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. 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! 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
The gloom and doom (for the most part) poetry of Jeremiah (some prose, also) is chopped up with symbolic stories. Jeremiah 13 starts with the story of the linen belt.
The story of the linen belt looks like a simple symbolic story on the surface. Following God’sinstructions, Jeremiah buys a belt. He buries it. When he digs it up, the belt is ruined. Then, God points out that this is what will happen to Judah and specifically Jerusalem for their stubbornness and the refusal to follow God’s Law. God is calling the people of Judah and the city of which they are so proud useless.
That would be the gist of the story with the intended lesson, but let’s dig deeper.
Some scholars would point out that Jeremiah promptly obeyed God without hesitation or argument, similar to Abraham. How many times do we feel God tugging at our heart to do something, but we argue with God or argue with ourselves, thinking that we need another sign? At least, Jeremiah didn’t do a Gideon and watch for dew on or not on the fleece (Judges 6:36-40).
Next, let’s look at what Jeremiah is instructed to purchase and wear, a linen belt. Some scholars say that the use of linen is a symbol of the former intimate relationship between God and Judah. The impractical instruction of not letting it touch water as a sign of Judah’s sin of pride. Matthew Henry goes in a little different direction.
Matthew Henry likens Jeremiah’s attire to be like that of John the Baptist. “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” (Matthew 3:4) But Matthew Henry doesn’t stop there. Let’s not think of the linen belt as a modern belt. Let’s think of it as a sash. No, a girdle. Now we’ve got a ‘mountain man’ dressed in a soft fabric girdle to hold together his clothing of camel’s hair. What a sight that would have been! He attracted attention in that get-up. That was the point.
I was always a quirky dresser. I quickly learned how to dress properly from my wife, but while in the Army, there were a lot let days to wonder about what to wear. Not long after the Army, I kept wearing one brown and one blue sock to work. To combat this, my wife bought nothing but Argyle socks. With Argyles harder to find these days, I mostly wear novelty socks (socks with mustaches, neck ties, armadillos, etc.). This wasn’t as much of a fashion statement, but a means of matching socks in dim artificial light.
While in the Army, my hat collection started. The hat is my real fashion statement (and novelty or loud neck ties – when I was working full time). I’ve been asked how many hats that I own. I can say that the total is over 30, but I refuse to do a full census. I don’t want to follow in the footsteps of King David (2 Samuel 24). I don’t have enough money to buy a threshing floor.
Now, after Jeremiah has paraded around Jerusalem with his odd, might we say bizarre, fashion statement, God instructs Jeremiah to bury the belt in a hole in the rocks at Perath. Perath is the word commonly used for the Euphrates River. This may be symbolic, as Matthew Henry wrote. The people of Judah had corrupted their way of life by using the influence of the Babylonians and Assyrians in their worship and business dealings. This symbolic name is still not lost when others refer to Perah, which might be near modern day Abu Ghosh, about a 4 mile walk from Jerusalem. With the extreme amount of time that it would take to travel to the Euphrates, the latter is more likely, unless Jeremiah traveled like Philip did after baptizing the eunuch (Acts 8:39).
Note that the belt had never touched water, but was ruined and totally useless. A wet belt could easily rot, but a dry linen belt in a dry climate is less likely. Was this a miracle? While the belt was at the wadi (as many think), it is possible that water could have been introduced. At this point, the belt was out of the control and observation of Jeremiah.
And what great sin did God accuse the people of Judah for doing that made them useless? Their pride, specifically great pride for those in Jerusalem. The people had forgotten the warnings of God in Deuteronomy 28. In Deuteronomy 28:64, God warns that the people of Israel will be scattered among all nations. Yet, the people thought that they could keep God as a good luck charm on their key ring and call on Him when they needed Him.
- S. Lewis wrote in a letter to Malcolm, “I call upon Him in prayer. Often He might reply — I think He does reply — ‘But you have been evading me for hours.’” The people of Judah in Jeremiah’s time were guilty of that. Aren’t we at times?
And how, in action, did the pride of Judah manifest itself? They didn’t listen to God. Have you ever been guilty of your mind wandering during the preacher’s sermon? As a long time presenter of technical training programs, I know my mind has wandered while I was presenting a lecture. I hope no ministers are guilty of that during a sermon. But I do know a few preachers who can read minds. They’ll see people like this in the congregation. That woman over there has just realized that she forgot to set her fantasy football line-up. She’s thinking of leaving during the last hymn. That guy over there just realized that he didn’t put the roast out to thaw. That lady looking out the window is thinking that since there are two or three snowflakes falling, she needs to get bread and milk on her way home before the rush starts.
But we don’t listen to God in many other ways. God may be giving you little nudges to enter a specific form of mission work, but you ignore the thoughts in your mind and the flutters in your heart when the subject comes up. You’ve read a particular portion of scripture and know that you are sinning with regard to what the Bible says, but it’s such a small thing and Jesus died for all of my sins anyway. You see an old man thumbing a ride on a cold winter’s day. A thought says to give him a lift, but you drive past without slowing down. Yes, we ignore God speaking to us from our Bible reading, our prayer time, our friends, and everyday things that should bring us closer to God, if we’d just stay alert.
Are we really so filled with pride that we don’t listen to God in any of the ways that He speaks to us?
I don’t think that we need to bury a linen belt to find out.