The Potsherd in Isaiah 45:9
The Biblical World
Woe to him that striveth with his Fashioner! Potsherd with earthen potsherds! Doth the clay say to its fashioner: What makest thou ? And the work to its worker: Thou hast no hands?" THE beauty and force of the passage in its context may justify the suggestion in this note of an interpretation not found in the commentators. Text and version present some difficulties. In the last line, in accordance with the parallelism and the rendering of the LXX, following Duhm and St. Paul, who quotes the
... age in Rom. 9 : 20, we may read: 'ib3 b$' "the thing formed to him that formed it, Thou hast no hands." According to the common interpretation, ib is used in the first half of the verse, with but two words intervening, in two quite different senses, "with" and "among." The former is most in accord with ordinary usage, and some of the old commentators find this meaning in both cases here. Mariana, pointing '^tn as a participle, renders: "like a potsherd striving with potters of earth." And Calvin, followed by Vitringa, tacitly repeats the verb in the jussive rendering: "let a potsherd strive with earthen potsherds." "As our popular saying runs: 'Que chacun se prenne a son pareil.'" Although neither of these suggestions has found favor with recent commentators, they seem not harsher than the accepted rendering. Duhm thinks the writer ought to have substituted 1Y for the second rN ! The primary question of interpretation is the reference of the figure of the potsherd. Evidently Yahweh is the potter, but who is the vessel of clay, warned against blasphemous self-assertion ? Commentators have uniformly told us that it is Israel in the midst of gracious promises of deliverance refusing to acquiesce 252 This content downloaded from 129. :9 in the divine way of release, murmuring at the tardy advent of the deliverance or the nationality of the deliverer. None of the reasons adduced is in any way suggested by the context or natural to Israel on the eve of restoration. Nor does the juxtaposition in vs. i of "my sons" and "the work of my hands" and the reference to a father in vs. IO prove that the "work" of vs. 9 is Yahweh's son Israel. For though we may not, with recent commentators, omit vs. IO and "concerning my sons" in vs. I as inapposite glosses, the figure in vs. IO includes mother as well as father, and a literal interpretation is impossible, and in vs. I "the work of my hands" is not the same as "my sons " or as the "work " of vs. 9, but evidently refers to the "things to come" of the previous line, the promised deliverance. "Command ye me" of vs. I makes impossible a rebuke to Israel in vs. 9, unless we correct the text or mistranslate, as do many, "commit to me the fate of my people." The more remote context is not less unfavorable to the popular interpretation. "The Book of Comfort" throughout warns Israel rather against distrust than presumption. The course of thought renders plain the reference in vs 9. The deliverer of vs. 13, unnamed since vs. I, is evidently in the writer's mind throughout the section. Isa. 44: 24-28 says, "I, Yahweh, will surely deliver Israel through Cyrus ;" 45: I-8, "Cyrus can do it, for I have equipped him and sent him forth ;" 45 : 9-13, "Cyrus must do it, and will, for I am his maker." It is the mighty Persian conqueror who is the potsherd, helpless except to do his maker's will. He may think himself more than mortal, for Yahweh has called him to "trample upon rulers as the potter that treadeth the clay" (41: 25), but he is only an earthen vessel of Yahweh's making, like other earthen vessels. Let him strive with them and shatter them if he will, but let him not rebel against the commands of his maker. Yahweh has created greater things than he, even heaven and earth. Yahweh has commanded vaster armies than his, the whole host of heaven (vs. 12). All this might, divine and human, is at Israel's command for blessing (vs. 12). No reward can the Persian demand, for the deliverance is not his work, but Yahweh's (vs. 13). Heathen though he 253 This content downloaded from 129.