The Scriptorium

Symbols of Judgment

A little art in the mix. Jeremiah 13.1-14

Threatened and Revived: Jeremiah 11-15 (3)

Pray Psalm 76.4-7.
You are more glorious and excellent
Than the mountains of prey.
The stouthearted were plundered;
They have sunk into their sleep;
And none of the mighty men have found the use of their hands.
At Your rebuke, O God of Jacob,
Both the chariot and horse were cast into a dead sleep.
You, Yourself, are to be feared;
And who may stand in Your presence
When once You are angry?

Sing Psalm 76.4-7.

(Lauda Anima: Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven)
O resplendent God of glory, mighty in Your majesty,
You abase the proud and wicked by Your Word eternally.
Let men fear You! Who may stand when all Your wrath shall kindled be?

Read and meditate on Jeremiah 13.1-14.

1. Of what was Jeremiah’s sash a symbol?

2. What did the wine bottles symbolize?

Two symbols are employed here, and each represents the situation of Judah and Jerusalem before God.

Jeremiah was instructed to get a new sash, put it around his waist, and then go bury it in the banks of the Euphrates (vv. 1-5). The new sash would no doubt have attracted some attention (“Check it out: Old cranky’s got some new threads.”). Then Jeremiah’s absence during the trip to the Euphrates would also have caused some speculation (“Whatever happened to Jeremiah?”). When he returned without the sash, folks might have wondered where he’d been and what had become of that spiffy new sash.

Then he went back to the Euphrates – another trip of a few days – and returned wearing the ugly, filthy sash, “ruined” and “profitable for nothing” (v. 7). Here is a symbol of the fate of God’s people. They would go to Babylon – the Euphrates runs through the heart of what was then Babylon – in their best togs; but after their captivity there, they would return a ruined and unprofitable people (vv. 8-10). However, they would be clinging to God like the sash around Jeremiah’s waist, so there was hope. We hear again the echo of God’s covenant motto (v. 11).

Then God instructed Jeremiah to fill the wine bottles with wine, to which the people responded with the ancient equivalent of “Duh!” (v. 12) But Jeremiah explained that these wine bottles were a symbol of Judah’s drunken leaders, all of whom would be destroyed (vv. 13, 14).

We can think of these aspects of Jeremiah’s ministry as forms of art, which God used to make a further impression on His people. The sash is a kind of performance art, and the wineskins are a kind of sculpture. God understands the power of the arts to communicate, and so He used them here to bolster and reinforce Jeremiah’s essential message of judgment.

1. Why did God use these symbols? Could the symbols stand on their own, or did they need explaining?

2. How did God keep the thread of hope alive in this passage?

3. Does God hold leaders more responsible than the rest of His people (cf. Jms. 3.1)? Why?

The girdle, or loincloth, which is attached to the loins of God, is the people of Israel, who, like this piece of linen, were assumed from the earth unwashed and having no softness or beauty, yet were nevertheless joined to God through his mercy. Jerome (347-420), Six Books on Jeremiah 3.14.5-9

Help me to cling to You today, O Lord, so that I...

Pray Psalm 76.1-3, 8-12.

Pray that God’s people may increase in Him, that we may fear Him and serve Him in love in everything we do.

Sing Psalm 76.1-3, 8-12.
Psalm 76.1-3, 8-12 (Lauda Anima: Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven)
God is known among His people; great His Name in Israel!
He is all our peace and glory, as He in our presence dwells.
He has crushed the devil’s weapons, cast him down to deepest hell.

Judgment flares from heav’n above us; all the earth in terror waits.
Rising, God will save the humble, each who meekness demonstrates.
Men’s proud boasts shall turn to praises when in wrath You show Your face.

Vow to God! Repent and seek Him; keep His cov’nant while you may!
Fear Him, bring Him gifts and tribute; walk within His holy way.
For He’s coming soon in judgment: fear Him ‘til that glorious day!

Princes proud bow down before Him; He their spirits mortifies.
Kings and rulers fear His glory, Who descends from in the skies.
God is known among His people; loudly Israel testifies.

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from
Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006). All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore