Connections 09.29.2019: Seeing the Big Picture

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel offered to sell the prophet a piece of family land out around Jeremiah’s hometown of Anathoth, which was just a few miles from Jerusalem.

It was a bad deal.

The Babylonian army was besieging Jerusalem at the time, so they no doubt already occupied Anathoth. So Jeremiah was buying land that was in the hands of the enemy.

It was a very bad deal.

But Jeremiah made the deal.

Why did Jeremiah make the deal? Because God had instructed him to do so.

Why did God tell Jeremiah to make the deal? Because the act of buying the land symbolized the good news that God wanted told in the midst of the tragedy of the Babylonians’ destruction of Jerusalem and occupation of the land: “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land” (v. 15b).

I am left wondering about some things.

One thing I wonder is, what happened to the deeds to the land that Jeremiah had Baruch put into earthenware jars? The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the middle of the last century tells us that documents stored in such jars can last a long time. Those scrolls had been in the jars in the caves around the Dead Sea for around two thousand years when they were discovered. Were the jar and the deeds still there when the exiles returned from Babylon? Did the Babylonians destroy the jars and the deeds? Did something else happen to them? Are they still there, somewhere?

Another thing I wonder is, what happened to the land that the deeds gave Jeremiah title to? After the exile, no doubt people again bought houses, fields, and vineyards again in the land, as God promised. But that promise was about the land in general, and not specifically about the piece of land that Jeremiah bought. Did one of Jeremiah’s family members take possession of his land? Or did someone else acquire it?

My questions are unanswerable. They’re also beside the point, because Jeremiah’s symbolic action wasn’t about what was going to happen to him and his land, but about what was going to happen to the community in God’s land.

Jeremiah’s blessing lay in his contribution in his present to the people’s hope for the future.

Both 1 Timothy 6:6-19 and Luke 16:19-31 (the lectionary’s other readings for this Sunday) point out the need for people to use their resources in the present as a way to prepare for the future. In particular, they make the case that wealthy people should use their riches to do good as part of having a full life (1 Tim 6:18-19) and everlasting life (Lk 16:25).

Being people of faith should lead us to live our lives in general, and to use our resources in particular, to contribute to the greater good and to prepare for a greater future.

Looked at in one way, Jeremiah threw away his seventeen shekels of silver when he purchased a piece of enemy-occupied land.

But looked at in God’s way, Jeremiah made good use of his money, because he spent it in light of the big picture.

Discussion

  1. What would you have done under the circumstances Jeremiah faced? Would you have bought the land? Why or why not?
  2. Why do you think it was important for Jeremiah to know that Hanamel’s offer “was the word of the Lord” (v. 8b)?
  3. Why do you think the land purchase is spelled out in such detail?
  4. Accepting Jeremiah’s action as a promise from God meant accepting that it might be a long time before God’s promise was kept. In what ways does our living in faith mean living with hope that goes unrealized for a long time? How can we grow in such faith? How does such faith help us in the present, even as we must wait?

Reference Shelf

Jeremiah reports in v. 6 that he received a word from the Lord regarding the disposition of family property in Anathoth. Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel, son of his uncle Shallum (both persons are mentioned only in this context), will come to him and ask him to buy a field that was the “inheritance” of the family. Hanamel will do so apparently because the family property had been sold (to some unknown person) in view of some financial or other difficulty (see Lev 25:25-28 for the family obligation, but the links with this text are not precise). This “right of (possession and) redemption” by a family member was a means to keep the property in the family. This “right” is Jeremiah’s rather than that of some other member of the family probably because he was the closest relative. The language of “possession” links Jeremiah’s purchase to God’s original giving of the land for “possession” (vv. 22-23), suggesting that God’s original ancestral promise is still intact (see 30:3 for God’s promise of land).

In “accordance with the word of the LORD,” Hanamel does come to Jeremiah and present the offer of land purchase (v. 8). When this happens, Jeremiah “knows” that the word spoken was from the Lord (see Connections: Theological Issues in 32:6-8). According to v. 25, Jeremiah understands that this land purchase is a direct command from the Lord. It has been suggested that this encounter between Jeremiah and members of his family in Anathoth is evidence for reconciliation with members of his family, a relationship ruptured because of the nature of Jeremiah’s word (see 11:18-23; 12:6). This may also be a sign of a new day about to dawn, but if so, the text is remarkably silent about it.

Verses 9-15 provide detail regarding Jeremiah’s land purchase and the divine interpretation of its meaning. The seventeen shekels of silver that Jeremiah pays for the field is a reference to weight (v. 10; about seven ounces) and not to coins (which were apparently not used until the Persian period in the late sixth century BC). Jeremiah signs the deed in the presence of (two?) witnesses (who also sign it, v. 12; see v. 25), rolls up the scroll, and seals that copy of the deed. This was the official copy, but there was also an “open copy,” apparently rolled around the sealed deed, for easy public reference.

Jeremiah gives both copies of the deed to Baruch in the presence of Hanamel, the wit- nesses, and the Judeans who were present in the court where Jeremiah was confined (vv. 12-13). [Baruch] These various witnesses indicate that this is a genuine legal procedure and also assure that adequate memory of this transaction will survive the devastation. Such a written document will also constitute a verification of the truth of Jeremiah’s word on the far side of these disastrous events for the land.

In giving the deed to Baruch, Jeremiah charges him with a word from the Lord (apparently received earlier) regarding the secure dis- position of the deed (v. 14). Is it because of the uncertain future of Jeremiah that Baruch is given this role? Baruch is to take both deeds and preserve them for future usage in an earthenware jar (the kind of jar in which the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls were found), for the day will certainly come when houses and fields and vine- yards will again be purchased in the land. The symbolism associated with the act includes houses and vineyards, and commercial activity related thereto, so that the field is but a sign of a much more comprehensive future reality (v. 15; see 31:5, 12).

This word of God that Jeremiah conveys to Baruch (vv. 14-15) is a divine interpretation of this purchase as a sign of a certain future life that the people will have in the land. Note that these properties are to be purchased, even though they may have belonged originally to the families involved (vv. 15, 43-44). In other terms, this future constitutes no new conquest of the land, but a peaceful reappropriation of property.

Terence E. Fretheim, Jeremiah, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002) 456-58.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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