Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Jeremiah: The Seed Of Hope
Dr. Randy L. Hyde
There is no such thing as a simple real estate transaction, and I’ve got the documents to prove it. These are the original closing papers on our previous house in Leawood, the one we sold a little more than two years ago.
Let’s see… After the “Settlement Statement” there is a copy of the “Uniform Residential Loan Application.” That’s followed by the “Uniform Residential Appraisal Report.”This document explains what kind of property it is. It’s only nine pages. Next is the “Notice of Right to Cancel.” For some reason, the title company thought we needed four copies. The “ALTA Commitment” form is next. Don’t ask me what it is, but there are three pages to it. Then there is a “Final Truth-in-Lending Disclosure.” Does that mean that all the truth-in-lending disclosures up to this point have been less than truthful, or haven’t given full disclosure? It has eleven pages and there are two copies. I love this one… “Settlement Statement Escrow Account Addendum.” Who comes up with all this stuff? The W-9 is what it sounds like, a federal tax form. It’s entitled “Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification.” They can’t just ask for it, they have to have a form for it. You can’t buy a house without the government being involved, can you? Then there is the “Occupancy Affidavit and Financial Status” form. There are more forms, of course, but I think by now you get the picture.
Sign here, initial there… and here and here and here.
There is no such thing as a simple real estate transaction.
But our story from the prophet Jeremiah reveals that this has always been so. It is one of the more fascinating things that happened to Jeremiah – when he bought a field in Anathoth – and we are told in great detail how it all happened. First, I need to explain how the Jewish law worked in such circumstances. Needless to say, it’s a bit different from ours.
When people around here decide to sell a piece of property, they can either take the bold step of trying to do it on their own – “Sale By Owner” – or they can put it in the capable hands of a real estate agent. They post a sign in the yard, place the property on the real-estate multi-listing. That means in no time every real estate agent in central Arkansas knows the property is up for sale. There are open houses and walk-throughs by agents. Prospective buyers have the property inspected, so all problems and defects can be determined. And if you believe that the inspection process is fool-proof, I have some property I’d like to sell you.
Not so in the sixth-century B.C. Back then, if you wanted to sell a piece of property, you first had to go to family and offer it to them. You’ll find the rules right there in the twenty-fifth chapter of Leviticus, and they are very specific.
If anyone of your kin falls into difficulty and sells a piece of property, then the next of kin shall come and redeem what the relative has sold. If the person has no one to redeem it, but then prospers and finds sufficient means to do so, the years since its sale shall be computed and the difference shall be refunded to the person to whom it was sold, and the property shall be returned. But if there are not sufficient means to recover it, what was sold shall remain with the purchaser until the year of jubilee; in the jubilee it shall be released, and the property shall be returned.
If anyone sells a dwelling house in a walled city, it may be redeemed until a year has elapsed since its sale; the right of redemption shall be one year. If it is not redeemed before a full year has elapsed, a house that is in a walled city shall pass in perpetuity to the purchaser, through the generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee. But houses in villages that have no walls around them shall be classed as open country; they may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee.
To complete this transaction at one of the title companies in Jerusalem, you would have to sign what they called “The Right of Possession and Redemption” form. Sign here, initial there… and here, and here, and here.
So you see, there is no such thing, and never has been such a thing, as a simple real estate transaction. And that brings us to this story in the book of Jeremiah.
Hanamel, the cousin of Jeremiah, son of his Uncle Shallum, has an offer that Jeremiah can’t refuse. He has a piece of property at Anathoth, in the land of Benjamin, and he wants Jeremiah to buy it. But, in order to make this offer to Jeremiah, Hanamel has to go see his cousin in jail. Jeremiah is under house arrest because King Zedekiah resents the prophet’s constant meddling. So he has put him under the watchful eye of his own guard unit.
Jeremiah’s preaching has been a relentless ranting and raving about how judgment was coming to Judah. There would be destruction and death, says the prophet. No one would escape the fate that God has in store, for in this case the armies of Babylon have become the armies of God. That is Jeremiah’s message. The prophet has a one-note sermon and that’s it. And the king has gotten sick and tired of hearing it over and over and over. Even though, in his heart of hearts he knows it’s true, he can’t take it anymore. So, he has Jeremiah thrown in jail.
And now, all that Jeremiah has prophesied is about to be fulfilled. The city of Jerusalem is under siege and will fall any minute to the Babylonian forces of King Nebuchadrezzar. The invading army is camped on Hanamel’s property in Anathoth, and he can’t work it. It’s useless to him, so he needs to sell it. Since Jeremiah is Hanamel’s closest relative, by levitical law he must first offer his property to Jeremiah because Jeremiah is family.
Now, understand the situation. Jeremiah is behind bars, the city of Jerusalem is about to fall to the enemy, and Hanamel comes to Cousin Jeremiah asking him to buy his property even though all of Judah is about to become the possession of the Babylonians. Does that sound like a good deal to you? Why doesn’t Jeremiah go ahead and buy the Brooklyn Bridge while he’s at it? How about that beach house in the desert?
They say there’s a sucker born every minute. If that’s so, Jeremiah takes the cake. Not only does he take Hanamel up on his offer, he doesn’t even dicker over the price. He buys the field for seventeen shekels of silver and is very meticulous in recording how the transaction goes down. He signs the deed, seals it, gets witnesses to the transaction, and in front of everybody carefully weighs the money on scales so Hanamel can’t come back later and say his cousin swindled him. Then he takes the sealed deed of purchase, which contains the terms and conditions of the transaction, and makes a copy. He then gives the deed of purchase to Baruch, the son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Cousin Hanamel, and in front of everybody charges Baruch to be his real estate agent.
“Take these deeds,” he says to Baruch, “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. ” Sign here, initial there… and here, and here, and here.
The question is, why? Why would Jeremiah buy a piece of property that in a matter of no time is going to become worthless? When the Babylonians break down the city walls and come in thundering and killing and pillaging and looting – which could happen at any moment – all property in Jerusalem and all of Judah will be absolutely worthless. So why would Jeremiah give up his hard-earned silver to do such a thing?
The simple answer is because God told him to do so. But like all real estate transactions, the answer might not be that simple at all. At least, it isn’t simple if you are faced with the immediate prospect of death or exile into a foreign land. The future for Jeremiah and his people is about as bleak as it can get. It would be like someone trying to buy Trafalgar Square in London during the German blitzkrieg of World War II. It just doesn’t make sense.
Unless… God has something in mind. And it’s a pretty safe bet that God always has something in mind. You’ll find it in verse 15 of our story where Jeremiah suddenly becomes more than a one-note preacher of gloom and doom. “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”
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Jeremiah buys the field at Anathoth as a sign that one day it shall be his. One day, the people of Judah will return and claim the land that God had given them. One day, redemption will come to the people of God. Jeremiah buys this land to show that redemption, and not judgment, is the final word. Even in the darkest hour, there is a seed of hope in the land of Judah.
It can happen. Things can be reversed. On June 11, 2000, Janet, Tim, and I were driving down the California Monterey Coast through Big Sur country. We had stopped at one of the scenic lookouts and fell into a conversation with a couple from San Luis Obispo. Turns out she is from Waldo, Arkansas. Small world, isn’t it? Her husband is a native of Latvia and had just returned the day before from visiting there for the first time since he was a small child. Since the changeover from communism, his family had had their property returned to them at no cost, and it gave him the opportunity to visit his homeland and the church where he had been baptized as an infant. Things can be reversed. Redemption can take place.
But it’s easy to talk about redemption when life isn’t so hard. It’s another thing when the enemy is about to bust down your door. What kind of faith does it take to have hope when there appears to be none? How do you look for a little bit of light when it is so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face?
Wednesday morning, while I was working on this sermon, our daughter Emily called from Macon, Georgia. She and her husband have a friend named Benjy. He goes to their church and is in their supper club. Benjy is the father of a three-year old and his wife is eight months pregnant. Emily was giving us the latest information about Benjy’s health. You see, he’s just been diagnosed with a malignant, and evidently ambitious, brain tumor. They and several of their friends had visited Benjy in the hospital over the weekend, and, according to the way Emily tells it, he was the most upbeat person in the room.
She couldn’t help but contrast that with another situation that involves a family member. This illness doesn’t appear to be nearly as serious as that of her friend, but the attitude toward it is totally different. In that situation, the response has been fear and worry and asking “why me?”.
You see, sometimes a hospital room is the same as a jail cell. The future is as bleak as it was in Jerusalem in the year 588 B.C. Some people, it seems, are able to place themselves fully in the hands of God and others find it most difficult to do that.
So I ask you… what kind of person are you? If faced with such a bleak future, what would you do? How would you react? You may not know. You’ve not had to face such a dire situation before. Is it possible to be prepared for such a thing? I believe it is.
Let me tell you about someone who knew he was about to die. The night before he would take his last breath, he met with his friends and had a dinner. After the meal was finished, he took the bread and the wine from the meal and shared them with those who sat at his table. He told them the bread and wine were symbols of his love for them and what he was about to do in dying for them. And then, after singing a hymn of faith, he went out into the darkness of the night and faced what he knew would happen.
Because of what he did, you and I are given the faith to face anything that comes our way. Anything. The only question remaining is whether we will receive it. We do not find this hope and faith in our own strength. It is solely a gift from God. Please note: this transaction doesn’t require that you place your signature on complicated forms, or that you jump through hoops designed to make it difficult. It simply requires that you reach out your hand and place it in the hands of Christ.
When you do, you will find that the closing papers have already been signed by the One who gave himself for you. The purchase has been made and the deed has been sealed. All you have to do is accept it.
There’s really nothing complicated about it at all.
Lord, may we find hope in our land because you are the One who holds all things in your hands. Find us faithful, even when life is hard, in giving ourselves to you. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
— Copyright 2004, Randy L. Hyde. Used by permission.