One of the most quoted texts of Scripture is: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”[i]
Yet, we can struggle with this idea, especially when everything we see, hear and experience is difficulties, pain, and loss. Yet, God is telling us to trust Him in a season of darkness. Jeremiah had been prophesying God’s upcoming message of disaster upon the nation for years, and now it was taking place. The Babylonians were outside the city walls with their siege-ramps, while Jeremiah is a prisoner in the king’s palace courtyard prison because the king interpreted Jeremiah’s words as unpatriotic or worse, treasonous.
Jeremiah probably was kept under arrest because his calls for surrender were demoralizing the will of the people to resist the enemy.[ii]
Then God says something so unexpected that it is caused Jeremiah to wonder in his mind what it all meant. He needed a word of reassurance. While imprisoned, he is being told that his cousin is coming to sell him a piece of property and Jeremiah is to buy it. Jeremiah is a kinsmen-redeemer and is being asked to redeem this property. This seems incongruent and contrary to what the message had been to this point. Yet, God is giving a prophetic picture to reassure the people that the day will come when they return to the land. In other words, it is a word of hope in the darkest hours. A new day will dawn that will restore what is about to be destroyed. So, how should we respond in the darkest moments of our lives? How do we come to grips when our personal worlds are being shattered and destroyed? What is there to cling to when all around us things are falling apart? Here we discover three things that will help us in the hour of darkness.
THE FIRST THING WE NEE TO DO IN TIMES OF DARKNESS IS TO ACT UPON GOD’S WORD
If there is ever a moment we need to find something that is unshakable in times of great instability, it is God’s unchanging word. It is a refuge for the soul. Jeremiah is told to act in a way that seems contradictory to the current times in which he is living. He is asked to purchase property near Jerusalem, knowing that the nation is about to go into exile. That Jeremiah acted in obedience upon God’s revealed word to him is truly an ‘act of faith.’ God’s current message to Jeremiah seemed illogical and inconsistent with what God had been previously saying and what was being currently experienced. Why buy property when you are about to spend seventy years in exile? Jeremiah will never personally benefit from this purchase. Here is where many of us need to change our thinking and our actions. We are created for God’s pleasure and purposes, rather than for God to serve us. We are to serve Him. Yet, when we serve Him, we discover greater purposes and pleasures than what we have formerly experienced. So why was God asking this of Jeremiah? It was to be a sign of a future time of renewal and restoration in the land. It was to be a prophetic act that spoke of an ultimately brighter future. God would restore the people once again to the land.
In itself the incident is trivial; but think of the background. The Babylonian army is at the point of destroying Jerusalem. Normal business deals are at a standstill. The bottom had fallen out of the market. …There was no confidence in the future. In this situation, a prophetic act, Jeremiah purchases that field to indicate his faith that ‘houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in the land (verse 15). He is looking beyond the disaster to the return of normal life.[iii]
A. Here we have the context of the message for which Jeremiah had been imprisoned.
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar.
The army of the king of Babylon was then besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was confined in the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace of Judah.
Now Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him there, saying, “Why do you prophesy as you do? You say, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am about to give this city into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will capture it.
Zedekiah king of Judah will not escape the Babylonians but will certainly be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and will speak with him face to face and see him with his own eyes.
He will take Zedekiah to Babylon, where he will remain until I deal with him, declares the Lord. If you fight against the Babylonians, you will not succeed.’[iv]
B. Yet, in the hour of darkness a new day will dawn.
God’s speaking to Jeremiah to give a prophetic sign of a future restoration.
Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.’
“Then, just as the Lord had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.’ “I knew that this was the word of the Lord; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver.
I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales.
I took the deed of purchase—the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed copy— and I gave this deed to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard.
In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time.
For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’[v]
The fact that they were put into a clay jar for safe keeping speaks that this would not transpire soon. This property transaction was very significant. It was a picture of future hope.
Moreover, the public act (and its narrated report) put Jeremiah on public record as claiming that there is indeed ‘life after Babylon.’ The prophet has put his money where his mouth is.[vi]
Tremper Longman concurs and adds:
Thus this seventeen-shekel parcel of land in Anathoth is an earnest of future land possession. God is not permanently abandoning his people. There will be a return. T. E. Fretheim (Jeremiah, 456) has rightly seen this episode as an answer to Zedekiah’s ‘Why?’ question in verse 3 when he says, ‘Judgment must fall upon Jerusalem, because it is only through that refining fire that any hope for the future of the people of God becomes possible. Life can come only through death.[vii]
Here we have a foreshadowing of the power of a resurrected life coming from the judgment of death.
THE SECOND THING WE NEED TO DO IN TIMES OF DARKNESS IS TO PRAY
The proper response to God’s disciplinary action is to cry out to Him. We need to go and address the issues in our soul. Here we are reminded of God’s discipline of the people by the hand of the Babylonians. Jeremiah begins by reiterating the siege of the city and the coming exile. The nation had violated their terms of their covenant with God. God, however, looks past this hour to a future time of renewal.
The siege-ramps raised against Jerusalem testifies that God’s warnings had now become a reality. Because of this, Jeremiah could scarcely believe that a reliable and consistent deity would instruct him to acquire property when the end of organized life in Judah was at hand.[viii]
We need to notice here the nature of the prayer as it teaches us how we ought to pray in times of perplexity and difficulties in our lives. So, how should we pray? What is the nature of biblical praying? Where do we begin? Our focus needs to be upon the nature of God and not our personal pain and perplexity.
Like some other prayers attributed to specific occasions in the Old Testament (cf. Neh. 9:6-37), it is largely a general prayer of adoration and thanksgiving, praising God for all that he is and all that he has done for his people in the past. This surely tells us something about where our priorities in prayer ought to be. We are often tempted to rush into God’s presence in prayer, to bring to him our immediate problems and concerns. …But prayer brings us into the presence of a God who is always there, to a God whose greatness and love are far beyond our feeble understanding, a God before whom we bow in adoration, knowing that we exist to serve his purposes. So the prayer that Jesus taught us begins not with ‘give us’ or ‘forgive us’ or ‘lead us not into temptation,’ but with ‘Father, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come…’ (Luke 11:2).[ix]
What is he saying? That we begin prayer by worshiping God. We begin by focusing on Who He is and What He has done. Too often our focus is on us and our problems. What is it that God wants to say? What is it that God wants to do in our current context?
‘After I had given the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah, I prayed to the Lord:
‘Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.
You show love to thousands but bring the punishment for the parents’ sins into the laps of their children after them. Great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord Almighty, great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds. Your eyes are open to the ways of all mankind; you reward each person according to their conduct and as their deeds deserve.
You performed signs and wonders in Egypt and have continued them to this day, in Israel and among all mankind, and have gained the renown that is still yours.
You brought your people Israel out of Egypt with signs and wonders, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror.
You gave them this land you had sworn to give their ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey.
They came in and took possession of it, but they did not obey you or follow your law; they did not do what you commanded them to do. So you brought all this disaster on them.
‘See how the siege ramps are built up to take the city. Because of the sword, famine and plague, the city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians who are attacking it. What you said has happened, as you now see.
And though the city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians, you, Sovereign Lord, say to me, ‘Buy the field with silver and have the transaction witnessed.’[x]
Here we are reminded of God’s greatness, sovereignty, faithfulness, and justice.
God does show love, but also will punish for sins, even though God often delays this retribution into other generations, but even then, that generation which is being judged is also responsible for their own sins. Here we have a recital of all the amazing expressions of God’s past graces to His people, but because of human unfaithfulness to God, disasters come. In this prayer, it leads to verse 25 where Jeremiah said, ‘And though the city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians, you, Sovereign Lord, say to me, ‘Buy the field with silver and have the transaction witnessed.’
The land is invaded and occupied and has become worthless. …Yahweh, however, counters that outcome of worthlessness with a resolve and a promise: ‘Invest!’ …Do all these in faith, against the present data. The data is all Babylonian. God, however, speaks beyond Babylon to anticipate the liberation and revaluing of the land…[xi]
F. B. Huey relates the possible meaning of this prayer.
His statement, “You … say to me, ‘Buy the field’” is capable of two interpretations. It may be a statement of Jeremiah’s unshakable faith. He may have been confident that in spite of impending ruin and defeat, God would have him buy a piece of family land to show that life would return to normal one day. His words could also be interpreted as an incredulous reaction: “In this hopeless situation, why would you have me buy a field?” If the latter, it may parallel our own response in a difficult situation. We readily affirm that God can do great things, such as create the universe. But do we really trust him in life’s decisions?[xii]
Do we really believe that God will deliver us? Ultimately, we can see that Jeremiah obeyed God in purchasing the land, which is seen as an act of faith, and a prophetic sign of things to come. In the hour of darkness, we too often lose sight of God’s goodness, His abilities, and His promises. In describing the signs of the end times of human history as we know it, Jesus warns against perilous times of war, famine, earthquakes, pestilence, and persecution. Jesus states that nations will be in anguish and perplexity. People will live in terror and apprehension in those moments. Yet, Jesus gives us a word how we should respond.
When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.[xiii]
The only way we can stand and live with confidence is because we know that God will ultimately deliver us, and that in the darkest times a new day will dawn. A day of redemption, restoration, and renewal.
THE FINAL THING WE NEED TO DO IN TIMES OF DARKNESS IS TO EMBRACE GOD’S ANSWER TO OUR PRAYERS
God is a prayer-answering God and will communicate His will to us. God can explain the reason why this season is happening in our lives, but it may take time for us to understand it and appreciate what is occurring. It can be discipline as described here in our text. It can also be moments of spiritual testing and development, which we are not grasping, and we may not appreciate the good fruit that will come from it.
In our text, it is obvious that this prayer was in some ways a query as to the action that Jeremiah was to take in securing the property of his family. This was to be done as a sign that despite the impending judgment upon the city and people of Judah, God planned to bring restoration.
A. God now answers Jeremiah’s prayer.
Here we see God affirmation of Jeremiah’s declaration of His power to do the impossible. There is nothing too difficult for God. He can accomplish what He says. God rehearses why the city is about to be destroyed. The people have rejected God, become idolaters, both in their homes and at the place of worship, the temple. They have broken their covenant with God, and have even destroyed their families in the process, offering up their children as human sacrifices to foreign idols. They have given themselves over to every evil.
Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?
Therefore this is what the Lord says: I am about to give this city into the hands of the Babylonians and to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, who will capture it.
The Babylonians who are attacking this city will come in and set it on fire; they will burn it down, along with the houses where the people aroused my anger by burning incense on the roofs to Baal and by pouring out drink offerings to other gods.
“The people of Israel and Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth; indeed, the people of Israel have done nothing but arouse my anger with what their hands have made, declares the Lord.
From the day it was built until now, this city has so aroused my anger and wrath that I must remove it from my sight.
The people of Israel and Judah have provoked me by all the evil they have done—they, their kings and officials, their priests and prophets, the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem.
They turned their backs to me and not their faces; though I taught them again and again, they would not listen or respond to discipline.
They set up their vile images in the house that bears my Name and defiled it.
They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.[xiv]
Jeremiah has stated that there is nothing too hard for God in verse 17. God now responds with ‘Is there anything too hard? Of course not!’
The impossibility which God will work, according to both prayer and oracle, is twofold. First, God will work a massive judgment which is here expressed in a lawsuit form (vv. 18-36). It is not ‘impossible’ for God to terminate Jerusalem. …we are scarcely prepared for the second aspect of God’s ‘impossibility’ (vv. 36-41). …Indeed, in v. 36 the text makes an enormous leap away from vv. 28-35 to God’s second impossibility. Now the news is good. It has not been impossible to destroy the city. It also is not an impossibility, we are now told, that God will revive this city which is in ruins.[xv]
B. God’s promised restoration after the exile.
‘You are saying about this city, ‘By the sword, famine and plague it will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon’; but this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety.
They will be my people, and I will be their God.
I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them.
I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.
I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.
‘This is what the Lord says: As I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I have promised them.
Once more fields will be bought in this land of which you say, ‘It is a desolate waste, without people or animals, for it has been given into the hands of the Babylonians.’
Fields will be bought for silver, and deeds will be signed, sealed and witnessed in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem, in the towns of Judah and in the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, because I will restore their fortunes, declares the Lord.[xvi]
What an amazing thing God was about to do. After the destruction would come new life. It was George Steiner in his book Real Presencesthat he points out the tension of living between Good Friday and Easter that so often occurs in our lives. Here we see the drama of death and life unfold before our eyes. How can real change come about when so often we live in the day between Good Friday and the crucifixion of the innocent, and then the amazing power of the resurrection which brings new life? We find ourselves so often trapped between these two days, stuck in the pain and despair of the long Sabbath day of Saturday. A day of darkness awaiting the new dawn of hope. Let’s listen again to the words of promised restoration.
‘This is what the Lord says: As I have brought all this calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I have promised them.[xvii]
God will bring us out of the sentence of judgment and death, the newness of the resurrection and new life with Him.
When everything is darkest, a new day will dawn. What a hope that brings to us who stand upon God’s word, commune with Him in prayer, and embrace His amazing promises which brings us to Himself, the ultimate source of blessing.
I love how Walter Brueggemann states the power of God’s work in bringing about transformation in the life of the nation.
Israel’s destiny is to lose what it treasures, and then to have it handed back by God in mercy, massively broken and then powerfully blessed.[xviii]
What is true of the nation of Israel is also true in our lives. Often it takes God’s judgment upon our sins to bring about real transformation in our lives. The brokenness that comes from our rebellion and then an awakening and a deep repentance which brings about God’s restoration and renewal to occur within our souls. Are you walking through an hour of darkness in your life? Listen to the promise of God’s new day about to dawn.
[i] Proverbs 3:5, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[ii] F. B. Huey, Jeremiah, Lamentations, The New American Commentary, Vol. 16, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 289.
[iii] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, Vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible Series, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1985), 94.
[iv] Jeremiah 32:1-5.
[v] Jeremiah 32:6-15.
[vi] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 302.
[vii] Tremper Longman III, Jeremiah, Lamentations, New International Biblical Commentary, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 216.
[viii] R. K. Harrison, Jeremiah & Lamentations, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 19, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1973), 142.
[ix] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, Vol. 2, 97.
[x] Jeremiah 32:16-25.
[xi] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, 305.
[xii] F. B. Huey, Jeremiah, Lamentations, 289.
[xiii] Luke 21:28.
[xiv] Jeremiah 32:26-35.
[xv] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, 307-08.
[xvi] Jeremiah 32:36-44.
[xvii] Jeremiah 32:42.
[xviii] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, 312.