Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
CHAPTERS 30-33. THE CONTEXT
Chapters 30-33 of the book of Jeremiah are often called “The Book of Consolation,” because they hold out the promise that God will ultimately redeem his people from the Exile that lies ahead.
The book is not arranged according to a strict chronology. Chapter 32 is located where it is because Jeremiah’s purchase of a plot of ground dramatizes the redemption God has promised—and thus fits the theme of The Book of Consolation. However, it draws on events that are described in greater detail in chapters 37-39, and should be read hand-in-hand with those chapters (also see 2 Kings 24-25, 2 Chronicles 36, and Jeremiah 52).
Jeremiah’s ministry extended across four decades (626-586 B.C.). The events of chapter 32 take place near the end of his ministry, in 588 B.C.—about one year before the fall of Jerusalem.
Judah has been a vassal of Babylonia for quite some time. King Zedekiah, anticipating that Egypt will ally itself with him against the Babylonians, tried to achieve independence. Jeremiah advised Zedekiah not to depend on Egypt (2:18, 36), but Zedekiah ignored his advice. As Jeremiah predicted, Egypt turned out to be an unreliable ally, and Judah was left to face Babylonia alone.
Nebuchadrezzar, who had crushed an earlier rebellion by Judah in 597 B.C., returned to besiege Jerusalem again. Jeremiah advised Zedekiah and the people to surrender to Nebuchadrezzar to save their lives and the city, but they responded by treating Jeremiah as a traitor. Thinking that he was trying to escape the city, they imprisoned him (37:15) and then threw him in a muddy cistern (38:6). However, a servant persuaded Zedekiah that it was wrong to let Jeremiah die there, so Zedekiah authorized the servant to put Jeremiah under house arrest in the court of the guard (38:7-13).
A desperate Zedekiah sought Jeremiah’s advice, and Jeremiah advised him to surrender to Nebuchadrezzar—assuring him that he would be well treated if he did so and warning him that the city and Zedekiah’s family would be destroyed if he did not (38:14-23; see also chapter 21). Zedekiah ordered Jeremiah not to make their conversation public, and Jeremiah complied (38:24-28).
The people of Jerusalem suffered terribly during the siege. Having no way to replenish their food supply, they were reduced to starvation and cannibalism—even to eating the flesh of their own children (Jeremiah 19:9; Lamentations 2:12, 19-20; 4:4, 7-10; Ezekiel 5:10). Jeremiah 39 tells the story of the fall of Jerusalem and the fate of Zedekiah (39:1-10).
The symbolic action of purchasing a plot of land during the siege is of a kind with other symbolic actions in this book—the hiding of the loin cloth (13:1-14)—the breaking of the earthenware jar (chapter 19)—and the yoke of strap and bars (chapter 27).
Our text comes from the first of three sections of chapter 32:
• In the first section (verses 1-15), Jeremiah buys a field during the siege.
• In the second section (verses 16-25), Jeremiah prays for understanding.
• In the third section (verses 26-44), God provides assurance that the people will return.
JEREMIAH 32:1-3a. THE WORD THAT CAME TO JEREMIAH FROM YAHWEH
1 The word that came to Jeremiah from Yahweh in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. 2 Now at that time the king of Babylon’s army was besieging Jerusalem; and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the guard, which was in the king of Judah’s house. 3a For Zedekiah king of Judah had shut him up.
“The word that came to Jeremiah from Yahweh in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar” (v. 1). This book mentions over and over again that the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah—that Jeremiah says what he says and does what he does, not of his own volition, but by Yahweh’s direction (21:1; 25:1; 30:1; 32:1; 34:1; 37:1-2, 17; 38:17).
The tenth year of King Zedekiah’s reign was 588 B.C. That coincides with the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar’s accession to the throne.
“Now at that time the king of Babylon’s army was besieging Jerusalem” (v. 2a). The siege began in the ninth year of King Zedekiah’s reign, in the tenth month (39:1), so it has been in progress for months.
The walls of Jerusalem will be breached in the fourth month of the year—in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar’s reign (2 Kings 25:3) and the destruction of the city will begin the following month (2 Kings 25:8; Jeremiah 52:12).
“and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the guard, which was in the king of Judah’s house” (v. 2b). The court of the guard is a place of confinement for certain privileged prisoners.
“For Zedekiah king of Judah had shut him up” (v. 3a). As noted above, Jeremiah was imprisoned in a muddy cistern, but was moved to the court of the guard at the instigation of a servant who secured Zedekiah’s permission to move the prophet.
Jeremiah was confined originally because a sentinel thought that he was trying to escape the city to surrender to the Babylonians (27:11-16)—a false charge. It would appear that Zedekiah keeps Jeremiah confined because of Jeremiah’s counsel to the people of Jerusalem that they should surrender to the Babylonians. Zedekiah wants to keep Jeremiah under his control so Jeremiah doesn’t stir up the people against Zedekiah’s continuing prosecution of the war.
“The significance of Jeremiah’s imprisonment is that it demonstrated that the leadership of Judah, and especially the king, had indeed failed to heed God’s word… and (had) rejected God’s prophet” (Bracke, 27).
The facts that Jerusalem is under siege and Jeremiah is in confinement set the stage for what appears to be a totally irrational act—Jeremiah’s purchase of a plot of land.
JEREMIAH 32:3b-5. WHY DO YOU PROPHESY?
3b saying, Why do you prophesy, and say, Thus says Yahweh, Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it; 4 and Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him mouth to mouth, and his eyes shall see his eyes; 5 and he shall bring Zedekiah to Babylon, and he shall be there until I visit him, says Yahweh: though you fight with the Chaldeans, you shall not prosper?
The lectionary omits these verses, but the preacher needs to be aware of them. They provide insight into the prophecies of Jeremiah to which the king took exception (see also 21:1-7; 32:1-5; 34:1-7; 37:1-10, 17; 38:14-28).
These prophecies make it clear that Jeremiah would never choose to buy a plot of Judean land at this time except at the Lord’s command. His purchase will seem completely irrational, but the Lord will use the apparently irrationality of that act to make a point—that the Lord will restore the people of Judah to their homeland after their exile.
In these verses, the king recounts accurately what Jeremiah has prophesied. In doing so, he “unwittingly becomes the bearer of God’s word” (Stulman, 275).
Jeremiah’s prophecy will be fulfilled. The city of Jerusalem will be destroyed. The Chaldeans (Babylonians) will capture Zedekiah as he tries to flee. They will slaughter his sons and his noblemen. They will put out Zedekiah’s eyes and take him to Babylonia in bonds (39:5-7).
JEREMIAH 32:6-8. HANAMEL SON OF SHALLUM SHALL COME TO YOU
6 Jeremiah said, The word of Yahweh came to me, saying, 7 Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle shall come to you, saying, Buy my field that is in Anathoth; for the right of redemption is yours to buy it. 8 So Hanamel my uncle’s son came to me in the court of the guard according to the word of Yahweh, and said to me, Please buy my field that is in Anathoth, which is in the land of Benjamin; for the right of inheritance is yours, and the redemption is yours; buy it for yourself. Then I knew that this was the word of Yahweh
“Jeremiah said, The word of Yahweh came to me” (v. 6). These verses (vv. 6-19) are an unusual first-person account by Jeremiah.
Jeremiah reaffirms that he is not acting on his own volition, but that he instead has been called by the Lord. See the notes on verse 1 above.
“Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle shall come to you, saying, Buy my field that is in Anathoth; for the right of redemption is yours to buy it” (v. 7). In this verse, the Lord simply alerts Jeremiah to expect Hanamel—and briefs him on the request that he can expect Hanamel to make.
These verses (vv. 7-12) are the only place where Hanamel is mentioned in the Bible. We know nothing about him other than what is revealed here—that Hanamel is the son of Jeremiah’s Uncle Shallum and that he owns a field in Anathoth.
“So Hanamel my uncle’s son came to me in the court of the guard according to the word of Yahweh, and said to me, Please buy my field that is in Anathoth, which is in the land of Benjamin; for the right of inheritance is yours, and the redemption is yours; buy it for yourself. Then I knew that this was the word of Yahweh” (v. 8). Two sites have been proposed for Anathoth—both within three miles (5 km) from Jerusalem. The people of Anathoth have been among Jeremiah’s fiercest critics (11:21-23). We are left to wonder of Hanamel might have been one of those critics.
Given the overwhelming presence of the Babylonians, who have Jerusalem under siege, it seems likely that they currently occupy Hanamel’s land. In any event, it would be difficult for Hanamel to carry on farming in the midst of this war. Furthermore, the people of Jerusalem, being under siege, would not be able to purchase crops grown outside the city, so Hanamel has no access to the best market for his crops. While the text doesn’t address the reason for Hanamel’s financial difficulties, the presence of the Babylonians and the effects of the siege are most likely the cause of his problems.
We aren’t told how Hanamel managed to get through the siege to enter Jerusalem and talk to Jeremiah. Perhaps there was a lull in the fighting, but that is speculation.
The provision for redemption is found in Torah law (Leviticus 25:25ff.). Those verses provide that, if a person experiences financial difficulty so that they must sell a piece of property, the nearest male relative is expected to redeem the land and return it to that person. The underlying assumptions are that:
• The Lord divided the land among the Jewish people, tribe by tribe, and they are expected to keep possession of the land and pass it on to their heirs.
• The Lord has given the land to these people for their use, but the Lord is its ultimate owner.
• Families are expected to support each other financially. They are not to allow kin to fall into destitution.
The Lord orders Jeremiah to buy Hanamel’s land for himself. Later, the Lord will provide this rationale: “Men shall buy fields for money, and subscribe the deeds, and seal them, and call witnesses, in the land of Benjamin, and in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, and in the cities of the hill country, and in the cities of the lowland, and in the cities of the South: for I will cause their captivity to return, says Yahweh” (32:44).
JEREMIAH 32:9-10. I BOUGHT THE FIELD AND WEIGHED HIM THE MONEY
9 I bought the field that was in Anathoth of Hanamel my uncle’s son, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I subscribed the deed, and sealed it, and called witnesses, and weighed him the money in the balances.
“I bought the field that was in Anathoth of Hanamel my uncle’s son, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver” (v. 9). Coins are not yet in general use, so Jeremiah must weigh out the silver for the transaction. A shekel is about .4 ounces (11.4 grams), so 17 shekels would be about 7 ounces (194 grams)—almost half a pound. As of this writing, silver is about $13 an ounce, so 17 ounces would be only about $225 (update that by Googling “silver prices” and doing the math yourself)—not much for a piece of real estate today, even at fire-sale prices.
But we have no idea how real estate and silver were valued in Jeremiah’s time—nor do we know the size of Hanamel’s field—so we cannot estimate whether Jeremiah paid the usual fair market price for Hanamel’s land. There are two Biblical benchmarks having to do with property values, but they are not from Jeremiah’s time and are not directly comparable to Jeremiah’s purchase. Abraham paid 400 shekels for Ephron’s field—to use it as a burial site for Sarah (Genesis 23:16) and David paid 50 shekels for Araunah’s threshing floor (2 Samuel 24:24).
However, it would not serve the story well for Jeremiah to have paid less than the usual fair-market price. The significance of his gesture is that he is investing a substantial sum for a piece of property that has lost its value due to the siege—that he has done so in response to the Lord’s command—and that the meaning of his gesture is his confidence, based on the Lord’s promise, that the land will continue to have value because the Lord will bring the people of Judah back to their homeland after the exile.
Based on those facts, I would argue for the likelihood that Jeremiah paid full price for Hanamel’s land—not a fire-sale price based on the siege.
“I subscribed the deed, and sealed it, and called witnesses, and weighed him the money in the balances” (v. 10). Jeremiah tells us in very specific detail the exact steps that he followed in making this purchase. This verse includes the first four steps: (1) signed (2) sealed (3) witnesses—two witnesses would be required to make it a legal transaction—(4) weighed the money.
“If it is a symbolic act, it is also a real event, real money paid for worthless land in front of an audience” (Miller, 820).
JEREMIAH 32:11-12. I DELIVERED THE DEED OF PURCHASE TO BARUCH
11 So I took the deed of the purchase, both that which was sealed, containing the terms and conditions, and that which was open; 12 and I delivered the deed of the purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Hanamel my uncle’s son, and in the presence of the witnesses who subscribed the deed of the purchase, before all the Jews who sat in the court of the guard
These verses complete the steps required to make this a legal transaction. Two copies of the deed of purchase were made—a sealed copy (to prevent changes) and an open copy (for ready reference).
Jeremiah gives the copies to Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe and assistant (36:4; 36:8-32).
Jeremiah makes this a highly public event. Not only are there legal witnesses to the transaction, but all the Judeans sitting in the court of the guard also see what is happening. It is important that these people witness this act. When the Babylonians take the people of Judah into exile, the Judeans will remember this transaction and find hope in it. The fact that Jeremiah has a reputation for being so negative makes the positive nature of this gesture stand out as a dramatic contrast.
JEREMIAH 32:13-15. PUT THESE DEEDS IN AN EARTHEN VESSEL
13 I commanded Baruch before them, saying, 14 Thus says Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, this deed of the purchase which is sealed, and this deed which is open, and put them in an earthen vessel; that they may continue many days. 15For thus says Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall yet again be bought in this land..
“I commanded Baruch before them, saying, ‘Thus says Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, this deed of the purchase which is sealed, and this deed which is open, and put them in an earthen vessel; that they may continue many days'” (vv. 13-14). Jeremiah tells Baruch to put both copies of the deed in an earthenware jar for preservation.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls between 1947 and 1956 near the Dead Sea illustrates that storing documents in earthenware jars can be an excellent way of preserving them for posterity. The Dead Sea Scrolls were written on parchment and papyrus, and were roughly two thousand years old when discovered. The caves in which they were found were located in a desert climate, where the dry air no doubt contributed significantly to the preservation of the documents. We don’t know where Baruch stored Jeremiah’s deeds, but there was plenty of desert land not far from Jerusalem.
“For thus says Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall yet again be bought in this land” (v. 15). This verse reveals the purpose of Jeremiah’s symbolic purchase. It attests to the fact that the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of its inhabitants will not be the end of the story. The day will come when the people of Judah will return to reclaim their land—when they will once again carry on normal commerce in fields and vineyards in their homeland.
When the Lord first approached Jeremiah, he said, “Behold, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down and to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10). For most of his prophetic ministry, Jeremiah has emphasized plucking up and pulling down—destroying and overthrowing. Now, at last, he is able to emphasize building and planting.
“Jeremiah has conducted a little drama in which he has played the role of God, performing the same task in a small way that Israel’s God would later perform on a larger stage” (Newsome, 529-30).
In his excellent commentary on this book, Fretheim reminds us that Bonhoeffer referred to this verse when writing from his prison cell to Maria, his fiancee. Bonhoeffer said:
“When Jeremiah said, in his people’s hour of direst need, that ‘houses and fields and [vineyards] shall again be bought in this land,’ it was a token of confidence in the future. That requires faith, and may God grant us it daily. I don’t mean the faith that flees the world, but the faith that endures in the world and loves and remains true to the world in spite of all the hardships it brings us. Our marriage must be a ‘yes’ to God’s earth. It must strengthen our resolve to do and accomplish something on earth. I fear that Christians who venture to stand on earth on only one leg will stand in heaven on only one leg too” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Love Letters from Cell 92, quoted in Fretheim, 459).
It is worth remembering that Bonhoeffer’s situation as he sat in that cell was every bit as bleak as that of the besieged Jerusalemites. Bonhoeffer had no reason to believe that he would survive the war—or that his writings from his prison cell would survive. The facts were that he lived for two years in that cell (April 1943 to April 1945) and was executed just days before the war ended. However, by God’s grace, his writings did survive, and have informed and inspired generations of Christians. God has used his witness to inspire millions of people—and God will surely use his witness to inspire millions more. While Bonhoeffer enjoyed a powerful ministry before his death, he has enjoyed an even more powerful ministry since his death. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men (Hitler and all his minions) could not bring an end to Bonhoeffer’s God-ordained work.
That should give us great hope in the face of our many reasons to despair. There are wars and rumors of wars today—nuclear proliferation that has the potential to bring an end to life as we know it—earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters—tyrants ruling in country after country—the list goes on and on. But Jeremiah 32:15 reminds us that God is at work in our world and our lives.
We should not take that as a promise that there will be no more suffering. Indeed, the people of Jerusalem suffered terribly, and many died. The promise was not that they wouldn’t suffer, but that Yahweh would redeem their suffering. That remains the promise for today as well. God does not promise us that we will not suffer, but he will redeem that suffering.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Achtemeier, Elizabeth, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Bracke, John M., Westminster Bible Companion: Jeremiah 30-52 and Lamentations (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000)
Clements, R. E., Interpretation Commentary: Jeremiah (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988)
Fretheim, Terence, E., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Jeremiah (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Incorporated, 2002)
Harrison, R.K., Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Jeremiah & Lamentations, Vol. 19 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973)
Huey, F. B. Jr., New American Commentary: Jeremiah, Lamentations, Vol. 16 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993)
Keown, Gerald L.; Scalise, Pamela J.; and Smothers, Thomas G., Word Biblical Commentary: Jeremiah 26-52 (Dallas: Word Books, 1995)
Martens, E. A., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Jeremiah (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1986)
Miller, Patrick D., The New Interpreters Bible: Jeremiah, Vol. VI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001)
Newsome, James D. in Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
Stulman, Louis, Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Jeremiah (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005)
Thompson, J.A., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Jeremiah (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
Copyright 2009, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan