E. Tod Twist
Our culture resounds with appeals to hope—investment opportunities that will allow us to retire in financial comfort and products that will make our lives easier and more exciting. These hopes can distract us at best; at worst, they can take us captive.
Jeremiah lived during a time that seemed devoid of hope; it couldn’t be more different than the fake promises of our own day. Yet in the midst of the despair and destruction of war, Jeremiah did something strangely hopeful. Jeremiah 32:1–15 describes the prophet’s purchase of a field while his country was under siege by a relentless and overpowering enemy. To understand Jeremiah’s actions, we’ll have to consult multiple resources.
1. Explore the historical context behind the action.
To learn more about the historical context, consult a resource like The New American Commentary: Jeremiah, Lamentations. Since the book of Jeremiah isn’t organized chronologically, a commentary will lead you to the most illuminating passages for the context. In this case, Jeremiah 52, 2 Kings 24–25 and 2 Chronicles 36 provide a narrated history of this phase in Israel’s history.
From these resources and biblical texts, we learn that Zedekiah, king of Judah, had rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar had made Zedekiah a vassal king of Judah in 597 BC. Now, the powerful Babylonian army surrounded Jerusalem with the intent and ability to destroy it.
2. Consult an expository dictionary and commentary to understand key concepts and customs.
Two concepts are crucial for understanding the dramatic tension surrounding these events. The first is the ancient method of siege warfare, which we can look up in a resource like Harper’s Bible Dictionary. The siege tactic entails cutting a city off from all outside help, meaning the inhabitants would eventually become crazed from starvation and thirst—sometimes even to the point of cannibalism. Morale was crucial for a besieged people. King Zedekiah even resorted to imprisoning Jeremiah for continuing to predict that Judah would fall before the Babylonian army (see Jer 32:3–5).
The second concept is the practice of redeeming land from debt, as Jeremiah did in Jeremiah 32:6–12. Either a commentary or the cross references in your Bible will direct you to Leviticus 25:23–28, which explains the basis of land redemption. In ancient Israel, land ownership was connected to family rights. Even though land was often sold in times of desperation, the original owners had the right to buy it back—or “redeem” it—later. Jeremiah’s strange act of hope is quite subtle: The real issue is not the field but the status of the government that issued the deed. On the eve of the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah was literally banking on the hope that the government of Judah would be re-established.
3. Read on to learn how the story ends.
Judah fell at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar’s army, and most of its leaders were deported to Babylon for an extended exile—often called the Babylonian captivity. Many of those left behind eventually made their way to Egypt, and they took Jeremiah with them against his will (see Jer 43:5–6). Shortly after, we lose track of the prophet. Although the people of Judah eventually returned to their homeland, the Bible tells us nothing more about Jeremiah. It’s likely that he died in Egypt. Jeremiah’s act was an investment in hope—an encouragement to his people as they sought a future on the other side of disaster amidst the realities of captivity and exile. As the people faced the potential loss of their identity as God’s people, Jeremiah’s act of redeeming the field symbolized Israel’s hope of returning home and the importance of clinging to their identity in captivity.
His act also teaches us something: If the nature of our hope lies in the messages of our own culture, we will end up being held captive by them. We will invest our time, money and talents in things that will ultimately dismay us. Instead, our hope should be founded in God, and our actions should be invested in His purposes. Jeremiah didn’t see the fruit of his actions, but he had reason to act anyway. We have Christ’s sacrifice, which secures our hope, and the Holy Spirit as a seal of our redemption (Eph 4:30). With this guarantee, we can act with hope during any siege that befalls us.
Pick up Harper’s Bible Dictionary at Logos.com/HBD