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The idea that the earthly Jerusalem is an “eternal city” that will never be destroyed is a fallacy that blinds many Jews and Christians today and prevents them from having a clear Kingdom vision. Jeremiah’s prophetic act of smashing the old jar representing Jerusalem—“this people and this city,” Jer. 19:11—is seldom taught in Bible studies.
Yet we must face this coming reality if we are to understand basic Bible prophecy. The fate of Jerusalem is a major issue. Will it become the capital of the Kingdom, or will it be “cast out” (as Paul says) and destroyed (as Jeremiah says)? These outcomes directly contradict much of the standard teaching in the church.
Jeremiah actually gave two separate prophecies, one for the northern House of Israel, which had already been cast off and taken captive to Assyria, and the other for Judah and Jerusalem. Jer. 18:1-10 was a revelation of the fate of Israel; Jer. 18:11 through chapter 19 was a revelation of the fate of Judah and Jerusalem.
First, the prophet was told to go to a potter’s house, where he witnessed a wet clay jar being destroyed and re-formed into a new jar. Jer. 18:4 says that the “clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter, so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.” Being wet clay, this was a natural possibility, and God then applied this to Israel, saying in Jer. 18:6,
8 “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.”
A great host of prophecy teachers today misapply this promise by thinking that Israel is the same as Judah and the Judeans (“Jews”). Thus, they apply this prophecy to the creation of the Jewish state in 1948 and calling that state “Israel.” By extension, the prophecy is applied to Jerusalem, which leads to the claim that it is an “eternal city.” Yet the capital of Israel was Samaria, not Jerusalem.
The actual prophecy given to Judah and Jerusalem applies to the modern Jewish state. It begins in Jer. 18:11, 12,
11 So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds. 12 But they will say, ‘It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart’.”
See how different this is from the earlier prophecy given to the house of Israel. Israel was to be remade; Judah—and Jerusalem in particular—was heading for “calamity.” The nature of this calamity is seen at the climax of this prophecy in Jer. 19:11 when the old jar (not wet clay) is smashed in the valley of ben-Hinnom (Greek: Gehenna), as a vessel that “cannot again be repaired.”
In other words, Israel was to be repaired; Judah and Jerusalem were to be destroyed.
The rest of Jeremiah 18 condemns Judah and Jerusalem for its stubborn refusal to submit to the laws of God. They burned incense to false gods (Jer. 18:15), straying “from the ancient paths,” resulting finally in making their land “a desolation, an object of perpetual hissing” (Jer. 18:16). “Perpetual” is from the Hebrew word olam.
The only way that this calamity might be avoided is for the people to repent of their “stubbornness.” Jeremiah makes this clear when he appeals to them, saying, “Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds” (Jer. 18:11). Repentance will always mitigate judgment and can even cancel it altogether, if done in time.
The prophecy, however, informs us that they will not repent. The prophet puts words into their mouths: “It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans.” So the prophet speaks of war and famine in Jer. 18:21, 22. This is followed by the most astonishing prayer of all in Jer. 18:23,
23 Yet You, O Lord, know all their deadly designs against me; do not forgive their iniquity or blot out their sin from Your sight. But may they be overthrown before You; deal with them in the time of Your anger!
The leaders of Jerusalem (with the support of the common people) had opposed Jeremiah, refusing to believe the word of the Lord that he spoke to them. The plots against him are recorded in Jer. 11:18-23.
18 Moreover, the Lord made it known to me and I knew it; then You showed me their deeds. 19 But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; and I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.”
These plots were formulated in Anathoth (Jer. 11:21), a town in the land of Benjamin, which may have been the prophet’s hometown, judging from the fact that, later, his uncle wanted Jeremiah to redeem a parcel of land in Anathoth (Jer. 32:7-9).
The prophet was betrayed by his own relatives and friends in his hometown.
As a prophet, Jeremiah was representing God, and so we see him also as a type of Christ, who was “like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.” This is the main theme in Isaiah 53:7 as well, which was a prophecy of Christ as the Lamb of God. God’s response to his prayer is in Jer. 11:22, 23,
22 Therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, I am about to punish them! The young men will die by the sword, their sons and daughters will die by famine; 23 and a remnant will not be left to them, for I will bring disaster on the men of Anathoth—the year of their punishment.”
These were the plots against Jeremiah’s life which he referenced in Jer. 18:23, praying, “Do not forgive their iniquity or blot out their sin from Your sight, but may they be overthrown before You.” As the victim of injustice, Jeremiah had the right to forgive them, just as God also had that right. But in this case, the prophet knew that God was not going to forgive them or blot out their sin, and so he conformed to the will of God as well. All of this points to the conclusion that those people (as a whole) will not repent, making the judgment in Jer. 19:11 inevitable.
Jeremiah 19 follows on the heels of Jer. 18:11-23 and is a continuation of the indictment against Judah and Jerusalem. We read in Jer. 19:1-3,
1 Thus says the Lord, “Go and buy a potter’s earthenware jar, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the senior priests. 2 Then go out to the valley of Ben-hinnom, which is by the entrance of the potsherd gate [where people would throw away the potsherds, or broken clay jars], and proclaim there the words that I tell you, 3 and say, Hear the word of the Lord of hosts the God of Israel, Behold, I am about to bring a calamity upon this place, at which the ears of everyone that hears it will tingle.”
The valley of Ben-hinnom was also the place where a shrine had been set up to offer up babies to Baal (Jer. 19:5). The “elders” and “senior priests” were thus shown the reason for this divine indictment while the prophet gave voice to the divine verdict. As a result of this judgment, that valley was to be renamed “the Valley of Slaughter” (Jer. 19:6).
Then the prophet was instructed to smash the earthenware jar while prophesying irreparable destruction and calamity in Jer. 19:10-12,
10 Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you 11 and say to them, “Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth [“place of burning (babies)”] because there is no other place for burial. 12 This is how I will treat this place [Jerusalem] and its inhabitants,” declares the Lord, “so as to make this city like Topheth.”
Throughout this entire word for Judah and Jerusalem, we cannot find a single word of hope for Jerusalem. For the house of Israel, there was not only hope but a certainty that God would remake the wet clay into a new vessel. But for Judah, the earthenware jar had already been dried in the fire and, once broken, it could not be repaired. It could only be taken to the potsherd gate to be discarded in the city dump in the valley of Ben-hinnom.
It is important to understand the distinction between Israel and Judah. It is important to know the difference between the two jars and their very different fates. The ten tribes of Israel, which were deported to Assyria from 745-721 B.C., never returned to the old land, for their destiny lay elsewhere. The two tribes of Judah (with Benjamin) were deported to Babylon more than a century later. They remained in captivity for 70 years before returning to resettle in the old land.
The Judeans in Jesus’ day were the descendants of those who had returned. They were Judeans, the remnant of the house of Judah, which was composed of Judah, Benjamin, and some from the priestly tribe of Levi. They were known as “Jews,” a shortened term for Judahites or Judeans. They were not the Israelites to whom the prophecy of the wet clay had been given.
This distinction is crucial if we are to have a proper Kingdom vision.