Working in clay is one of the ancient professions. Long before paper, damp clay served as a surface to receive the marks that represented early writing called cuneiform. And people discovered that baked clay contained water and could be used for cooking more efficiently than tightest woven baskets. When one of our brilliant ancestors discovered the potter’s wheel, the age of clay had arrived. Eventually, clay pots became widely used
not only in daily life but for such unexpected applications as storage containers for the earliest forms of flexible writing surfaces: papyrus and parchment scrolls were often preserved in clay jars. The now-famous Dead Sea Scrolls were protected and preserved for a couple of millennia in large clay pots in a cave near Qumran on the shore of the Dead Sea.
GOD THE POTTER
The possibilities of clay are recorded in the early chapters of Genesis as we see God modeling the original man out of the dust (Gen 2:7). Job tells God, “Please remember that you made me out of clay and that you will return me to dust again” (Job 10:9). Clay is a symbol for the frailty and created nature of humans. Yet as Paul taught, even our fragile lives can be effective for eternity: “Our bodies are made of clay, yet we have the treasure of the Good News in them. This shows that the superior power of this treasure belongs to God and doesn’t come from us” (2 Cor 4:7). Prophets like Jeremiah found clay pottery to be an effective metaphor in their preaching. “The LORD spoke his words to Jeremiah. He said, ‘Go to the potter’s house. There I will give you my message’ ” (Jer 18: 1-2). The lesson the prophet learned in the petter’s house hasn’t lost its power even today: “I went to the potter’s house, and he was working there at his wheel. Whenever a clay pot he was working on was ruined, he would rework it into a new clay pot the way he wanted to make it. The LORD spoke his word to me. The LORD asked, ‘Nation of Israel, can’t I do with you as this potter does with clay? Nation of Israel, you are like the clay in the potter’s hands’ ” (Jer 18:3-6).
God the potter presents a powerful picture of his sovereign control over creation. The apostle Paul turned immediately to the rights of the potter when explaining God’s ways with the world: “You may ask me, ‘Why does God still find fault with anyone? Who can resist whatever God wants to do? Who do you think you are to talk back to God like that? Can an object that was made say to its maker, ‘ Why did you make me like this?’ A potter has the right to do whatever he wants with his clay. He can make something for a special occasion or something for everyday use from the same lump of clay” (Rom 9:19-21). As the Creator, God retains the right to fashion and use us as he sees fit.
Perhaps the greatest instance of understanding an effective use of clay can be found in John 9 and the story of a blind man healed by Jesus. We can’t appreciate the symbolic use of mud in the story unless we close our eyes and imagine the heightened sense of hearing someone spit and the soft sounds of kneading as Jesus formed a clay paste in his palm and then smeared it on the man’s eyes, saying, “Wash it off in the pool of Siloam” (v. 7). As he washed, the man’s sight was restored. We should pause to consider why Jesus chosen this particular means of healing. He didn’t always use objects in his healing; sometimes he simply touched or spoke and the miracle happened. But why use clay? Because the Creator would be the first to simply use original parts to replace defective ones. Who better than Jesus to know how to use clay to fix a clay pot?