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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 13

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



There are five warnings given to Israel in this chapter. The nation of the Chosen people, which should have been living in a happy and intimate relationship with the Creator, and also should have been busily engaged in teaching the benighted nations of mankind the wonderful facts regarding the true and Almighty God, had, contrary to all reason, itself succumbed to the sensual allurements of paganism. Their spiritual discernment had almost disappeared; and the whole nation was thoroughly overcome with abandoned wickedness. The dramatic warnings of this chapter were designed to stem the headlong rash of Israel to destruction; but the warnings were not heeded.

The warnings were: (1) the parable of the mined linen loin-cloth (Jeremiah 13:1-11), (2) the parable of the wine jars (Jeremiah 13:12-14), (3) the warning against pride and arrogance toward God (Jeremiah 13:15-17), (4) the warning to the king and the queen-mother (Jeremiah 13:18-19), (5) the warning that identified “friends” of Israel, such as Babylon, as their conquerors and exploiters.

Verses 1-2


“Thus said Jehovah unto me, Go, and buy thee a linen girdle, and put it upon thy loins, and put it not in water. So I bought a girdle according to the word of Jehovah, and put it upon my loins.”

“Linen girdle” Why linen? This was a mark of the priesthood; and because this garment was given as a representation of Israel, it had to be linen in order properly to symbolize that nation of “priests unto God” which Israel was intended to be.

“Put it upon thy loins” “This was not an outer girdle, but a covering worn next to the skin.”(F1) This very intimate and personal garment symbolized the intimate relationship between God and Israel during the long centuries of the nation’s development.

“And put it not in water” This meant that Jeremiah was not to wash the garment either before or after he had worn it. This would illuminate the meaning of the linen loincloth in later portions of the parable.

Verses 3-5

“And the word of Jehovah came unto me the second time, saying, Take the girdle which thou hast bought, which is upon thy loins, 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 Jehovah commanded me.”

“The word of Jehovah came to me the second time” The implication, though not clearly stated, is that some considerable time-lapse had occurred, at least ample time for the loincloth to have required washing had not God forbidden it.

“Go to the Euphrates, and hide it” This statement has precipitated a whole barrage of quibbles and denials by commentators. The problem is that the Euphrates river was almost four hundred miles from Anathoth; and the two journeys to that river by Jeremiah would have required his traveling a distance of some sixteen hundred miles.

We have no problem at all with this, because Jeremiah 13:5 flatly declares that, Jeremiah went and hid it as Jehovah had commanded him. Where is there any problem? Rationalistic critics, however, believe that such an extended amount of traveling, while not impossible, was certainly not very practical in those times. Therefore, other solutions are proposed. They are interesting, and we include these alternative understandings on the premise that they might even be correct, although we cannot be sure.

(1) One alternative interpretation is that the Hebrew word rendered here as “Euphrates” may not be a reference to the “Euphrates River” at all but to a village three and one half miles north of Anathoth (where Jeremiah probably lived), which was also known locally as “Euphrates.” This appears to be possible. It is principally upon the authority of the Septuagint (LXX) and the Vulgate that translators insist on making it refer to the Euphrates River. The Hebrew word is actually [~Phrath]; and there is no doubt that in many other Old Testament passages the word does refer to the Euphrates River. The word occurs fifteen times elsewhere in the Old Testament and four times in this chapter. Nevertheless, as Henderson noted: “In twelve of the other fifteen references another word is included with [~Phrath], a word that means river. It seems a little strange, therefore that the word [~Phrath] should occur no less than four times in this chapter without that qualifying term which means river.(F2) This is certainly enough to suggest the possibility of the word’s being in this instance a reference to a local village. If this was indeed the case, the close identity of the name with the Great River would have had the same symbolical meaning that accrued to the Euphrates itself. Thus the meaning of the parable is not affected, no matter which view of the meaning of [~Phrath] is accepted.

And what is that meaning? The meaning is that the apostate nation, symbolized by the dirty, unwashed loincloth will be “hidden,” that is, in captivity in Babylon on the Euphrates River.

(2) Another interpretation suggested by Dummelow is also plausible, perhaps even more so, than No. 1, cited above. “Jeremiah appears to have been absent from Jerusalem during a major part of Jehoiachin’s brief three-year reign; and he may very well be supposed to have been during that time in or near the city of Babylon. This would account for the kindly feeling toward him by Nebuchadnezzar after his capture of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 39:11).(F3) There is nothing at all unreasonable about this understanding of the passage, in which [~Phrath] would be understood as actually a reference to the Euphrates River itself.

(3) Another school of commentators have suggested that, “We are here dealing with a visionary experience,”(F4) an interpretation which does not appear to be in any manner reasonable to this writer. We believe that Jeremiah actually bought a clean, white, linen girdle, wore it until it became thoroughly dirty, then hid it in the earth until it was completely rotted, mined, and spoiled, that he also recovered it as God commanded him, and that he showed it to his fellow-Israelites, expounding the whole history of that girdle to them as a parable of what was going to happen to the apostate nation.

Verses 6-7

“And it came to pass after many days, that Jehovah said unto me, Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take the girdle from thence, which I commanded thee to hide there. Then I went to the Euphrates, and digged, and took the girdle from the place where I had hid it; and, behold, the girdle was marred, it was profitable for nothing.”

“It came to pass after many days” The passing of many days was necessary in order to allow plenty of time for the linen girdle to be thoroughly rotted and spoiled. However, there was another reason: “By the `many days’ are meant the seventy years of the captivity.”(F5)

It is a mistake to assume that it was the Babylonian captivity that mined Israel. That captivity was not the cause of Israel’s apostasy; it was the result and consequence of it. Let it be remembered that the loincloth was `already dirty’ when Jeremiah buried it by the Euphrates River. The complete ruination of the girdle, therefore, was not a symbol of Israel’s apostasy, which was already complete, but a symbol of the complete spoiling of their pride, national institutions, and their general attitude of rebellion against God. After their return from Babylon, the “righteous remnant” never again resorted to the Baalim. It may be also that the symbolism of the rotten, mined girdle applied to the “vast majority” of the Once Chosen People who never returned to Judah, even after God commanded them to do so. They were lost forever as an identifiable race or nation.

Verses 8-11

“Then the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, Thus saith Jehovah, after this manner will I mar the pride of Judah, and the great pride of Jerusalem. This evil people, that refuse to hear my words, that walk in the stubbornness of their own heart, and are gone after other gods to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is profitable for nothing. For as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto me the whole house of Judah, saith Jehovah; that they may be unto me for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory: but they would not hear.”

From this paragraph it is evident that Jeremiah, after his recovery of the rotten girdle, showed it to the citizens of Judah and Jerusalem and explained the symbolism of it. This seems to imply also that the citizens were aware of the place (The Euphrates River) where the ruination of the nation would be executed by God’s judgment upon them.

Verses 12-14


“Therefore thou shalt speak unto them this word: Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, Every bottle shall be rifled with wine? and they shall say, Do we not certainly know that every bottle shall be filled with wine? Then shalt thou say unto them, Thus saith Jehovah, Behold, I will fill all the inhabitants of this land, even the kings that sit on David’s throne, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, with drunkenness. And I will dash them one against another, even the fathers and the sons together, saith Jehovah: I will not pity, nor spare, nor have compassion, that I should not destroy them.”

The parable was brief enough: “Every bottle shall be filled with wine;” but when the prophet’s critics heard him, they answered with a mocking, “Of course, everybody already knows that.” What they then learned was that God was not talking of literal wine jars at all, but about the citizens of the land, all of them; and here God promised to bring drunkenness upon the total population, even including all of the upper echelons of their society, kings, priests, prophets, everyone; and Jeremiah 13:14 prophesied that the result of this alcoholic oblivion would be the total destruction of the nation.

In this parable, “The bottles represent all the people, and the wine represents the wrath of God.”(F6) The intoxication of all the people, rendering them helpless against all their enemies, indicated the certainty of God’s impending punishment for the people’s headstrong continuation in their licentious idolatry.

Verses 15-17


“Hear ye, and give ear; be not proud; for Jehovah hath spoken. Give glory to Jehovah your God, before he causes darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while ye look for light, he turns it into the shadow of death, and makes it gross darkness. But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because Jehovah’s flock is taken captive.”

“Be not proud… my soul shall weep for your pride” These are the key words in the passage and show that the warning is directed primarily against the pride of Israel. Jeremiah is the one who promises to weep over Israel’s condition, as indicated by his reference to Jehovah’s flock in Jeremiah 13:17.

What is symbolized here is the gathering darkness of the wrath of God. “Only a sincere response to Jehovah’s word could hold back the calamity and allow the light to shine over the land.”(F7)

The approaching gloom of darkness was a dual symbol of the invasion and of the captivity.

Verses 18-19


“Say thou unto the king and to the queen mother, Humble yourselves, sit down; for your headtires are come down, even the crown of your glory. The cities of the South are shut up, and there is none to open them: Judah is carried away captive, all of it; it is wholly carried away captive.”

The mention of the queen-mother indicates the importance of the king’s mother among the kings of Judah. “They seem to have had some official status in Judah; indeed, 1 Kings 2:19 suggests that she even occupied a throne adjacent to that of the king.” The passage before us also may indicate that she likewise wore a crown. “Because Jewish kings generally married subjects, and lived in polygamy, the king’s mother took precedence over his wives.”(F8)

Dummelow also mentioned the importance of this verse in ascertaining the date when this chapter was written. “The date of this prophecy is shown pretty clearly by the word queen-mother, namely, Nehushta, mother of Jehoiachin. The queen-mother always had a high position; and, in Jehoiachin’s case, this would have been especially so, owing to the king’s young age.”(F9)

Verses 20-21


“Lift up your eyes and behold them that come from the north: where is the flock that was given thee, thy beautiful flock? What wilt thou say, when he shall set over thee as head those whom thou hast thyself taught to be friends to thee? shall not sorrows take hold of thee, as of a woman in travail?”

“That come from the north” Practically all of the invaders of Judah came from the north, as that was the most feasible military entrance into the city of Jerusalem; but the particular invasion prophesied here was that of the Babylonians.

“Whom thou… hast taught to be thy friends” The plural here indicates that both Egypt and Babylon are meant. Contrary to the warnings of Isaiah and Jeremiah, Judah’s kings had cultivated the friendship of foreign powers, seeking to make alliances with them from time to time. It will be remembered that Hezekiah had embraced Merodach-baladan as his friend, showing him all of the treasures of the whole kingdom (Isaiah 39:1-2); and the question of this passage is, “What are you going to say when such a `friend’ becomes your king?”

Verses 22-24

“And if thou say in thy heart, Wherefore are these things come upon me? for the greatness of thine iniquity are thy skirts uncovered and thy heels suffer violence. Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil. Therefore will I scatter them, as the stubble that passeth away, by the wind of the wilderness.”

“For the greatness of thine iniquity” This is God’s blunt answer to the question of why? all these things happened to Israel.

“Thy skirts uncovered” See under Jeremiah 13:26. below, for comment on this.

“Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots” A negative answer is required for both of these questions; and the meaning is simply that it is too late for Israel to change her ways. She has persistently wallowed in sin such a long time that there is no longer any hope of her changing. Such a condition came about because of (1) the deliberate rebellion of Israel against her God, and (2) the consequent judicial hardening of the apostate nation so frequently mentioned in Isaiah (See Isaiah 6:9-10, etc).

Verses 25-26

“This is thy lot, the portion measured unto thee from me, saith Jehovah; because thou hast forgotten me, and trusted in falsehood. Therefore will I uncover thy skirts upon thy face, and thy shame shall appear.”

“Thou hast forgotten me, and trusted in falsehood” Trusting in falsehood means worshipping idols and believing in them. Such worship is also designated as “The Lie” in Jeremiah.

“Uncover thy skirts upon thy face” The shameful punishment of an adulterous woman in antiquity included lifting her skirts above her head, exposing her nakedness, smearing her with filth, and driving her through the city. The expression, “your heels shall suffer violence” (Jeremiah 13:23) could refer to “your body, or genitals.”(F10)

This drastic kind of punishment prescribed for Israel was justified and appropriate, because, the uncovering of her most intimate parts during her adulterous worship of the Baalim in their orgiastic ceremonies closely paralleled the punishment. For a more complete description of this awful punishment, see Nahum 3:5, Isaiah 47:2, and Ezekiel 16:37.

Verse 27

“I have seen thine abominations, even thine adulteries, and thy neighings, the lewdness of thy whoredom, on the hills, in the field. Woe unto thee, O Jerusalem! Thou wilt not be made clean; how long shall it be?”

This is a further elaboration of the reasons why the dreadful punishment prescribed for Israel in the above verses was justified and appropriate.

“Thy neighings” Jeremiah mentioned this same thing back in Jeremiah 5:8 where he compared the behavior of the people to well-fed stallions, “everyone neighing to his neighbor’s wife,” indicating that they wanted a sexual experience with every woman in sight. The use of such a metaphor as this, as Robinson pointed out, most certainly indicates, “actual sexual immorality,”(F11) which was so prominent a feature of the cultic worship of the Baalim.

“The tragic thing was that these same people frequented the temple, mouthing formulas like, `the temple of Yahweh, the temple of Yahweh, the temple of Yahweh.’ “(F12)

“How long shall it yet be” The actual meaning of these words is somewhat ambiguous. They may mean, “how long will it be before Jerusalem is cleansed?” or “how long will it be before the judgment of God falls upon her?” If Jeremiah still retained any hope of averting the terrible judgment which God through him had prophesied, the former meaning might be correct; but if he no longer supposed that Jerusalem would ever be cleansed, then the latter meaning is correct.

“Jeremiah lived to see the judgment fall; and after that, his hope rested upon the promise of a future day of restoration (Jeremiah 31:31-34),”(F13) upon which occasion “all would know the Lord, from the least unto the greatest of the people,” and when the sins of the people would be gloriously forgiven.

That occasion, of course, would be the coming of the Kingdom of Messiah; and we may not suppose that Jeremiah understood all the implications of the prophecies God gave to mankind through him.

This concludes the five warnings set forth in this chapter. If Israel ever made the slightest gesture toward heeding any of them, the sacred scriptures retain no record of such a thing.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Jeremiah 13". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/jeremiah-13.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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