Jeremiah 13 Commentary: There’s no denying that we’ve seen a lot of talk about judgement in the book of Jeremiah. And I think we’re all acquainted with the fact that most of this book is God declaring judgement on his people. And we’ve seen that in detail so far in this series.
What’s more, this is a main component in all of the Old Testament prophets’ writings. There’s a lot of speech about how God needs to judge his people in all of the prophets.
So, let’s remind ourselves of why this is. God made a covenant with Israel at Sinai. He saved them from Egypt and he wanted them to be his very own people. So, he made a covenant with them stipulating that all they had to do was to obey him and he’d be their God and would bless them for keeping the covenant. Seems like a pretty simple plan. But it turned out that the people would not keep their side of the bargain. And so for hundreds of years God patiently dealt with his disobedient people – enacting parts of the curses that come from breaking their covenant with God.
And now finally in this book of Jeremiah, we’re a mere three decades or less away from God finally enacting the worst of the curses detailed in Deuteronomy for breaking the covenant – exile from the land promised to God’s people.
So, let’s turn to Jeremiah 13 where we again step into a new section of this book. We’ll study just the 13th chapter this time. The next chapter, Jeremiah 14 starts a new section.
I come away from Jeremiah 13 with three main thoughts presented in the text. They are: Belt, Bottles, and Pride. Jeremiah wears a belt. The people are compared to bottles – they’re also compared to that belt that Jeremiah wears. And those two concepts so far – belt and bottles – are used as warnings to Jerusalem that God will have to destroy them. But why? That’s where pride comes in. Several times in this chapter, the Lord points to the pride of Judah as a big reason that he needs to judge them. So, Jeremiah 13 – Belt, Bottles, and Pride.
Now, in Jeremiah 13:1-7, the Lord has Jeremiah engage in an activity that carries an underlying meaning for the people of Jerusalem. The Lord then explains the significance of it in Jeremiah 13:8-11.
Jeremiah 13 Commentary | The Symbolic Activity
Jeremiah 13 Commentary | Buy the Girdle
So, here’s the first part of Jeremiah’s symbolic activity. He’s to buy a girdle or belt in Jeremiah 13:1.
Jeremiah 13 Commentary | The Lord’s Command
KJV Jeremiah 13:1 ¶ Thus [saith/said] the LORD unto me,
Go and [get/buy] thee a linen [girdle/waistband/shorts/ezor – belt like Elijah wore around his waist or like soldiers wear around the waist],
and put it [upon/around] thy [loins/waist],
[and/but] put it not in water.
So, the Lord commands Jeremiah to buy a belt made of linen.
And he’s not to put it in water. I think the idea is that he’s not supposed to take it off even to wash it. Keep it close to him at all times. Let it cling uninterruptedly to him.
Jeremiah 13 Commentary | Jeremiah’s Obedience
And so Jeremiah does just that in Jeremiah 13:2.
2 So I [got/bought] [a girdle/the waistband/the shorts] [according to the word of the LORD/like the Lord commanded],
and put it [on/around] my [loins/waist].
So, God spoke. Jeremiah obeyed. He has a linen belt on him now. For how long? We don’t know. A little while at least.
By the way, Jeremiah is an example for us in his unquestioning obedience even when what God told him to do didn’t make immediate sense to him. And this buying of the belt and what’s to follow certainly wasn’t understood by Jeremiah for a while – until the Lord revealed to him the meaning behind the activity. We, too, need to obey the Lord even when it doesn’t make sense.
Jeremiah 13 Commentary | Hide the Girdle
Jeremiah 13 Commentary | The Lord’s Command
Well, now the Lord issues a second command to Jeremiah concerning this belt in Jeremiah 13:3-4. He must now hide the belt.
3 And [the word of the LORD came unto me the second time/the Lord spoke to me again], saying,
4 Take the [girdle/belt/waistband/shorts] that thou hast [got/bought], which is [upon/around] thy [loins/waist],
and arise, go to [Euphrates/Perath] [Jos 18:23],
and [hide/bury] it there in a [hole/crevice/crack] of the rock.
So, the Lord has Jeremiah change direction a little. At first he was to get a belt and not take it off. But now he’s telling Jeremiah to take it off and go somewhere.
The text says “Euphrates” or Perath in the Hebrew text. There’s some debate about what location God is identifying here.
It could be the Euphrates River over in the area of Babylon and Assyria. That would be a journey of several months, which is why some think it’s not talking about the river in Mesopotamia. But that doesn’t make such a trip impossible – just very long. Another reason some don’t think this is speaking of the river is because there’s no article on the word in Hebrew – and even in English in the KJV. Usually if the author is speaking of the river then he puts an article on the word Perath.
So, those are some reasons that this might not be speaking of the Euphrates River. So then, what location is the Lord commanding Jeremiah to go to?
Well, there’s a place just a few miles away from Jeremiah’s hometown of Anathoth named Perah. We see it mentioned in Joshua 18:23.
But you might say – “well then how is Jeremiah supposed to put the belt in the water?” That’s the thing – he’s not commanded to put the belt in the water. He’s commanded to put it in a hole or crevice or crack of a rock there.
So, whether Jeremiah is going to the Euphrates or to Perah – he has his orders. Find a rock and take that belt off and bury it in a hole in that rock.
Jeremiah 13 Commentary | Jeremiah’s Obedience
And as before, Jeremiah obeys the Lord in Jeremiah 13:5.
5 So I went, and [hid/buried] it by [Euphrates/the Euphrates/Perath], as the LORD commanded me.
And now, we have the last phase of this symbolic activity – not that the activity didn’t happen, mind you. It did happen. Jeremiah says so. But the activity served as a symbol to Jeremiah and to those to whom he was preaching.
Jeremiah 13 Commentary | Retrieve the Girdle
Jeremiah 13 Commentary | The Lord’s Command
So, lastly, Jeremiah was to get the belt back from the cleft of the rock in Jeremiah 13:6.
6 And it came to pass after many days, that the LORD said unto me,
Arise, go to [Euphrates/the Euphrates/Perath], and take the [girdle/waistband/shorts] from thence, which I commanded thee to [hide/bury] there.
So, we’re given a time frame here finally. Jeremiah left the belt in the hole in the rock for “many days”. And then finally the Lord tells him to go get it again.
Jeremiah 13 Commentary | Jeremiah’s Obedience
And yet again Jeremiah obeys in Jeremiah 13:7.
7 Then I went to [Euphrates/the Euphrates/Perath], and digged, and took the [girdle/waistband/shorts] from the place where I had [hid/buried] it:
and, behold, the [girdle/waistband/shorts] was [marred/ruined/shachath (147x) – in KJV 7x as “mar”, 96x as “destroy”, 22x as “corrupt”; modern “mar” involves impairing the appearance or quality – which seems a little less severe than what the passage is communicating],
it was [profitable for nothing/good for nothing/totally worthless].
So, the belt that once continually clung to Jeremiah’s waist was now utterly ruined.
And that’s the end of the activity.
Jeremiah 13 Commentary | The Meaning of the Action
Well, what does all of that mean? That’s what God explains in Jeremiah 13:8-11.
8 ¶ Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
9 Thus saith the LORD,
After this manner [i.e., how the girdle was ruined] will I [mar/destroy] the pride of Judah,
and the great pride of Jerusalem.
So, that’s the meaning behind Jeremiah’s actions. Jeremiah destroyed the belt by burying it in Perath. And just like that, God was promising to destroy the pride of Jerusalem.
Why? Why the destruction? Jeremiah 13:10.
10 This evil people,
which refuse to hear my words,
which walk in the [imagination/stubbornness/stubborn inclinations] of their heart,
and [walk/go/pay allegiance] after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them,
shall even be as this [girdle/waistband/linen shorts], which is [good for nothing/totally worthless].
So, the people of Judah would be destroyed because they didn’t listen to God and they turned from him to worship other gods.
And since these activities of disobedience and idolatry rendered these people good for nothing in God’s sight, he would add to that worthlessness with his punishment of them.
The Lord continues to explain the application of the symbolic action with the belt to Judah in Jeremiah 13:11.
11 For as the [girdle/waistband/shorts] [cleaveth/cling] to the [loins/waist] of a man, so have I caused to [cleave/cling] unto me the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah,
saith the LORD;
that they might be unto me for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory: [i.e., to bring me these things]
but they would not [hear/listen/obey].
Here we see God’s heart. We hear so much of judgement in this book and really in all the prophets. And yet, let’s not miss where God’s mercy and tenderness appear. He pictures his people as a belt that clings to him. He intends for them to be close to him. Just like Jeremiah was to not remove his belt even to wash it – so the Lord wanted his people to be near to him always.
This is the same God we worship today. But we’re not Israelites. We’re the Church. And yet God’s desire for constant closeness is no different for us than it was for Israel. We’re commanded in the New Testament to draw near to God and we’re promised that in return he will draw near to us. Jesus commands us to come unto him – all of us who are weary and heavy-laden and he’ll give us rest. Jesus is right now preparing a place for us for all eternity and he gives his purpose behind doing that — so that where he is there we may be also. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord – to be near him and close to him forever! God wants his people close to him.
And yet for Israel – they wouldn’t have it. They didn’t want to be close to this God. And so he lets them have their own way.
Jeremiah 13 Commentary | Wine Bottles
Well, the Lord continues painting pictures in the people’s minds in an effort to get through to them. He compared them to a belt. And now in Jeremiah 13:12-14 he pictures them as wine bottles.
12 ¶ Therefore thou shalt speak unto them this word;
Thus saith the LORD God of Israel,
Every [bottle/jug/wine jar] [shall/is to/is made to] be filled with wine:
So, Jeremiah needs to tell the people of Judah that wine bottles are meant to be filled with wine. That’s a no-brainer. And so they’re going to respond like this:
and [i.e., when] they shall say unto thee,
Do we not [certainly/very well] know that every [bottle/jug/wine jar] [shall/is supposed to] be filled with wine?
So, the people will feel like Jeremiah is talking down to them. They might mock him for saying what he’s commanded to say. But then that’s where Jeremiah is to explain the meaning behind this statement which seems so childish to the people. Jeremiah 13:13…
13 Then shalt thou say unto them,
Thus saith the LORD,
Behold, I will fill
all the inhabitants of this land,
even the kings that sit upon David’s throne,
and the priests,
and the prophets,
and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem,
Now, what is God threatening here? He’s saying that he’s going to deal with everyone in Judah and Jerusalem – even the highest officials. He’s going to bring upon them effects that mimic intoxication – relating to the wine he just mentioned before. God resists the proud. That’s what he’s doing here.
Some of us might wonder at the decisions made by people in this country – from those in highest office to just ordinary fellow-citizens. The only reason you can think of in your mind for some of these actions and decisions might be to think that the people were inebriated when they made them. And wherever that’s the case, you do need to wonder if the explanation for such awful decisions and thoughts and actions is possibly a result of God’s judgement.
Well, the Lord continues to threaten the people along this wine-related theme in Jeremiah 13:14.
14 And I will dash them one against another [i.e., like wine bottles], even the fathers and the sons together,
saith the LORD:
I will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy them.
So, the Lord will deal with them in such a way that makes it seem that they’ve drank too much wine, as has already been said. And he’ll deal with them to such an extent that their ruin will be like the results of smashing two clay bottles together. Not a positive picture – but definitely intended to be sobering to a people characterized by insobriety.
Jeremiah 13 Commentary | Repent While There’s Time!
So, we’ve seen so far two parts of this message that have been adorned with poetic imagery or symbolic actions. But now it seems like in the rest of Jeremiah 13, God sets all of that aside and just lays out another very direct plea for the people to repent.
In Jeremiah 13:15-17 Jeremiah himself urges the people to repent while there’s still time – because at this point there apparently was still time to turn back to the Lord.
15 [i.e., Jeremiah says:] Hear ye, and give ear; be not proud: for the LORD hath spoken.
16 [Give glory/show due respect] to the LORD your God,
before he cause darkness [i.e., of disaster],
and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains,
and, while ye [look/hope] for light, he turn it into [the shadow of death/deep darkness],
and make it [gross darkness/gloom].
You can sense the urgency in the plea. It’s as if darkness is casting its shadow on a mountain. The people are to imagine themselves as on this mountain and being plunged into darkness. There’s danger and insecurity that’s coming to them – if they refuse to repent.
So, Jeremiah just said what the Lord will do to the people of Judah if they don’t repent. But now in Jeremiah 13:17 he lets them know what he himself will do if they don’t repent of their pride.
17 But if ye will not hear [it/this warning], my soul shall weep [in secret places/secretly/alone] for your pride;
and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears,
because the LORD’S flock is carried away captive.
This is one of those passages that has earned Jeremiah the label of “the weeping prophet”. This is how Jeremiah will react to Judah’s unrepentant pride – with tears. The Lord will react with punishment. Jeremiah with tears.
And this is another area where I think we can find easy application to our lives.
How do you respond to these bizarre new bathroom rules where men can now use women’s bathrooms and vice versa? And the godless in this society are pushing this on us. How do you respond to this? Frustration and anger are understandable responses. But have you wept?
What about the way you respond to someone to whom you’ve witnessed? You’ve told them about their sin and their need to be delivered by Jesus Christ from the wrath to come. And they just ignore you. Or they mock you. Or they pretend like they’re fine with God. What’s your reaction? Anger? Loathing? But what about weeping?
I was not at Seminary very long before I found myself in a group of really good folks my age who genuinely loved the Lord. One of them is currently a missionary in Asia. But this man once said to all of us something to the effect that he doesn’t remember the last time he cried. It’s just something he just — at that point at least — didn’t do.
But it’s OK to weep over sin – both yours and others. Jesus – around 500 years after Jeremiah’s ministry – lamented and maybe even wept over the pride of Jerusalem just like Jeremiah did. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets – How often I would gather you like a hen but you would not!” Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Why? It was because of the death of Lazarus and the pain which sin and its resulting death has caused. Sin brought death into the world and its effects don’t leave the Son of God unmoved.
Neither should we be unmoved by sin and its effects in our own lives and in the lives of others all around us.
Jeremiah 13 Commentary | Message to the King & Queen
Well, at this point in Jeremiah 13 the Lord seems to break in once more. And at this point he communicates a message to the royal family of Judah.
18 Say unto the king and to the [queen/queen mother],
[Humble yourselves, sit down/Take a lowly seat/Surrender your thrones]:
for your [principalities/what is at the head] shall come down,
even the crown of your glory.
So, God tells the king – maybe Jehoiachin – to abandon his throne and his crown. And if it is Jehoiachin then we know that he was actually exiled in 597 BC, about 10 years before all of Judah was exiled. And so this really did happen – he left his throne, and his crown was taken from him.
Then the Lord speaks of this exile – either the one Jehoiachin experienced or the one all Judah would experience in Jeremiah 13:19.
19 The cities of the [south/Negev] shall be [shut/locked] up, and none shall open them: [cf Jos 6:1]
Judah shall be carried away captive all of it, it shall be wholly carried away captive.
There was once a city in Canaan that was recorded as being “shut up”. That city was Jericho in Joshua 6:1. And in that case it was shut up because of an invading army – the army of Israel. But now – how things have changed! Now it’s Israel’s cities that will be shut up against an invading army. But this time the army will be Babylon – not Israel. And Israel will be the one defeated.
Jeremiah 13 Commentary | Message to Jerusalem
Then the Lord turns to addressing Jerusalem, though the royal family which he just spoke of is probably not far from his mind in Jeremiah 13:20-22.
20 Lift up your eyes [i.e., Jerusalem], and behold [them/the enemy] that come from the north:
Where [i.e., now] is the flock [i.e., of people] that was given thee, thy beautiful flock?
21 What wilt thou say when he shall [punish/appoints over] thee?
[-] for thou hast taught them [-] to be captains, and as chief over thee:
shall not sorrows take thee, as a woman in travail?
22 And if thou say in thine heart,
Wherefore come these things upon me?
For the greatness of thine iniquity are thy skirts [discovered/removed], and thy [heels/limbs] [made bare/exposed].
So, as I say, this is a message to Jerusalem. I think the king is also still in view though. And the message to the king and his city is basically another warning of coming punishment at the hands of this invading army from the north.
The Lord gives a few pictures of this coming destruction.
First, in Jeremiah 13:20 he portrays Jerusalem and her king as a shepherd and her inhabitants and probably everyone who remains in Judah as sheep. And these sheep have been taken from the shepherd. This is a sad development.
The second picture the Lord paints of the destruction to come is the concept of appointing someone else over the kingdom of Judah. That’s in Jeremiah 13:21. And the idea is that the Lord will appoint over Judah and her king the very allies that she tried so hard to attain and appease. In that sense, since Judah had so often treated these allied nations as sovereign over them, it just makes sense that the Lord would give one of these nations total control over them. So often, Judah would run to these ally nations – Assyria and Egypt in particular, but there were others – when they should have been running to God. So, God is going to finally give his people over to be totally controlled by another nation – Babylon, as we’ll discover later in this book.
And God reiterates once more that this is all happening because of Judah’s sin and breaking of their covenant with God.
And this sinning and rebellion run deep with Judah. That’s what the Lord asserts in Jeremiah 13:23.
23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin [i.e., color],
or the leopard his spots?
then may ye also do good,
that are accustomed to do evil.
God is saying here that doing evil is as fundamental to Judah’s nature as is the color of a person’s skin or the markings on an animal’s coat.
And because doing evil is so ingrained into Judah’s very fabric, the Lord needs to carry out the action of Jeremiah 13:24.
24 Therefore will I scatter them as the stubble that passeth away by the wind of the wilderness.
In other words: Exile.
And they deserve this treatment. This is all happening because of their idolatry – which was a violation of the covenant that their ancestors made with God. And because of that, they have brought upon themselves the curses of that covenant for breaking it.
25 This is thy lot, the portion of thy measures from me, saith the LORD;
because thou hast forgotten me, and trusted in [falsehood/false gods].
And because of their idolatry God needs to expose their shameful behavior.
26 Therefore will I [discover/strip/pull up] thy skirts [upon/over] thy face,
that thy shame may appear.
God has seen all their sins against him.
27 I have seen thine adulteries, and thy neighings,
the lewdness of thy [whoredom/prostitutions], and thine abominations on the hills in the fields.
And here’s the final word from the Lord in this chapter.
Woe unto thee, O Jerusalem! [wilt thou not be made clean? when shall it once be?/How long will you continue to be unclean?]
Folks, let me ask you something. Why did God need to punish his people in this book? It’s because they broke his covenant with them. That was the Old Covenant or the Mosaic Covenant. It could be broken and they broke it.
Are we under that covenant? No. We’re not “under the law”. We’re under grace. We’re actually partaking of the New Covenant at least partially.
And let me ask this – can you break the New Covenant? Can you sin your way out of the New Covenant that was inaugurated by Jesus’ blood? Is there listed for us curses for breaking the New Covenant? I’m not aware of any. The New Covenant is different from the Old in that the Old was made between God and some who knew him and many who didn’t. The New Covenant is made only with those who know God. That’s why no one in the New Covenant will need to go over to his neighbor who’s also under the New Covenant and tell him “hey, you better come to know God!” All of us in the New Covenant know God. God writes his law on our hearts, not externally on tablets but internally. I don’t think we can break the New Covenant!
So in one sense that makes it harder to apply what we’re hearing in the book of Jeremiah. I mean, we can’t say “well look, Israel was being punished for breaking her covenant with God and so will we if we break our covenant with God.” We can’t break his covenant with us! The New Covenant is unbreakable. And therefore, when we’re reading of what God had to do to Israel for breaking his covenant – we can rejoice at God’s abundant, overwhelming, gratuitous, free mercy and grace to us who are the least deserving of such things. The Lord Jesus Christ has made a covenant with those of us in this room who trust him. And he’s not going to let us break that covenant.
Praise the Lord!