Opening The Old Testament
The Worst Land Deal in History: Reflections on Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Granted, the price of the land must be quite low at this time, since the Babylonians are about to make the whole land theirs, but exactly how does Jeremiah think he is ever going to get his money back? "His" land will very soon not be his. Yet, he continues the strict legality of the deal by charging Baruch: "Thus says YHWH of the Armies, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both the sealed deed of purchase and the open copy, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time" (Jer. 32:13-14). If you know anything about the history of manuscripts of the Bible, this scene is amazingly reminiscent of that great discovery in the last century of the Dead Sea Scrolls, manuscripts preserved in earthenware jars for over 2000 years. Jeremiah knew that this legal action of sealing his deed in jars would indeed last a long time!
Well, what does all this ridiculous land transaction detail actually mean? Why does Jeremiah decide at this unpropitious time to buy land that will soon be taken from him by the conquering Babylonians? Of course, it is a prophetic act. "For thus says YHWH of the Armies, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land" (Jer. 32:15). Like a clap of thunder the reason for Jeremiah's foolish act comes clear. Zedekiah's accusation of treason against the prophet is shown to be the miscarriage of justice that it is; Jeremiah is not a traitor against Judah. Quite the contrary, he knows, because he knows the wonder of YHWH, that Judah's history is not over forever, though many in 587 B.C.E. were convinced that it was. With his purchase of a field in Anathoth, the retired preacher's home of his youth, Jeremiah has announced more clearly than any other act could have announced that YHWH is not through with Judah and YHWH's people just yet. There is a future for God's people, though at the moment that future seems dark indeed.
Here is something that the prophet can teach those of us in the 21st century. When we see a world hell-bent on destruction, when we see the barbarians at the gate (of course, my barbarian may not be your barbarian!), when we think that the end has finally come to our hopes and dreams for justice and righteousness for all of God's people, then we can watch the land deal of Jeremiah, watch him sign the deed, weigh out the money, give the deed and its copy to Baruch, witness Baruch put them in a jar, and we can know that the end has not yet come, because YHWH has more for us yet to do.
Baruch is Hebrew for "blessed"; that word is the first word of nearly every Jewish prayer. May it be the first word of our prayer, grateful for Jeremiah, grateful for his reminder to us that YHWH is not through with us yet.
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.