Thus says the Lord, “Go, buy a potter’s earthenware flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests, and go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you. You shall say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing such disaster upon this place that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind—therefore, behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. And in this place I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem, and will cause their people to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hand of those who seek their life. I will give their dead bodies for food to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the earth. And I will make this city a horror, a thing to be hissed at. Everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its wounds. And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and their daughters, and everyone shall eat the flesh of his neighbor in the siege and in the distress, with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them.’
“Then you shall break the flask in the sight of the men who go with you, and shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: So will I break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so that it can never be mended. Men shall bury in Topheth because there will be no place else to bury. Thus will I do to this place, declares the Lord, and to its inhabitants, making this city like Topheth. The houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah—all the houses on whose roofs offerings have been offered to all the host of heaven, and drink offerings have been poured out to other gods—shall be defiled like the place of Topheth.’”
Then Jeremiah came from Topheth, where the Lord had sent him to prophesy, and he stood in the court of the Lord’s house and said to all the people: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, behold, I am bringing upon this city and upon all its towns all the disaster that I have pronounced against it, because they have stiffened their neck, refusing to hear my words.” – Jeremiah 19 ESV
In chapter 18, God referred to Judah as a lump of clay in His hands, that he could reshape and refashion as He saw fit. But in this chapter, God uses a slightly different metaphor, referring to Judah as a clay pot, but one that has been baked in the sun and hardened beyond repair or reshaping. Like a clay pot that has been contaminated and polluted in some way, Judah was unsalvageable. Their sins were so repulsive and repugnant to God that He determined to destroy them. And God sets out the strong and irrefutable evidence of their many sins:
“For Israel has forsaken me and turned this valley into a place of wickedness.”
“The people burn incense to foreign gods—idols never before acknowledged by this generation, by their ancestors, or by the kings of Judah.”
“…they have filled this place with the blood of innocent children.”
“They have built pagan shrines to Baal, and there they burn their sons as sacrifices to Baal.”
“…you burned incense on the rooftops to your star gods, and where liquid offerings were poured out to your idols.”
They stood before God as guilty. The charges against them were many and the nature of their sins for which they were charged were appalling. They weren’t just guilty of your garden variety, everybody’s-doing-it kind of idolatry. And it wasn’t just one or two gods they worshiped. They had managed to find gods to worship that their ancestors had never even heard of. On top of that, they had added human sacrifice to their list of despicable practices. They were sacrificing their own sons and daughters to Baal. And God makes it clear that none of this had been His idea. That kind of deplorable act had never even crossed His mind. But they did it anyway. They worshiped false gods at shrines in their homes. They would go up to their rooftops and make offerings to the gods of the planets and stars. They had set up high places or altars all around Judah to their various gods. Their’s was not a minor infraction. It was serious and deserving of deadly serious treatment by God.
To drive home His point, God had Jeremiah buy a piece of pottery and go the Valley of Hinnom, just outside the walls of Jerusalem through the Potsherd’s Gate. He was to drag along some of the leaders of the people as well as some of the priests. They were there to act as witnesses to what God was going to have Jeremiah do. The Valley of Himmon had a less-than-ideal reputation. It was where people disposed of their garbage, Back in the days of King Solomon, he had erected an altar to Molech. Kings Ahaz and Manasseh had both practiced child sacrifice in this very same place during their reigns. It was King Josiah, in an attempt to institute reforms in Judah, who had the Valley of Hinnom defiled by spreading human bones over the area, rendering it ceremonially unclean. From that point on, it had become more or less a city dump.
It was there that God had Jeremiah enact his mini-drama before the representative leadership of Judah. God made it clear that He was going to deal with the sins of the people and in a dramatic manner. It would be so bad that the Valley of Hinnom would be renamed the Valley of Slaughter. And you can only imagine the shock and anger felt by the leaders of Judah when they heard Jeremiah speak these words on behalf of God:
“For I will upset the careful plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will allow the people to be slaughtered by invading armies, and I will leave their dead bodies as food for the vultures and wild animals. I will reduce Jerusalem to ruins, making it a monument to their stupidity.” – Jeremiah 19:7-8 NLT
When the Babylonians eventually laid siege to the city of Jerusalem, trapping the people inside its walls, the people would resort to cannibalism in an attempt to survive. They would go from sacrificing their children as offerings to appease non-existent gods to eating them in order to extend their own lives. Their depravity would reach an all-time low and be “driven to utter despair” (Jeremiah 19:9 NLT).
And as a shocking crescendo to his speech, Jeremiah was instructed to take the clay pot he had purchased and smash it on the ground right in front of his audience. The sound of the impact and the flying shards of pottery would make a lasting impression on the priests and leaders of Judah. And the words of Yahweh added an extra measure of soberness to the scene.
“As this jar lies shattered, so I will shatter the people of Judah and Jerusalem beyond all hope of repair.” – Jeremiah 19:11 NLT
Having delivered his message as commanded, Jeremiah’s next stop was the temple, where he stood before the people and spoke to them the words of God.
“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will bring disaster upon this city and its surrounding towns as I promised, because you have stubbornly refused to listen to me.’” – Jeremiah 19:15 NLT
Now everybody knew. – the civic leaders, the religious leaders and the everyday man on the street. The message of God had been delivered. So, how would the people respond? We will see in the very next chapter, that all Jeremiah got for his efforts was a beating at the hands of the priest who was in charge of the temple. Evidently, Jeremiah’s little demonstration with the pottery had not been appreciated. News of God’s displeasure with them was not something the people of Judah wanted to hear, especially the religious leaders. They knew they were particularly culpable for the state of affairs in Judah. They were supposed to be God’s shepherds, caring for His flock, assuring their spiritual well-being. But they had played a significant role in the spiritual decline of the nation. And because nobody likes to get called out and exposed, they reacted harshly to Jeremiah.
This chapter presents us with a comparison and a choice. As was revealed in chapter 18, Judah was still like a lump of clay in the hands of God. They were still moldable and malleable in His hands. But they had to submit to His divine will and come to Him in contrition and brokenness. Or, they could choose to be hardened by their sin, becoming like a sun-baked piece of pottery whose flaws and imperfections were permanent and irremediable. That decision would result in their destruction, a shattering of their lives because of the unrepentant nature of their hearts. God’s desire is always repentance and restoration. He takes no pleasure in bringing judgment upon His people. But when they stubbornly refuse to admit their guilt and return to Him in brokenness and repentance, He is obligated by His very nature to deal with them in righteousness and with justice.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.