This morning I (John) preached on Jeremiah 32:1-15. My sermon notes are pretty complete, so instead of making up a transcript, I’m just going to share the notes with you. Little things are missing, but everything essential is there.
Sermon on Jeremiah 32:1-15
by John R. Collins
Introduction to the scripture reading: A few points to hopefully clarify the reading:
- Nebuchadrezzar = Nebuchadnezzar = King of Babylon
- Chaldeans = Babylonians
- prophesy [prophe-SIGH] is a verb, while prophecy [prophe-SEA] is a noun
- Lord of Hosts = Lord of (Angel) Armies
- The quotation in 32:3b-5 is King Zedekiah quoting what Jeremiah had said previously to what it was that got the prophet locked up lock him up. Verse six cuts back to Jeremiah speaking a new word of the Lord while imprisoned.
Jeremiah 32:1-15 (NRSV)
1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. 2 At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, 3 where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him. Zedekiah had said, “Why do you prophesy and say: Thus says the Lord: I am going to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it; 4 King Zedekiah of Judah shall not escape out of the hands of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him face to face and see him eye to eye; 5 and he shall take Zedekiah to Babylon, and there he shall remain until I attend to him, says the Lord; though you fight against the Chaldeans, you shall not succeed?”
6 Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: 7 Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” 8 Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.
9 And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel , and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; 12 and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, 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. 13 In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, 14 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 jar, in order that they may last for a long time. 15 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
The American Psychological Association has been conducting a “Stress in America” poll every year for ten years. This year’s poll found that 63 percent of Americans say the future of the country is a very significant source of stress in their lives.
Well … my guess is that at the time of the events described in today’s Old Testament lesson, 100 percent the people of Judah, the southern Kingdom of Israel, were stressed about the future of their country.
Understanding why requires some background information.
Originally, God homesteaded Israel with the goal of rough economic equality. Every family was to have a plot of land and that plot of land was to stay in the family. It was not to be sold to anyone outside the family. (E.g. King Ahab and Naboth’s Vineyard, 1 Kings 21:1-16)
There were two main mechanisms for keeping the land in the family (they can be found in Leviticus 25:25-38).
1. The Year of Jubilee (Every 50 years every tract of land reverted back to the descendants of those who had homesteaded it).
2. The right of redemption (more accurately the duty of redemption). This meant that when an ancient Israelite fell upon hard times and had to sell their land, the next of kin was given both the right and the duty to purchase the land and keep it in the family.
It was part of the covenant God had made with the people when God had given them the land centuries earlier. This promised land that God had given them, though fertile and productive, was always in the crosshairs of an ancient superpower, be it the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, or the Persians.
Only God could keep these ancient superpowers at bay and thus Israel’s continued existence depended upon their faithfully keeping the covenant God had made with them. That covenant outlined the way they were to live in the land they had received.
They were to be faithful to God and just, fair, and compassionate in their dealings with one another. The year of Jubilee and the right of redemption were just two of the ways they were to care for each other.
But they failed to keep the covenant. And so the Northern Kingdom of Israel had already been destroyed while the slightly less sinful southern kingdom, known as Judah, was next in line threatened by the Babylonian Empire, the superpower of the time.
And it was to the Southern Kingdom that God commissioned Jeremiah as a prophet.
Jeremiah had prophesied that as a result of the people’s religious and ethical lapses there would be utter destruction, military defeat, pestilence, famine, and exile (perhaps the harshest sanction of all.
As you may have guessed such prophecies did not mesh well with the official government talking points and for that reason, Jeremiah was locked up.
Now the calamity Jeremiah had prophesied was at hand.
A massive Babylonian army, had invaded, and occupied the countryside and laid siege to the ancient, fortified, and holy capital city of Jerusalem. The siege began in 588 B.C. the city fell in 587.
It was in the midst of this crippling siege that the events of today’s reading take place.
The doom Jeremiah had long predicted was coming to pass and the people were filled with panic and despair. But Jeremiah did not panic and did he despair.
No in the face of utter, complete defeat and disaster, Jeremiah speaks words of consolation, comfort, and even hope.
He did not do this out of a naive belief that all would be well, but rather out of a hope grounded in the faithfulness of God that the coming calamity would not be the end of the story.
And that brings us to the high point of today’s passage. For whatever reason, though it probably had something to do with the fact that the Babylonian army was encamped on his land, Jeremiah’s cousin, Hanamel, is hard up for money. He’s in need of cash and is forced to sell his land in order to get it.
Jeremiah is the closest relative with the means to keep the land in the family and so he redeemed it, that is he bought it, in a very public manner with witnesses and everything necessary to make it official.
His purchase of the land was not an ostentatious display of wealth and it was not a sound investment. At that moment, with the Babylonian army squatting on it, the land was all but worthless. In contrast, those 17 Shekels were cold, hard cash and useful in a crisis.
Jeremiah bought the land to fulfill the right of redemption, as a costly, prophetic act of faithful obedience to God.
Jeremiah was so confident in God’s faithfulness that he invested in the kingdom at the worst possible moment. He wanted to share in what God had promised to do.
And he was right. What God had promised would come to pass. It would take decades, but houses and fields and vineyards would again be bought in the promised land.
Jeremiah wanted a stake in what God had promised to do. So should we. Giving is one of the ways we participate in what God is doing. It is one of the ways we invest in God’s coming Kingdom. (Yes this is a financial stewardship sermon.)
As such, giving should not be undertaken rashly without counting the cost. Toward that end, we’re not asking you to make a commitment today. In fact, we’re not even providing you a way to make a commitment today. Go home, pray about it, think it over and your commitment card will come in the mail. Fill it out and bring it back next week.
When you fill it out,
- Don’t make your commitment about the survival of this church—one way or another the church will survive. (I’m as confident of that as Jeremiah was in God’s word that “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”)
- Don’t make it about showing off—we do our best to maintain your privacy.
- Don’t mistake it for a wise investment opportunity—the church won’t be giving you your money back.
Instead, make the completion of your card part of your faithfulness to the covenant God made with you at your baptism. Make it, like Jeremiah’s purchase of that piece of land long ago, about your concrete participation in the coming Kingdom of God.