This is the first action sermon recorded in Jeremiah (with the possible exception of 5:1-2). By it the Lord’s spoken word was graphically reinforced, leaving the people with no excuse for misunderstanding.
Jeremiah was to buy a linen loincloth (girdle, KJV), which he wore continuously until commanded to go and hide it in a rock crevice, where it remained for many days. When the Lord told him to retrieve it, it was spoiled and good for nothing.
The Purchase of the Loincloth
As previously stated, the rediscovery of the Book of the Law apparently impacted young Jeremiah. This section of the book begins with a word to Jeremiah to remind the men of Judah of their unique identity and the special rights and responsibilities associated with it. Alluding to the books of Moses, he said: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, that I may confirm the oath that I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day” (11:3-5).
Jeremiah was instructed to buy the loincloth, thus making it his own. By this, the Lord symbolised His ownership of His people. They were His, to represent His interests, express His praise and exhibit His glory (13:11).
It’s instructive that the Hebrew word simply translated as “get” (13:1 KJV) more fully means “to acquire” by creating, buying or begetting. Eve said, “I have gotten [qānāh] a man with the help of the Lord” (Gen 4:1). Abraham was blessed in the name of “God Most High, Possessor [Creator – qānāh] of heaven and earth” (14:19), and buried in the field he “purchased [qānāh] from the Hittites” (25:10).
I can’t imagine anyone paying even thrift-shop prices for my cast-offs, but Michael Jordan’s Air Ship sneakers recently sold for almost $1.5M, and in 2016, Marilyn Monroe’s crystal-studded dress fetched a staggering $4.8M, their perceived value derived from the celebrity to whom they belonged. As the Lord’s people, we must constantly remember that our identity is in Christ; we are His by creatorial power (by natural birth and by new birth) and redemptive right. This confers great dignity upon us and is both comforting and challenging, bringing eternal security and present responsibility.
An undergarment worn around the waist next to the flesh, the loincloth symbolised the intimacy the Lord desired with His people. He longed, in vain, that nothing would come between. He wanted relationship; they had their (corrupted) religion and false gods. He wanted closeness; they had their (broken) covenant. While arrogantly affirming that the presence of the temple in their midst was a guarantee they would not suffer the same fate as their northern neighbours, the Judaeans hedged their bets with various military alliances, while proudly persisting in flagrant violations of the Commandments (Jer 7:4-10).
In the only recorded expression of His own will, the Lord Jesus prayed for His disciples, saying: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (Joh 17:24). These were not empty words. The next day He was crucified to ensure they became a reality – that we could enjoy His intimate presence eternally.
Impurity and Infidelity
The linen loincloth was a priestly garment of the kind first worn by Aaron and his sons in the wilderness. The priesthood was the special inheritance of the tribe of Levi, but it was always God’s intention that the entire nation should be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exo 19:6).
We don’t know how long Jeremiah wore the loincloth, but the instruction to put it on and not dip it in water, not even to wash it, implies that it was more than just a day or two. Water would have softened the otherwise stiff fabric. The text does not tell us whether its condition deteriorated while worn, but we are reminded that while exhorting the people to faithfulness as they crossed the Jordan, Moses said, “I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet” (Deu 29:5). Given the allusions in chapter 11 to their deliverance from Egypt, is it too speculative to suggest that the loincloth was likewise miraculously preserved as a visual reminder of the Lord’s faithfulness to His sojourning people?
When Jeremiah was commanded to bury and later retrieve the loincloth, it was spectacularly marred. Although the Lord had been patient and faithful, the stiff-hearted people had been unfaithful and had not clung to Him. The linen loincloth symbolised the holiness commensurate with their calling, but its rottenness signified their impurity and consequent uselessness for such a role. It represented their infidelity and moral decay which would ultimately result in their destruction as a nation and removal into captivity.
The Problem of the Location
Scholars differ on where Jeremiah was to hide the loincloth. The Hebrew construction (perātâh) allows equally for “to Euphrates” (favoured by many as symbolic of Judah’s impending captivity in Babylon, of which Jeremiah repeatedly warned), or “to Parah” (a rocky area with a deep wadi about three miles from Jeremiah’s hometown). Though Jeremiah would undoubtedly have made the 700-mile roundtrip journey to Euphrates if required, the proximity of the latter makes it a more plausible location. Thus, everyone for whom the action sermon was intended would be able to witness it, while the significance of the play on words would not have been lost on them.
The Poignancy of the Lesson
Peter reminds us of our priestly calling. First, it is as “living stones” in intimate, vital relationship with Christ, “being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (1Pe 2:5). Then, it is as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (v9). Consequently, we must maintain honourable conduct and constant hearts to be useful and pleasing to him.
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.