The prophet Jeremiah mastered the three-point sermon long before it became popular. His book-long message centers on three themes:
- We have sinned.
- God will soon punish us through the Babylonians and exile us to a strange land.
- God will eventually restore us to our land.
He continually reminds Israel’s leaders that the corporate sin of people has attracted God’s wrath. Though God is loving and patient, He can no longer tolerate Israel’s repeated episodes of idolatry, insincere worship, and disregard for mercy and justice. So, He chose the war machine of the Babylonians to punish them for their sins. During most of Jeremiah’s ministry, Nebuchadnezzar and his army had surrounded and sieged the city of Jerusalem. Many of Israel’s prophets were naming and-claiming a miracle of deliverance; they were convinced that God would rescue His chosen people from the grip of the evil and idolatrous pagans of Babylon.
Jeremiah’s message was radically different. He insisted that Israel should surrender immediately because there would be no escape from the destruction of the Babylonians. He promised that those who do not surrender to Babylon will face death by the sword, death by famine, or death by pestilence.
God had given Israel a multiple choice test. Would you rather:
- Die by sword
- Die by famine
- Die by pestilence
- Surrender, but live.
But, it’s not as grim as it might seem. Jeremiah sees a future of prosperity and restoration beyond the exile. He is not only the messenger of gloom and doom; he is the preacher of promise and hope. After 70 years, God will restore His people to the land. There will be sorrow in the night, but joy will come in the morning.
Jeremiah’s frank tone and uncompromising insistence on surrender makes him rather unpopular. He neither wins friends nor influences people. Powerful political enemies falsely accuse him of defecting to the Babylonians and have him thrown in prison. Jeremiah 32 records a powerful account of the prophet’s prison experience.
Let’s set the scene. The Babylonians have conquered much of Israel, and have surrounded Jerusalem. It is only a matter of time before the city falls to the power of Nebuchadnezzar. In addition to all of the concrete evidence of imminent defeat, Jeremiah has heard directly from God that there will be no rescue from Nebuchadnezzar’s hand. Furthermore, the prophet is in prison and has no guarantee that he will ever gain freedom.
In this dire and hopeless situation, Jeremiah’s cousin, Hanamel, approaches the prison with an utterly ridiculous request. Hanamel’s father had recently died and left him a field in an area south of Jerusalem called Anathoth. Hanamel did not want the field for obvious reasons: All Israelites would soon be forced to leave their country, and Anathoth had already been conquered and settled by the Babylonians,. So, he asked Jeremiah to purchase the field for seventeen shekels. There is no way that Jeremiah took this deal, right? It is obviously a scheme by a shrewd relative hoping to cheat Jeremiah out of his last few dollars.
However, Jeremiah gladly purchased the field. In fact, he insisted on an official and thorough business transaction:
“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 presenceof 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.” (Jeremiah 32:10-14).
Jeremiah wanted his ownership of the land sealed in the annals of history. But, why? Why would he be so adamant about owning a piece of property in a conquered territory? Why would he want land in a place that he could not hope to live? Why would he purchase a field in Israel when exile to Babylon was imminent? I’m no expert, but common sense indicates that this is not the appropriate economic climate to invest in real estate.
But, Jeremiah believed God’s promise of restoration. He knew that Israel’s eventual return to the land was as sure as their immediate exile. In spite of a grim present, he believed in a better future. His cousin probably thought that he had bamboozled the delusional prophet. The court officials who sealed the deed likely thought the time in prison had caused Jeremiah to lose his sanity. But, Jeremiah knew that the word of God is surer than the circumstances of life.
There is much for leaders to learn from Jeremiah’s prison experience. By nature, we are visionaries. We see things that others do not see, and have answered God’s call to lead His people to places of promise and destiny. Each of us has heard God’s voice and envision a preferred future for our cities, our churches, and our ministries.
The lingering question is: Will you buy the field? Will you do something that doesn’t make sense in the present but makes perfect sense in light of the future? So much of our work seems to have little immediate payoff. We work all week on sermons, and no one seems to get it. We organize small groups, but participation isn’t what we imagined it would be. We call prayer meetings, but realize we should’ve just prayed at home because we are the only ones who attended. But, all of these acts of ministry are ways to “buy the field.”
You are doing what doesn’t make sense in the present, because you are confident of what God promised in the future.