Jeremiah buys some land
It’s the spring of 2019 and the Brexit deadline has come and gone. Will the result of the referendum be honoured by parliament? Will there be a withdrawal deal agreed? Will there be another referendum? Will we leave or will we remain? As I write, no one seems to know. This uncertainty is now beginning to have economic impact. House prices in the UK fell by about 1% in a single month this year (January 2019). It’s probably not a great time to invest in property! Imagine for a moment that our nation had been invaded and was under occupation – the invading army would effectively own the land and could re-assign ownership to its friends and supporters. Land would cease to have any value. Such were the circumstances in Judea – who would invest in land under such circumstances? Jeremiah is faced with a family obligation to buy occupied land, what would he do?
- Amid the storm
Winston Churchill wrote a 6-part series on his wartime experiences. The first book in the series is entitled ‘the gathering storm.’ He foresaw the dangers of Nazi Germany; he saw the storm clouds gathering. In Judah, the storm had already come! The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had already carried out two deportations of Judeans in 605 BC and in 597 BC. It was now 587 BC. Zedekiah had been king for 10 years and had persistently opposed Jeremiah and his message. So much so that Jeremiah was imprisoned in the courtyard of the guard of the royal palace of Judah. Zedekiah had sought to silence Jeremiah’s message, but in doing so he had created a situation that was totally devoid of hope. The Babylonian army had already invaded the rest of Judah and at the time of chapter 32, they had encircled Jerusalem in a siege that had already lasted for two years. Siege ramps were already in place – the city was doomed. The word that God had spoken was taking place before their very eyes: But Zechariah still didn’t get it! He complained to Jeremiah: “This is what the Lord says: I am about to give this city into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will capture it. 4 Zedekiah king of Judah will not escape the Babylonians…. If you fight against the Babylonians, you will not succeed.” Even at this late stage Zedekiah still had a choice, he could surrender to Nebuchadnezzar or he could fight and lose. The bible is full of such examples of moral choice. People don’t like to be confronted with the consequences of a choice of right versus wrong – and they will tend to silence those who speak of such things. Jeremiah was imprisoned for speaking the truth. Some things never change.
2. An offer and a prayer
Throughout his prophetic career, Jeremiah performed a series of symbolic acts to emphasise his message to Judah that they should repent and prepare for God’s coming judgment. You may remember the ruined linen belt (chapter 13), the visit to the potter’s house (chapter 18), the smashed pot (chapter 19), the cup of God’s wrath (chapter 25) and the wooden yoke (chapter 27). Now Jeremiah buys a field!
God indicated to Jeremiah that his cousin Hanamel would pay him a visit and ask him to buy his field at Anathoth. Israel had a law of redemption that applied to land ownership. It was important to keep ownership of land within a family group. It’s possible that Hananel had no children and thus approached his nearest relative to invite him to buy the land. The timing could not have been worse! The land really had no value as it was under occupation by the Babylonians. It’s one thing to buy at the bottom of the market, but it’s quite another thing to buy land that is under military occupation! In human terms this was a bad deal and any Independent Financial Advisor would be bound to warn Jeremiah to keep well away! But Jeremiah had divine advice to proceed with the purchase: “I knew that this was the word of the Lord; 9 so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver.” Since Jeremiah had already prophesied that the duration of the exile would be 70 years he must have known that this was a pretty bad investment: he would have known that in human terms he had no prospect of ever deriving benefit from this purchase. We know of course that this was a remarkable statement of Jeremiah’s faith that God would both preserve his people and be faithful to his promises to bring them back from exile. But what about Jeremiah’s personal situation, would he, could he benefit? – More on this later!
Having weighed out the 17 shekels of silver, Jeremiah proceeded to go through the procedure of the day to have the terms and conditions of the transaction ‘signed and sealed.’ There were two identical documents, one sealed, the other unsealed. Presumably the unsealed copy was the working copy to be used as proof of the purchase and the second copy was sealed as a backup should any disputes arise as to the rightful owner of the land. This procedure, including the witness’ signatures seems to be according to the standards in place at the time. What happened next though seems less of a standard practice: “14 ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time.” The Lord specifically asks Jeremiah to take precautions to keep the documents for long term storage. Why? Because one day, despite Babylonian occupation, “Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land (verse 15b).” This is a remarkable statement of God’s faithfulness to his promises. How the people involved in the sale of this land must have marvelled at Jeremiah’s confidence in God’s promises – not only was he investing in the future he was going to make doubly sure that no one could dispute his investment!
So, did Jeremiah expect to personally benefit from this sale? Would he live long enough to see the end of the 70-year exile and the return to the land? I suspect not, would it be too much to say however that Jeremiah had some expectation of Israel’s glorious future in which he would play a part? It was revealed to the prophet Daniel that, ”2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” I suspect that Jeremiah was afforded the same information and if he was, he would have known that one day he would ask for the scrolls to be retrieved and for the land to be given to its rightful owner! There is a remarkable account given of the way the land of Israel would be apportioned when the Messiah comes – you can read about it in Ezekiel chapter 48. Interestingly part of the land is specifically given to priests (remember that Jeremiah was from a priestly line) – here’s the account in Ezekiel –“13 ‘Alongside the territory of the priests, the Levites will be allotted a portion of land 25,000 cubits long and 10,000 cubits wide. Its total length will be 25,000 cubits and its width 10,000 cubits. 14 They must not sell or exchange any of it. This is the best of the land and must not pass into other hands, because it is holy to the Lord.” Guess where Jeremiah’s new purchase lay? In the ‘best of the land!’ Not bad for 15 shekels and faith in the God of Israel!
Having completed a purchase that eloquently demonstrated Jeremiah’s faith in God’s promise of better days, Jeremiah proceeds to pray. The basis for Jeremiah’s confidence in the future lay in the person in whom he placed that confidence. We are privileged today to understand something of the immensity of God’s creation: using the Event Horizon Telescope, astronomers have for the first time been able to picture a black hole. The light that surrounds the black hole takes 55 million years to reach the receptors on the telescopes on earth and the black hole itself is 100 billion kilometres wide (larger than our solar system). Jeremiah declares that ‘you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power.’ And what power! This is the God in whom we put our trust. But he is not a remote creator of universes, black holes, galaxies and stars, he is a God who cares: ‘18 You show love to thousands.’This phrase comes from Exodus chapter 34. Moses was about to receive the 10 commandments on two new pieces of stone, he met with God and it was the Lord who described himself as “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” In this context the thousands seem to be not thousands of people, but rather thousands of generations! Sadly, parents who sin often influence subsequent generations, but God sees everything and will “reward each person according to their conduct and as their deeds deserve (verse 20).”
Having declared God’s infinite power, Jeremiah recounts how God has intervened in history to assist Israel to bring them into the promised land: “ 21 You brought your people Israel out of Egypt with signs and wonders, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror. 22 You gave them this land you had sworn to give their ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Jeremiah is taking note that God has created in the past, but he is still at work. Sadly, part of God’s work is to deal with sin – despite God’s provision for Israel they did not follow God’s law and thus judgment ensued (verse 23). Jeremiah concludes his prayer acknowledging that the Babylonians were on the cusp of taking the city of Jerusalem, but he had bought a field! Amid disaster and judgment, Jeremiah still trusted God to provide for the future!
3. God speaks
God responded to Jeremiah’s prayer – and he echoes back just what Jeremiah had said: “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? (verse 27)” Of course nothing is too hard would be Jeremiah’s thought – you’re the God who makes black holes 100 billion kilometres wide! Next, the Lord reminds Jeremiah of what he is about to do: “29 The Babylonians who are attacking this city will come in and set it on fire; they will burn it down, along with the houses.” Don’t forget that Jeremiah at that time was imprisoned in the city – he must have been fearful for his own life.
Next the Lord declares why he will bring this disaster on Israel, Judah and Jerusalem: “The people of Israel and Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth (verse 20).” This was a wilful and deliberate rejection of the Lord – and the actions of the people became truly despicable to the point that they offered their children as sacrifices to a false God. God states that he had neither commanded such things nor had they even entered his mind! How sad that mankind’s God-given creative capabilities should be used to invest new and dreadful ways to sin. Well at least we would not do such things today – perhaps not, but I fear for our next generation of children who are being actively taught that sin is normal and is to be embraced and valued. How long before God’s judgment falls on these detestable things I wonder?
So, Israel, Judah and Jerusalem sin and turn their backs on God, God intervenes with the destruction of their city and country as well as the exile of their people. What now? “but this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: 37 I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. 38 They will be my people, and I will be their God.” Verse 44 goes on: “41 I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.”
Why the change? Because this is what God is like! He is a God of love, mercy and kindness! He will give the people the ability to live right (see the notes on the last chapter on the New Covenant) –“ 40 I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.”
No one wanted to buy land as the shadow of the Babylonian invasion lay over the country, but because of God’s love and mercy once again fields will be bought, and deeds will be signed and witnessed. Jeremiah had already made his investment in the future – why? Because he had placed his faith in the God of the Universe we should do the same!