Print this page

Jeremiah 32:1-15

Jeremiah 32:1-13

Background to the Book of Jeremiah:

Historical Background to the Book:
Jeremiah began his ministry in Jerusalem around 627 BCE and he witnessed the final years of Jerusalem before it fell to Nebuchadrezzar in 597 BCE. While there may be some dispute about the exact dating of his call that is what the author of the Book of Jeremiah wanted us to accept. Jeremiah was a young man who protested to God when he was called (Jeremiah 1:4-10) and who later made bitter lament to God about the way he was treated by colleagues. He came from a priestly family from the town of Anathoth, a few kilometre north of Jerusalem and formerly in the territory of Northern Israel.

He was well aware of the traditions from the northern tribes rather than the southern tradition as the prophet Isaiah. The king at the time of the first part of Jeremiah's prophecies was Josiah who had instituted reforms to purify the worship practices in 621 BCE. He did this by removing the local shrines and their sacrifices, outlawing the country Levites from presiding over sacrifices (at local shrines) and made Jerusalem the only place in which sacrifice could be made. Because the Levites gained their livelihood from this practice he made laws which dictated they had to be cared for by the local people (Deuteronomy 14:27-28). The reign of King Josiah was relatively peaceful from the ravages of the superpowers - Assyria, Babylon and Egypt which gave him the opportunity to instigate his reforms based on the Book of Deuteronomy. Josiah got caught up in a war with Egypt in 609 BCE and was killed when he tried to prevent Pharaoh Necho from going to the aid of the Assyrians in their last ditch stand against the upcoming power of Babylon (and was killed in battle in 609 BCE). The situation of Jerusalem rapidly deteriorated from this time with a quick turnover of kings and the continued rise of Babylon. Josiah's son Jehoahaz was sent in bonds to Egypt after three months. His brother Jehoiakim took the throne and from a vassal of Egypt he became a vassal of Babylon in 604 BCE. Jehoiakim died in 598 BCE (or assassinated) and his son Jehoiachin had been on the throne for three months when Nebuchadrezzar took Jerusalem in 597 BCE. He deported Jehoiachin, the Queen mother, state officials and took enormous booty including the temple vessels and treasures, but did not destroy the city or temple (Thompson: 24).

Jeremiah's preaching appears to indicate that the reforms had been unsuccessful because his preaching is calling the people back to faithful worship of Yahweh. He prophecies the impending fall of Jerusalem with all its horrific implications. The people refused to believe him because they thought that Jerusalem would always be safe, as indeed, Isaiah had told them 110 years previously. After 598 BCE Jeremiah suffered personally because he was prophesying exile for 70 years and this was an unpopular message. Zedekiah (uncle of Jehoiachin) supported rebellion against Babylon and Nebuchadrezzar came and destroyed Jerusalem after a terrible siege. The city was destroyed, including the temple and further officials taken into exile. The Governor set up by the Babylonians was assassinated in 582 BCE and further deportations occurred. Some Judeans fled to Egypt before the arrival of Nebuchadrezzar taking Jeremiah with them (Jeremiah 42).

Literary Background to the Book:
We don't know the precise process whereby the book was formed from the oral traditions into the final form we have now. It appears to be in blocks of material which are deliberately structured to reinforce the message. Chapters 1-29 depict the divine judgement on Judah and Jeremiah's controversy with false prophets: chapters 30-33 make up the Book of Consolation: chapters 34-45 depict events around the fall of Jerusalem: chapters 46-51 contain the oracles against the nations and the final chapter parallels 2 Kings 24:18-25:30 which tells us about the final fall of Jerusalem.

The Greek translation of the Book of Jeremiah is shorter by one seventh which is unusual as the Greek translations are usually longer. The Hebrew and Greek translations were both circulating in Israel at the time of the Qumran community ( ). Whether there was a shorter Hebrew version which is now represented by the Greek and this was later expanded into the Hebrew edition of the Book is a matter of some debate. The arrangement of the blocks of material are different in each edition with the Oracles against the Nations to be found in the Greek edition in chapters 26-32. The Greek edition names Jeremiah as the prophet four times whereas the Hebrew edition names Jeremiah as the prophet thirty times.

The book is a mixture of poetry and prose. It appears to many scholars that much of the prose is preaching on aspects of Jeremiah's oracles from the poetry. This preaching has many similarities to the theology and language used by the Deuteronomistic writers. Whether the Deuteronomists took Jeremiah's oracles and use them as a basis for preaching God's word to a later situation we can never be certain. However, the message and language of the prose sections are compatible with Deueteronomic thought. For example, the message to the exiles was the need to believe in the true prophets like Jeremiah. He is held up as an excellent example. Another message was to explain that they were in exile was because they had been disobedient and therefore lost the land. Yahweh had been faithful to them and they had failed to keep their side of the covenant as depicted in Exodus 19.

Context of Jeremiah  32:1-15
This reading is part of what is often called "the Book of Consolation" (Jer 30:1-33:26). There has been a contrast tirade by the prophet against the King, prophets and people for their wayward behaviour in Jer chapters 11-29. Jeremiah's unpopular message has predicted the invasion of Judah by Babylon and the need for the people to accept the idea of exile. Then we have these chapters of hope before we hear of the last days of the kingdom. Jeremiah has been commanded in Jer 30 to write in a book that God will restore the fortunes of the people. The implication in the writing suggests that the people are experiencing exile and the promise will restore them to the land of Judah. God admits (Jer 30:14) that the blow dealt to them was by God because of their guilt. However, it is God who will restore them and make a new covenant with them - a covenant that is written on the hearts of the people (Jer 31:31-34). The promise at the end of Jer 31 declares they will never be overthrown again. The lectionary reading has a symbolic action of hope which is in spite of the fact that the Babylonians are at the very gates of the city (Jer 32:16-25). Further messages of hope based on God's everlasting covenant are spoken in Jer 32:36ff. The promises of restoration continue in Jer 33 including the hope for a descendant of David on the throne of the restored Jerusalem.

Insights/Message of Jeremiah  32:1-15
Literary structure:
The opening words make it clear that the following narrative is a prophetic oracle and these words, 'Thus says the Lord or "The word of the Lord came to me", are present seven times in fifteen verses. People cannot mistake these words are from the Lord. The answer to Zedekiah's question, "Why?" comes after the statement about Jeremiah's purchase of the field from his cousin (Jer 32:26-44). The whole chapter is very carefully crafted with the buying of a field as a sign of hope reiterated in the final verses of each of the major section in the chapter (Fretheim: 454) and finally lots of fields are to be bought across many regions around Jerusalem (vv.43-44). The context is set in vv.1-5; the symbolic sign of hope in vv.6-15; a prayer of adoration and remembrance in vv.16-25; the explanation why Jerusalem will fall to the Babylonians in vv.26-35; and the promise of restoration with an everlasting covenant in vv.36-44. The detail set out in vv.9-15 make the symbolic action very real and the presence of witnesses is especially important. Furthermore, the action of Baruch sealing them in an earthenware jar will prove later whether Jeremiah's words will come true. We know from the finds at Qumran in 1947 that scrolls sealed in earthenware jars will keep the parchments in good condition for hundreds of years.

Message / Theology:
The situation is dire with the Babylonian army once more at the gates of Jerusalem because of Zedekiah's rebellion (588 BCE). The first deportation took place in 597 BCE when the King, leaders, priests and other officials were taken to Babylon and Jerusalem was left intact with its city walls and temple. Jeremiah is imprisoned because he had prophesied unpleasant tidings to the king whose response was to lock Jeremiah up in the palace goal. Mind you it was hardly good news for Zedekiah to hear that he was to be taken prisoner by the Babylonians and carted off into exile. Vv.1-5 set the scene for Jeremiah's response in vv.6ff. Land is very important to the people of Israel and Judah. The promise was made to the first Patriarch that they would be a great nation in a land which God would provide (Gen12:1-3). Now, the people are close to losing the land and the "Book of Consolation" assumes they have indeed lost the land which God will restore. There is a constant weaving of loss and restoration of land which becomes a concrete promise in the action of Jeremiah buying a field from his cousin. Who would buy a field in the off chance that they might return from exile unless they were very sure they were able to take up the use of the field. Jeremiah is able to buy the field because according to the law in Lev 25:25-28 property can be redeemed by a close relative if it had to be sold off because of some financial difficulty. Jeremiah doesn't just preach a word of hope he demonstrates it in a very public action that while all seems black there is hope for the future. In the Commentary by Fretheim he has a quote from Bonhoeffer's Letters from Prison(14-15), in which Bonhoeffer in a letter to his fiance refers to Jeremiah's act of faith and the need to remain true to God despite the hardship. It is word to us in the midst of people's growing fear in response to the acts of terrorism that we as Christians have a message of hope. In spite of all that is happening we believe love and grace will win and make a difference in the end.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Luke 16:19-31, no allusions or references to Old Testament concepts or passages.

Resources/Worship for Jeremiah 32:1-15
I think it would be helpful to talk about the "Book of Consolation" and how Jer 32 is a practical action of hope along with the other promises of restoration. It would be good if the preacher was able to think of present day symbols of hope or indeed actions by the community which could symbolise hope. It seems to me it is especialy important that the church be a sign of hope in a community which is sometimes fearful and caught up into revenge as a response to fear. The church has the oppurtunity to be the church in this time offering hope and love to the community.

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the Book of Jeremiah

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Brueggemann, Walter. A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile & Homecoming. Cambridge: W.B.Eerdmans, 1998.
Carroll, Robert P. Jeremiah: A Commentary. OTL. London: SCM, 1986.
Clements, R. E. Jeremiah. Int. Atlanta: John Knox, 1988.
Holladay,William L. Jeremiah 1 : A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: Chapters 1-25. Herm. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986.
---. Jeremiah 2 : A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: Chapters 26-52. Herm. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989.
Keown,Gerald L. Jeremiah 26-52. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1995.
Jones, Douglas Rawlinson. Jeremiah. NCB. [London]: Marshall Pickering; Grand Rapids, Mich. Eerdmans, 1992.
McKane, William. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jeremiah. Vol 1, Introduction and Commentary on Jeremiah I-XXV. ICC. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1986.
---. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jeremiah. Vol 2, Introduction and Commentary on Jeremiah XXVI-LII. ICC. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1996.
Miller, Patrick D. The Book of Jeremiah. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001
Thompson, John A. The Book of Jeremiah. NICOT, Grand Rapids, Mich. W. B. Eerdmans, 1980.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources:

Previous page: Jeremiah 31:27-34
Next page: Hosea 1:2-10