In 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon sieged and would ultimately sack the city of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 32:1-3). During the siege, Jeremiah the prophet was imprisoned by the Hebrew king Zedekiah, likely as a scapegoat for the a desperate royal court. Jeremiah had prophesied that Jerusalem would fall to Babylon, and now it was falling. However, it was no time for celebrating prophetic accuracy. Instead, Jeremiah laments the sad state of his homeland.
How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave. (Lamentations 1:1)
At the very moment when Judah fell into its deepest despair, King Zedekiah descends the stairs down to his own gloomy dungeon and asks Jeremiah to explain himself. Jeremiah, perhaps out of pity for a king who would never listen, relates to the king and to us a peculiar story.
Once, Jeremiah had been told by God to buy land in Judah. Like buying Enron stock the day after its collapse, to buy land in Judah as the Babylonians swept the field was an absurd investment. God not only instructed Jeremiah to buy the field at Anathoth, he also instructed him to have the deal witnessed and the documents sealed against the coming days of turmoil and upheaval. Baruch, Jeremiah’s faithful scribe, took the documents and placed them in a clay vessel and buried it, to be dug up another day.
I suspect Zedekiah might have thought that Jeremiah had finally and fully lost his mind. Dungeons can do that to man. The city is under attack and the prophet tells a rambling reminiscence about a bad investment he once made. At the very end of the story, Jeremiah explains to Baruch why he bought the land. In telling the story, he explains to Zedekiah why he faithfully prophesied of the Lord’s work even from prison. In speaking to Zedekiah, he explains to us the motivation for every work we do today in God’s name.
For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land. (Jeremiah 32:15)
The irony of this statement shouldn’t be overlooked. Zedekiah and his spokesman had been telling Israel precisely that. Just a few years earlier a (false) prophet named Hananiah had won the king’s favor by saying that God would give them victory over Babylon (Jeremiah 28). Jeremiah denounced him, earning himself a reputation as a troublemaker. Why is Jeremiah now so certain that the future held hope?
When Zedekiah and his puppets made promises, Jeremiah reminded the people that their doom was from God and not to be overturned. Now, as Jerusalem burned, Jeremiah reminded the people that their hope in the future was from God and still not to be overturned. When at last Jerusalem gave up all hope of human strength, then they could finally embrace the hope provided by the faithfulness of God.
Today, as long as we believe that a secular state led by secular leaders upheld by a secular culture and a secular ideology can cure our national woes, we deserve to hear only the doom of the Lord pronounced upon us. But when we finally throw off the self-deception of our own power to master this world and instead turn to him who alone may save us, then and only then can we see the bright future of God, the hope of nations. Our world needs this hope desperately, just as it needs Christians prepared to invest in that hope with confidence in God.
I do not know what the future of our nation will be. But I believe the God of nations can save it as surely as he can destroy it. He is our savior as surely as he is our judge. He is our hope — our only hope.