Session 9                                   THE DEATH OF JUDAS

HUNTING FOR CLUES IN JEREMIAH

The two great prophetic books of the Old Testament are Isaiah and Jeremiah.  Isaiah was the “prophet of doom” for the 10 tribes of the Northern Kingdom (8th Century B.C.).  Jeremiah was the “prophet of doom” for the Southern Kingdom (7th & 6th Century B.C.)  Isaiah’s  warnings had been ignored.  In 721 B.C., Assyria conquered the 10 northern tribes who were hauled away to places unknown and never heard from again!

Jeremiah spent most of his life warning the Jews in the Jerusalem area that if they did not change their ways, their fate would mirror what happened to their brethren in the north.  The people of the Southern Kingdom also ignored God’s warnings and were subsequently conquered by the Babylonians three different times, culminating in their exile to Babylon in 587 B.C.  

Thus our “clues” in Jeremiah need to be seen in the context of Jeremiah’s entire message of warning to those who will not listen to God.  Many scholars believe that Matthew is engaging in a literary device to focus our attention on pertinent details.1  We therefore focus our search in the context of Jeremiah’s references to “a potter.”

JEREMIAH 18—THE HOUSE OF THE POTTER

The story of the potter begins with Jeremiah 18:1-2, which says: 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 my words.” (ESV)   READ at least the first 12 verses of this chapter!

As the story unfolds in chapter 18, Jeremiah goes to the potter’s house and watches what the potter is doing.  (Clay is readily available in the Hinnom Valley—the probable location of this story!  See map.)  As the potter sculpts on his wheel, the lump of clay refuses to be shaped properly.  In frustration, the potter starts over from scratch in order to make a different vessel.  God’s message:  if the potter can do that to a lump of clay, I can do that with my people Israel who refuse to listen to me.  God tells them through Jeremiah, verse 6: “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?”  and verse 11:  “I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways.”

JEREMIAH 19—THE PROPHET’S ‘FIELD TRIP’!

The narrative about the potter continues in chapter 19.  Here Jeremiah is told to buy a pot2 from the potter.  Studying the map (print a copy and keep it handy!) and reading this chapter (all 15 verses) will help you understand what is going on! 3

Here are Jeremiah’s instructions (19:1-2):  “Go and buy a clay jar from a potter. Take along some of the elders of the people and of the priests and go out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate.”

The Valley of Ben Hinnom (aka “Hinnom Valley”) is identified as the narrow valley on the south edge of Jerusalem, shallowing to the west and turning northward.   This is the locale where Jeremiah follows God’s instructions in chapter 19.  THIS WILL BE CRITICAL!  Acquaint yourself with the features on the map.

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  1. In his treatise Der Weg der Gerechtigkeit, Untersuchung zur Theologie des Matthäus (The Way of Justice, an Investigation of the Theology of Matthew), p. 81, Georg Strecker states  “Die Angabe der Verfasserschaft Jeremiah ist darauf zurückzuführen dass die Sonderstellung des Spruches schon in des Sammlung durch die Erwähnung des Beziehungen zum Buch Jeremiah zu Recht erkannte.”  (“The statement of the authorship by Jeremiah is attributable to the fact that the special position of the saying was already properly recognized in the composition by the mention of the relationship to the Book of Jeremiah.”)  Strecker is one of many who believe the mention of Jeremiah in Matthew 27 is the Evangelist’s deliberate ploy.
  2. The Hebrew is onomatopoetic:  בַקְבֻּ֖ק (bakbuk) occurs in Jeremiah 19:1 and 10, and in I Kings 14:3 (“a jar of honey”).  A bakbuk (or baqbuq) is an earthen jar and the word suggests a gurgling sound (thus Brown, Driver & Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon, Unabridged, Oxford University Press, page 132, as well as others), perhaps of a long-necked jar common in the Iron Age.  For more information, see J.L. Kelso, The Ceramic Vocabulary of the OT, (Supplemental Study No. 5-6), Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 1948, p. 17 and figure 20.   
  3. The area around “Gordon’s Calvary” is the more probable location of Jesus’ Crucifixion.