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Christians like to pretend that their Gods are classy, polite, and delicate in speech. They get quite offended at the suggestion that their Gods can be quite crude and rude. Well, this is what happens when we try to view the Bible as our God controlling book of incantations instead of viewing it as the educational tool that it is. There is only one right reason to read the Bible, and that is to know your Gods better. Of course you can’t get anywhere unless They are willing to work with you as you read, and this is why slogging through daily devotions without Them is an utter waste of time. But when we wait for Them to prompt us, and then we read, wow. The biblical records are filled with some very shocking and helpful insights about who our Gods are, how They operate, and just how wild They can be.
Now metaphors are very helpful ways to get a point across to us humans. Our brains really appreciate it when someone draws parallels to an everyday life experience in order to teach us something new. Well, what’s more everyday then putting on your underwear? Of all the articles of clothing we wear, the thing we use to hide our pelvic region from view is the most intimate and important to us. Our underwear is the last thing we want to take off. Underwear is the thing that keeps us feeling like we’ve still got some degree of dignity left in the midst of feeling overexposed in a doctor’s office or some other situation where partial nudity is required. Well, the Gods who gave us this aversion to being naked know all about how important underwear is to us. Underwear is associated with some very strong feelings in our minds. It’s close. It’s personal. It’s intimate. It’s very important to us. What great metaphor material.
In Jeremiah 13, we find Yahweh making the very bizarre claim that His chosen people are like underwear to Him. Well, that certainly came out of nowhere. And how very awkward. We’re all for God using metaphors for His relationship with us—but we prefer to stick with things like Shepherd and sheep. When’s the last time you saw a painting of God holding a piece of underwear in His hands? Some metaphors just don’t make their way onto our artistic canvases because, well, they’re too embarrassing. Who wants to go around saying, “My God likens His people to a pair of briefs?” And yet this is what Yahweh said. Now let’s understand why.
Both Yahweh and Jesus are fans of telling parables, but in the Old Testament, we find that Yahweh often likes to take things a step farther by having His boys act things out. Enter the flushed faced prophets who are having to go through all sorts of embarrassing one man charades in order to illustrate some point that Yahweh wants to make. When Yahweh gets into the mood to talk about underwear, it’s the prophet Jeremiah who gets called upon to do some rather embarrassing things. Step one is for the prophet to go out and purchase a fresh pair of briefs. Of course, in Jeremiah’s day, underwear didn’t come with handy leg holes and an elastic band. Ancient underwear was simply a strip of linen cloth which had to be tied around one’s pelvic region. When you hear the term loin, think groin, and then you’ll know why ancient underwear was called a loincloth.
This is what Yahweh said to me: “Go and buy a linen loincloth and put it on, but do not wash it.” So I bought the loincloth as Yahweh directed me, and I put it on. (Jer. 13:1-2)
Well, now that Jeremiah’s wearing some brand new underwear, God tells him to go take a little trip out to the Euphrates River. There Jeremiah is to find a crack in some rocks that he can stuff his new underwear into.
Then Yahweh gave me another message: “Take the linen loincloth you are wearing, and go to the Euphrates River. Hide it there in a hole in the rocks.” So I went and hid it by the Euphrates as Yahweh had instructed me. (Jer. 13:3-5)
Has God ever told you to do something really embarrassing? So embarrassing that you didn’t want anyone else to know about it or see you doing it? Well, we can just imagine Jeremiah standing by the Euphrates, looking around to make sure he was alone before he slips out of his brand new underwear and stuffs it into a rock. This just isn’t the sort of activity you want someone to walk in on the middle of.
“Hey, Jeremiah, what are you doing? Is that your underwear that you’re stuffing into that rock?”
“What on earth are you doing that for?”
“God told me to.”
Some conversations just don’t work, and trying to get folks to believe that God is having you play with your underwear is one of them.
Well, now Jeremiah goes home and tries to forget about the whole underwear incident. God doesn’t say anything more about the subject for a long time, and that makes it very easy for Jeremiah to conclude that his discernment skills were a bit off on that one. After all, it’s very easy to think God said something when He didn’t, and prophets aren’t above making mistakes. But then, a long time later, Yahweh suddenly brings up the subject of Jeremiah’s riverside undies.
A long time afterward Yahweh said to me, “Go back to the Euphrates and get the loincloth I told you to hide there.” So I went to the Euphrates and dug it out of the hole where I had hidden it. But now it was rotting and falling apart. The loincloth was good for nothing. (Jer. 13:6-7)
With plenty of moisture and critters by the river, Jeremiah’s linen loincloth has been getting attacked by God’s natural recycle program. Bugs have been munching. Mold is probably growing. The cloth is all damp, holey, smelly, and nasty now. Well, what was the point of this little exercise?
Then I received this message from Yahweh: “This is what Yahweh says: This shows how I will rot away the pride of Judah and Jerusalem. These wicked people refuse to listen to Me. They stubbornly follow their own desires and worship other gods. Therefore, they will become like this loincloth—good for nothing! As a loincloth clings to a man’s waist, so I created Judah and Israel to cling to Me, says Yahweh. They were to be My people, My pride, My glory—an honor to My Name. But they would not listen to Me.” (Jer. 13:8-11)
Before there even was an Israel, there were a bunch of Hebrews worshiping a pantheon of Egyptian gods. They weren’t looking for a relationship with Yahweh—but He came and offered them one anyway. Yahweh pulled a massive mob of folks out of Egypt, led them into a wilderness and essentially said, “I’m the real God. Turn away from all of these idols you’ve been worshiping and devote yourselves entirely to Me.” Yahweh chose the Israelites to be His special people—or, as He says in Jeremiah 13, He chose them to be His underwear. And just as underwear is tightly bound around a man’s personal parts, the Israelites were supposed to be clinging tightly to Yahweh in their souls. Is this an awkward image? Yes, very. It’s more than a little strange to hear God likening His people to a pair of underwear. But this is what He says, and because we find this embarrassing, you won’t find pastors trotting out Jeremiah 13 very often.
Now in this passage, things quickly go from awkward to gross as Yahweh says He’s going to take His metaphorical underwear and make it rot. Since the Israelites are refusing to cling tightly to Yahweh as good underwear would, He’s going to intentionally destroy them. And of course our pride is what keeps us from submitting to our Gods as the Supreme Authorities over us. These Israelites want to worship gods who they feel they can manipulate—not the wild Yahweh. Well, bring on the rot. This disobedient underwear is going down.
Now Yahweh didn’t have Jeremiah retrieve his undies from the Euphrates just to throw it out when he got home. The idea is that Jeremiah now needs to go out in public, wave his rotted loincloth in people’s faces, and shout out the message from Yahweh. In other words, he needs to say, “Thus says Yahweh: I called you people to be My underwear, but you wouldn’t cooperate!” Now that sounds Divinely inspired.
While Jeremiah is waving his undies around and ranting at people, Yahweh gives him more to say:
“So tell them, ‘This is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: May all your jars be filled with wine.’ And they will reply, ‘Of course! Jars are made to be filled with wine!’” (Jer. 13:12)
At first this sounds nice—as if Yahweh is saying, “I plan to bless you all with plenty of wine.” But we know this can’t be what He means when He’s so angry about His defiant underwear.
“Then tell them, ‘No, this is what Yahweh means: I will fill everyone in this land with drunkenness—from the king sitting on David’s throne to the priests and the prophets, right down to the common people of Jerusalem. I will smash them against each other, even parents against children, says Yahweh. I will not let My pity or mercy or compassion keep Me from destroying them.’” (Jer. 13:13-14)
Yahweh frequently uses imagery of drunken slobs in the Old Testament books. The idea here is that when a man is completely wasted on alcohol, he staggers around, he babbles like a fool, he’s unable to defend himself, and he’s pretty easy to take down. Here Yahweh says that He’s going to degrade all of His rebellious people into such a state. And just as a room full of drunk men will bang into each other as they stagger around, Yahweh will pit His people against each other and turn them into a fighting, violent mess. The people really don’t want their jars to be filled with this kind of wine, for this is the wine of God’s wrath.
So what’s Jeremiah’s reaction to all of this? He’s terribly upset. As a prophet, Jeremiah has trouble remembering where his loyalties should lie. Though he carries out many embarrassing assignments, he spends too much time sympathizing with those who hate Yahweh simply because they are Jeremiah’s own kinsman. So now we find Jeremiah urging his fellow Jews to stop being such spiritual punks.
Listen and pay attention! Do not be arrogant, for Yahweh has spoken. Give glory to Yahweh your God before it is too late. Acknowledge Him before He brings darkness upon you, causing you to stumble and fall on the darkening mountains. For then, when you look for light, you will find only terrible darkness and gloom. And if you still refuse to listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride. My eyes will overflow with tears, because Yahweh’s flock will be led away into exile. (Jer. 13:15-17)
Jeremiah’s warnings will fall on deaf ears. These people really hate Yahweh, and they’re not about to return to Him. Yahweh has already told Jeremiah many times how unrepentant these people are, but Jeremiah just won’t accept that this piece of underwear is being as rebellious as it is. So he hopes in vain that his people will suddenly repent, then he plans to spend a bunch of time weeping over their misery if they don’t. That’s what the book of Lamentations is about: Jeremiah weeping over the misery of his people. It’s an inappropriate sentiment for a prophet of Yahweh to have—prophets are supposed to be siding with God, not crying over those who God is spanking. But Jeremiah isn’t a shining example of correct loyalties so we have to take the good and be aware of the bad.
So what can we Christians learn from this underwear metaphor? Well, as uncomfortable as the imagery might make us, it teaches an important lesson about how God wants His people to respond to Him. When God calls out for any soul to come to Him, He wants an enthusiastic response. He wants souls to cling to Him tightly—as tightly as, well, underwear.
Before the days of elastic bands, a man had to cinch his loincloth pretty tight to make sure it would stay on as he went about his business. So this isn’t the image of a people loosely hugging God, but one of souls locking their arms around Him in a tight embrace. Once you get past the weird feeling of being likened to underwear, think about how awesome it is that your Creator wants His teensy little creatures to cling to Him so tightly. Our Gods are not indifferent towards us—instead They respond in extreme ways to our response to Them. Our soul choices are very important to Them. They don’t take a “whatever” view of us. So now we come to that all important question: how tightly are you clinging to God? Did you fall off ten steps ago because you just really don’t care about who He is or what He wants? Or are you giving Him that vice grip? Yahweh says that what He likes is underwear that is gripping nice and tight—the kind that won’t come off no matter how many jumping jacks He does. If you know you’re just not there in your personal walk with Him, then ask Him to get you there. It is such a blessing that we have Creators who are this interested in us—if we’re going to blow off such an amazing invitation, well then we really do deserve to rot away.
Analogies of Jesus: The Good Shepherd (John 10)
Learning from Yahweh: What It Means To Be Holy
Prophets in Action: Isaiah Walks Around Naked
Prophets in Action: Ezekiel & the Siege of Jerusalem