The Loincloth and Jars of Wine

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’” (v. 1).

- Jeremiah 13

Visual aids, teachers agree, help all students understand their lessons. No matter the subject—math, history, and more—visible objects help us retain what we learn.

This is no less true of spiritual instruction, and so our gracious Creator gives us visual aids to help us know and apply His teaching. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are often called visible words because in seeing these sacraments administered, gospel promises are confirmed in a different manner than in the audible word of preaching. Before Jesus came, the Lord also gave visible words to His people, including the rainbow and circumcision (Gen. 9:8–17; 17:1–14). He also provided visual object lessons intended for only a particular time and situation and not for repetition in every generation. The prophets, for example, often describe actions they performed to teach theological truths.

Jeremiah frequently used these visual aids and signs. Today’s passage records the occasion on which God commanded the prophet to use a “linen loincloth” as an object lesson (Jer. 13:1). Most Judahite males in that day wore this kilt-like garment, which was wrapped around the waist and hung down to one’s mid-thigh. Jeremiah’s loincloth is likened to “the whole house of Israel and … Judah,” to whom God bound Himself intimately just as a man clings to His wife (v. 11; the same Hebrew word translated “cling” in verse 11 is translated “hold fast” in Gen. 2:24). Jeremiah was to take the loincloth to the river Euphrates and hide it (Jer. 13:1–5). Many commentators believe Jeremiah did not actually go all the way to the Euphrates River in Babylon but to Perath, a settlement at the eastern edge of Jeremiah’s home territory of Benjamin where conditions mimicked those of the Euphrates’ surrounding area. Either way, the meaning of Jeremiah’s action is clear. Just as the buried belt rotted in the east, the Judahites would be taken east into Babylon to rot in exile (vv. 6–10). This action predicted divine judgment.

Next, the Lord told Jeremiah to use wine jars to teach a similar lesson. The prophet was to say, “Every jar shall be filled with wine,” which was probably a proverb that meant something like “everything has its use.” The people would think these words irrelevant, for everyone knows that “every [wine] jar will be filled with wine” (v. 12). Jeremiah would preach, but the people as a whole would not listen. Thus, they would face destruction, just as two wine jars shatter when they are dashed against one another (vv. 13–14).

Coram Deo

God made us in His image, so He knows how best to instruct us. That is why we should pay careful attention when we see the visible words He has given us performed. Baptism tells us that those who have faith will be washed clean of sin while those who do not trust Christ will be drowned or destroyed. The Lord’s Supper tells us that we are nourished by Christ through faith and that His judgment will fall on those who partake unworthily, that is, not in faith.

Passages for Further Study

Ezekiel 4
Acts 21:1–16

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