How does Jeremiah 18 teach that God allows for human contingencies to alter the outcomes of prophetic predictions?

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In Jeremiah 18 God sets forth an example, an illustration of a potter and his pottery to show that the decisions of human beings, and even nations, can affect the work of God and his intentions in their lives… The number one rule of life — even though it may not be stated this bluntly, it's implicit in everything that God writes — is simply this, that if we obey God, we'll be blessed; if we don't, then there are dire consequences to be paid. One of the tensions in our theology is between the sovereignty of God and the will of mankind. Pharaoh is used both in the book of Exodus and in the book of Romans as the classic illustration. The Bible says repeatedly in Exodus that God hardened Pharaoh's heart, and then it turns right around and says Pharaoh hardened his heart. I think there's, I may be wrong on the number, but there's like eighteen references to that and nine times it says Pharaoh hardened his heart; nine times it says God hardened Pharaoh's heart. And both are true. We make decisions. These decisions have consequences. And God, who intends to do certain things, will punish us if we continue to ignore his word and to disobey him, but if we repent, Ezekiel says, God takes no delight in the destruction of the wicked but desires that they repent and live. So, when an individual, or a church, or a nation hears the warnings of God's prophets — they hear the gospel, their consciences convict them, and they turn from their wicked ways and begin to pursue the Lord — God is prone to stay his judgments and to reward them instead of punishing them. This is the truth behind all great preaching. Preachers assume that people who are moving away from God can at any time, with the grace of God, turn and come back to the Lord and repent and be saved. They assume that nations can repent and turn back to the Lord and experience revival; the churches can change and experience reformation; that whole nations and people groups can turn back to the Lord and experience some spiritual restoration. So, Jeremiah 18 is the classic proof text, so to speak, that when any people — including a large group of people, a nation — turns back to the Lord, his original intentions to them will be turned to blessing. And, of course, the reverse is true. If a nation is headed down the road of following God and turns into wickedness, then his intentions to bless them would be turned into intentions to discipline them and judge them unless they repent. This is simply the law of reciprocity that Jesus talks about all the time that we reap what we sow and that God responds to our will as much as we respond to his.

Answer by Dr. Michael Ross

Dr. Mike Ross formerly served as Senior Pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, NC, and adjunct professor at Reformed Theological Seminary Charlotte.