Bible Speaks by Rev. L. Althouse
Sept. 21, 2014
Background Scripture: Jeremiah 32:1-9,14,15
At first glance, it might seem frivolous for the editor of the Book of Jeremiah to devote the better part of what we know to be the 32nd chapter of this book to the story of Jeremiah’s field. Especially in this period, probably the lowest ebb in Judah’s history.
While the power of Judah’s King Zedekiah is fading, Babylon’s Nebuchadrezzer is ascending with lightning speed and power. And Jeremiah the prophet is languishing in Zedekiah’s prison.
Why is a prophet in prison? Because that is where they usually wind up or where we want them to be kept. Many feel “the only good prophet is a dead prophet.”
King Zedekiah is outraged with Jeremiah: “Why do you prophesy and say, ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold I am giving this city (Jerusalem) into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak to 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,’ says the Lord; though you fight against the Chaldeans (Babylonians), you shall not succeed.”
With Jerusalem under siege, King Zedekiah understandably couldn’t help but regard these words as ‘treason.”
Many parts of Jeremiah are not in chronological order. Instead, the editor who put together the narratives and oracles chose to arrange these materials in what he considered their order of importance, not their chronology. Had he used chronological order, the material of Chapter 32 should probably have followed Jeremiah 37.
He arranged the materials in what he considered to be their order of importance, not the time sequence of those materials. So the editor had a plan, but it is a plan different from what we normally expect.
A family obligation
In Jeremiah 32:12 we read: “I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah son of Mahseiah in the presence of Hanamel my cousin.” By naming names, Jeremiah is establishing the validity of his testimony. The same is true when he speaks of his secretary and scribe, Baruch, whose name appears 23 times in Jeremiah and twice in the Book of Nehemiah.
His historicity, then, is well-established. He is witness to Jeremiah’s words and deeds. Whenever his name appears he is depicted as reliable and authoritative in preserving the oracles of Jeremiah. So, God called two men to serve him: Jeremiah to proclaim the words of prophecy and Baruch to write them down and perpetuate them for future generations.
Sometime during 588 B.C., Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, imprisoned Jeremiah in the court of one of his palaces, where Jeremiah had a paranormal experience: “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Behold, Hanamel … will come to you and say, Buy my field which is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.’”
It was customary that one’s next of kin was responsible to redeem the family property in case of debt. Hanamel’s next of kin was Jeremiah. Unfortunately, it seemed the worst time to redeem the family property.
First, Jeremiah was in jail and probably would be executed. Second, this was the lowest point in the history of Judah – and, although Zedekiah refused to admit it, Judah would probably fall to the Babylonians … as, actually, it did.
Bad timing on God’s part? No, the best of timing, because Jeremiah’s purchase of this land would send a signal to all Judah: No matter what happens, there will be a time when God plants and nourishes His people in the once-devastated kingdom.
This was not just Jeremiah’s opinion, but a prophetic message, a promise given him by God. That in the midst of invasion Jeremiah would purchase a piece of family land might seem utterly ridiculous. Nevertheless, it was God’s message through Jeremiah.
God had a plan and it would be fulfilled: domestic, commercial and national life would be resumed at a time of God’s choosing. Jeremiah’s field – an insignificant piece of land in an insignificant location – became the rallying-point for the faith of the people of Judah.
Jeremiah was probably not greatly loved by his contemporaries. He denounced the people of his hometown Anathoth, the temple priests, vindictive rulers, military authorities and false prophets. These prophetic responsibilities wearied him and he yearned for release from this odious vocation (9:2).
His own combative nature concerned him deeply (15:10). At one point he was so distraught that he cursed the day he was born (20:14). His mission he felt as an inner burning fire (20:9). Being what God wants you to be and do what he wants you to do is often very painful and, dismaying. But the true servant tries to fulfill his mission so that he may satisfy the Lord who laid it upon him.
In 1964 a semi-autobiographical novel, I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, was published under the pen name of Hannah Green. In 1977 it was made into a film and in 2004, a play. The title sticks in the memories of those of us who come to realize that often, God presents us in this life not with the mythical rose garden, but Jeremiah’s field.
A call to keep the faith, the field will ultimately bring us something even more wonderful than a rose garden.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Those with questions or comments for Rev. Althouse may write to him in care of this publication.