Jeremiah 13:1-11 – Thus says the Lord to me, “Go and buy a linen loincloth and put it around your waist, and do not dip it in water.”  So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the Lord, and put it around my waist.  And the word of the Lord came to me a second time,  “Take the loincloth that you have bought, which is around your waist, 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 the Lord commanded me.  And after many days the Lord said to me, “Arise, go 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. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing.  Then the word of the Lord came to me:  “Thus says the Lord: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.  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.  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 is told by God to do a living illustration to demonstrate the sinfulness of Judah and what God is going to do about it. God tells him to leave his home and bury a loincloth on the banks of the Euphrates River. Then, after “many days” God tells him to dig it up and hear the lesson that God has out of this whole episode. Oh the questions. Why not have Jeremiah just bury it in his back yard? Some commentators have concluded that there must be a translator’s error in this text for God would certainly not have told Jeremiah to travel the hundreds of miles from his home to the Euphrates River. It must have been a place only a few miles away. Calvin believed it was a vision, not a real journey. Perhaps.
But why should we not believe that Jeremiah actually had to make the long journey? Saying that Jeremiah surely could not have been told to travel that far for this illustration smacks of imposing our understanding of things onto the days of Jeremiah. We who have instant everything cannot imagine travelling for days just to bury a piece of cloth for the sake of an illustration. It hits us as a grandiose waste of time.
But time is part of the message here. The passage of time is what makes Judah think that they are not going to be judged by God. He has forgotten. He is not really still holding all His complaints against us. He has forgotten.
But God has not forgotten. And He is about to judge. And the place He sends Jeremiah as an example of what Judah is like is the place where He is about to send the nation because of their sins and refusal to repent. So Jeremiah walks hundreds of miles to bury the loin cloth and then returns home walking the same distance.
Then “after many days” – shall we see here the patience of God exhibited a little more? While that loin cloth is rotting and waiting for Jeremiah to come and find it, Judah continues to sin and Jeremiah continues to preach and God continues to warn and invite. The “many days” may have been months. Maybe years. And when the decay is beyond repair and the cloth if fit for nothing but destruction, Jeremiah is sent to retrieve it from its hiding place. It is now “good for nothing (verse 10).
The die is cast. The opportunity for repentance is gone. God’s patience is exhausted. What a lesson for the world. How can people, who have committed the same sins, and more,that Judah did, ever escape from the judgement of God if He held them accountable for their great sins? Do people sin less today? Has God changed His mind about destroying people for their rebellion and idolatry? And if He has not, then is the die cast for them and is it inevitable that they be destroyed even as His own precious chosen Israelites were?
Enter the cross. Jesus Christ comes and obeys God perfectly. He is the spotless one. He is the only one who can do anything about the sins of others, because He has no sins of His own. And He comes to die and bear all the wrath of His holy Father that all the sins of all His people for all of time, deserve to have lashed out on them. We, like the Israelites were rotted and good for nothing. And Jesus came and saved us through His death and resurrection. He took the punishment for our rot. He bore the just wrath that we deserved. He loved us more than we can ever imagine.
This story of Jeremiah is about the hopelessness that sin brings us into. But it also points us to the One who, even when we were helpless and hopeless, gave us all the help we needed and brought us into the glorious hope of the sons of God. Jeremiah’s long walk still teaches us a great lesson. It still leads people to the cross. It accomplishes the very purpose God made him take that walk in the first place. What a wonder God is.