We continue with Jeremiah’s “little book of consolation” (chapters 30-33). Coming in the midst of great trauma and grief, these chapters are meant to sustain hope and life amid the ruins of Judah’s destruction at the hands of the Babylonian empire.
The first passage from Jeremiah 32 tells of a concrete act God calls Jeremiah to take to express hope. He is to buy some land. This act would give the assurance that there will indeed be a future in the land — even as Babylon destroys the kingdom of Judah.
Neither the fate of the nation, being crushed by Babylon; nor Jeremiah’s personal fate, being imprisoned in Jerusalem; support such an act.
In fact, it seems absurd for Jeremiah to take this step. But it is due to God’s insistence (“thus says the Lord”), which is a promise of life that flies against present reality.
Throughout history, and maybe today as much as ever, present circumstances look grim. Global warming, church corruption and impotence, out-of-control militarism, unbridled corporate power. The call to Jeremiah is nonetheless to invest in a holistic future.
How do we think of the future in light of the promises here? I suggest that the meaning of these promises is best seen not to lie mainly in them as a guarantee of a predetermined outcome.
Rather, the promises re-emphasize what it is that brings life: Trust God, follow the life-giving message of Torah. And live that way no matter what, even in the face of trauma and despair.
That is the only way you can live into a future of wholeness.
In our second passage, the word of God comes to Jeremiah a second time. God re-emphasizes what Jeremiah heard the first time the word of God came to him. God has returned to the people after having turned away. When they call, God will answer.
The reality of Judah’s injustice is not masked. But their injustice has not permanently removed God from their midst.
God’s healing love remains present and transformative if they just accept it: “I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel” (33:7).
It is instructive how God’s act of restoration is portrayed. There is something missing — any sense that God’s disposition is changed by some kind of sacrifice or satisfaction of the demands of “justice.”
It’s simply that God is fundamentally merciful. The judgment is not an end in itself, but it serves the mercy.
The Book of Jeremiah, especially when read together with the past part of 2 Kings and Lamentations, conveys a profoundly tragic message.
The possible consequences spoken of when the people entered the land — “If your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess” (Deut. 30:17-18) — come to pass.
However, the message in this “little book of consolation” within the big book is, in a nutshell, that God is merciful and healing. To experience God as merciful, the people must simply recognize that this is so and allow their lives to be shaped by the recognition. They must see Torah as their guide and embody its ways of shalom.
Like Amos, Isaiah and Micah, Jeremiah teaches that God’s ultimate intention is healing, even after brokenness.
Ted Grimsrud is professor of theology and peace studies at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.