Jehovah God, the Great Potter
“What? Does not the potter have authority over the clay to make from the same lump one vessel for an honorable use, another for a dishonorable use?”—Rom. 9:21.
1, 2. What are some of the titles the Scriptures give Jehovah, and what is one way by which he proves himself to be all such?
2 Among the many ways in which Jehovah God proves himself to be all such is by his molding his creatures as a potter molds clay in his hands. His role as the Great Potter magnifies his omnipotence, his omniscience and his sovereignty. None of his creatures can successfully resist his will. Whatever Jehovah purposes he accomplishes: “So my word that goes forth from my mouth will prove to be. It will not return to me without results, but it will certainly do that in which I have delighted, and it will have certain success in that for which I have sent it.”—Isa. 55:11.
3, 4. (a) Why is it important that we recognize Jehovah’s role as the Great Potter? (b) What testimony does the apostle Paul give in this regard?
3 It is of the greatest importance that each one of God’s creatures recognize His universal sovereignty and deport himself in accord therewith. Those who do are blessed. This role of Jehovah as the Great Potter is noted by the apostle Paul at Romans chapter nine, where he says, among other things, the following:
4 “It depends, not upon the one wishing nor upon the one running, but upon God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘For this very cause I have let you remain, that in connection with you I may show my power, and that my name may be declared in all the earth.’ So, then, upon whom he wishes he has mercy, but whom he wishes he lets become obstinate. You will therefore say to me: ‘Why does he yet find fault? For who has withstood his express will?’ O man, who, then, really are you to be answering back to God? Shall the thing molded say to him that molded it, ‘Why did you make me this way?’ What? Does not the potter have authority over the clay to make from the same lump one vessel for an honorable use, another for a dishonorable use?”—Rom. 9:16-21.
5, 6. (a) What determines the disposition the Great Potter makes of a vessel? (b) How is this borne out by the words of the prophet Jeremiah?
5 Not that the Great Potter arbitrarily determines the eternal destiny of his creatures long before they are born, as the Calvinistic teaching of predestination would have it. Not at all! His creatures determine their own destiny by the course of action they take. But the Great Potter can and does, for his own wise, just and loving reasons, choose the time, manner and circumstances for rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked.
6 Note how clear this point is made at Jeremiah 18:6-8: “Look! As the clay in the hand of the potter, so you are in my hand, O house of Israel. At any moment that I may speak against a nation and against a kingdom to uproot it and to pull it down and to destroy it, and that nation actually turns back from its badness against which I spoke, I will also feel regret over the calamity that I had thought to execute upon it.”
7. How can Jehovah’s role as the Great Potter be illustrated?
7 To illustrate: All of Jehovah’s creatures might be likened to clay vessels in a potter’s workshop whom Jehovah God, as the Potter, can and does mold as he pleases. But it is up to the individual piece of clay as a free moral agent and an intelligent creature to choose how he wants to react to Jehovah’s patterns and pressures, either submitting to Jehovah and righteousness, or resisting Jehovah and hardening himself in wickedness. But once the creature has manifested his attitude, Jehovah may, can and does at times mold that one further and further, either toward honorable service or toward dishonorable use, as suits Jehovah’s sovereign will and purposes.
8, 9. What Scriptural examples show how the Great Potter deals with vessels made fit for destruction?
8 Thus we read that a “bad spirit” from Jehovah came upon King Saul, but this was only after Saul’s heart had gone bad, to the point of no return then, and after Jehovah had finally rejected Saul. (1 Sam. 18:10) Likewise we read of a “deceptive spirit” as being sent from Jehovah upon the four hundred prophets of Israel who were false to begin with, so that their deceptive prophesying prevailed upon King Ahab and he went to his death. (2 Chron. 18:5-27) Similarly Jesus told Judas: “What you are doing get done more quickly.” (John 13:27) Jesus was not putting the idea of betraying him into the mind of Judas, but Judas had gone to the point of no return. Had not Jesus exposed Judas as the one that would betray his Master, and had not Judas failed to deny it or to protest his innocence? Judas did not repent or change his course of action, and so we read that then Satan the Devil entered him, and it was only after this that Jesus said to him: “What you are doing get done more quickly.” And so also with ancient Pharaoh of Egypt in Moses’ day. Jehovah God did not coerce him or arbitrarily harden Pharaoh’s heart or cause him to act against his better judgment, but God simply chose a method of dealing with Pharaoh that allowed him to seek his own further advantage and so harden his heart ever more.
9 Well did the apostle Paul refer to Jehovah’s molding the wicked proud Pharaoh of old, for, without a doubt, that is the most striking instance recorded in the Scriptures in which Jehovah God asserted his authority and power in dealing with his earthly creatures as a potter handles clay. The Great Potter had commanded his people, the Israelites, to go into the wilderness for three days with all their little ones and their flocks to worship him, and Pharaoh had refused to let God’s people go. Haughty Pharaoh taunted and sneered: “Who is Jehovah, so that I should obey his voice to send Israel away? I do not know Jehovah at all and, what is more, I am not going to send Israel away.” The means that Jehovah God used to make Pharaoh know who Jehovah really is and to make him let God’s people go were ten plagues, which plagues are full of prophetic significance for our time.—Ex. 5:2.
10, 11. (a) How do some view the accounts of the ten plagues? (b) What fitting answer does one university professor give to such?
10 The authenticity of the inspired record of these ten plagues is questioned by higher critics who do not believe that Jehovah God is the Great Potter, able and willing to maneuver the affairs of men according to His own sovereign will, and who do not appreciate the issue of universal sovereignty that was involved in these plagues. They would have us believe that all the accounts of these plagues are based on myths, even as they claim that the accounts of Creation and the Flood are based on myths. “There have been many efforts to rationalize these fantastic stories,” is the way one modernist authority puts it.—The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 2, page 839.
11 But theologians who object to the Bible’s record of miracles are thereby merely betraying their own bias and ignorance. Science can no longer object to miracles. As one university professor put it: “A scientist is no longer able to say honestly something is impossible. He can only say it is improbable. But he may be able to say something is impossible to explain in terms of our present knowledge. Science cannot say that all properties of matter and all forms of energy are known. What do we need to add to miracles to translate them into something possible to account for? Nothing we can do can make a miracle a probable event, but it may be possible to add some information to it to make it possible. One thing that needs to be added is a source of energy unknown to us in our biological and physiological sciences. In our Scriptures this source of energy is identified as the power of God.”*
12, 13. What other Scriptural testimony corroborates the record of the ten plagues?
12 More than that, we cannot discredit this part of God’s Word in the book of Exodus without discrediting the many other references to it in the rest of the Scriptures. If these miracles of the ten plagues are nothing but fantastic stories, why did Joshua, Samuel, two psalmists, Jeremiah, Stephen and the apostle Paul refer to them as historical? Thus 1 Samuel 6:6 tells about the Philistine priests and diviners who warned their people, saying, some four hundred years after Israel left Egypt: “Why should you make your heart unresponsive just the way Egypt and Pharaoh made their heart unresponsive?”—See also 1 Samuel 4:8.
13 The record of the ten plagues is also given in detail at Psalms 78 and 105. And Jeremiah, some nine hundred years after the plagues took place, treats them, not as fantastic stories, but as facts: “You who set signs and miracles in the land of Egypt . . . that you might make a name for your own self.” Stephen referred to Moses as “doing portents and signs in Egypt.” And as has already been noted, the apostle Paul referred to the plagues as historical.—Jer. 32:20; Acts 7:36.
14-16. How can those who would assign “natural” causes to the ten plagues be refuted?
14 Others in Christendom grant that the plagues actually took place but try to attribute them to natural causes. In this way they would rob the Great Potter of his right to interfere directly in the affairs of men. True, the Nile does look red at times; but the record tells us that the water of the Nile was not merely blood-red in color, as when infested by certain tiny organisms or because of the color of the mud, but that the Nile water actually became blood, so that the fish and other living creatures in the Nile died and the people were unable to drink the water.—Ex. 7:19-21.
15 The same is true of the other plagues. It will do no good to try to explain away their miraculous nature merely because they might find counterparts in the history of Egypt. Why did these plagues come just when Moses said they would and leave only when Moses commanded them to leave? And why, after the third plague, were the Israelites in the land of Goshen no longer affected by them?—Ex. 8:22, 23.
16 The tenth plague in particular cannot be accounted for along natural lines. What plague would kill only the firstborn of both man and beast? What plague would bypass the homes upon whose doorposts and lintels blood had been spattered? These things cannot be explained away nor accounted for by natural means. To try to do so creates more problems than it solves; it betrays a lack of faith, an unwillingness to submit to the will of the Great Potter and a desire to please men without faith.
17. Why was it imperative that these plagues be unequivocally miraculous?
17 But if we understand why Jehovah sent these plagues, namely, to make known to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians Jehovah’s name and great power and to have Jehovah’s name declared throughout all the earth, to harden some and to soften others, then we see abundant reason for Jehovah’s resorting to supernatural means in sending these plagues upon Egypt. In fact, it was absolutely imperative that these plagues be unequivocally miraculous, supernatural, for them to carry the impact God meant for them to carry. Otherwise, there would not have been any clear-cut issue and the plagues would not have served to magnify Jehovah’s name, this being especially true of the last eight plagues. (Ex. 8:16-19) For an example of this principle see 1 Samuel 6:7-12.
THE VESSEL MOSES
18, 19. (a) What human vessel did Jehovah form and mold for this occasion, and by what events? (b) How did Moses manifest his loyalty to his people and to God?
18 The outstanding human vessel that the Great Potter Jehovah God formed for this occasion and the one that he also chose to mold to his purpose was the man of God Moses. He was born after the Pharaoh of that time had issued his genocidal decree that every newborn son must be thrown into the river Nile. (Ex. 1:22) Jehovah saw to it that Moses was spared as an infant, that he was found by Pharaoh’s daughter and then that he was reared by his own parents “in the discipline and authoritative advice of Jehovah.” His parents had faith in Jehovah, even as the writer of the book of Hebrews assures us: “By faith Moses was hid for three months by his parents after his birth, because they saw the young child was beautiful and they did not fear the order of the king.”—Eph. 6:4; Heb. 11:23.
19 So faithfully did Moses’ parents discharge their duties toward him that, although afterward he was taught in all the wisdom and learning of the Egyptians, he remained loyal to Jehovah, to his people and to Jehovah’s righteous principles. Proof of this he gave when he killed the Egyptian taskmaster who had been oppressing one of his brothers. However, Moses’ people did not appreciate his efforts on their behalf, and so Moses found it expedient to flee to the land of Midian.—Ex. 2:11-15; Acts 7:23-29.
20. Why did Moses’ efforts on behalf of his people not meet with success?
20 Moses had associated himself with the right cause, Jehovah’s cause: “By faith Moses, when grown up, refused to be called the son of the daughter of Pharaoh, choosing to be ill-treated with the people of God rather than to have the temporary enjoyment of sin, because he esteemed the reproach of” being God’s anointed servant “as riches greater than the treasures of Egypt.” But this was not the right time nor obviously the right manner for the Great Potter to deliver his people. And neither, let it be noted, was this earnest, loyal, eager, impulsive would-be deliverer of his people ready for this assignment. So Jehovah kept molding the vessel Moses for his delivering role by letting him spend the next forty years as a peaceful shepherd in the land of Midian. How often Moses’ thoughts must have gone out to his brothers in bondage in Egypt during those long years!—Heb. 11:24-27.
21. What effect did Moses’ forty-year stay in the wilderness as a shepherd have upon him?
21 At the end of those forty years Moses had become molded into a mellowed, mild-tempered, patient, long-suffering vessel, fully qualified to be the overseer of millions of God’s sheep, “by far the meekest of all the men who were on the surface of the ground.” (Num. 12:3) In fact, so meek did he become that he expressed the greatest diffidence and reluctance to accept the commission from Jehovah to deliver his people, something he had attempted by himself forty years before. Even after Jehovah assured Moses that He would be with him and had empowered Moses to perform three miracles to prove the divine nature of his commission, Moses still demurred. Although this caused Jehovah to become angry with Moses and to give him a stinging rebuke, nevertheless, in his compassion, he provided Moses with Aaron to serve as his mouthpiece.—Ex. 3:11 to 4:31.
EGYPT AND PHARAOH IN MOSES’ DAY
22. What striking contrasts did Egypt and Israel furnish at that time?
22 It would be difficult to conceive of a greater contrast than that of Moses, the meekest of all men on earth, and Egypt’s Pharaoh, one of the haughtiest rulers of all time. Nor a greater contrast in religion than between the worship of Jehovah God as practiced by the faithful Israelites and the religion of the Egyptians. Thus we are told that “Egyptian worship was a complete contrast to Hebrew worship in particular . . . The cult of the great gods [of Egypt] followed one general pattern, the god being treated just like an earthly king. He was awakened from sleep each morning with a hymn, was washed and dressed (i.e. his image), and breakfasted. . . . The contrast could hardly be greater between the ever-vigilant, self-sufficient God of Israel . . . and those earthly Egyptian deities of nature.”*
23. Egypt’s religion was characterized by what deities and teaching?
23 At this time not only was Egypt the dominant world power, especially strong from an economic standpoint, but, more than all other nations, she was devoted to Devil religion. She worshiped the powers of visible creation, in particular the sun, heat, light and the lower animals. Egypt had scores of deities, and no other ancient nation was more devout and constant in the service of its gods than were the extremely superstitious Egyptians under the autocratic rule of their priests. Their chief teaching was reincarnation or the transmigration of souls, which promised rewards in the future life depending upon their conduct in the present life and which teaching gave the priests a powerful hold on the people.
24. What role did the priests of Egypt play?
24 The priests were very numerous, were exempt from taxation and were held in the highest esteem among the people. They clothed themselves in white linen and bathed twice a day. Even the most ordinary tasks could not be performed without reference to some priestly regulation. The Egyptians had more religious festivals than any other people, their land being covered with temples; and each town had its guardian god and temple, to which some animal was sacred, and which temple supported a large body of priests. According to the historian John Lord, the hold the priests had on the people was similar to that of the priests of Christendom during the Dark Ages.*
25. What may well be said to have been the most repulsive and degrading feature of Egypt’s religion?
25 The most repulsive and degrading thing about the religion of these Egyptians was their animal worship. A cat, any stray alley cat, was prized more highly than a human. A foreigner, who accidentally had killed a cat, was literally torn to pieces by an infuriated mob. The Apis bulls were worshiped as gods themselves, because gods were believed actually to dwell in them. These bulls were kept in lavish temples and at death were buried in gigantic costly coffins while all Egypt mourned. Among other animals held sacred were the crocodile, the oxyrhyncus fish and the ichneumon fly. Of some animals, such as the cat, all were held sacred; of others, only certain ones, such as bulls having certain markings.
26. How was Egypt’s Pharaoh viewed?
26 Looming up prominently in Egypt’s religion was also her ruler Pharaoh. Concerning him we are told:* “Pharaoh himself was one of the gods, and a central figure in his subjects’ lives. Each reigning king was at once the incarnate Horus, falcon sky-god, and Horus . . . the rightful heir upon the throne of his father Osiris. Egypt’s well-being was directly associated with that of the king. . . . Each king was the successor to the whole line of royal ancestors, stretching back beyond the historic human dynasties . . . to the dynasties of the gods themselves upon earth, and at death each king joined that august company,” in the minds of the Egyptians!
27. Why did Jehovah tolerate Egypt’s false worship and oppression for so long?
27 This, then, was the Egypt that held Israel in bondage and to which Moses was being sent. It truly consisted of “vessels of wrath made fit for destruction.” (Rom. 9:17-22) Yet the Great Potter permitted it to continue as a great world power. Why? For the sake of his great name. Besides, had he not foretold that Abraham’s seed would be afflicted four hundred years? So until that time was up, Egypt was permitted to oppress God’s chosen people.—Gen. 15:13.
28, 29. Why was all Egypt allowed to suffer for Pharaoh’s stubbornness?
28 As we examine the record, we find that it features the Great Potter’s dealings with one man, Pharaoh. Since this is so, it may well be asked, why should an entire nation suffer on account of one man? Why? For more than one good reason. For one thing, Pharaoh alone could not have oppressed the nation of Israel nor defied Jehovah. That took a mighty organization; and so all who supported Pharaoh in his God-defying and oppressive measures became parties to his crimes. More than that, did not a “vast mixed company” of non-Israelites leave Egypt and march to freedom with the Israelites? (Ex. 12:38) Surely. So none may ascribe injustice to the Great Potter, Jehovah God.
29 More than that, the Scriptures show that there is such a thing as community responsibility. Thus in ancient Israel the older men of a city had to take certain action to absolve their city from bloodguilt in the case of an unsolved murder, for the entire city was held responsible. (Deut. 21:1-9) For the same reason the entire tribe of Benjamin was adjudged guilty for refusing to surrender the good-for-nothing men of Gibeah who had abused to the death a certain Levite’s concubine. (Judg. 20:8-48) In fact, such responsibility is recognized even in modern times; an example being the way West Germany, though now democratic, has voluntarily chosen to indemnify the Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution.
30, 31. Of what interest and importance are the events in connection with the ten plagues for us today?
30 The Scriptural account of how the Great Potter dealt with his vessels back there in the days of Moses is of the greatest interest and importance to us today. A consideration of it will increase our appreciation of the wisdom, justice, power and love of the Great Potter, Jehovah God. It will also drive home to us the importance of being submissive to Him, of letting ourselves be guided by his Word, his holy spirit and by his visible instrument, his earthly channel of communication. For who can withstand his express will?
31 And further, it will help to strengthen our faith greatly, for we will find that these events have a parallel in our day. Finally, it will help all Christian ministers to get an increased appreciation of their own preaching commission, for theirs is the privilege to have a share in pouring out the modern plagues upon modern Egypt, including Babylon the Great. Surely, these reasons should cause us to want to pursue this subject further with the keenest interest!
Time, July 4, 1955.
See The New Bible Dictionary—by J. D. Douglas, page 351.
Beacon Lights of History, Vol. 1, pp. 31-42, 1912 Ed.
Beacon Lights of History, Vol. 1, pp. 31-42, 1912 Ed.