What did you bury under there?

Message from 9/12/21 Jeremiah 13:1-13

Unless you are the world’s best communicator, you probably have had a moment or two when you’ve tried to communicate something to another person or group of people and they just don’t seem to “get” it. No logic or reasoning will get them there. You can lay out all the facts, figures and pie graphs and they just don’t understand. I feel like this happens to me a lot. I think I’m being clear in my explanation or my understanding of what someone is telling me and NOPE! We are not on the same page. This happened to me just the other day at work. I was trying to help a customer find a product, but I just couldn’t picture what they were looking for. We both pulled out our smartphones and started googling. I looked up what I thought he was talking about, he tried to locate what he was actually talking about. I even tried a series of clarifying questions to see if we could get something close to what he was wanting…but alas, it seems we didn’t have what he wanted. Even though I never really got the full picture of what he was asking for, the other person with him reassured him that she knew what he was talking about.

Communication. Sometimes it is SO CLEAR you can’t believe it: “It can’t be that simple, can it?” And other times messages can leave you with more questions than answers and that might make you feel uneasy, uncomfortable and possibly angry.

I think that’s why visuals are so helpful in communicating messages, telling stories that not only get the facts right, but also get the tone right. The real feeling behind the words that speaks not to our heads, but to our souls. Today and for the next couple of weeks, our messages will be a “Sermon from a Sack” style. I’ll have an item hidden in this sack that relates to the message at hand. You won’t get to see it until then, so it’ll be a mystery.

Today we look at Jeremiah 13:1-11. God begins giving Jeremiah special instructions concerning the messages he would present to the people. God gave extra care to have Jeremiah use visual aids to get the point across. We will find that not only do these people “get” the message and still have trouble with it, people down through the ages have struggled with God’s choice of visual aid and have not “gotten” the full force of the warnings we will hear in today’s passage.

13 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.

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.

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. 10 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! 11 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.’

Jeremiah 13:1-11 NIV

Was it really a belt?

(I pulled out a cloth belt form a brown paper sack.) Now you might think this is just a piece of cloth. And you’d be RIGHT! Perhaps you’ve seen or participated in a biblical reenactment before. Bible-times characters wearing what we think is representative to what they actually wore. One long flowing tunic, potentially a head covering, possibly a sash (especially if you are playing Jesus) and a belt around your waist made from rope or another color of cloth. As we read the scripture, did you picture something like this? I know I have. I thought about what it might have sounded like for Jeremiah to “Go Shopping.” 

“Excuse me shopkeeper, I’d like to purchase a linen belt to go around my waist” says Jeremiah.

“Well you’re in luck. We’ve got a wide selection of belts. They absolutely will keep your pants from falling down…if you wore any.”

Usually we think of the belt as something to keep the tunic in place, or at least help it not look like a big dress on a dude, right? Perhaps you’ve heard about in 2 Kings where Elisha, the prophet gives his assistant some very succinct directions:

“Elisha said to Gehazi, ‘Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand and run. Don’t greet anyone you meet, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. Lay my staff on the boy’s face.’” 2 Kings 4:29 NIV

Other translations use the phrase “Gird up your loins” instead of “tuck your cloak into your belt.” Weird, huh? The idea for Gehazi is this: be prepared to run and not get tripped up.

But what’s the deal with the linen belt in Jeremiah? Why would God make such a big deal about it? Seems like a standard piece of clothing for a bible-times guy to wear.

Here’s the trouble with the linen belt. It’s most likely not a linen belt.

Fashion choices aside, what is the purpose of a belt? To keep your pants up! Excuse me for just being a bit more embarrassing but, why is it important to make sure your pants stay up? 

Because they cover you…in places that are not meant for everyone to see. That wouldn’t be as big of a deal if a person were wearing an undergarment.

So here’s the kicker, some older translations (and the commentary that helped me prepare for today) go back to the original Hebrew and the context of the surrounding verses and do not picture a “belt.” Instead they read it as a loincloth

A what now? Yeah, a loincloth. Have you ever seen a person in a loincloth? The most appropriate pop culture references I can think of are Mowgli from Disney’s “The Jungle Book” or perhaps Tarzan. There’s a reason people don’t just traipse around in loincloths, because it’s basically underwear.

“Pastor, You’re telling me that it wasn’t a belt God commanded Jeremiah to buy and put on and never wash it…but actually bible-times underwear?”  That’s what the scripture leads me to believe. You can feel free to still think about it as a belt if you want to, but the imagery of a loincloth expresses so much more than a simple belt could ever hope to. 

What’s so special about this loincloth?

First off, the linen loincloth was there for modesty. It keeps everything hidden that is not supposed to be…on display…so to speak? The thing is that modesty was a big problem for the people of Judah and Israel as they worshipped on hills at Asherah poles. Their form of worship was intimate in nature, and put on display for all to see. So wearing this item would keep them from embarrassment and shame, should one’s tunic accidently get blown by the wind…if you get my drift. Also, it seems that not everyone wore loincloths. It was, however, part of the priestly attire. 

42 “Make linen undergarments as a covering for the body, reaching from the waist to the thigh. 43 Aaron and his sons must wear them whenever they enter the tent of meeting or approach the altar to minister in the Holy Place, so that they will not incur guilt and die.”

Exodus 28:42-43b

This has got to be the worst or most uncomfortable object lesson known to man. The New Beacon Bible commentary says that the special nature of the undergarment was a metaphor for the intimate closeness with God. Think about it, Do you want comfortable or uncomfortable underwear? (Don’t answer that!) God called this cloth the Pride of Judah and Jerusalem. This was a way for Jeremiah to understand the closeness between God and his people. It, (awkwardly) also represents the kind of closeness a husband and wife would have. It harkens to God as the groom and his people are the bride. I know, right!? The kids would call this topic “Super Cringe.” But Perhaps that’s why it’s interesting. No one wants to go to the weird places in the scripture…we just like our nice safe story about Jeremiah burying a belt. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but at least it doesn’t make too many people uncomfortable.

There’s one more thing about this loincloth that really “Stands out” so to speak.

It’s new and clean at the start…but it’s not that way forever. (Have you ever heard the expression “Mama always said make sure to wear clean underwear in case you are in an accident.”) Jeremiah was to wear it until God told him to go bury it at Perath. He wasn’t supposed to get wet or dip in water, meaning “no spin cycle at the laundromat for his tighty whities.” We don’t know how long it was before God told Jeremiah to head to Perath, but it wasn’t likely the same time he got the first message. It was a second message from the Lord. So Jeremiah does what God tells him to do. He goes and takes his loincloth and buries it until God tells him to come back many days later. 

I’ll just go ahead and read verse 7 again, but this time in the ESV:

“7 Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing.”

Jeremiah 13:7 ESV

The cloth was ruined, good for nothing. God’s not a packrat “well we can use it for drying the floor or as a rag if need be.” Nope, Jeremiah tells the truth – it was spoiled to the point it was good for nothing.

God “lands the plane”

I had a pastor friend once talk about sermons like flying planes. The ending, concluding words…the big point that you build to, when you bring that into the picture…that’s what he called landing the plane. Well God makes his point clear. “You want to know why I had you buy a loincloth, wear it, take it off and bury it, and then dig it back up again? Listen close, Jeremiah.”

Let’s listen to vs 9-11 in the English Standard Version:

9 “Thus says the Lord: Even so will I spoil 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 heart 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 the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.”

Jeremiah 13:9-11 ESV

So if we are landing the plane, here are the pre-landing checks:

  1. God desired intimate closeness with his people. He “Made them to cling to Him…but they would not listen. They wouldn’t hear God’s Words (In fact several chapters later, a priest named Pashhur doesn’t like Jeremiah’s messages and has him beaten and thrown in the stocks) See Jeremiah 20 for more.
  2. Stubbornly follow their own heart – What I want is what’s best. You’ve heard “The Heart wants what the heart wants?” 
  3. Served and worshipped other gods. This goes back to the modesty thing I said earlier.  Asherah, the fertility goddess, was worshipped through certain activities that would not be considered rated “G.” Much earlier in Jeremiah 2:20, it says

“Long ago you broke off your yoke

    and tore off your bonds;

    you said, ‘I will not serve you!’

Indeed, on every high hill

    and under every spreading tree

    you lay down as a prostitute.

Jeremiah 2:20 NIV

This is the serving and worship of other gods. This is the immodesty of the people. This is God calling them out on it.

Conclusion

It’s important when communicating to use imagery as well as clear, simple words to get a message across. Through Jeremiah, God did that. The New Beacon Bible Commentary concludes it beautifully by saying this:

“He called Israel to be a people who would reveal his name–his character and power–to the world (Deut 28:10). Israel was to be the object of Yahweh’s praise and glory. Israel ruined itself and became useless to Yahweh by their habitual rejection of his voice. It no longer clings to Yaweh in a covenant relationship.”

(NBBC, Jeremiah 1-25, pg 174)

How do we stay clean and useful? By listening and accepting his voice. We can be in such a close relationship with him that he can lean over and kiss our foreheads.

Please leave a comment below:

What are you personally hearing from God these days? What directions, instructions of inspirations is he speaking to you? If you aren’t hearing anything right now, are you open to listening?

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