The Woe of Indulgence: Thick Clay

Shall not all these take up a parable against him, And a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! how long? And to him that ladeth himself with thick clay!

— Habakkuk 2:6

There is much controversy over the translation of this verse. There are those who claim that the words, “thick clay,” should be translated, “pledges.” In this interpretation, the verse points to how the Babylonians were exacting pledges from the Israelites, causing the Israelites to be indebted to the Babylonians. Without getting too much into the details of the etymology of the word, the word translated “thick clay” in Habakkuk 2:6 is found no where else in the Bible. It very clearly joins two separate Hebrew words, “thickness” and “clay.” Those who claim this is an error in etymology are drawing from lexicons (dictionaries) based on flawed texts to begin with. But even if the Hebrew word is not a conjunction of the two words signifying “thick clay,” every Hebrew scholar would have to admit that the Hebrew word translated “pledge” four times in Deuteronomy 24 carries with it the idea of a “deposit.” Clay is a deposit. Clay is sticky, thick, and heavy and is deposited on the sides or the bottom of a creek or river where the current slows down.

I will admit that as far as interpretation and application goes, it would be far easier to discuss pledges and usury than to determine what “thick clay” has to do with the woe of indulgence. But I believe with all my heart that these were God’s chosen words for us. Aren’t you glad that the Bible remains true even when the meaning and application is far above us? Praise the Lord for His infinite wisdom and knowledge!

Clay was used in the prophecy of Jeremiah 18. Jeremiah was asked to go on a field trip to the potter’s house. When he arrived, he saw the potter working his hands into a lump of clay. The clay was forming beautifully into a vessel, but all of a sudden, the vessel was destroyed. The potter made a completely new vessel from scratch. The Lord used this illustration to make the point that the Lord, as the Potter, is able to remove and destroy any nation He so chooses, whether it was Israel or another heathen nation.

“O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them. Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good. And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart.”
—Jeremiah 18:6–12

The Lord likened Israel to this lump of clay. They had already made their decision: “We will walk after our own devices.” The beautiful vessel of Israel was destroyed and is now no better than an ugly lump of dull clay. Babylon had marched through the land of Israel and loaded himself with thick clay. Note that the prophecy of Jeremiah 18 did not apply to Israel alone. All nations are as this lump of clay. If the Lord would delight in building and establishing a nation and that nation obeys the voice of the Lord, that nation has the opportunity to be formed as a beautiful vessel in the hand of God. America was once a beautiful vessel in the hands of the Lord. Although America had its rough beginnings, there was still a group of people who desired God’s will in this country. Religious persecutions flourished until James Madison at the urging of a Baptist preacher introduced the Bill of Rights (it would do you well to spend some time studying the history of Baptist persecutions and the Baptist preacher named John Leland who was a great influencer of James Madison). America subsequently flourished under great, sweeping revivals. But I am afraid that Americans have decided to walk after their own devices. The people of America have chosen to follow the imaginations of their evil hearts.

Clay is sticky, thick, and heavy. It’s rather easy to guess where clay can be found. If you go to a small river or creek and look for a calm spot in the water not far after a rough current, you may be able to find clay on the bottom of the creek bed. If the creek makes a turn, you may be able to find clay in the bend. This is true even for creeks that have long been dried up. Clay is found where there is no more resistance and pressure. It is easy to harvest clay. Gold, silver, and diamonds, on the other hand, are difficult to obtain. It requires mining or long, hard hours of searching. The Babylonians had heaped to themselves thick clay. Clay is of little value to anyone but a potter. The Babylonians have weighed themselves down with worthless earth. Because of their indulgence, they have labored to heap to themselves material which will have no lasting value to them.

The many thousands of Babylonians thought they hit the jackpot. They had conquered God’s chosen people. They are now in possession of a rich, fat land. In their indulgence, they take back with them its treasures and its people, but what they actually bring with them into their homes are their own lost souls. Laden with the riches of this world so easily obtained, they carry an even larger burden and condemnation of sin.

If you are reading this right now, and you do not know Christ as Lord and Savior, I plead with you to consider where your sin will take you. There is absolutely no way that our good works can gain us entrance into heaven. We fail each and every day. Sin deserves punishment. But Jesus has offered Himself as a final Sacrifice for all sins. Accept His Sacrifice as your own.

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