Jeremiah and the Parable of the Dirty Underwear



 Jeremiah 13:1-11 is an interesting read.  It gives what might be called the Parable of the Dirty Underwear.

Verse 1 begins, “This is what the Lord said to me:  ‘Jeremiah, go and buy a linen loincloth.  Then put it around your waist.  Don’t let it get wet.’” 

A footnote said a loincloth was a “common undergarment in ancient Judah,” a short skirt that “wrapped around the hips.  It reached about halfway down the thighs.” 

(The illustration at left shows a “form of loincloth” – with a cape)…

It’s also translated “waist cloth.” 

So anyway, Jeremiah did what he was told.  Then the Lord instructed him a second time: “Jeremiah, take the loincloth you bought and are wearing, and go to Perath [a small village near Jerusalem].  Hide the loincloth there in a crack in the rocks.”

Then Jeremiah got a third message from the Lord.  He followed orders, went to the “cleft of a rock” a few days later and saw that the waist cloth was ruined.

So Jeremiah said, “There’s some kind of lesson here!!!

All of which got me wondering.  Was a waist cloth some kind of early underwear?  (Before even whitey-tighties?)   So I did some research and came up with the following sources:

1) The Sign of the Loincloth: Jeremiah (13:1-11),   2)  Loincloth – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,  3)  Strong’s Hebrew: 232. אֵזוֹר (ezor) — a waist cloth – Bible Hub, and  4)  Intimacy during Menstruation | IslamToday – English.

The first source said, “Jeremiah’s vision of the sign of the loincloth is an affluent passage whose depth cannot be fully understood without a proper exegetical exploration.”

Which is a very wordy way of saying, “There’s more to this story than meets the eye.”

The last source was the most interesting.  It defined a waist cloth in terms of “intimacy.”  And according to this narration, the general consensus is that the area “typically covered by the waistcloth [is] the area between the navel and the knee.”

According to Strong’s, the Hebrew word is ezor, derived from the term azar: “to gird, encompass, equip.”  (Equip?  Verrry interesting)  And aside from “waist cloth,” it’s also translated as a belt or belts, or as a girdle or a waistband.  Not to mention loincloth.

Wikipedia defined that as a “one-piece garment – sometimes kept in place by a belt – which covers the genitals and, at least partially, the buttocks.”  Such cloths are worn:  1) in societies where no other clothing is needed or wanted,  or 2) as an undergarment or swimsuit.  In turn:

Undergarments are clothes worn beneath outer clothing, usually in direct contact with the skin, but may comprise more than one layer.  They keep outer garments from being soiled or damaged by bodily substances, lessen abrasion or friction against the skin, shape the body, and provide concealment or support for parts of it.  (E.A.) see Pencil Thin Mustache, “now I’m gettin’ old, don’t wear underwear, I don’t go to church, and I don’t cut my hair,” a la Jimmy Buffett.)  All of which gets us back to the original question:  Was a waist cloth some kind of early underwear, before even whitey-tighties? 

But first I had to research that term itself.  (In order to be assiduous.)

For one thing, there’s some debate whether the proper term is “whitey-tighties” or “tighty-whiteys.”  See POLL: Do you say whitey-tighties or tighty-whities?  (Some people apparently have way too much time on their hands.)  Then I found this definition:

If you are a boy or man it is the first kind of underwear your mother bought you.  White and tight, you didn’t have anything yet to be proud of, so they were ok.  But then you grew, and you were wearing the same underwear at 13 or 14 that you were wearing when you were 10.

That’s from Urban Dictionary: whitey tightys (emphasis added).   The site added this:  “White briefs, sometimes including brown stains, also known as skid marks.”

Famous manly men who wear whitey tighties were said to include:  “Vegeta, Vin Diesel, Billy Ray Cyrus [and that] mouse in the nutcracker.”  Finally the site said, “The term ‘tighty whitey’ is not only incorrect but inferior.  Whitey tighty is the proper term for white briefs.”

Then there’s Language Log: Tighty-whities: the semantics, which added a few nuggets of wisdom, starting with the idea that the expression is fairly new.  The absence of the term from the “standard dictionaries and sources of information on word and phrase histories suggests that it’s probably not more than twenty or so years old.”  (That is, going back to about 1990.)  The blogger added this, perhaps to explain some negative connotations:

A further subtlety is the evaluative dimension of tighty-whities.  It’s not entirely clear to me whether the judgments here are directly [at] the sort of men who would wear them…  I [do] know that some American speakers now view tighty-whities as a negative, dismissive label (perhaps through association with uptight and tight-assed and even the racial tag whitey)…

I’m not sure what “evaluative dimension” refers to, but like I said:  Some people seem to have way too much free time on their hands.  Meanwhile, back at Jeremiah…

I tried to read through Sign of the Loincloth again, but the International Bible Commentary (IBC) seemed to have the best spin.

The “intimate” nature of the loincloth was supposed to “symbolize the close intimacy the people [of Israel] once enjoyed with their Lord.”  Both sources agreed that the loincloth started out chaste, “placed upon Jeremiah’s loins, without touching any water, and thereby symbolizing that it was pure and lacking damage.”  But then came the soiling

As the IBC went on to say, the “close intimacy” with God – enjoyed by the people of Israel – “had been marred by contact with pagan and idolatrous streams of influence.”  Those streams of influence in turn had “destroyed the people’s pride in their God and so soiled them…  The nation, like the garment, is now good for nothing, and will be soiled in exile.” (E.A.)

So – as Sign of the Loincloth said – this passage is exceedingly more complex than it seems:  “The meaning of this passage in today’s context is very complex and complicated to determine.”

On the other hand it might bring new meaning to Mom’s old adage, “Always wear clean underwear in case you get in an accident.”

For years we Baby-boomers laughed at Mom’s advice, and/or thought it was just ludicrous.  “Heaven forbid if you got your leg cut off and had on dirty ‘drawers.'”  But with the passing years, maybe Mom was right after all.  “The goal is to have a little foresight, and plan in advance such that you can retain your dignity in the case of an unforeseen event.”  See What does it mean to wear clean underwear, and  The Modern Equivalent of Wearing Clean Underwear (which equates a bad picture on Facebook with the old “dirty underwear”).

Then too there’s always that symbolic “close intimacy” that people may still want to find with The Force that Created the Universe.  Or maybe it’s just a matter of sound stewardship

And it should also be noted that Harry Golden had something to say about all this:

Our religions have really conditioned us to what we call good taste and propriety.  I think of that wonderful Jewish legend of the girl who had been sentenced by the Inquisition to be dragged through the streets to the funeral pyre.  She was asked if she had a last request, and she pleaded for a few pins, , and when they gave them to her, she pinned her skirts carefully between her legs so that her body would not be uncovered as she was being dragged through the streets to her death…

That’s from Golden’s book Only in America, and specifically his column, “Causerie on death.”  (What could be called the functional equivalent of a modern blogpost.)

That is, a causerie is generally defined as a short, light, humorous essay, but Golden defined it as “French for ‘schmooze.'”  (See also Dichotomy.)

The point is: few people would use “schmooze” and “death” in the same sentence, let alone the same title, but Golden did.  In fact this causerie was one of his longer essays, but his point was:  Tomorrow may never come.  We all plan to live long, full and rich lives, but for all we know we might get run over by a bus ten minutes from now.  (And so among other things we should focus on important things, like letting our family and friends know how we feel about them…)

In turn, maybe being sure to wear “clean underwear” isn’t as ridiculous as we thought.  Maybe it’s just a form of mindfulness, of being aware that death could come at any minute, yet not being greatly troubled by it.  Then there’s the symbolism of the intimate nature of the loincloth, representing “the close intimacy the people with their Lord.”

And finally, come to think of it:  Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to have clean underwear if you were about to face guys like these. . .



The upper image is courtesy of Loincloth – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the full caption, “A form of loincloth worn with a cape by an Aztec ruler, circa 1500.”

See the full text at Jeremiah 13:1-11.  The text and footnote are from the Easy-to-Read Version (ERV).  It was the Old Testament reading for Saturday, March 14, 2015, in the Daily Office.  (See DOR.)

The full reference to Only in America by Harry Golden:  Penguin Books (1959), at page 10.   The quote is from his column, “Causerie on death.”  See also Causerie – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and The “Golden” Era of Civil Rights: Consequences of the Carolina Israelite

The Jimmy Buffett image is courtesy of

The Jeremiah image is courtesy of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The lower image is “Capricho № 80: Ya es hora (It is time),” courtesy of the Wikipedia article Spanish Inquisition – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Los Caprichos “are a set of 80 prints in aquatint and etching created by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya in 1797 and 1798, and published as an album in 1799…   Goya described the series as depicting ‘the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilized society, and from the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance or self-interest have made usual.'”  

A final note:  the Spanish word “caprichos” can be defined as “caprice,” but there are a host of other possible translations. See What is the meaning of the Spanish word capricho? – Word Hippo



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