The LORD instructed Jeremiah to go to the house of the “former” [the yo-tser, “potter,” one who “forms” things]. Jeremiah obviously understood that the LORD had a specific purpose in sending him there, so he was observant, watching the potter for sufficient time to observe him complete the forming of vessels from the clay he placed on the wheels. He also observed him begin to make a certain vessel, but when the “former” saw or foresaw something in the clay or in it’s response to his hands, he would use that same clay to form a different vessel, as he saw fit, according to what he perceived to be the nature of the clay. This did not necessarily mean that the different vessel was of no value to him, because it did indeed have value, but for whatever conditions existed in the clay, he chose not to form it into the original vessel he had in mind when he began.
The potter knew the clay and perceived aspects of its composition in a way that no one else knew. He understood that certain clays, clays which he himself had dug, were better for certain formings . . . some for fine vessels, some for not-so-fine vessels . . . but all the clay was good for something, unless its composition was so resistant to forming that he was unable to use it for any “formed” purpose. If it resisted forming, it would remain clay, just as the formed vessels he made were still clay, but its resistance to the desire of his hands meant that it would remain unformed clay. The potential had existed for it to become something more, something of use, something better, but lumps of hardness, or stones, or material too weak to hold the shape he desired, prevented the potter from using it as he had originally thought to do.
As long as the clay remained on the wheels, submitting itself to the hands and the choosing of the potter, hope remained that he could make it into some kind of useful vessel. If its composition made it necessary to remove the clay permanently from the wheels, it would never be formed by his hands, but it would conform itself to whatever the conditions where it lay. Still it was clay, but unsuited for his use. Then, too, if the imperfections in its composition were such that they allowed him to form it, and even proceed to the firing process, but they manifested their ill-effects and caused the vessel to crack or otherwise fail during the firing process, the hardness of the fired clay prevented it from being reformed into another vessel. Dependent upon the severity of the vessel’s failure during its firing, it may remain of minimal value to the potter or he might throw it out into the refuse heap, never to be used again.