19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”
21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,
23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory-
24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? – Romans 9:19-24
Paul uses the illustration of a potter making a vessel. Jeremiah was also given the same illustration (Jeremiah 18:2). The thing being made can not tell the potter how to make it. We are made from the dust of the earth and have been likened to clay vessels in the scriptures:
Remember that you have made me like clay; and will you return me to the dust? – Job 10:9
But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. – Isaiah 64:8
My wife told me something interesting about pottery. She told me that as a potter works with the clay it gets harder and harder, and eventually when it is really hard it gets fired and then it stays that way forever. That’s the point of no return. And only the potter knows when it’s really ready to be fired. Some potters wait for years before they fire their work. The clay is already set but it’s just finding the right time and the right kiln. There are so many spiritual parallels in this interesting fact. God knows what he is doing to make us the people He wants us to be. He allows us to make decisions that can be both good and bad for us. But, ultimately He wants us to turn to Him and repent. He is merciful, not wanting any to perish:
So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. – Matthew 18:14
But, if we continue to harden our hearts we will find it hard to change our ways until we get to that point when out lives will be tested by fire:
each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. – 1 Corinthians 3:13
Just like the potter chooses when to fire the clay no one knows the day or the hour when we will face God, either when we pass from this life or when Jesus returns:
But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. Matthew 24:36
The way to a potter keeps their clay soft is to keep it covered and watered. The way we keep out hearts soft before the Lord is have our sins covered by the blood of Jesus (Matthew 26:28) and to let the water of the word of God satisfy our thirst.
but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. – John 4:14
This whole issue is about glory. Our divine purpose is to give God the glory. If we are worrying about what type of vessels we are and how we, the clay, should be designed then we are wanting the glory for ourselves:
For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. – Psalm 84:10
God wants to “make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory”. He has called us and will reveal His glory through those who believe in Him. He is making us to be who He wants us to be. We are in His hands and there is no safer place to be.