Jeremiah 13 and 14: The Life of a Prophet

Dear Reader,

This is part of my continuing series on the book of Jeremiah. Find all the posts here.

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be a prophet in ancient Israel? Maybe you have aspired to do great things for God and have lamented the fact that the position of prophet is no longer available. Before you go running off to the nearest street corner yelling “The word of the Lord came unto me,” let’s look at what life was like for the prophet Jeremiah.

As we have discussed previously, Jeremiah was from a priestly family. Often in societies it is the people from the fringes who claim to get special messages from God. Whether their particular revelations are real or not, one can see how it would be the disenfranchised who would be most likely to claim to have a special line to the deity or deities. But this was not the case for Jeremiah. He was from a privileged class. He already had a special line to God. Nor was he using the Almighty to boost his own power. His message was not “Hey, guys, the Big One wants you all to listen to me, do exactly what I say, and, um, give me all your goats. Yeah, goats are good. Give me all your goats.”

Instead, Jeremiah came with a message of destruction. They call him the weeping prophet and I will say the sense I get when I read through the book named after him is that Jeremiah was a deeply heart-broken man — heart-broken for his people, heart-broken on behalf of his God, and heart-broken that the priestly class, his own family members, were responsible for a lot of the evil all around him and for the coming destruction. One can only imagine what the reaction of those family members must have been. Maybe there was a secret glee when he criticized the royals. Or maybe they warned him that he was saying dangerous things. Maybe a favorite uncle took him aside and asked him to stop. Ordered him to stop. Maybe they pretended he was crazy. Maybe they were all embarrassed by him.

And then it got worse. It got even more personal. What do you think Jeremiah’s grandma said? Was his mother the sort to call him out or did she cover her face and cry quietly?

That’s the situation the prophet is in when we get to chapters 13 and 14. And then it gets worse. Here’s how chapter 13 begins:

“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.’ So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the Lord, and put it around my waist.” (Jer. 13:1-2; ESV)

Okay, a loincloth, that’s old-fashioned underwear, right? That’s a little weird, but being a good prophet Jeremiah obeys God. So far so good. But then God speaks again:

“”Take the loincloth that you have bought, which is around your waist, and arise, go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a cleft of the rock.’ So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me.” (vv. 3-4)

Hmmm . . . hide the brand new undies in a hole in a rock in a foreign land? Umm, okay, God, still pretty weird, but Jeremiah obeys. And then:

“And after many days the Lord said to me, ‘Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from there the loincloth that I commanded you to hide there.’ Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing.” (vv. 5-7)

Now go back and get the undies that have essentially been buried and surprise, surprise! They’re dirty! Who would have guessed?

It’s all a little bizarre, isn’t it? Of course, Jeremiah was from a prestigious family; though clothing was not cheap then, he could probably afford to waste a pair of bloomers. But what is the point of all this? Why on earth would God want him to do it? As the Lord goes on to explain, this was an object lesson:

“Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Thus says the Lord: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.  This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing. For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.'” (vv. 8-11)

The whole message of this escapade is: My people have become to me like a soiled pair of knickers. Lovely. Very visual, God, thanks. One wonders even what the point is since presumably Jeremiah’s actions were not widely known, at least not until he told them. But, nonetheless, this is how God operates with the prophets. We often think of them as God’s mouthpieces — God speaks and the prophet repeats his words to the people. But talking is only a part of the prophet’s call. Trust me, Jeremiah got off easy here; there are lots worse things that God has asked the prophets to do. Hosea had to marry a loose woman who continued to  . . . err, be loose . . . after their marriage. And then he had to go buy her back from her lovers. Pay money for his own wife. Talk about emasculating! And then there was Ezekiel. He had to lie on his left side for 390 days. Yeah, Jeremiah got off fairly easily. But still the lesson for us is that being a prophet is no cake walk. It is not just about saying things, even dangerous, embarrassing things. It is about living out your message, often in very grimy, personal ways.

So do you still think you’d like to be a prophet?

Nebby

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