Introduction: Have you considered the way in which God uses symbols?
The entire Old Testament sanctuary service is symbolic of what Jesus
would do for us. Calling Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the
sin of the world” ( John 1:29), brings to mind the symbolism of the
sacrifice of a lamb for our sins. We introduced the idea last week
that God taught Jeremiah to use symbols in his teachings about what
God wanted the people to learn. This week we dive much more deeply
into the subject. Let’s see what new things we can learn from the
Bible and symbols!

  1. Apples and Snakes

    1. Read Genesis 4:1-2. In the relationship between the two
      brothers, what do you think is the significance of Cain
      being the first born? (Being older, Abel would likely look
      up to Cain. No doubt Cain’s parents showered him with

      1. How would you rate the relative importance of the
        careers chosen by the two sons? ( Genesis 3:17-19
        tells us God directed men to do the kind of thing
        Cain was doing.)

        1. What was the purpose of Abel’s job? (Not to
          create food. It was not until after the flood
          that humans were told they could eat meat
          ( Genesis 9:1-3). Abel raised flocks for
          clothing ( Genesis 3:21) and sacrifice (Genesis

    2. Read Genesis 4:3-5. If you are Cain, what are the reasons
      why you would bring fruit as an offering? (It reflects
      what you do! How can it be a sacrifice if it does not
      reflect your hard work?)

      1. Why would God not accept Cain’s good faith effort to
        present his own work? (Sacrifices were not “about
        Cain,” they were about God’s symbolism. The symbolism
        between an apple and Jesus being crucified for our
        sins is hardly equivalent to the death of a lamb.)

    3. Read Genesis 4:6-7. Was God clear about His instructions
      to Cain? (This affirms that God told him “what is right,”
      but Cain did what he thought appropriate.)

      1. What is the lesson for us? (We may have logical
        reasons for what we do, but we can see in this
        example that God’s knowledge of the “big picture”
        means that we must trust Him and defer to Him.)

    4. Read Numbers 21:1-3. How important is God to the victory
      of His people? (They were losing until God intervened for

    5. Read Numbers 21:4-5. In light of what just happened, how
      would you characterize the attitude of God’s people? (They
      are rebellious. They lose faith in God. They are

    6. Read Numbers 21:6-7. Why did God send the snakes?

    7. Read Numbers 21:8-9. How does this symbol make any sense?
      A serpent was the face of the original sin ( Genesis 3:1-4), and now snakes are killing them! Why not put a lamb on
      a pole and have them look at it? (The problem was that,
      like Cain, they were not facing their sins. By looking at
      the snake, they faced their sin. For our sins to be
      forgiven, we must acknowledge them and ask for
      forgiveness. The symbol of the lamb, and to a lesser
      extent, the symbol of the snake, showed that we must have
      faith in God’s provision.)

      1. What are the people supposed to do with this bronze
        snake? (They are supposed to “look at it.”)

    8. It turns out that God’s people not only kept this bronze
      snake, but they named it “Nehustan.” Read 2 Kings 18:4 to
      find out what King Hezekiah did to Nehustan and why?

      1. What were the people doing to Nehustan? (They were
        worshiping it by burning incense to it.)

      2. What is the lesson about symbols and worship? (God
        said to look at it and learn a lesson. The people
        went far beyond that and started worshiping the
        bronze serpent. (The symbolism of that is worshiping
        sin!) There is nothing wrong with symbols that
        remind us of God’s will, the problem comes when we
        start worshiping them. See Exodus 20:3-6.)

  2. The Belt

    1. Read Jeremiah 13:1-2. I read that linen was sometimes used
      as currency in ancient Egypt. Proverbs 31:22 tells us that
      the ideal wife wears “fine linen and purple.” Given this
      background, why do you think God told Jeremiah to buy a
      linen belt? (I think it was supposed to be something that
      he was proud to wear. It was a good fashion accent for his

      1. Why not let it touch water? (Some commentators say
        this represents the general lack of spiritual
        cleanliness of the people. At least one commentator
        says (and I agree) that it had to do with degrading
        the fancy belt. If washed it would lose its shape and
        degrade its appearance.)

    2. Read Jeremiah 13:3-5. Is the belt of any use to Jeremiah

      1. Could it be of use? (If it is hidden, this suggests
        that Jeremiah will be able to keep it and use it in
        the future.)

      2. There is a debate about the translation of the word
        “Perath” (according to the NIV) and “Euphrates”
        according to other translations. One of the problems
        with translating this as “Euphrates” is that the
        Euphrates is 250 miles away, and such a journey seems
        unrelated to the point God is making.)

    3. Read Jeremiah 13:6-7. I’m not sure how hiding the belt
      “in a crevice in the rocks” ( Jeremiah 13:4) would cause
      Jeremiah to bury it so that it must be “dug up.” (Jeremiah
      13:7.) If this is a crevice in a rock by the side of the
      Euphrates, what might that mean? (Getting wet with river
      water, or wet and dirty from a hole, both are bad for
      Jeremiah’s favorite belt!)

    4. Read Jeremiah 13:8-10. What happens to our pride when we
      follow our own ways instead of the words of God? (Our
      pride becomes like a dirty rag.)

    5. Read Jeremiah 13:11. Notice that we have a second object
      lesson to be drawn from the linen belt. What purposes does
      God say that He has in mind for this belt? (If the people
      had followed God, instead of following their own gods and
      their own opinions, God would have “bound” them to Him.
      They would have been next to the great God of the

      1. What is God’s attitude toward His people? (If God’s
        people had been following Him, God would enjoy
        “praise and honor” and an increased reputation. This
        reinforces the interpretation that Jeremiah’s belt
        was an article of clothing of which he could be

      2. Consider what God is teaching us. How many times do
        you make a judgment on whether you will follow God’s
        advice based on how it impacts you, your family, or
        your wealth? (Jeremiah repeatedly tells the people
        how following God will impact them, but I think the
        most important reason for following God is that it is
        a blessing to Him. Consider how much we are indebted
        to God for saving our life and the lives of those we
        love! It brings honor to God for you to obey and
        trust Him!)

  3. Wineskins

    1. Read Jeremiah 13:12. What is the obvious problem with this
      message? (Everyone knows what you should do with
      wineskins. It is like telling people to brush their

    2. Read Jeremiah 13:13-14. What is the message God gives us
      through this symbolism? (When you are drunk, you have a
      hard time figuring out what you should do. You are
      confused. God tells His people, if you will not listen to
      My words, life will get more and more confusing until you
      will have absolutely no idea what to do. This will lead to
      your destruction.)

    3. Friend, what have we learned from these symbols? We have
      learned that we should obey God, and not our own logic
      that is contrary to God’s word. Not only will that avoid
      destruction for our self and our family, but more
      importantly it will give glory to God. Will you determine
      today to seek to bring glory to God in everything you do?

  4. Next week: The Crisis Continues.