would He abandon His original clay and turn to another creation to fulfil His design?
Parallells frequently occur in the Word of God. Oh what a study they are! We know that in Jeremiah 18 the subject of the sermon in clay is Israel, yet so many things true of Israel we find to be symbolic of a wider truth involving the whole human race. Even the land of Israel at times seems to depict this whole earth, and the people of Israel represent mankind. In the Word we have many direct statements, but Our Heavenly Father, greatest Teacher of all, adds so many illustrations from His dealings with the lives of men, and we love looking at the picture!
When Adam fell he became a captive. Sin now reigned where man should have reigned, and man became a subject under sin's dominion. Long centuries he was to be a slave trodden under sin's ruthless taskmasters, with no prospect of deliverance save that word of promise given by his Creator at the fall. And SEVEN TIMES PASSED OVER MANKIND! Yes, from the fall of Adam, seven times passed over mankind, and sin reigned from Adam to Moses. It is at the very least a curious fact that if we count the years from Adam's fall, accepting with the C.T.Russell that this probably occurred about two years after his creation, seven times, i.e. 2520 years, ran out at a most interesting time in the Divine Plan. God's special dealings by now had centred in one people, who became a picture, and illustration or sample of the whole world of mankind. The people of Israel came to the end of this long seven times from Adam's fall emerging from years of servitude as slaves in Egypt.
The seven times from man's fall into captivity ran out to find them on the march from Egypt to Canaan, their deliverer, Moses, already present at his second advent. To be absolutely precise, as you each may check for yourselves, the first seven times ran out exactly 31 years prior to passing from the wilderness state and entering the land of promise. We at first were puzzled about this 31 years, but we could not fault it, and will return to this later. At this point we would note, however, that this was precisely 49 years, a jubilee period, from the time at the "first advent" of Moses that he was condemned to death and left the scene, corresponding to the death and eventual ascension of Christ. In the intervening period between his two "advents" Moses seeks and takes a bride. Then a matter of further interest. This precise point of time at the end of seven times from Adam's fall was to mark the commencement of exactly one thousand years, a millennium in which would take place all the various stages of a developing kingdom arrangement.
The greater wheel or cycle of seven times continued its momentum in the upper or moulding wheel, 1000 years, these great cycles working in harmony for the preparing and moulding of the clay, turning worthless things of dust to something that will bring eternal praise to the Great Potter. This thousand years of the typical kingdom development process will be considered later in this treatise, but overall we recognise at once that, while it foreshadowed the ultimate kingdom age, it could not be the very image. It could be only a vague shadowy outline, but not without important lessons and implications which are becoming more meaningful to us at this late point of time. So much about that 1000 year age was typical. Sin had not immediately been removed.
The people were marching from Egypt, but sin marched with them. Deliverance was a process, and was even then figurative, not actual. So it is that at the end of that 1000 years, at their season of testing, the whole nation of Israel failed every test. It was THERE, at the sad end of the shadowy Hebrew kingdom millennium, exactly as the end of that 1000 years approached, that Jeremiah stood in the house of the potter watching that sermon in clay, watching the spinning of those wheels. What a long process had brought them to that point of time. Surely the clay had been well kneaded, trodden down to remove the proud spirit of man, in the long seven times of bondage until the Exodus. Surely the introduction of the Divine Law to one chosen sample family of mankind and the teaching of the holy ways of God, surely a thousand years of such an influence could not end like this! If the heart of the prophet was heavy at such a time, what of the heart of God!
Yet, as the vessel collapsed in a heap of worthless clay, and scattered upon the treading wheel below, the wonder of it all! The potter stoops to scoop up that clay and throwing it again in the centre of the upper wheel, he returns to his purpose.. "he made it again." "Cannot I do with you as this potter?" It was at the TURNING POINT of the whole plan of God, this very point of redemption history, that the Lord revealed through Jeremiah some of the reasons why the next time round the prospect of success was so much greater.
Then it was that the Lord spoke of a NEW covenant, a writing again of the Law of God, but this time, not on tables of stone, but the fleshly tables of the hearts of men. Man will be touched by the Spirit of God... the motivating power and influence that prompts in the Divine Mind every expression of holiness, righteousness, and love, that same power is to permeate the mind of man, to motivate him and express through him that same delight in the things that are lovely, and pure, and beautiful. The Spirit will be poured out from on high.
We believe that it was around and concerning this same turning point of redemptive history that Habakkuk was prompted of God to plead.. (Hab 3:2) "O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years, (he repeats again,) in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy." And that is just what the Lord was about to demonstrate in so remarkable a way, the mercy and pity of a Father Who knows and understands the frailty of His child, knows we are but dust. God is not taken by surprise by human behaviour. He knew well those hidden flaws. The Lord expressly foretold through Moses the whole course of events that would mark that first millennium from Exodus. When all the people shouted, "All these things we will do.." the Great Potter knew that the enthusiasm of that moment was not to be depended upon. The clay was not yet ready for the firing.
The only hope for salvation lies in the total trust of the clay in the skill and power of the hands of the Potter. Salvation depends upon the Lord's ability to fulfil His promise in the clay. It is also dependent upon the readiness of that clay to yield to that power, to sensitively respond to every touch of the Potter. What a lesson there for you and for me! The hidden flaw in human hearts is that resistance to the Potter's hand, that rejection of the way of the Lord. The "I will," of man stubbornly refuses the "I will," of the Lord. "How often would I... but ye would not.." So we read in Leviticus 26:18, as Israel stood on the threshold of her millennium, "And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times MORE for your sins. And I will break the pride of your power." How well this fitted into the great lesson both Israel and all mankind must learn.
That FIRST seven times from Adam, then that subsequent thousand year work of shaping up a kingdom, the terrible failure at the end of man's preferment of his own will to the will of his God. What a sobering result, what heart-searching it should bring! The clay, crumbling and scattered on the treading wheel must at last be gathered together and kneaded again. All the spirit of personal pride must be trodden out of it before the Potter begins to shape it to His purpose. Yet, even there in Leviticus 26, the promise is written of Divine intent.
After this "seven times more" of chastening comes the process of restoration. Lev 26:44-45 "And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am the LORD their God. But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God:" To this wonderful statement He adds His signature, "I am the LORD." The Lord also signs His great promise of this new arrangement in Jeremiah 31, with His oath. Jer 31:35-37 "Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. Thus saith the LORD; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the LORD." The new arrangement of Jeremiah 31 is full of the "I WILL"s of the Lord.
The work of the wheels, both the greater and the smaller, is to bring the heart to realise what a wonderful will it is that wills so much blessing, so much joy for all His creatures, so much fulfilment in the abundances of their living. And the Lord knows both how to will and how to perform. What a wonderful time we live in! The times of that greater cycle, the wheel that He works with His feet, the treading wheel, has run out. Man has had his first seven times, Israel her seven times more. Both are past. The great momentum of that cycle continues now in that other wheel, the cycle of progressive kingdom shaping and development that each time follows the running out of the seven times.
It is the overall picture and resemblance that most impresses us, covering the whole of man's history on earth since the fall. That there should be this sequence, and then again the sequence repeated, seven times, then a thousand years, the point of change being marked on each occasion by a period of change in the fortunes of the nation of Israel, the last sequence of events marking the time of her deliverance.
Think of that first millennium from Exodus. The clay, Israel, at centre stage, centre of the Potter's wheel. The process of kingdom development started from the wilderness march with little to show that resembled a kingdom. Then through the early conquests and possessing of the land of promise the process was to extend for many long years through the time of the Judges, until at last, under David and Solomon, the kingdom reached its height in terms of visible unity and kingdom blessings.
We see how THAT 1000 years consisted of an evening-morning sequence. Half of the thousand years progressed before the full kingdom development was seen. What dramatic events marked that opening period! The fighting of the enemies both without and within was to take the first half of that millennium until the kingdom found the state of rest from all that opposed its inception. Then the second half of that millennium was to test, to thoroughly prove, the durability of that kingdom in the hearts of all its subjects. There, as we know, in the matter of faithfulness, the failure rate was shown to be total. That evening time was one of darkness, the evening of this new thousand years now before us will be light. It seems that here we have a most remarkable pointer to the present process of bringing in the kingdom.
The process of fragmentation has confirmed the striking of the image by the stone in 1914. We have the strongest possible evidence that we have passed the point of great transition. The seven times have run out, and what do we see? Israel at the centre stage position at the centre of the wheel once more. You will remember that we noted with surprise that the first seven times from the fall ran out precisely 31 years before Israel emerged from her wilderness experience.
Another notable point is that while still in that wilderness state a great tragedy overtook Israel on the very threshold of entering into the land. No less than 24000 Israelites were to die. the account is written in Numbers 25, particularly verse 9. It is too sad to read. The time was so near, yet so many were to die on the eve of pouring into the land of promise. Yet AGAIN the account has been written afresh in our own day. This time six million Jews to die, and to die so near to that hour, that time of Israel's emergence from her wilderness state.
The times of the Gentiles ran out in 1914. It is a matter of simple arithmetic confirmed by the indisputable evidences of our day. Thirty-one years after the seven times ran out in out in 1914, the year 1945, was to see the emergence of the Jews from their wilderness experiences, yes, those last days stained with the blood of so many of their number. 1945, 31 years after 1914, brought an end to their trying wilderness experience. For years the Jews had their hopes raised, their faces turned towards Zion. There was already a movement afoot that strengthened her desires to one day possess again the land of Israel, yet still a hindrance stood in the way. 40 years before, in 1905, the first Jewish settlements appeared in Judea. They were there, as it were, to spy out the land, but the progress.. how slow it seemed! It was as though that long dusty march of foot-weary travellers under Moses was to be repeated. days so full of promise were to be days also of tears, and testing of the true earnestness of those desires.
Then, in 1945, the concentration camps were opened and nothing now could turn back the tide. As in Joshua's day, the children of Israel had passed through their wilderness and their Jordan experiences and were infiltrating their land, only to find, of course, the mustering of opposition against them. The moment of change had come, however, and the weary wandering Jew became a fighting Jew, fighting for his land and his life. As in those days of Joshua, notwithstanding all the odds of those gathered against the Jew of our day, within a handful of years the land was theirs. Notice the parallells! How precisely the events and their timing match at the running out of each seven times period. Surely the Lord is saying something to us in this remarkable correspondency.
We have lived long enough to see that the battle did not end with the declaration of the sovereign State of Israel. That was only a stage, a very significant stage, indeed the FIRST VISIBLE AND TANGIBLE SIGN OF THE INCOMING KINGDOM OF GOD. A long process lies still ahead, but the clay is there centre stage, in the middle of the wheel. Finally, in Joshua 5:13 we have a stirring glimpse of the invisible presence of the Lord, there describing Himself as the "Captain of the Lord's hosts." The enquiry of Joshua at this dramatic penetration into spirit realm echoes in our ears today.. "Are you for us or against?" Oh what poignancy lies in those words!
How many parallells speak of this time of mingled blessing and trial for Israel! Already we have mentioned Jacob at Jabbok fearing the approach of Esau, wrestling there with God. We also saw Joseph speaking roughly with his brethren to bring about that needful and wonderful change of heart. Moses, at his "second advent" to deliver his people furnishes a further example. There things got so bad even in the days of the presence of their deliverer that Moses himself cried out to God, Exod 5:22-23 "And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Lord, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? why is it that thou hast sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name, he hath done evil to this people; neither hast thou delivered thy people at all." Things had got worse during the very advent of their deliverer! At the time of Esther too we shall see a further parallel in time and experience to the trials of the Jew in our day. There is no smooth passage for Israel, yet in these stirring correspondences we have many infallible proofs of the presence and activities of Israel's Messiah, our blessed Lord Jesus.
Joshua's eyes were blessed indeed to see what he saw. Blessed too are our eyes to see what we see. Israel have yet to share this blessed truth. Believing Jews in the nation are greatly perplexed at what is taking place today. They KNOW that THESE are the WORKS OF MESSIAH, but they cannot see their Messiah, hence their confusion. How long their eyes will be holden we cannot tell, but this we know, that when blindness is removed from Israel, when they look upon their Messiah with recognition and amazement, as the brothers of Joseph, there will be tears all round (Joseph wept too!), but by then, the "fullness of the Gentiles" will be "come in.." the Church complete beyond the veil.
We believe that these patterns in the history of the ages with their remarkable counterparts 1) CONFIRM the 6000 years chronology adopted by Brother Russell based upon the Hebrew Bible. [It seems not without significance to note that the Septuagint ends the 6000 years at the time of the rise of the "man of sin", the Papacy! Does this not suggest who was behind that variation of text! What apparent support this would give to the early church in the concept that the kingdom had then come!]
2) CONFIRM our understanding that the "new covenant" arrangements apply to the age of kingdom development and NOT any previous age. This was true in the parallel in the typical Law covenant under Moses.
3) FORESHADOW the gradual nature of the progression of events leading (oh so slowly!) to the full kingdom development and time of blessing.
4) CONFIRM our understanding of the present out-working of God's plan for Israel in whom He is fulfilling His age-old promise of restoration. He has NOT cast them away! He said He would not, and He has not!
5) HELP UNDERSTANDING that now, as then, Israel gains her land "little by little", a long period of time elapsing before the whole land is theirs. This in itself is suggestive of the gradual spread also of the kingdom influence throughout the earth. The "stone" grows to fill the earth. Within "the days of these kings" the kingdom development progresses.
6) THE COUNTDOWN TO THE KINGDOM HAS BEGUN! 7)
Brethren, the time for us is short! May we each TODAY be vessels of honour on which the Great Master Potter may be able to stamp His mark, sign His Name... "Holiness to the Lord." Amen.