If you have ever tried to mold clay on a spinning wheel, you will know that it is not an easy task. Shaping the clay requires steady hands, technique, skill, patience, timing, and vision, or else the vase you intended to make will end up looking like a coin dish (which is what most of us novices end up with). Molding clay is a hard job on its own. But imagine trying to mold clay that was unruly, stiff no matter how much water you gave it, and had a knack for talking back to you. You might want to find another piece of clay, right?
Throughout Israel’s history, God’s people had been unruly in God’s hands. Though God had showered Israel with His grace and had set them apart to be a holy people, Israel was a stiff-necked people and stubborn against God’s will (see Deut. 9:4-7). This stubbornness would lead to their downfall and the disintegration of their relationship with God as chronicled in Scripture.
And yet, in today’s passage, the prophet Isaiah prays on behalf of Israel seeking God’s mercy, acknowledging Israel’s sin, but also recognizing Israel’s place: in God’s hands to be molded and shaped for His work. Outside of God’s hands, Israel can do nothing. Even their own “works of righteousness” are like filthy rags (v6). But in God’s hands, Israel can be purposed for true works of righteousness. All Israel must do is surrender themselves into the hands of God to be fashioned according to His will and not their own.
For us, the prayer is no different. We may not want to be in God’s hands because the way He molds us may be in stark contrast to how we might have pictured our lives. Yet, we must remember that we belong to God–that He is our Father, and we are His children, that He is the potter and we are the clay. And if we would only just trust God to have His way with us, we would be able to see how God can make something beautiful of our lives.