GOD IS THE POTTER
A. Introduction: We are studying the character of God -- what God is like. Accurate knowledge of God's character is an important element in strong faith. Ps 9:10; Heb 11:11
1. Many Christians struggle with trusting God because they think troubles come from God. But, the Bible is very clear. God does not do bad to His people. How do we know? Jesus tells us that and shows us that. John 14:9; Heb 1:1-3; Matt 19:17; Acts 10:38
2. Hardships and difficulties are just here because that's life in a sin cursed earth. Gen 3:17,18; Rom 5:12
a. But God has made provision for us in difficulties. He will get us through until He gets us out. John 16:33; Isa 41:10; 43:2
b. God does use the hardships, trials, and difficulties of life, but He doesn't arrange them.
c. God causes the difficulties of life to serve His purposes -- maximum glory to Himself and maximum good to as many people as possible. Rom 8:28; Eph 1:11
3. One reason for confusion over where troubles come from is that we believe and repeat cliches which have no basis in scripture.
a. We say: God is the potter and we are the clay. He can give us a car wreck or cancer to mold us and shape us, and we, as the clay, have no right to question His sovereign wisdom.
b. The Bible does say God, as the potter, has power to shape the clay as He wishes. Rom 9:20-22
People use these verses to support ideas such as these: God, as the potter, can make one well and one sick if He wishes. That is His choice. If you don't like the fact that He took your job, burned your house down, or took your loved one, who are you to argue with the potter?
4. But, people make a critical mistake with these verses. They do not read in context, and, as a result, they draw faulty conclusions about what the verses mean. In this lesson we want to examine the context of this statement. We'll learn some important facts about how to read and context, and, in the process, we'll learn some more things about God's character.
B. The letter to the Romans is a systematic presentation and explanation of justification by faith.
1. In Rom 9,10,11 Paul deals with a question which might logically be raised at this point in the discussion: How can the Gentiles trust God's plan for them (sonship, justification, sanctification, and glorification--Rom 8:29,30) when God's covenant promises to Israel have not yet been fulfilled?
a. When the Jews rejected Christ as their Messiah and turned Him over to Rome to be crucified, God stopped dealing with the Jews as a nation and began to deal with the Church.
b. In answer to the question, Paul explains that the gospel has been taken to the Gentiles because the Jews have rejected it. That event is completely fair and just, and there will come a time when Israel will turn to Christ and God's plan for them will be fulfilled.
c. The subject under discussion in these chapters is God's dealings with the nation of Israel -- not God's dealings with individuals on a daily basis.
d. These chapters show God's sovereignty and justice in dealing with Israel. You cannot use verses in Rom 9 to say: God gave me a car wreck or cancer because He is the Sovereign Potter and I am the clay. You are taking verses out of context and drawing faulty conclusions.
2. What does Paul mean when he calls God the Potter? We must use scripture to define scripture.
a. There are not many references to God the Potter in the Bible. Each time God is called the Potter it is in reference to His dealings with nations as opposed to individuals. That is the only way the example of the Potter and the clay is used in the Bible. Isa 29:15,16; 45:9; 64:8,9; Jer 18:1-10
b. It is specifically used in reference to God's dealings with Israel when they were in rebellion against Him, worshipping false gods.
3. When God brought Israel into the Promised Land He told them the consequence of turning away from Him to worship other gods would be removal from the land. He would allow their enemies to overrun them. Deut 4:23-28
a. Jeremiah and Isaiah were prophets sent to warn Israel to turn back to God or judgment in the form of foreign invaders would come to them.
1. God gave these prophets numerous ways to present their messages. One of them was the analogy of the Potter and the clay. When you read all the OT references it is clear God was speaking to the nation of Israel and not to individuals.
2. The references tell what will happen to the nation of Israel for rejecting God. The Potter has the right to reject or accept Israel on the basis of their faithfulness to Him.
b. None of the verses refer to individuals suffering hardship, loss, or disease for vague reasons and then explaining it by the fact that God is the Potter who can do what He wants with the clay.
c. The only NT reference to God as the Potter is found in Rom 9:20-22. It is a quote from
Jer 18:1-10, as we will find out. It, too, refers to God's dealings with nations.
C. Let's look at Rom 9 and get the context. There are some verses in this chapter which, when taken out of context, can be used to say things about God which contradict clear teachings in the Bible. v13,17,18,22
1. Rom 9:1-8--Paul pours out his heart about his people according to the flesh, the Jews. Then he asks a question which he answers, “Has God failed to keep His promises, has His word failed because the Jews have not received Christ? No, because Abraham is having children -- those who have faith in Christ.” Gal 4:28, 3:29
2. Then Paul begins to explain that it is not unfair of God to make people His who are not physical descendents of Abraham, to make people His children through faith.
a. God promised Abraham and Sarah a son. They tried their own plan to make a seed -- Ishmael. But that didn't stop God's plan. God chose Isaac was the seed to whom and through whom the promise passed. Gen 26:1-5
b. Many years later Isaac married Rebecca who became pregnant with twins, Esau and Jacob. Even before they were born God chose Jacob as the seed to through whom the promises to would pass even though Esau was the firstborn. v10
3. People misunderstand and misuse v11-13. Paul is speaking of nations. Jacob is Israel and Esau is Edom (or the descendants of Esau; had a hatred for Israel).
a. Children is not in the original text and nation makes more sense in context. When Rebecca was pregnant, God spoke to her and told her she had two nations in her womb. Gen 25:22,23
b. v13 is a quote from Mal 1:1-5 which makes it clear that Esau is a nation, the Edomites, and Jacob is a nation, Israel.
c. But the point is, neither group did anything to deserve being made God's special people or not. It was up to God who sovereignly chose the seed.
4. Rom 9:14,15 asks and answers the question: Is God unrighteous because He put His blessings on one particular group of people? No, He can bless whoever He chooses.
a. v15 quotes Ex 33:19--I'll have mercy on whomever I desire, including, in context, the Jews who deserved to be cut off for idolatry in Ex 32.
b. v16--The choice of who would be the line through which the blessings of Abraham would pass was up to God.
5. People misunderstand and misuse v17. Some say it means God raised Pharaoh up just so He could crush him, and God may do that to us because He is the Potter and we are the clay.
a. v17 is a reference to Ex 9:13-16 where God gave Pharaoh a message. God let Pharaoh know it was God's sovereignty that he and his people had not already been destroyed by past plagues.
1. In the Hebrew it says, “I have caused thee to stand”.
2. v15,16--For by now I could have put forth My hand and have struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this very purpose have I let you live, that I might show you My power, and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth. (Amp)
b. God, in His sovereignty, in His kindness, had preserved them so that He might have a further chance of showing them that He, Jehovah, is the only true God and some of them would be saved through God's mighty demonstrations of His power. Ex 8:19; 9:20; 12:37,38; Josh 2:9-11
6. v18--Paul then draws a conclusion based on what he has already said.
a. God, according to His own will and wisdom, shows mercy or gives His blessings to one part of mankind (the Jews in the OT and the Gentiles in the NT) while He allows another part to harden themselves in sin and suffer the consequences (the Egyptians in the OT and the Jews in the NT).
b. “Whom He will He hardeneth” is a Hebraism. In the Hebrew mind set and language God was said to do what He only allowed.
1. If we read carefully all the comments about Pharaoh (a whole lesson) it is clear He hardened his own heart toward God. I Sam 6:6
2. Israel also hardened their own hearts toward God. Matt 13:13-15; John 12:37,38
7. v19-21--Paul then deals with a question similar to Rom 3:7. “If God's glory is so wonderfully shown by peoples' hardheartedness and unfaithfulness, then why does He find fault with them?”
a. Paul says no one has the right to ask that question. Remember, in context, the thing formed is nations (Israel).
b. In v21 Paul quotes from the parable of the potter found in Jer 18:1-10 which refers to God's dealings with Israel. The parable has nothing to do with car wrecks or cancer in individual lives.
c. The point is that as the Sovereign Potter, God has the right to accept or reject Israel based on their faithfulness to Him.
8. v22-24--These verses are not telling us that God makes some people vessels of wrath for destruction and some vessels of mercy for glory.
a. Vessels of wrath, in context, are Pharaoh and the Egyptians and Israel. Both groups were deeply guilty before God -- Egypt of idol worship and Israel of rejecting the Messiah.
b. Both hardened their hearts in the face of mighty demonstrations of God's grace, power, and patience fitting themselves for destruction. The Amplified Bible says, “Objects of His anger which are ripe for destruction”. Israel is about to be wiped out as a nation.
c. II Tim 2:20,21 tells us what kind of vessels we are as individuals is up to us and is determined by our own responses to God and His word.
9. v23,24--“And He has a right to take others such as ourselves, who have been made for pouring the riches of His glory into, whether we are Jews or Gentiles, and to be kind to us so that everyone can see how very great His glory is.” (Living) God as the Potter has the right to offer salvation to the Gentiles through faith now that the Jews have rejected His offer.
10. Paul then reminds them that all of this was predicted in the OT.
a. v25,26--This is all in fulfillment of God's promise in Hosea that He would call people to Himself who were not His people -- the Gentiles. Hosea 2:23; 1:10
b. v27-29--Paul reminds them that a remnant of Israel will be saved as predicted in Isa 10:22,23.
c. v30-33--Paul points out that the Gentiles have obtained righteousness because they sought it by faith, and the Jews have not obtained it because they sought it by works as predicted in the OT.
Ps 118:22; Isa 8:14; 28:16
11. In chapters 10 and 11 Paul goes on to explain Israel's attempts to achieve righteousness by works and their rejection of the gospel.
a. Paul assures the readers that God has not cast away His elect, covenant people even though their history is full of sin and unbelief. Their conduct does not wipe out God's unconditional promises. There is a believing Jewish remnant even now, and there will come a day when Israel turns to Christ and God's promises to Israel will be fulfilled.
b. In the meantime God has sovereignly used Israel's rejection of salvation through Christ to bless the Gentiles. Why? Because He is sovereign, because He is the Potter.
D. Conclusion: It is so important to read in context. In Romans 9 Paul is explaining that God's sovereign actions in dealing with Israel are not unjust and they are in agreement with OT prophecy.
1. His plan to set aside national Israel for their unbelief enabled Him to make the Gentiles His spiritual people without violating any promises given to Israel. He is God and has the right to bless whom He chooses in the way that He chooses -- salvation through faith is His choice.
2. These verses in Rom 9 have nothing to do with cancer and car wrecks in individual lives. They tell us:
a. That the Potter chooses people or nations to be His people -- the Jews in the OT and the Church in the NT -- because He is sovereign.
b. That His choice of them is fair and just because as the sovereign God He has the right to demonstrate His kindness to whoever He wants.
c. The analogy of God as the Potter who does what He wishes with clay vessels is used in connection with God's choice of Israel as His special people in the OT and the Church in the NT and not as an explanation for the evil and suffering in our lives.
d. Paul ends His discussion of God's sovereign plan for Israel and the Church by praising God's sovereign wisdom. Rom 11:33-36
3. Is it wrong to say that God is the Potter and we are the clay? No, as long as you understand some key points.
a. That does not mean God can or will do bad to you because He is sovereign and can do whatever He wants to do. He cannot deny Himself (II Tim 2:13). He is good and good means good.
b. Yes, God does mold us and shape us, but it is done inwardly by the word and the Spirit.
c. God the Potter is also God your Father (Isa 64:8) and He will mold you and shape you as a Father
-- with love.