In Jeremiah 32, this prophecy of the new covenant is followed up by a very striking incident in which the prophet's faith in his own prediction is tested. The Lord allows His servants to be tested constantly. If the Lord gives us to witness to some great truth we shall have to prove our own faith in that truth. Jeremiah was put to such a test in the following circumstances. "The word came to Jeremiah from Jehovah in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. For then the king of Babylon's army besieged Jerusalem: and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the prison, which was in the king of Judah's house" (verses 1, 2).
The prophet was in a very bad case himself, and so was the city. Jerusalem was besieged and certain to be taken by the king of Babylon. Jeremiah was not only in danger from the Chaldeans but he was imprisoned in the city; that is, he was in double sorrow. He was in sorrow from the Jews even more than from the Gentiles.
Such a time one would suppose was most unsuitable for the transaction of business, but the transaction then undertaken was one eminently of faith, specially demanding the prophet's utmost confidence in the testimony that God had raised him up to bear. Accordingly, he purchased the field of Hanameel.
But at this very time, Jeremiah had given a striking word and a very serious one concerning the king. "And Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him mouth to mouth, and his eyes shall behold his eyes; and he shall lead Zedekiah to Babylon, and there shall he be until I visit him, saith Jehovah: though he fight with the Chaldeans ye shall not prosper" (verses 4, 5).
The capture of the city was imminent, but Jeremiah said, "The word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Behold, Hanameel, the son of Shallum thine uncle, shall come unto thee, saying, Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth." What a time to buy a field! The city certain to be taken, the prophet himself in prison! There was no escape, according to his own word, from the Babylonian army, and, further, there was no escape from the hostile power of those that ruled in Jerusalem, for his testimony was dead against their pride and their false patriotism.
Yet, at such a juncture Jeremiah's uncle asked him to buy a field. What! when they were about to be all swept out of the land and carried into captivity! Should he then buy a field? What could be the ground for such a transaction? But it was Jehovah Who bade him do it. The purchase was a testimony of the greatest value, showing that in spite of the desolation, in spite of the destruction of the city, Jeremiah believed that the Jews would return to their possessions, and that land would still be cultivated and houses built there.
It is recorded in Roman history that at the time when the Gauls were encamped around Rome, the very land on which the Gauls had raised their tents was bought and sold, and this was considered one of the greatest proofs of confidence in the future destinies of Rome that this was done. There is no event, perhaps, in history, like it. I do not recollect that in any siege of any other place, except in this case of Rome, there ever was such a transaction.
But there is a weighty difference between the two events. The Roman magnified that deed and recorded it in his history as a proof of his iron will. They knew right well that there was more toughness in the Roman than in the Gaul, and although the Gaul might gain some little advantage for a time the Roman iron would prove stronger than the Gallic fire. They knew right well that although the Gauls might be impetuous and might gain the victory for the day, Rome would rise again and would repel them and trample them under her feet. And so it was.
But how different was the spirit of Jeremiah! He was a sufferer from his own people, himself owning that the hand of God was stretched out against Jerusalem. Nevertheless, he, on the simple faith of God's word and not having the smallest confidence in his own power, and there being no display of confidence in Zedekiah or the people of the Jews, acted in this calm and striking fashion in the face of the overpowering weight of the Chaldean power that was raised up of God to trample down the proud and rebellious city of Jerusalem.
But Jeremiah bought the field of his uncle according to the provisions of the law of the Lord. He bought it because he had confidence in the restoration of Israel - not only the final restoration but the partial one after the lapse of seventy years. It seems to me, therefore, that we have a beautiful answer to the pride of Rome in the faith of Jeremiah.
"So Hanameel, mine uncle's son, came to me in the court of the prison, according to the word of Jehovah, and said unto me, Buy my field, I pray thee, that is in Anathoth, which is in the country of Benjamin: for the right of inheritance is thine, and the redemption is thine; buy it for thyself. Then I knew that this was the word of Jehovah" (verse 8). Jehovah had first told the prophet to buy the field, and then Hanameel came to offer his field for sale.
"And I bought the field of Hanameel my uncle's son, that was in Anathoth, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver. And I subscribed the evidence, and sealed it, and took witnesses, and weighed him the money in the balances. So I took the evidence of the purchase, both that which was sealed according to the law and custom, and that which was open" (verses 9-11). All was done according to the custom of the law. The open document was for consultation. The sealed one was that on which all depended; it was the incontestable proof. There is often a similar practice in a family now. A will is deposited in Doctors' Commons, as we say, and there it always abides. It cannot be touched. It must not be removed. It is the legal evidence on which all turns. But, besides that, the family have a copy made by their solicitor for reference in case of any question regarding the distribution of the property.
And then according to the word of the Lord, Jeremiah committed the evidence of purchase to Baruch to preserve as a witness that property would be again possessed in the land. "And I charged Baruch before them, saying, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel; Take these evidences, this evidence of the purchase, both which is sealed, and this evidence which is open; and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may continue many days. For thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel; Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land" (verses 13-15).
While it was quite true that because of the abominations of the men of Judah, Jehovah would give them over as captives to the king of Babylon, at the same time Jehovah says, "Behold, I will gather them out of all countries, whither I have driven them in Mine anger, and in My fury, and in great wrath; and I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely: and they shall be My people, and I will be their God: and I will give them one heart and one way that they may fear Me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: and I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good" (verses 37-40). This is an additional word of the Lord about the new covenant; it will be an everlasting one; He will never turn away from His people.
We know that the Jews have never yet inherited their land according to the new covenant, still less according to the everlasting covenant. They are to inherit under both titles; the new covenant to distinguish it from anything that ever was before, the everlasting covenant to show that the new covenant will never be put out of date, or grow obsolete, but will always be effectual and valid for their possession and their blessing.
It has been asked whether these title deeds of Jeremiah's purchase will ever be recovered. But I cannot say. I should think they have perished long ago; still there is nothing too hard for the Lord. I am sure, however, the sense of them will never perish, and I have sometimes thought that they would yet come to light.
Jehovah will yet pour out His heart of grace upon His people. "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. For thus saith Jehovah, Like as I have brought all this great evil upon this people, so will I bring upon them all the good that I have promised them. And fields shall be bought in this land, whereof ye say, It is desolate without man or beast; it is given into the hand of the Chaldeans. 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 of the valley, and in the cities of the south: for I will cause their captivity to return, saith Jehovah" (verses 41-44).
It may be noticed that unbelief shows itself in two ways that are exactly in contrast with faith. Before the threatened evil or judgment comes from the hand of the Lord men do not believe it. They are always hoping for a deliverance where there is no deliverance, for peace where there is no peace. This is the first effect of unbelief - a fighting against Jehovah's chastening. When the chastening comes, then they are all plunged into despair: then they think all is over with the people and that there never will be any blessing from the hand of the Lord. Now faith, on the contrary, believes the judgment before it comes, but believes in the goodness of the Lord and that mercy shall rejoice against judgment.