The year was 587 BC and Jeremiah the Prophet was imprisoned in the court of the guard which was in the palace of the king of Judah, for prophesying against his own king and country. “For Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him, saying, “Why do you prophesy and say, ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall capture it; Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him face to face and see him eye to eye. And he shall take Zedekiah to Babylon, and there he shall remain until I visit him, declares the Lord. Though you fight against the Chaldeans, you shall not succeed’?” (Jeremiah 32:3-5)
No, things were not going at all well for Jeremiah, for outside the walls of Jerusalem was the massed army of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who had the whole city of Jerusalem besieged. God will sometimes take His prophets out of trouble, and sometimes leave them there to suffer with the others. At this point, Jeremiah had not received anything from the Lord to expect he was to be removed on this occasion. So, as Jeremiah sat in prison, he must have expected to die there, either at the hands of King Zedekiah or King Nebuchadnezzar.
Then the Lord came to Jeremiah in prison and spoke to him saying (v7) “Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle will come to you and say, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.’” Surely enough, Hanamel his cousin came to him and asked him to buy a field, just exactly as the Lord had told him. (v8) Then he “knew that this was the word of the Lord.” A deal subsequently agreed and Jeremiah paid Hanamel the sum of 17 shekels of silver and weighed out the money to him. What unfolds then in v10-16 are some of the most unusual verses in the Bible, for they uniquely detail and record the formal commercial real-estate transaction between Jeremiah and Hanamel for the land exchange:
“I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions and the open copy. And I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Hanamel my cousin, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. I charged Baruch in their presence, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.’ After I had given the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah, I prayed to the Lord…..”
Not only are these verses of the transfer of ownership recorded in great detail, the Lord is also shown to be deeply involved in this transaction and directing the details of it. How wonderful is that, to know that our God cares so much that He can and will get involved even in real-estate transactions which interest Him?
Jeremiah’s prayer confirms his confusion at what has just taken place. He records how the Lord has brought His people into the Promised Land but they had always rebelled against Him, but here and now, “because of sword and famine and pestilence the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans who are fighting against it.” (v24) Yet, even in this dire state, Jeremiah questions God asking “Yet you, O Lord GOD, have said to me, “Buy the field for money and get witnesses”–though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.'” (v25)
Jeremiah must have been shaking his head saying “Lord, what am I missing here? Why are we doing this? Don’t you remember we are under siege and will all die soon? What is the point?” Or words to that effect.
The Lord’s reply in immediate in v27 He says “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” What I believe He is saying here is effectively, “I am doing it, because I can do it.” With these words, He is establishing just Who He is and just What He can do, when He decides to act. Nothing is too hard for Him.
The Lord then went on to say He will give (v28) “this city into the hands of the Chaldeans and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall capture it.” (v30) “For the children of Israel and the children of Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth. The children of Israel have done nothing but provoke me to anger by the work of their hands.” The Lord then goes on to confirm that the devastation of Jerusalem will happen as planned, but “says the Lord: Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them. Fields shall be bought in this land of which you are saying, ‘It is a desolation, without man or beast; it is given into the hand of the Chaldeans.’ Fields shall be bought for money, and deeds shall be signed and sealed and witnessed, in the land of Benjamin, in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, in the cities of the hill country, in the cities of the Shephelah, and in the cities of the Negeb; for I will restore their fortunes, declares the Lord.“ (v42-44) Again the Lord brings back the subject to the buying of fields and to the details: money, deeds, signatures, seals and witnesses.
On the surface, it seems the Lord is saying, I will look after you in good times and bad. Though this transaction is taking place in bad times, the future is bright and soon you will be carrying on your own transaction in this land freely. It seems He is giving them hope for the future, despite the dire present conditions. But there is another side to this record.
Let us look a little closer at Jeremiah’s purchase under the Hebrew Law. First we must note that Jeremiah had not bought the land outright – as a possession of his or his offspring to own and possess forever and ever. What Jeremiah had bought was rather Hanamel’s life-interest in the land up to the year of Jubilee. (see Leviticus 25:10) In Jeremiah’s case, he could have expected to have had the use of the land for one about 5 years – the time of the next Jubilee year.
Secondly, there was famine and sword around and in Jerusalem, so no man’s life was worth much in this siege. Since Jeremiah had no children, the Law states that at his death the land would devolve to the person who would have inherited it, had Jeremiah not bought it.
Jeremiah, therefore, bought what never was and never could have been, of the slightest use to him. Instead, he paid for it what in the growing urgency of the siege, might have been very worthwhile to himself – the considerable sum of 17 shekels. Further, as the next heir, it was Jeremiah’s duty to buy the estate anyway, and this, his duty, was independent of its importance a sign to the people. Jeremiah also evidently gave the full value of the land, probably calculated by formula rather than it’s true worth under the circumstances; for at that time it was the campsite of the enemy troops and not therefore highly marketable real estate at that moment.
What can we learn from this intriguing passage of Jeremiah 32? Well, we can look back to Jeremiah 29:11 for a clear statement to answer that question, where the Lord says ”For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Like Jeremiah, we too have to be obedient to the Lord, whether we understand His larger picture or not. In fulfilling the Lord’s test for him in the purchase of the field in Anathoth, Jeremiah had shown himself to be God’s man. He put the Lord’s instruction first and his own priorities came second. Jeremiah would certainly have recognised that under Jewish Law, this land purchase was of no earthly benefit for him. By completing the deal, however, in exactly the way the Lord commanded and at the time the Lord commanded, Jeremiah was instead building up riches in heaven, where neither King Zedekiah nor King Nebuchadnezzar could claim them. We are likewise called, and this is an example of obedience for us in that direction.
As I study the obedience of Your Prophet Jeremiah under particularly onerous conditions in very severe times, I recognise his trust in You and his faith in You did not waver. You were at the centre of his focus in all things at all times. I also recognise that perhaps though he did not understand Your bigger picture for the purchase of the field in Anathoth, he complied with Your every wish and executed it to the exact detail you required of him.
I pray Lord that You will strengthen my faith and trust that I may be like Jeremiah, obedient to You at all times, whether or not I understand You big picture. I pray Lord, that You will have Your way in me at all times and in this, You will be glorified. Lord, I offer myself as a living sacrifice for Your purposes, please use me as You deem fit.
In Jesus name I pray. Amen and Amen.