Jerry Buys The Farm
What Are We Preserving?
By the year 588-587 BC, Jerusalem had been under siege by
Nebuchadnezzar for two years. “Under siege” means the city was
surrounded and cut off from the outside world. The only food and
water Judah had access to was whatever streams or wells they had
and whatever they could grow within the city walls.
Nebuchadnezzar had already taken the professional classes of
Jerusalem away for exile and “cultural assimilation.” The people
were starving, dying of plague and other diseases. The economy
had collapsed. All real estate in Israel was worthless.
Jeremiah’s message was pretty simple: God was going to deliver His people, the Jews, into the hands of the Babylonians. The Babylonians were going to capture Zedekiah, the king of Judah, torture and kill him. Jeremiah told them they might as well make things easier on themselves by surrendering when the time came. This earned Jeremiah a lot of enemies, eventually landing him in prison, accused of treason. This is where his cousin came to see him.
Not much is known about Hanamel, “God is gracious,” the son of Shallum, Jeremiah’s uncle, and, therefore, Jeremiah's first cousin. We do not know, from Jeremiah’s report, that Hanamel was one of the men of Anathoth, Jeremiah’s home town, who conspired to kill the prophet back in chapters 11 & 12. But Jeremiah had every reason to be suspicious of Hanamel and to question his motives. For one thing, the men of Anathoth—mostly Jeremiah’s relatives—had tried to kill him back in chapters 11 & 12. I know, if my cousin had tried to kill me, I’d be extremely suspicious of some shady deal he was now trying to pull me into.
God had revealed to Jeremiah that his cousin was coming and the purpose of the visit as well. Hanamel was coming to hustle Jeremiah for some quick cash, selling Jeremiah a plot of land that, at that time, had tens of thousands of invading troops parked on it. For another, Hanamel’s price was too low—about ten bucks. Pocket change. Some traveling money, perhaps. Locked in prison, Jeremiah couldn’t actually use the land himself, and with Judah about to fall to the invading Chaldeans, assuming Jeremiah survived the invasion, there was no guarantee the land would ever be his again.
Anathoth was a sacerdotal (of priests; priestly) city. Hanamel’s plot was part of farm lands just outside the city walls [Numbers 35:4 Numbers 35:5] reserved for the tribe of Levi, most prestigious of the twelve tribes of Israel. The ancestor after which the tribe was named was considered savage by some, having slaughtered the male population of an entire city in revenge of the rape of his sister Dinah [Gen 34:25-31], and the tribe itself was often tasked to enforce God’s law (for example, slaughtering the Israelites who’d participated in creating a pagan god—a golden calf—during their journey through the wilderness [Exodus 32:28]). The reserved fields outside the gates were a big deal, protected by Levitical law. They could only be sold to certain people and under certain conditions. There were harsh penalties for misuse or wrongful transfer of this property.
Hanamel quotes the law to Jeremiah, which is what hustlers do when they are trying to hustle you: they recite The Rules. Soon as somebody starts telling you things you already know, they’re setting you up for something. Hanamel explains the Levitical code to a Levite prophet—that, upon failure of the land’s owner, the next of kin had the right to redeem the land (Leviticus 25:24, Ruth 4:3-6). This is Hanamel pretty much admitting he was a screw-up, that he had failed in some way to honor his responsibility toward the farm. It could also mean Hanamel is simply acquiescing to the reality of tens of thousands of Chaldean soldiers parked on it. So he offers this plot of land, which would be of absolutely no use whatsoever to Jeremiah, to him for the biblical equivalent of a lotto ticket and a ham sandwich.
Even more puzzling, Jeremiah—who knows he’s being hustled—agrees. He not only agrees, but he conducts the transaction in exacting detail, counting out the money rather than just telling Cuz to take his word for it. He has the paperwork drawn out in specific detail, then orders those records to be preserved. Preserved? For what? Why?
What was he preserving? 40 acres and a mule overrun by an army of Nazis?
This had to be the worst real estate transaction in history, Jeremiah buying a piece of land that he couldn’t use. That was worth nothing. While his city was under siege and, by his own prophecy, about to be destroyed by an invading army.
When you’re broke, the first thing you lose is your dignity.
Everything you thought you were, everything you valued about
yourself, all gone. You lose it with the first phone call to a
relative or friend asking for a bailout. Now, if these people
are kind, they won’t make a sport of it, a yes or no will do.
Either way the cut is deep, the loss nearly unbearable. It is
both difficult to describe and nearly impossible to share with
anyone because most anyone you might feel such safety as to
share your pain with will surely be on the list of people you’ll
be reaching out to for help. So you suffer in silence as little
pieces of yourself get stripped away. It is a kind of violence,
this emptying of your soul.
Following God requires us to be broken. In its most pure expression, it all but demands a certain loss of pride and our dignity often suffers. Jesus was a well-respected teacher with a huge following, a Joel Osteen of His day. He could have raked in tons of cash and bought Himself a mansion and a Rolls and gotten fat off of His followers. Instead, He allowed his enemies, the Church Folk of His day, to strip Him of everything meaningful. To humiliate and (seemingly) murder Him.
Following God often if not always demands us to separate ourselves from our own sense of self. It requires us to be broke. To be undignified. The reason many of us don’t have money is God knows what money would do to us. Our relationship with Him is not at a place where we know His voice when He is speaking, where we can see the confirmation, or where we will act upon His calling and in the service of His will. We’ll buy a Rolex. We’ll take the safe route, to the crowds and the cash.
I, frankly, do not know any pastors who would have bought that farm. Which is a pretty sad statement. Most of my pastor friends would have recognized the hustle when they saw it and would have told Hanamel to hit the bricks. They would have then gone back to wailing to God for deliverance and begging God to speak, to move, to act.
And this is the business, the tradition, that we are preserving. The sheer critical mass of useless dead weight the African American church drags around with it in the name of tradition is absolutely staggering. Ninety percent of what we hold dear in our culture will be burned away, discarded and destroyed because it has no meaningful value to the Kingdom of Heaven.
I read this quote on somebody’s blog the other day: “Live your life in such a way that it makes no sense apart from the existence of God.” Moses, leading the Israelites to certain death, to a dead-end at the Red Sea. Noah building an ocean liner in the middle of a desert. Gideon reducing his army from 32,000 to three hundred. John The Baptist preaching in the woods. All of these men had, to one degree or another, lost their dignity but gained God’s favor. They were all broke—broken for God. Doing God’s will is almost never popular. People point and stare. They whisper. They snicker and mock. And that causes many of us to either be timid in doing God’s work or to give up on it.
An Ordinary Guy
Was Jeremiah a man of great faith? No. He was an ordinary guy.
He doubted. He complained. He was reluctant to do God’s will. He
was no different from many of us, subject to human weakness.
There is no record of Jeremiah being a great leader. He was, in
essence, God’s news reporter: he obediently, if reluctantly,
told people what God told him to tell them. He created a
record—what we now know as the Book Of Jeremiah—which is written
out of sequence and is fairly difficult to follow without a
But here’s what Jeremiah did right:
He knew the Lord’s voice when He was speaking
This takes time. We can only know the Lord’s voice by spending time with Him. By walking with Him. By fasting and praying and staying in His Holy Word.
He received confirmation of prophecy
Hanamel makes his pitch, just like God said he would, and Jeremiah says in verse 8: Then I knew for sure that the message I had heard was from the LORD. How do we know a message is from God? I know people who interpret every sniffle and yawn as a sign from God. Not every sign is a word from the Lord. Sometimes a burning bush is just a burning bush. Our inspiration, our revelation, should be tested. We should wait on God for specific instructions. We should wait on divine confirmation of the vision. This may take hours, days, or decades. Some of us may never receive the confirmation. Some of us may miss the confirmation because we’ve boxed God in. We are demanding God move only in a specific way at a specific time. It is vital to keep our eyes open when God is speaking. He will manifest Himself in unexpected ways and through unexpected means, inspiring us to invest in land that is about to be pillaged.
He took action
Christian belief is about action. Not works to earn our way into heaven, but actions that manifest God’s love and power here on earth, putting hands and feet to the love of Jesus Christ. It's not enough to merely believe. Your belief must find meaningful expression.
Dear friends, do you think you'll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? 23 The full meaning of “believe” in the Scripture sentence, “Abraham believed God and was set right with God,” includes his action. It's that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named “God's friend.” (The Message) 18b I will show you my faith by what I do. (NIV)
Obedience and Sacrifice
Many if not most popular preachers today get rich off of
promising crowds of seekers happiness and prosperity, but
biblical prophecy warns of terrible things in the end times and
of false prophets preaching what we want to hear (2 Timothy
4:3). God’s promise to us isn’t a life of ease. Jesus said He
did not come to bring peace and prosperity but division and
turmoil (Matthew 10:34). Following Christ involves risk. Risk to
your career, risk to your social life, risk to your health and
safety. To your finances. In Jeremiah’s specific case, God’s
promise included suffering and death, including, perhaps, his
own. But he remained faithful.
There can be no obedience without sacrifice. And the more genuine the act of obedience is, the less certain we are of its outcome. In its most pure manifestation, faith works most efficiently when we understand it the least. When we make our bed in a burning house. When Jeremiah makes a real estate deal for land he may never see. Jeremiah believed God, believed God’s prophecy—that Israel would ultimately be restored. Buying the farm was an act of obedience but also an act of faith. It was a message of inspiration to the people of Judah. By preserving the documents for future generations, Jeremiah’s act of faith and obedience was meant to inspire future generations as well.
The children of Israel were to be taken and held captive for seven decades. Seven decades. Jeremiah is told to buy the land as a sign that God will restore the city and society—even though Jeremiah himself will not live to see it.
Years ago, I told a pastor friend who was planting a new church that he should build his ministry so that it could go on without him. Too often we pastors think only about what we can see and use and, in many cases, benefit from today. But God exists beyond time. God created time and, therefore, can move in and out of time as He so chooses. God inspires me to get up early and work hard on this online ministry, which is all but completely ignored by churches here in Ourtown. I suspect this archive may continue to exist in relative obscurity (here, at least) until I am dead. That these words won’t find a real audience until I am long gone and somebody discovers these archives and finds a useful purpose for them.
Our obedience to God will not always produce fruit we can immediately see or that will have immediate impact on our circumstances. Thus, our obedience to God must not be conditioned upon near-term results but simple faithfulness to His promise. Following God is often an act of defiance. In the face of sickness or poverty, job loss, eviction and homelessness—to have the courage to do something others might see as foolish can be an act of defiance,
Who are we inspiring? What are we preserving? I don’t see a lot
of time capsules—or clay pots—in our African American
experience. What I see are young people being ignored or
marginalized, leaving the church in huge waves. What I see are
black parents asleep at the switch, allowing popular urban black
culture to infest our youth with corrupt values and a
glorification of underachievement.
What are we preserving? In a time of war, with terrorism both foreign and domestic on the rise, an uncertain economy, people losing their homes and losing their minds, what are we investing in? What seemingly vain gesture are we making to inspire and lift hearts and invest in our future? How many of us would have bought that farm?
God has led us through troubled times before, and the bible tells us there are troubled times ahead. But so is peace. And prosperity. That’s His promise. And it’s worth betting on. Building only for ourselves, investing only in things we can see and benefit from, is intrinsically selfish. Obeying God means denying self. We don’t always understand His plan, but we shouldn’t need to. Our faith needs to find expression. Our investment should be in His promise.