Jeremiah Buys His Cousin's Field—A Sign of Hope (Jeremiah 32) November 23-24
The events of this chapter occur during the 10th year of Zedekiah (verse 1), which equates to the 11th year of Ezekiel's captivity—for even though Zedekiah's reign and Ezekiel's captivity began at the same time, Zedekiah's first year seems to have followed an uncounted accession year (see Edwin Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, 1983, pp. 184, 190).
Zedekiah's 10th year was the second year of the siege of Jerusalem (587 B.C.). As we earlier read, the Egyptian army had approached (Jeremiah 37:5), prompting Nebuchadnezzar to order his Babylonian forces to temporarily depart from Jerusalem to confront them. The Egyptians suffered a terrible defeat (see Ezekiel 30:21-22) and withdrew back into Egypt. Now the Babylonians had returned and their siege of Jerusalem was again underway. On King Zedekiah's orders, Jeremiah was still confined in the courtyard of the guard at the palace (32:2). "Zedekiah should have known by this time that Jeremiah's message was not his own. Yet he found fault with the prophet's predictions because they were wholly unfavorable to the country and to Zedekiah himself. In plain, unequivocal terms Jeremiah foretold Zedekiah's fate" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on verses 3-5).
God informs Jeremiah in advance of the visit of his cousin Hanamel. The prophet is to agree to Hanamel's offer to sell him his field in their hometown of Anathoth under the terms of property redemption: "Family property must not pass into the hands of an outsider (v. 7). The purpose of this law was to keep property in the family and preserve the bond between family and their property. For the seller this was duty; for the relative or kinsman-redeemer it was a right... The passage reveals that the ancient laws of land tenure were still followed in Judah in spite of its apostasy. In addition to the general law for all Israel, these land-tenure laws would in Jeremiah's time have special relevance to alienation of property belonging to priestly families—property that should not pass into nonpriestly hands. The situation is all the more dramatic since the field Jeremiah was to buy had already been captured by the invading Babylonians" (Expositor's, note on verses 6-7).
Expositor's suggests that Hanamel might have been in financial straights (same note). Biblical historian Eugene Merrill, however, concludes: "Hanamel obviously believed that, whereas he would soon be exiled, Jeremiah would be left behind and, hence, in a position to care for the estate" (Kingdom of Priests, p. 465).
With the Chaldeans outside, the request would have seemed preposterous to anyone who found out about it. Yet God directs Jeremiah to go through with the transaction, which the prophet does, committing the deed scrolls to his scribe Baruch. "According to custom, one copy of a deed was sealed for safekeeping; a second copy was left open for future consultation"(Nelson Study Bible, note on verses 10-11). Jeremiah, at God's command, tells Baruch to put both copies in a clay jar to be kept safe for a long time to come (verse 14). Interestingly, the oldest copies of the Old Testament, those among the Dead Sea scrolls, were found preserved in just such clay jars in the Judean desert—and they had been preserved more than 2,000 years!
Jeremiah relays the point of what God has told him to do: "Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land" (verse 15). The exiles will one day return. But the prophet then prays to God, seemingly to gain understanding of what was happening, mentioning the presently dire circumstances of the nation (verses 16-25). Some commentators "have seen a need on Jeremiah's part for confirmation of the transaction. Still others feel that Jeremiah slipped into an attitude of doubt... Given all the circumstances and the tension of the political and military situation, such an attitude would be understandable. Jeremiah may have longed for some reconciliation of the purchase with his prophecies of Jerusalem's destruction... Although he had explained the meaning of the episode (v. 15), [it is possible that] he was still troubled by its improbabilities; furthermore, he also longed for reassurance for the people" (Expositor's, note on verse 16).
God then gives His reply reassuring Jeremiah (verse 26-44). Even though the situation seemed hopeless, God reminded Jeremiah that nothing is too hard for Him.
Yes, for the time being He would deal severely with Judah, destroying the very rooftops where they burned incense to idols (versed 29). Israel and Judah, in spite of God's magnificent promises to them, had rebelled from the very beginning when they were a young nation. Amazingly, God says of the "holy city" of Jerusalem: "For this city has been to Me a provocation of My anger and My fury from the day that they built it, even to this day" (verse 31). How ironic that the Jews thought that being in that city would save them! The idolatry and rebellion became so bad in the end that they even set up their idols in God's temple. Josiah had removed the idols, but the pagan worship was still in their hearts, and it hadn't taken long for them to revert to their old ways. God knew what human nature was like, but even He hadn't expected Judah to stoop so low that they would actually murder their children, sacrificing them to the false god Molech (see verse 35, where He uses words He had spoken to Jeremiah many years earlier in 7:31). So again, yes, the nation would now be punished as Jeremiah had announced (32:36).
But, as God explains in the remainder of the chapter, He would, in the future, gather the exiles back from captivity and resettle them in the land. While the Jewish return from Babylonian captivity in the days of Ezra may have been in mind on one level, it is clear that this is not the primary meaning of this section. God repeats His promise from chapter 31 to make a new covenant with the people of a changed inner being. He refers to it as an "everlasting covenant" (verse 40) as in Ezekiel 16:60. And this covenant will be made with all the people, who are described as having a unified heart (Jeremiah 32:39). This is obviously describing not the ancient return of the Jews from Babylonian captivity but the future return of all Israel and Judah at the time of Jesus Christ's second coming, when the Kingdom of God is established on earth. Note the nature of the Kingdom Age. It is not described as transpiring in some "heavenly" place above the clouds. People will buy land, sign and seal deeds, and through business become prosperous (verse 44). Indeed, this comes back to "the main theme of this chapter. [Jeremiah's] transaction was an example to be universally followed in the future restoration (v. 43). What he did will be repeated by many others in that coming day" (note on verses 43-44).
Notice that Jeremiah placed this hopeful chapter right after chapter 31, the New Covenant chapter. Indeed, chapters 30-33 are sometimes referred to by commentators as the Book of Consolation, as this section looks forward to the wonderful time when Israel will at last be restored, spiritually converted and richly blessed.