Adults have done everything imaginable to make the transition from diapers to underwear attractive to toddlers. We grownups have come to believe that images of Disney princesses and super heroes printed on the tiny undergarments will somehow entice little people not to soil them.
Somewhere along the way we lose the delight in having cartoon characters on our unmentionables. Adult sizes do come in colors, but I think that probably the majority of adult sized underwear bought and sold today is white. I know that’s true at my house.
We recently had an issue with a washing machine full of white laundry. Some of the items were mine, but the majority of it belonged to my husband. Nearly a dozen pairs of his underwear and almost as many undershirts were ruined by tainted water. The garments were dirtier at the end of the wash cycle than they were before they were loaded into the washer. Even after several washings, the rusty brown stains were still there.
I don’t know of anyone that would deliberately choose to wear dirty underwear. It’s icky and gross. I guess that’s why I can’t seem to get the picture of that load of laundry out of my head. It’s also the reason something caught my eye recently as I thumbed through a new Bible. I was looking for a specific verse and got a little sidetracked. I attribute my distraction to the large print, a feature I haven’t had before. The phrase that caught my eye: Linen Underwear.
Yes, linen underwear really is a topic in the Bible. I stumbled on it in the thirteenth chapter in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah. Some translations use words like loincloth, waistband, or sash to describe it, but the meaning of all of them is that it is an undergarment worn next to your skin, not an outer layer. It’s the piece of intimate clothing that is closest to you.
Jeremiah was a prophet who lived around 600 B.C. His assignment as prophet was to warn the people of Judah that the doom of entire nations was about to be sealed. Years before, the people of Judah had been given the gift of land promised to them by God himself. They had not honored God with that gift, so God allowed it to be taken away from them, but not without warning. God sent them that warning through Jeremiah and a story about dirty underwear.
God told Jeremiah to buy some new linen underwear and wear it. Jeremiah did as requested.
Then God told Jeremiah to take off the underwear and hide it under a rock near the Euphrates river. Again, Jeremiah complied.
Sometime later God told Jeremiah to go back and get the underwear.
I had to pause here and think about that scene for a minute. It seems to me that any piece of earth near a river is going to be not just dirty, but also wet. Muddy, in other words. So, when Jeremiah went to retrieve the underwear, it had been under a rock in a damp, dirty spot for quite a while. Can you imagine what it must have looked like when he pulled it out from under that rock? Nasty. Nobody wants that.
That was the message God was trying to convey to the people. God was trying to show them that they were like the dirty underwear. Once, they were intimately close to God, but then they wandered away from that closeness. The longer they stayed away from God, the dirtier they got. Eventually, if they stayed away long enough they would be so filthy and deeply stained that they wouldn’t be good for anything. He wanted them to hear this story because he wanted them to recognize that living away from God is like living under a muddy rock, but there was still time to come clean. The warning was that there was a limit to how long they could drag this out. The decision was up to them.
I try hard to stay out from under muddy rocks, but my laundry basket is never completely empty. There’s always something that needs washing, so I frequently make my way back to God and ask him to make me clean again. It’s hard to admit sometimes and difficult to find the right words. Thankfully, the Psalmist David said it better than I ever could:
“Be gracious to me, God, according to your faithful love; according to your abundant compassion, blot out my rebellion. Completely wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin…Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow…God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore the joy of your salvation to me, and sustain me by giving me a willing spirit.” Psalm 51
The good news is, he always does.
This was originally published May 114, 2017 on The Press and Standard website.