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The Acted Out Prophecy Of The Linen Girdle (Jeremiah 13:1-11 ).
YHWH calls on Jeremiah to illustrate the present state of His people by an experiment with a linen girdle (waist cloth). He is initially to purchase the linen girdle, and then, wear it, after which, without washing it, he is to hide it, burying it in the cleft of a rock near the River Euphrates. When he later recovers the girdle it will be to discover that it has become mouldy.
The girdle represents Israel/Judah, and especially its consecration to YHWH, and its clinging to the loins the closeness between YHWH and His people through the covenant. The fact that it becomes mouldy when buried near the Euphrates is an indication of what has happened to His people through their association with Assyria and Babylon, and what will therefore also happen to them in the future. They too have become mouldy. They have failed to walk as His consecrated people, and have rejected the covenant. This is further emphasised by the fact that the girdle was not to be washed. The washing of the clothes was a symbol of sanctification (see e.g. Exodus 19:10). As a result they have become profitable for nothing.
There is a reminder here to us all that once we cease to walk with God and be obedient to His will our lives become marred and we become of no account.
‘Thus says YHWH to me, “Go, and buy yourself a linen girdle, and put it on your loins, and do not put it in water.”
Just as YHWH had bought His people out of Egypt, and had consecrated them to Himself, so Jeremiah was to buy a linen girdle and put it around him. And just as YHWH had united His people with Himself within the covenant, so Jeremiah was to unite himself with the girdle. The command not to put it in water simply indicated that nothing was to be done to remove the effects of this union. There was to be no element of ‘sanctification’. It was to be allowed to become grubby and was not to be laundered, just as His people had been rendered ‘unclean’ and separated from YHWH by their rebellious behaviour.
‘So I bought a girdle according to the word of YHWH, and put it on my loins.’
So Jeremiah did what YHWH had said. He bought a girdle and wore it round his waist, clearly for some time. This would have been done in a way which gave the matter full publicity. He was doing it as the prophet of YHWH.
‘And the word of YHWH came to me the second time, saying, “Take the girdle which you have bought, which is on your loins, and arise, go to the Euphrates, and hide it there in a cleft of the rock.” So I went, and hid it by the Euphrates, as YHWH commanded me.’
Then in accordance with YHWH’s word Jeremiah was to take the girdle and hide it by burying it (it later had to be dug up) in a cleft of the rock near the River Euphrates. This was a deliberate attempt to link the girdle with the kingdoms to the north, Assyria and Babylon, and to indicate that it was such contact that was, and would be, responsible for the deterioration of the girdle.
This would have involved a considerable journey, and some have doubted whether such an act would have been required of Jeremiah simply for the purpose of giving an illustration. However, we do have to recognise that in Judah’s eyes this physical representation of the situation would have been seen as much more than just an illustration but as an action guaranteeing the fulfilment of what was being described. It was an acted out prophecy, and the acting out would be seen as guaranteeing its fulfilment, whilst the very knowledge of what Jeremiah had done, and the distance that he had to travel, would have brought home to all who knew of it the seriousness of what was being revealed.
Some, however, have argued that prth indicated a local river, such as a river at Prh (see Joshua 18:23), possibly known locally in jest as ‘the Euphrates’ (prth). On the other hand, considering the seriousness of the message it may well have been felt necessary for the long journeys to be made, in order to underline that seriousness (compare how Isaiah went barefoot for three years (Isaiah 20:3) and Ezekiel had to lay on his side for over a year (Ezekiel 4:4-8) with a similar message in mind). The disappearance of the prophet for so long a time would in itself underline the seriousness of his message and cause questions to be asked, and the very arduousness of the journey would symbolise the horrors of the journey into exile..
‘And it came about after many days, that YHWH said to me, “Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take the girdle from there, which I commanded you to hide there.”
After the girdle had been allowed to remain buried for many days, Jeremiah was commanded to go Prth and dig it up.
‘Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and took the girdle from the place where I had hidden it, and, behold, the girdle was marred, it was profitable for nothing.’
And when he did so he discovered that, as we might have expected, the girdle had become mouldy. This was to be seen as the inevitable result of its connection with the country around the Euphrates. Some see this as indicating that the contact with the northern countries has marred Judah making it sinful and idolatrous and disobedient to the covenant. Others consider that its message is that having been carried away to the Euphrates in exile they will in the main moulder away there. For whilst eventually some few did make their way back, the majority did not do so but remained in exile. However the interpretation given below concentrates more on what YHWH will do to His people through the people who were linked with the Euphrates. It would result in the fact that their ‘pride’, their wealth, prosperity and national identity would be marred.
‘Then the word of YHWH came to me, saying,’
This experience was then made the subject of a word from YHWH.
“Thus says YHWH, In this same way will I mar the pride of Judah, and the great pride of Jerusalem.”
For YHWH declared that just as the linen cloth had become mouldy, so would the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. They would lose their wealth and prosperity, and their cherished independence, and would be humbled to the dust. They would no longer be able to see themselves as a proud and independent nation, and would no longer glory in what was theirs.
The word for ‘pride’ when used in this way is regularly linked to the fruitfulness of the land (Leviticus 26:19; Isaiah 4:2; Micah 2:2) and in Amos 6:8 is paralleled with their palaces. In Isaiah 23:9 it has more to do with honour. Thus it has reference to the glory of their fruitful fields, the glory of their palaces and of the court, and to glory of their honour.
“This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who walk in the stubbornness of their heart, and are gone after other gods to serve them, and to worship them, will even be as this girdle, which is profitable for nothing.”
Indeed they would be profitable for nothing. And this would be because of their evil doings in that they had refused to hear His words, but had rather walked in the stubbornness of their hearts, going after other gods to worship them. Like the mouldy girdle they had revealed themselves as useless and profitable for nothing and would therefore become that.
“For as the girdle cleaves to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave to me the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah, says YHWH, that they may be to me for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory, but they would not hear.”
But this was the very opposite of what He had intended for them, for what He had intended was that the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah (note the emphasis on their disunity) would be united with Him in the covenant, being His united people who brought honour and worship to His Name, and were to His praise and glory. They were to be His witness to the nations. However, it had not happened because they simply would not listen.
Section 4. YHWH Deprecates The Disloyalty Of His People To The Covenant, And Demonstrates From Examples Their Total Corruption, Revealing That As A Consequence Their Doom Is Irrevocably Determined, Something Then Represented By Jeremiah By Means Of Prophetic Symbolism (Jeremiah 11:1 to Jeremiah 13:27 ).
Commencing with the regular opening phrase ‘The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH --’ (Jeremiah 11:1), YHWH deprecates His people’s disloyalty to the covenant, and demonstrates from examples their total corruption, making clear that as a consequence their doom is irrevocably determined. This is followed by a symbolic action by Jeremiah, together with its interpretation, which reveals the certainty of their expulsion from the land. The section then closes with a woe expressed against Jerusalem.
Judah Are Likened To A Nation Of Prospective Inebriates As They Live Life To Excess And Are Warned Of What The Consequences Of Such Living Will Be (Jeremiah 13:12-14 ).
In a vivid metaphor YHWH now likens the people of Judah to wine jars which will be filled with wine, indicating excess and drunkenness, who will consequently smash against each other, leading up to their destruction. In the choice between flesh and spirit, worldliness and YHWH, they have chosen the flesh, and will reap what they have sown. Compare Paul’s comparison of drinking wine to excess with being filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18. The world ever has to face the choice between self-indulgence or true response towards God.
“Therefore you shall speak to them this word, ‘Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, Every earthenware wine-jar will be filled with wine,’ and they will say to you, ‘Don’t we certainly know that every earthenware wine-jar will be filled with wine?’ ”
In a typical Jeremaic to and fro YHWH likens ‘all the inhabitants of the land’ to wine jars which will be filled with wine, indicating their participation in excess and drunkenness, a picture which those inhabitants then naively misinterpret, taking YHWH’s words prosaically as signifying reference to a storage situation. (They have eyes but see not, ears but hear not - Jeremiah 5:21).
The words may have been a well known proverb indicating that everything finds its proper use, but with YHWH here deliberately giving it a deeper meaning. Others see it as a proverb guaranteeing prosperity, the harvests will be such that all jars made to contain it will be filled. But YHWH intends it to be used in a different way from normal as a symbol of their drunkenness and levity, and of the judgment coming on them.
“Then you will say to them, Thus says YHWH, Behold, I will fill all the inhabitants of this land, even the kings who sit on David’s throne, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, with drunkenness.”
Their misinterpretation is then brought out as YHWH makes His position clear. What He has been indicating was that the whole nation, including the Davidic king, the priests and the prophets, and all the inhabitants of the land would be filled with drunkenness, both physical and spiritual (compare Isaiah 29:9). It is describing a nation, together with both its political and religious advisers, living on the edge and to excess, and also drunk in idolatry. Drunkenness was a major problem of the age, and cheap wine often freely available (compare Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 5:22; Isaiah 28:7; Amos 2:12). The result will be that the pressures of the times, probably combined with the over-confidence of the people in the face of falsely optimistic prophecy, or possibly their fears in the face of Babylonian oppression, are seen as leading to excessive and uncontrolled behaviour. They have sowed to themselves in wine, they will reap in drunkenness. We might see here a repeating of the idea found in Isaiah 22:13 of, ‘Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die’.
But two further ideas may be in mind. The first is that of the receiving of YHWH’s judgments, something which is often depicted in terms of drinking wine in that it symbolises the anger of YHWH (Jeremiah 25:15-17; Isaiah 52:17). That also may be the idea here. It may be expressing the truth that ‘in the hand of YHWH there is a cup and the wine foams, it is full of mixture, and YHWH pours out of the same’ (Psalms 75:8; compare Revelation 14:10). The second is that of drinking of the wine of Babylon, the heavy wine of sophistication and false glory, something which explains why they will behave with such madness (Jeremiah 51:7).
“And I will dash them one against another, even the fathers and the sons together, the word of YHWH, I will not pity, nor spare, nor have compassion, that I should not destroy them.”
The idea here would appear to be that of wine jars clashing together and breaking (compare Isaiah 30:14), and is presumably a picture of their over indulgence being such that it leads to extreme and careless behaviour and attitudes, to in-fighting amongst themselves and to in-family quarrelling affecting the relationship between a father and his adult sons. Their living is seen as being like a riotous party in which all restraint has been removed. It may also signify political differences as the fathers recommend prudence and the sons are all out for taking up a position of proud independence in the face of Babylonian pressure. The consequence will, however, be destruction. Note the threefold assurance that YHWH will not step in and help. ‘I will not pity, I will not spare, I will not have compassion’. They have made their choice and their rebellion has gone too far.
A Final Appeal For Repentance Before It Is Too Late, For if They Do Fail To Respond Their Final Judgment Will Come Upon Them (Jeremiah 13:15-27 ).
The people are called on to look to YHWH while there is still a glimmer of light, because if they do not gross darkness will descend upon them, something which causes Jeremiah to weep at what is coming. The assumption then being made that they will refuse to respond, it results in advice being given to the monarchy to divest themselves of their signs of authority, an indication of subjugation, and the warning being given that the whole land even down to the Negeb will shortly be deserted. This is because those to whom they have cosied up (both their neighbours and especially Babylon) will take possession of them, with the result that they will be embarrassed and shamed, something pictured in graphic terms on the basis of their lascivious behaviour in the hills.
“Hear you, and give ear. Do not be proud. For YHWH has spoken.”
“Give glory to YHWH your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble on the mountains of gathering gloom (twilight), and, while you look for light, he turn it into the deep darkness, and make it gross darkness.”
If only they will turn and give glory to YHWH whilst there is still a glimmer of light all could be well. But if they refuse to turn then He will cause darkness to surround them, and the mountains on which they live and move will become dark mountains in the same way as day becomes night, and while they are looking for some glimmer of light He will turn it into deep darkness, and make it gross darkness.
‘Give glory to YHWH your God.’ This may have been a regular way of calling on men to recognise and admit their sin. Compare its use in Joshua 7:19; Malachi 2:2; John 9:24.
“But if you will not hear it, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; and my eye will weep sore, and run down with tears, because YHWH’s flock is taken captive.”
But what if they do not hear and repent? Then Jeremiah will weep for them in secret because of their proud obstinacy. His eyes will weep until they are sore, and will run down with tears. He is trying to bring home to them the seriousness of the situation. And why will he weep like this? Because they, YHWH’s flock, have been taken captive. They have been carried off into exile. The idea was almost incomprehensible. YHWH’s flock taken captive by others! But they had observed its happening to Israel. Now it would happen to them. YHWH’s favour was dependent on their response.
Paradoxically the people may still have prided themselves on the fact that they were ‘YHWH’s flock’. People are very good at assuming that they are special and that God looks down on them benevolently no matter what they do. But they are to recognise that far from that being so they will soon be a captive flock in the hands of strangers. It is not, however, something that Jeremiah is complacent about. It grieves him to his heart. This should not be happening to the flock of YHWH and is only doing so because of their intransigence and obstinacy.
“Say you to the king and to the queen-mother, Humble yourselves, get down, for your head ornaments are come down, even the crown of your glory.”
Jeremiah now seeks to bring home the implications of his message. The king and queen mother will have to step down from their thrones in acts of humiliation. Their crowns and head ornaments will come down from their heads as they are divested of their glorious crowns which indicate their status. They will become subjects and humble suppliants. If they will not humble themselves before YHWH, they will be humbled before another who has less good intentions towards them.
Note the reference to the queen mother. The constant reference to the queen mother in Kings brings out the special status that she enjoyed in Judah. She may even have acted as regent when the king was absent. Many associate this passage with Jehoiachin who with his mother was carried off to Babylon (2 Kings 24:12). But it could relate to any Judean royal house.
“The cities of the South are shut up, and there is none to open them. Judah is carried away captive, all of it, it is wholly carried away captive.”
A further consequence is indicated. The ‘cities of the south’ are the cities of the far south, the Negeb (compare Genesis 12:9), the semi-desert pastureland which was the southern border of Judah. Even those remote cities on the farthest borders away from the north will be affected. They will be closed up because there will be no one available to open their gates. They will be cities of the dead. (Compare Isaiah 24:10). In other words they will be desolate, and all of Judah will have gone into captivity. The rape of Judah is in mind. Few will be left in the land.
“Lift up your eyes, and behold those who come from the north. Where is the flock that was given to you, your beautiful flock?”
And who will do this to them? Let them lift up their eyes and look to the north. It is the invaders who come from there who will do it. Where then will be the flock that YHWH gave to the leaders of Judah to watch over, their beautiful flock? Compare Jeremiah 23:1; Jeremiah 50:6; Jeremiah 50:17; Isaiah 53:6; Ezekiel 34:6. The feminine singular verbs and pronouns indicate that ‘the daughter of Jerusalem’ (i.e. as responsible for its inhabitants, and those who lived around it) is in mind.
“What will you say, when he shall set over you as head those whom you have yourself taught to be your friends? Will not sorrows take hold of you, as of a woman in travail?”
The greatest ignominy will be found in that their conqueror will set over them rulers from among those with whom they have at one time or another been in alliance. They had ‘taught them to be their friends’ and now they would have been set over them. It would cause them grief of heart and anguish like that of a woman bearing a child, used as an illustration because it was the worst kind of experience that men came across in their daily lives. Certainly when Nehemiah came back Jerusalem would be subject to Sanballat the governor of Aram (Syria) in association with Tobiah the Ammonite and Geshem the Arabian, together with the Ammonites, the Arabians and the Ashdodites (Nehemiah 4:1; Nehemiah 4:17; Nehemiah 6:1).
“And if you say in your heart, ‘Why have these things come on me?’”
At some stage they will begin to question in their why all this has happened to them. It will be the first stage in possible repentance. Jeremiah 13:24 reveals that this was to be seen as YHWH speaking.
“Because of the greatness of your iniquity are your skirts uncovered, and your heels suffer violence.”
And the answer is already provided for them. It is because of the greatness of their iniquity. This is a reminder, as so much of Jeremiah is a reminder, of the seriousness with which God views sin and disobedience to His commandments. We must never think that because forgiveness is so freely offered by God that it means that our sins are not really important. We have only to look at the blood-stained and awful history of the world to see what devastation sin has wrought. And it is our sin. Some ask why God allows these things? The answer is clear. It is because if He once interfered ALL of us to the very last man and woman would perish.
And it was because of their indwelling sin that they would be humiliated before the nations. The uncovering of the skirts was, outside the privacy of marriage, an act of contempt and shame. No one bothered about the uncovering of a prostitute. The ‘heels suffering violence’ may be a euphemism for being violently sexually assaulted or even raped. Prostitutes were regularly treated harshly by their clients. Thus Judah were being revealed as spiritual prostitutes. Alternately the clothes that indicated the rank of the great ladies may be in mind. The ‘heels suffering violence’ probably then refers to men and women who were used to being properly shod being forced to march barefoot (compare Isaiah 20:2-4). They were used to allowing their heels to hit the ground first, and being unused to walking barefoot, would, once they were led away as captives, soon experience the consequences.
“Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may you also do good, who are accustomed to do evil.”
“Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?” was a well known proverb. In the Ancient Near East the North African (strictly speaking not Ethiopian, rather northern Sudanese) was noted for his darker than normal skin. Rather than being olive skinned he was black. No racism was intended. It was simply a matter of fact. As was also the case with the leopard. It could not disguise itself by removing its spots. It was stuck with them. Both were facts of life. So was it also a fact of life that those who were hardened in sin did not ‘do good’. They might appear to do so, but it would be from a wrong motive. They were hardened sinners. Judah’s judgment was coming on them because they were so hardened in sin that there was no hope of repentance. (Compare Jesus’ warning to the Pharisees that they were in danger of becoming the same - Mark 3:29).
“Therefore will I scatter them, as the stubble which passes away by the wind of the wilderness.”
And it was because they were so hardened in sin that YHWH would scatter them in the same way as the stubble left in the fields is picked up by the wind and scattered (compare Psalms 1:4; Job 21:18). The wind from the wilderness was the fierce east wind which was so often used as a picture of judgment.
“This is your lot, the portion measured to you from me,” the word of YHWH, “Because you have forgotten me, and trusted in falsehood.”
YHWH makes it clear that while they have brought it on themselves it is His hand that is at work in what is happening. It is the lot that He has chosen for them, the portion that He is measuring out to them, because they have forgotten Him and put their trust in lies. And this is the prophetic word of YHWH, guaranteed and certain.
Notice the twofold emphasis. On the one hand YHWH is carrying out His will in accordance with His own determination. On the other it is man in his extreme sinfulness who must bear the responsibility. He brings his judgments on himself.
We are reminded here, as so often, of two parallel strands in history. God does not cause men to be vile, and to behave vilely, but He utilises their vileness as they freely exercise it (and are therefore to blame for it) in bringing about His purposes. men may think that they are in control, but overall it is God Who is in control. The same idea lies behind the words, ‘shall evil come on a city and YHWH has not done it?’ (Amos 3:6).
“Therefore will I also uncover your skirts on your face, and your shame will appear.”
And it is because of their evil behaviour in forgetting God and listening to palatable lies that they are to be exposed to shame. They will be treated with the contempt with which a common prostitute was treated in those days, as a thing of nought, to be exposed and humiliated without a thought. They will be laid bare before the nations.
“I have seen your abominations, even your adulteries, and your neighings, the lewdness of your whoredom, on the hills in the open country (fields). Woe to you, O Jerusalem! you will not be made clean. How long will it yet be?”
But it will be very much a case of reaping what they have sowed. They have revealed themselves as no better than common prostitutes by their lewd behaviour on the open hills. Their neighings (cries of lust and passion) and their willingness to engage in free sex at their hilltop sanctuaries will rebound upon them.
And because they have now gone too far there is no opportunity of cleansing for the present generation. Their behaviour and attitudes have negated all their ritual activity in the Temple, which is no longer acceptable. All that they can expect to face is ‘WOE’. And this will be so for a long time to come. How long it will be is left an open question (elsewhere it is fixed at seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11-12; Jeremiah 29:10) dated from the initial exile, and then at seventy ‘sevens’ (Daniel 9:0) indicating a long while to come).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 13". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19