The life of an Old Testament prophet was nothing glamorous by human standards. They simply did whatever the Lord told them to do. Said whatever He told them to say. Numerous times God commanded the prophets to act out unpleasant scenes to serve as timeless visual aids for us. One such scene is found in Jeremiah 13. It involved the ultimate meaning of life and dirty underwear.
The Lord told Jeremiah to buy a new loincloth (the ancient equivalent of underwear). He told him not to wash it, but just to wear it for a while, then to bury it beside the Euphrates. Jeremiah did it, no questions asked (Jer 13:1-5). “After many days,” the Lord told him to go and dig up the underwear. This was never-been-washed underwear. Wasn’t washed before it was worn. Wasn’t washed after it was worn. It was just worn and then buried beside a river for “many days.” Now the Lord wants that underwear.
I’ve been accused of being a germaphobe. I resent the charge. However, I admit that if I were Jeremiah I might have suggested some alternatives. “Why don’t we imagine the underwear? Or maybe we could finish this with claymation.” But Jeremiah was a good prophet: 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 (Jer 13:7).
No kidding. Dirty underwear buried for who knows how long? “Good for nothing” is an understatement. I wouldn’t touch it with salad tongs on the end of a ten-foot pole. So what’s the point? (That’s the thing with Yahweh’s one-act plays - there’s always a point.) The Lord explained:
“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” (Jer. 13:9-11).
This gets to the heart of life’s ultimate meaning. God created His people to be good for something. They do that by clinging to Him, as a loincloth clings to the waste of a man. The context indicates that “clinging” to God equals serving and worshiping Him alone. In worshiping the Lord, they fulfill a great and meaningful purpose. They are His people - they belong to Him. They are His name - they have an eternal, significant identity. They are His praise - they live to magnify Him. And they are His glory - they reflect His character to the world.
Only to the extent that man clings to the Lord, worships Him, and therefore makes much of Him is he good for anything. On the other hand, if he follows his own heart and worships other gods, he is good for nothing.
Did you catch that last sentence? What is the chief characteristic of the person who is like good-for-nothing underwear, according to Jeremiah 13:10? He follows his own heart! Yes, Disney princess movies notwithstanding, the truth is the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jer 17:9). It will inevitably lead you away from the one true God and toward gods of your own making. 10-20 seconds of introspection will testify to this, will it not? When we follow our hearts, we don’t follow God.
And when we don’t follow God…we are good for nothing. Nothing. What a shameful lie we believe when we think the pathway to meaning is to make our own way. Pride is at the heart of that endeavor. That’s the point of Jer 13:9. Pride motivates us to follow our own heart instead of God. We want to make much of us, not of Him. Just like Eve in the Garden. Ironically, our pursuit of personal significance leads to one place - meaninglessness. Like rotten underwear.
What a powerful image - the more tightly we wrap our arms around the waist of God, the more privileged and significant our existence will be because we will live and breathe to make much of the Creator, who alone is worthy. The less tightly we hold to Him the more certain it is that we will be good for nothing.
Toward what false gods is your heart pulling you right now? Recognize what is going on and resist. Don’t listen to your heart. Listen to the Lord and cling to Him. Be for Him a people, a name, a praise, and a glory.