The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah. For Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him, saying, “Why do you prophesy and say, ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall capture it; Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with 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, declares the Lord. Though you fight against the Chaldeans, you shall not succeed’?”
Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me: Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle will come to you and say, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.’ Then Hanamel my cousin 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.
“And I bought the field at Anathoth from Hanamel my cousin, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions and the open copy. And I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Hanamel my cousin, 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. I charged Baruch in their presence, saying, ‘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 vessel, that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.’” – Jeremiah 32:1-15 ESV
The year is 587 B.C.. The fall of Jerusalem is less than a year away and Jeremiah has persistently and consistently been delivering his prophetic warning about the coming destruction of Jerusalem for a long time. But he has also been telling the people that God is going to restore them one day. Yes, they would spend 70 years in captivity in Babylon, but then God would miraculously restore a remnant of them to the land. And while Jeremiah has proven to be faithful to speak the words of God, it seems that he harbored some personal doubts as to whether all he prophesied was going to come true. So, God provides Jeremiah with a small test. He instructs Jeremiah to buy a plot of land in Judah. Now, it’s important to note that when Jeremiah receives these instructions from God, he is sitting in jail, having been imprisoned by Zedekiah. His crime? He had been telling the king that Jerusalem was going to fall to the Babylonians and that Zedekiah himself would be taken captive. This was probably viewed by the king as an act of treason. Jeremiah was seen as seditious, stirring up unrest in the city during a time of national crisis. So, he was imprisoned to keep him from causing panic among the people. So, it is while he was locked up in the court of the guard that Jeremiah received his instructions from God.
“Your cousin Hanamel son of Shallum will come and say to you, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth. By law you have the right to buy it before it is offered to anyone else.’” – Jeremiah 32:7 NLT
God tells Jeremiah that his cousin is going to come and offer him the opportunity to buy a piece of land in Anathoth, his hometown. Land was extremely valuable in the Hebrew economy and it was important to keep land within the family. So, Hanamel was going to offer Jeremiah, as a family member, the first rights to buy the land. But think about the absurdity of this. Anathoth is just a few miles northeast of Jerusalem. For years now, Jeremiah has been prophesying the fall of Jerusalem and Judah. He has been warning about the coming of the Babylonians and even now, they are outside the walls of Jerusalem, laying siege to the city. It’s just a matter of time before the words of God come true and the destruction of the nation of Judah is fulfilled. And remember, Jeremiah is sitting in jail because he has been warning the people, “This is what the Lord says: ‘I am about to hand this city over to the king of Babylon, and he will take it’” (Jeremiah 32:7 NLT).
Now God wants him to invest in land. It sounds absurd. The property values had to be at an all-time low. But in less than a year, they were going to be even worse. God was commanding Jeremiah to invest in the future. God was telling the prophet to make a long-term investment based on nothing more than His word. The day would come when the land would once again increase in value. Not only that, the people who returned to the land under Ezra and Zerubbabel would naturally head to their former cities and villages, in order to rebuild and start over. The book of Ezra describes exactly what happened 70 years later:
Now these were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town. They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah. – Ezra 2:1-2 ESV
It goes on to say that 128 men of Anathoth returned from captivity. And where would they head as soon as they returned to Judah? Their hometown. The very place where Jeremiah was instructed to buy land. And Ezra describes how God miraculously provided for the financial needs of the returning remnant as King Cyrus decreed that all those who chose to remain behind in Babylon were to provide the capital necessary to fund their trip and the rebuilding process.
“Anyone who survives in any of those places where he is a resident foreigner must be helped by his neighbors with silver, gold, equipment, and animals, along with voluntary offerings for the temple of God which is in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:4 NLT
So those 128 men who returned to Anathoth with their families would have resources available to buy land should Jeremiah choose to sell. But Jeremiah would also have written proof that he owned land in Anathoth because he had instructed Baruch to place the deeds of sale in earthenware jars to protect them from the elements.
This entire episode was designed to be a test of Jeremiah’s faith. By the time Hanamel came to Jeremiah with the offer to purchase the plot of land, Anathoth was already under Babylonian control. In essence, Jeremiah was being made an offer to buy land that no longer belonged to Hanamel. It was the property of the conquering king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. But this fact, combined with Jeremiah’s imprisonment, made the whole affair even more unthinkable and absurd for the prophet. But that was God’s point. None of it made sense. He was asking Jeremiah to do the ridiculous: Invest in land that had no value. Buy a piece of property that really wasn’t Hanamel’s to sell. And all on the future hope that God’s word would come true and the land would one day be returned to the people of Judah.
And Jeremiah did exactly what the Lord commanded him to do. He bought the land. And Hanamel and the witnesses to the transaction must have smiled to themselves, laughing at the stupidity of Jeremiah for agreeing to such a bad deal. But Jeremiah’s actions were based on faith in God. He may have appeared ridiculous to those around him, but he was stepping out in faith, trusting that what God was telling him to do was wise and would be well worth it in the long run. The author of Hebrews describes faith as “the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). Jeremiah was putting his confidence in God, not his surrounding circumstances. He was in jail. He had just spent money on land that belonged to the Babylonians. He knew the entire land of Judah was soon to be under the control of King Nebuchadnezzar and would stay that way for 70 long years. But God was forcing Jeremiah to put his money where his mouth was. It was one thing to preach about future restoration. It was another thing to invest in it. Now, Jeremiah had some skin in the game. He had stepped out in faith and personally staked his hope of the promises of God. And that is the essence of faith. Abram had been promised a land by God, but he had to get up and move his family out of Ur. Noah had been promised salvation from the coming flood, but first he had to build an ark and suffer the ridicule of his neighbors. Sarah had to believe the promise of God that she would bear a son and become the mother of a multitude of nations, even though she was barren. David had to believe that his anointing as the next king of Israel was real, even though he had to suffer death threats and persecution at the hands of King Saul before it would ever happen. Faith requires hope. It demands patience. It takes a willingness to risk all by investing all in nothing more than the promises of God. Believing that He is faithful to do what He has said He will do.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.