Jeremiah must have been one of the bravest of all the prophets.

For over 40 years he warned and encouraged a nation which was in advancing spiritual decline; a people who responded with growing resentment and anger. But Jeremiah refused to dim the light or blunt his message. His courage and endurance are legendary.

There did come a moment when he made a brief, fruitless attempt to turn aside from his calling and to say he’d had enough. He promised himself he would not talk any more about the things of God. But as it is with every one of us who is moved by what has been revealed, the Word was in his heart like a burning fire in his bones, and he realised it was pointless to resist the unstoppable force within him (Jer 20:9). There was no other option—he simply had to carry on.

Despite incredibly hostile opposition Jeremiah remained committed to his calling. Throughout his ministry we see many descriptions of his circumstances clearly linked to the experiences of our Lord, who never once flinched from the role he knew would lead him to certain death. For example, in chapter 11 verse 19: “I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter; and I knew not that they had devised devices against me, saying, … let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name may be no more remembered”.

Opposition from his own family in Anathoth

Anathoth, just 5kms north of Jerusalem, was a city occupied by priests. It was the home of the family of Hilkiah the High Priest, Jeremiah’s father. Yet the faithful prophet was soon to learn, as did our Lord, that he would not be honoured by those in his own country, even in his own family. He came unto his own, but his own received him not.

Jeremiah’s family and relatives despised him, bullied him and even went about to kill him. And when that failed, as we shall see, they tried to take advantage of him in financial terms because they thought of him as gullible and easily deceived. The first point is shown in the following quote:

“Therefore thus saith the Lord of the men of Anathoth, that seek thy life, saying, Prophesy not in the name of the Lord, that thou die not by our hand: Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, Behold, I will punish them: the young men shall die by the sword; their sons and their daughters shall die by famine: And there shall be no remnant of them: for I will bring evil upon the men of Anathoth, even the year of their visitation.” (Jer 11:21-23)

Nothing escapes the attention of our heavenly Father, especially when his faithful children are being mistreated. The evil devices of Jeremiah’s relatives all came to nothing. Anathoth was severely punished and decimated in the Babylonian invasion and only a tiny remnant of 128 people returned there after the captivity (Ezra 2:23). It may take some time for judgment to be visited, but God never forgets!

Babylon invades – property values plummet

King Josiah’s reign had offered the promise of national spiritual reform, but after 18 years of Jeremiah’s ministry alongside the king, Josiah made a fatal mistake. He intervened in a conflict he should never have involved himself in. The Egyptian army was moving north to support the Assyrians against the rising power of Babylon and Josiah impetuously went forth, only to fall on the battlefield. Jeremiah mourned his loss greatly, for he knew what was coming. Indeed, the Egyptians failed in their objective; Assyria was over-run and Babylon became the dominant northern power. From then on, armies from the north and south swept up and down the land of Judah for the next 22 years until, finally, that profane wicked prince Zedekiah was overturned, for “iniquity must have its end”. Jeremiah witnessed all this with sorrow and dismay. The four vacuous rulers who succeeded Josiah (the king’s own descendants) brought godlessness and misery to an enfeebled kingdom. It could only end in disaster.

By the time we arrive at Jeremiah 32 (the chapters are not historically sequential), Jerusalem is nearing the end of its final lengthy siege by the armies of Babylon. The enemy’s construction of ramparts (“mounts” v24) against the walls is well advanced. Most of the surrounding towns and villages had been overthrown and the inhabitants who could do so had fled into Jerusalem—their last hope of protection. Those within the city were now hemmed in and the meagre food supplies were faltering.

We can imagine that with invading troops creating fear and mayhem throughout the land, the very idea of property ownership in all the towns and suburbs would have become meaningless. Property values had plummeted. Land was now virtually worthless.

Was Jeremiah duped in a property scam?

Jeremiah was being held under house arrest in the palace at the pleasure of the dissolute king Zedekiah. He could receive visitors and was pre-warned by God that his own cousin would come to him with a proposition that Jeremiah should purchase some now worthless land in the family’s portion at Anathoth, according to the right of redemption.

This was a travesty. It amounted to a mockery of Jeremiah by his scheming family, who chose to be represented in this property deal by his wily cousin, Hanameel. Yet Yahweh his God, in giving advance warning to Jeremiah that Hanameel was on his way, advised him to take the offer and to agree to this frivolous transaction for just 17 pieces of silver. And in so doing, God turned the event into a powerful witness of Jeremiah’s confidence in a better future. By his thoughtfully considered response to Hanameel, Jeremiah was about to turn a joke on him into a very serious message to his family and the nation.

When we think of Abraham who paid 400 shekels for what was, in effect, a cemetery plot, and Jacob who purchased for 100 shekels a small parcel of land in Shechem, Joseph’s burial place, a mere 17 shekels demonstrates how valueless the land was considered. And why would Hanameel be selling it unless he thought he had no use for it? But God was going to turn this faithless act into a message of future hope.

Firstly, Jeremiah called for witnesses to watch as he carefully weighed out the money—17 shekels. In Hebrew, the number is expressed as “seven plus ten”—the covenant number, plus that representing completion or perfection. Thus, the price of the land showed God’s determination to fully uphold His covenant with His people by eventually granting them their permanent inheritance in the land, according to His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Then Jeremiah insisted that the purchase contract be put in writing—an original and a second copy, as “evidence” to be kept for future reference.

The evidence of things not seen

The primary contract scroll was properly sealed, the second copy was left open. Clearly, the open copy would be referred to again in the near future, but the sealed copy was to relate to a far distant time in the future age. So the return of the Jews to their land after 70 years in Babylon was represented by the open copy, but the sealed copy was to be kept buried in its clay cylinder to wait for many generations—until our days, when Jeremiah will soon rise again to take up his purchased inheritance in Anathoth. The “evidence” of the preserved scroll will be there, and Jeremiah will occupy the land he bought, so close to the great King in Jerusalem! Perhaps the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls so well preserved in their clay containers is a latter day reminder that Jeremiah’s contract will indeed be brought to light again soon.

From Jeremiah 32 verses 10 to 16, and again in verse 44, the “evidence” is referred to no less than eight times. No doubt the Spirit directed the apostle’s mind to link with these events when he wrote, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, for by it the elders (like Jeremiah) received a good report” (Heb 11:1-2). Jeremiah’s actions to preserve the contract documents for a time well into the future were truly evidence of his faith in his own resurrection to take up his inheritance, when Yahweh would fully restore His people to their land.

The prophet was anxious that as many Jews as possible in the precinct of the prison court should witness this unlikely purchase of worthless land. They watched on, bemused. The meticulous formalities were conducted in their presence and the scrolls were entrusted to Baruch, the reliable scribe. Jeremiah’s clear instruction was that the documents be preserved in an earthen vessel for many days, “for thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land” (Jer 32:15).

The hidden treasure

We don’t know how Jeremiah was able to raise 17 shekels, but it’s clear he treated this future possession as a great treasure. We too have “treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Cor 4:7). There is wonderful encouragement for us in the Lord’s words: “the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field, the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (Matt 13:44).

Where our treasure is, there will our heart be also. How important is it for us to embrace the hope of Jeremiah who, at that time, expressed his confidence in prayer: “there is nothing too hard for thee” (Jer 32:17). And Yahweh reinforced the prophet’s confidence in His reply: “Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart and with my whole soul… And fields shall be bought in this land… Men shall buy fields for money, and subscribe evidences, and seal them, and take witnesses in the land of Benjamin” (including Jeremiah’s town of Anathoth!), and in other cities throughout the land; “for I will cause their captivity to return, saith the Lord” (v41-44).