Wednesday, 20 July 2011
Why God's People Are Like a Pair of Underpants
I have been struck afresh by the un-boringness of the Bible by beginning to read again through Jeremiah recently. Not only is Scripture overflowing with un-boringness as it sets before us that magnificence of the glory of God, it is also unboring in the way that it communicaties the unboring truths it reveals. Bible authors frequently use humour and vivid illustrations to make their point. Jeremiah 13 is no exception.
In Jeremiah 13 God calls Jeremiah to go and buy a linen loincloth (Jeremiah's equivalent to a pair of underpants), and to put it on (verses 1-2). God then tells Jeremiah to take his new underwear and hide it in a cleft of the rock (verses 3-5). A long time later God commands him to go and dig out his hidden loincloth (verse 6), and when he does so it is ruined and good for nothing (verse 7).
But what is the point of Jeremiah's underpants incident? Why does God call him to buy some underwear, wear it for a while, then hide it away, fully knowing that when he comes back to it days later it will be good for nothing? This is quite an unusual thing for God to command His prophet to do. He goes on to explain in verses 8-11. Jeremiah's underpants incident is in fact a devastating condemnation on God's people. They have refused to listen to God's words, following instead their own heart (which Jeremiah later describes as "decietful above all things" -17:9) which has led them to run after other gods, serving and worshipping them instead of the true and living God (verse 10). Because of this God shall make this rebellious people like Jeremiah's loincloth. Just as his loincloth was spoiled and good for nothing after being left hidden in a cleft for days, so also God shall "spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem" (verse 9) and make them good for nothing (verse 10). This inusual incident is in the Bible as a condemnation on an idolatrous people. Jeremiah's underpants incident serves to make this truth all the more memorable, his hearers are less likely to forget it.
However, Jeremiah's loincloth has even more to teach us. Not only is it a devastating pronouncement of judgement, the underpants incident also tells us what God's people ought to look like. In verse 11 God says that in a sense God's people are to be like a pair of tight underpants. Just as a loincloth clings to a mans waist, so God made His people cling to Him (verse 11). He made them to be this "that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory" (verse 11). He redeemed them and made them His people in order that they might bring glory, honour and praise to Him by clinging tightly to Him.
What does it mean for them to cling tightly to God? Verse 10 gives us a clue. They failed to cling tightly to God by refusing to hear His words, and instead stubbornly following their own hearts. Therefore, if they are to cling to Him, they must cling to His words and not following the decietful desires of their own hearts (17:9). They way God's people keep close to their God is by keeping close to His word.
But there is a problem here. The heart of this problem is the problem of the heart. The heart is naturally decietful (17:9), and refuses to listen and submit to the word of God. Instead it runs after its own decietful desires. God's people will not naturally be like a pair of tight underpants and cling closely to God. Something needs to be done with the heart if God's people are to cling to Him by submitting to His word.
This is exactly what God promises to do later in Jeremiah. He promises a new covenant in which: "...I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD." (31:33-34). He promises new hearts which will listen to God's word and thus cling to Him. Hebrews tells us that it is in Jesus that this is fulfilled (Hebrews 8:8-13; 10:1-18). In Christ we have new hearts that listen in faith to the word of God, and cling tightly to Him by clinging to Christ. In Him we who were dead are made alive (Ephesians 2:1-7).
It is only in Christ that we can be like a pair of tight underpants, clinging closely to God. The way that we continue to cling to Him as we live the Christian life is exactly the way that we begin in the Christian life. We cling to Him by "...hearing with faith" (Galatians 3:2). We began the Christian life by hearing the word of God (at which Christ stands at the centre) with faith, having been given new hearts by God. We continue to cling to God like Jeremiah's loincloth by hearing with faith, by hearing the gospel as revealed in Scripture by faith.
So, may I encourage you to be like a pair of underpants, clinging closely to Jesus, by continuing to listen with faith to the God-breathed Bible (2 Timothy 3:16). It is in Scripture that is completely sufficient to equip us for clinging to Him (2 Timothy 3:16-17), because it is the very word of God (that's what Paul is getting at when he describes it as 'God-breathed). It is here that we hear the voice of the living God. Don't ever say the Bible is boring. It is what will keep us for a lifetime of clinging to God.