Jeremiah 18:1-11: The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear[a] my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’ ” (ESV)
Jonah 3:1-5: Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh…Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (NIV)
Isaiah 48:18-19: Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea; your offspring would have been like the sand, and your descendants like its grains; their name would never be cut off or destroyed from before me.” (ESV)
Jeremiah 18:1-11 speaks for itself. There are times when we need specialists to help us (and we’re grateful for them) but every now and then we come across a verse or a section so plain that we don’t need their help. If we don’t understand a very plain text then we’ll not be able to understand the scholar who’s going to show that it’s not plain. Let’s give God the credit for given us some basic sense and use it.
Jonah is a good illustration of Jeremiah 18. “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown,” he said. But it didn’t happen! And you know why it didn’t happen. Nineveh repented. Refresh your mind by reading the story for yourself.
Then look at Isaiah 48:18-19. Israel’s state would have been different than it was when the prophet spoke. It was a shambles though that wasn’t God’s heart’s desire. He purposed a glorious future for them but that glorious future eventually turned out to be their captivity in Babylon. If they’d only responded to God as they should have. Sigh. That’s what Jeremiah taught and that’s what Jonah illustrated.
All of that says what? It says that unfulfilled prophecy, promise or threat, should not surprise us. We’re warned ahead of time (Jeremiah 18:1-11).
Those texts say that a glorious promise might not turn out as glorious as promised.
They say this also: a threat of imminent judgment might be delayed. “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown,” was God’s announcement but God “changed His mind” (Jeremiah 18:1-11). Still, the judgment did fall on Nineveh many years later as the book of Nahum tells us. Still “forty” is “forty” and it didn’t happen. True, but we must allow Jeremiah 18:1-11 to have its way.
The idea that life is like a pre-played chess game and God moves all the pieces independent of human behavior, good, bad or indifferent, is simply not true. God made humans and He makes His sovereign and fatherly decisions in light of the creature He sovereignly and fatherly created. That’s who He works with! GOD did not choose to work with puppets or chess pieces.
Try not to worry about “unfulfilled” promises or “judgments” because they are affected by human behavior, ours and that of others—and God allows it to be that way (Acts 14:16). God not only works with humans, He loves the humans He works with—all of them! But it’s precisely because He loves them all that things in a fallen world become complex. Nineveh didn’t go down in Jonah’s time because God loved Nineveh (the powerless in the empire) though He has no love for the oppressive structure which was ‘the world’ in which a host of dominated people and their domesticated animals. But Nineveh did go down in Nahum’s time because God loved the little nations that Nineveh was terrorizing. Love experiences a conflict of interest in a world like this. So promises are delayed or partially fulfilled, judgment is delayed or eased. Jesus Christ is the life of God lived out as a human. That’s part of the reason you have Matthew 11:28 and Matthew 23:33 and then 23:37.
In His own good time God will make all things plain and we will see and experience what in our better moments we long for and dream of. Think noble things of God for Jesus not only imaged Him, He loved Him, trusted Him and was committed to His overarching purpose.
UNFULFILLED PROPHECY LOVE’S CONFLICT OF INTERESTS