This might rank near the top of a list of foolish decisions made by people in the Bible. But he was one of God’s prophets, and he was convinced that he was doing God’s will. His story is in Jeremiah 32.
The year is 588 B.C. Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, is in the last year of his reign, though he doesn’t yet know it.
What he does know is that the Chaldeans, under their mighty general Nebuchadnezzar, will soon be at the gates of his capital city, Jerusalem. Zedekiah has been told, though he doesn’t like it, that this enemy will soon smash his kingdom, destroy his government and carry the king and his family into captivity.
Zedekiah is aware of all this because the prophet Jeremiah has been warning him. In fact, the king has grown so weary of Jeremiah’s constant haranguing that he has had the prophet locked up in the palace courtyard in a classic case of “If you don’t like the message, shoot the messenger.”
Jeremiah’s “foolish” decision
But this story isn’t about Zedekiah, nor is it about Jerusalem. It’s about Jeremiah and his “foolish” decision. While in the king’s prison, Jeremiah hears a word from the Lord. Yahweh tells the prophet that his cousin is soon going to visit him, offering Jeremiah the opportunity to buy a piece of property just outside of Jerusalem. His cousin is coming because Jeremiah has the first right of refusal.
Now, picture this. Jeremiah has just prophesied that the country will be invaded by a foreign power, that the government will be destroyed, that the king and his court will be hauled off as prisoners and that the invaders will take over the entire country. In the midst of this, Jeremiah is offered an opportunity to invest a portion of his life savings in real estate.
Any financial advisor would tell the prophet, “This is crazy. This land is going to be taken from you and without any compensation. It will be worthless. Keep your money. Run from this deal as fast as you can.”
That would be sound financial advice. But Jeremiah believes the Lord. So, against all common sense, he weighs out 17 shekels of silver, and the deed is transferred into his name. Jeremiah puts his savings into an investment for which there is no earthly possibility of a return. This is money poured down a hole.
But Jeremiah believes the Lord is in this. He takes the deed, which is now his, gives it to his associate Baruch and instructs the latter to seal the deed in a clay jar and put it in a safe place, because, Jeremiah says, “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” Jeremiah doesn’t know it, but that deed will remain sealed in that jar for almost 70 years before anybody comes to retrieve it. And it won’t be Jeremiah who retrieves it because the prophet himself will be long dead before anyone takes up residence on that land, and it begins to turn a profit.
Betting on the future
So, is this a decision of incredible foolishness or an act of incredible faith? Would you take this deal? Would you cash in your IRA, drain your 401k, for this offer? Jeremiah did. But why? What’s the point of this story? Why include it in the Bible? Where’s the lesson here?
This text is about betting on the future. It is the consistent story in the Bible and of the church for that matter, to bet on the future, to trust God when uncertainty and disaster loom and to press forward with hope for the days ahead. It’s a call for putting one’s money down now, for risking hard cash on the most speculative venture in the market. It’s like betting on a bankrupt company that’s going under.
Betting on the future is a risky act, sometimes an act of foolishness. But for the Christian, betting on the future is an act of hope. Hope is not merely keeping one’s fingers crossed. Christian hope is tied to a promise. Sometimes that hope goes against good sense, but it is always in relation to the promise of the one who shapes the future.
Right now, I argue, we are facing a future that seems out of anyone’s control. As I write this, COVID-19 is still roaming across our country, though thankfully at a slower rate. And just today another Black man was shot by a police officer. There are people protesting the racism in this country, reminding us that Black Lives Matter; sadly, some of those protests have had elements of violence and property destruction, leading to more deaths.
Our economy is still stumbling along, with unemployment at record highs. People are losing their homes, their health care and even running short of food—and all in what we like to think is the richest country in the world. In the midst of this, we are deciding on the next president of the United States. We don’t know what the future holds, and we don’t know how our country will face that future.
Our leaders, from the president on down, seem muddled, uncertain what to do and unable to agree on any course of action to move our nation forward. Worse, we believers, we followers of Jesus, are contributing to the chaos rather than relieving it. Some of us are wearing masks while others, sometimes in the same congregation, refuse. Some of us support BLM, others equate it with Marxism. Some of us believe that government must provide relief, others warn of socialism. Some of us think you have to belong to a certain party to follow Jesus, others disagree vigorously. Some of us want our children back in school and ourselves back in church, others think we must wait for clearance to do so.
It seems difficult to find anyone who is optimistic about the future. Do we dare to hope that good days are ahead, that God can lead us out of this confusion and chaos? Jeremiah had hope and trust. He invested in the future, even though he was long dead before that investment produced a return.
Facing the future
As Christians, as Jesus followers, our call is to face the future with hope, with confidence in God and with trust that God is at work in all of the turmoil of our time. We model hope, we exude hope, we broadcast hope. Because God is who God says God is. So we, you and I, walk forward with confidence, not with fear, no matter what the outcome, no matter who the president is, no matter which political party triumphs.
Why? Because of the marvelous power of God to produce a surprising future. Because we believe that a mixture of God’s power and God’s grace can alter or reverse present reality. Out of ashes a fresh start, out of disaster a new creation, out of an ending a new beginning. “God can make a way where there seems to be no way.”
But remember, Jeremiah’s investment took 70 years to begin to turn a profit. God will not be rushed. But with trust and hope, redemption, renewal and security are possible. Jeremiah doesn’t use the word “grace,” but what he does is exactly what the New Testament understands by “grace.”
Go ahead, buy the land. Put down the deposit.
Sign the deed. And wait. It may take 70 years, but God is faithful. Restoration is on the way. All things are possible.
Jim Holm is pastor of Butler Church’s Faith Community congregation. Butler Church is a multicultural USMB church in southeast Fresno, Calif., comprised of four congregations with services in three languages.