Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘He has no hands’? Isaiah 45:9
“A potsherd among the potsherds” NetBible translates this “a mere shard among the other shards on the ground.” That really hit me when I read this verse. We are mere broken shards laying on the ground. Wow, that is a very humbling picture. But the wonderful thing is that Jesus, Messiah, was described the same way.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Psalms 22:15
Psalm 22 is the great Psalm describing the Crucifixion. It includes “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”
Jesus became a broken shard of pottery for us. Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6-7). Human likeness, like the other shards on the ground.
The Hebrew word translated potsherd is cheres or heres (חֶרֶשׂ). It means both an earthenware or clay vessel, and a broken shard or potsherd. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) includes this definition:
“This word, which occurs seventeen times, represents the potter’s product (Isa 45:9) which is dried and fired (Psa 22:15 [H 161), or even glazed (Pro 26:23). Bottles (baqbuq), bowls (ke li), and pots/pitchers (nebel) are made of it. It is in vessels made of heres, that documents were stored (Jer 32:14). heres can apply generally to a vessel (Pro 26:23), or it can mean pieces of potsherd at least large enough to use to carry a coal from a hearth or dip water for a drink (Isa 30:14).”
As I read this definition, I realized that Jesus was all of these for us. He was a clay pot (a human being) in which the Word was stored.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
He was the broken potsherd large enough to carry the coals from the altar of sacrifice. The coals that cleanse like the angel did for Isaiah.
With it [the live coal] he [the angel] touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah 6:6-7
He was the broken potsherd large enough to give us his living water.
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” John 4:10
Cheres is a variation of a word whose root is “to scrape,” and means itch and an eruptive disease. Job took a shard of broken pottery – a cheres – to scrape his boils of the “serous or lymph-like fluid” [which] is occasionally “acrid and offensive.”i
Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. Job 2:8
In like way, Jesus touched the lepers. He puts his healing hands on us at our most needy and disgusting.
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Matthew 8: 3
But the most wonderful, the most amazing thing about the heres is this:
“Being porous, it [heres] absorbed the fat of holy things and the uncleanness of unclean things. Thus it was to be broken when contacted by either holiness or uncleanness (Lev 6:28 [H 211; Num 15:12).” — L.J.C., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament
Jesus was both. He was a pottery jar carrying God’s holiness, but he was also a pottery jar which absorbed and carried the uncleanness of our sin. He was broken after coming in contact with our uncleanness. We are broken when coming in contact with his holiness.
Oh Lord Jesus, let us be broken with your holiness! Let us be like you, Jesus, storing the Word in our hearts, touching the lepers, offering the life-giving water, carrying the live coals of your righteousness and sin-cleansing power of the blood. Let us be broken with you as shards on the ground.
Image from WikimediaCommons, Broken vases on Holy Saturday in Corfu
i Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament