The context in which Jeremiah existed is extremely bleak.
The rise of the Babylonian Empire in the 7th century spelled disaster for Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel in which Jeremiah was active. Contrary to much of Deuteronomistic history that would have us imagine a more grandiose picture of the Southern Kingdom, it appears by the vast majority of accounts, both biblical and extrabiblical, that Judah was never all that powerful of a political entity. Often, Judah is characterized as having been a vassal-type subsidiary state in relation to the Northern Kingdom. However, Judah was able to outlast the Northern Kingdom, which was sacked by the Assyrians c. 722 BCE, by almost a century and a half!
One of the most notable things about Jeremiah is certainly his calling. Initially, YHWH’s call to Jeremiah is inspiring and encouraging! God tells Jeremiah,
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you/ and before you were born, I consecrated you/ I appointed you a prophet to the nations.
I mean, that’s really nice, right?
Then Jeremiah responds fearfully, claiming his youthfulness as a handicap. Reminiscent of Moses, Jeremiah is also insecure of his speaking abilities. However, God affirms him again by saying,
Now I have put my words in your mouth.
Don’t you wish your mouth could be full of God’s words? Well, be careful what you wish for.
Now, Jeremiah preached in the last days of the Southern Kingdom. The first decade of the 6th century saw Babylonian siege on Jerusalem, destruction of the temple and deportations of many of the educated, important Judeans to Babylon. It was a time of horrific tragedy yet vast significance.
Jeremiah’s message, like the fate of his nation, was one of tragedy. God called Jeremiah to reveal the sins of Judah in light of Josiah’s revival. However, as if this wasn’t bad enough, God promised Jeremiah that no one would listen to him. God even commanded Jeremiah to stop praying for the people he was preaching to!
Jeremiah’s call was to spit in the wind.
His ministry was never affirmed by other people, he never won a convert, the other prophets that were popular during this period severely disliked him and he couldn’t even pray for his own people.
Toward the end of the book of Jeremiah, a really strange thing happens. While Jeremiah is in prison (I told you, bleak), God instructs him to purchase a plot of land in Judah. Now, fiscally speaking this is downright terrible investment advice; Judah is about to be overtaken by Babylonians. In fact, John Holbert has a wonderful blog here on this land deal. But God does not tell Jeremiah to buy the land to show off his Dave Ramsey skills…
At a time when thinking about the future at all, let alone a bright one, seemed ridiculous. As Judeans have resorted to cannibalism because of hunger and the war-cries of Babylonians can be heard from in the city, Jeremiah buys a plot of land. WHY?
As a promise.
A promise of restoration. A promise of a future.
Though God’s people would have to walk through the fires of their own destruction, in a prophetic act, Jeremiah’s little plot of land is a testament to God’s holistic future in which the people of God would once again take up residence in a land of their own.