I found this passage from Jeremiah 13 to be the most startling from today’s reading….
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.” So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the Lord, and put it on my loins. And the word of the Lord came to me a second time, saying, “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.” So I went, and hid it by the Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me. 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.” 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.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: Thus says the Lord: Just so I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. 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. 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.
Underwear is not something we normally talk about in polite company, nor do we expect to find a story about underwear in the Bible. Yet, here it is. Why does the Bible talk about underwear in this instance?
The Jews had not been listening to Jeremiah’s warnings about impending doom should they choose to continue to pursue the worship of false gods. Thus, the Lord decided to give them a dramatic object lesson.
For a number of years, I have used a “mystery box” for the children’s sermon in the Sunday morning worship service. I ask a different child each week to put an object in the mystery box for the next Sunday and I talk about that object in the children’s sermon, relating the object to some biblical or spiritual lesson. There are a couple of ground rules: (1) the object that the children put in the box cannot be alive or dead. (2) The object has to fit inside the box with the lid closed. I have had children put all sorts of objects in the mystery box over the years, but I have never had any child put underwear in there. I wonder what I would have said if one child had done that?
Well, God put underwear in the mystery box and asked Jeremiah to talk about that object to his people, the Jews. However, this was not your run-of-the-mill underwear. First, it was linen. That was the kind of fabric the priests wore. The average person probably would not wear linen underwear. Therefore, we get the hint that this underwear was meant to be symbolic of the close relationship between God and his people. The Jews were meant to be a kingdom of priests, spending time with God in his Temple, remaining close to him. However, they were not living up to their calling.
That is where the next step in this object lesson comes into play. God tells Jeremiah not to wash this special underwear. Can you imagine? If one lesson is drilled into children, it is that they should put on clean underwear every day. Apparently, more than one mother has said, “What if you were in an accident, and taken to the hospital, and the doctors took off your clothes, and found you were wearing dirty underwear? How shameful!”
The point of the object lesson is clear: the Jews were not remaining clean loincloths for the Lord to wear. And we are not talking about your normal amount of dirt here. We are talking serious dirt.
The Lord tells Jeremiah to go to the river Euphrates and hide his dirty underwear in a cleft of the rock. Then he is told to go back later and retrieve his really filthy underwear that is now so wet that it has fallen apart and is no longer fit to wear.
As the father of three boys, I have washed a lot of dirty underwear and dirty clothes. It does not happen too often, but sometimes, some clothes that boys like to wear become so dirty, so overused, that they are no longer fit to wear, even for dirty, outdoor sorts of jobs.
The point that the Lord wants Jeremiah to get across to the Jews is that they had become like that dirty, rotting underwear, hidden in the cleft of the rock by the Euphrates for weeks. They were no longer fit to be worn by God.
This is not a happy message. It is, in fact, a shocking message, shocking in the level of intimacy this object lesson suggests should be there between God and his people. God wants us to cling to him like underwear to a human being’s loins. If we are honest, then we will admit that we do not cling to God in this way, at least we do not cling to him in this way all the time.
However, there is some good news in this. God would not have Jeremiah deliver this shocking object lesson unless he wanted to give his people an opportunity to return to an intimate relationship with him. If God was going to give up on his people completely, then he would just do it, not announce it and give them a chance to repent. We serve the God of the second chance, and the third, and the fourth, and…. I believe God gives us as many chances as we need to return to him. He will do whatever it takes to retrieve us, even sending prophets into our lives to live out before us some very shocking object lessons. God loves us that much. In fact, his love never stops reaching out to us… ever.