Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
As I sit to write on a passage such as Jeremiah 32: 1-3a, 6-15, I am reminded of my own inadequacies and how often I allow fear to immobilize my actions because I see only a piece of what is to come. Easily I can stare at my agenda and intake a deep breath at the sheer weight of the weeks ahead, wondering how I will ever get all of those things accomplished, let alone do them well. Allowing fear to settle in and not seeing the tasks as a way to honor where God has brought me and what He is actively accomplishing in my life, it becomes more about what I can do rather than what God is desiring my participation in. So, I approach the text with a fearful expectation of God’s desire to continually redeem His people with promise and hope.
The Israelites are under siege and land is now being occupied by the enemy. Our entry into the narration describes a people engaged in war and no conceivable resolution to their current situation in sight. Jeremiah is held captive within the palace walls upon the premise he had intended to sneak out and surrender to the Babylonians (27:11-16), which was a false allegation. King Zedekiah failed to heed the words of the prophet and intends to further participate in the war. The king has rejected the words of God’s prophet and controls the people from his limited knowledge of what is to come. Jeremiah’s actions seem thusly irrational in light of the scene set in verses 1-3—he purchases a plot of land.
Jeremiah purchases a plot of land occupied by the Babylonian army, a seemingly poor investment. The lectionary reading omits verses 3b-5, yet, they are important for understanding why God has instructed Jeremiah to buy such a piece of land.
“This is what the Lord say: ‘I am about to hand this city over to the king of Babylon, and he will take it. King Zedekiah will be captured by the Babylonians and taken to meet the king of Babylon face to face. He will take Zedekiah to Babylon, and I will deal with him there,’ says the Lord. ‘If you fight against the Babylonians, you will never succeed.” (3b-5)
Why then would Jeremiah purchase a plot of land already sieged by the Babylonians? To any rational person the purchase would be considered unwise, yet Jeremiah was a piece in God’s continued plan to restore the people of Judah to their homeland after the exile. God has always been about a greater plan of redemption and restoration for His people; from the very beginning of time, God has instructed fearful people to take steps of faith toward seemingly irrational action. God instructed Abraham to walk without a destination, God commanded Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt toward the promised land, God anointing David as King, and countless others who acted without the knowledge of how things would come about. The people of God acted as bearers of God’s promises for His people.
The narration continues with Jeremiah’s purchase of the land from Hanamel, the son of Jeremiah’s Uncle Shallum. God had instructed Jeremiah that Hanamel would come to him and request him to purchase the plot of land, so when Hanamel came to him in the prison he knew it was from the Lord. We are not preview to how Hanamel was able to get through the siege and come to Jeremiah, yet he came and pleaded with Jeremiah to purchase his land in Anathoth. Prior passages in the Book of Jeremiah described the people of Anathoth as fierce critics of Jeremiah, which doubles the irony of the Lord’s request. Jeremiah, purchase land being occupied by a warring army in an area of your greatest critics. I wonder if Jeremiah must have asked himself if God was kidding and thought himself going insane. Yet, Jeremiah purchases the land from Hanamel at the inheritance exchange referenced to in Leviticus 25, weighing him the silver, signed in view of an audience and paid him the balance.
Readers may find verses 9-10 rather unnecessary to the narration, rather the author found these passages to aid the validity of Jeremiah’s gesture in purchasing the land. In modern standards the purchasing of such property would be unwise and foolish, it was so in Jeremiah’s time as well. He was investing a large portion of money is a piece of land, which had been devalued by the siege. The act of purchasing land for the fair-market price was in response to the Lord’s command and unforeseen promise to restore the people of Judah back to their homeland after the time in exile. God was foreshadowing his promise in the midst of fearful and difficult times in the faithfulness of his prophet, Jeremiah. Jeremiah described the act in detail saying, “I subscribed the deed, and sealed it, and called witnesses, and weighed him the money in the balances” (v.10). A rather symbolic act lived out in real events in front of an audience for a worthless piece of land.
The lectionary leaves us with Jeremiah commanding on behalf of the God of Israel, “Take these deeds, this deed of the purchase which is sealed, and these deed which is open, and put them in an earthen vessel; that they may continue many days” (v.14). The documents would be preserved as a way of testifying for future generations of the acts which were prophesied about, “House and fields and vineyards shall yet again be bought in this land” (v.15). Jeremiah was revealing to the people of Judah of God’s promise to restore them to their homeland once again. These words must have seemed odd to the people of Judah as they were surely seeing only the war going on around them, the devastation of fields, and the impeding triumph of the Babylonians. The people of Judah could not see the marvelous plans God had for them and how He was going to faithfully restore their homelands after terrible destruction.
Once again as I near the end of my musing on the first few verses of Jeremiah 32, I still feel the presence of human fear at what the next few weeks and even months will hold for myself, my friends, my family, my community, my country, and those I do not know. Unlike Jeremiah I am not a prophet and I cannot say what restoration will come to any of those situation or that fear will subside. My confidence, my faith, is in a God who has continually promised to restore and redeem His people. We as the people of God have a choice to stand immobilized by fear at what we believe may come or we can confidentially stand on faith.
Fretheim, in a commentary on Jeremiah, uses the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to help us grasp our participation in God’s ordained work in the face of great hardships or fear. “When Jeremiah said, in his people’s hour of direst need, that ‘houses and fields and [vineyards] shall again be bought in this land,’ it was a token of confidence in the future. That requires faith, and may God grant us it daily. I don’t mean the faith that flees the world, but the faith that endures in the world and loves and remains true to the world in spite of all the hardships it brings us. Our marriage must be a ‘yes’ to God’s earth. It must strengthen our resolve to do and accomplish something on earth. I fear that Christians who venture to stand on earth on only one leg will stand in heave on only one let too” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Love Letters from Cell 92, quoted in Fretheim, 459). May we remember the words of a man who rested whole on the ordained truth of God in the face of great hardship. May we be a people who desire to live out the faithfulness of God in the midst of adversity.
Jeremiah 32: 15 is a reminder for us all that God is actively at work in the world today. He is in the days, weeks and months ahead of all of us in the face of the world’s hardships and human failings. The promise to be found in this passage is God will redeem the world’s suffering. He never promised Jeremiah or the people of Judah that they would not suffer, rather he promised that He would restore them to their homeland, He would redeem their suffering. The promise that was true during the time of Jeremiah is also true for us today, God is promising us redemption and restoration.
As we acknowledge the inadequacies, the fearful realities of our lives, and the ways we come up short, may we also acknowledge the God who sees us and calls us Beloved. So, do not fearfully stare down the path ahead, rather stare boldly into the face of the unknown resting in faith in the promises of God.
Dockery, David S. “Jeremiah, Lamentations.” The New American Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1991. N. pag. Print.
Fretheim, Terence, E., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Jeremiah (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Incorporated, 2002)
“Jeremiah 32: 1-15.” Chronological Life Application Study Bible: New Living Translation. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2012. 1079. Print.