Then shalt thou break the bottle in the sight of the men that go with thee. And shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel, that cannot be made whole again: and they shall bury them in Tophet, till there be no place to bury. — Jeremiah 19:10-11
Sometimes people’s lives are so broken by sin that it would seem impossible for them to be repaired. As a youth, George Martin asked his mother, “What happens to a man when he dies?” but she had no answer for him. When George was in the eighth grade, he left home and went to sea. He took on many sinful habits, visited skid rows in large cities around the world, and was in and out of jail for drunkenness. When he was just nineteen years old, he took his first treatment for alcoholism. He tried to get out of that kind of life, but found himself helpless to do so.
In time, his wanderings took him to Eureka, California, where he ended up in jail again. There, at the close of a religious service, he heard a minister say, “You don’t have to be in church to pray. It doesn’t make any difference where you are, the conditions are the same. If you get honest with the Lord, He will hear you. If you don’t, you won’t get anything.” George said, “I liked that. I always liked straight talk.”
Soon George went back to sea. He said, “Even though I was not yet thirty years old, my nerves were shot. Just the click of the gyro as I tried to keep the ship on course during a night watch would almost drive me crazy. I kept a bottle of liquor in my pocket to see me through, and to keep me from jumping overboard. I also had a blood disease I had picked up in South Africa. After being in three marine hospitals for treatment, I was still no better.”
One night, in a flop house on Market Street and Embarcadero in San Francisco, California, George felt he was going to die. He decided to try to find out if there was a God, and if He would hear him. At three o’clock in the morning he prayed, “God, do for me what You did for those people I heard testify in Eureka.” He said, “In the twinkling of an eye, the power of God came down into that hotel room. All Heaven broke loose and God set me free. I didn’t know what it meant to be born again, but the Spirit of the Lord spoke to my heart, ‘Your disease-wracked body is clean. Your sins are forgiven. Go forth and do right or you will have eternity in condemnation.’ The next day I walked out of that hotel a man free from sin, a new creature in Christ Jesus.” George’s life was dramatically changed, and he served God for many years until he was called home to Heaven.
To many it would have appeared that George Martin’s life was broken beyond repair, like a pottery vessel shattered into hundreds of pieces. But God was able to take what was broken and fix it when George cried out with an honest heart.
In contrast to George’s contrite heart, Judah had determined to forsake God and pursue an evil course. Because of their stubborn disobedience, God told Jeremiah that He would break them “as one breaketh a potter’s vessel, that cannot be made whole again.” How tragic!
Still today, God offers mercy to those who will repent as George Martin did. However, stubborn refusal, like that of Judah, will eventually be punished. How blessed we are if we choose to follow God and obey His will!
Today’s text continues Jeremiah’s eighth sermon. Israel was God’s chosen nation. He had revealed Himself to the Israelites to a far more intimate degree than to any other nation then on the earth. Down through their history, He had performed a multitude of mighty miracles on their behalf. In return, He looked for their willing service, but instead, for the most part, He was recompensed with blatant, willful disobedience.
At the time of Jeremiah, the Jewish people were engaged in grossly vile practices. In today’s text, God had Jeremiah take certain priests and high-ranking leaders of Jerusalem out to the “valley of the son of Hinnom.” There the people burned incense to strange gods. During the reign of Manasseh, they had begun the practice of burning their own babies as sacrifices to the false god Molech. This is alluded to in verse 5, “and have filled this place with the blood of innocents.” At the time of his national reform, King Josiah had changed the valley into a garbage dump for the region and named it Tophet, which literally means “fireplace.”
The object lesson that God had Jeremiah use in this chapter was to break an earthen bottle. The original language translated “earthen bottle” indicates a costly and extremely delicate vessel. In contrast to the clay at the potter’s house (chapter 18), which could be kneaded down and reshaped, the breaking of the bottle was irreversible; it was shattered and could never be fixed. This illustrated that Judah and Jerusalem would be utterly destroyed.
Jeremiah detailed again how the people of Judah had sinned against God and the awfulness of their impending judgment. He predicted that many would die, the city would be so desolate that it would be an object of scorn (hissing), and people would be so starved because of the siege that they would become cannibals (verse 9). This prophecy was fulfilled after Babylon besieged Jerusalem in 588 B.C., completely destroying it eighteen months later in 586 B.C. (see Lamentations 4:10). Again in A.D. 70, Jerusalem was totally devastated by the Romans.
Verse 13 refers to the roofs of the people’s houses. In the ancient east, flat roofs were common and were used for many good and rightful activities. However, the people of Judah had used their roofs as places of idol worship.
After breaking the bottle in the valley of Hinnom, Jeremiah went to the Temple and spoke to the people there, warning them of the coming judgment.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II. The pronouncement of judgment against Judah
A. The condemnation of the prophet
8. The eighth sermon: The potter and the broken bottle
b. The significance of the broken bottle
(1) The presentation of the message (19:1-15)
(a) The message of doom (19:1-9)
(b) The symbol of doom (19:10-13)
(c) The message repeated (19:14-15)
God has made it possible for each person to escape judgment, but we must avail ourselves of His remedy and follow His instructions.