If it’s true that actions speak louder than words, than some of the prophets’ most powerful messages came through object lessons and demonstrations. Isaiah, for example, went naked for three years to show Israel what it would look like to have her comfort stripped away (Isaiah 20:3).
Jeremiah was no different. He would show the people the consequences of their sin through an elaborate fashion statement.
This is what the LORD said to me: “Go and buy a linen belt and put it around your waist, but do not let it touch water.” 2 So I bought a belt, as the LORD directed, and put it around my waist. (Jeremiah 13:1-2)
The Hebrew word is ‘ezor, which refers to some sort of linen sash. By not washing it, Jeremiah could be sure the belt wouldn’t wear out. The point is obvious, right? God was asking Jeremiah to show off. To go down to Abercrombie and Fitch and purchase a really nice belt from their lineup of the latest fashions, and then show it off to all his friends. Maybe even leave the pricetag on it so everyone could see just how fine a belt this truly was.
ISRAEL’S DIRTY LAUNDRY
But showing off was only part 1 of God’s message to the nation:
3 Then the word of the LORD came to me a second time: 4 “Take the belt you bought and are wearing around your waist, and go now to Perath and hide it there in a crevice in the rocks.” 5 So I went and hid it at Perath, as the LORD told me. 6 Many days later the LORD said to me, “Go now to Perath and get the belt I told you to hide there.” 7 So I went to Perath and dug up the belt and took it from the place where I had hidden it, but now it was ruined and completely useless.
8 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 9 “This is what the LORD says: ‘In the same way I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. 10 These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt– completely useless! 11 For as a belt is bound around a man’s waist, so I bound the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah to me,’ declares the LORD, ‘to be my people for my renown and praise and honor. But they have not listened.’
Do you see the point becoming clear? Israel was intended to be just like this belt. Their whole lives were designed to glorify God—that is, to reveal His significance to the whole world. But they chased after lesser things. Like the linen belt, over time they became completely worthless. This is the truest outworking of Jeremiah 2’s promise—that when I pursue worthless things, I become worthless myself. In short, I waste my life.
“LOOK, LORD. SEE MY SHELLS”
John Piper has an entire book on this very subject. In Don’t Waste Your Life, he tells the story of a couple who retired to spend their life on the beach—nothing short of the American Dream:
I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who “took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.” At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn’t. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life—your one and only precious, God-given life—and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: “Look, Lord. See my shells.” That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over against that, I put my protest: Don’t buy it. Don’t waste your life. (John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, 45-6)
Did you know that one of the fastest growing markets in the U.S. is the sale of “virtual goods?” These are products that you can purchase in an app, or a video game, but don’t exist in the real world. For example, if you’re playing a video game, you might be offered a special item, such as a sword or other item. The sword may only be digital, but the money you pay for it is real. Most of the money is spent on small purchases–$0.99 here, $4.99 there. But how much would you bet is spent on “virtual goods” overall? Try 2.9 billion dollars a year. Analysts estimate that the number will climb to roughly 11 billion by 2016.
This attracted attention when Forbes magazine ran a story about a man who “acquired” and “lost” a spaceship valued at—wait for it–$9,000 dollars. When it was destroyed by the other players, it was reported on as if it were a tragedy. But isn’t the real tragedy that a grown man would spend his money on nothing? He never acquired a spaceship. He never lost a spaceship. The spaceship doesn’t exist. Imagine that scene on the Day of Judgment: “Look, Lord. See my spaceship.” That is a waste.
It’s easy to slam this as simply a bunch of computer geeks with more money than common sense. But really, does it really matter? I mean, do you think the things you spend your time, money, and energy on are that superior in the eyes of God? Maybe it’s not seashells, or a spaceship. Maybe it’s fashion, or sports. “Look, Lord. See my designer handbags.” “Look, Lord. See my fantasy football stats.” And that’s a tragedy equal in magnitude to the loss of an imaginary spaceship.
THE GOSPEL’S TRUE FASHION
The lesson of Jeremiah’s belt is that on our own we can take God’s greatest gifts and turn them into rags. But the beauty of the gospel is that Jesus set aside the royal robes of heaven for the tattered rags of our humanity—He “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7). The result is that by trusting in His sacrifice on the cross, we can receive God’s forgiveness and a new reputation.
Paul writes that “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Do you see both sides to this word picture? The clothing is a free gift. It’s pure grace. But Paul says “you…have clothed yourself.” In other words, I have a responsibility to clothe myself in the gospel, to live out the good news every day of my life.
In Christ, I trade in my tattered rags for a robe of glory. And in Christ I stand complete.