On the waterfront in Seattle, Washington, is a store called, ‘Ye Olde Curiosity Shop’ where all kinds of weird and bizarre things are found; from a two-headed calf, mummies, shrunken heads, and animals in jars floating in some liquid substance. People may forget what is said, but they certainly are intrigued by the weird and bizarre. There are moments in certain biblical texts where God amplifies His message with symbolic actions. God tells the prophet to do something that would pique the interest and curiosity of the people in order to reinforce the message.
In Jeremiah 13, we find God calling the prophet to a certain action that would grip the attention of a people who were, for the most part, indifferent toward the message of Jeremiah. God directs Jeremiah to purchase a linen garment or belt designed to be worn around his waist. Then he is told to bury it and then retrieve it. The end result is something that has been ruined and is now useless. Then, God tells Jeremiah to take a common expression and give it a unique twist. Finally, Jeremiah explains a nightmarish experience of trekking in hilly terrain at night stumbling about longing for the morning light to come, but it never appears. What are these messages trying to convey to both the ancient Jewish people and possibly us today? God is having his prophet speak out against the stubborn pride that the people were manifesting as they were living a life in disobedience to God. What we are about to discover is what keeps us from God’s intentions for our lives. God challenges us all regarding the pride that keeps us from fully surrendering our lives in order to experience spiritual intimacy with Him. Here in this chapter we see four snapshots of missing God’s purpose for our lives.
THE FIRST SNAPSHOT IN MISSING GOD’S PURPOSE FOR OUR LIVES IS SEEN IN LIVING A COMPLETELY USELESS LIFE
What causes us to come short of God’s design for our lives? It was Henry David Thoreau that wrote that ‘most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Why do so many live such desperate lives? We were all created by God for a purpose that gives us dignity and value. When we fulfill God’s purposes for our lives it brings great peace and joy. We are designed by God to be a people for His renown, praise, and glory. When we live for God’s glory, it elevates our lives. One of the great issues of our time is that people are living for little or no significant purpose and find themselves drifting through life defined by their earthly experiences. When we live to find meaning in fulfilling earthly desires, it never brings lasting satisfaction. There is always something missing, more is needed, and contentment is elusive.
A. The first idea in our text today is the word ‘cling’, or in the Hebrew dabaq which the NIV translates ‘bound’ in verse 11.
Like the garment that was to be securely attached around one’s waist, the analogy is saying that the intent of life is to cling or be bound to God. In Jeremiah’s symbolic message, we discover that the people of Judah had failed to do this and were living rebellious and disobedient lives.
This is what the LORD said to me: ‘Go and buy a linen belt and put it around your waist, but do not let it touch water.’
So I bought a belt, as the LORD directed, and put it around my waist.[i]
It is interesting that the material was made of linen, which was the material that priests wore in their service before the Lord. In the New Testament the linen garment was a symbol of our intimacy of relationship with God which also was depicted as being righteousness or in a right relationship with God.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him the glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people).[ii]
This righteousness is both given by God and sustained by our nearness to His presence. God continues to instruct Jeremiah in making His point.
Then the word of the LORD came to me a second time.
‘Take the belt you bought and are wearing around your waist and go now to Perath and hide it there in a crevice in the rocks.’
So I went and hid it at Perath, as the LORD told me.
Many days later the LORD said to me, ‘Go now to Perath and get the belt I told you to hide there.’
So I went to Perath and dug up the belt and took it from the place where I had hidden it, but now it was ruined and completely useless.[iii]
Some scholars translate this place as the Euphrates. However, the Hebrew word has been argued by other biblical scholars as a spring located nearby Anathoth, Jeremiah’s hometown. If it is the Euphrates, Jeremiah would have had to go 350 miles away and return two times. This would have necessitated him being gone for months. The location is not really the point. Obviously, on the other side of the Euphrates is the place where Babylon resided and where God would raise up as His sword in judging Judah’s sins. The issue is that this piece of clothing should have been worn near one’s body, not concealed in a place where it would be ruined.
What ultimately brings ruin in our lives? We ruin our lives when we live for the wrong purpose. We ruin our lives when we follow our sinful inclinations rather than surrender our lives to God. The fundamental sin that brings about our downfall is pride, which God declares is our ruin.
Then the word of the LORD came to me:
‘This is what the LORD says: ‘In the same way I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.
These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt -completely useless![iv]
A couple of things stand out in these texts. We need to have God’s word come to us. We need to expose ourselves to God speaking into our lives. The Bible is not just another book, it is God’s message to us that will bring about real and lasting change in our lives. One of the greatest needs we have is to avail ourselves to receiving God’s word. God desires to speak to us daily, but we must take the time by feeding our souls on God’s message. Just this morning as I was reading and reflecting in my own quiet time with the Lord, the story of Absalom was the text and there in that story of intrigue and banishment is a line that reflects God’s heart to all of us.
Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.[v]
God is all about restoration and reconciliation. Even as we are looking at this text of impeding judgment apart from repentance, God’s heart is for restoration.
The second thing that stood out to me is when we refuse to listen, which means we do not do what it says. It speaks of our pride and wickedness. I do not believe most of us see ourselves that way, but a refusal to obey God is actually an expression of both of those qualities in our soul. How can we avoid that kind of an attitude and action? By staying close to God.
Walter Brueggemann explains:
The proper use of a loincloth [translated belt] is to be worn by a man. It is to be worn, not to be hidden and buried. Thus Israel’s proper use is to cleave to Yahweh, not to be autonomous, stubborn, or committed to other gods. An improperly used loincloth becomes rotten and useless.[vi]
This is a fitting description of a life without God. This kind of a life loses direction and value. What did God have in mind when He created us? What purpose does God have for your life and mine? One of the great tragedies of our time is that so many believe that we are just a random accident in the universe. However, the moment a person understands that there is a loving Creator who has a purpose in creating us, who made us in His image to reveal through our lives the beauty, majesty, grace, and generosity of this Creator, it changes the human equation. Yet, when we divorce ourselves from God and become autonomous it puts us into a terrible position of trying to control the things in life that are uncontrollable. What is even worse is to believe that there is a God, and think because we know about Him, that we can than proceed to live as if God is there for us as a servant. It then becomes about us, rather than understanding that we are created for God, and His purpose and pleasure. We need to come to God on His terms and not expect God to come to us on ours. The last word is simply that they will be ‘completely useless.’ Yet, God reveals the real intention in designing each of us.
For as a belt is bound around the waist, so I bound all the people of Israel and all the people of Judah to me,’ declares the LORD, ‘to be my people for my renown and praise and honor. But they have not listened.[vii]
The idea of listening is to respond properly in obedience. God desires that we would be bound to Him bringing renown, praise and honor to Him through our lives.
THE SECOND SNAPSHOT IN MISSING GOD’S PURPOSE FOR OUR LIVES IS THE DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR THAT BRINGS JUDGMENT ON US
What happens when we disregard the purposes of God and live a life of practical atheism? What I mean by that is that we live with our agenda rather than live for God’s will to be accomplished in our lives. Here God challenges a common assumption of the people of that time.
‘Say to them: ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Every wineskin should be filled with wine.’ And if they say to you, ‘Don’t we know that every wineskin should be filled with wine?[viii]
The response would be incredulity. Of course, every wineskin should be filled with wine. After all, what other purpose were they made for? At this point there may be a subtle but devastating critique of God’s people, but the text does not bring it out. As the wineskin was obviously made in order to hold wine, so Judah was made to be God’s obedient people, but they weren’t acting that way.[ix]
Then tell them, ‘This is what the LORD says: I am going to fill with drunkenness all who live in this land, including the kings who sit on David’s throne, the priests, the prophets and all those living in Jerusalem.
I will smash them one against the other, parents and children alike, declares the LORD. I will allow no pity or mercy or compassion to keep me from destroying them.[x]
The idea here is that the wineskins or clay jars that were designed to store wine is a picture of how sinful pride delude us and causes us to be so intoxicated that we destroy what we once loved. They didn’t understand that they were the wineskins or clay vessels filled with the intoxicating wine that would incapacitate them for doing good.
Jeremiah took a familiar proverb and turned it into a riddle. In the words of Calvin, “They indeed all knew that bottles were made for wine; but they did not understand that they were the bottles.” The people of Judah were not the drinkers—they were the jars of wine. This was a prophecy of God’s judgment against sin. “I will allow no pity or mercy or compassion to keep me from destroying them” (v. 14b). If his people will not wrap their praise around him, he will pour the wine of his wrath into them.[xi]
We were once again reminded of the tragedy of this in the story that played out in Uvalde, Texas. We can focus on the means of destruction which many do, but what brings a person to that state where the violent passions to destroy are manifested? At the root of the issue is what Jeremiah speaks of. The human heart needs to be addressed and transformed because, as Jeremiah later states regarding the condition of the unregenerated heart, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it (Jeremiah 17:9)?”
THE THIRD SNAPSHOT IN MISSING GOD’S PURPOSE FOR OUR LIVES IS LIVING FOR OURSELVES RATHER THAN FOR GOD’S GLORY
Whose agenda are we on? What is the criteria we use to make decisions for our lives and family? What are the values that shape those decisions? Who are we trying to please?
A. Self-will and arrogance are inner issues of our being that ultimately create despair and gloom within our souls.
There are many today who are living the nightmare and yet God is calling people in order to free each of us from that captivity.
Hear and pay attention, do not be arrogant, for the LORD has spoken.
Give glory to the LORD your God before he brings the darkness, before your feet stumble on the darkening hills. You hope for light, but he will turn it to utter darkness and change it to deep gloom.[xii]
The darkness that is being spoken here is war, captivity and exile. If the message is disregarded it will lead to confusion, fear and despair. Judgment for evil will ultimately be addressed which is the outcomes of sin.
B. Jeremiah’s response to the people’s disobedience.
This causes Jeremiah sorrow, which reflects how it impacts God. It is not anger or malice that motivates this action on God’s behalf. Jeremiah is weeping over the people. He, like God, is filled with compassion, but realizes that sin always brings great pain, sorrow and judgment to bear upon our lives because of how it affects God and others as well.
If you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears, because the LORD’S flock will be taken captive.
Say to the king and to the queen mother, ‘Come down from your thrones, for your glorious crowns will fall from your heads.
The cities in the Negev will be shut up, and there will be no one to open them. All Judah will be carried into exile, carried completely away.[xiii]
What was so significant about this warning of impeding judgment? It speaks of a broken covenant with God. The relationship had been breached. In a unique sense, the Old Testament expresses that God’s holy presence was upon the promised land. In a unique way, God’s very presence was in the Temple in Jerusalem. Yet as other prophets like Ezekiel were warning, God’s Spirit was about to leave the Temple. God was about to depart and allow the fruit of unrighteous living discipline His people. We read of that in
Then the glory of the LORD departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim.[xiv]
C. Trusting others rather than God.
At the core of the issue was the autonomous action of the nation directing their own affairs and creating unhealthy alliances that ultimately failed them. What is true for them is equally true for us.
Look up and see those who are coming from the north. Where is the flock that was entrusted to you, the sheep of which you boasted?
What will you say when the LORD sets over you those you cultivated as your special allies? Will not pain grip you like that of a woman in labor?[xv]
Judah had been making alliances with Babylon, but in the end Babylon came and conquered Judah. The very people they had put their trust in, turned against them. The pain that they experienced at that point was described as that of a woman in childbirth.
THE FINAL SNAPSHOT IN MISSING GOD’S PURPOSE FOR OUR LIVES IS THE SHAME THAT EXPOSED SIN BRINGS UPON US
We are always shocked when the consequences of sin reaches us. Here Jeremiah describes the shame that they were about to experience.
If the physical punishment is that of being mastered by others, the emotional punishment is that of being subjected to shame. In the ancient Israelite society, which scholars increasingly depict as an honor-shame society, such shameful treatment was especially abhorrent.[xvi]
If you ask yourself, ‘Why has this happened to me?- it is because of your many sins that your skirts have been torn off and your body mistreated.[xvii]
This is a brutal description of someone being violated. Sin’s consequences violate us. We wonder, why did this happen to us? Here a saying is given to explain how difficult it is that once we have entered sin’s bondage it is difficult to do the right thing. We need the grace and power of God to bring forgiveness for our sins, and the power to overcome them. We don’t have that ability on our own. Jeremiah talks about the impossibility of doing good when evil has overcome us.
Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.[xviii]
Unless we repent and turn to God who alone can cleanse our sin, we will reap the results of our sins, and that is exactly what Jeremiah is warning the people of.
I will scatter you like chaff driven by the desert wind.
This is your lot, the portion I have decreed for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘because you have forgotten me and trusted in false gods.
I will pull up your skirts over your face that your shame may be seen – your adulteries and lustful neighings, your shameless prostitution! I have seen your detestable acts on the hills and in the fields. Woe to you, Jerusalem! How long will you be unclean?[xix]
This chapter ends with a question: How long will the people live in their sins? Will they choose to turn to God or continue in their rebellion? But at the root of the issue is what is motivating us? To what end are we living for? In other words, what is our purpose?
C. S. Lewis reminds us of the Scottish confessional:
Man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.[xx]
The Psalmist would then add that in God’s presence is ‘fulness of joy.’ There is no greater pleasure in life than be in His presence, delighting in Him. Will we bind ourselves to God in order to make His renown and glory known? Will we embrace that meaning and significance that comes from fulfilling His purposes for our lives, which in turn, delivers us from gloom and darkness? Or will we be obstinate, stubborn, filled with pride, living life independently of God? God sees us and asks, ‘How long will we be unclean?’ I’m reminded of the words of Joshua as he challenged his generation.
Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.
But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods of your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.[xxi]
May we respond like those of Joshua’s generation. “ Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! (Joshua 24:16)”
[i] Jeremiah 13:1-2, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[ii] Revelation 19:7-8.
[iii] Jeremiah 13:3-7.
[iv] Jeremiah 13:8-10.
[v] 2 Samuel 14:14.
[vi] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary On Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 128.
[vii] Jeremiah 13:11.
[viii] Jeremiah 13:12.
[ix] Tremper Longman III, Jeremiah, Lamentations, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 111.
[x] Jeremiah 13:13-14.
[xi] Philip Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope, (Crossway Books, 2001), 236.
[xii] Jeremiah 13:15-16.
[xiii] Jeremiah 13:17-19.
[xiv] Ezekiel 10:18.
[xv] Jeremiah 13:20-21.
[xvi] L. L. Walker, Elmer A. Martens, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Isaiah, Jeremiah, & Lamentations, Vol. 8 (Carroll Streams, Il: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005), 378..
[xvii] Jeremiah 13:22.
[xviii] Jeremiah 13:23.
[xix] Jeremiah 13:24-27.
[xx] C. S. Lewis, from Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root, ed. The Quotable Lewis, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990), 249.
[xxi] Joshua 24:14-15.