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The Ruined Linen Waistband
The LORD instructed Jeremiah to buy a linen waistband (Jer 13:1). The LORD also says that he is to wear it around his waist and that the waistband is not to be put in water. In this command we have the first example of an act Jeremiah is to perform in order to thereby give important teaching to the people. More such acts will follow. Later, Ezekiel is instructed to use similar means during his ministry in Babylon (Eze 4:1-17; Eze 5:1-4). The act is the preaching. Jeremiah, as an obedient servant, does what the LORD has said to him. He buys the waistband and puts it around his waist (Jer 13:2). The fact that the waistband must be around the waist is mentioned three times.
Jeremiah is a priest and a waistband is part of the priestly garment (Lev 16:4). The waistband is a symbol of service (Lk 12:35; 37; Jn 13:4-5) and here of priestly service, for it symbolizes Israel being dedicated by the LORD to His service (Exo 19:6a). The linen is a picture of righteous deeds of God’s people (Rev 19:8). That the waistband should not come in water – to be washed – is because the service has become unclean. No confession of sins has taken place. The people live on in their sins while professing to serve the LORD.
After some time, the word of the LORD comes to Jeremiah for the second time (Jer 13:3). He has now worn the waistband for some time. It has become a part of his garment. He has also paid a price for it. The waistband is his property. That it is referred to “the second time” emphasizes its direct connection to the first time. The new instruction is that he is to go to the Euphrates and there hide the waistband he has bought in a crevice of the rock (Jer 13:4).
The journey to the Euphrates is long, for the river is over a thousand kilometers from Jerusalem. It will take about a month of walking to get there. Because of that distance, it has been questioned whether the Euphrates is meant here. According to some, it could also be a small river with that name that lies five to six kilometers from Anathoth. Nevertheless, in any case, the thought of the Euphrates River is important because it flows along Babylon and Assyria. That puts the waistband in connection with Babylon and Assyria as areas where it is ruined, just as the connection with these countries ruined Israel. The ten tribes were carried away by Assyria and the two tribes will be carried away by Babylon.
Jeremiah does as the LORD has commanded him and hides the waistband by the Euphrates (Jer 13:5). “After many days” the LORD tells him to go to the Euphrates again (Jer 13:6). He is to pick up the waistband and take it with him. It is the waistband of which the LORD has commanded him to hide there. In these words the LORD emphasizes that it is the waistband that he has been commanded to hide. This points to a time of disappearance of the people. The words “after many days” also point to that. They refer to the time of the people’s captivity at the Euphrates, to which they will be taken.
He digs and takes the waistband from the place where he had hidden it (Jer 13:7). It turns out that the waistband was ruined and unusable. It has decayed and is no longer good for anything. The application is that the captivity will not change anything about the condition of the heart of the people. Only sincere self-judgment can do that.
As Jeremiah stands with the ruined and useless waistband in his hands, the word of the LORD comes to him (Jer 13:8). He tells him the meaning of what he had to do and of the result (Jer 13:9). As the waistband is ruined, so the LORD will “destroy the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem”. They have boasted of their service and glory, but it has become a worthless service and their glory or splendor has been destroyed. Jerusalem has boasted even more than Judah and has become even more apostate.
Becoming proud of what has been given is a horrible sin. It is the primal sin, the sin of satan. Pride is a great sin for the Christian, especially for those in a position of leadership. Everywhere in Scripture we are called to be humble and to humble ourselves.
The LORD calls His people “this wicked people” (Jer 13:10). This refers to their mindset, their mind. Their wickedness is evident in their refusal to listen to His words. Instead, they follow their hardened hearts and go after other gods to which they bow down. Their refusal to serve Him and instead serve idols ruined them and made them worthless to the LORD. A people who act like this are no longer good for anything, just like the waistband.
What a contrast this is to what God purposed with His people. He made this people cling to Himself, like the original purpose of the waistband (Jer 13:11). So close is it to Him, “a people near to Him” (Psa 148:14b). He has brought them so close to Himself, that they might be to Him “a people, for renown, for praise and for glory”. He has wanted that His people would be a people to Him, His possession, serving Him devotedly. This they would do if they would cling to Him Who attaches them to Himself (Deu 10:20; Deu 11:22).
He has also wanted that they should be to Him for renown, that is, that they should show His features to the nations around them. He has wanted that they would be to Him for praise, full of gratitude for all the privileges that possess a people who have Him as God. Such a people would radiate His glory. “But they did not listen.” Therefore, they will suffer the fate of the waistband: they will be put away, ruined, disposed of.
The waistband around Jeremiah’s waist represents Israel and Judah. As long as the waistband is around his waist, it takes the place of praise and glory. When it is loosened from the waist and buried, it becomes completely useless. Likewise, Israel and Judah have become useless after they have separated themselves from the LORD to go and serve false gods, the idols.
God has given the church, like Israel, a high position (1Pet 2:9). Shouldn’t what is said here of Judah and Jerusalem be said of the mass of the church, and especially of those who profess to stand on the foundation of the church? How much we miss when we do not listen to the words of God, and how much God also misses then.
The Wine of God’s Anger
Jeremiah is instructed to speak a word from the LORD to the apostate people (Jer 13:12). The word “therefore” makes it clear that this new word directly follows on from the previous one. This new word is a “picture word”. It is about jugs that will be filled with wine. The empty jug is a picture of their emptiness. When the jug is filled with wine, it is not a picture of being full of the joy of the LORD, but of being full of the anger of the LORD. The reaction of the people shows that they understand nothing of the picture. They think only of literal jugs and literal wine. Of course, they know that each jug will be filled with wine when the wine harvest has arrived.
Then comes the sobering explanation (Jer 13:13). Jeremiah is to tell them on behalf of the LORD that just as every jug is filled with wine, so all the inhabitants of the land, up to the highest placed and most privileged, will be filled with the wine of His judgment. The people are compared to empty jugs. The judgments coming on them through the Babylonians will render them so helpless and confused that they will feel and act like drunken people. The mention of “David on his throne” indicates how much his descendants have departed from this man of whom God can say, that he is “a man after My heart” (Acts 13:22).
The LORD Himself will dash the jugs, that is, the people (Jer 13:14; cf. Isa 30:14). Relationships of confidence, such as those between fathers and children, will be broken in pieces. Judgment will be carried out without any mercy from the LORD. No one will be spared. It will be carried out without any act of mercy from the LORD. The whole people will be brought to ruin.
Warning Against Pride
The troubles arise when God’s people, instead of listening to the LORD and taking to heart what He has spoken, act haughty (Jer 13:15). Haughtiness is the primal sin and leads to doing one’s own will. If “the LORD has spoken”, that should be the end of all self-conceit and self-will. But God’s people do not care what the LORD has spoken and act haughtily.
In His grace, He points this out once again. Jeremiah calls for them to give glory to the LORD their God (Jer 13:16), which means confessing their sins (cf. Jos 7:19). They must give up their pride. If the people do not, God will bring darkness, that is, spiritually darkness. A person who is in darkness cannot orient himself. They will not know how to walk without stumbling (Jn 11:10).
Even when it is only dusk and thus not yet utter darkness, their feet will still stumble on the mountains. When they find that darkness surrounds them and they long for light, the LORD will make their light a shadow of death and turn it into darkness. This is because they seek the light, the outcome from their distress, not from Him, but from others.
Whoever refuses the light and chooses the darkness (cf. Jn 3:19-20) is given over to the darkness he has chosen. So it will be, in an even more terrible sense, with the very gifted professing Christianity after the church is caught up to be with the Lord forever. Then “God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (2Thes 2:11-12).
Jeremiah is again overwhelmed by the persistent rebellion and pride of the people (Jer 13:17). He feels the sin of his people deep within him. He cannot express his grief openly, for they would not understand. He expresses his intense sorrow in hidden places. Paul also has intense sorrow over the decay of the church, evidenced by self-seeking (Phil 3:18-19). Do we feel the same sorrow and weep over it in secret when we see believers going a wayward way?
Jeremiah already sees in the spirit that “the flock of the LORD” has been taken captive. He sees how his prophecy is coming true. However, this does not fill him with a certain satisfaction, but with deep sorrow. His deep love for his people is evident in his deep emotions. It is the deep love he shares with the LORD, Who bears the greatest sorrow about what He must do to His people, His flock. The expression “flock” indicates that the LORD has always cared for His people like a Shepherd, but they are unwilling sheep who reject His care.
Disaster in the Royal House
Jeremiah is instructed by the LORD to address the king and the queen mother – because she is his counselor – directly, which is something exceptional (Jer 13:18). He must call upon them to humble themselves. This most likely refers to Jehoiachin and his mother Nehushta, who were taken to Babylon during the second deportation (2Kgs 24:8; 12; 15). This happened after a reign by Jehoiachin of only three months.
They no longer have governmental power, which is represented by the crown having come down, to which they themselves have attached such great significance. It is “your beautiful crown”. Now they are called upon to acknowledge with appropriate humility that all their fame and honor are gone, and that what suits them now is to take a lowly seat.
There is also nothing left to rule over. The cities in the Negev, the southern country, are already in the hands of the conqueror, which is Nebuchadnezzar. There is no one left to open the city gate for them, because except for Jerusalem, all of Judah has been carried into exile, without exception (Jer 13:19). It says it in powerful words “carried into exile, wholly carried into exile”.
Captivity and Shame of Judah
The people are called to lift up their eyes and see who is coming from the north (Jer 13:20). These are the Babylonians. They have taken away “the flock”, their “beautiful sheep” who have populated Jerusalem. The capital city is responsible for everything that happens to its inhabitants. The inhabitants here, as in Jer 13:17, are presented as a flock. It is their own fault that others rule over them, for they have taught those others to do so (Jer 13:21). They have allied themselves with the world and now bear the disastrous consequences. As a result, they are in great distress, which is compared to the distress a woman has when she is in childbirth.
They ask themselves, not out loud, but in their hearts, why these things have happened to them (Jer 13:22). Asking that question proves their blindness. What they wonder about unspoken, “in your heart”, is known to the LORD. He knows their heart and answers the question, although He also knows that it is not a question that comes from a repentant heart. He tells them that it is because of “the magnitude of your iniquity”. Therefore, it is their own fault that all this is happening to them.
Jerusalem has behaved like a harlot and will be treated that way. Stripping the skirts refers to the scandalous behavior of a harlot (cf. Jer 13:26; Isa 47:2-3; Eze 16:37). It is a great shame for a woman if that happens to her. The meaning of exposing the heels seems to be related to this. When the skirts are removed, the heels are the first to become visible. It indicates that Jerusalem, deprived of her honor and shame, will be led into exile barefoot.
Then Jeremiah uses a double example from nature to point out their unchanging tendency to sin (Jer 13:23; cf. Gen 6:5; Jer 17:9). He points to the dark skin of the Cushite and the spotted skin of the leopard. It is impossible for both the Cushite and the leopard to change their skin. Similarly, it is impossible for the inhabitants of Jerusalem to change their habit of sinning.
It is not about the depravity of the sinful nature, but about the hardening that results from living constantly in sin. Because of their continued life in sin, they have developed a habit of doing evil, with the result that they no longer know what doing good is. This example does highlight the importance of teaching children early on what the Lord requires of them and not teaching them to do evil.
The incorrigibly evil behavior of the people cannot but cause the LORD to scatter His people like drifting straw blown away by the desert wind (Jer 13:24). He will do that through the Babylonians. That is the lot the LORD gives His people, the portion He measures to them, because they have forgotten Him and trusted in falsehood (Jer 13:25). The “lot” and the “portion” refer to what the LORD originally has for them in the promised land. Now, because of their turning away from Him, their lot and their portion that He has allotted for them in His land are connected to the land of their captivity.
In what will happen to the people, their shame will be seen, their honor will be taken away from them (Jer 13:26). They have become adulterous and behaved like untamed horses (Jer 13:27). Unrestrained, they have indulged in “the lewdness” of their “prostitution”. They have turned their backs on the LORD to seek salvation with the idols of the nations around them. These idols they worshiped on the hills in the fields.
Jeremiah desperately wonders if Jerusalem should not be made clean. He introduces those words with the words “woe to you”. Their uncleanness brings disaster upon them. Yet the last words of this verse are words of hope. The question “how long will you remain?” signifies that this situation is coming to an end. Here we see a glimmer of hope for restoration.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Jeremiah 13". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27