Here’s a book title that you wouldn’t imagine being a best-seller – The Secret to Becoming Unprofitable. Although fallen man often exhibits a gnostic-like bent towards acquiring some kind of ‘secret’ knowledge that would put him or her ‘in the know,’ the aforementioned secret isn’t exactly one that people would be running to find out. If the title was The Secret to Becoming Profitable, well, that’s much more marketable. But when you think about it, isn’t it important for a person to know what exactly makes someone unprofitable, at least in the eyes of their creator? Wouldn’t knowing the answer to the former point us in the proper direction of the latter? From eternity’s vantage point, knowing how a person becomes unprofitable is invaluable. After all, in seeing mentalities and behaviors that are to be averted, we can also identify a mindset that we must embrace and a path that is to be pursued. Both sides of that coin are illustrated in the opening eleven verses of Jeremiah thirteen.
The chapter begins with Jeremiah writing, “Thus the LORD said to me: ‘Go and get yourself a linen sash, and put it around your waist, but do not put it in water.’” As will become evident shortly, the LORD was not interested in Jeremiah adding a new piece of clothing to his wardrobe as though He was tired of seeing the prophet walking around in the same old garb. These were the first steps to an important object lesson. Having received the imperative, Jeremiah, without even asking the reason why, simply obeyed the LORD, went, and “got a sash according to the word of the LORD and put it around [his] waist” (vs.2).
Next, the “word of the LORD came to [him] the second time” (vs.3). How much time passed between the opening verse and the third we don’t know; but either way, our interpretation of the object lesson is not dependent upon the interval. This time the LORD commanded him to take the sash that he had acquired to the Euphrates and hide it there in a hole [i.e. a crevice] in a rock (vs.4). At this point you could imagine someone thinking, ‘Sheesh, that seems like a waste of a perfectly good linen sash.’ Yeah, well, that’s kind of the point. But we’ll let the text provide the interpretation; as of now we’re still in the mode of observation.
Jeremiah, true to grace-wrought form, went and hid it by the Euphrates as the LORD commanded him (vs.5). And even if you’re not familiar with this passage you’ve probably already suspected – that wasn’t the last we’ve seen of the linen sash. And you’d be right: It came to pass after many days that the LORD said to [Jeremiah], “Arise, go to the Euphrates and take from there the sash which I commanded you to hide there” (vs.6). Now we know what the prophet did, right? He did what the LORD said. He went to Euphrates, dug it up, and took the sash from the place where he had hidden it (vs.7b). Before we move on, let’s just take a moment to appreciate this prophet’s obedience. Whether the commands involved purchases of clothing or miles of traveling, whether they were convenient or not, he did them. His steadfastness should be a reminder to us that obedience and convenience do not always go together. And the absence of the latter does not excuse the former. Cross-bearing, self-denying, and flesh-mortification aren’t hyphenated words that we’d typically associate with convenience, but they are expected components of following Jesus. And on that road of obedience is the ever-blessed reminder that our Savior was not a slave to convenience. If He were, we’d still be slaves to sin.
Well, Jeremiah went and he found that the sash was “ruined…[and] profitable for nothing” (vs.7c). Between the dirt and the moisture that result was to be expected. So while it still was, meaning – it was still existing, it was essentially useless.
Now comes the interpretation. The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah again saying (vs.8), “Thus says the LORD: ‘In this manner I will ruin the pride of Judah and great pride of Jerusalem…’” (vs.9). And if you were wondering how Judah’s pride manifested itself verse ten tells you: the people refused to hear God’s words, followed the dictates of their own hearts, and walked after other gods and worshipped them (vs.10a). You can see the pride in their behavior. Not only did they refuse to hear God’s words (in other words, they were willfully deaf), but they considered the dictates of their own hearts to be a better option. What pride! What arrogance! It’s as though the thing formed said to Him who formed it, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Pride was the prelude to their destruction (Prov. 16:18a), and their arrogance the preface to their fall (vs.18b; cf. Jer. 13:15-17).
When I was younger I can recall an anti-smoking commercial that showed what a lung looked like after inhaling cigarette smoke over a period of time. Even though it wasn’t the most graphic anti-smoking ad in history, it left a seemingly indelible warning in my mind: see what cigarette smoke does and stay away from it! It’s kind of the same idea here – see what pride makes you (unprofitable) and stay away from it. Instead of being an adorning sash (Jer. 13:11a), they became a disgusting sash. And instead of being a people for God’s renown, praise, and glory (vs.11b), they became a people ripe for judgment (vs.12-27).
It’s at this point that the New Testament Christian not only breathes a sigh of relief for the New Covenant, but he or she is also reminded about the ‘secret to being profitable.’ It’s in remembering that we exist for the glory of another. We are graciously-loved adornments who exist, not to be the main attraction or our own premiere priority, but to declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). We see ourselves as linen sashes, sought by grace, bought by blood, and lovingly worn by Almighty God, for His renown, His praise, and His glory (cf. Jer. 13:11b).
So then, when we boast in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, and when we exalt the supremacy of His person and work with our words and the trajectory of our lives, and when we say and sing Psalm 115:1 through New Covenant lenses – “Not to us, LORD, not to us but to Your name be the glory” (Ps. 115:1a NIV), we are walking in the opposite direction of the pre-exilic Judah of Jeremiah’s day, and we are following in the footsteps of Him whose anthem was, “Father, glorify Your name” (Jn. 12:28a)!