This chapter closes out the image Jeremiah has been using since the beginning of chapter 18: the Potter and the clay. Whereas we watched the potter remake wet clay in the last scene, here Jeremiah is commanded to buy a finished pot, take it to the gate where trash was dumped, and smash it into a pile of useless pieces. The wet clay was able to be remade-this pile of pottery shards is worthless.
God tells Jeremiah to take several of the local religious and civic leaders to the Potsherd Gate overlooking the Valley of Hinnom. Hinnom shows up several times in the Old Testament, and thought its name is a simple family name, its reputation becomes something rather singular. This is the city garbage dump. It is not only where the potters would dump their cracked pots, but also where the city would burn the bodies of criminals and diseased animals. Additionally, and maybe ironically, over time Hinnom becomes a locus for pagan worship and idolatry. Topheth, also mentioned in this passage, is probably the specific location in Hinnom where most of the idol worship took place.
And this was not your garden-variety idol worship. This was a place of infant sacrifice. Jeremiah mentions that, “they have filled this place with the blood of innocents…[and have burned] their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal.” (vs. 4-5) These idols to Baal were made of iron and were built in such a way that the arms of the idol were extended over a fire at its feet so that the arms would become hot as brands. Then the children were placed on the arms as sacrifices to false gods.
Before we are too quick to condemn them, our culture is not all that different. What we lack in overt brutality, we make up for in well honed subtly. We still crush the skulls of infants and dismember them in worship to the gods of convenience, work, money, self, and so on. We just do it now in a way that placates our sensibilities.
Though Jeremiah’s parable here is dark and brutal, and speaks of Judah’s imminent demise, it is part of a larger thread in Scripture-a thread of redemption. In Matthew 27, Judas is wracked with guilt over his betrayal of Jesus and returns the blood money to the chief priests in the Temple. They don’t know what to do with the money, so they buy the potter’s field as a burial ground-the same field where Jeremiah shattered a pot almost 600 years earlier. And then in John 18, Jesus is arrested to be crucified in the Valley of Kidron-the NT name for what we know as the Valley of Hinnom. When Jesus was arrested, he could probably look up and see where Jeremiah had stood announcing doom.
In a very real way, the first thing purchased with the blood of Christ was the refuse-the broken and useless shards that no one else wanted or had any use for. What was a lost cause was redeemed-bought back for God’s purposes-as the cross of Jesus Christ.
We often have shards in our lives-those moments in our past that seem insurmountable and unforgivable. Or they may be broken pieces to our lives today that seem too painful, confusing, frustrating or useless to be of any good. Take heart-what seems to be a garbage heap of uselessness was purchased as something valuable and meaningful to Jesus Christ.