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THE HEIGHTS AND THE DEPTHS OF MERCY
ON THE POTTER AND THE CLAY, THE FIELD AND ITS DAY
AS IN JEREMIAH, ZECHARIAH AND MATTHEW -
where teaching is
See also The Bright Light ... Ch. 3
In the above reference to The Bright Light, we have one of a series of Chapters on the exposition of Zechariah, from the first to the last. Here in its turn, we come to Zechariah 11, and the nearer and surrounding prophecy, in some detail. Here in this current volume, however, the stress is on the mercy of God outdistancing judgment, which is not surprising since "He delights in mercy," as in Micah 7:18ff.. His is not a penchant to behead, making capital out of decapitation. If past all mercy, as with the Canaanites for those repentance He long waited, as in Genesis 15, then judgment may come: but He does not leap to it, as to mercy. And when He does act, as in II Chronicles 36, there is abundant reason, the wilfully blind being overtaken by their reckless dismissal of Him or His ways, and in particular, His mercy.
Yet how He wooed Israel to return! as in Jeremiah, with a grand display of the depth of it through the prophet as in Jeremiah 9, 17. Yet they would not. Their minds, at the national level, were otherwise set. Notice that in terms of Jeremiah, when the nation duly fell as predicted to the Babylonians, the prophet was given liberty to receive liberty and care; but drawn for compassion for those still left of the slaughtered city, he did not take this, but stayed with them, and indeed, they were still as recalcitrant as ever, though faced with the fruit of their folly in the ruin about them (cf. Jeremiah 42-43). Though having sought the will of the Lord in their abasement, through Jeremiah at this point, they did not like it when they heard it (to stay where they were), but declared, We will follow whatever comes out of our own mouths!
That of course was an almost comic referral to doing whatever comes out of the mouth of the Lord, almost a burlesque in their pride, by which they purchased their downfall.
So Jeremiah is a good illustration, and only one of many readily clustered, of mercy in its tenderness and acuity seeking to avoid judgment, on the part of the Lord. In Zechariah, beautifully as in Chs. , there is illustrated the ways of the Lord in the clearance of sin, but the prophecy moves through many glades of mist to the prediction of the betrayal of God, indeed the sale of God to come in the nadir of their national history. The irony and the woe has been traced in The Bright Light as noted above, but there is a phenomenal exposure of mercy even in the MIDST of the reference to their coming crime. Let us then now focus on this, in more detail.
In what way then does mercy show itself ? How was it displayed even in the prediction of the betrayal for 30 pieces of silver of the Messiah, which was to come, and duly did come as is the case with all divine directives concerning prophecy, unless mercy interrupt the process, as in the dramatic case of Jonah, where repentance cancelled the coming destruction of Nineveh. This vast brake is available, but the Lord knows when it can be applied in all integrity, and with all joy.
We now turn to Matthew 27:9, and having digested the Bright Light Chapter, one is ready to proceed.
Why does Matthew in citing mostly from Zechariah, yet mention Jeremiah ? The short answer is that the field, not mentioned in Zechariah, but figuring in Jeremiah, is the chief point of emphasis, and the more major prophet is the one cited. Archer makes the point that the same sort of literary approach appears in Mark 1:2-3, where only Isaiah is mentioned in "a combined quotation from Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3)." Onlyl the more famous of the two prophets in view, he notes, is mentioned (Encyclopedia of Bible DIfficulties, p. 345). He makes the observation that different literary criteria are followed in different ages, and that these may relate to the meaning of transcription.
The point being made in Matthew, in singling out Jeremiah, appears to be this.
As would be well known, a prophet, Zechariah spoke of the wonder of the Messiah in terms of a princely price to be offered for His betrayal. In a profound irony, it is shown as a kind of wage to give for all His abundant services, during His Messianic ministry to the people of Israel, which also was predicted. A 'wage' for this is death, a strange payment. It meant as with the Mafia type procedure, a payment for murder, and hence the irony is vast.
But, the citation of the only reference to the "field", the potter's field, from Jeremiah indicates, there is a deep and compelling symbolism attached to this prophecy. There is no mention of a field in Zechariah (not noted in the reference), but in fact this is a crucial element about that very thing in a major prophet. Considering the citing from Jeremiah where there is both a reference to the potter and to the potter's field, it is necessary to connect these inherent symbolisms, fully to understand this passage and to gain the reek of its portent, shown in Matthew, and intended by the Lord.
The potter in Jeremiah's presentation in Ch. 18 (and his words are cited in Matthew), was showing two things. First, there was the solemn intimation, quite explicit, that God would deal with Israel as in the breach of a piece of pottery, a breaking of its hard and brittle surfaces. It was a sign of tragedy because of intransigence in evil. The potter could remould the clay, but when it is dry and brittle, breach is its destiny; although a newly formed product is a possibility, the rupture of the old is categorical. So, the teaching was in Jeremiah, did Israel now face a shattering, as of pottery, little able to resist, a ruinous result.
Secondly, in this same Chapter in Jeremiah, the suffering of Jeremiah is a type of Christ, with anguish and wrongful estrangement from him on the part of many, as he sought to warn the people from the Lord, and appeal to them to repent in time, with every effort. A great example is seen in Jeremiah 17, where mercy being eagerly sought from the Lord, the prophet is given a wonderful opportunity for deliverance to present to the people: there was provided a simple way out, a short test. Would they follow it ? But they still would not come to the Lord, and go in His godly ways as they should, and for which they themselves had been crafted, though with scope for spiritual independence in will, that nothing could hide.
Judgment reeks in Jeremiah 19 and the pathos of Jeremiah's great concern for those seeking to destroy him, an unwelcome prophet, is made more manifest yet, in Jeremiah 20, showing an increase in the sense of Jeremiah as a type of Christ, and binding the context re potter to these things more energetically yet.
Then in Jeremiah 32, we come to the highly relevant feature, not mentioned in Zechariah, but part of the now marshalled symbolic background as in Matthew 27. There is the field.
There we find a field is bought outside Jerusalem, for a specified sum of money, right in the midst of stampeding calamity for the nation, and indeed, of a take-over of the city so that this field would appear worthless, and it seemed pure folly to buy it. But the Lord assures Jeremiah that Israel would be back, norms would recur, and the apparent folly would in fact be vindicated as an act of relevant faith. Indeed, and naturally, it would have a prophetic portent, for would not the prophet be all but insane UNLESS God would indeed do these things, restore the broken, recover the lost, and was Jeremiah not willing to appear daft in his purchase, so that he put his money where his faith was, and was no mere waffler!
So the element of the buying of the field in symbolic portent is made clear in the quotation in Matthew, not only moving past some of the elements in Zechariah, but moving in symbolic significance to the pithy point, the field. These things are linked in prophetic sequence to one another, and the high point of irony in Zechariah, and provide a basis for the matter of Zechariah, the coin and the temple, and it is this which the mode of quotation emphasises. Near to the temple was the potter on the one hand, and near to the temple authority was the sale on the other! The Old Temple symbol spoke to the heart of prophecy, the day of the Messiah.
In short: in a combination of symbols of fame and note in Jeremiah, and a well-known passage (in Zechariah), there comes the complete message in its sources and resources. Not only was there a prediction of 30 pieces of silver being the precise sum required to get off the sale of the Lord, in the God sale by the national authorities, and not only is this regarded as wages - payment for services rendered (of course in a devastating expression of blind betrayal of their own blessing, and thus of God), but it was part of a shattering to come for themselves, as in the case of Jeremiah 18-19, one given in a setting where the prophet had had various elements of close comparison as a type of Jesus the Christ now definitively betrayed as a finale to this type of thing.
Secondly, not only was the prediction profound as in Zechariah, but it went further a second time in the symbolism of substance in Jeremiah. The FIELD element as in the association with Jeremiah's own involvement both as in the progressive sequence of Jeremiah 19 and 32, was also this. Just as the field was purchased like a total loss, something scarcely credible, only by faith to be perceived by Jeremiah as reasonable, so Jerusalem, the antitype of the field in Christ's day, would be overrun, ruined, a thing apparently hopeless and a dead drama. Yet despite this symphony of horror, again would come the time when just as the slain, the murdered Messiah was drubbed into death, He and eventually Jerusalem with Him, would come again to power, overcoming death, and it is He, His resurrection (cf. Isaiah 26:19) who would give the initial confirmation of this. The land would return and Christ would exhibit His immortality, while mercy would supervene at the end!
In Jeremiah and towards him, it hinged on the word of God quite explicitly in the chapters noted; and in its culmination, it hinged on the Christ Himself and His resurrection and intended action for Israel, and provision for all symbolically related. This is now in this first instance, it is swathed in symbol, in the second, it is portrayed in power.
It is always well to try to see the point, in the spirit and thrust of a passage in deeper writings, and the Bible in this excels all, and instead of raising a distrait eyebrow, it is pertinent to ponder what is in mind, from the Maker of minds. From this, one learns.
How great is the mercy which is stopped by nothing, though it will not turn into exploited desire, where even death is not a final barrier, where life has a profundity in retention as in invention.