Oh, Lord God!
Jeremiah Purchases A Field
1. Today we read Jeremiah chapter thirty-two. The prophecy of this chapter was made on "the tenth year of the king of Judah, Zedekiah," (verse one). It was about the year before the downfall of the monarchy of Judah because it was "the eleventh year of the king Zedekiah" (Second Kings 25:2) when Jerusalem surrendered after being besieged by the Babylonian army. It seemed at that time many of the people still expected reinforcements from Egypt and continued to embrace the hope that the capital city would be saved. And actually, according to Jeremiah chapter thirty-seven, since the soldiers of Pharaoh had made an attack, the Babylonian army did once let go of its siege around Jerusalem.
2. About then, Jeremiah was being held in the prison that was in the palace of the king of Judah. Jeremiah was there because he had prophesied the downfall of Judah against the hopes of the people. The contents of his prophecy are recorded beginning in verse three. "Thus, says the Lord. Behold, I will hand the capital over to the king of Babylon. He will occupy this city. ... Even though you do battle with the Chaldeans, you will never win," (verses three through five). When the people were trying so hard to hold on to their hopes, because Jeremiah did not take this factor into account but spoke [against them], he was naturally treated as unpatriotic, even a traitor. It was not for no reason that Jeremiah was detained in prison. However, the Jeremiah who had spoken the collapse of his country as he did also had some pretty inexplicable behavior right before the people. What he did is the subject of today's passage of scripture.
3. One day Jeremiah's cousin Hanameel came to visit him in prison. He made a request of Jeremiah. "Please purchase the field of Anatoth, which belongs in the possession of the tribe of Benjamin. Because you have the inheritance right to keep owning it as family, please do buy it from me," (verse eight). We don't understand why he was wanting to sell his field. It is written in the law that when a poor person relinquishes his field, his family ought to buy back the field, (Leviticus 25:25). Perhaps it may have been a situation like that. But, his making such an offer to Jeremiah seems quite lacking in common sense. Jeremiah had consistently to this point prophesied that Judah would be destroyed as a nation. He had stated to the people of Jerusalem that they should surrender to the king of Babylon. Does Hanameel even claim he was unaware of that? Were Jeremiah to obey the words of Hanameel and purchase the land in Anatoth, by his actions then he would deny the message that he himself had been giving. Jeremiah might appear in the eyes of the people as only a deceiver.
4. But what's surprising is, Jeremiah accepted Hanameel's words, purchased the field from him, and paid up by weighing out seventeen shekels of silver. Even more startling, he didn't just do all this between himself and Hanameel, but had witnesses in public and he did it before all the Jews in prison with him. If Hanameel was lacking in common sense, then Jeremiah was lacking even more so. Why in the world did he ever do such a thing? The Bible tells us that behind Jeremiah's actions there was the leading of the Lord. It says that Jeremiah received a word from the Lord. Prior to it happening, the Lord gave Jeremiah an advance notice of Hanameel's visit. So, in verse eight Jeremiah says, "I knew this from God's message." And if that was that, there shouldn't really have been any need to do this in front of all those eyewitnesses who were "Jews in prison with him." The reason we can say that it was very much of the leading of the Lord is that Jeremiah's behavior was clearly unbeneficial to himself. If his purchasing of the field became widely known to the people, that it would bring him trouble was plainer than the sight of fire. Wasn't it?
5. In spite of that though, Jeremiah openly carried it out before the many onlookers. Why did he do it? Because he realized that his act of purchasing the field was indeed a symbolical act that demonstrated the will of God (acted out object lesson prophecy). "For, the God of Israel, the Lord of the Armies says, 'The time is coming to once again purchase homes, fields, and vineyards in this country,'" (verse fourteen). That is what Jeremiah told his secretary Baruch. To Jeremiah the act of purchasing a field in a collapsing country was tantamount to the act of pointing to the deliverance and recovery that is on the other side to God's judgment.
6. So, along with Jeremiah speaking the prophecy of restoration by his very own deeds, he ordered his scribe Baruch. "Thus, says the God of Israel, the Lord of Armies. Take these documents, that is, the sealed purchase document and a copy of it and preserve them by storing them in earthenware," (verse fourteen).
7. Within this command Jeremiah's own bitter sense of resign and resolve is included. The purchase document would have to be preserved a long time. The scribe Baruch would have to responsibly relay this symbolized act to later generations through this [preserved document]. The reason Jeremiah entrusted this matter to Baruch was that he himself would not be able to relay the message to the coming generations. In other words, he would not be able to live until "the time [for the people] to once again purchase homes, fields, and vineyards" in the land of Judah. He himself wouldn't be able to prove forth the accuracy of his message.
8. On one hand, he proclaimed the fall of the country, but on the other hand he had to die like a deceiver buying land in that same country. He felt it was right to do; because for him the truly important thing was not that he look right or that his honor be kept. For him, the important thing was the will of God. The truthfulness of the word of God that he preached would some day soon be clear. And the truthfulness of the God who gave those words would be attested to and relayed unto later generations. Jeremiah entrusted all of it into the hands of God who would unfold it in history.
9. But we should not think that Jeremiah just easily obeyed God without any sort of confusion or fear. We can take a curious look at his prayer in verse sixteen in which there was a conversation with God that was so very painful and at the backdrop to Jeremiah's actions.
10. After Jeremiah handed the purchase document to Baruch, he began to pray, "Oh, O Lord God!" "Oh" is a moaning sound. It is the cry of a person crushed by the will of God which is so beyond human comprehension. This is the same word that Jeremiah had once expressed back when he was younger when he was made a prophet by God's will and not by his own choosing. "Oh, O Lord, my God. I don't know the word to say; for I am nothing but a youth," (1:6). He was overwhelmed by the completely mysterious and baffling will of God and thus became a prophet. Several decades afterwards, he lifted his voice with the same moaning cry before God. We need to carefully think about why that happened.
11. When something calamitous happens to them, many people feel baffled by God's will. They lift their groaning cries of "Oh, my Lord God. Why this to me?" But, for Jeremiah the baffling thing was not the calamity that had befallen him. It wasn't that he was held in prison and had received cruel treatment. He knew things like that would happen for speaking the judgment of God among the people and for speaking the fall of the nation. Nor was it, just as God said, that Jerusalem would be besieged and was on the verge of crisis. When you recollect the history of Israel, the fulfillment of these prophecies of God's judgment was not necessarily something unusual. That's what Jeremiah is expressing in his prayer.
"You displayed your mighty power with signs and miracles and in stretching out your arm you caused great fear, and you lead your people Israel out of the land of Egypt. And just as you once swore to your ancestors, you gave them this land as a gift. This land flows with milk and honey. But then, when they came here and possessed the land, since they did not listen to your voice, nor did they walk according to your law, nor did they do one single thing that you commanded, you gave them this catastrophe. Now, as they are about to take the capital by storm, siege works are being built. In no time, due to the sword, famine, and disease, this capital is about to fall into the hands of the Chaldeans who are besieging it. What is happening just as your word said is as we now see [coming to pass]," (verse twenty-one through twenty-four).
13. Humans pay back God's faithfulness with unfaithfulness. There was no room at all with Jeremiah to harbor any doubts about the fact that the effects [of such unfaithfulness] spelled but disaster. Jeremiah didn't say, "Oh, Lord God," over the fact that siege works to attack the capital were being constructed or that because of the sword, famine and disease the capital was about to fall into the hands of the Chaldeans who had it surrounded. Much rather, the baffling thing for Jeremiah was God told him there to "Have witnesses when you purchase the field with silver." That is, God has so far been having him declare the collapse of Judah, but doing a complete about face, he has begun to have him declare the promise of restoration. Jeremiah never expected that God had to forgive Israel or allow back a restoration.
14. In response to the words of Jeremiah's prayer, the answer of the Lord comes to Jeremiah. But, the Lord gives no reply whatsoever to the matter of why he will forgive their sins, or save them, or bring them restoration. Jeremiah was not able to hear the reason. There was a different message that Jeremiah was supposed to hear. And it is a message that we would do well to retain in our hearts. It is that the God who speaks the message of restoration is the same God who in the past may have spoken a message of judgment and allowed disaster in. That is, the God of judgment and the God of grace is one and the same God.
15. In his prayer Jeremiah said, "There is nothing that your power cannot attain," (verse seventeen). The Lord replied back with "Behold, I am the Lord, the God of the living. Is there anything to which my power cannot attain?," (verse twenty-seven). With mighty power the Lord God judges sin and with that same power he brings salvation and restoration. [As] God, [he has the perogative to] say, "I once was greatly angry, enraged and indignant, but I will gather from other countries those whom I have driven away, and I will have them return to this place and have them dwell peaceably. They will be my people and I will be their God," (verses thirty-seven and thirty-eight).
16. Because of the very fact that God is truly the one who can condemn one for sin, he is also the one who can pardon for sin. Because the Lord is the one who is able to convict for sin and destroy, he is also the one who is able to deliver from destruction. Jeremiah found out in that painful conversation of his with God that the deed he did that was filled with the contradiction of buying a field in the face of ruin, as God commanded him to, was a deed that testified that the God of judgment and the God of salvation is really one God.