Throughout the Bible, pots and pottery are mentioned in various contexts. They provide valuable insights into the cultures and practices of biblical times. For Evangelical and Charismatic Christians seeking a deeper understanding of Scripture, examining the role of pots can bring new meaning to familiar passages. This blog post will explore the significance of pots in the Bible and key lessons we can learn from them today.
Pots and pottery were essential household items in ancient Israelite society. Clay pots held water, stored food and drink, and cooked meals. More ornate pottery was used in religious rituals, given as gifts, and depicted symbolically in prophetic writings. Looking closely at pots in biblical accounts reveals much about everyday life and spiritual beliefs.
Key takeaways on the theme of pots in the Bible include:
- Pots were indispensable daily tools that held deep cultural meaning.
- God compared His people to fragile pottery that required careful handling.
- Breaking pots signified divine judgment and punishment.
- Expensive alabaster pots reflected an extravagant act of worship.
- The potter’s wheel illustrates God’s sovereignty and creativity.
As we explore the contexts and uses of pots throughout the Bible, we gain fresh insights into the world of the ancient Israelites. We also see parallels to our lives today. Just as pots were an essential part of daily routines and religious customs, we too use ordinary objects that hold deeper meaning if we pause to reflect. This examination of biblical pots invites us to appreciate the small wonders and profound truths woven into the Word of God.
Pots as Tools of Daily Life
In Old and New Testament times, pottery vessels provided the basic necessities for cooking, storing food and water, and serving meals. Archaeological digs throughout the Middle East have uncovered countless shards and intact specimens of clay pots used for mundane household tasks. Pots were so vital to daily survival that their absence constituted a hardship. For example, Jeremiah laments the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem by describing the thirst and deprivation that result when “the pots are empty and there is no water to draw” (Jeremiah 14:3 NKJV). During Isaiah’s prophecy about the fall of Babylon, God pronounces that “all the pots in the houses of joy will be broken” (Isaiah 22:2 NKJV), a metaphor for the empire’s collapse.
The routine nature of pots appears through casual biblical references as metaphors or similes. When describing fleet-footed Ahimaaz running to deliver a message to King David, the author notes he “ran by way of the plain, and outran the Ethiopian” (2 Samuel 18:23 NKJV). The ease of his speed is compared to common pots: “Ahimaaz called out to the king, ‘All is well!’ He bowed down before the king with his face to the earth and said, ‘Praise be to the Lord your God! He has delivered up those who lifted their hands against my lord the king.’ The king asked, ‘Is the young man Absalom safe?’ Ahimaaz answered, ‘I saw great confusion just as Joab was about to send the king’s servant and me, your servant, but I don’t know what it was.’ The king said, ‘Stand aside and wait here.’ So he stepped aside and stood there. Then the Cushite arrived and said, ‘My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.’ The king asked the Cushite, ‘Is the young man Absalom safe?’ The Cushite replied, ‘May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man!’ The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: ‘O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!’” (2 Samuel 18:28-33 NKJV)
The ordinary pot emphasizes that Ahimaaz could outpace a swift runner with ease. Other similes link pots to routine tasks like gathering firewood (Psalm 81:6 NKJV), carrying three-pronged forks (1 Samuel 2:14 NKJV), and drawing water (Mark 14:13 NKJV) . Such everyday associations reflect the intrinsic usefulness of pots in daily living.
Pots as Spiritual Symbols
Beyond their practical functions, pots also held rich symbolic meaning connected to religious practices and beliefs. As conduits for offerings, sacrifices, rituals, and decorations, special pots directly contributed to worship and ceremony.
For instance, Exodus describes vessels needed for the tabernacle sacrifices, including “pots to remove the ashes” (Exodus 27:3 NKJV) and “bowls and pitchers for drink offerings” (Exodus 37:16 NKJV). The detailed instructions highlight the importance of consecrated pots in worshipping God properly.
Similarly, the temple priests employed dedicated pots in their sanctuary duties. Second Kings relates how priests returned to the rebuilt temple that had been plundered. Though the golden and silver vessels were missing, they “set the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their courses over the service of God in Jerusalem, as it is written in the Book of Moses” (2 Kings 3:2 NKJV) using the available pots. The return of ceremonial pots restored regular temple worship.
Ecclesiastes references smashed or broken pots at a well, meaning life’s fragility and sudden disasters (Ecclesiastes 12:6 NKJV). Jeremiah’s vision of the almond branch and boiling pot (Jeremiah 1:13-14 NKJV) includes divine symbolism interpreted by God as the coming judgment upon Judah. As both functional tools and sacred objects, pots intersected daily practices and spiritual beliefs.
Pots as Metaphors for God’s People
Biblical writers utilized pottery metaphors to describe God’s people and convey spiritual truths. Isaiah declares that God is “the potter; we are the clay” (Isaiah 64:8 NKJV), evoking images of a craftsman shaping malleable material. Isaiah similarly warns the people, “Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, that what is made should say to its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” (Isaiah 29:16 NKJV) Comparing themselves to hardened clay pots questioning the potter, the people have no right to challenge their Creator.
Through Jeremiah, God pronounced disasters that would smash His people like breaking pottery if they did not repent of their unfaithfulness: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.’” (Jeremiah 18:6 NKJV) Yet even such dire warnings contain hope of restoration. As the clay could be reworked, so God would remake His people into holy vessels.
In the New Testament, Paul evokes the metaphor of clay pots to describe the contrast between perishable flesh and enduring spiritual significance in those who follow Christ: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NKJV) Our earthly bodies may be fragile as pots, but God fills them with eternal riches.
Pottery Principles for Evangelical Living
Reflecting on pots in the Bible offers some key lessons for contemporary Christians, especially those in the Evangelical or Charismatic traditions:
- Value the ordinary. Pots were ubiquitous precisely because they were so vital for routines of daily living. Though we may overlook them, simple household objects have their own God-given purpose and dignity.
- Accept necessary corrections. As malleable clay, pots required refining and reshaping, just as we may need spiritual revival and renewal. Letting God mold us brings us closer to the shape He intends.
- Contain and convey what God provides. Pots were conduits meant to hold essential contents like water or sacrificial offerings. As Christ’s followers, we too should graciously accept and share divine gifts with others.
- Remember our human fragility. If misused or broken, pots became useless. But God miraculously transforms humble clay vessels into containers of divine power and truth. We should avoid pride in earthly strength and boast only in God’s glory.
- Be ready for holy service. Pots meticulously prepared and set apart for sacred purposes reflect our calling to serve whenever God calls us, no matter how routine the task may seem.
By prayerfully meditating on the pots throughout Scripture, we gain spiritual insights into honoring God in everyday living while anticipating wonders He can accomplish through these earthly vessels. Let us be open clay in the Potter’s hands!
The Potter’s Wheel Illustrates God’s Sovereignty
One of the most vivid biblical depictions of pots comes through the metaphor of the potter’s wheel. Both Jeremiah and Zechariah receive visions from God involving this common sight, one very familiar to their ancient audiences who would have directly witnessed potters at work.
The process required great skill as the potter centered the clay on the wheel’s rotating axis, then applied just the right pressure and guidance to mold it into the desired shape and functional capacity, whether a simple jug or an ornate vase. The pliable clay yielded to the potter’s discerning touch through each stage from lump to finished vessel.
Jeremiah recounts when God instructed him to visit a potter’s workshop for a dramatic object lesson:
“This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.’ 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.’” (Jeremiah 18:1-6 NKJV)
The flawed vessel represents God’s people who have become misshapen through sin, requiring the Potter’s intervention to reform and redeem them. Zechariah receives similar visionary assurance of God’s power to restore His precious but damaged creation:
“Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. He asked me, ‘What do you see?’ I answered, ‘I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.’
I asked the angel who talked with me, ‘What are these, my lord?’ He answered, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ ‘No, my lord,’ I replied. So he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.
‘What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’’
Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?’” (Zechariah 4:1-10 NKJV)
The vision promises God will shape His people’s character and their circumstances through His gracious sovereignty, just as the skillful potter forms the clay.
For contemporary Christians, observing the potter’s wheel demonstrates God’s loving yet firm hand in molding us and guiding our lives. As the Apostle Paul says, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10 NKJV). Though the pressures of the wheel’s spinning may feel intense, we can trust the Potter’s wisdom and yield to His perfect will at work transforming us.
The Potter’s Field as Graveyard for Strangers
A final biblical reference to potters and their craft occurs in the accounts of Judas Iscariot’s death after betraying Jesus. When Judas attempted to return the thirty silver coins he was paid for handing over the Messiah, the chief priests refused the money:
“Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ And they said, ‘What is that to us? You see to it!’ Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.’ And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.” (Matthew 27:3-8 NKJV)
This Potters’ Field, purchased as a burial place for foreign travelers who died in Jerusalem, likely acquired its name because the ground originally contained pits to extract clay for pottery making. The priests sarcastically remark Judas might as well donate the blood money to a graveyard for outsiders like himself. Jesus had valued His betrayer’s life to the last, but the scheming priests saw Judas as a tool worth less than the pots shaped from local clay.
How do we value the dignity and potential of those the world disregards? Do we treat as disposable those whose lives seem marred or aimless? Like the Potter who reshapes damaged vessels, Christ’s grace touches the outcast and the stranger, transforming lives the world has discarded. As His followers, we are called to see each person as someone still held in the hands of a loving Creator, however humble their present state.
The Broken Alabaster Jar’s Extravagance
Though pottery served routine functions, more ornate and expensive versions appeared at special occasions, as in the poignant story of a nameless woman anointing Jesus with costly ointment poured from an alabaster jar. The Gospels record how she brought this vessel filled with pure nard perfume to honor the Messiah:
While Jesus was in Bethany reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke open the jar and poured it on Jesus’s head. Some who were there were saying to one another indignantly, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor!” And they rebuked her harshly.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (Mark 14:3-9 NKJV)
Why would Jesus defend as “beautiful” such extravagance in breaking this expensive jar and pouring out its contents? Couldn’t the cost be better spent on feeding the poor? Jesus recognizes the profound meaning behind this prophetic act. The broken alabaster jar symbolizes His coming sacrificial death that will break His earthly body and pour out His holy blood to offer salvation. The woman’s lavish gift foreshadows the ultimate price Christ’s atonement will soon pay to redeem humanity.
This remarkable story invites us to consider: Do we give our finest to the Lord, or offer Him only spare change left over after pursuing our own interests? Are we willing to “break open” and pour out our lives unconditionally before Him as Christ did for us? The woman’s humble worship assumed nothing, while freely giving everything in pure devotion. May our own lives and offerings, however simple, overflow with such wholehearted love for our Lord.
Throughout Scripture, earthen pots — so basic we may overlook them — point to profound spiritual truths that can shape our lives as followers of Christ. Whether forming clay, carrying water, cooking meals, or making sacrifices, these vessels of biblical cultures connected daily living with worship and opened channels for God’s provision and blessing. The qualities of malleable potter’s clay and fragile fired pottery shed light on God’s sovereignty as well as our frail humanity. Most importantly, simple pots modeled ultimate service by completely emptying their contents to nourish their owners. May these lessons of pots in the Bible instruct our own willingness to pour ourselves out each day in use to God and others.