Jeremiah 13: 1-11: The Ruined Loincloth
Thus said the LORD to me, “Go and buy yourself a linen loincloth, and put it on your loins, but do not dip it in water.” 2 So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the LORD, and put it on my loins. 3 And the word of the LORD came to me a second time, saying, 4 “Take the loincloth that you bought and are wearing, and go now to the Euphrates, and hide it there in a cleft of the rock.” 5 So I went, and hid it by the Euphrates, as the LORD commanded me. 6 And after many days the LORD said to me, “Go now to the Euphrates, and take from there the loincloth that I commanded you to hide there.” 7 Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. But now the loincloth was ruined; it was good for nothing.
8 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 9 Thus says the LORD: Just so I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. 10 This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own will and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing. 11 For as the loincloth clings to one’s loins, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, says the LORD, in order that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory. But they would not listen.
Throughout Jeremiah’s ministry words have failed to convince his listeners to turn from their path, and now God instructs Jeremiah to turn to a symbolic action. Whether Jeremiah actually makes the long journey to the Euphrates river multiple times or whether this is a dream sequence or whether he buries it at another river near his hometown (the Nehal Perat) is something that scholars will debate back and forth, but the symbolic nature of the Euphrates is powerful since it is where the people will cross as they go into exile. At issue within the symbolic representation of the loincloth is the people’s losing the meaning of their being set aside by God for a purpose.
Election, although freighted with all types of baggage with the way it has been used by religious groups, within both Jewish and Christian terms is not for the sake of the elect. The elect are there to be a blessing to the world around them, but too often they become fixated on their own status and they cling to that rather than clinging to the identity they were given by the one who set them apart. Israel was to cling to God and move in the ways God moved as a piece of clothing but to use Jesus’ words they have become like salt that has lost its saltiness and like the loincloth they have failed to be good for anything at this point. Perhaps it is only in this time where they are separated from God and feel that they are ruined that there can be the possibility of being made new and hearing and seeing once again who God is calling them to be.
Jeremiah 13: 12-14: Filled with Drunkenness
12 You shall speak to them this word: Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Every wine-jar should be filled with wine. And they will say to you, “Do you think we do not know that every wine-jar should be filled with wine?” 13 Then you shall say to them: Thus says the LORD: I am about to fill all the inhabitants of this land– the kings who sit on David’s throne, the priests, the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem– with drunkenness. 14 And I will dash them one against another, parents and children together, says the LORD. I will not pity or spare or have compassion when I destroy them.
Using the image of drunkenness indicates a state where decisions are impaired, where bad choices are frequently made and previous inhibitions may be cast aside. In the context of Jeremiah, the people have turned from God for a long time, they have chased other gods, other goods, trusting in their Davidic king, the temple and the city of Jerusalem to keep them safe. The very people who should be leading the people back to God: the priests, the prophets (other than Jeremiah and perhaps a few others) and the king on David’s throne have instead led them towards a path of destruction. The people are on a path to conflict with Babylon and yet they cannot see it yet, but the prophet sees. The people’s judgment and reactions are impaired unable to see the coming collision with the immovable object and God will not rescue them this time. Perhaps God is the immovable object, perhaps God is merely allowing the consequences of their previous bad choices to come to fruition like a person who after trying to prevent a person who is drunk from taking the wheel and sees them start the vehicle anyways. Regardless, God is no longer there offering a shield of protection to keep the people from hitting the bottom. God has begun to seem to the people no longer as their guardian but their oppressor and until they reach rock bottom they probably won’t be able to see God in a different light.
Jeremiah 13:15-17: A Prophet’s Plea
15 Hear and give ear; do not be haughty, for the LORD has spoken.
16 Give glory to the LORD your God before he brings darkness,
and before your feet stumble on the mountains at twilight;
while you look for light, he turns it into gloom and makes it deep darkness.
17 But if you will not listen, my soul will weep in secret for your pride;
my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears,
because the LORD’s flock has been taken captive.
At the center of Israel’s life is the calling to hear (shema) which goes back to Deuteronomy 6:4
Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone
And again in this plea the people are called to hear and give hear, to look, to listen and in language characteristic of Deuteronomy’s blessings and curses there is the other side of “if you will not listen” but instead of seeing the consequences for the people we see the consequences for the prophet. The prophet makes his plea as one who is brokenhearted reaching out yet again to the people who have failed to listen to him throughout his ministry and yet his soul still weeps for them and his eyes run down with tears because they will bear the effects of their inability to (or choosing not to) hear.
Jeremiah 13: 18-27 Corrupted Identity
18 Say to the king and the queen mother;
“Take a lowly seat, for your beautiful crown has come down from your head.”
19 The towns of the Negeb are shut up with no one to open them;
all Judah is taken into exile, wholly taken into exile.
20 Lift up your eyes and see those who come from the north.
Where is the flock that was given you, your beautiful flock?
21 What will you say when they set as head over you those whom you have trained to be your allies?
Will not pangs take hold of you, like those of a woman in labor?
22 And if you say in your heart, “Why have these things come upon me?”
it is for the greatness of your iniquity that your skirts are lifted up, and you are violated.
23 Can Ethiopians change their skin or leopards their spots?
Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.
24 I will scatter you like chaff driven by the wind from the desert.
25 This is your lot, the portion I have measured out to you, says the LORD,
because you have forgotten me and trusted in lies.
26 I myself will lift up your skirts over your face, and your shame will be seen.
27 I have seen your abominations, your adulteries and neighings,
your shameless prostitutions on the hills of the countryside.
Woe to you, O Jerusalem! How long will it be before you are made clean?
Everything is going to change and nothing is going to change. Everything external will change among the people, the king and queen mother will lose their places, places that were once open in hospitality will be closed by conflict, the honored will become dishonored and the powerful will find themselves powerless. But the prophet or God also has little hope or belief that anything will change, that the people’s identity has been corrupted and they are less likely to change their ways than a person is able to change the color of their skin or a leopard could have its spots removed. The desire is for the unclean to be made clean, but the 13th chapter ends in woe not knowing what it will take for the people to have a new heart placed within them and a new sense of identity as the people of God to live out of. They will need eyes to see and ears to hear, but for now the prophet sees them content in their deafness and blindness, unaware of their shame and their brokenness.