Question: "What should we learn from the symbolism of the potter and clay in the Bible?"
Answer: The Bible uses symbolism to deepen the message God has for His people. One such symbol is that of potter and clay. The most detailed example is found in Jeremiah 18. God instructed the prophet Jeremiah to go to a potter’s house where God would illustrate His relationship with Israel. Verses 2–6 say, “So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, ‘Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.’”
Although God allows human beings freedom to make moral choices, He demonstrates often that He is still sovereign and in control of His universe. He does whatever He wills with His creation (Psalm 135:6; 155:3; Daniel 4:35; Isaiah 46:9–11). We need frequent reminders that God is over all and can do as He pleases whether we understand His actions or not (Romans 9:20–21). He owes us nothing yet chooses to extend to us the utmost patience, kindness, and compassion (Jeremiah 9:24; Psalm 36:10; 103:4, 17). The potter working with the clay reminds us that God is at work in us “for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Isaiah 45:9 says, “Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?”
God has created each of us the way He wants us (Psalm 139:13–16; Exodus 4:11). It is our responsibility to take what He has given us and use it for His glory and pleasure. In doing so, we find our ultimate fulfillment. Rather than live with disappointment and dissatisfaction with what God has or has not given us, we can choose to thank Him in everything (Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:15). Just as the clay finds its highest purpose when it remains pliable in the hands of the potter, so our lives fulfill their highest purpose when we let our Potter have His way with us.