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Jeremiah 32-34

April 24, 2017

In chapter 32 the prophet of certain doom becomes the prophet of courageous hope. The year is 588 B.C. About ten years earlier the king of Babylon conquered Jerusalem and took away its king and leading citizens as captives to Babylon. Now the king of Babylon is back, besieging Jerusalem and threatening the current king, Zedekiah. Jeremiah is in prison in the palace for his seditious prophecies. He insists that the king of Babylon will conquer Jerusalem, burn down the city, and take King Zedekiah away in chains. He also insists it is pointless to fight the Babylonians. (Jeremiah turns out to be right. A year later the Babylonians conquered and destroyed Jerusalem and its temple.)

And yet, in the midst of this impending destruction, Jeremiah enacts powerful future hope. He agrees to purchase a piece of land in nearby Anathoth that has been in his family. Purchasing land during a siege is a seemingly ridiculous thing to do. Who knows what the result of the war will be? Who knows whether the Babylonians will confiscate the land and settle other people on it? But Jeremiah publicly purchases the land as a way of symbolically saying to the people that the time will come when “houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land” (32:15).

I see two powerful truths for us today in this action by Jeremiah. First, this is an indication that no matter how terrible the consequences may be of our ignorance and selfishness and sin, even in the darkest circumstances God will provide hope.

We live in a dangerous world. Those oppressed by injustice are rising up against blind systems. Anarchists are attacking the digital underpinnings of our society. Terrorists seek to destabilize and overthrow the old order. Nuclear war–or accidents–are an ever-present possibility of mass annihilation. Environmental destruction on land, in the oceans, and in the air is widespread and threatening the well-being of millions. Global warming may, over the centuries, lead to catastrophe for most animals and the human race. Who is at fault for all of this? We are. These are the consequences of our ignorance, blindness, short-sightedness, indifference, self-indulgence, and fear. We should never minimize these threats or our responsibility for them. (Jeremiah is always against minimizing.) We will need to face the consequences of our actions and inactions. And yet, even if the worst happens, God will provide hope.

The second powerful truth is that if we are going to be like Jeremiah, then our lives and actions must reflect future hope. We must live courageously in the present. We must be the good news that is coming. Rather than focusing on self-protection, rather than responding to threats with fear and selfishness, rather than being solely prudent, let us put into action the hope that is in us. Let us take positive, encouraging action. Let us move into places under siege. Let us take risks for those who need faith. Let us believe in the future.

In 33:3 Jeremiah, speaking for God, says: “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” The hidden things are the good things that we cannot yet see and we can’t even conceive as being possible. It is God’s justice and peace being worked out in our world. It is God making an everlasting covenant with us “never to draw back from doing good to them” (32:40). It is a covenant as certain as God’s covenant with the day and the night.

In chapter 34 the setting is a little before the events of chapters 32-33. Jeremiah is not yet imprisoned, but the siege by the king of Babylon has begun. The concern is that the people of Jerusalem have released all their Jewish slaves from slavery as required by the law every seven years; but they have now turned right around and re-enslaved them! Perhaps they freed them during the siege because there was no opportunity to work the land; and perhaps they have re-enslaved them because there has been a break in the siege and the former slave owners want to have slaves again to work the land around Jerusalem! Jeremiah is condemning them for their religious hypocrisy.

Something similar happened in this country. I was taught as a child that the Civil War “freed the slaves.” But the reality is that, in the South, the former slaves were re-enslaved in a new way. They were denied the right to vote. They were forced to work again for their former masters. They were kept in fear and submission through white terrorism. A kind of systemic enslavement continued into the 1960s. But even after Voting Rights legislation and the striking down of Separate-But-Equal, opportunities were severely limited and segregation continued to be strictly imposed–through Massive Resistance in the South (including closing public schools to prevent integration) and through red-lining in the North (to prevent African-Americans from moving into affluent or “whites-only” areas).

We are not so different from the dynamics going on in Jeremiah’s day.

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From → Jeremiah

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