God Shapes Evil
Gen. James Green
W E’VE ALREADY seen, in Isa. 45:7 where God forms the light and creates darkness, where He makes peace and creates evil (Heb. ra= “physical evil, calamity etc.”). Today, I want to expound on this principle a bit more. My texts are found in Jeremiah 18:8-11:
“And if [the people of] that nation concerning which I have spoken turn from their evil, I will relent and reverse My decision concerning the evil that I thought to do to them. At another time I will suddenly speak concerning a nation or kingdom, that I will build up and plant it; And if they do evil in My sight, obeying not My voice, then I will regret and reverse My decision concerning the good with which I said I would benefit them. Now therefore say to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Return now each one from his evil way; reform your [accustomed] ways and make your [individual] actions good and right.”
THIS CHAPTER (18) is about a message received by Jeremiah at the potter’s house (vv. 1-12); the heart of the matter is the Lord emphasizing the fact that Israel’s SIN is contrary to nature (vv. 13-17); and a record of a plot against the prophet, his prayer for vengeance against his enemies (vv. 18-23).
The example of the potter and his work has also been employed by other prophets (see Isa. 29:16: “Shall the potter be considered of no more account than the clay? Shall the thing that is made say of its maker, ‘He did not make me;’ or the thing that is formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding?’” (see also Isa. 45:9; 64:8; Wisdom of Sol. 15:7; Ecc. 33:13 and Rom. 9:21).
No matter, the whole idea of the potter stresses the sovereignty of God over Israel (and over whosoever today as well). We today find it difficult to believe that God might be behind the “evil” that is transpiring...yet He IS IN CONTROL (for the good or bad)! We have no problem thinking that God can do good for us or a nation, but to do evil we want to blame Satan. But v. 7 tells us: “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it.” Note the “IF” clause in v. 8: “If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent (turn) of the evil (ra) that I thought to do unto them.” We have seen (in other articles) that the Calvinists do not believe that evil men can repent/turn on their own free will, but here that falsehood is refuted.
Jeremiah’s phraseology: “if that nation…turn from their evil” applies to all nations and all individuals—then and now.
THE WHOLE IDEA here is that the pot of the potter “was marred in the hand of the potter” (v. 4). When the first design of the vessel turns out misshapen and spoiled (as did Israel), he remolds it into another form: “…so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good…” (v. 4).
We come to the second “if” clause: “And if they do evil in My sight, obeying not My voice, then I will regret and reverse My decision concerning the good with which I said I would benefit them” (v. 10, Amp.).
Now we come to the very heart of the matter: “…Behold, I frame evil against you; and devise a device against you…” (v. 11, KJV; the RSV reads, “I am shaping evil”).
In the New Testament, we read in Romans 2:5: “But by our callous stubbornness and impenitence of heart you are storing up WRATH and INDIGNATION for yourself on the day of WRATH and INDIGNATION, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”
To my point: Israel in Jeremiah’s day, up until today, the people calling themselves Israelites or Jews remain hard-of-heart! The second half of Jer. 18:11 finds the LORD pleading once again, “return ye now everyone from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good.” Here we find God calling for repentance—in a fresh form, which gathers up these polarities into the context of His dealings with men and women and their destinies! Are we today so DUMB that we cannot (or will not!) comprehend Hebrew prophecy? The Holy Spirit is calling for REPENTANCE world-wide right NOW!!! Will we refuse His call and be severely punished???
Romans 9:20 brings forth the same principle: “But who are you, a mere man, to criticize and contradict and answer back to God?” (Amp.). This is exactly what ancient Israel did time and time again—they went so far as to claim that God was evil, not them. Hey, this same foul spirit rules today’s church. Paul goes on in Rom. 9:20: “will what is formed say to him that formed it, ‘why have you made me thus?’” (see Isa. 29:16 and 45:9 again). The discourse follows in vv. 21: God (the potter) has the right to make vessels honorable and dishonorable (v. 21).
WHAT IF GOD sees that the world today will not TURN from its evil ways, will He TURN on it with fullness of WRATH? You see, if clay becomes HARD in the hand of the potter, it becomes impossible to form and shape the clay, thus, casting it away and starting with a new lump that is soft. This tells me that we must keep our hearts soft towards the potter, not hard. The metaphor of the potter and clay is easy to discern: ingratitude can cause God to cast us away. We are, by creation the property of God; He has the right to use us—even in a humble way—or to cast us away eternally.
BEFORE I end this article, I need to address the “false” idea of predestination (Rom. 9:20-21), as some teach. There is BIG confusion over God’s Sovereignty, election, and predestination. The “once saved, always saved” camp quotes this very text to support the (false) idea that God elects/selects some to (eternal) damnation, others to (eternal) salvation, but neither have anything to say or do about this:
“But who are you, a mere man, to criticize and contradict and answer back to God? Will what is formed say to him that formed it, Why have you made me thus? [Isa. 29:16; 45:9.] Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same mass (lump) one vessel for beauty and distinction and honorable use, and another for menial or ignoble and dishonorable use?” (Rom. 9:20, 21, Amplified).
This “pot-theism,” i.e., false theology, is not about sealing some in damnation or salvation, but about God’s mercy (v. 14-18). God has the right to show both wrath and mercy at will. Even in claiming that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (v. 17), that is not the whole truth...Pharaoh hardened his own heart, therefore, God used his hard heart for His own purpose. Ex. 33:19 tells us: “And God said, ‘I will make all My goodness pass before you (Israel), and I will proclaim My name, THE LORD, before you; for I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy and loving-kindness on whom I will show mercy and loving-kindness.’” (see Rom. 9:15, 16). But, back to Pharaoh: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh; for I have made his heart hard, that I might show these My signs (of divine power) before him’” (Ex. 10:1). Other places we find that this Egyptian king hardened his own heart.
We find in 8:15 that Pharaoh hardened his own heart: “…and hearkened not unto them” (Moses and Aaron); “And Pharaoh hardened his heart…” (v. 32); “…and hardened his heart, he and his servants” (9:34); “And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened…” (v. 35).
So, the “hardening” is described in three ways: “The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh” (Ex. 7:13; 9:12 and 10:1); “The heart of Pharaoh was hardened” (Ex. 7:22; 9:7); and “Pharaoh hardened his heart” (Ex. 8:15, 32). To trace the “hardening” to God as its final cause, by no means relieved the king of responsibility. GOD USES WHAT IS AVAILABLE—He used the hard-heart of Pharaoh, hardening it harder. He did this in order to show Israel mercy.
The paradox for the Calvinist is this: they believe in absolute predestination, but (usually) spend their time in an earnest (at least some still do) effort to do the Lord’s will. Even these same people believe that under God, they have genuine freedom to make decisive moral choices.
It is sheer foolishness to entangle oneself in all the theological complexities of a “theory” of predestination (see our trilogy on “Once Saved, Always Saved?”). Frankly, men and nations—thru pride and rebellion—forfeit God’s mercy: hence, retribution.
There is always justification for God’s sovereign right to use His vessels for good or evil; it all depends upon HOW men respond, or do not respond to Him. He had mercy upon Israel—by their rebellion they were broken off, hence, mercy for the Gentiles.
God will and can determine the destinies of both individuals and nations; it is not in their hands, but in the hands of God. There are vessels of blessing, and of wrath, of honor, and of dishonor. Actually, God can, and does, substitute one for another; racial Jews were replaced by Spirit Jews. The new Jerusalem has replaced old Jerusalem; the new Ekklesia has its ancestry in the old, but the new has the heritage.
One thing we can count on, and Scripture backs up, is that when men and nations TURN AWAY (or never even TURN at all, an inexorable judgment awaits… “if” men and/or nations do right, they are vessels of mercy; “if” men and/or nations do wrong, they are vessels of wrath. THE CHOICE LIES IN OUR FREE WILL TO CHOOSE.
Let us do good so that God does not SHAPE EVIL against us.