I was intrigued by an obscure Old Testament story read in a church service recently. What possible relevance might it have to an audience reading the text many centuries later? How would such an account of history be helpful beyond the immediate narrative?
Old Testament passages often bridge the historical gap via the filter of the Cross of Christ to show God’s concern for us many centuries prior. This has even greater value than merely enjoying the moral lessons on offer.
In Jeremiah 32, we see the prophet in jail. On the threshold of invasion by the Babylonians, land in the southern Israelite kingdom of Judah is now worthless. Jeremiah’s relative, Hanamel, has a block to sell and the prophet must be pitying his predicament. God, however, speaks to Jeremiah about it. Cousin Hanamel is on the way to pay a visit, but Jeremiah is told to buy the land for himself when he arrives.
What?! You could imagine Jeremiah protesting, “Food is scarce, the nation is about to be overrun, and you want me to buy a lot that could be seized at any moment?” Without a word of protest, though, he makes the transaction. God has spoken and that settles the matter as far as he is concerned.
The ‘seventeen shekel’ price tag has no reference point, but if fifty shekels were paid for the site of the temple centuries prior, then the land has probably now devalued. Nevertheless, the circumstances still make the payment a costly sacrifice.
And the point? Beyond the obvious lesson to honour God’s direction, there are six fascinating elements of God’s plan to redeem people just like you and me.
1) God’s redemptive plan values people and asks us to do the same.
In the Bible, the silver used in this form of currency is symbolic of redemption (see Leviticus 5:15 and Numbers 3:44-51). The ransom price of Jesus was thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 27:3-9), the amount paid for a slave’s life in Exodus 21:32. Here, silver redeems something that has little value to others but is prized by the one who sees as God sees. That the number of shekels is seventeen finds several redemptive parallels, most notably in the seemingly worthless life of Joseph who, at seventeen, was rejected by his brothers but began to be used by God to eventually redeem his family.
2) God redemptive plan reveals His mercy toward us.
Names also have significance in the Old Testament and therefore convey meaning for us. Hanamel is symbolic of the character of God. His name means ‘God is gracious.’ That of his father (and Jeremiah’s uncle), Shallum, means ‘retribution.’ One of God’s essential attributes is perfect justice against sin, but it is balanced by His perfect mercy toward the sinner. Here, the land is owned but must be redeemed, as with people today. 2 Corinthians 5:21 reminds us that Christ had to take our sin upon Himself to ransom our lives as a perfect human substitute who, in being God, could Himself be sinless.
3) God’s redemptive plan invites us to respond to His desire for people.
The land was in Anathoth, which means ‘answer to prayer,’ situated in the tribe of Benjamin, ‘son of the right hand.’ If the land symbolises people who are redeemed, then their worth as those favoured by God is truly realised in answered prayer through the efforts of the one who responds to the word from God. Jesus does the redeeming, legally, for all people, but we find ourselves still praying to see salvation effected for individuals who must still respond.
4) God’s redemptive plan involves a price being paid.
Jeremiah’s name speaks to us of the role of Jesus in paying the ransom price for people. He is the kinsman-redeemer, as with Boaz in the book of Ruth. Jeremiah was literally the one ‘who God has appointed,’ as is Jesus, but as are we. The imprisonment symbolises Christ’s death, but also our own sense of sometimes feeling surrounded on all sides, or perhaps overwhelmed by circumstance. Our responsiveness to God in those moments is a choice and we play a part in bringing His redemptive plan into effect. Discipleship obedience inspires prayer, evangelism, servanthood, or sacrifice so that, as partners in Jesus’ mission, we die to self and pursue His will.
5) God’s redemptive plan is to be shared by all God’s people
Baruch served as witness to the transaction, and his name means ‘blessed.’ He was the son of Neriah, meaning ‘son of God’ who was the son of Masseiah, meaning ‘God is shelter.’ Collectively, these names speak of the character of the church, witnessing the redemptive work of God in others and also being witnesses to share the Good News. We also enjoy the shelter, or protection, of God by virtue of ourselves being the redeemed people of God.
6) God’s redemptive plan involves a purpose for our lives.
Perhaps the most well-known passage in the book of Jeremiah is found in 29:11. It speaks of the plans God has for His people to give them hope and a future. This oppressed generation could turn to Him and find their purpose, just as this passage in Chapter 32 also reiterates. God redeems us because He sees value in people (even ourselves) when we don’t necessarily see it the same way.
Of course, these concepts provide a typological example, the sort that the New Testament endorses (e.g. 1 Corinthians 10:1-11). The Old Testament so often foreshadows the themes of the New Testament and thereby showcases God’s clear intent to redeem His people as an act of love.
It is so enriching to see that passages we might think to be obscure on first glance, are often clear examples of God’s great plans for people just like you and me. We need to be careful not to build a perfect theology on textual analogies which can break down on finer points of inspection, but the principles woven throughout the Old Testament still affirm to us that throughout history, we have been on God’s mind.