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Background Scripture: Jeremiah 32:1-44

 

For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says: “Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.”  Jeremiah 32:15

The Babylonians were at the gate.  The siege ramps were in place.  The assault upon Jerusalem had begun.  Jeremiah finds himself imprisoned, falsely accused of collaborating with the enemy.  In the midst of this national and personal crisis.  Jeremiah does something which must have seemed foolish to those who witnessed it – he purchases a piece of property.

Jeremiah had warned the people that it would come to this.  He prophesied over and over again about impending judgement.  He attacked their form of religion-without-substance.  He mocked their reliance on idols of wood and stone: “Let them come and save you when you are in trouble!” (Jer. 2:28).  He exposed the vacuousness of their repeated assurances of “peace, peace” (Jer. 6:14).  He tried to shatter the illusion of the proclamations of their closeness to God: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (Jer. 7:4).  The reality was that there was no peace and they were far from God.  Idolatry, murder, adultery, and theft were an accepted part of everyday life.  There were unpaid laborers at the palace, perjurers in the courts, and lying pens in the hands the temple scribes.  The orphans, widows, and foreigner were oppressed, and the king and his officials did not defend the cause of the poor and needy.

The people had experienced revival under Josiah.  The discovery of the book of Deuteronomy in the temple, three years before Jeremiah commenced his public ministry, led to sweeping reforms.  There was a dramatic contrast with the reign of Josiah’s father, Manasseh (II Kings 21).  The idols and prostitutes were removed from the temple.  The altars of Baal and the Asherah pole were destroyed.  But Josiah’s reforms only changed outward appearances.  Although the people were in the right place and said the right words, they had turned their backs on God.  They continued to worship other gods.  Jeremiah called these stiff necked people to turn back to the Lord.  He called the king to “administer justice every morning” (Jer. 21:12).  He called the priests to seek the Lord” (Jer. 2.8).  They did not listen.

Now, with the fulfillment of his prophecies right outside the city walls, Jeremiah does a strange thing, the modern equivalent of buying the Brooklyn Bridge.  Hamamel, his cousin visits the courtyard where Jeremiah has been confined.  He comes asking him to fulfill his family obligation of redemption by buying his field at Anathoth.  Hamamel and Jeremiah were of the tribe of Benjamin whose lands surrounded Jerusalem.  Anathoth was Jeremiah’s hometown.  The prospect of owning this property might have been appealing if the circumstances had been different.  But of what value was a field occupied by the Babylonian army?  And even if the Babylonians were defeated, of what value would it be to a man accused of aiding the enemy?  It was quite unlikely that Jeremiah would ever set foot on the property.  So, what did he do?  He paid the price – seventeen shekels of silver.  The deed was signed and sealed in the presence of attesting and other witnesses.  Then it was placed in a pottery jar to preserve the deed for a long time.

Why did he buy it?  Hope.  God had made a promise: “Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land” (Jer. 32:15).  In the midst of judgement, Jeremiah entered into a legal transaction as a sign of hope.  In this ending, he found the hope of a new beginning.

Doesn’t it seem a bit strange that Jeremiah should pick a legal transaction as the culminating act of this ministry?  Legal matters are the type of thing we usually try to avoid.  We view such formalities as necessary evils, not as signs of hope.  Nevertheless, Jeremiah used a mundane real estate transaction to point to a better day.  Can legal transactions be signs of hope for our times?  Can business contracts be a sign of trust between parties?  Can marriages stand for life-long commitments to another?  Can a bequest pass on more than money?  Can labor negotiations manifest solidarity between management and employee?  Can tort settlements heal the injured?  Can we imagine lawyers as purveyors of hope?  The answers to these questions depend upon our willingness to seek the Lord in our legal practice.

Mark Greenlee

 

– This article comes from AI’s devotional for lawyers titled, “What Does the Lord Require of You?”

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