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Lowell Brueckner

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Can a Leopard Change His Spots?


 I am not satisfied that the NKJV, which I normally use in my studies, closely portrays the analogy, used by the Lord in this chapter. I will turn to the American Standard Version, just this time.

Chapter 13

  1.      Thus saith Jehovah unto me, Go, and buy thee a linen girdle, and put it upon thy loins and  put it not in water.   

 2.      So I bought a girdle according to the word of Jehovah, and put it upon my loins. 

 3.      And the word of Jehovah came unto me the second time, saying, 

 4.      Take the girdle that thou hast bought, which is upon thy loins, and arise, go to the Euphrates, and hide it there in a cleft of the rock. 

 5.      So I went, and hid it by the Euphrates, as Jehovah commanded me. 

 6.      And it came to pass after many days, that Jehovah said unto me, Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take the girdle from thence, which I commanded thee to hide there. 

 7.      Then I went to the Euphrates, and digged, and took the girdle from the place where I had hid it; and, behold, the girdle was marred, it was profitable for nothing. 

 8.      Then the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, 

 9.      Thus saith Jehovah, After this manner will I mar the pride of Judah, and the great pride of Jerusalem. 

 10.  This evil people, that refuse to hear my words, that walk in the stubbornness of their heart, and are gone after other gods to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is profitable for nothing. 

 11.  For as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto me the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah, saith Jehovah; that they may be unto me for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory: but they would not hear. 

 The parable of the girdle

 Paul wrote to Timothy: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 T.3:16). By this we know that the Bible, Old Testament and New, has the anointing of God upon it, but Peter shows that man did not leave his human imprint on the word at all. He attributes the authorship entirely to the Holy Spirit. “For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 P.1:21).  Men, then, were simply secretaries, who received dictation from Him.

 Having settled that absolute truth in our hearts, we can move on to the manner, in which the Holy Spirit expresses Himself. There is no literature among the human race that is more intriguing than the divine word. God’s stories are written with the lives of people, played out in real situations. The film industry has sometimes borrowed from it to present their productions. World empires and significant geographical locations play a part in the plots. Poetry and song are often included in the Scripture. There is oneness of purpose and principle throughout the Bible and conformity to them and the consequences of opposition to them could not be weightier. They continue throughout life and into eternity.


 In this chapter, the Spirit of God uses an illustration, which serves to give the prophecy a more powerful impact. It concerns a girdle. John the Baptist’s clothing was made of camel’s hair and he also had a leather girdle around his loins (Mk.1:6).  In the Old Testament, the high priest´s belt or girdle was a beautiful item, woven with blue, purple, and scarlet threads. Pure gold was hammered thin and threads were cut from it to weave into the belt. His sons, the priests, wore similar girdles or belts ¨for glory and for beauty” (Ex.28:40).

 In verse 11, the Lord clearly explains the symbolism that he wants to portray in the girdle. I will quote it, so that we have it at hand as we continue with the lesson: For as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto me the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah, saith Jehovah; that they may be unto me for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory: but they would not hear.

 Israel is brought into a tight covenant with God that would beautifully display them before the world in order to bring Him praise and glory. It is always God’s purpose that His people cling tightly in dependency upon Him. You see the close resemblance of the Lord’s symbolism concerning Israel in this chapter, with that of the High Priest’s girdle in Exodus. However, wicked Israel was not faithful to the covenant bond, they refused to listen to their God, walked in the stubbornness of self, and wandered off into idolatry (10).

The Euphrates River
 Understanding those conditions, let us turn to the instructions given Jeremiah. God told him to buy and wear a linen girdle. He is not to wash it in water, because it is meant to depict the naturally corrupt state of the people (1). He wore it for a time and then the Lord instructed him to make a long trip to the Euphrates River and bury it in the cleft of a rock (4). Jeremiah is obedient, when his people are not (2, 5). The river ran along the wall of Babylon and therefore the clothe taken there, represented Israel in Babylonian captivity.

 Many days later, symbolic of 70 years of captivity, a second command came to Jeremiah to revisit the site, where he had left the girdle (6). He dug it up and it was totally rotten and useless (7). By the captivity, Israel was brought to the depths of humiliation and stripped totally of national and religious pride. Human pride is only broken when its objects are destroyed (9). Israel saw the destruction of many such objects. It was powerless as a nation, Jerusalem was in ruins, their temple was burnt and it was stripped of its treasures.


A spirit of drunkenness

 12.  Therefore thou shalt speak unto them this word: Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, Every bottle shall be filled with wine: and they shall say unto thee, Do we not certainly know that every bottle shall be filled with wine? 

 13.  Then shalt thou say unto them, Thus saith Jehovah, Behold, I will fill all the inhabitants of this land, even the kings that sit upon David's throne, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, with drunkenness. 

 14.  And I will dash them one against another, even the fathers and the sons together, saith Jehovah: I will not pity, nor spare, nor have compassion, that I should not destroy them. 

 Now, the prophecy transforms into another parable. In verse 12, the Lord gives the prophecy, in form of a parable, and in the following verse, He gives the interpretation. He commands the prophet, once again, to speak His word in His name: “Every bottle shall be filled with wine”…  every bottle signifies all the inhabitants. Filled with wine means that a drunken spirit will influence the land.

 They mock the prophet, which is what the carnal mind does with spiritual things and spiritual people. They are foolishness to them. Let us briefly follow the doctrine of Paul in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, which must be applied here. In verse 18 he declares the simple truth: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” Concerning worldly wisdom, the Lord warns (v.19): “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise.”  Then, we enter chapter 2, where the apostle announces in verse 6, a different kind of wisdom: “We speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age.” This wisdom cannot be learned apart from the Spirit of God (v.11): “No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.” The doctrine is brought to a conclusion in verse 14: “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

 Knowing the spiritual principle that Paul teaches, we understand the mocking reaction of the people. They are responding, “Of course every bottle is filled with wine! That’s what they are used for.” The people, void of the Spirit of Truth, misinterpret the prophecy. If they reach any conclusion at all from the prophecy, it will be that they can look forward to a bumper crop of grapes; every bottle will be filled!

 But that is not the godly interpretation to which we have already referred in verse 13. In Jerusalem, the descendants of David, the kings, along with the priests, prophets, as well as the common citizens will come under the influence of an unreasonable spirit. Literal drunkenness may well be practiced, as well, but it has more to do with their thinking, which will become distorted and their footsteps will stagger in error. Fathers and sons will stumble against one another in their confusion. God Himself will bring this mentality among them, because they have refused to hear His word. The mental distortion will be as severe as physical disease, a pitiful condition… as pitiful as a drunken mob, wandering in the streets and bumping into one another.  Because of their obstinacy, the Lord will pour it out in great quantities without mercy (14). 


 The eminent defeat and loss

 15.  Hear ye, and give ear; be not proud; for Jehovah hath spoken. 

 16.  Give glory to Jehovah your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness. 

 17.  But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because Jehovah's flock is taken captive. 

 18.  Say thou unto the king and to the queen-mother, Humble yourselves, sit down; for your headtires are come down, even the crown of your glory. 

 19.  The cities of the South are shut up, and there is none to open them: Judah is carried away captive, all of it; it is wholly carried away captive. 

 20.  Lift up your eyes, and behold them that come from the north: where is the flock that was given thee, thy beautiful flock? 

 21.  What wilt thou say, when he shall set over thee as head those whom thou hast thyself taught to be friends to thee? shall not sorrows take hold of thee, as of a woman in travail? 

 Jeremiah pleads with the people: He says, “For once, swallow your pride and listen; consider Who is speaking” (15).  It is almost impossible to fathom the damage that is done to the human race, because of pride. In our study, an entire nation, chosen by God, is collapsing in ruin, because humility is unacceptable to them. Multiply the characteristic many times, as it manifests itself around the globe by a creation in rebellion to its Maker. It is on a path to self-destruction, eternal fire and torture. A little people stand on tiptoes, in an attempt to master the Omnipotent. An unreasonable arrogance rises against the Sovereign, Omniscient Lord. It is the worst possible plague of insanity.

 Jeremiah is only asking what is reasonable, when he calls on the Jerusalem populace to give glory to God or they will experience the inextinguishable glory of His light turn to spiritual darkness.  Egypt was brought to its knees, when the Lord brought thick physical darkness over the entire land. They couldn’t see one another and didn’t get out of bed in the morning for three days.

 The people, whom He rescued from Pharaoh, will experience a worse darkness… a spiritual darkness. He forecasts retribution upon them for turning a deaf ear. God is warning them in His kindness to repent before their souls, in a spiritual sense, find themselves scaling mountains in pitch blackness of spiritual night. They will be desperately searching for the light of life, but find only the darkness of death. It is a foretaste of hell, as outer darkness (Mt.8:12, 23:13, 25:30), on earth (16).

 Unbending pride is worthy of bitter tears, because of its consequences, which Jeremiah is describing. The compassionate prophet is called to a solitary ministry of tears, flowing from a wounded soul.  He speaks to the public, then goes in private to weep, because the flock, which the heavenly Shepherd wants to lead and care for, is captured by the wolves (17).

 His message excludes no one, even the king and the queen mother (18). How sadly King Zedekiah came down from his throne and ran from the Babylonians. They captured him and killed his sons, the princes, before his eyes. It was the last scene that he would see, because his eyes were removed and that final sight haunted him for the rest of his life. The prophecy was fulfilled and became a reality that was far worse than anyone could have imagined. Prophecy is kind, because it seeks to save from a cruel reality, nevertheless, not unworthy of a foolish, stubborn people.

The Babylonians entered from the north, but didn’t cease their conquest until they subdued the cities of the south of Judah. This is a warning for them, that they would not be spared after their capital, Jerusalem was taken (19). The rulers need to open their eyes to face those who are coming from the north. They will raid the beautiful sheep under their care. Centuries later, even after so much time had passed, the beautiful flock of God, was as sheep without a shepherd (Mk.6:34). Jesus, as Jeremiah, wept for them (Lk.19:41).

 In verse 21, the horrible error that marred the reign of Hezekiah is brought to light (see Is.39:2-4). He ignorantly made peace with those, who turned out to be Judah’s worst enemies. The resulting pain was severe. Isaiah could see it, having the eyes of a prophet, enlightened by the Spirit of prophecy. Give us those eyes that we desperately need, O God!


A most desperate dilemma

 22.  And if thou say in thy heart, Wherefore are these things come upon me? for the greatness of thine iniquity are thy skirts uncovered, and thy heels suffer violence. 

 23.  Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil. 

 24.  Therefore will I scatter them, as the stubble that passeth away, by the wind of the wilderness. 

 25.  This is thy lot, the portion measured unto thee from me, saith Jehovah; because thou hast forgotten me, and trusted in falsehood. 

 26.  Therefore will I also uncover thy skirts upon thy face, and thy shame shall appear. 

 27.  I have seen thine abominations, even thine adulteries, and thy neighings, the lewdness of thy whoredom, on the hills in the field. Woe unto thee, O Jerusalem! thou wilt not be made clean; how long shall it yet be? 

 In defeat, all sophistication ends, and the conquered are stripped of everything that can hide, who they are in truth. It is what we call the naked truth and the bare facts. It is all revealed at the hand of the Victor. There is no need to question the justice of the divine sentence. No argument can be given, no defense will suffice (22). “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (He.4:13). Blessed are those who recognize their defeat in this life, humble themselves and surrender to the Captain of their salvation. Cursed are those, who stand for sentencing at the Great White Throne. Flee from the wrath to come!

 The question lies before the repentant sinner: Is there an answer, a remedy for the dilemma of the evil human heart? Our text teaches us that there is no human cure; no self-effort will avail, no resolute change of our ways is possible. Throughout the Scriptures the impossibility is powerfully portrayed and before us we have one indisputable fact… and here it is: Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Then may you also do good…

 The 21st Century is faced with something that was unthinkable in past generations: We have people, who are attempting to change their sex and laws are being enacted to criminalize those, who will try to convert them to the sex, with which they were born. Well then, I am not trying to convert them by this article. I will leave this question to the One, whose laws can never be challenged or revoked. He will thoroughly and justly deal with this matter one day. What about the Ethiopian’s color? The Asian’s? The European’s? The South American’s? The Scripture also presents the impossibility of the leopard changing his spots.

 Verse 23 has to do with something that is far more vital than physical change. It is referring to the inner nature of the people of Israel, a question that every non-Jew faces as well. Can fallen human nature be changed? That condition is far deeper into the realm of impossibility than any physical change. The answer is unequivocally… NO! This is the root problem with Israel. This is the root problem with the entire human race. Can Israel change its customs? Can mankind change his sinful ways?

 A good many decades ago a converted singer by the name of Keith Green wrote a song: What Can Be Done, with a Poor Heart Like Mine?  God says here that he will scatter them to be carried away with the wind. In other words the only answer is to be destroyed and carried away (24). There is no talk of reformation or change in these verses. The verdict is passed down to all mankind: This is your lot! (25) And the verdict is deserved to a race that is treasonous against the Creator. The individual may cover it up in a thousand ways now. He may dress it with the trousers of morality and throw over it the overcoat of religion. He may strap it on firmly with the belt of humanitarianism, but the naked truth will one day blow up in every individual’s face (26).

 We are a spiritually adulterous civilization, who have abandoned the one who created us, loved us, and bought us with the price of His own blood. Here are God’s adjectives to describe us: We are lustful, lewd, abominable, woeful and filthy. Worse than all this truth from the throne of an all-wise God, He knows that we don’t want to change. Will you still not be made clean? It is a question, in which the answer is assumed to be no.

 Although we are at the end of the chapter, we know that God did not leave the matter at this point, so neither will I. It is true that the only thing to do with fallen man is sentence him to death. No repairing of his broken condition and no picking up his broken pieces will do. “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek.18:20). That was the Lord’s sentence from the beginning in the book of Genesis. When Jesus went to the cross, He took that old, unfixable man with him and the death blow was administered. He was laid to rest forever but on Resurrection Sunday, he came out of the grave with Christ as a new creation, created in Christ Jesus unto good works (Eph.2:10). This is why, “he that believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.” And now, with this good news we can close the chapter.

 If you are still in your sins, will you admit it and lament your hopeless state? Will you accept the verdict that God has laid down in this chapter? I agree, it isn’t easy to face this truth and may cause lack of appetite and sleepless nights, but there is light up ahead. You will not find a ray of light or hope, however, within yourself. You can’t change. Christ is the light and He came all the way from heaven to earth, all the way from divinity to humanity, all the way from glory to shame, in order to solve this huge dilemma. He did solve it… all by Himself. Trust Him and trust His work now and He will save you!
























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