A real estate transaction that preaches redemption.
This article was originally written for Christ Hold Fast.
Whenever the Book of Jeremiah comes up in a sermon, a noticeably gloomy cloud descends on the entire auditorium. Jeremiah, as I am sure you have heard before, is known as the “weeping prophet,” or even the “prophet of doom” in some circles. If Scripture is like the “Hundred Acre Wood,” then Jeremiah is Eeyore. The message with which he was charged to proclaim to Jehovah’s people by Jehovah himself was one that Jeremiah perpetually despaired in giving. His errand was one of an imminent future of judgment and wrath and divine fury. It was seasoned with the need for turning back or else endure the potency of God’s justice.
Chapter 32, though, is perhaps the most grim chapter in Jeremiah’s prophecy. Not only is it a text that comes from the “prophet of doom” himself; and not only is it a scene with a backdrop the likes of the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem; but it is also an account of, perhaps, the most boring event in anyone’s life: a real estate closing. Now, certainly, there is much to be excited about at a real estate closing — especially if it means you are closing on the sale of a new home. But prior to enjoying this new living space, you are required to suffer through the closing process, which is, perhaps, the most excruciating process known to man, what with all the legal jargon to listen to and the mountain of papers that require initialing. But even still, the boring-ness of closings are tinged with the joy of knowing that afterwards there is something that is yours (that is, so long as you keep making the monthly mortgage payments).
In a similar way, that is what occurs in Jeremiah 32, in which we are given the account of an Old Testament real estate closing. This transaction, though, is the most perplexing real estate deal in the history of civilization.
Jerusalem is under siege by the Chaldeans. (Jer 32:2) The Babylonian despot Nebuchadnezzar assaults the city in a rage incited by Zedekiah, the king of Judah, after a betrayal of their peace accord. (2 Kgs 24:17—25:1) What’s more, Jeremiah, the Lord’s prophet, is in prison, detained for the very message with which he was entrusted by Jehovah to give. (Jer 32:2–5) The moment is a seminal one for God’s people. They, of course, are not only on the brink of annihilation, but also the eve of the Babylonian Captivity — an extradition of God’s people that would span some seventy years.
Jeremiah’s prophecy is received by Zedekiah like nails on a chalkboard. He shuts up the prophet, questioning his less than positive message. Jeremiah, though, responds to the king by relaying a most curious real estate transaction (Jer 32:6–8), in which the prophet is given a “word of the Lord.” In that “word,” Hanamel, Jeremiah’s cousin, approaches Jeremiah with a business proposition. “You have the ‘right of redemption’ to the field in Anathoth,” Hanamel says. Anathoth, you see, was Jeremiah’s hometown. And in this day, whenever a piece of property was being sold due to financial problems (you know, like a war), the next of kin was given the first right to the land (“the right of inheritance”) so that the land might stay in the family.
The proposition itself, though, is pretty preposterous. Hanamel, perhaps, was just trying to make a buck since he knows that the land is plummeting in value right about now, seeing as this property was about to be overrun by an invading army. Nevertheless, he proposes that Jeremiah buy the land to keep it in the family. “Have I got a deal for you!” I imagine Hanamel saying in his best infomercial voice. But by all accounts, and every reasonable measure, this is a terrible deal. Anyone in their right mind would unquestionably refuse this offer. In fact, I’m surprised that Jeremiah didn’t just laugh in his face right there. “You want to me to pay what for what, now? You gotta be joking!” But instead, all this happens just as God said. And Jeremiah sees it as a fulfillment of the Lord’s word to him. “Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.” (Jer 32:8)
So, in the face of conventional wisdom, Jeremiah buys property in a war zone. And not only that, he does so in a public forum, to the letter of the law. He weighs the precise asking price and hands over the money. He draws up the paperwork. Gathers witnesses in whose company he signs the “evidence of purchase” and seals it. He files one deed with the public court and entrusts another to his apprentice, Baruch, for safekeeping in an “earthen storage jar.” (Jer 32:9–14) Thus, Jeremiah has lawfully authorized the sale of this field — it belongs to him, now. Though not for long since the Babylonian horde was waiting in the wings to make spoils of their new territory.
Why in the world, then, did Jeremiah proceed with this transaction? It all comes down to God’s promise. “For this is what the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” (Jer 32:15) The prophet explains to Baruch that Jehovah himself had given him the assurance that there will come a day when this land will be lush and vibrant again — a day when the people of God will once again possess it. But even as Jeremiah says that, I get the sense that he does not fully believe it. Not yet, at least.
After settling all the legal matters of the purchase with Baruch, Jeremiah prays to the Lord a prayer that is fraught with unnerving uncertainty. (Jer 32:16–25) “I know there’s nothing too hard for you, God,” he declares in the opening of his prayer (Jer 32:17) — which sounds incredibly devout and pious, like the words of a prophet should sound. Yet he closes his prayer by essentially saying, “But this might be . . .” “This might be too hard, God. I don’t see how there’s any hope in this; I don’t see any good news in this.” Throughout Jeremiah’s prayer, he confesses his anguish over the present circumstances. His fear is palpable. Even though he obeyed God and followed through on God’s word to him, Jeremiah was still wrestling with what the situation looked like. And that’s when Jehovah spoke:
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Look, I am the Lord, the God over every creature. Is anything too difficult for me?” (Jer 32:26–27)
Notice how God restates Jeremiah’s initial declaration back to him. “Is there anything too hard for me? Do you really believe what you said before?” He, then, proceeds to explain that these events are happening because the “children of Israel” had turned their backs on him. (Jer 32:28–35) This was God’s judgment on his people for their rebellion against him. Yet, notwithstanding the anger and fury that fumes in the Lord’s words, he is quick to make known his promise. (Jer 32:36–44) Jeremiah’s city, soon to be destroyed and delivered into the hands of the Babylonians, will one day be returned to God’s people. It will one day be a place of peace and safety where generation upon generation may dwell. This time of exile will one day be no more. This is the promise of God on the eve of, perhaps, the darkest time in Israel’s history.
But the best news of all is yet to be articulated. Think about what just happened: Jeremiah bought a piece of property at a high price during a time of war. He paid an exorbitant amount of money for a piece of property that nobody wanted — for property that was doomed to be destroyed. The good news comes when you realize that you are the land. Sinners are the property nobody wanted to buy — property that is doomed to destruction. Yet God himself purchases that property at an incredibly high price — at the expense of his Son’s own blood. God spends way more than Jeremiah did in order exercise his “right of redemption” and buy you back. To redeem you. He gave up his only Son for you. The deed of purchase bears a subscription written with God’s own hand, with the ink of God’s own blood. This is the work of the Lord Jesus on your behalf. Work that has already been accomplished, sealed, and finished forever.
You and I cannot undo what God has established and decreed and purposed to occur. Ever since the tragedy of the Garden, God’s plan of redemption has been in motion. His movement upon this world has never ceased, and it never will. His mission to redeem and remake this world is unstoppable. Nothing can stand against it. Nothing that man accomplishes is an obstacle to him. Therefore, the lesson that Jeremiah learned is the lesson that we all must learn: that despite how things look, God is at work.
From Jeremiah’s view, it must have seemed incredibly futile to buy a plot of land in time of war, when captivity and exile were on the horizon. But all the while, God was working behind the scenes to bring about his covenant with his people. A covenant in which his people learn firsthand the extent of the Lord’s willingness and power to redeem. And even now, in our times, God is working and moving and ruling. Yes, even when it does not look like it.
My job as a pastor is not to help my congregation understand the future in light of what is happening now. That would be a pretty futile endeavor. No one can positively say what the days ahead may hold. And any attempt to do so is based entirely in conjecture. So instead, my job is just the opposite. My job as a pastor is to help my congregation understand what is happening now in light of the future — in light of a future that is already confirmed and certified for them in Jesus’s passion and death. The essence of every message I preach is bringing into the present the concrete certainty of the future that Jesus has purchased “once for all” with his own blood. A future without fear, without death, without sadness, without sorrow, without dread, without sickness. That is what he bought for you at the price of his own life. A future with him, in his very presence.
My aim, therefore, is to saturate every sermon with the hope that drips from Golgotha’s cross into the mud of Calvary’s mount. That is your assurance. That is your peace. That is your confidence. That is your comfort. That is your stay. That is your answer to all the nagging doubts, decisions, and distressing situations you face even now, even today.
There are folks out there who are trying to tell you that the world is ending. That ours is a future full of doom and gloom. In that way, our day is not that dissimilar to Jeremiah’s. But in the end, the announcement is still the same it’s always been: God is still at work, and there is nothing too hard for him.