Isaiah 30:12-18.
 Rejecting the Potter's Hand

Copyright © 2009, American Journal of Biblical Theology    Scripture quotes from KJV

“Oh, it was God’s will.”  How many times have we heard those words spoken by someone who is trying to justify the reason or purpose behind an event that defies an explanation?  One commentator[1] gave an example of a young man who chose to drive under the influence of alcohol and caused an accident that took the life of a mother and her two children.  He stated, “I can’t believe my drunk driving caused the deaths of … Maybe this happened as God’s will to make me straighten up my life.”  In this case the young man was employing blame shifting, refusing to accept responsibility for his own actions and in a likewise irresponsible manner, assigned the blame on God.  This may be an extreme example, but the young man’s way of thinking is one that many share: using blame shifting as a justification for doing things our own way and then assigning responsibility for the circumstances to God.  It is obvious that God would not cause the death of a mother and her two children just to teach this arrogant young man a lesson.  It is obvious that the young man caused the deadly accident and is accountable for his negligence and blatant disregard for the safety of others.

I once encountered a grieving mother who blurted out “Why did God kill my child?” A drunk driver had recently struck her daughter who was playing near the street.  My answer was that God did not kill her child; an irresponsible drunken man did.  I explained that God loves both her and her daughter, will give her comfort as she grieves, and He will hold the man accountable for his actions, as will the State who charged him with vehicular manslaughter.

It is easy for us to blame God for the consequences of man’s sin.  Romans 8:28 reminds us that God works all things for good, and in some circumstances some good is hard to find.  In the first example the young man may have straightened up his life after the shock of his murderous behavior, but at what cost was this lesson learned?  We are responsible for our own choices and the consequences that they may bring.  To place blame on God is to behave at the heighth of arrogance and cowardice, while reducing the glory of God to little more than a blasphemous excuse.  This is the testimony of one who is spiritually blinded by their own self-justification.  This is also an example of the breaking of the third commandment concerning the taking of the name of the LORD in vain.   To take the LORD’s name in vain is to deny His power and purpose.

The practice of this sin can in of itself bring tremendous pain and loss to both the sinner and to the lives he/she affects.  When that person has great responsibility, many people, as many as a nation can be affected.  Hezekiah is sitting on the throne, serving as a vassal to his mighty Assyrian neighbors.  This came about because of Judah’s continual coice to seek security in making alliances with its neighboring rival kingdoms.  God promised to care for them if they would follow Him.  Instead they rejected God, and like the young drunken driver, they are choosing to act in a manner that can only bring death and destruction.

Isaiah 29:13.  Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:

Isaiah has been describing the apostasy of the nation and the consequences that Judah will suffer because of it.  The Judeans lay a claim to righteousness, and despise all others as being unrightous.  They defend their claim based upon their ancestral line to Abraham, and upon their adherence to the Law of Moses.  However, Isaiah clearly indicates the hypocrisy of these claims.  The Judeans claim godliness with their words, and repeat words that would bring honor to God.  However, their spiritual blindness is revealed in their hypocrisy.  Their hearts are far removed from God; they have no real love for God, nor any real interest in Him.  Instead, they have replaced faith with a religion of works, a religion that has been formulated by the works of men. 

Where the Mosaic Law was intended by God to expose the sins of an ungodly lifestyle, the Jewish leadership used it as a book of law, a list of rules to be followed in order to obtain righteousness.  This is the fallacy of all religions:  righteousness cannot be obtained by the keeping of the law.  Their hypocrisy is further illustrated in the simple fact that, even when they treat the Mosaic Law as a set of rules, no person can keep them all.  The Law exposes all people as lawbreakers, and points to the need for a redeemer, the Messiah who will come and provide a way to find forgiveness.  This is not what the Jewish leadership was teaching. 

This form of hypocrisy is as prevalent today as it was during the years of the early church,[2] and as it was in the days of the Jewish kings.

Isaiah 29:14.  Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.

There is a consequence that comes with the rejection of God.  Isaiah speaks of wisdom and understanding.  When one rejects God, one rejects the only source of spiritual wisdom and understanding.  God’s Word is the only source of spiritual truth, and it is the complete source.  God’s Word is found as one reads the scripture and is open to the work of the Holy Spirit to guide one’s understanding.  The Judeans were reading scripture, but were not submitted to the LORD.  Consequently, they came away with their own worldly interpretation that lacked true wisdom and understanding.  The leadership, whom the people look to for wisdom (wise men) and understanding (prudent or learned men), is immersed in a religion of their own ideas, and have left God out of that religion.  God is referred to by name only, and not by relationship or practice.  Conseqently, their wisdom and understanding is worldly, not godly.  The truth is far from them. 

Isaiah 29:15.  Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the LORD, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us?

“Woe” is the misery that comes from complete hopelessness.  There is no eternal hope for any person who takes their rejection of God to their grave.  The rejection of God by the religious leaders is so complete that they actually think that their scheming plans are being formed in secrecy.  The forming of a military alliance with a pagan nation is clearly forbidden under the Mosaic Law, yet these leaders were in the process of negotiating with the Egyptian Pharaoh to form an alliance against the Assyrian threat.  It is as though they think their plans are so well-hidden that even the LORD is not aware of what they are doing.

It may be hard for us to understand how the religious leaders could so easily reject the omnipresence and omniscience of God.  Their view of God had long ago lost its wonder.  In their hearts the God of Abraham had no more real power than the other pagan gods they venerated.  It was easier for them to think that God resided in the Temple and was unaware and uninterested in things taking place outside of the holy place.  The prophet Jonah demonstrated this when he thought he could escape God by traveling away from Israel.

Isaiah 29:16.  Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?

Isaiah uses a metaphor similar to that of Jeremiah[3] and Paul[4] by comparing the nature of the potter and the nature of the clay that he uses to create a vessel.  When we look at the two we find that all of the power to shape the vessel is held in the hands of the potter.  It is the potter who drives the wheel and who uses his power to shape the clay.  It is the potter who decides how the clay will be shaped.  It is the potter who determines what the purpose of the finished clay vessel will be.  In this exchange the clay itself has no power.  It is simply dead material that the potter shapes into a form of his own liking.  The clay has no ability to resist the potter except that it would be thrown away as refuse if it cannot be adequately molded by the potter. 

God is the potter, and His people are the clay.  God has the same authority and power over his creation that is illustrated in the potter and clay metaphor.  To think that a lump of clay can shape the potter would be considered ridiculous by any rational man.  Yet, these of whom Isaiah prophesies are attempting to do this very thing.  They are “turning things upside-down” by usurping God’s plan and purpose for Israel.  They are forming their own god out of their application of the Law, and rejecting God who authored it.  They are shaping their god by their own reasoning, developing an understanding that is based on their own logic.  Rejecting the potter, they are attempting to form themselves into a shape of their own liking, one that is quite contrary to God’s purpose for them.

We see much of this today in a world that has turned everything upside-down by accepting sin and rejecting godliness.  People today form their own gods, their own systems of authority, based upon their own logic and worldly understanding.  The world is consistent with Isaiah’s testimony that many reject God as the creator, preferring to believe in a godless universe as they say “He made me not.”

Isaiah 30:1.  Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin:

The LORD again reminds us of the woe that awaits those who reject Him and take up for themselves their own counsel.  Their godless plans serve only to generate a sequence of one sin following another, a compounding of transgression that serves only to separate them from Himself.  The Word of God has been clear from the very first time that God spoke to man that it is His counsel that we are to seek and not our own.  When we limit ourselves to our own counsel we accomplish nothing greater than ourselves.  Rather than follow the direction of the Spirit, we will follow the direction of our own sinful choices.  Just as it takes a lie to cover a lie, sin is covered by more sin when we choose to reject God’s plan and purpose.

Isaiah 30:2-3.  That walk to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt! 3Therefore shall the strength of Pharaoh be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion.

When we seek the authorities of this world we will accomplish nothing greater than those authorities.  Rather than rely on God in their time of stress, the Jewish leadership with King Hezekiah were secretly planning this alliance with Egypt, a force that they considered powerful enough to defend them against Assyria.  Isaiah describes the simple truth that the strength of the Pharaoh is nothing more than a shadow.  The authorities of this world are nothing more than a shadow when compared with the power of the Holy Spirit to work in it. 

Note the characteristics of a shadow.  It is simply the powerless image of something else.  Judah is trusting in the power of a shadow when it looks to Egypt rather than trusting in God who has the true power to protect them. 

Isaiah 30:12-18.  Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel, Because ye despise this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon: 13Therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant. 14And he shall break it as the breaking of the potters’ vessel that is broken in pieces; he shall not spare: so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a sherd to take fire from the hearth, or to take water withal out of the pit.

The nation will suffer the consequences of trusting in a shadow when they they call upon a quiet and non-responsive Egypt in their time of need.  The wall of protection that they think as Egypt is itself facing an imminent destruction.  Egypt has always been considered the oppressor by the Jews and any negotiations with Egypt would be suspect because of Egypt’s own desires for conquest.  Egypt does not want to ally with Israel, it wants to destroy it.  The Pharaoh is using deceit to gain the trust of Judah so that he can take advantage of that trust.  However, as a shadow, the Pharaoh will never actually have any means to fulfill his desire for conquest.

Isaiah returns to the metaphor of the potter who, upon taking the finished vessel from the hearth finds it damaged.  A breach in the pot renders the pot useless, so the potter simply breaks the pot into small pieces so that it can be easily discarded.  Note however, the “you” in verse 13 clearly refers to Judah as the pot, not Egypt.  Like the useless pottery that is broken by the potter, it is Judah that will be broken into irreparable pieces by God because of its uselessness to Him.

Isaiah 29:15-18.   15For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.  16But ye said, No; for we will flee upon horses; therefore shall ye flee: and, We will ride upon the swift; therefore shall they that pursue you be swift. 17One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one; at the rebuke of five shall ye flee: till ye be left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain, and as an ensign on an hill.

Isaiah referred to God as “The Holy One of Israel,” a reminder that God is the one true God for Judah, the One with whom their covenant was established.  In this passage Isaiah adds the words “Lord GOD” or “Sovereign LORD,” a combination of Adonai and Yahweh which refers to God’s sovereignty and His redemptive purpose.  Isaiah prescribes the plan for hope for Judah, that they would return to Him, finding their confidence and strength in the Sovereign LORD.

However, the Jews refuse to rely on God when faced with Assyria.  Their plan is established.  The Jews did not tend to keep many horses.  As a nomadic and agrarian culture there was little use for a horse.  However, as a military conqueror, the Pharaoh had many horses.  Their plan was simple:  when the threat of Assyria is first heard they will ride swiftly to Egypt using Egyptian horses.  Isaiah reveals the truth of their plan that, indeed they will find themselves fleeing the advancing Assyrians, but without Egyptian help.  They will flee in the thousands when the shadow of Egypt is found powerless.

Isaiah 29:18.  And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him.  

Despite Judah’s sin, God is waiting for the nation to repent and turn back to Him.  The offer of restoration is never rescinded.   God’s very character is one of love and grace, and He is always waiting for the lost to return to Him.  God is able to defend Judah against the Assyrian threat, and if the nation would simply repent of their apostasy, He will keep them safe. 

How much suffering came to Judah because they refused the Hand of the Potter?  How much suffering do we experience when we refuse the Hand of the Potter?  It is good to know that the LORD is waiting like the father of the Prodigal to welcome His son home.  As we face the threats of our lives, God’s promise to empower us to stand against those threats is never rescinded.  His promise of redemption is sure.  As we look into our own lives we have the opportunity to identify those areas that we have not completely surrendered to God.  These pockets of rebellion serve as our Egypt: that which we depend upon that has no more power than a shadow.  However, the light of the Holy Spirit serves to expose and illuminate those shadows, flooding them with His love and His redemptive purpose.  It is never too late to turn back to Him.  Let us not suffer the fate of Judah who, as a nation, never did turn back to God, and depending upon worldly powers found itself destroyed by them.  God is calling His people to turn from the authorities of this world and embrace Him fully. 

Jesus is LORD of all.  Consequently, He deserves that we give all to Him.

[1] Dunston, p 38.

[2] Matthew 15:9.  This verse is quoted by Jesus.

[3] Jeremiah 18:1-6, et. al.

[4] Romans 9:19-21.