Sunday, September 15, 2019

Jeremiah 32.1-3a, 6-15: A Long Time

This is one of my favorite moments in scripture. What a seemingly pointless activity: buying a field when the Babylonian army is at the city gates (Jeremiah 32:8). Why would any intelligent person invest in property just before the cataclysmic event that guaranteed destruction of home and field and livelihood? It makes as much sense as this fence.

The difference is that God is playing a long game. Yes, the Babylonian army is at the city gates. But they won't be there forever. There will come a time when the people are back in the land. They will build houses. They will plant vineyards. They will live on their family lands. God has promised. 

And that makes Jeremiah's real estate purchase look quite forward-thinking. What Jeremiah knows, of course, is that God's promises are true. So Jeremiah buys the field, has the legal papers drawn up, and directs the deed to be put in an earthenware jar so that it will last for a long time...long enough for the Babylonians to be gone and the people to come home. It's apparently a practice that continued long after Jeremiah's time.  
Dead Sea Scroll Jar and Lid. 2nd century BCE. NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In the 2nd century BCE, the people of Qumran and other nearby places put scrolls in jars, and they lasted for a long time. (Re)discovered in 1947, the jars held scrolls in a variety of conditions. Some still legible, others nothing but powder, but the legible pieces have yielded fragments from every book of the Hebrew Bible with the exception of Esther. 

Those scrolls survived more than two thousand years. Long enough for the Babylonian army to be long gone and done with the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants. 

Two other passages seem to intersect with this passage. The discovery of the jars and scrolls in 1947 is attributed to Bedouin shepherds looking for a lost goat. We should be grateful for the shepherd who went looking for the lost (Luke 15:1-10). And Jeremiah 18 - the trip to the potter's house -has something to say about the role and symbol of earthenware jars. 

Garth Brooks' song "The Change" (1995/Written by Tony Arata and Wayne Tester) centers on actions that may look ineffectual in facing world events. The video for the song features images following the Oklahoma City bombing.

For additional thoughts on Jeremiah 32, see Art&Faith Matters on Facebook
For thoughts on Luke 16:19-31, click here.

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