The Best and the Worst
Jeremiah 13:1-27 gives us five examples of how mankind takes the best things and turns them into the worst. Thankfully, Christ came to do the opposite.
There are many paradoxes in life: our greatest strengths are often our greatest weaknesses, failure leads to success, the only constant thing is change, etc.
Another is that the best things in life can also be the worst, and this is especially true in relationships between people and the tools we use to improve our relationships.
Think about social media. Social media can be the best tool when used in a balanced way to stay connected with others. But paradoxically it seems the more we use it the more disconnected we become from others. So even though our world has more constant communication than ever, it also has more people feeling depressed and isolated.
Mankind it seems has a knack for taking the best things and turning them into the worst thing and this is what Jeremiah 13:1-27 is all about. Let’s look at five more examples from Jeremiah 13.
1. Linen Underwear (1-11)
In verse 1 God tells Jeremiah to head out to the nearest store and buy some linen underwear.
This is what the Lord said to me: “Go and buy yourself a linen undergarment and put it on.”
A linen undergarment wasn’t a regular part of an average person’s wardrobe because linen was expensive and usually only worn by the priests and kings. It was the best kind of undergarment money could buy.
Now, to teach an object lesson, God told him to do something unusual with his brand new underwear. Jeremiah 13:3–4 says,
Then the word of the Lord came to me a second time: “Take the underwear that you bought and are wearing, and go at once to the Euphrates and hide it in a rocky crevice.”
Jeremiah did what he was told and after a long time had passed God told him to go retrieve it in Jeremiah 13:7. We can imagine what happened.
So I went to the Euphrates and dug up the underwear and got it from the place where I had hidden it, but it was ruined—of no use at all.
The beautiful, expensive linen garment was ruined which wasn’t surprising since God told Jeremiah to stick it in a rocky crevice where it was exposed to the weather and who knows what else for at least several months.
The meaning of this story is that God wanted his people to be the best, and He wanted the best of relationships with them. A linen undergarment is an intimate article of clothing that represented God’s best for his people. But the best became the worst. Jeremiah 13:10 says,
These evil people, who refuse to listen to me, who follow the stubbornness of their own hearts, and who have followed other gods to serve and bow in worship—they will be like this underwear, of no use at all.
The best became the worst. Because of their stubbornness, the people became completely useless.
There is also a prophetic interpretation to verse 10 having to do with Israel making foreign alliances. Israel had a bad habit of making treaties with her enemies against God’s will. So, taking the underwear to the Euphrates, which was in a foreign land, was a symbol of how Israel had stopped trusting in God alone.
This is a good reminder for us. When we trust in money, our special talents, our family, our government, or anything other than God, then we too become useless—like linen underwear stuffed in a rocky crevice.
Every individual has been created to be in a beautiful relationship with their Creator. But when we trade God’s best in for idol worship we take the best and turn it into the worst.
2. Wine (12-14)
Now before we get to verse 12 we need to acknowledge that the Bible takes a generally positive position toward wine as a drink when used in moderation.
For example, Jesus turned water into wine so the people at the wedding could drink more. He didn’t say alcohol is evil and that you shouldn’t be drinking it (John 2:1-11). Instead, in Mark 14:25 he said he looked forward to drinking wine in the kingdom of God. “Truly I tell you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
So it shouldn’t be at all surprising to us that God says in verse 12,
Say this to them: ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Every jar should be filled with wine.’ Then they will respond to you, ‘Don’t we know that every jar should be filled with wine?’
From God’s point of view, it’s just common sense that every jar should be filled up with wine—not milk or water or any other liquid, but the best wine. And the more jars filled with wine the better.
But, like always, mankind has a way of ruining what is good, and to illustrate the point God says in verse 13,
And you will say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am about to fill all who live in this land—the kings who reign for David on his throne, the priests, the prophets, and all the residents of Jerusalem—with drunkenness.
Again, the point is that the people are like the jars of wine, a people meant for good but who instead do incredible wickedness.
Now, the Bible is very positive about wine, but no so much about drunkenness. 1 Corinthians 6:10 says no drunkard will inherit the kingdom of God and Ephesians 5:18 tells us “don’t get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.”
The Bible’s clear teaching is that while drinking wine isn’t a sin, becoming intoxicated is and those who habitually become drunk without repenting will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But this passage isn’t primarily about the use of alcohol. It’s about how God’s people have become corrupted. God’s people are meant to be the best but they’re the worst. They’re like good wine used to make people get drunk.
3. Daylight (15-17)
Daylight is another one of the best things in life that can become corrupted.
Jeremiah says in verse 16,
Give glory to the Lord your God before he brings darkness, before your feet stumble on the mountains at dusk. You wait for light, but he brings darkest gloom and makes total darkness.
See, God’s people are meant to walk in the light but instead, they stumble around in the gloom. The best time to go for a hike in the mountains isn’t at sunset when it’s getting dark. The mountains are beautiful if we hike during the day, but once the sun goes down the mountains become a treacherous place to go for a walk. The best becomes the worst.
The world in which the Israelites lived was getting worse because of their pride. The more they refused to listen the more they stumbled. They should have known better, but listen to how Jeremiah responds to his people’s stubbornness. He doesn’t take a self-righteous tone in verse 17. Instead, he says,
But if you will not listen, my innermost being will weep in secret because of your pride. My eyes will overflow with tears, for the Lord’s flock has been taken captive.
Jeremiah’s eyes flowed with tears, and as we talked about last week, God doesn’t take any pleasure in the direction his people are going either. He doesn’t enjoy disciplining the love of his life. Jeremiah weeps. God weeps.
This is a good reminder of how to react when we see brokenness in the world. Is our first response toward those we disagree with to make sarcastic remarks or post memes on Facebook that ridicule? Sadly sometimes it is, but I don’t think this is how Jeremiah would respond if he were alive today, and I certainly don’t think we honor God by making jokes at the expense of others.
OK, so we’ve seen how linen undergarments, wine, and daylight are examples of the best things that can become the worst things. Next, consider…
4. The Royal Family (18-21)
Jeremiah 13:18 says,
Say to the king and the queen mother: Take a humble seat, for your glorious crowns have fallen from your heads.
In other words, Jeremiah is foretelling that the king and his mother are going to be knocked off their thrones and removed from power. This was prophetically fulfilled when Jehoiachin and his mother were taken into captivity by the Babylonians (2 Kings 24:15). But there is a broader application here for all of God’s people.
Think about the Royal family in England with all of its centuries of scandals, adultery, palace intrigue, and even murders. And think about the leaders in our own country who set a disgraceful example of pettiness, bitterness, immorality, and dishonesty. The crown has fallen from their heads.
Speaking to the leaders, Jeremiah says this in verse 20,
Look up and see those coming from the north. Where is the flock entrusted to you, the sheep that were your pride?
Israel’s royal family was meant to care for the sheep but they fell so far from their responsibilities that they didn’t even know where their sheep were.
Now, let’s look at one more example of how the best becomes the worst.
5. A Beautiful Woman (22-27)
The example is of a woman who was once lovely to look at. She used to be pure and faithful but then she willfully, on purpose, became a prostitute and publically shamed herself. She became a disgrace on the inside and the outside. Yet, she had little self-awareness about why things aren’t going well for her.
Jeremiah 13:22 and 26 respond to her confusion,
And when you ask yourself, “Why have these things happened to me?” it is because of your great guilt that your skirts have been stripped off, your body exposed…I will pull your skirts up over your face so that your shame might be seen.
The meaning is God’s people became a public disgrace because of her flirting and even sleeping around with many idols. Israel’s guilt was exposed for the whole world to see as a warning not to follow her example.
This is worth thinking about. What would we look like if all of our sins were suddenly exposed for the whole world to see? It wouldn’t be a very pretty sight if every idle thought, every prideful, self-righteous action was instantly tweeted out to the whole world. All of God’s people have the potential of becoming the worst.
And how long will remain the worst? That’s the question Jeremiah asks in verse 27.
Your adulteries and your lustful neighing, your depraved prostitution on the hills, in the fields— I have seen your abhorrent acts. Woe to you, Jerusalem! You are unclean— for how long yet?
We know that there is more than just the potential to become the worst. The best has already become the worst and as we look around our world we know it’s true. But is this all there is? Will we always be like this?
Well, the answer is an utterly hopeless one as long as we continue to insist on cleaning ourselves. How long will we remain unclean? By our own efforts, we will never get clean.
That’s the point of verse 23,
Can the Cushite change his skin, or a leopard his spots? If so, you might be able to do what is good, you who are instructed in evil.
We have just as much chance of becoming clean as a leopard has of changing his spots or as a person has of changing their skin color. Good luck with that.
The point is our sinful nature can’t be changed and we’re stuck with it— unless someone has power over our sin nature changes it for us. That someone is Jesus. Only Jesus can take the worst and turn us into the best.
Think about how Jesus changes us. In Revelation 19:8 Jesus gives God’s people, people who were once dead in trespasses and sins, fine linen to wear, which he calls bright and pure. The worst becomes the best.
In Mathew 26:42 Jesus committed to taking the cup, the wine of God’s wrath if you will, and drinking it. And He did this to offer the new covenant cup of salvation to all who trust in him (Luke 22:20). The worst becomes the best.
Jesus also took the darkness and turned it into the light. John 8:12 says “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life” (See also 1 John 2:8).
Regarding the royal family, Jesus takes the poor and destitute and gives them a crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Cor 9:25; 1 Peter 5:4; James 1:12).
And, lastly, Jesus takes the prostitute and turns her into a completely pure virgin bride. Revelation 21:2 says,
I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.
The bride is us. God’s people are what make up the beautiful new Jerusalem and we will be like a pure, perfect bride prepared for her husband. We will be made beautiful, on the inside and the outside, and become everything that we were ever meant to be.
So how long will we remain unclean? Until we let Jesus clean us. So, stop trying to do it all yourself.
Take all the worst things in your life, all of the things that are too shameful to even mention, and give them to Jesus. Give your whole self to Jesus and He’ll take the worst and turn you into the very best.