A Linen Belt

Once during a choir tour, on a bus, while traveling through the rolling Ozarks, a wise man posed this simple question: “What has Jesus meant to you since 7:00 this morning?” It’s sad to admit, but I had to answer… “Nothing.” I honestly hadn’t even thought about him at all. The busyness of tour, interactions with friends, and my own selfish ambitions had kept me preoccupied. I cringed at that thought.

For many of us, the answer to that question is too often, “Nothing.” So my question is: what causes us to be so self-focused? What causes us to be so preoccupied… that is, “pre-occupied,” or occupied “before”… occupied first by human cares… before Jesus has a chance to fill our minds? How can we so quickly forget our Savoir and our God?

One of my favorite metaphors is found in Jeremiah 13. (Nerdy English majors can have favorite metaphors.) (And it’s actually fascinating how God uses metaphor and symbolism throughout the whole Old Testament. Jesus also used literary devices when he spoke in parables. Another literary device on which I would like to expound is “sarcasm” in the Bible, but I haven’t found many examples besides Sarah’s laugh [which was a portrayal of her lack of faith, so that’s not very attractive, huh?] and Jesus’ response to Nicodemus when he said, “You are Israel’s teacher, and do not understand these things?” We’re at a loss, then, with sarcasm. Just how holy is it?) Digression ends here.

In Jeremiah 13, God compares the nation of Israel to a linen belt that becomes damaged, or destroyed. The Lord has Jeremiah buy a linen belt, wear it, hide it in the rocks, and recover it, only to find it ruined. Then Jeremiah prophesies, and he brings God’s words to the people:

9 “This is what the LORD says: ‘In the same way I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. 10 These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt—completely useless! 11 For as a belt is bound around the waist, so I bound all the people of Israel and all the people of Judah to me,’ declares the LORD, ‘to be my people for my renown and praise and honor. But they have not listened.’ (NIV)

When Jeremiah dug up the belt, he found it to be completely useless. The Lord said that the nation was profitable for nothing, like that belt! God explained how, in his mercy, He had bound the nation of Israel to Him like a belt and that they were to be for his praise. But their disobedience had reduced His glory.

We can look deeper into the analogy to find additional meaning. Perath, where Jeremiah hid the linen belt, represents Babylonian power. (So in essence, Babylonian captivity would be their ruin.) One source reminds us that linen was specifically for priestly apparel (and also worn by rich nobility), so a prophet showing up in a priestly garment would have created quite a stir. This makes the linen belt seem even more glorious, and God is expressing his deep love for Israel by comparing them to such an excellent garment. Another aspect for consideration is the make-up of the garment: the linen belt might be a girdle, or a kilt, or as one irreverent commentator put it: priestly underpants.

Despite the additional contextual information, the message is quite clear: ignoring God’s commands makes us completely useless. When we regularly do not do what God asks us to do, we reduce Christ. Christ is our glory, and as we are supposed to reflect Him, we then become God’s glory. We will praise God because of the glory of Christ in us. Our purpose for living is to bring praise to God. Our existence should bring praise to God and should make His name known.

But for many of us, obedience is just too simple. We must “figure out God’s will” for our lives, when in fact, He has already revealed it to us: to be obedient. A dynamic young doctor (a professional by anyone’s standards) reminded us of this last Sunday, when she humbly aligned herself with her fellow church members by making this statement, “God’s definition of success is obedience.”

As we recognize the importance of obedience, we still downplay the effects of ignoring God’s commands…

In verse seventeen, the Lord speaks again:

17 If you do not listen,
I will weep in secret
because of your pride;
my eyes will weep bitterly,
overflowing with tears,
because the LORD’s flock will be taken captive.” (NIV)

God knows what the effects of disobedience are, and He weeps because of it.

How many times do I forget my glory?

When do I disregard God’s commands?

The Bible says to “put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).

Perhaps, I think, there are mornings when I forget to get dressed.


2 thoughts on “A Linen Belt”

  1. Thanks Esther. I was reading this portion from Jermiah 13 & wondered why God compared Israel to fine linen belt. You explained it and helped me to think this morning, Thank you for sharing this. Susan,India

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