Pride goes before destruction–that’s the clear message that comes out in Jeremiah 13. In this chapter, God says He will punish the “pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem” (9). Jeremiah warns the people of Israel, “Hear and pay attention, do not be arrogant” (15). He says that if they fail to obey and experience God’s judgment, he will “weep in secret because of your pride” (17).
Jeremiah addresses the king and queen mother about the devastation that is coming to the nation, the “sheep of which you boasted” (20). The rulers had worn “glorious crowns” (18) but, like the rest of the nation, had not listened to the call to “Give glory to the Lord” (16). Rather than seeking their own glory, the nation was to live for God’s “renown and praise and honour” (11). Because of their pride and self-glory (which led them to follow their own inclinations and pursue other gods), destruction would come from God without pity, mercy or compassion (14).
In this chapter we have the second “acted parable” in the book: the lesson of the ruined linen belt (1-11). Throughout the chapter runs the theme of God’s punishment of His people’s pride. The Hebrew word pride speaks of “majesty, glory and pride”. God had brought the people of Israel close to him (like a linen belt) so they could add to His majesty—his “renown (literally, “name”) and praise and honour (or glory)”. But they had become dirty, ugly and useless—like the linen belt that had been buried in the dirt.
The point of the ruined linen belt is to show the ruin that God will bring on Judah because of their pride and, specifically on Jerusalem because of its “great pride” (9).
The great pride of the nation was evidenced in three ways: 1) they refused to listen (hear) God’s words, 2) they followed the stubbornness of their own hearts, and 3) they went after other gods with the purpose of serving and worshiping (literally, bowing down to) them. Here is an exposé of a proud heart: We stop listening to/obeying God’s word; instead, we stubbornly follow the wayward inclinations of our own hearts/desires. As a result, we wind up serving and worshiping false gods.
We will all follow something—either God’s Word or our desires. We all will be worshipers—either of the one, true God or of the many false ones. We will all receive the consequences of our choices—closeness to God or ruin for our pride.
I’m struck by the way the Lord (and Jeremiah) link a refusal to listen and then obey is an evidence of a stubbornly proud heart. We’ve already seen that in the Lord’s word through Jeremiah in verse 10 (see above). The same message is restated in verse 17; Jeremiah says, “But if you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride.” Pride causes us to favour our own ideas and inclinations over God’s. Pride prompts us to elevate ourselves to God’s place. No wonder pride is so abhorrent to God. No wonder God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6). No wonder pride arouses the wrath of God and leads us into captivity.
After the acted parable of the linen belt, Jeremiah records a proverb in verses 12-14. He is directed by the Lord to tell the people something that seems obvious: “Every wineskin (or clay jar) should be filled with wine” (12). If they respond by saying they already knew this, Jeremiah is to tell them that God is going to “fill the land [kings, priests, prophets] with drunkenness” (13). The result will be that all of them will be smashed against one another, destroyed by the Lord without “pity or mercy or compassion” (14).
Jeremiah quotes what seems to be a popular proverb that may have come to speak of prosperous times—when the wine brims to the top of the storage jars. But Jeremiah is using the picture to speak of judgment not prosperity. The jars represent the people (starting with their leaders); they will be filled with drunkenness and smashed together. The picture is of a violent disruption that crashes the earthen jars (see 2 Cor. 4:7) together and shatters them. Like drunken men, the leaders and people will stagger and fall; like clay jars they will be shattered and broken. Here is a dire prediction of the destruction of the city and people that will come “from the north” (20)—from the Babylonian armies.
The coming destruction of Judah and Jerusalem is pictured in a graphic, shocking way. The king and queen mother (some think this could be Jehoiachin and his mother who were carried into exile—2 Kings 24:15) are pictured as having to leave their thrones and lose their crowns (18) as they join those from Judah “taken captive” (17). Their flock (20) will be decimated by the Babylonians who had been formerly approached as “special allies” (21). Jeremiah proceeds to describe the devastation in terms of sexual humiliation for a spiritually promiscuous people. They will be stripped naked (“skirts . . .torn off”—22) and their bodies “mistreated” (literally your “heels treated violently”—either a reference to the public exposure of a prostitute or women walking barefoot into exile). Again, in verse 26, the Lord says He will “pull your skirts over your face that your shame may be seen—your adulteries and lustful neighings, your shameless prostitution.” Their spiritual harlotry would result in painful, public disgrace.
An interesting stylistic feature of the chapter is the use of trio’s of words or thoughts. We see a trio of phrases explaining the nature of pride (refuse to listen to my words, follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods—10). There is also a series of three words/phrases to emphasize certain concepts: “renown, praise and honour” (11); pity, mercy and compassion (14); darkness, darkening hills and thick darkness (16); shut up, no one to open, carried completely away (19); Ethiopian, leopard, you (23); adulteries, lustful neighings and shameless prostitution (27).