This chapter seems to be a compilation of several signs and prophetic words given to Jeremiah at different times.
A. The Sign of the Linen Sash.
1. (1-5) Hiding the linen sash.
Thus the LORD said to me: “Go and get yourself a linen sash, and put it around your waist, but do not put it in water.” So I got a sash according to the word of the LORD, and put it around my waist. And the word of the LORD came to me the second time, saying, “Take the sash that you acquired, which is around your waist, and arise, go to the Euphrates, and hide it there in a hole in the rock.” So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the LORD commanded me.
a. Go and get yourself a linen sash: Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, told Jeremiah to take a sash and tie around himself as an object lesson. The sash was associated with the priestly garments both for the High Priest (Exodus 28:4) and the regular priest (Leviticus 16:4). Such a linen belt was a sign of dignity and nobility.
i. Some such as Harrison believe this sash was more properly a waist-cloth or loincloth, but it seems to be best understood as a decorative belt, something like a cummerbund.
ii. “If Jeremiah wore the traditional prophetic garb he would have been clothed in a fairly tight tunic of coarse material with a hair cloak over it. A linen girdle around his waist, such as was worn by priests and the rich nobility, would have made him something of a spectacle.” (Thompson)
b. Arise, go to the Euphrates, and hide it there in a hole in the rock: God commanded Jeremiah to make a long journey, all the way north (and somewhat east) to the Euphrates River. This was in the direction from which the future conquerors of Judah would come. Once there, he was to bury the sash, presumably by the river.
i. Some think that Jeremiah didn’t go all the way to the Euphrates, but to a much closer water source with a similar name. Others think this was merely a prophetic vision. Yet there is no good reason to believe that Jeremiah did not take this long journey as an acted-out parable. “Personally, I believe that it is history, that Jeremiah actually travelled to Babylon and back twice.” (Morgan)
ii. “A three months’ disappearance by the prophet would have caused a stir in Anathoth, and his return without the girdle would have been cause for much comment.” (Thompson)
iii. “The prophet’s journey therefore thither seemeth to have been but visional, as was Isaiah’s going barefoot, Hosea’s marriage with a whore, Ezekiel’s lying on one side three hundred and ninety days together.” (Trapp)
2. (6-7) Finding the decayed, useless sash.
Now it came to pass after many days that the LORD said to me, “Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from there the sash which I commanded you to hide there.” Then I went to the Euphrates and dug, and I took the sash from the place where I had hidden it; and there was the sash, ruined. It was profitable for nothing.
a. Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from there the sash: Some many days later, God commanded Jeremiah to take the long journey once again, this time to take the sash from the place he buried it.
b. There was the sash, ruined. It was profitable for nothing: Jeremiah found what he might have expected. The sash had deteriorated in the dirt and the moisture. It still existed, but it was ruined and good for nothing. It had nothing of the previous nobility and prominence that it once displayed.
i. “Whereas plain words might not have been noticed, this little piece of acting commanded the attention and excited the curiosity of the people. Blame us not if we sometimes dramatize the truth: we must win men’s hearts, and to do so we dare even run the risk of being called theatrical.” (Spurgeon)
3. (8-11) Ruining the pride of the people.
Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Thus says the LORD: ‘In this manner I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. This evil people, who refuse to hear My words, who follow the dictates of their hearts, and walk after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be just like this sash which is profitable for nothing. For as the sash clings to the waist of a man, so I have caused the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah to cling to Me,’ says the LORD, ‘that they may become My people, for renown, for praise, and for glory; but they would not hear.’
a. In this manner I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem: The noble sash was taken to the Euphrates and ruined. So also would Judah and Jerusalem be taken to the Euphrates (and beyond) in their coming captivity, and thus God would ruin the pride of His people.
i. “Just as the girdle had been spoiled, so also would the gross pride of Judah and the gross pride of Jerusalem be destroyed.” (Thompson)
b. Shall be just like this sash which is profitable for nothing: At one time God had great use for His people Israel in the world, but they had so rejected God, that at that point they were profitable for nothing. This was through their three main sins.
· Who refuse to hear My words: The people of God had become hard and cold towards the word of God to them.
· Who follow the dictates of their hearts: The people of God instead trusted in their own hearts, and looked to self instead of the LORD.
· And walk after other gods to serve them: When they stopped listening to God and started following their own hearts, it led them to the corruption of idolatry.
c. As the sash clings to the waist of a man, so I have caused the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah to cling to Me: Just as a fine sash expressed beauty and nobility, so God wanted His people to be ornaments of His greatness to all the world. If they would cling to Him, they would be My people, for renown, for praise, and for glory.
i. “The chief purpose and ultimate goal of human beings is to be wrapped around God’s waist like a fashion accessory. When we are at our very best, we adorn God with glory.” (Ryken)
d. But they would not hear: Because of their stubborn and persistent sins against the LORD, Judah did not fulfill the noble and beautiful destiny God planned for them. They became useless and ruined like the buried sash.
i. What was true for ancient Judah is true among God’s people today. God’s plan is to make His people a noble ornament, a decoration of His own presence and work. If we reject this noble calling, we become useless for His highest and best purpose – and our own.
B. The Sign of the Wine Bottle.
1. (12) Every bottle filled with wine.
“Therefore you shall speak to them this word: ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel: “Every bottle shall be filled with wine.”‘ And they will say to you, ‘Do we not certainly know that every bottle will be filled with wine?’”
a. Every bottle shall be filled with wine: This proverbial phrase had the sense, “Everything will fulfill its purpose.” A bottle (actually a clay jar to hold wine, not a glass bottle) was meant to contain wine, so to say “every bottle shall be filled with wine” was another way to say, “everything shall fulfill its purpose” or “it will all be right in the end.”
i. “Here the tag evidently meant something optimistic, such as, ‘The more you expect, the more you’ll get,’ or perhaps, ‘It’ll all come right in the end.’” (Kidner)
ii. Bottle: “The nebel was the largest earthenware container used for storing wine (cf. Isaiah 22:24; 30:14; Lamentations 4:2).” (Harrison)
b. Do we not certainly know that every bottle will be filled with wine? The people’s response showed their confidence in the principle of the proverb. If God had planned a noble and high purpose for Israel, surely it would be fulfilled – and good times would follow.
2. (13-14) The people of Judah drunk and destroyed.
“Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will fill all the inhabitants of this land — even the kings who sit on David’s throne, the priests, the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem — with drunkenness! And I will dash them one against another, even the fathers and the sons together,” says the LORD. “I will not pity nor spare nor have mercy, but will destroy them.”’”
a. I will fill all the inhabitants of this land…. with drunkenness: Instead of fulfilling their purpose before God in a high and noble way, God’s rebellious people would be filled with stupor and stupidity. If they had a fatalistic confidence in their destiny as the people of God, the LORD wanted to break it.
i. “Their heads (not altogether unlike bottles for roundness and emptiness of all good) shall be filled with a dry drunkenness, even with errors and terrors, a spirit of giddiness.” (Trapp)
b. I will dash them one against another: Bottles not only have destiny to be filled; they also have a destiny to be broken. God promised His rebellious people that they would face this destiny if they continued in their sin against Him.
i. “Jeremiah announced that God would fill the people with the wine of his wrath, and just as wine jars about which the people joked were smashed by dashing them one against the other, so God would destroy his people.” (Thompson)
C. How to respond to God’s warnings.
1. (15-16) Humble yourself and give glory to the LORD.
Hear and give ear:
Do not be proud,
For the LORD has spoken.
Give glory to the LORD your God
Before He causes darkness,
And before your feet stumble
On the dark mountains,
And while you are looking for light,
He turns it into the shadow of death
And makes it dense darkness.
a. Do not be proud, for the LORD has spoken: Every time God speaks to us, we have the choice to respond in pride or humility. We have the choice to reject or resist the word of the LORD, or to humble ourselves before His authority. God warned Judah to take the humble path.
i. “Refusing to hear what Jehovah has spoken, thou wilt follow other voices,which shall allure thee into an Egyptian night of confusion. Thou wilt go on meditating and excogitating, or criticizing and trifling, till thou art enveloped in a cloud of doubts, wrapped as in a dense smoke of speculation, and well nigh smothered in exhalations of unbelief. Thou shalt not know what to do, nor what to think, nor what to say, nor whither to betake thyself, for thou wilt have renounced thy guide and quenched thy torch.” (Spurgeon)
b. Give glory to the LORD your God before He causes darkness: The promised judgment was not far away. There was urgency for Judah to turn to the LORD before the darkness came, before your feet stumble. In rejecting God, they would become like mountain travelers trying to make their way through dangerous paths in dense darkness.
i. Specifically, Judah could give glory to the LORD by recognizing His superior place and their proper place beneath Him. They could humbly confess their sin and reject their idols, which robbed God of His glory.
ii. Give glory to God: “Confess your sins and turn to him, that these sore evils may be averted.” (Clarke)
2. (17-20) The price to be paid for not heeding God’s warnings.
But if you will not hear it,
My soul will weep in secret for your pride;
My eyes will weep bitterly
And run down with tears,
Because the LORD’s flock has been taken captive.
Say to the king and to the queen mother,
For your rule shall collapse, the crown of your glory.”
The cities of the South shall be shut up,
And no one shall open them;
Judah shall be carried away captive, all of it;
It shall be wholly carried away captive.
Lift up your eyes and see
Those who come from the north.
Where is the flock that was given to you,
Your beautiful sheep?
a. If you will not hear it, my soul will weep: This was Jeremiah’s painful lament. He wasn’t a dispassionate observer, throwing the thunderbolts of God’s judgment against Judah. His eyes ran down with tears because of their sin and pride, and because soon, the LORD’s flock has been taken captive.
i. “Good ministers should be full of compassionate tears, weeping in secret for their people’s unprofitableness, and their danger thereby.” (Trapp)
b. Say to the king and to the queen mother, “Humble yourselves”: If Judah’s royalty would submit and surrender to God, surely the people of the kingdom would follow. In this spiritual work, the leaders had to take the lead.
i. This word applied to the young King Jehoiachin and his mother Nehushta (2 Kings 24:8-16). They were perhaps already in Babylonia by this time, yet could still benefit if they humbled themselves before Yahweh.
ii. “The address is an exhortation to humility in view of their impending loss of sovereignty. Pride was characteristic of the royal house.” (Feinberg)
c. For your rule shall collapse, the crown of your glory: If the king and queen mother of Judah had a special responsibility to lead in repentance, they also had a special reason to do so. Because of their heights, the coming fall would affect them the worst.
i. The cities of the South shall be shut up: “Not only the cities of the north, the quarter at which the Chaldeans entered, but the cities of the south also; for he shall proceed from one extremity of the land to the other, spreading devastation every where, and carrying off the inhabitants.” (Clarke)
ii. Judah shall be carried away captive, all of it: “The statement that ‘all Judah’ will be exiled is rhetorical exaggeration, since only some leaders and skilled workmen were taken to Babylon at that time (597 BC). Yet they represented the whole nation.” (Feinberg)
d. Where is the flock that was given to you, your beautiful sheep: The invaders from the north would take the people of Judah captive. Since a king was often thought of as a shepherd of his people, the picture of the invaders stealing the beautiful sheep of the king of Judah was especially appropriate.
i. Lift up your eyes: “The imperatives are feminine and would appear therefore to be addressed to the city of Jerusalem.” (Thompson)
3. (21-23) The guilt of those whom the LORD punishes.
What will you say when He punishes you?
For you have taught them
To be chieftains, to be head over you.
Will not pangs seize you,
Like a woman in labor?
And if you say in your heart,
“Why have these things come upon me?”
For the greatness of your iniquity
Your skirts have been uncovered,
Your heels made bare.
Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?
Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil.
a. What will you say when He punishes you? When the promised calamity came upon Judah, they would have no excuse. Though they did not listen to Jeremiah, he clearly warned them as the messenger of the LORD.
i. “Like nominal believers in all ages, the people were incredulous that such calamities could overtake them.” (Harrison)
ii. You have taught them to be chieftains, to be head over you: “This is said of their enemies, whether Assyrians or Chaldeans…Their enemies were thus taught to be their lords and masters.” (Clarke)
b. For the greatness of your iniquity your skirts have been uncovered, your heels made bare: With strong images, God warned Judah that their iniquity was so great that the judgment coming against them would be as a severe violation.
i. The idea here is that unfaithful Judah would be terribly and tragically violated by their conquerors, or that they would be humiliated and exposed as prostitutes for their continual spiritual adulteries (as in Isaiah 47:2-3; Hosea 2:3). Either image fits this context.
ii. “Exposure of the secret parts (here euphemistically described as tearing off the skirt and mistreating the body) was the public disgrace heaped on prostitutes.” (Feinberg)
iii. “The expression ‘lift up the skirt’ is a euphemism for sexual attack both here and elsewhere in the OT (Leviticus 18:6-19; Deuteronomy 23:1 [English 22:30]; Jeremiah 27:20; Isaiah 47:3; Nahum 3:5, etc.).” (Thompson)
iv. “The heels of AV is another euphemism, more literally rendered ‘body ravished’ (RSV suffer violence; NEB limbs uncovered).” (Harrison)
v. “Under the savage metaphors the lesson is that a people that parts with its virtue – its morals, its integrity, its faith – will find itself not liberated, only cheapened: stripped of everything that gave it value and respect.” (Kidner)
c. Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil: Jeremiah quoted this proverb to warn the people that they were stuck in their sinful nature, and unable to change themselves. The answer was not first in national reform, but in national repentance and reliance upon the God who can change the nature of man.
i. “Evil, not only fitting them like a glove, not only deep-dyed, was by now something they could not more change or wish to change than the colour of their skin.” (Kidner)
ii. Evil may be so ingrained in men that they find it impossible to change. Yet, especially from a broader Biblical perspective, we see the transforming work of Jesus Christ. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). The changes don’t come all at once and they are not complete until we are resurrected in glory, but the transformation is nevertheless real. The Ethiopian cannot change his skin nor the leopard his spots; but the LORD God can transform men and women.
iii. ‘The question of the text is, ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin?’ The answer is, — No, no, no, no, no, no. Here is the other question, — Can the Ethiopian’s skin be changed? The answer to that is, — Yes, yes, yes, as emphatically as we have just now said no, no, no. Can the Ethiopian’s skin be changed? Can the sinner’s nature be renewed? Yes, for God can do everything.” (Spurgeon)
4. (24-25) The determination of the LORD to scatter His people.
“Therefore I will scatter them like stubble
That passes away by the wind of the wilderness.
This is your lot,
The portion of your measures from Me,” says the LORD,
“Because you have forgotten Me
And trusted in falsehood.”
a. I will scatter them like stubble: Judah would not be conquered and exiled, but scattered across the Babylonian Empire and succeeding empires. This was their lot, the portion of your measures from the LORD.
i. This is your lot: “Look for no better, since thou, by going after lying vanities, forsakes thine own mercies, being miserable by thine own election.” (Trapp)
b. Because you have forgotten Me and trusted in falsehood: Even in this severe warning, God gave His people a roadmap back to His favor and blessing. Where they had forgotten God they must remember Him again, and where they had trusted in the falsehood of self and idols, they must turn away from them.
i. Trusted in falsehood: “The attachment of Judah to The Lie was in itself a great shame, an act of adultery.” (Thompson)
ii. “The irony of it all is that this will be inflicted by the very people whom Judah once courted. Because of her indulgence in the unfruitful works of darkness Judah would be exposed publicly as the corrupt wanton that she was by the One who had first espoused her in covenant love.” (Harrison)
5. (26-27) The exposed shame of God’s people.
“Therefore I will uncover your skirts over your face,
That your shame may appear.
I have seen your adulteries
And your lustful neighings,
The lewdness of your harlotry,
Your abominations on the hills in the fields.
Woe to you, O Jerusalem!
Will you still not be made clean?”
a. Therefore I will uncover your skirts over your face, that your shame may appear: God’s people chronically refused to humble themselves before the Lord (as in the plea of Jeremiah 13:18). Therefore they would face a far greater shame, one appropriate for their literal and spiritual harlotry.
i. Your lustful neighings: “The ‘neighings’ are a bestial figure for illicit love.” (Feinberg)
b. Woe to you, O Jerusalem! Will you still not be made clean? It was not only the Prophet Jeremiah who ached over the destiny of this stubborn, self-willed, idolatrous people. Yahweh Himself joined in the woe and the plea.
i. “He closeth with this emphatical and most affectionate contestation, pressing them to hearty and speedy repentance, as he had done oft before, but with little good success.” (Trapp)