This second Letter from Anathoth continues our series on the pressures, fears and hopes of an imaginary young
brother living in the shadow of AD 70. The strength which our early brethren gained by their hope in the Kingdom gives encouragement to us today as we live on the eve of an even greater event. The letters from our imaginary young brother Joseph ben Judas living at Anathoth have been edited by Brother Allan Archer.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, Loving greetings across the centuries.
Since I last wrote, the crisis in Judea has been accelerating. Governor Florus retreated to Caesarea, leaving only one cohort of soldiers in the Roman garrison in Jerusalem. Both the Jews and Governor Florus appealed to Cestius Gallus, the governor of the whole of Syria which includes both Judea and Galilee. But when Gallus sent a tribune to investigate, he was expelled from the city.
We hear now that the Jewish Zealots believe that their time has come. Remarkably a Zealot gang has even ascended the heights of Masada and slaughtered the Roman Garrison. In Jerusalem the Zealots have gained control of the priests and have ceased the daily sacrifice that was offered for the emperor.
News of this has spread like wildfire around the country. Zealots and the Sicarii (the extreme group named after the daggers they conceal under their clothes) are pouring into Jerusalem. Great trouble is looming all around. Who knows where we will be next time I write!
Our ecclesia here in Anathoth remains faithful. The storm-clouds, which so frighten the ordinary people, to us are signs of the truth of Jesus’ warning on Mount Olivet around 35 years ago. We take comfort in the sure hope of the Kingdom of God.
Being in Anathoth actually helps us. We are separate from Jerusalem, though probably by your day Jerusalem would have grown so much that it will have swallowed up our little village. But more than that, we have a history which encourages faithfulness and confidence in the time of adversity.
Ours was the hometown of Jeremiah, as it was the hometown of many of the priestly families in the line of Zadok (Jer 1:1). It was one particular act of Jeremiah however which seems so relevant to this present time when, according to Jesus’ words, the Romans will soon over-run and tread down Jerusalem. It was all to do with Hanameel, the son of Shallum, one of Jeremiah’s cousins (Jer 32:7). Let me remind you of the story.
Hanameel owned a field in Anathoth and he had to sell it. He offered it to Jeremiah for Jeremiah had the right of redemption under the Law. Well, it wasn’t surprising in a way that Hanameel wanted to sell—for the Babylonians had by then closed so far into the city that they already occupied Anathoth. But we can’t be critical of Hanameel, for the whole transaction was under the control of Providence. There was obviously something very special about the transaction, the way Hanameel pleaded to Jeremiah: “Buy my field, I pray thee… buy it for thyself” (Jer 32:8).
Furthermore, Jeremiah was in no position to actively take over Hanameel’s field, even if the Babylonians weren’t there, for he was under indefinite arrest in prison in the court of the king. Besides, Jeremiah was recommending that the Jews give themselves over to the Babylonians and settle in Babylon. Was there ever a worse time to buy real-estate!
It’s rather like that with us now. Roman occupation is ominously close and no one wants to buy land, least of all those who are familiar with Jesus’ words that the Jews would be led away captive to all nations (Luke 21:24).
Why did Jeremiah make the transaction then? Because of the Kingdom. He was so absolutely sure that the days of righteousness would come, that he was prepared to buy a field he would never walk upon in this life.
And it was all done so solemnly. Jeremiah describes the transaction as follows: “And I subscribed the evidence, and sealed it, and took witnesses, and weighed him the money in the balances” (Jer 32:10). The subscribing of the evidence was performed by noting it in the register held at the local Lands and Titles Office. Imagine what the witnesses would have thought—that Jeremiah was, at the least, very foolish? We doubt it. We prefer to think that those witnesses would have come away convinced that here was a man of great faith; a man who saw a very different day afar off, who was persuaded of it and embraced it and was fully convinced that there was a resurrection and inheritance at the last day.
The practice in Jeremiah’s time was to place an extra copy of the land transfer document in an earthenware jar which was then sealed with pitch to ensure indefinite preservation. Jeremiah referred to this when he said that the documents should “continue many days” (Jer 32:14). We don’t know what happened to the jar, but we, and particularly the ecclesia at Anathoth, are quite convinced that it still exists and that it will be discovered after Jeremiah appears before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ. Imagine that happy day, when Jeremiah, newly raised, goes to where the eathenware jar was buried, digs it up, breaks the seal, spreads out the document and stakes his claim for the field just outside our village.
Jeremiah prophesied that: “Men shall buy fields for money, and subscribe evidences, and seal them, and take witnesses in the land of Benjamin, and in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, and in the cities of the mountains, and in the cities the valley, and in the cities of the south: for I will cause their captivity to return”(Jer 32:44). We are inclined to think though, that one day there will probably be a piece of land at Anathoth with a sign outside “not for sale”. In that land Jeremiah will be enjoying his possession, no more a prisoner in the court, no more left to die in the miry dungeon, no more lamenting the downfall of God’s city, but safe and secure in the holy portion of the sons of Zadok.
Well, I’ve written at length about the hopes of Jeremiah, because we in Anathoth in AD 65 are thereby encouraged. The promised, grand, future day keeps us confident in this time of unrest and insecurity at the end of the Jewish age. You in your time at the end of the Gentile age should experience the same encouragement from the certainty of Jeremiah’s words such as: “ Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good” (Jer 32:41).
I will write again soon, God willing, for events here are changing rapidly. Your brother in the hope of the Kingdom,