Signs and Symbols of Jeremiah // Part 9

The Sign of the Soiled Girdle

(Jeremiah 13:1-11)

Of all God’s manifold indictments against apostate Judah in Jeremiah’s prophecy, none is more fundamental than these words: For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13).

In their epic journey out of slavery in Egypt, God, on repeated occasions, miraculously provided “living water” for His chosen people. He subsequently assured them that, if they obeyed Him, He would never leave or forsake them. In this commitment was the Divine promise of eternal life upon the consummation of His purpose to take out of Adam’s death-enslaved race a people for His Name. That promise of eternal “living waters” was the subject of Jesus’ discussion with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in John chapter 4. On that occasion, Jesus described the gift of eternal life as one receiving a well of water springing up into eternal life and never thirsting again (John 4: 14).

In Jeremiah’s day, when God’s covenanted people deliberately turned their backs on Yahweh to figuratively hew out cisterns in the earth, it was the ultimate insult to their Creator. Their idolatrous rebellion was truly hewn out of their own carnal earthly minds, but was incapable of providing life-giving water. In chapter 17, Jeremiah attests to this folly with these words: O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD the fountain of living waters (vs. 13). To be “written in the earth” is the exact opposite of being written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 21:27). It is to be returned to the basic elements from which Adam was formed, never to see life again. These fundamental truths are implicit in the message of the soiled girdle in Jeremiah 13 and the great events of 598 – 596 BC that were soon to follow.

Commentary on Jeremiah 13: 1-11

Vs. 1 Thus saith the LORD unto me, Go and get thee a linen girdle, and put it upon thy loins, and put it not in water. Jeremiah is commanded by the LORD to buy a linen (expensive) girdle, to wear it over his loins and to not wash it! As a Levite son of a priest, not to wash the girdle would have been against all his training and upbringing. (See Leviticus for the absolute necessity of cleansing with water.)

Vs. 2 So I got a girdle according to the word of the LORD and put it on my loins. The prophet dutifully complies, but we are not told for how long he wore this uncleaned girdle in Jerusalem. If it were for any length of time, it surely would have been noticed and been a point of mockery and derision towards him. We simply are not told of when and where he wore it.

Vs. 3 And the word of the LORD came unto me the second time, saying …

Vs. 4 Take the girdle that thou hast got which is upon thy loins, and arise, go to Euphrates, and hide it there in a hole of the rock. Yahweh orders Jeremiah, while still wearing the unwashed girdle, to get up and go to Euphrates (Strong’s #6578 – Perath, meaning “to break forth” or “rushing water”). Once there, he is to finally take off the already-dirty girdle and hide (i.e., bury) it in a hole of the rocks. Note that the only portion of the Euphrates River where there is bedrock is in the headwaters up in Syria. This would have required the prophet to take a 200 to 250-mile journey due North. The lower reaches of the Euphrates system, where the great civilizations arose, is all alluvial sands, silt and gravel, and would have been twice as far.

Vs. 5 So I went, and hid it by Euphrates as the LORD commanded me. Jeremiah again dutifully complies.   Brothers and Sisters, we need to think about this task in terms of time, effort, challenge and difficulty. It was no walk in the park! It was a 400 to 500-mile round trip to bury an increasingly soiled girdle that had to be worn all the way there.

Vs. 6 And it came to pass after many days, that the LORD said unto me, Arise, go to Euphrates and take the girdle from thence, which I commanded thee to hide there. “After many days” (undefined), Jeremiah is again commanded by the LORD to make the same arduous journey; that is, to return to the same place along the Euphrates and unearth the unwashed girdle from the rocks where God had told him to “hide” (bury) it.

Vs. 7 Then I went to Euphrates, and digged, and took the girdle from the place where I had hid it: and behold, the girdle was marred. It was profitable for nothing. Jeremiah obeys and travels the 200 plus miles to the place where he hid the girdle and exhumes it from the rocks. Once again, this was no easy task! Upon seeing the remnants of the girdle, we are told that it was so marred that “it was profitable for nothing.” It was totally useless and fit only to disintegrate back into the linen fiber from which it was made.

Vss. 8-9 Then the word of the LORD came unto me saying, Thus saith the LORD, After this manner will I mar the pride of Judah, and the great pride of Jerusalem. Jeremiah is informed by God that “after this manner” (viz. – removal to and burial in the earth by Euphrates) the LORD will mar (Strong’s #7843, Shachath, meaning “to ruin, destroy”) the pride of Judah and the great (Strong’s #7227, Rab, meaning   “exceedingly full”) pride of Jerusalem.

Vs. 10 This evil people, which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing. The evil people of Judah, emboldened by the wickedness of Josiah’s dreadful sons who succeeded him, refuse to even hear, let alone heed God’s words. They stubbornly follow the imaginations of their own hearts and seek out false gods to worship and serve. For this, like the filthy “marred” girdle, their destiny will be burial in the earth by the Euphrates, without hope.

Vs. 11 For as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave 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: but they would not hear.

This is one of the most tender, intimate, yet sad verses in all of Scripture. As a girdle cleaves (Strong’s #1692, dabaq, meaning “to cleave fast together”) to the loins of a man, God has caused (Strong’s #1961, hayah, meaning “emphatically caused”) both the whole houses of Israel and Judah to cleave fast to Him, in order that they might become “unto Him” in four ways:

  1. For a People (Strong’s #6004 from amam, meaning “to associate” and implies “to overshadow by huddling together”)

  2. For a Name (Strong’s #8034, Shem, implies “honour, authority or character”)

  3. For a Praise (Strong’s #8416, tehillah, meaning “to laud with singing”)

  4. For a Glory (Strong’s #8597, tipharah/tiphereth, meaning “beauty, bravery, comely, glorious, honour, majesty”)

Such was the intent and hope of our Creator for his chosen people, if only they would listen and obey His statutes! Tragically, they would not! Six centuries later the same cry of disappointment and sadness was repeated in Jerusalem by the true heir to David’s throne, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Matthew 23:37) Soon afterwards, Jerusalem was destroyed once again by ruthless Gentile forces in AD 70.

Events Following the Soiled Girdle Message

Jeremiah’s witness to this message would have been known to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and would have been scoffed at by the sons of Josiah and the majority of the inhabitants. Nevertheless, soon after the death of Jehoiakim, his son Jehoichin and his mother were taken to Babylon along with the treasures of the kingdom and temple along with thousands of captives in 597-596 BC (see 2 Kings 24).

Ten years later, the last wave of deportees were sent to “Euphrates.” Most, like the soiled girdle that foretold their end, were destined to be “written in the earth.” Yet, a few sterling persons chose to “cleave fast” to Yahweh for a people, for a name, for a praise, and for a glory. They included the likes of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, Ezra, Nehemiah, Zerubbabel, Mordecai, Esther and others. Seven decades would pass from the earliest deportation of Daniel and his friends to the beginning of a return community under Ezra and Nehemiah. Jeremiah fearlessly spoke out about these things and remained steadfast despite the persistent abuse and rejection he received at the hands of wicked men. His example of obedience to God is testimony to his faith and courage in the face of constant adversity. He was the epitome of James 5:10, Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.

Closing Thought

Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed for his disciples and those who would believe their message (that means us!), This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent (John 17:3 and 20). In the same vein, Jeremiah wrote, Let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, saith the LORD (9:24). Speaking of the good King Josiah to his wicked sons, Jeremiah also wrote, Did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgement and justice, and then it was well with him? He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the LORD (22:15-16).

For us living in these last days, when seemingly all peoples do that which is right in their own eyes, it is essential that we know our Heavenly Father and His Son whom He has sent! Let us therefore, seek to know God more clearly and more fully as the Fountain of Living Waters in our families, in our ecclesias, and in our hearts. Let us gird up our loins with the Girdle of Truth and righteousness like Jeremiah, in order to find courage and help to do the hard things, because they are right.

Jim Horton, Grimsby, ON